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Monthly Archives: February 2010

square space

Began work on the online magazine website – FrontLip.

Lishman had got us some space, but the free trial period had elapsed, so I had to email the company, who then sent a new password to the gmail account, only Lishman hadn’t forwarded me the password for that particular account.

So I’m waiting for Lishman to read his emails, check the gmail account, get the email with the new password, email me the details, and then I’ll log onto the site.

So in reality, I’ve only begun work on getting a password to access the site. The real work will have to wait.



As promised, Jackson did an hour’s training with me this morning. He had me skipping, hitting the bags, doing combinations on the pads (“keep your elbows in!”) and other fairly violent activities.

When it got to the point when I could barely breathe, and couldn’t stand up straight, he let me rest for a minute – then he showed me some grappling technques. Which was fun. Then he had me punching again, which was not fun.

By the end he was laughing at my lack of anaerobic fitness (“Come on, give me eight more! Eight more!”) – I can walk comfortably for hours, but I’m out of practice with this fast, explosive sort of activity.

Anyway, it was fun, and I’m now back at home, sitting listening to Sky News talking about the BAFTAs, feeling very sore but satisfied with myself for getting out of bed early on a Sunday morning to train. My target for next week’s session is to simply last the hour without collapsing in a heap and crying like a baby.

Need to go and stretch now – if I don’t I’m going to wake up tomorrow with muscles that feel like hessian bags filled with broken glass. I can feel the pain approaching.

more Zippo

I’ve always thought that a film based on a story shouldn’t attempt to be a facsimile. A film-maker shouldn’t attempt to copy the words written on the page. That’d be a waste of his or her gifts, it’d be a severe limitation on the medium, and it would fail to employ all the lovely technology that’s available.

One of the joys of writing, and reading too, is getting inside the characters’ heads, listening to their inner voice, and you can’t do that with a film unless unless you resort to voice-overs, which can be a little tiresome.

On the other hand, film-makers do things that writers can’t – pulling the focus from one character or event to another, for example, doesn’t have the literary equivalent. The speed of cutting can affect how we interpret events. Sound effects. Casting. It all comes together to create something that wouldn’t exist on a page. Even when something has an equivalent, like framing a shot, I’d be hard-pushed to explain how I frame a scene in words, though I do.

I was email-chatting with Arthur Zwidsinski, who made a version of Zippo (see the sidebar for a link) and it struck me how little I know about film-making. Sure, I know the nuts and bolts, I can tell a long shot from a track-and-zoom, and there are certain creative rules and signposts that all storytellers employ, but I don’t really know how film-makers make their films ‘speak’ to the audience.

I couldn’t do it. Working with other people kills me anyway, but I believe in a total hands-off approach to adaptations. My rule is, let them get on with it – my charge is always 1 muffin or 1% of gross, whichever is the greater amount.

And so far, I’ve made about four muffins.

Oh, yeah, there’s another version of Zippo available online, on the DailyMotion website. I don’t know much about the film-makers, but feel free to follow the link and have a look. Maybe tell them what you think of it. It’s all good. There are now at least three versions of this story on film, and it’s extremely interesting to compare the different interpretations of a single, very short narrative.

write drunk; edit sober

One of Hemingway’s rules of writing is to write in the positive, rather than the negative – describe what happens, not what doesn’t. But then again, Hemingway put the business end of a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, so his judgement wasn’t always sound.

Nevertheless, the Old Man is one of my absolute literary heroes. And his posthumous novel, The Garden of Eden, is one of my favourite books of all time, despite its allegedly being subject to ‘minor interpolation’ by whoever compiled it from his notes and drafts.

Still, I love it. I love the narrative, I love the relationships. I don’t mind if it is imperfect. Plus, as a writer, there are some gems in there. Real Hemingway ‘how-to-write’ moments.

Here’s some advice on the business of writing simple, clear prose: “But do not start to think so damned simply. Know how complicated it is and then state it simply.”

Oh, I love Hemingway more every time I read him. He just gets better. In fact, stop reading this, go and read some Hemingway. And if you haven’t got any of his books, log onto any online bookstore and order some.

Any of them.


A good holiday is days out walking, or days spent sitting in the garden reading and drinking wine, or mornings in bed sleeping, or making love, or hours spent sitting doing nothing.

Two visits to the dentist in two days isn’t a good holiday. Trashing around garages trying to buy a replacement for my little VW isn’t a good holiday. Especially when my mouth is still numb from the novocaine.

And in spite of having a couple of days annual leave, this place is still a mess. There’s paper, electronic gadgets, books, old DVDs, empty biscuit packets and walking gear littering every flat surface, as far as the eye can see.

Plus Starlight isn’t speaking to me as I made a fuss of Alfee, Jamie T’s pug, when they came to visit yesterday.

On the up side, Jackson has agreed to be my personal trainer. Not sure how much fun that will be, but it should get me fit. Or in traction.

Right. Off to the garage to negotiate. Then to Smiths for a big notebook. Not a good holiday.

The Card

Getting a lot of interest in The Card.

One or two people are talking about turning it into a movie.

Though it works fine as a short story, The Card is actually the opening chapter of a novel called Dealer No.1 which describes how the narrator, Mickey Hall, an unhappy but fairly ordinary fifteen year-old, is forced by circumstance to become a drug-dealer.

Mickey becomes a dealer in order to protect his dysfunctional family, but in doing so he comes across the father he’s never met. And his father is a real criminal, unlike Mickey who’s basically an inspired and fairly desperate amateur.

It all gets a bit Greek at that point.

In the meantime, I’m working on Part 2 of Grendel.

Billy Pilgrim

Sitting here at my desk listening to a radio dramatisation of Slaughterhouse 5.

I studied the novel at Uni, and wasn’t impressed much, except for the fact that the central event of the narrative is the fire-bombing of Dresden by the allies in 1945.

My grandad was there, in Dresden, in 1945. He helped dig out the bodies from the bomb-shelters. Dead, he said. All of them dead. But unmarked too; choked by the lack of oxygen in the air, because the firestorm caused by the incendiary bombs burned it all off as it consumed the wooden buildings that Dresden was mainly built from.

Around 30,000 people died in the Dresden firestorm of February 13-15 1945. No one is quite sure how many, though, because a huge amount of bodies were incinerated and there were no remains to be counted.

My grandad said the Americans came over during the day, then the British at night, and they kept bombing for two days, until Dresden was destroyed.

He was a POW. A Tommy, captured by Rommel’s army at Tobruk. He once told me a little about what happened at Dresden, and while he tried to explain, tried to describe, what happened, his face became blank with grief and incomprehension.

I listened. Fascinated.

My gran told me once that he came back from the war a changed man; a nervous man, anxious, suffering from malnutrition and what they’d call now PTSD. He came home to a job on the docks, where he worked until he retired.

He’s long dead now, my grandad, but I knew him as the gentlest man I’d ever met. Ever will meet, probably. He told me a lot of stories about his time in the army, most of them good-natured and entertaining.

But Dresden he rarely mentioned, if at all. I don’t think he knew how to talk about it.

I am in awe of men like my grandad. Ordinary men. Gentle. Family men and unremarkable.

They’re giants to me.

in with the bullet, out with the heart

Although I’m working steadily on Grendel, and should have a completed draft by the end of the year, I’m going to set aside a single 24 hours period at some point over the summer, and write a collection of short-stories.

Going to call it Same-Day Collection.

That’ll be fun.

english pastoral

Do you ever catch a momentary glimpse of how good your life could really be, if only you had time to enjoy it?

Life can be a bit of a monkey trap – we cling desperately to what we’ve got, no matter how piss-poor the quality, and by doing so we stop ourselves getting what we really need.

We settle for the security of mediocrity, when we should be diving for pearls.

Well, I’m working on an escape plan.

(ps – 100th post – yaay!)

The Day Job

Helen, a girl I work with, has a saying: Work Buys Beer.

It also pays the rent, which allows me to sit in the back garden on an evening and study the movement of the trees in the beeze, and it buys cat-food which means that Starlight still loves me, and it pays for petrol and other stuff.

Work pays for my excursions, it’s going to buy me a Macbook Pro next month, and it buys me red wine too, without which the world would be monochrome and deeply sad.

Despite this, as often as possible, I wear a t-shirt to work that bears the acronym FRO, which stands for Fuck Right Off, and sort of sums up my attitude to the day job.

Sometimes, I write FRO on the back of my hand in marker pen.

I’d give up work tomorrow if I could. I’d give it up now, if I was able; would simply decide never to think about it again, not even bothering to call in or write a letter of resignation. I’d just drop it like an unpleasant topic.

But until I can afford that option I’m resolved to arrive, smiling, at work, at eight fifteen every morning, and earn my right to drink wine, feed the cat and write.

But I live in hope.