Wednesday, 30 July 2008

A Recommendation, If I May Be So Bold

The Book of Lost Things, John Connolly.

'Everything You Can Imagine is Real'
High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the loss of his mother. He is angry and he is alone, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness, and as he takes refuge in the myths and fairytales so beloved of his dead mother he finds that the real world and the fantasy world have begun to meld. The Crooked Man has come, with his mocking smile and his enigmatic words: 'Welcome, your majesty. All hail the new king.'
And as war rages across Europe, David is violently propelled into a land that is both a construct of his imagination yet frighteningly real, a strange reflection of his own world composed of myths and stories, populated by wolves and worse-than-wolves, and ruled over by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a legendary book . . . The Book of Lost Things.
I first discovered John Connolly through a desperate and vague Christmas request (always a risky stratedgy I know, but it pays off suprisingly often) a few years ago. I'd asked, quite simply, for short stories. I received quite a few. The most impressve one though was Nocturnes, by John Connolly. Partly it wa sso impressive as it was Hardback. Plus it was a deep, beaten purple, like a bruised book, designed to look old, worn. And it was a first edition. And it was signed. So there.
Anyway, most of the stories in Nocturnes I read and reread, I even used one as a basis for a short I film I did with some retrobate Year10 boys. Bizarrely though, after that, I forgot all about him.
So one night I'm lying in bed, listening to the Weekender on Radio 2 (a programme on which I will one day be mentioned. Oh yes.) and I'm listening to a review of The Book of Lost Things, and it sounds really interesting so I stop reading my book and pay attention. I'm dithering over buying it when I hear the authors name. Then I'm sold.
I'm a big Fairy Tale fan. The proper Fairy Tales, the ones about murder and rape and fear. This is why this book appealled to me so much. I plays with Fairy Tales, it expands on them, it twists them, it does wonderfully creative things to them - The Snow White character whom the Prince ditched and so has let her self go, bullying the Dwarfs into providing an endless procession of food. The Prince on a quest to find his gay lover, shunned by this Kingdom and his father.
I've tried reading Angela Carter before a number of times because I know this is something she enjoys too, The Bloody Chamber I managed, but often found it off putting wading through the language. Her prose it beautiful, is poetry, but I often find th story has been lost somewhere. In The Book of Lost Things there is no such problem. The prose is simple, elegant and from this is dramatic and often poignant.
There is a balance between the world we know, a one in which a young boy is confused by war, by the loss of his mother, by the arrival of a new woman, of a new baby, and the world in which David finds himself, the nightmarish world of Fairy Tales and myth. One world in which David has no power, no control and from which he tries to lose himself. The other,the mystical landscape he discovers is a world in which he has importance, in which he tries to find himself and over which he gradually realises he has some power.
At the heart of the book is a emotional journey of acceptance which David must tread in order to come to terms with his new life. Decisions he must make order to survive, decisions he must make on who survives. David is a vunerable character, a boy searching for his mother, for a father figure he believes he lacks. He wanders, clinging desperately to those around him for support and comfort. He truely is lost.
This book isn't perfect, occasionally some episodes lose focus. The odd tale seems sandwiched in simply because it sounds good, but they are all well written, darkly comic and sinister.
It is The Crooked Man that I left with, I took him home, bought him a drink and he was mine. The Crooked Man, part angel, part devil manipulating David, controlling the world around him and hiding a truely disturbing secret - and some images that remain with me long after reading the book. He feeds Davids insecurities, he nurtures his jealousy, he guides him and tricks him in equal measure. He is terrifying and alluring. He could well be one of the best anti-heroes I've encountered.
I've gone on a bit, and no, it's not because I'm stuck with my own writing. I just wanted to offer a holiday read. It's not for everyone, it's not exactly an emotional journey or a rollercoaster ride. But it tugged at my heart strings, it had me turning pages furiously and staying in when those around me danced and drank. Not many things manage that.
John Connolly's website is here
You can buy a copy of The Book Of Lost Things here
Or, if you can, go to your local library. Mine serves coffee and biscuits on a Tuesday.

Monday, 28 July 2008

No Bing For Disco Kettle, Plus: How Good Is Complicated, Really?


DK: Sigh...

(the sound of fingers frantically tapping at a keyboard, a bird flaps past the open patio door, next door's dog barks)

DK: Ahem, sigh...

(tapping fingers pause, but only for a moment, knuckles crack)

DK Siiiiiigggghhhhhhhhhhhh. Sigh!

(tapping fingers stop, an empty cup drops onto a coaster)

Me: Problems DK?

DK: Fzt

Me: Come on, whats the matter?

DK: Fzszt

Me: How's the new book coming on? (Ironing Board Massacre)

DK: Fzsztstszt. Fzt!

(Magic Dressing Gown billows in the breeze.)

Me: No you can't borrow the Dressing Gown. Because it's mine thats why, I need it.


Me: Now hey! There is no need for that sort of language. I've almost done my thousand words words, you can borrow it after, but don't spill anything on it this time.


Me: Now, in the mean time....

(empty cup rattles on coaster)

One Bing Later...

(clacky clackedy typy type typededy)

DK: ... Sigh ...

Plus: How Good Is Complicated, Really?

So far so good. Six thousand words since Wednesday. I'm pretty chuffed with that. It's not all good, I've already highlighted bits I'll want to look over later, but for now I'm just rolling on. Get the first draft done, everything else can follow later.

One slight concern is how complicated the plot is becoming.

It seems to have taken on a life of it's own.

9987 did that too, but it was a simpler story. This started out complicated and is getting worse.

So, obviously, I have a list of questions:

I have one main character and three secondary ones - although one of those doesn't appear until the middle. Is that enough?

The main character has three different plot strands, all moving alongside each other, plus one each for each of the secondary characters. Too many?

How can I get highlighter out of cotton?

Can you still buy Rocket Fuel Coffee, the stuff in a red jar? It seems to have disappeared from all my local shops...

Saturday, 26 July 2008

A Bit Like Lent, Only Bigger and with Flashing Lights

I had a phone call from Peru the other day, and it got me thinkin - as Peruvian phonecalls only can.

When the gods wish to punish us, they answer all our prayers - Oscar Wilde

What have you given up for your writing? A chapter? A character? A title? A job? A friend?

When DK's autobiography comes out in January ("From Fzzzt to Bing: How I Overcame Addiction") he'll be giving up Rock Pig mug, and Man's Best Friend mug, to tour.

I gave up a chance to get The Greatest Job Of All Time to focus on 9987.

Surely, I am not the only one.

(Sorry for the misery, on a lovely sunny Saturday, but I'm off to work now and won't finish until twoish Sunday morning... If only I could givthis up...)

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

My Dressing Gown Has Magical Powers


First day of the school hols. I'm not at work, either here, or at the pub. Finally I have run out of excuses.

It is time to write.

I mean, you know, write properly. I find it tough just picking away at hundred words or so a day. I know it works for plenty others. But I find it hard to get into the flow, I keep forgetting what I've written or where I was going. But on holiday, I can write properly. I can write all day (then delete lots of it the day after, but still).

Early on I get potential distractions out the way: I put a wash in, do the washing up, hoover, shower, shave and set myself up ready to write.

Disco Kettle has 'binged'. Coffee steams. I have on suitably trippy music. I wear old comfy jeans and a cartoon t-shirt. I have just eaten four potato cakes slathered in butter.

Everything is ready.

So why can't I write?

I resist the temptation to delete the previous chapter. I am unhappy with a character - but I can sort that later. I feel it is important not to go backwards at this stage. I run back through my checklist of Stuff I Need To Write. Something is missing, but I'm not sure what.

I take some advice recently posted on Megan Taylor's blog, I go for a quick walk. I read (a random selection of poetry). I bang my head against the wall (not recommended by Megan. Or Doctors.)

And then it hits me.

Well, two things hit me, first the wall, obviously, then the problem.

I realised What Was Missing.

I set Disco Kettle to the boil while I hunted through my wardrobe.

By the time Disco Kettle 'bung' (past tense of 'Bing'? 'Binged' sounds wrong...) I was stood, in the doorway, hand heroically positioned on hips, light steaming out from behind me. In proper superhero mode a breeze rustled by, my dressing gown flapping behind me like a cape.

My Dressing Gown Has Magical Powers.

Today I have written just over 1,000 words. And eaten another two potato cakes.

I love the summer.
I love potato cakes and coffee.
I love Disco Kettle.
I love my Magic Dressing Gown.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Twiddling My Thumbs, Listening to Disco Kettle 'Bing'

Well thats it then.

It's gone (and I use the term "it's" expertly since I have just searched through my entire ms checking I've used it right. Although many thanks you Caroline, you seem to have done most of them yourself)

Packed its bags (please note I'm not using "it's" to suggest possession there.)


Gone off to Tonto Towers.

So now what do I do?

I have listened to the endless "bing"s of Disco Kettle. I have had too much coffee. My fingers are shaking. My thumbs they do twiddle so.

I have, of course, written a list. A list of questions.
Being the genius that I am I have no answers...

1. Did I make absolutley sure that I sorted out whether or not my narrator was wearing a hat in chapters forty through forty five?
2. Do my acknowledgements sound a bit cheesy?
3. Does my Dedication do people justice?
4. Do I have enough money left to go and have a pint?
5. What becomes of Caroline and me now? Am I no longer half of her mint? Am I to be cast adrift? How will I cope? Will she keep me if I dress up as a Lesbian Nurse and dye my hair blonde?
6. How long does a four pound chicken take to roast?
7. Why is there a note in my pocket which reads simply: "cupboard"?


I was tagged by DJ but I haven't had time to think it about it yet. So Ssshhh, don't tell anyone I've not done the meme yet. It'll be in by next lesson, I swear.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Childhood Dreams Achieved = 2. Plus: Moments of Victory # 1



Because I seem to be developing a fetish for lists (Not useful lists you must understand, these won't aid any planning of chapters, shopping, getting things done around the house or naming victims. I enjoy pointless lists, abstract lists and obviously untrue lists.
For example:

Work I have done today:
TLA presentation,
Finally finished my marking,
Degunked the gutters,
Taught a child to read,
Solve world hunger - with chips and mayo.) I have a list for you.

Childhood Dreams Achieved:

1. Be a published writer - and yes, this is a childhood dream. Since Primary school actually. I'm a slow worker... and yes I know I'm not actually published yet but tough. I'm claiming it.
2. Play football at St James' Park - actually I'm not playing at St James' - I'm playing at The Arnott Stadium in Durham. And I haven't done it yet. I'm doing it tonight. Playing at Left Back (and no, not 'left back in the changing room'. Nasty pasties...) against the school Sixth Form. It's the grudge match. The decider. A must win...

So I'm muchos excited, about geet loads of stuff. I got an invite to Roz's book launch from the lady herself, which made feel loved and bizarrely has set off a very girlie (sorry) worry about what to wear to meet real authors - including, of course, my Most Wise and Trusted Mentor who will be there. Very exciting. Can't wait. Free bar?


But I've just realised something...

Childhood Dreams Achieved as of right now, at this precise moment:

0 - technically.

Damn. - Could owning a Disco Kettle be a childhood dream? I didn't want one back then, but only because I didn't know such a thing as magical could ever exist in the real world. Could I count it anyway?


Moments of Victory # 1


Bare with me as this will take a little bit of explaining...

Once upon a time there was a union named Unison. Unison was very popular with all the other unions and used to have parties and tea and cake and jelly and stay up late talking about boys etc etc.
One day though Unison woke up, padded down the stairs, yawned it's little morning yawn, tiny little fist in it's mouth, little eyes scrunched shut and looked out of the window.
All Unison's little friends had nicer cars, and looked well fed and didn't do half as much work as little Unison did.
So it went on strike. For two whole days.

Meanwhile in a school somewhere outside of Gotham:

Well ok, so they have two days off. The support staff are on strike, nothing we can do about that. Can we get the teaching staff in anyway? No? Balls! I know, we'll make them fill in a form stating how much work they will be doing instead. Then I will make an announcement saying that if teaching staff are caught out in public, not working, then I will chop off their heads. Mwahahhahahahahahahahaaaaaaaaa.

(Deputy and Assistant Heads cheer)

Right. So now you know the back story. I'm not allowed out. I'm marking and working on a presentation I haven't given yet - and probably never will - I am certainly not sat in the Theatre coffee shop reading a book with my feet up on the opposite chair...

Our eyes meet across the crowded room. For a moment I don't know what to do. My brain just stops. Hot porcelain blisters my lip, coffee melts my teeth. She looks at me and I look at her. I swallow and nod my head toward her very slightly. She nods her Assistant Head back. She smiles and so do I.

She sneers and my eyes widen.

She stares at me and I stare at her and she glances to my coffee and flicks a gaze at my book and my dirty shoes on the clean chair opposite me. I stare at her and work quickly through my list of Emergency Excuses. I stare at the sneer and at the sharpened teeth and the trickle of blood which oozes from between tight lips. I stare at her shopping bags, clothes and books and household paraphernalia. So does she.

Ah, shopping when you should be working - no worse that reading when you should be working surely?

I smile again. Raise my coffee to my lips and my eyebrows to the ceiling and sip happily at my coffee. She goes. Flushing red and grinding teeth.

I will of course suffer for this in some horrible way I'm sure. But not today. Today I will enjoy Moment of Victory # 1

Monday, 14 July 2008

Why Does Everything Take So Long? Plus: Deep Sea Pressure and Monday Mornings


As I sure most of you know, or at least suspect, the publishing industry is proper slow.

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure those bods at Tonto Towers are working hard, and I know they have lots going on what with Roz's and Steven's books coming out soon. And I must say I like how they go about promoting their authors and their books, they put a lot of energy into it.

But when is it MY turn?

I am, I admit, horribly impatient.

I spent most of my life, it seems, wishing away time.
How long til lunch?
How long left of this lesson?
When will this meeting end, I've got a pint with my name on it?
How many chapters do I have to do before I'm finished?
How many days left til 2009 and me being properly published and able to wear the t-shirt I had printed?

See, I'm impatient, and probably quite selfish. I feel I should make better use of my time. For example once again I have chosen blogging over marking.
Marking never seems to end, blogging and writing have a definite end points: the final full stop.

Marking does not. It is a series of commas.

Anyway, Tonto tell me I'm getting an update on the goings on this week. I'm really hoping I'll have a cover to look at soon, and sort of curious as to what they are going to do with all that bumpf I sent off to them about me and my mintness.

Lots and lots of wishing away my time. I should use more of it to write. I am sure that very soon I will be wishing time would stand still, just for a bit.

An extra hour in this day,

one more day in this week,

one more week of my summer holiday - which starts next Wednesday. I'm muchos excited.

Ah well, ten minutes till break time, no point starting the marking now...

Secondly: Deep Sea Pressure and Monday Morning

I fear that I am hibernating.
Every free second of my weekend has been spent sleeping. I am a napping machine. Since Saturday afternoon when I crawled out of bed I have perfected:
Resting my eyes,
Sneaking forty winks,
Passing out and waking up surrounded by marking and cuddling my pillow.

Disco Kettle has been most busy. I wake, it says 'Bing' and dances a little to try and stir up some energy from me. I drink coffee. I stare at a book or computer screen or walk for about an hour. I fall asleep again.

So now, having Achieved (and I do think of this as an Achievement) a whopping twenty something hours sleep over the last two days I turn up to work this morning and my head feels like it wants simultaneously to explode and be crushed into a tiny, pea sized lump attached to my neck.

Mondays are rubbish.

Friday, 11 July 2008

New and Exciting Ways to Avoid Marking. Plus: Overcoming my Self Promotion Fears


This morning at work I have achieved:

4 Cups of Coffee,
7 Chocolate Chip Cookies,
1 Invitation to lunch,
(which led to) 1 Excuse for not refereeing the lunchtime Year 7 5 a-side tournament,

But most importantly:

1 slightly sulky Year 7 trained in marking test papers.

I am most impressed with today's achievements and defy Anyone - Ever to top them.

But Mostly:

I have, indeed, overcome (some) of my Self Promotion Fear. Please don't misunderstand. I am not modest. I tell people all the time that I am great. At work especially I balance comments such as

No, I've not marked them. When will you get them? I dunno. Christmas?


Lesson plan?

With more positive comments such as

But blatently I am Mint.


I am, surely, the greatest thing to happen to teaching since caning.

I am not modest. Nor am I partculary Shy. I am happy to attempt to impress and entertain and interest people I have never met. It's the people that know me that scare me. It's the locals I'm worried about.

But I have no idea why.

Tonto want/need to promote the book. I get that. I am very, very happy about that. I want this book to do well. I want my next one to do better. I want my third to win me the Nobel prize.

These are modest ambitions I think we all share.

I just wish it was doable without having to promote me. If someone else wants to promote me, fine. Tell me where to go and I'll go. Not a problem. You want me to open a local signpost? (Because thats obviously what famous and respected authors do) Great. Done.

But self promotion? It's important I know but at the minute - when I've not quite yet got anything to promote - well it feels a bit... I dunno, Arrogant?

Still. I suppose that me sitting here at work, engaged in an act of self promotion, whinging about self promotion, but still hoping it succeeds (yes, I know - secretly, beneath the slightly dirty feel - I enjoy it) it at least looks like I'm working on something important.

If nothing else it is another achievement I can log for the day:

This morning at work I have achieved:

4 Cups of Coffee,
7 Chocolate Chip Cookies,
1 Invitation to lunch,
(which led to) 1 Excuse for not refereeing the lunchtime Year 7 5 a-side tournament,
1 slightly sulky Year 7 trained in marking test papers.

But most importantly:

I have convinced someone that I am doing something useful.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Introspective. Possibly.

Firstly: By popular demand (and I use the word 'popular' in a very loose sense. In fact I think I misuse 'popular'. Perhaps what I mean is: By Katw's demand) the Full and Terrifying Tale of My Miraculous Escape.

But mostly: Being Introspective For Other People


So there I was. Cowering. Crying. Slumped into a corner whilst my Baby towered over me. I held my paper cut hands to my face, felt the blood oozing between my fingers.

Desperate I looked to Disco Kettle. It lay on it's side, plug dangling from the counter, tepid water dripping from it's spout.

I was alone.

My Baby loomed large. It's title twisted in rage, in betrayal. It blocked out the light and I lay, curled up tight, in shadow.

From somewhere past My Baby I heard a scraping, something dragged across the kitchen floor. I heard whispers.

My Baby leaned in, I smelt ink. Smelt smoke. From somewhere to my right heard a faint 'Fffffssstttt'.

My Baby turned, frowned, ruffled in pages in frustration.

There stood Disco Kettle - glowing red and pink and angry scarlet.

From my left, behind My Baby came a growl, an insistant, high pitched gnashing of teeth. My shredder had appeared.


One inky black tear slipped from My Baby's title. Rolled down it's front page. It shook, sobbed. Folded down toward me, defeated. I stroked it's spine, caressed it's title page.

'It's ok' I whispered.

Disco Kettle said 'Bing.' I poured out coffee.

But mainly: Being Introspective For Other People

As always, here is the problem:

Tonto Books have sent me this Questionnaire (actually they have sent me two - one is about Caroline. I had no problems with that - just had to use my thesaurus to find new ways of saying wonderful, fantastic and wise. Thats not sucking up, thats genuine. Honest boss :)) about me and my book. To help them to help me, so they know what they can do to help promote the book. And me.

I like this. It makes me feel loved and valued. They even asked if I had any suggestions for promoting the book - any particular publications/sellers they wanted me to contact. All very nice.

But then they ask this:



I can't do these ones.

Ask me anything about the book, that's fine. But I hate ones about me.

Anything Quirky/interesting about me? Well no, not really. No more than anyone else really.

Suddenly I feel very dull.

But hey, I'm a writer now.

Maybe I could just make stuff up?

So far I've got this: I have worked abroad – I would have stayed abroad if I could have gotten a Visa but an incident of drunken and disorderliness made things awkward. In fact I did have another chance to move abroad and teach in Peru but have given that up, temporarily, to promote the book.

I bet pretty much anyone can top that.


I'm stuck.

Looking in to shout it out.

Disco Kettle says 'Bing.'

Monday, 7 July 2008

Stupid, Stupid, Spinoff

Firstly: My Miraculous Escape.

I won't go into details - it involves batteries and a pincer maneuver involving Disco Kettle and my electric Shredder...

Mostly: Stupid, Stupid, Spin off.

Here is the problem.

I have taken a character from 9987, a minor character - so minor he only appears once - and I've moved him North. He is my new main character. He is mint. If a bit weird.

This in itself isn't a bit problem, I'm not writing a sequel. That would be really stupid.

Besides, everyone knows that Spin offs are always wildly successful. Always.

Anyway, my problem is this:

This is a different type of story, written in a different style, with brand new characters and in a brand new, if equally damp, setting.
And I can't stop myself from writing it as if I were still my nameless narrator.

This is a problem.

On the upside it's raining, quite heavily. Hopefully this will continue as I find I always write better when it's wet and miserable. And I have a new album to listen to which is suitably accoustically.

But I keep slipping into first person.

This is going to require some real discipline on my part. This is going to require some real coffee too.


Disco Kettle, lets get to work.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Empty Nest Syndrome

So... My baby is gone. Final draft sent away.

The place seems strangely empty,

It's little bed lies cold,

No longer the clacking keyboard,

My coffee cup gathers mould.

Still, it's a relief. I'll be honest with you. All those nights obsessing over that particular comma, days spent wondering does that word quite fit?

I can breathe again.

Don't get me wrong, I'm in a position now I would have killled people to get to a two or three years ago. Kill people. Honest. But it's tough isn't it, doing all the editing. I've gone over it so many times that now I don't even like it!

So (he whispered, checking over both shoulders)


I've started a new one.

And lets be really, brutally honest here:

Conception is fun.

And I'm enjoying this, the planning, the excitment, the first fumbled kisses, the -

Did you hear that?


I thought I heard keys rattling. Anyway, I'm loving those electric moments: a character is formed, a thread untangled and then weaved back into place. Phone numbers exchanged and -

I definitly heard something.

Does my baby have a key?

Can it really be back so soon?

Nah - thats stupid, it'll be out for hours. We have the place all to ourselves -

Oh God!

It's not what it looks like, it means nothing to me. It was a stupid one off thing.

I was drunk! I was bored! I was lonely!

Please, no! Disco kettle! Disco kettle where are you?

You fiend, put it's plug back in!

Put down that novelty eraser!


(Is this the end for our intrepid hero? Can he escape the novelty eraser? Will all his hard work be rubbed out? Can disco kettle find a way around it's, quite literal, powerless state?

Tune in next time to find out.)

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

The Waiting Game - It's not that exciting.

It's been years! Why can't my baby leave home NOW?

It's not ready yet - you haven't even finished the final draft.

Well? So what? There's nowt like independance to form a bit of personality!

Yes, but Caroline hasn't seen the finished product yet has she? Get off your ass and finish it. It's still full of bizarrely placed commas and horrible, rambling sentences. She wants what best for it.

I don't care. I want it gone.

Plus the cover isn't ready yet, we've not even seen that -

So? Let it run wild and free! Let it's commas dangle, it's semi colons bounce!

Thats just stupid.

Screw you!

Get stuffed!

(Car is pulled over. Stern parent - the higher self maybe - at the wheel.)

He started it.

Yes, I know. In that time I could have been polishing the final draft. But I was waiting for the kettle to boil. And had to put a wash in. And had to pile up the marking I won't be doing later, on the desk I'll be avoiding all night.

(Kettle says 'Bing'. Yes, 'Bing'. It's says 'Fffzzzzttt' first then 'Bing'. Really. It lights up too, all swirly and disco-y.)

I'll get back to work then.

I'm nearly done.