One more time can’t do any harm…
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:
…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:
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.
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?
What is your definition of hard work?
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?
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:
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.
I just watched a show on BBC iPlayer called Drowning In Plastic and was wiping tears before the credits had even kicked in. I dare you to watch it and not feel ashamed that every single one of us is a part of this somehow. Here’s the trailer… which is the tip of an iceberg:
Most people get angry and then ‘facebook up in arms’ about the whole thing, spout red mist on social media, start a campaign to bring down a corporate plastic giant before going right back out and doing something else that contributes to it…. because even if you shopped in a supermarket, picked only loose items and carried them home in the sleeves of your jumper like it was 1976, you’re still shopping in the supermarket that sells it all, putting solid financial foundations under the supply chain responsible.
I don’t even know where to begin with this. It makes me feel weak and frustrated - my two least favourite emotions - that short of heading out to an ocean with a hessian sack the size of Jupiter, I can do nothing to help other than sort out my own corner of the world and hope that by writing “sort out my own corner of the world”, others might do the same.
This whole ‘living a life that matters’ though… it’s a tough question. How do you do it when there’s nobody out there to show you how to live?
There are not many people I can point at and say ‘that person right there… there’s a great example of a life that matters’. I’ve thought far too much about what the word means to me and it’s probably a whole lot of things that don’t mean anything at all to you.
For instance, if pressed, we could maybe all agree that Gandhi is a good name to put forward… except, I have no idea what he did. I always assume it was something cool because his name always springs to mind when you’re playing in this ballpark. But if he lived a life that mattered… how did it matter to me or you? I don’t think anything he did made a scratch of difference to me but I am ready to stand corrected if you know different.
So what have I got in the arsenal? How can I live a life that matters? And how do you do such a thing without spreading yourself so thin, any contribution you make is transparent?
File under pending but it’s better than it not being on the desk at all.
Meanwhile, after a few months off, because ummm… because I can be as lazy as the next guy… I started running again yesterday. Slowly at first, using the Couch to 5K app. It’s good company along the way and starting from scratch was a good plan.
Much like my blind-guitar-’where-is-that-chord’-rehearsals of not being able to see what I’m playing in the studio/shed late at night, I was keen to multi-task in the smartest way possible. Thus, I went out in the dark because a really stupid part of me thinks being able to run well in the dark is more useful to me in the long term than being able to run well when it’s light.
Here’s a picture of the pub I could see from the running track:
Running in the dark means you have to keep your wits about you lest you trip in a hole or get set upon by coyotes - all of which rather takes your mind off the actual running and how much you would rather be sitting at home watching Netflix until the job is done.
One day, all will become clear.
I went to hang out at the bookstore for a little while today. Sometimes I just feel the need to surround myself with books for no reason at all... see what’s out, check out what’s going on in the land of cover designers, who’s hot... who’s not - those kinds of things.
It’s not a huge week for essential releases but I did find a little book called If Cats Disappeared From The World by Genki Kawamura. Not even sure why I picked it up but I’m good at being drawn to things I need to see for no reason at all.
Here’s the official line:
Our narrator’s days are numbered. Estranged from his family, living alone with only his cat Cabbage for company, he was unprepared for the doctor’s diagnosis that he has only months to live. But before he can set about tackling his bucket list, the Devil appears with a special offer: in exchange for making one thing in the world disappear, he can have one extra day of life. And so begins a very bizarre week . . .
Because how do you decide what makes life worth living? How do you separate out what you can do without from what you hold dear? In dealing with the Devil our narrator will take himself – and his beloved cat – to the brink. Genki Kawamura’s If Cats Disappeared from the World is a story of loss and reconciliation, of one man’s journey to discover what really matters in modern life.
And that’s the question of the moment for me. What really matters in modern life? In a week/month/year in which I’ve been searching for some meaning, I did what needed to be done and brought it on home.
As an aside to this, five years ago, I had no Japanese authors on my shelf. Now there are three or four. They sit amongst Norwegian, Spanish, Icelandic, French and Finnish writers. Five years ago, none of those were on the shelf either. We’re living in a golden age for those of us who love books. No longer confined to the English speaking world, as a veteran reader, I’m finding new styles, new trains of thought outside of the norm.
That has to be a good thing.
When I wandered off to pay for my cat book, I found an author table and behind it, one Katerina Diamond who some of you might know if you’re a modern crime reader.
If you can remember far enough back on the blog here, she showed up at my author event about three or four years ago (same bookshop) and we got on great. At the time, she had just signed with an agent and things were looking hopeful for her.
Be careful what you wish for I guess because she’s just put out her fourth book with another coming down the line, and is doing just fine. I have much respect. Katerina knew exactly what she wanted to do, how she wanted to do it and the rest is history. A Sunday Times bestselling author is not to be sneered at.
If I was the type to wear a hat, I would take it off to her. Maybe one day soon we could co-host an event where we can both - with some authority perhaps - present a good evening of brain-food on traditional publishing vs the DIY route.
Any excuse to drink coffee in a bookstore.
I was scrolling through the blog posts here after posting yesterday just to make sure everything was working OK and I stopped to look at the picture I posted of my grandmother and a three year old version of me.
That little boy is dead. He exists nowhere other than in that photograph and various others just like it. I guess I could fish around in a box and find a photograph of me at 15 and say the same thing. That teenager is dead too.
But as you get a little bit further into adulthood, I can’t say the same thing. I don’t have many photographs of my early twenties but I recognise that guy. A lot of him is still around but maybe a lot of him isn’t too. Fast forward a little to a thirty year old me and I would say that was definitely the same guy as I am today. Maybe it’s because I became a father and identified myself as such. Even though the tiny badgers are much older now, I still think of myself in the same way.
I haven’t grown taller or shrunk - that makes me similar by default. I haven’t put on or lost five stone and I’m pretty sure I still have some of the same clothes from back then too (that happens when you buy expensive coats). I also still have all my hair thanks to a handy deal I made with a demon. That guy really is still here apart from subconsciously deciding to change said hair colour from black to grey… and yet, he can’t be.
He must be dead too.
The guy I was yesterday must also be dead. That I got up today and decided to do all the same things that I did yesterday is all that makes him similar… but maybe I could get up tomorrow and do everything different. I could kill that guy rather than let him die a natural death. I could kill him for better or worse in the blink of an eye.
I could shave off my beard and shave my head for a start. Nobody would look at me the same then and I don’t think I would recognise myself in the mirror either. That would take about 20 minutes. Strange thought huh.
I could go shopping, buy clothes I have never bought before, throw all my books in the trash, delete my thousands of albums from Apple Music, put a hammer through my phone, give my car away, quit my job… all of this could be done in the next few hours and to the rest of the world I would cease to exist.
If you were going extreme about it, I could walk out of the door, get on a train and start a new life somewhere hundreds of miles away and I really would be somebody else. This is actually more or less what I did at 20 but all I found was no matter how hard you try, how far you run or how fast, you can’t run away from yourself, but that’s not the point…
What I’d like to do is identify that moment in which the middle period version of me might turn into a very much older one. Whoever that guy is, I’m going to keep an eye out for him and murder him to death before he gets a grip on my life because I don’t want to be that guy.
I see some people on a daily basis who are 70 (which is a fair old chunk of time in the future really) who seem ancient. Then I look at Alice Cooper who is out on the road, doing his thing, being creative, doing his radio show, playing golf… generally not being 70 at all in a way people usually interpret it.
I think it’s called being alive.
That’s the kind of person I must be. It’s the kind of person you must be too.
And when you’ve finished reading this… you’ll find your first mistake is thinking you have all the time in the world.
I’m taking a road trip in a few weeks to Evian in the French Alps and then on to Brussels - I have also made a valiant attempt to book myself into hotels that are not occupied by assassins and passport forgers. A man can get weary of hotel rooms where the toilet doubles up as somewhere to sit while you have a shower. Sometimes a man would like just a little more floor space than somewhere to put your bag and boots before there is none left. Sometimes a man wonders how some hotels manage to stay open.
In spite of this perceived luxury (because hotel room pictures on the internet lie like a rug), I’m certain there will be magic to be found in the cracks. These two trips (though Belgium is a repeat offender) means I will have enough pins in the map to punch out a second volume of Cities Of The Dead - and that in itself is going straight into the win column. That’s a fine project to open 2019 with.
Life as a magazine editor can be strange. It messes with your head. For instance, it’s not yet October and I’ve just begun work on an issue cover dated December. Yesterday, the schedules for the next twelve months got handed over - which means I can see all the way to 2020 from here. It should be frightening but you get used to it.
Double that up with working from home seven days a week, I hardly ever know what day or month it is. After Christmas, sometimes I even forget what year it is.
This is a good thing. In the Sign Of The Times live footage of the Prince tour of the same name, he delivers a stage rap about how you only have one birthday, the day you are born, and the rest are just days until you die. That sits well with me. It makes me at least try to do something with every day because many years back, I spent far too long wishing it was The Weekend. Wishing your life away to use up 104 days out of 365 is not a good way to live your life.
Everybody knows that you should live ‘in the moment’ - any dog owner can see how this should work - but doing it sure is hard. Maybe if you’re one of those people based in Alaska who truly live in an “if I don’t do something constructive today, I will die” manner, it would come easily, but most of us don’t ever have to think like that.
For most of us, I think The Moment is there to be wasted. I struggle with this stuff. I struggle with how to make a life that means something a lot of the time if I’m honest - and I am one of the lucky ones who gets to do what he loves all day long too.
Figuring out how to stuff the days of your life with silver is a tall order. (Yeah, I did write ‘gold’ in there originally but I don’t like gold. It’s an awful brassy metal. I tried wearing a gold ring for about five minutes once but it just looked like I had stolen it.) Regardless of what you think of your circumstances, if you’re reading this, you are privileged. Politics be damned - you have more information available at the tips of your fingers than anybody in the entire history of the world. You probably have a fridge and a car. Hector probably eats better than half of the people alive on the planet today.
We have no worries… and yet, here we are worrying about stuff.
Right now however, I have signed my life away on the next magazine to hit the shelves and I am going to purposely live in the moment by eating chocolate, drinking tea and watching this for an hour because I think it’s excellent:
…for which I am soulfully grateful at something new to hear.
I don’t have anything else to say.
Normal service resumes beneath this line.
Sharpening The Saw is a phrase I read somewhere years ago that means whatever you do in your life, don’t take it for granted that you’re great at it or will always be seen as being great at it. You should keep working at being better at it just like the days when you were Hungry Like The Wolf to prove yourself… or else some young gun with a beard/boob job*, a custom made espresso in an eco-friendly cup and an iPhone the size of my windscreen may well come and snatch it all away from you.
*Delete as applicable. Or not.
It’s a good thing to pay attention to - and here’s a good example…
My buddy John sent me a message this morning asking if I was going to see Kiss on their final tour over here - which I assume has just been announced because that was the first I ever heard of it. I thought about it and decided, no. I don’t think I will. The band that meant more to me than anything for more years than I care to remember are looking tired. Love them as I do, last year’s tour was a little like sitting at your mothers hospital bed… waiting for the inevitable. And it kinda hurts to say that.
It doesn’t need to be that way. The train of thought is “nobody buys albums anymore and nobody wants to hear new material”… but this is not true, unless your only motivation is money. And I know it’s not true because my other great love - Alice Cooper - brings it every single time. The Cooper band is not going through the motions just because the motions are there to be gone through. The Cooper band is having a good time. Alice is having a good time.
Anyway, the point is, the Kiss saw is blunt. The Alice saw is super freaking sharp. When Mr Simmons does a radio show for Radio 2, it comes across like one of those Classic Rock For Dads albums some idiot at a record company thinks is a good idea around Father’s Day. Alice’s syndicated show (Nights With Alice Cooper) however is superb. It’s fresh, exciting, funny, interesting and he plays songs I’ve never heard before… and I have heard a Lot Of Songs.
It didn’t need to be that way for Kiss… and yeah, frankly I expected more.
Damn it all to hell… it was them who trained me to expect more.
So… the saw thing. I believe the original quote runs along the lines of: ‘you must never be too busy sawing that you can’t stop and sharpen the saw’… or something like that. The best thing about sharpening the saw is that you can’t ask somebody else to do it for you. You can’t get somebody else to eat properly so you might feel up to a five hour rehearsal tomorrow… you gotta do that yourself - and so on.
You’re on your own. As most of us have found out already, when it comes to the things that are important to you, you always are.
I’m not sure where I was going with this originally - I’m sure I had something in mind but you get the gist. The most important thing to remember however is: there’s a big difference between stopping to sharpen the saw and putting the saw down.
Motivational psychobabble over. Maybe I just wrote it all for myself.
Damn. I freaking love Liam Neeson movies and I am not ashamed in the slightest. Not indiscriminately but you may throw as many stones as you like at Taken (and maybe the second one too... but not the third) and I will bat them all back over the net at you. I love that movie.
The one about the plane is cool too but I can’t remember what it’s called. There might be one set on a train as well but I can’t remember what that’s called either. I enjoyed the hell out of it all the same. The insides of planes and trains are easily confused inside my head - maybe it was the same film.
Damn... I can’t even remember what the movie is called in which he’s an assassin who gets ditched into the river and forgets who he is.
Jesus, maybe there are films of his I’ve loved that I’ve forgotten I’ve even watched because I think it was one of the others.
People who think of names for Liam Neeson movies really need to get their shit together.
A Walk Among The Tombstones is up there in the top three though. It also has a catchy title and I mention it here with pride.
Anyway, ten minutes ago, I discovered The Commuter is available on Amazon Prime and although it’s nearly midnight on a Saturday, I’m doing it.
I should be writing lyrics or an article or wrapping up Coffee House or the latest issue of Skin Deep but I am unashamedly going to sit here for two hours, drink tea, eat chocolate and watch Mr Neeson save his own little slice of the world.
I think that’s the appeal. When the bullet hits the bone, Liam steps up and sorts that shit out for his family (or indeed, a bunch of total strangers) regardless of circumstance because it’s ‘the right thing to do’.
Maybe that says a lot about the kind of man I want to be when I grow up... as I said to my daughter only yesterday, when she asked if I could pick her and a few friends up from a party: “I’m not a taxi service but if you’re late, I will find you and I will bill you.”
Let’s do this.
Note Zero: I don’t have a whole lot to blag on about this week. Busy tending to a magazine. Busy tending to Scenes From The Coffee House book. Busy with Johnny Beatnik. Busy trying not to consume half my weight in chocolate having been left alone in the house for almost two weeks now. You get the picture.
Note 1: Yep. I broke the weekly blog mailout thing by making a simple banner change... and then decided to tweak the content a little. Sorry. Should be back to normal this week if my skills are all they should be.
Note 2: I hit the Post Office today to see if the international mailing costs the guy gave me a couple of weeks ago for international deliveries on The Family Of Noise were correct. Turns out they weren’t... this has been fixed in the store. Tracked too. None of that throw it on a ship and hope it gets there eventually stuff around here, thank you.
Note 3: GQ landed a couple of days ago - inside was a little book that featured a short story by a guy called Amor Towles. I consider myself pretty well read out there but I had never heard of him, so I did what a curious man should always do and looked him up online.
Great website… his novels don’t really sound like the kind of thing I can get my teeth into but damn it all to hell if the story in this little book isn’t fifteen kinds of wonderful, so maybe I’m wrong about his novels too. I’ll give one of them a whirl when Knausgård is finished with me.
Literary worth aside, this little book also appears to have made into copies of Vogue - that’s a lot of magazines! Sponsored by AmEx, it’s a fine idea and if we judge my own reaction to it, a major win: author discovered.
And nobody pissed in the gene pool by mentioning i*******m, f******k or t****r either.
*Go ahead, count the asterisks. I didn’t, so don’t email me about it. None of them deserve that much of my time.
Note 4: On the music front, Thrice raised their heads at last with a new album (Palms) this week. For a band I didn’t much like originally, they’ve moved into a territory I can handle a whole lot. This is great:
Note 5: Winter is Coming:
STANLEY MORGAN: 1929 - 2018
I’ll take a vague stab in the dark that you’ve never crossed paths with Stan.
It was very much a time and a place thing. Stanley Morgan was a writer. He wrote many books but he is best known for a series featuring Russ Tobin. Russ was just a guy from the North West of England trying his best to get by and, across eighteen books (I think), pretty much slept his way around the world like some working class James Bond with a brilliant sense of humour.
I was maybe 14 (1982/83) when I discovered him in a used bookshop called (I think) Bridge Books in my old hometown. It was packed to the roof with all kinds of treasure for about 10p a copy and run by some guy who looked like he had eaten nothing but acid since 1960.
Technically speaking, it wasn’t me that made the discovery - that would have been my good buddy John because my mission in that shop was Ed McBain books, Conan books, old airport paperback copies of MAD and anything I could lay my hands on that was vaguely occult-like. They were good times. You could get a lot of books every week for not much money, but this find by John was a serious game changer.
It was this:
By the end of the week we had both read it, fallen head over heels in love with the idea of being Russ Tobin and over the next few weeks, we pounded the hell out of those bookshop shelves looking for more. Some were easy to come by, some were like gold-dust and in the days before the internet, it was impossible to know how many titles there actually were but we kept looking all the same.
I think John made the final discovery some ten years later (long after we should have given up) in another abandoned Welsh bookshop but by then it was too late. We had both been long sunk by the Tobin boat. I even made a career out of it. When I ran out of things to do or be back home, I just did what Russ had done and moved to London to see what would happen next.
Now there’s a truth I’ve never said out loud before.
It’s not right that a man (ie: me) should take on board the traits of a fictional character but it’s probably what I’ve done my whole life when there have been precious other resources for figuring out how to grow up and who to be.
Actually, there’s no ‘probably’ about it. For good or ill, I figured Tobin was a nice guy - somebody I wanted to be like when I grew up and… I don’t know if I made it or not.
Anyway, fast forward twenty years or so to 2004/2005. I discovered somebody had created a fan-site for Stanley Morgan, Russ Tobin and all of his other creations. It was a real blast to discover his fans were a million strong out there (well, quite a few anyway) so I dropped Stan a note through the site to say more or less what I’ve just said above and to thank him for his work because damnit, Russ Tobin got me through some real bad times at home. He made me laugh. He gave me something attainable to be that wasn’t plastered in greasepaint. He brought John and me closer together in a massive dumb-ass book hunting competition that never really ended. You know… things that fucking matter.
I’ve probably left out a lot of other reasons too but some things are still sacred around here.
When I saw Stan was writing another Tobin book, I guess I must have offered to design the cover for him because that’s exactly what I did. We chatted back and forth and I came up with some covers that were dead-ringers for the classic Mayflower series. Come the print-day, they didn’t get used because he didn't want his new book to be ‘tainted as soft-porn’ as all of his Mayfower releases were by reviewers in the past. He wanted to go more ‘comic’ - so that’s what he did with an illustration. Totally cool. I was just stoked to be talking about this stuff when I’d never really expected him to reply in the first place.
I have copy of that book - Tobin Goes Cuckoo - right here on the shelf not three feet from my hands. It’s dedicated to me in both biro ink and type.
Fourteen year old me would have gone insane overnight if he had known such things were possible back in 1983.
As it is, fifty year old me just shed a tear and plugged the hole with a cigarette (I believe those are Russ Tobin’s fault too) for the loss of somebody I didn’t really know at all, yet managed to have more input into the man I came to be than both of my parents.
Like Chris Cornell, I didn’t know I felt like this until it happened and now I feel like a part of me has ended too - maybe that’s how these things work. I know it’s just an emotional reaction and it won’t last forever but you know what… if one of my books ever means as much to somebody as Stanley Morgan’s did to me, I’ll take that as a major win.
Thanks Stan. You changed a world.
For those with book orders in the pipeline, all are packaged up and sitting on the table here for handing over to the Red Van Drivers first thing tomorrow morning. Expect thuds on the mat sometime Monday. Meanwhile, what else have I got up my sleeve? This:
In my wisdom, I decided the only way to really get better at something is to make it hard for yourself.
Backstory: Once upon a time, I taught myself to type without looking at the keys by covering my hands with a towel and typing out song lyrics I could just pull out of my head as fast as possible until I was good at it. It was worth it.
Frontstory: Now that I'm starting to get a little obsessive about playing guitar better today than I could yesterday in a never ending cycle, I have taken to the 'studio' at the bottom of the garden at night. This is a genuine picture of what I could see just before I gave up and came in tonight:
I figured if I could play in the pitch freaking black darkness with the temperature dropping by the half hour, I can't be doing that badly. Not saying it's easy because it's not but one day, this will pay off. If I can make it through the winter months out there, well... who knows. Maybe I'll just be good at sitting around in the dark and the cold but even those could be valuable skills in the future.
There's a new issue of The Mag out early next week if you're keeping tabs... take a look at this from The Half Decent (yep... that's his real name - honest to God) who I had to sweep the table over to give more pages to his work:
I mean... holy of holy things. The closer you look at it, the more cool detail you'll find in there. Consider the bar well and truly raised.
I had to go to the supermarket yesterday afternoon for dog food (ie: premium mince beef needed - only the best for the HossFace). Not being in a particular rush, I wandered down the book aisle to see what was going on - because I hate the fact that supermarkets sell books.
Blah, blah, blah... usual garbage... more nonsense, different nonsense... blah, blah, blah... and a book I'd never seen the cover of before - The Anomaly by Michael Rutger - with a sticker on the front that said "For fans of Dan Brown, Stephen King and Michael Crichton". I laughed to myself, because those three authors are not the same at all (though I have read just about everything all three have ever released) and picked it up to see exactly how anybody could justify the content of said sticker.
At first glance, it sounded like a 100mph Indiana Jones romp through the Grand Canyon. Nothing special but nothing awful either. I gunned the barcode (because I've got in the habit of shopping with my own scanner so that I don't have to speak to anybody about why I buy so much mince) and it came up at £5 reduced from a cover price of £25. Bearing in mind my previous post, I figured a fiver would be a good experiment to prove a point.
The day pressed on. Work completed. Let's break the spine on this Dan Brown/Stephen King/Michael Crichton wannabe...
And there I sat, from about 7pm until 2am chewing my way through it like a fool in love, breaking only for coffee and cigarettes along the way. Then I went to bed where I pressed on for a little longer until 4am and er... finished it over lunch today.
It's a winner. It's wonderfully written, funny, exciting, has great characters, intrigue, a sustainable plot (some of it ridiculous but that's kind of the point of the story anyway), is self-referential when the only 'self' to refer to is what you've just read and is so self-aware of exactly what it is every step of the way, it gets away with murder on a grand scale.
It's not often I read a book this thick in less than a day but I loved every moment of it. I should really be eating humble pie about my book discounting comments earlier, but instead I'll just stick a fork in it. If it had been out there at its full price, I probably wouldn't have picked it up at all and I would have missed a treat. This doesn't happen often around here, so yeah, I'll eat a little pie over this but I stand by my comments and just add that there are exceptions to the rule... and I happened to find one less than a day later Godammit.
I suspect it will be less than a year before The Anomaly is optioned for a movie (if it's not already) and the paperback (presumably out next summer) will go nuts. Truth be told, this has more in common with Benchley's Jaws than any of those other guys but I guess 1977 is a little too far out of the frame of reference now.
And then I picked this up these because I cannot dine exclusively on fiction - I figured it was about time I broadened my horizons. It better not suck:
Sometimes, when I'm in a hole - pen in hand, paper at the ready but absolutely nothing falling out of one onto the other - I wander back through Neil Gaiman's online journalsjust to remind myself why I ever decided a blog was a good idea in the first place. I've been blogging for over ten years now and even though I've hidden the majority of it for current purposes, I've kept going anyway.
Whenever I stop posting for any length of time, not a whole week goes by without somebody sending me a message wondering what's going on... which is weird because I've never blogged about anything specific.
Maybe people like to read about nothing specific.
It's possible. If this is true, please let me know because if you want a whole stack of books that aren't about anything at all, I'm the very man you're looking for.
Anyway... some years ago, Neil wrote this:
Writing fiction is not a profession that leaves one well-disposed toward reading fiction. One starts out loving books and stories, and then one becomes jaded and increasingly hard to please. I read less and less fiction these days, finding the buzz and the joy I used to get from fiction in ever stranger works of non-fiction, or poetry.
And these words are too true. You do get immune to the buzz. You start to read a book and there can be two people in your head. The person who loves reading who is willing to roll with it and the person who says things like 'that's a nasty adverb' to themselves along the way. I am one of the worst. I won't read anything with a shitty cover any more than I would sit in a restaurant with dirty windows - I genuinely think it shows a total lack of self-respect for your work - and for the record, I can tell the difference between a cover I don't like and a bad cover. They are two very different things.
I'm also one of those people who wonders how a book can be £1. When an author spends months... years even... of their life writing a book, surely they deserve more than a share of £1 from you? Surely no author can be that desperate for the world to say 'Yes! You are indeed a published writer!' to give their work away for the price of a two litre bottle of Pepsi?
Maybe if you wrote it exclusively for the digital market it's not so bad but when you look at the supply chain for a heavily discounted book... publishing/agency staff, shops, trees, lumber yards, printers, delivery trucks, discounted sticker manufacturers (and that's probably the tip of the iceberg) that £1 ain't gonna be worth too much at all by the time they've all taken their share.
I can't help but wonder why all books in supermarkets are so heavily discounted either. If all of the Big Publishers decided amongst themselves that the supermarket could go swing for their discounts, the supermarkets would be left with two choices: stop selling books (in which case people would be pushed into bookshops... if we could convince them that amazon is the most boring shop window on earth if you study it with care) or stock them at the price on the freaking label.
Whilst that doesn't sound good for a reader who likes to grab a book for a discount, in the longer term maybe the industry could begin to support itself again. Tiny things y'know... like handing out an advance that's not embarrassing to talk about with your friends. Employ illustrators instead of using shadowy stock library figures of indiscernible figures running into the fog/night/forest/train station. Taking a chance here and there on a real wild card. Making celebrity authors write proper books for their blow jobs from the obsessed.
I sound cross but I'm not in the slightest. I'm sad. Sad that things in my beloved book world have moved so far into the realm of mediocre just because the internet has all but killed the gatekeepers who used to keep us from being exposed to garbage. I'm no lover of literary agents - mostly because none of them would have me - but that doesn't mean they didn't do a good job.
I've come off topic. Damn. No wonder agents don't want to speak to me...
I'm not suggesting anything at all really with this piece, I'm just pointing a finger in the general direction of the world. In 2018, everybody can be a writer, everybody can be a critic, everybody can play... just like school sports day where everybody gets a ribbon for turning up... where the losers who suck at sports (that was me) are rewarded in the same way as the King of the Running Track even though the King of the Running Track will never get a merit badge for having a good stab at reading Moby Dick over the summer because it made it to his shelf due to a cool whale on the cover.
It's exactly the same thing but nobody said life was fair.
I know a cruise liner full of great writers, great tattooers and artists, great guitarists and songwriters who will never take their place in the pantheon because somebody with a bigger mouth and enough self-belief to fool the world is sitting in their chair.
Perhaps the world has always been this way.
Perhaps there's no Perhaps about it.
Everybody wants to change the world but nobody wants to die and all that.
Postscript: Here's a cover of Moby Dick because after writing that, I had to see for myself if there really were any great covers.
This one is the best I've ever seen, though I'm not sure if it's a real published cover or an art project. Whoever created this (and I will make an effort to find out) understood that Moby Dick is not about a whale at all...it's about a man's obsession. Points-a-go-go for reading the damn thing.
This has been a long time coming but The Family Of Noise is alive, kicking and spinning her wheels. It's been ready for a while but I figured I would sit on it until enough time had passed for me to read it in a fashion as close to third-party as I could get.
A few of you may have read a trial version of this a long time ago and for that, I thank you with large bunches of flowers. Feedback was great but I felt I'd missed the target by an inch or two, so I played in the sand until I was happy - and now I am.
The Family Of Noise has a page of its own right here in the store where you can drill into it some more, read an extract and swag it up if you wish - an M.O. I heartily recommend... but hold onto your face a little while longer because:
Also available is this rather beautiful Limited Edition Hardback:
This hardback run is limited to just 100 copies and is not available anywhere else - all copies will be numbered, signed and dated and that also has its own page in the store right here. If you want specific numbers from the run, I can do that. Number 13 has already been taken. Do not ask me why for I do not know and did not ask. You can drop extra info into your order before you checkout, so you can also request for it to be dedicated to somebody else... just remember to spell their damn name correctly.
You can order either version right now as it's live in the store and they'll be shipped within the next ten days - probably sooner. In case you were curious about such things, there are no ebooks available and never will be... so that's that conversation over pretty quick.
Just for kicks, I also made a playlist of as many of the chapter titles as I could which turned out to be pretty extensive. It's only available on Apple Music from me, but if any of you are on Spotify and feel like making at least a semi-permanent playlist of the same songs, that would be swell. Let me know if you ever get round to it and I'll link it all up here in a blog post and the next newsletter.
Finally, if you do press the button in the store - softback or hard - send me some pictures of the book in action in a cool place. I have no idea why, but I'm sure I can think of something neat to do with them as we go along.
...and if you want to help a brother out by stealing any of these pictures and posting them on your social media account and giving it a little shove in the right direction, that would be swell. If you want a short link to the main page of the store, you can use this: tinyurl.com/y8slgzxg
Assistance will be looked upon very kindly in the future.
The Atomic Cafe was the name of the second band I was in. I say 'band' but there were only two of us in it after we had thrown everybody else out of the first band - and then - because we were art rock supreme, we sacked each other thus leaving a void. It made sense at the time.
I don't have a clue why we thought that was a good band name because it isn't. It is however a good album title and I may steal it from myself for some other time but I mention it today because this afternoon I watched the trailer for this and it looks pretty deserving of attention:
Meanwhile, rain has fallen from the sky all day long. Both of us smell like Wet Dog but only one of us has a genuine reason. Over the last few months - known in some circles as ‘Summer’ - I’ve seen dozens upon dozens of people while we’ve been out in The Shire but today... not one person.
Where did everybody go?
Rain is the greatest of all weather. If you meet somebody out in the rain who doesn’t give a damn about their hair getting wet or that they’ll have to change their clothes when they get home, make a friend of that person. That’s the person you can count on when the alien tripods fall from the sky and everybody else is running for cover.
Last time I checked, going out in the rain doesn’t cause your skin to fall off or give you skin cancer. Contrary to popular belief, you won’t shrink either.
Rain. It always reveals the true nature of everything and in itself, that’s a beautiful thing.
Meanwhile... this came out on Monday and I'm pleased they chose to carry on after Layne did The Thing. This is a great record and a real grower.
Just because I could, last week I designed some custom Johnny Beatnik guitar picks for no other reason than to see what they were like... and they're like this:
That's all of them... the design is a little off kilter and the picks are a little thin for my liking but that's what I chose so it's my own fault. Next time around, I'll go heavier and squeeze the design down into the space better - working in a tiny area is always weird when you're used to working with relatively big pieces of paper with straight edges but they're OK. I have no qualms with the quality... everything I think is wrong with them is my doing.
Being as I don't use a pick, I'll distribute these among some buddies who might get around to using and losing them and the next (better) batch can be used for what I was actually going to use them for.
A little while back, I also made a couple of shirts to see what they might be like as well. Only two of these exist in the world and with a couple of tweaks here and there, these will also become a something that serve a purpose.
Typically, as soon as I'd finished that and sent it to The Place, I had a much better idea for a shirt but those are still in the pipeline. I'll update on that next week and maybe make a batch of them available. There's that Sigue Sigue Sputnik part of me that thinks it's the greatest idea in the world to buy a shirt from a band you've never heard anything from... then again, Johnny Beatnik is also a story - yeah, you didn't know that did you because this is the first I've ever spoken about it - and one of those (maybe two) will appear in Scenes From The Coffee House which is coming to a letterbox near you in September.
Little by little, it's all coming together.
In my head if nowhere else.
Galley proofs of The Family Of Noise, proofed. Wading through a sea of your own inadequacies with a red pen in your hand and a green pen tucked behind your ear is a foul experience but it's got to be done - and now it is.
I'm going to take some time out at Ant-Man and the Wasp tonight so that I'm not even in the house to mess with it, come back in a good mood because it looks like a sackful of fun and press on with getting those amendments into the InDesign file. I know a lot of people like to thrash about in the original document but for me, the final InDesign file is a no brainer because you get to see all those funky widows and orphans along the way and fix the damn things on the spot. I’ve probably said it before but if you’re doing things for yourself out there, use professional tools or you’ll be left at the side of the road like an old Fiat.
Anyway, by my reckoning, that will be the lion's share of the dirty work done and in the next day or so, I can get down to the fun stuff. Not sure what 'fun stuff' entails anymore but so long as it doesn't involve looking at my own mistakes, that will be good enough.
That's about all I got today - things to do and all that - but I'm about to dive into some mag work, found this on one of my folders and decided it needed a good airing here:
If you don't get copious amounts of joy from seeing a killer Scooby Doo tattoo, hang up your gloves and settle into The End Of Your Days.
I've spent the last two evenings going through my galley proofs of The Family Of Noise which is due to see the light of day on the last day of August - yes, this August for those of you who hung around a little long for it.
It's hard work trying to look at your own work when you've read it at least two hundred times already and see the flaws in it, but they are there - and are being eradicated with a red pen and also a green pen for pointing out different things to yourself. A woman I used to work with who was a real old-school pro in the proof-reading stakes taught me a wonderful way to proof the written word and that was to read it backwards so that it made no sense. When you're in the flow of a story, your eyes move fast as lightning but reading in reverse, you see things you normally wouldn't.
So now, I've scoured it forwards, backwards, forwards again and now we are having a second sweep backwards one more time before I transfer the red and green to the manuscript and pump out another proof before I press the Big Green Button.
It's a very different affair to proofing a magazine that's for sure. Maybe it's because there's nothing but thousands of words over and over. No pictures, no change of style from writer to writer to jolt your brain. It's hard work and the worst part of writing a book without a shadow of a doubt.
It's not particular to publishing your own work anymore either. Unless your in the top 1% of best-selling authors in the world, I suspect, you're pretty much out on your own even if you have a publishing deal. I don't know that for a fact but it's what I hear. I once found a nasty spelling error in a first edition of a James Herbert book - either Once or Nobody True - that plagued me for most of the rest of the book as I looked for more.
Anyway - day-work and dog walking aside - that's what has been happening here since Saturday. When I'm done and I ship it off for a clean one to come back again, I'll have seven days or so that I'm going to take as a break from words and work on finishing up some songs because it's about time some of those saw the light of day too.
Talking of day-work, this image comes from the latest issue of Skin Deep. I'm always in mental debt to a lot of the artists we work with and the things they have to say about work and art. This is one of my favourites:
Never be happy with your work. Take 30 seconds to tell yourself it was absolutely the best you could do and move on to the next project.