Thursday, January 31, 2008

But who will save the chickens?

I got fan mail today from a bloke who’s just finished reading Recycling Jimmy. Now I know that, for most of the Kunati authors who had their novels published at the same time as me, this milestone was passed some time ago but I like to think that my target audience are just slow readers. Particularly pleasing is the fact that the letter came from someone who had never written to an author before. He just wanted to thank me for giving him a good laugh. How cool is that? Made me realise too that the whole process of writing a book doesn’t count for much if no one appreciates it. I always thought that I was writing for my own pleasure and whilst that maybe true to a point, the fact is that once published, you realise that you were writing for others; writing in the hope that someone, somewhere will like what you’ve done. There are other types of feedback that validate all this of course: royalty cheques (which reminds me, where the hell is mine?) and reviews, but generally these are from people who are either in the business or have an interest in it. If I had to choose, I’d take that unsolicited contact from a complete stranger any time. On the other side of the coin, no doubt it’s the start of sleepless nights for me; images of a tattooed madman sat sniffing my book surrounded by walls covered with news clippings and excerpts scrawled in chicken’s blood. Only messing Allan, much appreciated and glad you enjoyed RJ.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Kenya understand it? 'Cos I can't.

Now I’m not particularly well informed about African politics but I do keep my on the news and at least try to be. I’ve seen about as much as Sky news has to offer about the troubles in Kenya for example but still I have no bloody idea what it’s all about. I thought all that was going to change this morning when I returned from the shower just in time to catch today’s offering brought to us by tiny blonde reporter Emma Herd (?) as she’s being jostled by the mob. She walks toward the camera and opens a discussion with a very sensible and calm looking blue shirted man. So, the bloke begins talking but says nothing about inflation, land rights, access to health care, poverty etc etc. All he bangs on about is my people this and my people that. Nothing of any substance. And he gets louder every time he says ‘my people’ too until he’s shouting and screaming and then bugger me if, from behind his back, he doesn’t pull this huge machete and start waving that in our beloved Emma’s face. Hold on pal, what the hell has she done? Anyway, he isn’t there long because a bigger, angrier bloke pushes his way forward, shoves the guy in the blue shirt out of the way and waves an even bigger machete at tiny Ms Herd. Then the camera cuts and we get back to ‘other news’. Left me wondering how it all works over there. But it also left me angry and mumbling to myself ‘am I bovvered’ as I switched the telly off.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Something strange going on.....

As an atheist, evolution has always been my friend. When ever one of the god squad starts banging on about ‘immaculate detail’ and ‘the design of life’ it’s so easy to say ‘Yeah? Well it’s evolution mate. Deal with it.’ Trouble is, it turns out that my ‘faith’ in the Origin of Species is probably just about as blind and misguided as Roy Keane’s in Sunderland. The thing that recently shook my belief system was the National Geographic channel. Did you know that if a bat heard its own sonar then its ear drum would burst? It’s true apparently. Clever little sod gets around this by using a tiny muscle to disconnect bone from drum in the instant that it screeches and then puts it back again in time to hear the echo. What?? How the hell does that evolve? How many bats have to hit how many trees (blood pumping from their furry little ears) before nature fixes that one? And what’s more, shouldn’t the solution have been more straight forward, more sensible? I mean, why the hell wouldn’t bats have evolved night vision or better still, a bloody alarm clock and get up with the rest of us? Now I am not admitting defeat on the old who created what debate, but I must admit, I am beginning to think that there’s something else going on here; that perhaps mother nature isn’t simply throwing dice and getting the odd six. The laws of the universe tend to try and quiet things don’t they? Stars cool, pressure hisses into vacuum, mountains crumble and waves, well you get the picture. It’s all to do with entropy I think; the state of disorder. The more chaos, the higher the entropy and the scientists assure us that the universe doesn’t like it so everything is cooling and slowing to a cold black death. That is, everything except life. According to evolution, life becomes more diverse with time, more complicated. Against every other trend, evolution creates chaos. It’s as though it’s going backwards. We should have started out as a mass of swinging, walking, swimming, fluttering things then slowly evolved back to a mush of single cellular organisms shouldn’t we? Okay, rules are there to be broken but in this case the question would be, who by?

Recycling Jimmy

Friday, January 18, 2008

Shelf Life

I write contemporary fiction; darkly comic stories that string together snapshots of today’s attitudes and events. On the surface, I’d accept that this particular genre is perhaps the simplest of all to tackle. I don’t mind admitting that, as a naturally lazy bloke, writing without research is hugely appealing. But it isn’t all good news. You see, for my stories to work, the reader has to recognise their context or at least be aware that the places and people they are laughing at or with, really could exist just outside the door, That’s how fiction works; the fresher the situation, the better the reading experience. The flip side of this is that, in today’s world where taste and truth can change with the flick of TV switch, ensuring the longevity of a manuscript needs careful attention. Imagine for example, Dan Brown putting the final touches to the Da Vinci code, sitting back with a smug grin only to see on the news that some dusty old archaeologist had found the real holy grail, spooned a goblet from the sand somewhere in the Holy Land. Bummer, and it’s the same risk with the fictional manuscripts that we slave over for months on end. I can tell you, it can be a long, anxious wait between submission and release; a time during which at any moment mass opinions or truths can change turning your funky fresh book into a pile of rotting pulp.

Recycling Jimmy

Friday, January 11, 2008

Be careful what you wish for....

‘Why are there only bad things on the news? I wish these people would report happy stories for a change.’

I’d bet my 42” LCD that anyone who has a television has said something similar to this at one time or another. Well never again for me thank you very much. I’ve said it for the last time because today I finally got my wish. I sat down to eat my sandwich in front of the lunchtime news just in time to see the tail end of some black and white footage of Mount Everest, a tall bloke and a small Asian fella, both stood grinning in big coats.

‘Looks like Sir Edmund Hilary dead or dying. Shame that.’ I said, took another bite and waited for the next story.

Some woman in Ireland had found her dog. This feature is on for over two minutes; a woman finding her dog. And I think I know why it ran away too. The owner wouldn’t stop rubbing it. You could see the dog straining to get away from her pampering, see the discomfort in its eyes, eyes that also resolved to hide better next time or die tryin’. Next there’s a picture of the Liver Building in Liverpool. I know what’s coming; the European city of culture starts today so I’m happy to go and slap some more ham on my bread knowing that I’m not going to miss anything. I return four minutes later to a picture of a monkey. It’s been found too. Now I know that we humans sometimes make the mistake of personifying these little furry people but I swear that as the monkey squealed and pointed off camera, it was blaming the dog. Guess we’ll never know. The monkey feature closed and the ‘news’ wrapped up with some entertainment ‘news’ about the premiere of Depp’s musical mistake, Sweeny Todd. The link girl smiles, promises that she’ll be back later to keep me up to date with everything and the program finishes leaving me wondering what the hell it was all about. I felt like I’d just watched an episode of Blue Peter; absolutely no adult content whatsoever.

It turns out that ‘good news’ is in fact ‘bad news’ after all. No news would have been better.

Recycling Jimmy

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The unrerasonable weight of evil words

I almost had a great day yesterday. Things had been pretty slow after the holidays and I was pretty much resigned to yet another session of watching ducks through the window when Kirk called. He’s an Aussie, a pal of mine from work and on the spur of the moment he decided to drop in to visit me and my girlfriend on his way back to Algeria. Naturally, most of the entertainment took place in the pub where it didn’t take long for a whole host of friends who I hadn’t seen since Christmas to join us. Like I say, all the ingredients were there to make a day great (unexpected friends packed full of stories and huge laughs) that culminated in a guitar thrashing session back at the lodge. Cool, and a fantastic time was almost in the bag when, lying in bed just before the stroke of midnight I unaccountably blurted two words to my girlfriend, snoozing on the pillow next to me. Now I won’t say what those words were (why or what isn’t important here) but the argument and tension that followed was black enough to turn the whole day sour. My own fault and I’ll hold my hands up, but what struck me during that dark, silent hour between fight and sleep was how powerful those words had been. Five bad syllables that had somehow managed to pollute the thousands of good ones that had previously been spoken that day. Bad words have this ability. They can ruin moments, days, lives and they can break things that an eternity of good words will never fix. This isn’t rocket science but it does also explain why as a writer I sometimes find myself staring at a blinking cursor for hours on end looking for the right word. In reality though, it isn’t my search for the right word that delays; it’s my fear of the bad one, the one with the power to turn the last three pages in to toilet paper.
Recycling Jimmy

Monday, January 7, 2008

God Bless (some of) America!

I needed to cash a cheque the other day but as it was in dollars I thought I’d ask how much it would cost to put the money into my sterling account. The young cashier thought about this for a moment and then asked the girl sat next to her. After a hushed chat and an indiscrete giggle (about what I have no idea) she came back to my window and announced proudly that it would cost me 2.5% of the value.
‘So how much is that then?’
The girl took a calculator, turned it on and looked at it for (and this is no exaggeration) 3 minutes without pushing a button.
‘Do you want me to do it?’
She smiles, giggles again and pushes the calculator under the glass for me to punch the numbers.
‘That’s two hundred and fifty quid! You sure about this? I ain’t paying two hundred and fifty quid to cash a cheque.’
‘Well, the cheque is for a lot of money isn’t it sir.’
‘Not really, no. Can you get some one to confirm this please.’
Now the girl huffs, spins her chair and walks toward a group of older women huddled around computers at the back of the room.
‘It’s zero point two five percent.’ she tells me when she returns.
‘That sounds better. So how much is that then?’ I asked, pushing the calculator back at her to see if she knows how to divide by ten. She didn’t so I told her, completed the transaction and left the building, strolling back to my car and resolving to move my account. But is the bank entirely at fault here? I mean if I, as a customer, don’t have the bottle to tell them that a divvy has slipped through the basic training net, how many customers must they lose before they find out? Well actually you know, not my problem, so stuff ‘em. A business shouldn’t be relying solely on ‘customer feedback’ questionnaires to tell them how to improve crap service. They should be delivering anyway, just like the American model that they all bang on about so much. This attitude is typical in the UK if you ask me. Somewhere along the line the UK has decided to adopt only a part of the American ideal and not all of it. Trouble is, it appears for some reason that we’ve only embraced the rubbish bits (gun culture, wars, fat arses, customer feedback forms, tornadoes) and decided not to bother so much with the good stuff on offer (cheap petrol, cosmetic surgery, customer service, cheap petrol). Of course, if you don’t agree or are not completely satisfied with this opinion, please feel free to let me know.