LIONS

Daughter. Lions.

Lions. Daughter.

I spent the morning at the zoo today hanging around in sub-zero wind while my daughter scored herself some work experience at said zoo working with the Big Cats. I probably make it sound a bit more exciting than it will actually be but it sure as hell beats sitting around in an office doing a whole bunch of pointless stuff that nobody else wants to do and then wandering over to a shop to buy a bag of crisps for lunch.

She is very pleased. I am very pleased. We are both still trying to figure out what we really think of zoos - I’ve had a lot longer than she has to work at that and still can’t decide - but she wants to spend her life doing conservation-type stuff so we’ll roll with the positivity because it puts things in the right column for doing the right kind of things when the right time comes.

She is eighteen in a few weeks. Not sure my opinion will count for a whole lot one day soon but you never know… I might get to be one of ‘those’ Dads that retains the X-Factor long after it should have run out.

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My buddy JJ mailed me a link to a story about writing yesterday… it goes like this:

“INJECT is a free digital tool that can help stimulate journalists’ creativity by providing them with a variety of perspectives on a specified topic. Journalists can use it as an idea generator, a suggestion machine, or an inspiration tool that can help them find innovative ways to tell their story.”

It goes on to say:

“Journalists, today, have less time, and fewer resources, to create ideas and write stories. What INJECT will do is to make journalists as creative as they are at the moment, but more quickly and efficiently. The INJECT tools will do this by implementing strategies that will enable them to undertake some of the work of experienced journalists more quickly, to permit and support journalists to spend more time on creative thinking and story development.”

Neil Maiden, INJECT’s Project Leaderand Professor of Digital Creativity at Cass Business School, London”

I do NOT class myself as a journalist even though I edit a huge international magazine. I do write - and I write a lot - so I feel I’m at least reasonably qualified to say this man is talking with his mouth full.

Journalists today have way more time than they ever did. They can write on the move, ship stories in at the click of a button, take a photograph to go with it if needs be… text their buddies if they’re in a hole, fly relatively cheaply around the world… tech is their best freaking friend on so many fronts so I don’t know about that ‘fewer resources’ bit either. The problem facing journalists is not creativity but actually getting paid to do good work in an environment that’s shrinking financially but growing digitally (and for free) on a daily basis.

As always, if you have the penchant to write and feel like you don’t have enough time or resources, step away from the bullshit drain of social media, turn off the TV and the other four devices you have at your disposal, grab a stub of a pencil, the back of an envelope and get to fucking work. Write something meaningful. The world is on its knees for quality journalism.

You do not need an app with a pop-up bar to give you ideas - that makes you a computer operator. What you need to do is get to work. The only way you can be a writer is to write. To be a journalist… journal.

Using this app will not help make you a better journalist.

And it sure as hell won’t make you into a lion.

TROUBADOURS

I went on a shopping mission this morning. I felt the need to lounge around in the swamp with the greats and came away armed with this:

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And this:

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And this:

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And this:

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The conclusion that I have come to before opening any of them is that these artists were successful because they went out on a limb and did their own thing. Interestingly perhaps in the big scheme of things, I would say that none of them will ever be in the Top 100 singers of any list, ever (Kate could scrape it maybe) but they should all be in the Top Five of any list that looks at storytelling songwriters. Call it poetry if you like but it’s more than that. It’s full on Troubadourness (I don’t think that’s an actual word but it is now) and I never really noticed that about myself before - that storytellers in music are my ‘thing’. This is a good thing to know about myself as I push forward with the whole Deadbirds project.

(Note: because Troubadour is an ancient word, it is thus the male description of one. A female troubadour is called a Trobairitz.)

Given that my love for him is boundless and such a thing does not exist, I got to thinking that maybe I should put together an authorised (which might take a while) complete lyric book of Alice Cooper’s work. He is one of the best the world has ever seen without question and that talent is absolutely overshadowed by escapades with chickens and guillotines… and he also falls neatly into my ‘not the best singer in the world’ thesis. I’m not saying none of these guys can sing - I’m just talking technically. More to the point, I don’t think any of them ever cared either. The point is to deliver the song and tell the story not to shatter a glass at twenty paces.

Maybe that’s the payoff? It’s sure as hell a payoff I would take every day of the week over somebody fawning over my voice - not that such a thing is ever likely to happen.


Not relevant to any of that, but did you know there was a theory that Scooby Doo is a collective hallucination of The Gang who are all tripping on LSD? I thought I was well versed in pop culture but that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that floated down the river. We can only assume it was a bad batch of CIA infused drugs when somebody threw Scrappy into the arena and spoiled the fun forever.

Just say no, right?

Finally… I’m not really a t-shirt kinda guy anymore but this looks like a valuable addition to a limited wardrobe:

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LONE WOLF II

I love seeing a book of my own out in the wild... this copy of Coffee House arrived at its new home this morning and probably won’t look this new for long but I’m putting a tick in the win column over making the cover the same colour as this coffee:

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Here’s that very same book a day or so later:

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I love writing books.


It’s been a full-on week so far out here. Carved my way with a scythe through a stack of day-job work, spent some time with my buddy Adrian beating the living daylights out of that new Gretsch, walked across the hills with Hector to the tune of about 16,000 steps a day (I must stop looking at that stupid app thing) and I’m beat. I also need a good night’s sleep and a shave.

It’s my small persons eighteenth birthday in about ten weeks. After much discussion, I reluctantly agreed that maybe… just maybe… it would be OK if she went away by herself (with a friend) somewhere exciting. She floated Paris as an idea but I think I’ve rewired that machine so that Paris now means Florence. Paris is cool and everything… but for a young girl… I wasn’t super happy about that. Florence on the other hand is reasonably small and super safe so far as I have ever seen when I’ve been out there.

It’s a big step for me to cope with this. We have reached an age in which some of her friends now have cars and drive. An age in which she can make plans that involve aeroplanes… and fistfuls of other unholy things. It scares me to fucking death and back again.

There is only one thing for it. I’m going to print a few of these and hide them in her pockets, suitcase, purse… you name it, I will find a home for it:

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I heard a good line on a TV show tonight. It goes like this:  “It’s become fashionable not to be believe in anything except your own personal gain.”

There’s more truth in that one line than there is on the whole front page of the BBC News site - or any news site for that matter - but maybe one day soon, the nation will swing back and start believing in satyrs and Gef the talking mongoose again... now there’s a story you don’t hear very often anymore:

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Look it up.  

Meanwhile, I spent most of the afternoon working on a song called The Wolves In The Radio (that I’m loving very much) and any moment now, I’m heading to the place known as ‘ratting a pencil between your teeth’ to wrap up something I started on yesterday before the threads of it disappear forever.

...and then I might just abandon what remains of the day and read.  

And maybe I should finish off those cookies before they go stale. That would be a rea shame.

Sion Smith
on writers block, lions and dick dastardly

One of my freelancers asked me for couple more days on a feature they were writing earlier this week… the answer is ‘of course you can’. No editor who has done it long enough will ever hand out a deadline that can’t be moved by at least 10 days.

I’ve never had writers block. I don’t even think it exists - you sure can’t tell your GP about it - but I see how easy it might be to throw it out as an ‘excuse’. It’s a great phrase to pile more negative thoughts into a writers head though… like we needed any more self doubt than we already have, huh?

If you think you have it, all that’s happened is you turned up at the office when it was shut. Simple as that. Great creative ideas don’t line up around the block waiting to be released at 9am and wrapped up nicely by 5pm. They never have and they never will. You can fluff it and sometimes set fire to the world, as proved by huge writing factories like Mills & Boon, the pulp publishers of days gone by or songwriting in Nashville but somewhere along the road of doing it like that, two grammes of your soul will float away on a passing breeze at the same time every week. Thus:

If you want to see a pigeon of an idea, just go outside at 9am.

If you want to see a lion of an idea, you will need patience, stealth and a pen in your back pocket.

Anybody can catch a pigeon (except Dick Dastardly) but a lion will elude you no end and the pay-off for your patience will make you feel like a God.

Drat, Drat, Double And Triple Drat… I really want one of these.

Drat, Drat, Double And Triple Drat… I really want one of these.

I assume the whole 9 to 5 idea of a working life was spawned by the industrial revolution and then, as years turned into decades, just became ‘a thing’ everybody took for granted. It’s no way to live but it’s a fantastic way to die if you’ve got a creative bent inside.

Staring at a screen is a horrible way to die. That’s why I write longhand. It was probably OK to stare at a sheet of paper in your typewriter for a while but staring at your screen leads to youtube which leads to facebook which leads to twitter… which leads to you dying slowly in front of all your followers… only there will be nobody there to help you because they are all dying too. Not all suicides are recorded.

For instance, this morning, An Idea With Legs passed through my head but I was out with Hector and the idea was gone before I could catch it. That’s how writing works sometimes and that’s OK. Maybe another writer will fish it out of the sky and do something with it. Maybe it will land on a mountain in Japan and not be found for five years.

If you find yourself unable to write: take the dog out, go do the food shopping, do something Joe Wicks tells you to for 20 minutes. Have a shave, look at yourself naked in a mirror and wonder what happened… but never, ever seek out the company of others. By being a writer, there are parts of your brain that are hard-wired to act like buckets put under a leaking roof. What you don’t want is other people throwing their ideas into your buckets… that’s called being a journalist and is a very different thing.

I guess the best way to sum it up is to steal something valuable from the past. Something like this:

"There's a difference between writing for a living and writing for life. If you write for a living, you make enormous compromises... If you write for life, you'll work hard; you'll do what's honest, not what pays."

Toni Morrison


Footnote: While I was looking for that pic above for DD&M, I found this:

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Brilliant. Nobody sat around staring at a sheet of paper to create that. I guarantee such a thing turned up while this artist was washing the car or putting a wardrobe together.

Fact.

Sheep In Wolf's Clothing

Over the last few months - which might even drift into years - there's been much talk of how nobody reads blogs anymore.  I have thoroughly wholesome opinions on this. There are many good reasons this is happening and the best of them all is that a huge percentage of blogs are nothing more than self serving posturing, devoid of content and treat their readers like idiot sheep... and your first mistake would be to think I was one of them.

A quick tour of some book review sites, for example, would have you believe that in order to get the maximum reading enjoyment from a book, you need pristine white sheets, a brand new mug filled with freshly brewed coffee everyday and flowers. I do not lie:

I for one, do not treat my books like this. If it's worthy of my time, I scowl at those pages from start to finish until they give up their secrets. My bed does not look like the one pictured above - it has paws prints on it today - and I sure as hell wouldn't leave a new friend by the riverbank with a broken spine just so that my blog looked sexy. 

What kind of person breaks the spine of a friend for a photo opportunity anyway?

Welcome to the new dawn in which you can invite yourself to any party you choose and pretend to be the host as devoted followers fawn at your feet.

There was once a time when you hosted a blog because you had something to say, then, as ever, bright sparks rubbed together and figured out how to make money from it and now they are full of keywords disguised as paragraphs. Their only purpose is to drive people to the cliff and eventually take their money or get numbers up for some reason - usually both.

Most of the people I would like to read a few posts a week from have hung up their gloves. Neil Gaiman is barely hanging on in there, Nick Hornby was self admittedly awful at it. Joe Hill killed his off. Many have drifted off to instagram, tumblr and twitter to say their piece - probably because they’re easy platforms with decent apps on the phone - but the problem with that is the problem of all social media... your reader can, and will, wander off to another party in the blink of an eye and forget you existed in a second. These people I mention probably have better things to do with their lives than post regularly and are therefore bad examples, but somewhere out there, there must be people who can write who have something to say. Surely the idea of the blog is not dead beyond repair. (Edit: Cherie Priest is pretty good at it still and she writes good books too, so the concept is not totally dead.)

It's not only book bloggers though - there are far worse culprits. I see my fair share of tattoo bloggers doing the same thing. Music bloggers are equally guilty. Take away the pretty pictures and what you're left with is a hollow shell of a person with a keyboard and a camera at their disposal standing naked in the shop window with a sign hanging around their neck that says "I Want To Be In The Industry Of Cool" - on the back it will say "And I Will Do Anything To Be Part Of It."

My friend John recently dived into his garage to rescue hundreds of vinyl albums that had been in storage and had gone mouldy. It took him a few days to sort out, clean them up and sadly, some of the classics didn't make it. The pictures ain't sexy and damn, that would be a great blog/website. Album by album: did it survive? How much of a heartbreak is it to watch it go into the bin? Why did I buy it in the first place? Is this record even mine? He has better things to do than this however, but you get the drift. I would sign up for a blog like that pronto.

The dam however, is broken. You'll never get the beaten up genie back in the bottle and while I thoroughly endorse anybody with the inclination to put up a site and spend their time building a presence for their passion, I - and the rest of the sentient world - would appreciate it very much if you dug with a spade for treasure instead of kneeling in the sand licking rocks.

Posing for pretty pictures is not what books like to do with their lifespan.

Sion Smith
THE JANUARY MAN

“If you set yourself to it, you can live the same life, rich or poor. You can keep on with your books and your ideas." 
– George Orwell, Down And Out In Paris And London

Outside, we are three days into 2019. I didn’t do a whole lot on the 1st, but over the last couple of days, this has taken up the night shift like a sponge - and for once, all of that cover blurb is pretty accurate. I’m enjoying it very much… it’s good for the soul to visit a different country for my noir kicks too. Scandinavia was starting to get just a little bit claustrophobic.

I kind of like January for the same reason I think The Fellowship of the Ring is the best in the Lord of the Rings sequence. It is fuelled by Hope.

Hope for a better tomorrow is as good as the human psyche can possibly get. Nothing beats hope. It’s the one emotion we don’t share with the rest of the animal kingdom. If you were of a cynical mind, I guess you could say hope was nothing more than lying to yourself, but it’s way more than that.

January comes around and if last year sucked diesel through a plastic straw for you, you can square it off, stuff it in a box and forget it ever happened. Hope is good like that. Hope is the universe’s way of forcing you to take a lungful of sea air when all you had been sniffing before was fumes.

Thus, I have hope. Hope that this year, I can work smarter (and therefore faster) than I did last year (during which I thought about things way too much) and commit more of the things stewing inside my head to paper or guitar. Hell, there was so much hope lying around the house a couple of days ago, we even scoped out some houses in Normandy for a possible future move. That’s not a place I had ever considered living at all, but now I’ve had a look around at what’s available, I have ummm… hope.


As is also traditional around this time of year, I laid out some of those things called ‘plans’. So far, it’s amounted to making a few travel plans that will take in my annual ‘sabbatical’ to Florence sometime in October, repeated trips to Poland and Belgium for work and I’m scoping out some new places to investigate simply because I should. Considering Copenhagen is one of my favourite places on Earth, it’s been a while since I’ve been over, so I’d like to include that too.

Writing wise, there are old plans, current plans, future plans… I have so many things in the pipeline, I usually don’t know where to start but I have learned much in the last year or two, the biggest one being to start at the beginning. So this morning I did just that. One project on the desk… nothing else until at least a first draft of that is finished.

Meanwhile, I have a new addition to the family…

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…and it’s fitted into the pantheon real well. Another thing I started a couple of days ago was to record myself playing the proposed Deadbirds setlist. Once a day, every day. All original material interspersed with a few covers I’ve been toying with. It’s proving to be an interesting experiment in ‘getting better’ that’s for sure.

Anyway, here comes 2019. May it be everything all the other years were supposed to be for you. I’ll leave you with this - which is wise in the extreme:

From  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

From Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Sion Smith
BIRDS

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie worth talking about but this evening I came across BIRDBOX on Netflix. it’s a little bit Day of the Triffids, a little bit Monsters and it’s everything a monster movie should be in 2018. Well written and scripted, brilliantly acted, tense from start to finish and Sandra Bullock is The Bomb.... just the kind of thing a man like me needs to be spending his time on across Christmas Eve.

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I saw a story this week about how Netflix was giving the cinema chains a run for their money - based on BIRDBOX and a few other things I’ve seen along the way, that may not be far from the truth. They don’t hit the mark every single time but they’re on target often enough to make that news story a warning shot for those who think they can get away with churning out movies for the sake of it. 

The world is changing fast huh. 

Hopefully not as fast as it does in this movie though. I’ve still got things to do... 

Sion Smith
THOUGHTS ABOUT NIGELLA

Nothing in life makes me feel like I have failed miserably on all fronts more than watching Nigella Lawson doing what she does best at Christmas. 

I sat here for half an hour drooling on myself as she poured chocolate sauce onto some cake that would never pass my lips, whipped up a dinner better suited to Kings of Bavaria than the other people who live in her street and generally looked like she was in control of anything that might appear in her kitchen - expected or otherwise.

Nigella has been busy, busy, busy and once more, has won the respect of the nation with her culinary expertise. I can’t even butter a slice of bread without putting an apron on.

My own contribution to the nation has been to sit around playing guitar, finishing the book I was reading and walking 4km with Hector - twice. That’s 8km if your math isn’t so good.

Outside, there is rain. Inside, there are dirty, wet towels from drying Hector and clean wet towels from previous dog drying sessions that haven’t dried yet. There is mud strewn across the floor from both me and him. Christmas is not yet figured out and the fridge is emptier than Nigella’s kitchen sink.

Life is good.

I can’t recall if I ever mentioned here that I was taking the whole of December off. Not just from work but from as much of life as I could too. My plan was - and is - to check myself in at The Priory... that would be The Priory Of Sion and not the famous rehab clinic. Well, I find it amusing.

Checking myself in means I have to present myself at the desk of my soul, whereby my soul, will give me a look similar to something my mother would give me, and I will go away shame-faced to make sure I’m doing all the things I think I should be doing to get wherever it is I think I’m going.

And lo... I can see there are things I had promised myself that never materialised already but this is an observational exercise - not a “you must do something about it” exercise. Perhaps the only thing I can learn from such an exercise is not to think I can do quite so much in the future. 

Questions are being asked: What am I going to do across the next twelve months or so? Where should I travel to in search of magic? What will I write? Who will I choose to be if I’m really in charge of my own life? 

They’re good questions to ask of yourself. Take your eye off the ball you started bouncing years ago and it can bounce anywhere... sometimes it can bounce so far away, you’ll have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever catching it. 

And sometimes it’s fine to just head back out into the world and buy a new ball to play with. That option is always open to you. Ain’t no shame in changing your mind about anything.  

One Life. One Death.  

So, being as I’ve fulfilled my writing promises to myself for the year and these songs I’m working on appear to have a life of their own, I’ll be putting some work into rebooting the Big Bear Rescue project for a couple of weeks - that sounds like a good use of time over Christmas while everybody else is doing Nigella-type things. What I’d really like to do is head out to the sanctuary and make a documentary. Not the most unreachable goal in the world so I’ll press some buttons and see what gives.

Right now though, it’s just me and The Equaliser 2... which is a little worrying as last night it was me and Jason Bourne and the night before, it was me and Jack Reacher. Three films in three nights about men doing the ‘right thing’ in their quest for justice.

Maybe if those guys checked in with Nigella now and again, the world wouldn’t seem like such a bad place. 

Sion SmithNigella Lawson
WHAT I THINK ABOUT WHEN I THINK ABOUT RUNNING

I’ve never liked running. That’s why I drive a car.

On the other hand, I do believe the hype that running might actually be good for me… though when we left school and decided to keep fit by running in the mornings, I fell on the first time out and broke my arm. Split a bone from elbow to wrist. All of the years between then and now has not dimmed this memory. Most notable perhaps is that I had to cycle five miles back home afterwards.

Anyway… eight weeks ago (I know this to be true because an app tells me so) I started running again using the Couch to 5K app. I tried it earlier this year but blew my knee but this time… so far, so good. Week eight is upon me and ends in week nine. Two weeks to go. I ran tonight, so that means five more runs to the end.

My goal was to run the 5k by the end of the year, so even though I’m finding it tough as hell (probably not helped by running about 9pm in the dark with the wind and the rain whooping my ass in the bargain) I’m getting there. So, with two weeks to go and two more weeks in the back pocket to train some more, I should make it… though I guess a little snow and ice any moment now will make it even more of an adventure at some point.

Maybe I should strap my arms up before we get to that point.

It’s a great app if you ever think you’ve sat on the sofa for quite long enough… and I’ve been helped along the way by a running buddy (Mr Cole) who, even though we live 200 miles apart and he runs in the morning, just having somebody else telling you they have run today is enough to keep you from slacking off.

But to answer the question of what I think about when I think about running:

  1. The first few weeks, I mostly thought about how nobody at Apple - despite their best intentions, health apps etc - ever actually did any running at all (or even any walking quite fast) because trying to keep those slippery ear-buds in your ears (and my ears are a pretty regular size) is impossible. Apple say they are all about the design but when you find the best solution is using masking tape to stick them to your head, they are wrong.

  2. Sometime later, I got my work phone upgraded from the 6S (a loyal soldier) to the XR. I don’t know what I would have gone for if it had been mine to choose but this is what I have. With no headphone jack and a slight rash from the masking tape, I figured I would go bluetooth… surely any old bluetooth ear-phones would do.. but alas… I tried a couple of pairs and they suck diesel. Plan C needed…

  3. Then I discovered these things called earskinz - little silicon sleeves that go over your slippy Apple earbuds to secure them in your ear. They suck too. They did last about five minutes before they started falling out but by then I was too far away from home to launch my back up plan of:

  4. Using the adapter thing Eleanor got with her 7 from a couple of years back to bypass the lightning port issue, I went back to a £6 pair of Betron things that do what they are supposed to - stay in my ear and deliver music. The only downfall is, they don’t work the volume with their on-board controls because of that adapter thing. Trying to find the volume button through my pocket last week, I somehow placed a call to 211 or 112 (one of those) which is an emergency service I didn’t know existed. The guy was pretty cool about it when I told him I was just trying to turn up the latest Shinedown album. Maybe he was a fan. Maybe it’s not the first time it’s happened.

  5. Trying my best not to call an Air Ambulance while running, I fished it out of my pocket to go into manual mode but in the dark, the new face i.d. security feature has some problems too. I’m not sure in what world an individual thumb print scan was not secure enough but such is progress in 2018.

Tonight was a good run though. I adjusted all these things before I left, made a new playlist and it was perhaps the first time I ran without thinking about technology and how the people that make it really should do some of the things that make up their USP’s.

For my last few weeks of running, I hope to think about more positive things, but if I break my arm again - or anything else for that matter - I’m going to hand that time back to Gretsch.

SCENES FROM THE COFFEE HOUSE - OPEN FOR BUSINES

Let’s get it on. I’m now taking pre-orders for Scenes From The Coffee House (Volume One). You can order from today right up until December 5th and I’ll be doing a mail-out on December 14th which means everything will be delivered before Christmas. (If you’re new around here, that extra week or so is due to the way I print my books for minimal environmental impact and absolutely zero wastage/storage… blah, blah, blah).

There are two variants available.

(1) the regular softback version that you can find in the store here and

(2) the 100 copy limited edition hardback version of the book which will also feature the short story The Eternity Ring… and you can find that here. All copies will be numbered, signed and dated.

As always, if you click through to the product page in the bookstore, there’s an extract so you can see what you’re getting yourself into and if you’re doing the hardback edition thing and would like a specific number, I’ll do my best to make that happen.

(When I mailed out #1 of The Family Of Noise, I got an email back asking why I wasn’t keeping that one for myself… the answer is that the run actually stops at #99 and my copy is numbered #0. I think my maths is correct.)

Here’s the cover of the softback::

COFFEE POCKET.indd

And here’s the cover of the hardback:

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…and this is what it would look like if you were to flatten it out:

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Sion Smith
OTHER PEOPLE AND THEIR STUFF INSIDE MY HEAD

In no particular order, here's the albums that made it past my gate-keeper skills to languish forever on The Shelves Of Permanence this week. 

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The new Smashing Pumpkins album (in case you didn't recognise it by the cover) heads right on back to 1991 for its self-referential cues... if you were once a fan but subsequently thought they got bloated and lazy, this should put them back on the radar for you. At just over half an hour long, it's worth finding out for yourself doncha think?

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The Chris Robinson Brotherhood: always under-rated so far as I'm concerned but then, wasn't that always Chris Robinson's cross to bear? Great album artwork probably won't help the band out with having people buy/listen to this but don't say I didn't give you a good shove in the right direction.

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I've also rewound my ass back in time this week looking for inspiration from those who did it first and did it best. I fired up these two spoken word albums from Kerouac and Ginsberg and came to the conclusion that the majority of spoken word albums that came after these was just pretending.

Thus inspired, maybe I'll get on with that spoken word album of my own I kept threatening to release.

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Finally... Electric Boys are a band I have loved very much since forever ago. Dumb people overlook them time and again as something they're not but those people will miss out. If you're on a streaming service, do your soul a favour and fire up the Quattro...

And while I've been giving those things access through my ears, I've been dancing with Murakami:

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It's special. I'll never convince you to pick it up if you've never lived into Murakami's house before but I'll give it a whirl: 

Portrait painter splits up with his wife and moves into a house in the mountains that belongs to his friends' father (who was also a painter). Said portrait painter finds a picture in the loft and in the corner of it, there is a man from a different time peering into the scene through a trapdoor. There is also a bell that won't stop ringing in a pit in the woods, a two feet tall concept, a peculiar neighbour with more money than sense and a phantom stranger in a white Subaru... who may or may not be important to the story.

Come on. You're either in or out with Murakami after that, surely.

Sion Smith
MAX THE BEAR • BIG BEAR RESCUE

Despite being pretty much off the radar this year with my Big Bear Rescue project, I've kept my hand in whenever and wherever I can. Yesterday, news filtered through that one of the rescued bears - Max - had died. Here's some of the press release from World Animal Protection:

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Poached from the wild as a cub in 1997, Max endured 11 years as a photo prop for tourists in the town of Sinaia, Romania. By the time he was rescued, he’d been chained to the same spot for so long his weight had bent the iron fence he leaned on. Max was brought to safety at the Zarnesti bear sanctuary in 2006. After an extensive health-check, our vets found his eyes were badly damaged, and surgery couldn’t help. Years of abuse – we think from repeated blows to his head - had cost this beautiful brown bear his sight.

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Despite his blindness, Max was brave. Feeling the forest earth for the first time beneath his paws, smelling the other bears nearby and foraging for acorns gave him a new lease of life. When he showed a love for swimming, you – our amazing supporters – helped fund a special, accessible pool. He loved to bathe and play in it every single day. Max’s disabilities made him too vulnerable to live with more active, boisterous bears. But thankfully, he was never alone. His slow, gentle nature calmed Monica – a small, feisty brown bear – and they became friends and roommates. She had picked fights with most of the other bears, but Max and Monica found peace and happiness together. 

Aged 22, Max wasn’t particularly old for a bear when he died. The years of abuse had worn him down, despite the best efforts of staff to treat and care for him. But of some comfort to all the people around the world who loved him was that his final years were peaceful. He had all the tasty food, forest space, swimming time and company he could ever need.

Reading through that, I felt bad that I hadn't done anything at all throughout 2018 for the project... but it did kick me into action to at least start figuring out some things to do throughout 2019. I guess life just got the better of me this year. 

The JustGiving page that I set up a while back is still in action though. It's right here and you can throw money in the pot that will go directly to WAP and the Romanian Bear Sanctuary for no reason at all other than because you can. Alternatively, if you're stuck for a gift for somebody you love (or hate), you could always adopt a bear instead.

Sion Smith
BOOTS. MADE FOR WALKING.

This past weekend, I’ve been ghosting around the streets of Brussels. Wandering, wandering, wandering... I saw a big black W on a sign, so I did what any book lover would do and went to investigate. Imagine that... a Waterstones in the middle of Brussels. Imagine also that the entire stock was books in English - not what I expected at all. Imagine also that the store manager was a Welshman who got to choose his own stock. 

i know about fifty bookshops back here that could learn a lot from a trip out there. It’s easily the best bookshop I’ve been in for years. There was a huge stash of books I could have walked out with but alas, I had things to do and my plans to head back and make another Welshman very happy were derailed by that old nugget of running out of time. 

The moral of the story is... out in the world there are people who care, who are discerning, who want to sell you good books based not on an algorithm, nor a publishers need to shift copies of certain titles but based on knowledge and taste.  

2018. It’s easy to forget how things used to be before it was all about money.

It’s also easy to forget that art can be fun:  

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...and then, when I got home, I watched the last episode of The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair with my mouth open. One of the finest shows I’ve seen in a long time. I wish I’d read the damn book now. 

Meanwhile, in Brussels and back home, it’s been raining like Noah’s in town and three days ago, somebody left their boots out in the garden. 

Fish now live in my boots. 

Sion Smith
THE SHAPE OF WATER

Why has it taken me so long to watch this? Strictly speaking, it’s a no brainer and I should have been first in the queue at the cinema but I wasn’t. Maybe I was away.  

Its times like these I wish I had a TV the size of The Hanging Gardens Of Babylon. 

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I love del Toro. He’s made some of my favourite films - The Devil’s Backbone answers to nobody - but this is in a different league. It may have drifted into the public eye as a ‘fairytale love story’ kind of thing, but it’s not really. What it’s getting at is how The Monster Is Not Really The Monster In The Monster Movie. All of my favourite films are about that, whether there are monster-looking creatures in the movie or not - and that probably says more about my psyche than I care to dig into.

Footnote. Somebody asked me just a few days ago what my songs were about and I couldn’t explain them very well at all... but now I’ve written this, there’s my very succinct answer to all of it: They’re about The Monster Not Really Being The Monster... 

Hey, that’s as close as we’re going to get right now.  

Sion Smith
BABY, YOU CAN'T DRIVE MY CAR

November 1st huh. Sounds like a good day to trade in a Saab that’s been rescued one too many times from the Jaws of Death for a Mercedes. That’s my news of the day, though I can appreciate it’s not very exciting for anybody else but me. Still… she’s a sexy beast. Makes me want to wear a suit just to get in it… and maybe form a band called The Bad Seeds. Having said that, having a band called The Deadbirds is just as cool… and it’s mine.

An initial concept for er… something by my buddy Nick Devine.

An initial concept for er… something by my buddy Nick Devine.

Sion Smith
NEWS FROM THE COFFEE HOUSE

It Is Done.

Scenes From The Coffee House will be released on November 16 and damn, it feels good. I’ll post properly about it a little closer to the time, a newsletter will come out and ummm… whatever else needs doing, but for now, I am satisfied that this book is ready to roll.

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Which means I am now free of everything I ever had planned and can stare at 2019 with a blank slate and a little piece of chalk in my hand.

Whenever a book reaches this critical mass, I’m always left feeling like I should release them into the wild more often but if you’ve ever tried such a thing, you’ll know why writers don’t.

Anyway, with that in the system, I’m free to turn my attention to some other soul food.

The idea of releasing some songs is proving more difficult than I thought. Not so much the songs - they are fine, growing and bedding themselves into my head with every passing day. It’s the demo process that’s cloudy. It’s about as frustrating as somebody like me saying ‘if you’re going to release a book yourself, you have to do it with InDesign or it will look amateur’, when that somebody like me has lived with InDesign for about fifteen years and doesn’t feel sick when they sit in front of it.

I know GarageBand can do what I want it to, it’s the bit in the middle I’m struggling with - the bit between me sitting here staring at it and a finished song - but I guess it will come with time and patience. It’s easy to overthink these things and I blame myself… there’s this guy called Dan Tedesco (I may have posted about his album a while back) who recorded his self-titled album on an iPad. That’s red rag to a bull stuff for people like me.

File under: it can be done and it can sound good.

I mean, we’re talking demo tracks here not Led Zep remasters and if I can get into the guts of it, that means I’ll be able to turn up at the machine and do it a lot in the future.

Honestly… how hard can it be!

I guess the more you care, the harder you make it. I’m just happy to be looking at an empty December to make solid attempts at nailing it to the floor.

Sion Smith
IRON THINGS

I didn’t post anything last week and some of you thought the Saturday Morning Club Type Thing was broken. One person asked if I was dead. Nope - neither of those things.

I have almost not posted anything this week either but figured I would at least turn up at the keyboard today so that something will happen tomorrow morning. Let’s see where it takes me:

I’ve been reading the collected letters of Sylvia Plath this week and have become enthralled over how often she would write to her mother, friends and various others in a way that is not unlike blogging. If blogging had been around, Sylvia Plath would have blogged for sure. The letters are nothing but a giant emptying of her head with very little editing and it’s brilliant.

I’ve always like Ted Hughes - which is I came to be reading about Plath - The Iron Man (or The Iron Giant if you happen to have come late to the party) is one of my all time favourites (and is the reason I wrote The Eternity Ring which will appear in its entirety in the hardback edition of Scenes From The Coffee House which will be along anytime now).

What I didn’t know until I started reading these letters by Plath was that Hughes had also written a book called The Iron Woman in 1993 as some kind of sequel to The Iron Man. I went out to find a copy and after digging around in the dirt found this cover was available for it:

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…and while it’s pretty neat and fits with the similar cover of The Iron Man, this other version strikes hard at the heart of what the book is really about:

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If there was ever book that needed a renaissance in today’s world, it’s this.

But more than anything, it’s a crying shame how little has changed in 25 years - and when I say ‘little’, I probably mean ‘nothing’.

Great book though. The world should not forget Ted Hughes… not that it has, but when people like me rattle on about American poets more than those closer to home, its easy to see how that might happen.


Is that all I got? Hmm. Maybe. There’s something else that’s gotten under my skin this week. I read this article that challenged my perception of myself as a writer. Amongst all of it was this:

“There is much to be said for our responsibility as creators and consumers of that constant dynamic interaction we call culture — which side of the fault line between catering and creating are we to stand on? The commercial enterprise is conditioning us to believe that the road to success is paved with catering to existing demands — give the people cat GIFs, the narrative goes, because cat GIFs are what the people want. But E.B. White, one of our last great idealists, was eternally right when he asserted half a century ago that the role of the writer is “to lift people up, not lower them down” — a role each of us is called to with increasing urgency, whatever cog we may be in the machinery of society. Supply creates its own demand. Only by consistently supplying it can we hope to increase the demand for the substantive over the superficial — in our individual lives and in the collective dream called culture.”

I read that and big-ass alarm bells went off in my head.

How could I have been so dumb as to not think of this myself? My job as a writer really is to lift people up. Not that I ever purposely lowered them down but if I think I may have been guilty of it, then maybe I was. That E.B. White dude, he banged the nail right on the head with this:

“Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.”

Otherwise, what the hell is the point in sitting down with your pencil and your brain free-falling through your soul (which is on fire) in front of a sheet of paper?

If I haven’t got that going on, I might as well send cat GIFs out into the world… but no… I’m a dog person.

I want to shape life not kick it to death.

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Sion Smith
SHOW ME HOW TO LIVE

My eldest daughter recently lost her job when the place she was working at shut down for a refurb. Sadly, the people in charge have had so many food and drink-based meetings about the refurb, there’s no money left to actually do it.

Thus, she did what anybody related to me would - she took her redundancy money and went to Majorca for a week.

Every now and again, she sends me links or screen grabs of ridiculous things modern employers think are a good idea when they’re looking for staff. Superdry, for instance, think it’s smart to make you fill in something like thirty pages of junk online just so that you can stand around in one of their stores looking like you’re waiting for life-threatening blood test results for something like £6 an hour under the guise of being a professional t-shirt seller.

I’ve been buying t-shirts for years and can’t recall one instance when I ever needed help… particularly from somebody who was so desperate for a job that they actually made it all the way to the end of the magical psych-hoops SuperDry want you to jump through.

If you think I exaggerate, go see for yourself right here.

Anyway, in this infrequent series called Show Me How To Live which I just made up because it’s not a series yet but it might be, (aka: I have nothing to write about today but the Blog On A Saturday Morning Coffee and DoughNuts Cardiac Arrest Club will be disappointed if I don’t at least look like I’m making an effort) I will be dispensing Life Coaching Advice that is useful. Life Coaches charge thousands for things like this but I’m giving this stuff away for free because I love you.

Here, I’ve borrowed a list of 15 of the Best Job Interview Questions To Ask Candidates from HubSpot where they are full of useful advice if your idea of a life well lived is standing around a chrome plated kettle that costs more than my car wondering who had the audacity to leave a yoghurt in the work fridge over the weekend.

Let’s get some dirty realism under the belt here:

Tell me about a time you set difficult goals.
A few years ago, I had a great idea for a novel. I worked out that a reasonably large novel had around 70 chapters and if I wrote 1000 words a day, I would have a 70,000 word novel in just over two months. In theory, it sounded easy. All it needed was a commitment from me. That was in 2004. Turn The Lamp Down Low remains unfinished because I am sometimes stupid…

Tell me about the relationships you've had with the people you've worked with.
They fall into two camps. Camp One are friends to the end. Camp Two, I slammed the door forever on. Camp One I will never write about. Camp Two are fair game. Some things are sacred. Some not so much.

What project would you consider your most significant career accomplishment to date?
Talking an old boss down from a ledge one New Year’s Eve. A real ledge. True story. Best not repeated. He was an asshole but you know…

What have you done professionally that is not an experience you'd want to repeat?
Slept under the post-sacks after breaking into an office I used to work at to make sure I could get to work on time the next morning after catching the very last Lords of the New Church show. Hessian is a poor material for a bed and spandex is not suitable work attire. Apparently.

Is it better to be perfect and late, or good and on time?
This really is a good question. If you’re in a real life job interview situation, there is no correct answer to this because if you choose one, they’ll ask you why you didn’t choose the other. If anybody does ever ask you this, I would quote Jim Morrison and say “How can you be late for your own show?”. You won’t get the job but if they do ask this question, they have been looking for questions on HubSpot aka: they can’t think for themselves. It will save you from a world of hurt and will make a funny story later.

In five minutes, could you explain something to me that is complicated but you know well?
Yes.

What is your definition of hard work?

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If I were to poll everyone you've worked with, what percentage would not be a fan of yours?
1%. I know his name, I know where he lives and he had best stay far away from me. You know who you are motherfucker.

Tell me about a time you screwed up.
Just the one? The person who never screwed up, never did anything.

Who is the smartest person you know personally? Why?
Hector. Yep, he counts as a person. He knows what time he goes out but doesn’t own a watch. He knows the route and who he might meet. He knows where the gravy bone jar is. He doesn’t care if his hair is perfect nor if it’s raining or Christmas Day - every day is another opportunity to bark at the moon. He is Hector. He does what Hector wants to do with the days he has been given. Everything else is just noise.

What is something you'd be happy doing every single day for the rest of your career?
See previous answer.

If you had $40,000 to build your own business, what would you do?
Buy a Triumph GT6 in black and tell everybody I had just sold The Family Of Noise to Tom Hanks’ production company. Fake it ‘til you make it right?

What's the biggest decision you've had to make in the past year? Why was it so big?
Gretsch or Hagstrom. If you know what they are, you know why.

What has surprised you about this interview process so far?
”How much faith you put in the actual process when really, you knew whether or not you wanted to employ me the second I walked through the door”. There is a lot of truth in this if you happen to be an employer - think about it. It’s your own time you're wasting.

Do you have any questions for me?
”Yes. What did you really want to do with your life before you found yourself surfing around HubSpot to look clever and took your eye off the ball?”

•••

Life huh. It comes and it goes. Figure out what’s important today because there might not be a tomorrow… but there probably will be a tomorrow, so you have to kind of balance it without being a dick.

Oh … and don’t let the past define you. It ain’t coming back. If the past was so great, how come it’s not still here?

Sion Smith
BULLET-TIME

A few weeks back, my buddy Scott Cole was kicking around the idea of publishing another book of his work. I threw some well aimed props of fire over the castle wall of his defences and he got down to it… fast too, staying up more or less for five days and nights putting it together to embrace said fire.

Cut to present day and the Dodging Bullets And Dirty Looks is alive and kicking:

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The ‘Man In The Box’ picture you see above, I wrote that. I love doing book introductions for cool people creating magic out of nothing but a handful of dust.

The ‘Man In The Box’ picture you see above, I wrote that. I love doing book introductions for cool people creating magic out of nothing but a handful of dust.

It’s a monster too - everything I think a photography book should be. Some of it I’ve seen and worked with for Skin Deep but the vast majority is new even to me and I see a lot of his work on a weekly basis. There’s a pretty extensive post here about it (so I won’t steal everything he has to say) and details how you can get your hands on a copy. It’s a limited edition run so you’ll need to move yo’ass.

One day, you don’t have a book cataloguing months and months of work… and the next day, you do.

The world is a very simple place if you let it be.

Sion Smith