Monday 19 August 2019

Live And Let Nope

It is now a truth universally acknowledged that anybody who does anything creative will get battered for expressing personal opinions online. We get told artists aren't supposed to have political views. Don't alienate your potential customers, stick to writing/singing/crochet/cheese-making. You know, like George Orwell, Peggy Seeger, Margaret Atwood and Chuck D. Well fuck that. I've always been a little to the right of Karl Marx and rarely ashamed to bleat on about it.

I used to spend a lot of time getting into arguments in pubs, on the internet and anywhere where there are people with opinions. My first really big blog post was on this very subject (it was the first time I realised people were actually reading what I was writing and had to start editing this shit properly).

But then social media exploded, and I got tired of the endless bickering, those who wanted to win rather than have an intelligent discussion, and I stopped calling it out. This anger fatigue (a bit like compassion fatigue, but slightly less cunty) made me decide to be more tolerant, even going so far as to tolerate the intolerant. However, it turns out just avoiding conflict has not made things better for anyone. Since I have been scrolling past and respecting other people's opinions Brexit, Trump and Farage all happened, and the 'free-speech' warriors (currently crying about a 16 year old autistic girl on a boat who says climate change is real) have taken over the discourse.

So fuck them. From now on I will not be turning a blind eye to the bullshit. Expect comments, links to Snopes and requests for your source material. There is no such thing as an alternative fact. I won't be engaging in endless back and forth that goes nowhere, so don't assume you have won just because I stop.

IT IS NOT ABOUT WINNING, IF YOU ARE RIGHT I WILL ADMIT IT, I HAVE NO HILL I WISH TO DIE ON - unless you don't like Billy Joel's 'Scenes From An Italian Restaurant,' in which case you clearly have no soul and we can't be friends.

I expect I will lose some friends, some followers and some fuckwits. But honestly, I don't know what else to do, there are some genuine differences of opinion which I will respect, but if your opinion is that some people are not as worthy as some other people simply because of their faith/race/sexuality/class/gender then I don't have to respect that and you are an arsehole.

Opinions that differ from mine that I will tolerate:

That you don't enjoy the same music as me (Billy Joel excepted).
That you don't like my books.
That you think I dress like an idiot.
That football is important.
That capitalism can still work (though expect some laughing).
That the Monarchy are worth every penny.
That it matters whether the jam or cream goes first on a scone.
That tea is not a meal, but a thing you do at about half four with cake.
That your god is real.

Things that I will no longer classify as 'just a different point of view':

Nigel Farage.
That your god thinks the LGBTQI community are evil and subhuman.
That your god thinks you should inflict harm on anybody.
That racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/rape jokes are just 'banter'.
That trans-women go through all they do to perv on cis-women in toilets.
That Trump is not a lying, self-serving white supremacist.
That this country is being brought to its knees by immigration rather than tax-dodging, land-owning, grouse-shooting, xenophobic cunts.
That climate change is 'just a natural process, human activity has nothing to do with it.'
That your linked article from Spiked, The Canary or the Daily Mail has anything in it that isn't complete propagandist bullshit.
Nigel Bloody Farage.
That unborn babies have more right to life than foreign adults.
That the laws of economics are as unchangeable as the laws of physics.
Any clear shit-stirring post that involves poppys or people in shops disrespecting our 'brave armed forces' I've never seen one that's actually true - check Snopes.
That an advisory referendum result won by breaking electoral law and barefaced lies represents democracy and anyone questioning it is a traitor.
Any shared Facebook post that begins or ends with the words 'Share if you agree...' or 'Share if you remember...' IT'S A FUCKING CLICKFARM KAREN!
That vaccinations are bad.
That mentally ill people just need to pull themselves together.
Anything at all that mentions chemtrails, prehistoric aliens or a flat earth.
That my socks, bright green crocs and corduroy combination is not cool.
Nigel Bloody Fucking Cunty-Faced Farage.
(I have not mentioned the Hopkins woman out of respect for her family).

And that's pretty much all I can think of, there's probably more, please add to the list in the comments.

Wednesday 12 June 2019

Life, The Universe and Everything

One thing I've noticed about getting older is that my pop-culture references are going out of date. My random shouts of, 'Monkey Tennis!' at trailers for new TV shows, or, 'It wasn't me that done it, Mr Hoppy!' in a geordie-esque accent are often met with blank stares anwyay. But most people used to at least chuckle a bit at 'Thats you that is,' 'You're so unfair,' or 'Am I bovvered though?'

I turn 42 this week and the number of people who understand why I have titled a blog about it 'Life, The Universe and Everything' is dwindling. Soon I will just be a strange old man screaming 'That's Numberwang!' at strangers who look as bemused as I did at 'Here's a funny thing, there'll never be another,' or my kids do at 'I didn't get where I am today by...'

The reason I haven't written a blog in a long time is not because I've been working hard on my next book (I totally have though) but because I haven't had an idea that stretches to more than a paragraph. What follows is a list of disconnected random musings, some of which are funny, and some of which will make you wonder what the fuck is wrong with me.

I have worn Converse All Star (or cheap copies of) for the best part of thirty years, and just this year realised they are not comfortable. They are too thin for my massively wide feet. Reasoning that anything Grayson Perry can pull off, I can too, I bought a pair of Crocs, due to their reputation for comfort. It turns out that comfort only applies if wearing socks, and not walking far. I quickly lost the skin from the tops of my feet walking up and down the road to the day job and am in need of footwear recommendations for those times between big warm boots and flip flops.

Downsizing is a popular thing which I am all in favour of. I've recently sold off a few unneeded guitars, I'm still trying to sell off my massive comic collection (do please message me for details) and most of my read books go to charity shops. I do most of my reading on a kindle and mostly listen to mp3 downloads anyway. Spotify is alright, but it's as morally-grounded as strangling puppies for pleasure and what happens if the whole streaming business model dies? No music for you.

I would get rid of all my actual books and big slab of vinyl but for fear of the apocalypse. When I'm living in the burned out remains of my shed after the meteorite/ice age/zombie uprising/nuclear armageddon, I will stand a much better chance of rigging up a rudimentary way of getting a turntable and amplifier to work than desperately attempting to reverse the effects of a world-ending EMP burst on my kindle, laptop and mp3 player.

So my excuse for having so much stuff is to prevent boredom as I wait for radiation poisoning to kick in.

I have discovered face-blindness, and it's a thing I probably have. I don't recognise anybody I've met less than five times, never have and never will.
I did worry I was racist, as 'they' do all look the same to me. The trouble is, 'they' are Keeley Hawes, Suranne Jones and Eva Green (see also: Colin Farrell, Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp). I'm not sure I even recognise my family by their faces and have a shrewd idea the only reason I wear hats all the time is so I can pick my own reflection out of a line up.
My cousin Tea covers the subject of Prosopagnosia really quite well in her book 'A Curiosity of Doubts' which I recommend to everybody.

I've always considered 'do as you would be done by' a sensible rule for life; treat others as you would wish to be treated. But then I watched a documentary on Channel 5 about people who like having their genitals nailed to planks and now I'm not so sure.

I am uncomfortable using a mobile phone in public, and have only just realised why. It is not for fear of it being stolen, or appearing rude. It is because I grew up in an era when the only people who owned mobile phones were the worst kind of show-off pricks you could imagine and subconciously do not want to be associated with them.

My endless banging on about gender as a social construct has reached its natural conclusion. I've decided we are all born non-binary, poly-amorous and bi-sexual before social-conditioning takes over. We are taught that boys will be boys, girls will be girls, and those who aren't paying attention will be forever uncomfortable/beaten up on buses. Society has done its thing with me and I am now Neterosexual (only attracted to Netty - that's my wife in case you didn't know.)

I have finally accepted a book is now worth 99p. Less than a packet of Rizla papers, less than fifteen minutes' parking in Brighton.
Sometimes I worry that it's rude to charge people at all to read something that cost years of my life and a tiny piece of my soul.
Marketing said piece of soul means I have to spend a lot of time pretending to be interesting on Social Media. Usually by driving somewhere pretty and taking a photo of my dog (I keep her locked in darkness under the stairs the rest of the time, I do not like her, she is a marketing tool and only allowed out for photo ops. Don't ask about the cats.)
I could give the world a truthful insight into my life, but if I were to tweet, 'Just made it to season 5 of Brooklyn 99 on Netflix, still mainlining Pringles, lol,' four times a day it would not sell books/interest anybody. Neither would my drafted blog, 'Might have another biscuit before I start season 3 of Santa Clarita Diet.'

Why is it that any time I have a quick five minutes to watch the news it is always either sports or business news? Where is the pottery news? Wherefore the D&D stats? Why no books and music news on the every-half-hour BBC Breakfast cycle? Why aren't my (alright, I only do 50% of those things) hobbies represented like my brother's are?
This is just like being eight years old again.

British culture is an indefinable thing. Ask four different white men from Surrey what they think of the Chelsea back four and you could end up talking about plants, football, buns or asking what the fuck sort of a name Binky is.

Two of the biggest problems I endlessly argue with idiots about are due to poor use of language. Firstly, we let climate change be spoken of in terms of 'The Environment' as if it is something separate from us; and saving the planet, rather than the human race. If the words 'Human Extinction' had been used more widely forty years ago we might have done something about it by now.
Secondly, we let people use the term offended to mean crying in the corner, rather than not wanting to be complicit in structural bigotry perpetuated by tiny, tiny incremental bits of awful forcing us to call out bad things. It's the exact opposite of being a delicate snowflake so stop getting so offended at any suggestion that the status quo is shit.

I was told I would get more right-wing with age, this was bullshit.

It is the year 2019 and still people are looking around to check who is in the room before saying to me 'Do you want to hear a joke?'
No, I don't want to be in your clearly-about-to-tell-a-racist/sexist/homophobic/cunty-joke club.
It is 2019, what the fuck is wrong with you?

The only similarity between Boris Johnson and Donald Trump is a shit haircut. One of them is a very clever man hiding his agenda behind a facade of bumbling idiocy and the other is a very stupid man desperate for people to believe he is a 'very stable genius'.

Why are the only two songs I can think of with the mightiest of Anarchic sentiment (Do Anything You Wanna Do) both such fucking boring middle-of-the-road Dad rock? I mean come on...

So Happy Birthday to me - I'm playing with my band Jealousy and the Cat in the Beaver Inn, Appledore on the night (Saturday, June 15th) do come and see us*.

*warning - may contain middle-of-the-road Dad** rock.

**speaking of Dads, it is Father's Day this Sunday, and your kids won't have bought you my very funny book about Father-Son relationships, Gap Years, so I've put it on a 99p special offer until from the 13th to the 20th of June, you're welcome.

Thursday 14 March 2019

Why is it so hard for me to admit I don't know things?

The worst advice my father ever gave me was: 'If you don't know the answer, make something up and say it authoritatively enough that nobody questions you.' I think he meant it as a joke, but one of my friends once told me that while I would undoubtedly be useful as a phone a friend on Who Wants to be a Millionaire he would never use me because he would 100% believe my made-up bullshitty answer. I can't blame him.

This, conscious or unconscious, self-assured bullshitting is rife, in a certain kind of person. I recently ran into a vague acquaintance in the street (late 60s, well-off, male, white) who asked me about my dog. He said:

'Is that a Husky?' (I get that a lot) and before I'd had time to get my answer out, he added, 'it's definitely got some Husky in it though, am I right?'

I quickly interjected, 'No, she's an Alaskan Malamute.'

At which the chap said, 'Oh yes, I’ve seen them before, they've definitely got Husky in them, yes.' Before going on to criticise the anti-Brexit demonstration that was happening across the road, telling me he was going to go and explain democracy to them. 'We had a vote already, they lost.' At this point, I started to think I was being mansplained to. Clearly I know more about my dog than this person who has just met her. But I am also a man – albeit a fairly girly one. Perhaps, given his ruddy complexion, I was being hamsplained to?

I am fairly sure that democracy is not handing supreme power to a government
with no mandate and branding those who do not agree as traitors

I politely smiled and made my excuses to leave. There are some people I have no time to argue with, not even to explain the Alaskan Malamute is a separate breed to the Husky - well known for its pig-headed stubbornness - and actually much older, so if anything the far-better-known Husky has probably got some Malamute in it. And I am so tired of arguing about illegal votes carried out on misleading information I now have an 'agree with both sides' policy in public.

Old-fashioned British privilege is still alive and well as evidenced by the dramatic drop in kids studying languages at school on the news the other week. Everybody speaks English right? ‘Dos Cervezas por favor Manuel’ is all the foreign any of us need to know, and not even that, you can point at the San Miguel pump and wave your fingers at the barman. Though it is more fun to sing Dos Cervezas por favor to the tune of Queen’s ‘Las Palabras De Amor’ at any given opportunity. Couple this alongside the bluster and bluff of many of us refusing to admit we're wrong and you can see what led to a lot of the problems with the world today. The much-criticised White Male Privilege, and the toxic masculinity that surrounds it. It's not easy being ham. Although, in fact, it quite clearly is easy, but you could be forgiven for thinking it wasn't given how much of the stuff we chaps take for granted as god-given rights needs to be split up, broken down and just chucked in the bin.

Hot Space is Queen’s best album and I will fight anyone who says different

I'm guilty of it myself, as I said earlier, my dad told me to do it. It's the attitude that still leads me, when asked if I've heard a new band, to declare that I either love or hate them, based on an immediate judgement of their name, or, in best-case scenario, say 'I think I know the name,' rather than admit I haven't got a fucking clue who they are. I am gammon, hear me boil.

Conversely, I have plenty of friends who are happy to admit gaps in their knowledge. Not many of them went to the same public school I did though. Most of them are nice, normal, working class people, the type I work with. I tell them things, and they listen, and believe whatever I tell them, because I am a bit posher, and therefore must be deferred to. This might be an oversimplification of a complex situation, but I've noticed it over the years. My accent gives me undeserved gravitas. I have been known to use this power for evil, filling people's heads with misinformation and lies.

It might not just be me that sounds more knowledgeable than I am
Please learn to back down gracefully instead of arguing yourself into corners

People of the UK, we have a class problem. You knew that already though, right?
I noticed it quite prominently at breakfast in a Premier Inn last month. The seemingly random way those coming down for food were placed at empty tables slowly began to take on a pattern. The nice bit, over by the windows, with large tables, nicely spaced out, was filled with elderly couples – men in pink trousers explaining the correct way to boil eggs to women with massive handmade scarves – whereas the very close together tables near the coffee machines were populated with tracksuits, phone-starers and feral children. On my second morning there I began to think I should get a nice haircut and put a suit on to enjoy my breakfast in peace - because, at heart, I am a fucking snob, alright?

This isn’t just going on at discount all-you-can-eat breakfasts. It's pervasive and it always has been. The culture we consume is filled with a certain kind of person from a certain kind of background who is very good at lying when they don’t know the answer.

Books, in particular, when they get a female lead, seem to have a certain kind of protagonist. They tend to be either quiet, bookish, well-educated and just moved to Bloomsbury to become an editor, or feisty, take-no-prisoners redheads, who have just left Bloomsbury to start a new life away from the getting-bummed-against-some-bins (© Caitlin Moran) trauma of their past life as an editor. The very upper-class are presented as incestuous murderers, megalomaniacal wealth hoarders, or Bertie Wooster comic foils, while the working class (or God forbid, the unemployed) are either murder victims, slags, or against-all-odds butterflies who shrugged off their terrible upbringing (probably being motivationally bummed-against-some-bins (still © Caitlin Moran)) to join the hallowed middle classes (and become an editor with a flat in Bloomsbury).

I know she wasn’t an editor with a flat in Bloomsbury
But you know what I mean

We're too soon into a post #MeToo world to see the knock-on effect in fiction (publishing timelines are unavoidably long)* but I suspect, if anything, it will lead to yet more feisty middle-class girls from Hampshire being motivationally bummed in cute knitted hats. I realise that the reason for the nice, quiet, bookish, middle-class girl heroine is because more books are bought and read by nice, quiet, bookish middle-class girls than any other group (I have no evidence other than my Twitter timeline for this outlandish claim). Representation is nice, it is good to see yourself in the stories you read. But, and just think about this, what if the reason the working-class council estate kids aren't reading books is because all available books portray them either stabbing, being stabbed, breaking up marriages in grubby, doomed affairs with the handsome but flawed husband, or being aided by the middle-class saviour to become another fucking media twat.

Is there a place for a story of a kid from a working class home, on a council estate, who doesn't actually see anything wrong with where he or she's from and isn't yearning to escape? Girls who can go on to do something important without being non-consensually bummed into it?

We have a problem with the working class in this country, mostly that we are eroding low-skilled employment to nothing and ensuring the creative industries don't pay enough at entry level to be anything other than a hobby for the already well off. If this continues we will never see anything other than the same old tired literary fantasies of 'University Lecturer works out his mid-life crisis by fucking a mentally unstable student,' and its mirror 'Woman who was abused by her college professor goes through emotional turmoil before finding new love with a younger, slightly less-rapey University Lecturer.'

*correction - I’m too far behind in my reading of new releases to have any idea if this statement is true, please correct me, I want to be wrong.

Thursday 28 February 2019

I wrote some very funny things for other people's blogs and you may have missed them

Unless you've had me muted for the last month (which is entirely possible) then you'll know my new book just completed a blog tour (follow the link for an explanation if you don't know what that is). I'm quite pleased with how it all came out, and, while I promise I am working on new blogs, today I'm just posting links to all the promotional content I created to promote Gap Years.

First up, two small guest posts I wish I had kept for myself as they are possibly two of the best things I have ever written.

This is some of the best Londoner-baiting I have ever done (and I have form) about the mystery of London-based fiction and its dominance in literature. Hosted by The Magic Of Wor(l)ds.

Not-London is a strange place, a place for people to be from – striving through their young lives to get to the bright lights of London town; or a place to go and hide, to get away from the stresses and strains of the high-powered lives they lead in the capital. It is peopled by those who have failed, those who are resigned to lead lives of no meaning and quirky, menacing characters that will derail the hero’s quest. A place for young, go-getting, couples to relocate to before being terrorised by ungrateful locals.

Read the full thing here

Then a short dissertation on pigeonholing your work into easily marketable categories and why it's impossible. Hosted by Splashes Into Books.

Musicians will invariably try and invent their own genre, claiming nobody else sounds like them; describing it as electro-swing-glitchhop-disco-gypsy-funk-prog, and actually sounding a bit like somebody playing Pink Floyd guitar solos over an Orbital album while an asthmatic didgeridoo player hacks up a lung. Artists will refuse to be drawn into even the most modernist of niche, while authors, not allowed the luxury of making stuff up, because marketing, will sigh and call it Literary Fiction.

Read the full thing here

Then I had to answer some questions – some about the book, but I managed to deflect most of them onto things I would rather ramble on about.

I spoke to A Story About A Girl about old characters from Neighbours and how to fix laptops

Then, Nemesis Book Blog made the mistake of asking me to pick just one song, and I couldn't even narrow it down to one REO Speedwagon song.

B for Book Review somehow kept me on the subject of books and writing with only a brief tangent on my cats.

Then there were a whole load of extracts to help you make up your mind to buy my book.

The opening

Shit, Dad was right.
Why does Dad have to be right?
Why am I so annoyed that I am wrong?
That’s not what’s important here.
Priorities Sean, that car just came out of nowhere, and your twelve year old stepsister is in a hedge.

Read the full thing here

2nd Extract

If you live in a rented family-sized house with a high turnover of tenants, then digging a hole in the
garden involves a game of rabbit roulette. There's always the fear of coming across something already buried there.

Read the full thing here

3rd Extract

Oh how exciting,’ she says. ‘Nobody’s ever sung me a Tom Hopkins song before.’
Tom fucking Hopkins! Really? Tom fucking Hopkins? The twelve year old that won that TV show last year, that Tom Hopkins? Housewives’ favourite Tom Hopkins? Christmas number one Tom Hopkins? Toddler’s birthday party disco Tom Hopkins? The one even Melody thinks is for kids? Fuck my life.
Read the full thing here
4th Extract

It’s all so different from when I was his age. When I was a kid round here being gay wasn’t even an option, unless you wanted a swift kick in the head and a trip into the river. It’s good that he has options I didn’t. I admit I have trouble with it, but I mean well, I am a product of my upbringing. I grew up in Devon in the 1970s, where diversity was something to do with crop rotation.

Read the full thing here

5th Extract

It is not funny. It turns out that Leanne is a sex blogger. A very successful one by all accounts, shared constantly by people laughing at the idiots she goes out with all over social media. I have read it before and laughed, but didn’t make the connection, there are no pictures of her and she uses a pseudonym. I am now at the top of page one, with more likes and shares than any before.

Read the full thing here

6th Extract

Nice.’ Rhiannon appears at the door in a dressing gown, grinning from ear to ear.
I stop singing immediately, frozen mid-Jagger.
Didn’t know you were home,’ I say, sheepishly, face matching the wine in my glass.
Evidently. Show me your moves then.’ She sashays on to the rug and strikes a pose as the opening riff of ‘Happy’ kicks in – because this is the 21st century and we don’t have to go and fumble about in the sleeve for disc two.

Read the full thing here

And finally the reason I sent it on tour, the reviews, unanimously good and providing me with lots of juicy marketing quotes – left here for you if you can't be arsed to click the links.

I adored the writing style which easily created all of these situations with much realism, and brilliant humour. I have smiled and chuckled throughout the story, at both the writers wit and the scenarios that happened.

This coming of age story is also driven by emotionally complex and psychological aspects. It’s a contemporary read with an honest approach to a messy family dilemma.

The language is frank, the story is funny, no holds are barred in this honest account of life, love and boring jobs.

A well-crafted story about discovering who you are and where you belong and where you’re headed to next, recommend!

There is humour and some dodgy singing all a credit to Dave Holwill’s engaging writing.

Gap Years has one of the strangest starts to a book that I have read in a long time. After just the first page, I was completely drawn in to Dave Holwill’s unique writing style.

It’s oddly beautiful how Holwill portrays the family as they attempt to piece their lives back together. The novel is impeccably diverse and inclusive, while never once stepping into the realm of bigotry. If you like books that will make you feel something, and where you can relate to the characters, I highly recommend this book.

The author does a magnificent job of showing the pressures and problems that beset the ordinary people up and down the country in the modern age and every reader will find something to relate to in this story. It is unusual to see male relationships portrayed so honestly and accurately, and I felt really moved by it.

All the characters were endearingly quirky train wrecks and profanely talented in the use of creative expletives. I am enamored with the talented scribbler Dave Holwill and unrepentantly covet his peculiar characters, clever wordplay, and highly original vulgarities. He has mad skills.

It’s that diversity which makes it so enjoyable to read, it is so unpredictable and with Dave’s acerbic tongue it is gritty and honest., this book is everything and more a coming of age story should be

The writing sweeps you along through the chaos and is immensely entertaining. A quirky, absorbing read. This is another sharply satirical novel from this author about false expectations and the sub-optimal lot of humankind.

A compelling, gritty, realistic and absorbing read about family, connections, relationships, adulthood, building bonds, and new beginnings. The Characters are relatable, complex, endearing and definitely made an impact. It had plenty of drama, wit, emotion, angst, making it an entertaining read that I highly recommend.

Once I got into this book I couldn’t put it down, I loved the differing viewpoints, the humour and the fact that it was very British.

It’s somehow a simple story, but that’s the charm of it. And it’s that charm that made me continue reading it.

With beautiful writing and dark comedy, this is a quirky novel that I highly recommend giving a shot. Dave Holwill’s writing will draw you in and the characters will see you through to the end.

The story is gritty, realistic and believable and that is what gives it an added edge, a very well written and enjoyable story about the ups and downs of relationships – highly recommended!

Each chapter left me wanting to know more, which in my book - pun not intended - is the sign of a truly absorbing read. Another great read from Dave Holwill. I look forward to his next book.

If you have made it to the bottom of this post, Sky thanks you, and admits she can't actually read.

Thursday 3 January 2019

It's the most wonderful time of the year…

No, not Christmas, and no, not going back to work yesterday morning. Neither of those are really my bag, baby. I'm talking about New Year. I'm fairly sure I've written about it before, but I can't be arsed to hunt through old blog entries to look it up so if this is identical, then I'm sorry you noticed, but grateful you've stuck at reading this blog for so long.

Bear with me, I'm not a total Grinch, I love New Year for the same reasons most people love Christmas – being with the people you love, in a place that makes you happy and forgetting all the everyday worries and bullshit. And I do enjoy Christmas, even though I disagree with an awful lot of its mandatory activities.


New Year has no obligations, no bill to foot other than the next round of drinks and a funny hat. People don't come and force gifts upon you unasked for, you can easily decline a drink without fear of offence (I never would, have no fear). As opposed to Christmas, which if you dislike its environmental nightmare implications will get you labelled a killjoy. A fact I have once again learned the hard way.

This year, I posted a note on facebook – with a link to a study showing how uselesspresents are sinking the world into an unending landfill of plasticarmageddon (as we all drown at the bottom I like to think a well-meaning auntie will have bought me a singing plastic money box as an end of the world present, having learned nothing) – explaining that I did not want any gifts, nothing, nada. I know what people are like though, I know they think I'm lying, and that they believe you can only show people how much you love them by bankrupting yourself buying novelty bottle openers. So I made a list, like a five year old might. Booze, fags and guitar strings – so not exactly like a five year old. But things I can use, things that I enjoy, things that will make my life a little bit better. I even specified which kind, in order to avoid my usual sideways look and 'Thank you,' that shows what a terrible liar I am as the disappointment spreads over my face.

A lot like this face, but a little less green

Many people liked the post, some of them shared it, these very same people then came over, at Christmas, and had the barefaced cheek to give me things I can neither drink, smoke, nor play Van Halen riffs on. I am naming no names, and I love you all dearly, and I am sorry for being an ungrateful shit. But I should not be made to feel like this. I am happy to buy gifts for people who want gifts, I am happy to get your children something that makes a dreadful noise or an awful mess and puts a massive smile on their faces, I will not deny you your Christmas. But I will love you all the more if you fucking listen to me for once.

The whole thing is an ecological disaster, from the unrecyclable cards and wrapping paper, (a well-meaning right-on friend posted a complaint about the brown paper they had ordered for greener Christmas presents turning up in plastic wrapping. I would have liked to see the post complaining about the paper mache delivery had it been raining that day, and had to bite my tongue over the irony of having your brown paper delivered by petrol guzzling vans and trains in order to save the world a very small amount, and yourself a walk to the post office.) to the truckloads of uneaten food and the endless sea of plastic novelty bullshit.

Congratulations, this is where all your overspending ends up

I realise the irony of my situation is that my day job is very much in the production of novelty shit that people buy for Christmas, and if everybody took my advice then I would be out of a job. But I am prepared to take that hit, if it will help save the planet. In the same way that I would eat nothing but plant-based food stuffs if there was a unified movement to stop the destruction of the earth by ending intensive industrialised livestock farming. (Full disclosure, I am not a vegan, I do very much enjoy their tasty foods though and refuse to use the phrase Flexitarian on the grounds of not being a pretentious wankbiscuit. However, I worry that as the world burns and the last humans are dying they will justify their choices by crying, 'But the cheese tasted weird! The cheese!' Also, though I have not done any serious research on whether the world turning vegan would help, I do get the feeling that swapping fields fill of oxygen-guzzling, methane-blasting cancer-inducing, colon-clogging meaty beasts for fields of carbon-dioxide-neutralising, oxygen-producing, nutrient-filled, bowel-emptying plants might help a bit.)

So how do I justify my New Year love? Easy, it's just booze, all in lovely recyclable glass and aluminium (please ignore the plastic bottled mixers and crisp bags) and I have never been to an NYE party where the leftover food hasn't been hosed up by the 4am munchies. Food that you don't have to sit around the table for a hundred years to eat while your weird Auntie Linda tells you how much you've grown and strokes your knee innapropriately. We're all standing, if you're bored you can shout, 'Oh my god, this is my jam!' and run off to the kitchen dancefloor, or head out on the town for a previously undisclosed prior engagement (hint for newbies, never throw the party yourself, you will have no out).

And do go out, make sure you are standing in the midwinter cold, holding a sticky drink you have secretly removed from the pub in your coat underneath a large clock – preferably attached to a church or similar public building as it strikes midnight (interestingly our local church clock did not bong at midnight, but I did hear it ring out quarter to four as I staggered back up the hill to my house). Kiss the people nearest you, whether you know them or not (please ensure the life-partner of your choice is first, otherwise your year will be off to a very bad start) spread a little magic, cross your arms and sing Auld Lang Syne (in minion if you don't know the words, like pretty much everybody in the world) spill that drink, light a naughty cigarette and march off to the after party, there will be leftover food to hoover up and drinks to minesweep. You can worry about everything else next year, but until you go to bed, the world is a little bit more magic, a little less wasteful, and entirely done by choice. You live in the same town as your friends and neighbours because you all love it, share that love for once.

However, you can stay home if you like, I won't judge you, like you do me when I don't want to do your secret fucking santa.

There is a palpable reason for this celebration, the world has completed one more full orbit around the sun, well done, I'll drink to that. I'm sure Jesus was a nice guy, but we can't celebrate every nice guy's birthday – on completely the wrong date – for thousands of years after they've died, we'd never be sober again.

I had no idea my dog had been out modelling for children's books

Saturday 29 December 2018

Why I decided to keep the dirty bits in my new book

The big news this Christmas is that I finally finished the book I told myself I wasn't good enough to write. It's coming out in February with massed fanfares and another top notch blog tour care of Rachels Random Resources (doing the hard work so I don't have to). It is called Gap Years and writing it has been like pulling my own fingernails out with my teeth.

I tried to start writing this dual first person narrative after I finished Weekend Rockstars four years ago before quickly discovering it was much harder to pull together than I had first envisaged and abandoning it to write a funny story about a grandmother on a murderous rampage. Which was much easier and has done quite nicely thanks. About halfway through writing The Craft Room, however, I realised I could write the two halves separately and glue them together later. A decision I would learn to regret, but here we are, two years later at the end of the journey and on the eve of publication.

Here's the (still open to change) blurb:-

19 year old Sean hasn't seen his father since he was twelve. His mother has never really told him why. An argument with her leads to him moving to the other side of the country to live with him.

The one thing they have in common is the friendship of a girl called Rhiannon.

Over the course of one summer Sean experiences sexual awakenings from all angles, discovers the fleeting nature of friendship and learns to cope with rejection.

Meanwhile his father, Martin, struggles to reconnect with Sean while trying delicately to turn down the increasingly inappropriate advances of a girl he sees as a surrogate daughter and keep a struggling marriage alive.

Gap Years is an exploration of what it means to be a man in the 21st Century, trying to reject the social conditioning of the past and embrace a tolerant vision of the future from two very different perspectives – neatly hidden inside a funny story about bicycles, guitars and unrequited love.

If any of my beta readers are reading this and think I need to change it, do get hold of me, there is still time.

The reason it has taken so much longer to write than intended was because of the damn characters not doing what they were told. During a radio interview (with the lovely Chee off of Phonic FM) for the launch of The Craft Room what feels like a hundred years ago, I explained how Rhiannon, the female lead of the novel, had made me rewrite her completely as she turned out to be more manipulative than I originally thought. She then revealed herself to be even more complex than that, requiring at least four complete rewrites, and I began to despair of ever finishing the book.

Once I had got to grips with her, I realised I needed to cut a 30000 word subplot and replace it with something more interlocking in order to tie it all together. And even after all that there was still something wrong that I couldn't put my finger on. Off it went to my aunt, who is the best editor I know, in hopes of a reply of heaped praise, as I wanted it done, over with, out in the world. She pointed out that my ending had become a massive Deus Ex Machina after all the changes I had wrought since first committing it to .odt file. That was the thing, finally a finger had been put on it, so off I went to rewrite the ending, again. It is now the book I wanted it to be when I first imagined it on a cold morning when I was supposed to be working on my first novel – Weekend Rockstars. Well, it isn't, it's completely different, like they always are, but it works. The characters are doing what they should, and what they want to and it feels right now. I'll leave it up to the readers to decide if it was worth all the pain.

There is, however, one scene that has been a sticking point among everybody that has helped me along the way. There's no point trying to be coy about it, there is a very graphic sex scene between two men in there. Half my readers told me it was a good thing, and to leave it in, while half of them said exactly the opposite, that it was cringeworthy and awful and needed to go. I've heavily edited it to be less smutty and slightly more tasteful and it is no worse than the heterosexual sex scenes that occur later and upset nobody. I felt that representation was more important than offending any heteronormative sensibilities though, so it stayed, for better or worse.

Because representation is important.

Diverse in species, but not really in character, when you get down to it

There is a lot of noise about representation these days. As a writer it is at the forefront of the zeitgeist, and there are very angry people on both sides. Go, join in on Twitter if you don't believe me. As a white, cis-gendered male, 40-something writer it is more important than ever to keep abreast of it.

At Christmas time, I am very well represented in the popular culture of the season. I am always well-represented in pop-culture, I can identify with Kay Harker from the Box of Delights, Bob Cratchett and Moley – even Arnie as he Jingles All The Way to buy Anakin Skywalker a cheap Iron Man knockoff. I may not be from their time, their country, or even their species, but they are written from a familiar perspective. I feel at home with them in their awkward, very familiar feeling worlds. I would, at this point, like to reel off a list of well-loved BAME, female-centred, gay and trans characters that I don't identify with, but thanks to the way our world is set up, I've never been forced to watch/read/listen to them and thus can't bring them to mind.

And that's the point. Had I not been able to identify with the characters in my childhood fiction, I would probably never have been inspired to create my own worlds, would not have felt so happy. I was an awkward, weird kid who felt happier in the company of fictional friends than real ones. What if I had not been able to see myself in them? What if they had all been from a completely unfamiliar world? The kids from Narnia and the Magic Faraway Tree may have been from a different time, but they felt like they could have existed in 1980s Guildford. Like the other children I met at Sunday School, in a world that was soon to disappear in a blur of technology and atheism.

And so, when creating new worlds and new civilisations, every type of people need to be visible. Gene Rodenberry knew that when he made Star Trek; Uhuru, Sulu and Chekov were ground-breaking. I don't think we're going backwards just yet, quite the opposite, but it's very easy to think the work has been done and get lazy.

Being from the background I am, I am un-uniquely unqualified to write the stories of BAME and LGBTQI communities, but that doesn't mean I can't ensure that my background characters reflect them and it doesn't mean that I can fail to deal with them entirely in my story lines. In Gap Years, the two main characters are dealing with changing attitudes in an ever more progressive world from two very different points of view. Sean, as a 19 year old, has no problems accepting all kinds of diverse and differing types of people, while his 50-something year old father, Martin, has to work harder to check his inbuilt prejudice.

I can write from the perspective of straight white men in Devon, easily, I am a straight white man in Devon. Ironically I recently read a book set in Devon that felt a lot like it had been written by someone who had never even visited, some major geographical mistakes were made, along with the kind of misunderstandings about rural public transport that can only be assumed by a city-dweller. I would feel uncomfortable writing from the perspective of a trans-woman struggling in Uganda though. Not because I find the subject matter uncomfortable, but because it is not my experience. I can empathise, I can try to understand, but I can't really write that story. It doesn't mean that my straight, white Devon men can't encounter a Ugandan trans-woman in their travels (spoiler: they don't) and my background cast is as diverse as the story (and my as yet undiscovered built in privelige and prejudice) allows.

It certainly doesn't mean that I can't write a couple of gay scenes and trans characters. But it does mean that I need to run it past my friends and relatives with real world experience to make sure it reflects the realities of their life – which I very much did. The most important thing to do as a writer (and we all know this) is to do the research, make sure it will ring true, not only does it make you a better writer, but it also makes you a more sympathetic human being, and that can only be a good thing.

Sunday 14 October 2018

Weaponised Nostalgia – Or how my grandmother's toast may lead to Armageddon

There was something magical about my grandmother's toast. I'm not sure quite what benevolent spells she weaved over what was – to all intents and purposes – just a slice of burned flour and water smeared in congealed cow's milk, but it worked. She would hand slice some fresh white bread, toast it under her eye level grill, then – and I think this may have been where the magic happened – hit the crunchy top with the back of the knife to make little dents all the way around the edge. This meant that the real, thick, creamy butter that she then spread over it would ooze inside the crunchy exterior – creating the most delicious bread and butter experience in the known universe.

I have tried to recreate it myself, but to no avail. I am now the proud owner of those butter knives – handed over to me when I left home in a hailstorm of helpful kitchen items – and I can confirm that there is no magic in them. Bread is just bread, butter is just butter, a grill is just a source of heat. Maybe I need to eat it in the dining room of an unremarkable semi-detached house in walking distance of Guildford station with a glass of warm Ribena, preferably on a crisp late October morning at the beginning of half-term with a bald, cynical old man telling me the story of Sweeney Todd as he plays tug of war with his beloved Labrador?

Maybe it's not the toast.

Nostalgia is a powerful weapon, the right smell, a certain song, an old TV show, a glimpse of a childhood toy, these things all create certain chemical reactions in the brain. Happy fuzzy memories of a happier time, before jobs, mortgages, children, Brexit, Trump and the ever-present threat of apocalypse. I don't think I ever felt safer than on those childhood holidays to my grandparents' houses. Either to Devon – where you could be forgiven for thinking you were in a hotel as the toast came on a toast-rack and the butter was often in sachets (my grandmother was a thrifty woman who presented me with a margarine tub filled with sachets of vinegar, mustard, ketchup and tartar sauce she had 'saved' from the Wrey Arms on our many visits there), the Ribena was substituted for Lemon Barley Water, and the old man had all his hair – with barely a touch of grey – and told you golfing stories while he watched snooker. Different, but every bit as magical, or Guildford – depending on which bit of the country we were living in at the time. Either way, Mum and Dad knew how to get themselves a bit of quality child-free time.

Any excuse to post this - occasionally referred to as
the best song of all time by me - John Mellencamp classic

I come from a generation for which the most powerful of memories tend to be triggered by the TV. I recently questioned the fact that some of my most emotional reactions are for American small towns – despite having grown up in the bleak grey landscape of 1980s Guildford, and the rural idylls of Devon (if you have ever visited Bideford, you will know how much I am stretching the definition of rural idyll) either way, neither of those places bear even a passing resemblance to Kingston Falls, or Hill Valley (same town, different names fact-spotters). As the massive success of Ready Player One confirms, the films we watch as kids have a powerful place in our hearts.

Not just films but all pop culture, who among us doesn't occasionally reread a favourite book, or listen to a favourite album in the hope of glimpsing our younger selves smiling back at us? I am still so in love with the Shire that I can reread just the opening chapters of Lord of the Rings without needing to finish the book. It is like a brief weekend back in a home town that never really existed. I can be lost in happy memories of the corridors of Galactica and the rocky outcroppings of Eternia every bit as much as I can by strolling through Victoria or Stoke Parks on a sunny afternoon – more so, because they remain unchanged.

I say they have remained unchanged, but that's not entirely true. If you have ever been hit with a powerful enough nostalgia wave to watch old episodes of Thundercats, Transformers, Mask etc. etc. on Youtube, then you, like me, have probably been shocked to discover that what you remember as a perfectly crafted fantasy world of good vs evil, powerful characters and dizzying special effects (the effects have not aged well, especially not in one of my personal childhood favourites, The Box of Delights, though it has only added to its charm and I still rewatch it every Christmas) is, in fact, a thinly veiled advert for easily broken toys.

I still have no happier memory than the unbridled joy
I experienced at watching the first episode of Thundercats.

And they have stayed that way. If you spend any time at all on social media these days, you are almost certainly going to see at least one 'Like and Share if you remember this,' meme every day. They are harmless fun, images of Speak and Spells, Worzel Gummidge, Donkey Kong and Stretch Armstrong, reminding you of a simpler time. Why not like them, share them, and bring a bit of joy to your contemporaries?

Well, why not indeed. It depends entirely on how you feel about data-mining and targeted advertising, or building up fake ratings for pages that can be sold on to the highest bidder (usually some demented racist hategroup or another). If, for example, you continually like clips of 80s cartoons, arcade games, BMX bikes and Garbage Pail Kids, then it can be reasonably assumed you are somewhere in your forties, and a bit of a geek. Or, if you like pictures of sit-up-and-beg racing bikes, stuff-of-nightmares china dolls and teddy bears and Muffin the Mule then you are either racing towards your three quarters of a century, or a fucking hipster. Either way, this helps the corporations bombard you with adverts for whatever they think you should buy, and find the right cartoon to put in that advert to gently nudge you into it. No Top Cat, I don't want another mortgage you sell out bastard, and fuck you Fred Flintstone, you corporate shill. Emotional manipulation via your happiest childhood memories can never be a good thing.

This can only get worse. I confidently predict a Philip K. Dick style future in which we all access the internet directly from inside our brains via a chip – for convenience's sake. A chip which will have incorporated a feedback loop capable of accessing our fondest memories and utilising them to sell us things. A happy world where our heart's desires are transmitted straight to the people able to make them happen, where you only have to think of a thing you want and it can be yours.

A world where they can use the smell of my grandmother's toast to make me believe I want to buy a handgun and vote for a despot.

Not long to go now...