Thursday, 3 August 2017

The Most Misunderstood Genre



I have done a piece about the L Word before on my own personal blog.  L is for literary, as in literary fiction.  Actually it’s not a genre at all, but that is rather the point. It is a non-genre.  It is rule-breaking.  It is not formulaic in the sense that most other genres are.  This is not a criticism of genre fiction, in any way.  Hell, genre fiction is the most popular, it’s what sells in shedloads, hence it is also known as commercial fiction.  But for a writer of such fiction there will be stricter rules about word length, there will expectations about so many aspects of the book, about content, plot, resolution and endings.
But hang on a minute, you might well ask, aren’t these important for all books?  Well, yes.  But with non-genre or literary fiction, you are freer.  You can explore beyond the boundaries. Many readers like to know what the boundaries are and that’s fine too. Publishers like it because it taps into this appetite. But as a reader and writer, I don’t like to know the kind of ending or formula to a book. I want something a bit less predictable which is why I prefer to read – and write – literary or non-genre fiction. With this fiction you can push back the frontiers, you can experiment with form, style, language, structure, viewpoint.  It is often more driven by character, than plot.  It is often more poetic than the prosaic.  But this is also what makes it less popular, more niche and vulnerable to accusations of pretentiousness, even though all art is artifice, it’s just the best examples will not appear to be so.  It has perhaps, at times, more in common with poetry and fine art, than commercial fiction.
But so many people close themselves off to good books because of devices that have been used in literary fiction for years, yet seem strange to readers who aren’t used to them.  How many times do you hear readers say they don’t like a story because it’s written in the first person present?  Or because a story has multi-narrators or viewpoints?  Or no quotation marks?  Maybe some people think they are gimmicky when in fact they are not uncommon in literary fiction.
Literary fiction has always been at the cutting edge of fiction and the best of its kind will be award-winning. If you have read wonderful books that defy genre, then chances are they are literary fiction.  Of course, many genres crossover into others and this is also true of non-genre fiction. Kate Atkinson is an example of an author who successfully crossed over into literary crime fiction.  I recently read The Miniaturist. If it had been marketed as historical fiction I may not have had the pleasure of reading it but I’d describe is as literary historical.   Think of such classics as Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night-Time or The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.  Think of all Toni Morrison’s books. These books and so many of our cultural masterpieces defy genre.
But as I said in my previous blog on this subject – the L word is often misunderstood. People think literary must mean highbrow. It might be but it is just as likely to be raw and gritty.  This is why authors of such work prefer to find another category. Some of us prefer to use include edgy, contemporary, gritty, retro, coming-of-age or popular culture.  A few of us who have enjoyed such books set up a Facebook Page – Edgy Paperbacks – where we recommend such books, mainly indie ones. But too often our writing is homeless – and desperately seeking a home. But maybe it should stop trying.  Maybe finding a home will compromise its very genre-defying existence.
This blog was originally published at:
https://britfic.com/2017/07/15/the-most-misunderstood-genre/

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Remembering Wimbledon 99

Well here we are again. Another Wimbledon moves inexorably towards its climax and I find it hard to believe that it's already 18 years since I first penned 'Break Point' while watching the 99 championships, and forty one years since I first got addicted to Wimbledon! I was a teenager in 1976 and Bjorn Borg was a rising star, Nastase - a falling one.  I remember the first matches of what have now become household names and legends - John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Boris Becker, Chris Evert.







In fact, I saw Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert play live at Wimbledon in 1989 (not against each other).  It was a perfect sunny day as myself and a London friend attended.  It was Ladies Quarter Finals Day and we had tickets for Centre Court. But Navratilova's match was over in two sets as was Steffi Graf's.  But we managed to get onto Number 1 Court with a bit of sleight of hand (literally!) where exciting things were happening in Chris Evert-Lloyd's last ever win at Wimbledon. She had been losing but she turned the match around in one of the most exciting three setters. I was able to draw on this experience for Break Point.

By 1999 I'd been following Wimbledon for 23 years and had, maybe a year or so before, decided to write a fictional story with Wimbledon as the backdrop, weaving in bits of the development of the Championships throughout the story.




I decided the main female protagonist - Bobbie - would be gay since some of the women players were gay icons, particularly Martina Navratilova who'd led the way. By 1999, women's tennis was becoming a lot more exciting and less predictable.  Back in the day it was usually the Number 1-4 seeds who played in the semis, year upon year. By 1999, it had opened out and the Williams' sisters and many others were new on the scene.  In fact, in 1999, Venus Williams hadn't yet won Wimbledon, but Bobbie predicts her future win with certainty.  

So who were the main figures in the 99 Wimbledon Championships? There was Anna Kournikova. Martina Hingis (the then Number 1 seed knocked out in the first round), Dokic, Seles, Rusedski, Henman, Agassi, Graf, Sampras and many more. In 1999, there were no challenges for controversial points and no roof on centre court. And of course it rained during the Ladies' Final.

But I didn't want to just write about Wimbledon.  Rather, I wanted the game to become a metaphor for the other psychological matches taking place at the house of Bobbie's latest job where she cares for a peevish old woman by the name of Gwen. In 1999, there were no civil partnerships in the UK, let alone same-sex marriage, and this is reflected in the attitudes of that time.


As Wimbledon is a knockout tournament, I also wanted this to be reflected in the story.  For instance, just like the players on court, the players off court come and go - the carers of Gwen, the relationships - but will any of them survive to the final?  The conclusion is always unknown until the last player is knocked out.

Break Point was published in paperback by Skrev Press in 2006.  I had written a short version, a medium version and a longer version.  Skrev went in for the sparser book, so it's a very short novella that was published in paperback.  That is now available as an e-book.  But maybe one day I will release the full version!


Break Point is available from here

Or free from Smashwords all through July.





Wednesday, 26 October 2016

The Taming Of Teresa - how a Bunty story from the 60s inspired a novel


People talk a lot about synchronicity, referring to those significant or meaningful coincidences, and just recently three friends were reading the same book of mine around the same time.  This might not sound so strange for a well-known writer but for a relatively unknown like me, it was quite uncanny.  Maybe it coincided with a promotion I'd done, but then one of those reading this book would have been unaware of such a promotion.  Bear in mind too, that I have over a dozen books, then it starts to seem more curious.  The book in question is a novel I wrote a few years ago called Savage To Savvy.




The plot is centred around a child reared by dogs, called Nicki. Psychology graduate, Heidi Harper is appointed to work with Professor Mala, pioneer of a new project to rehabilitate Nicki. Heidi is soon asking questions and her mission takes on sinister overtones. As the truth outs, the lives of all concerned begin to unravel. Savage To Savvy is a psychological novel about the ultimate forbidden experiment.

But the seeds for this novel were planted in childhood.


If anybody read Bunty as a child and is old enough to remember a story called The Taming Of Teresa about a child being reared by wolves (1969/70) that story has stayed with me for years. In 1985 I wrote to the publishers of Bunty as I wanted to read it again.  Luckily for me, they had the story in their Lucky Charm collection so they kindly sent me a gratis copy, even though I'm sure I'd have offered to pay.  So at last The Taming Of Teresa and I were reunited! 




Not that I needed to be reminded of the story as I had in fact committed large parts of it to memory.  In fact, I tried to recreate it in an old exercise book complete with childish drawings. I think that must be because we had to throw out our old comics each week, I imagine (or after a few weeks). In fact, I used to remember the number of each installment and what happened in each, so much so, that when I finally got a copy of the Lucky Charm version over fifteen years later I saw that a small part of week 12 was missing – I distinctly remembered a man with a megaphone searching the grounds of the country house for Teresa who was hiding in a cave, or the like!





I guess the story about a child being reared by a wolf, like the ancient story of Romulus and Remus, taps into some archetype that resonates with us. For me, it stood out from the crowd, though I also had the usual favourites that inspire a ten-year-old's imagination.



That story was the inspiration, many decades later, for Savage To Savvy. As a story for adults, though, Savage To Savvy has a much darker aspect.  It refers several times to The Taming Of Teresa (Heidi's mother has kept copies) which becomes relevant in the context of the story.


The other coincidence is the recent discovery of a site dedicated to all the girls' comics of the time, including Bunty. That site - Girls Comics Of Yesterday - lists many of the old Bunty stories (as well as those in Judy, Mandy etc).  I swear I have searched the internet for any mentions of The Taming Of Teresa before and the searches yielded nothing, not related to the Bunty story anyway.  And then I stumbled upon this site to find that not only are there others who loved the story as I did (that shouldn't be surprising, but it feels strange when you've felt in the wilderness with your passion for so long!) but the story was also reprinted in 1979 to a whole new generation. 

I'd be interested to hear from others who remember this story, especially those for whom it made a lasting impression.


For more information about Girls Comics Of Yesterday please visit: 
http://girlscomicsofyesterday.com

For more in formation about Savage To Savvy or where to purchase it please visit:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B006ASBQAE

Or visit my website: 
http://kjrbooks.yolasite.com/savage-to-savvy.php

I have also recently created a Taming Of Teresa board on Pinterest:

https://uk.pinterest.com/brontebrothers/the-taming-of-teresa-bunty-story/


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Friday, 13 May 2016

Fall Of The Flamingo Circus - A Punk Facelift


Here is my new cover for my old punk novel 'Fall Of The Flamingo Circus' first published by the long defunct publisher The Malvern Publishing Company (UK hardback 1988) and then by Allison & Busby 1990 (paperback).  It was also published in the US by Villard (US hardback 1990). Of the self-made covers it is my favourite so far, using an old punked up photo of myself and a free stock image of folded paper.  Add a bit (or a lot) of Photoshop and there it is. 


When I shared the new cover on Facebook a friend of mine responded by sharing a link of some rare film footage he'd uploaded to YouTube - She's A Punk Rocker. It's an hour long and brought back some good ole memories of the way it was back then: daring, rebellious and energetic.




If you are a sucker for all things punk then you might want to read or watch or both!

Links to my book:

Amazon.uk

Amazon.com

Smashwords

* Coming soon *  an interview with Lauren from Fall Of The Flamingo Circus. Not just Lauren but may other characters from all walks of life and all times in history!  Follow the link below to read more.

The Inside Story

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Chantelle Atkins talks about her book The Boy With The Thorn In His Side




Welcome Chantelle, or should I say welcome back! It's great to have you here again to talk about perhaps one of your most defining books: 'The Boy With The Thorn In His Side'.







I believe you started writing this book at the age of 12.  Did you have plans  for the book in your head before that age?   Did you do a whole draft of the book at that age?  Can you tell us a little about the process?

Yes I was 12 and I actually remember when I first got the idea. I was watching The Lost Boys movie, and during the part where Corey Haim finds out his mother is dating the head vampire, I started thinking about how I would feel if my mother was dating a monster, but a real life kind. I know this is where the idea for a monstrous step-father came from, and I know it was in my head a lot at that age as my parents had just divorced. I started writing the book right away and I still have the early copies now. There was no planning, but I did jot ideas and scenes down on scraps of paper and clipped them into my file. I drew pictures too to go with the story. Yes, the whole book was written, but it was very different to how it is now. For one thing, I originally set in in America, and some of the characters, including Danny, had different names! As for the process, it was just a case of me rushing home from school each day and up to my room. I couldn't wait to get back to it. I thought about it night and day. Once I had written it in hand, I took it to school to show my English teacher and won a merit certificate for it. I then started typing it up on an old word processor.

Did you keep refining it and adding to it over the years?  Or were there years where you didn’t do anything to it and just let it mature?

Once it was written, I went on to write other things, but I always kept this book in my head. It kept changing and growing in my mind. When I was 16 I went back to it again and rewrote it from start to finish. I did the same again when I was 19. There was other writing in between, but nothing that occupied my thoughts quite as much as this one. I then left it alone for many years, as I went on to have my children and work as a childminder. I just didn't have the time or energy for writing, and I had also lost my confidence. I didn't think I would ever write again. However, just before my then youngest started school, I suddenly wanted to write it again. It had been with me all that time, in my head every night, still changing and developing, and I thought I can't let this go on any longer. I have to write it. I have to finally write it. It took a few more drafts, well a few million it felt like, to get it right. It was in third person for a while, and then I changed it to first, which also gave me the idea of having both Danny and Lee as narrators.

Is there any of the original draft left today?  If so, how much is left of the original draft you wrote when you were 12/early teens?

Yes I've still got everything I ever wrote at that age. I have an old suitcase under my bed with all my writing in it from age 10 upwards, including anything I wrote at school. Like I said, it was quite different back then, but the gist of the story was the same; rebellious teen meets his match with mother's dangerous new partner! The friendships were also the same, and the love story with Lucy was also there.

You said in a previous interview that this was your favourite book of yours.  When did you feel you’d ‘finished’ writing the book or do you still feel, as many authors do, it’s never really finished?

Hmm, I do feel it is finished, as in I would not change the book now. It is very long, and I would probably not write something that long again, for many reasons! However I wrote it for me, I wrote it to get it out of my head and do it justice after so many years. But then came the sequel...again, I wrote it mostly for me. I wanted to know what happened after Danny got out of jail. I didn't imagine life would ever be easy for him and wanted to explore what happened next...I do also have alternative endings in mind, one of which I have written into a short story which will be published in my short story collection Bird People and Other Stories. I also plan to write a screenplay for a TV series. It would have a different ending to the book, and a whole other dimension added to make it even longer! I can easily fill three seasons, I reckon! I have made some plans and jotted some ideas down for this, but I have no idea when I will get the time to do it. So no, I suppose the story is still not finished!


So the sequel ‘This Is The Day’  naturally evolved rather than being what readers demanded?

I did it for me, to satisfy my own curiosity as to what happened next. I wanted to explore their lives and relationships as adults, especially Danny and Lucy's, and his relationship with his mother, and I wanted the past to return to haunt him in a thrilling way.

How much was the book inspired by real events and characters in your own life?

Not much. When I was 12, my parents divorced after years of threatening to do so. It was almost a relief, until us kids suddenly realised that they both might meet other people. I think we all had this fear about it, who they would be, and how our lives might change, and watching that scene in The Lost Boys just amplified that fear for me, and created this story. Over the years both my parents had partners I did not like, but fortunately for me, there was never anyone as demonic as Lee Howard! I would say that the other characters were totally fictional too. I wanted to know people like them. I wanted a best friend like Michael and an older brother like Anthony! I think I really just created a bunch of kids I would have liked to know at that age.

In there a lot of you in the main character Danny, would you say?   Are there parts of him that you couldn’t relate to or had to get into a different mindset?

We're quite different. I was a very shy, introverted teenager, whereas at the beginning he is stubborn, rebellious and cocky. I think as the years went by, I just got to know him better and better, and even though we are very different, I knew how he would feel about things and react to things, and I always felt sorry for him! His love of music was not in the original draft, although at that age I was very much getting into all sorts of music. When I rewrote it the final time I knew it had to be about music as well. It needed a hopeful theme to it as well as all the darkness and horror!

Have you come across people like Lee Howard before?  

No, luckily I have not personally. Some members of my family have been in abusive relationships, which I suppose I may have reacted to and thought about as a child and teenager, but I have never met anyone in real life who could be so vile to a child as Lee Howard is. I read a lot of horror stories around the time I was first writing it; Stephen King was my favourite, and a lot of the short stories and things I wrote around that age were very dark and violent, so I suppose I may have been influenced by other books and movies in creating his character.


How difficult was it to get inside the mindset of Lee Howard? 

It was surprisingly easy once I changed it to first person and allowed him a voice. I am the kind of person who is interested in why people do things. I don't tend to just say someone is evil or was born evil, I am more interested to find out how they got that way, how they were raised, what experiences and thought processes let them to this behaviour. So he kind of fascinated me. Even in the very first draft, I did not paint him as entirely evil. In that first version, he had desires to be a dad to Danny, and he felt guilt and even apologised for his behaviour. In fact, if anything, I made him more menacing in the later versions! But I had to understand where this was coming from...I had to know what he wanted from Danny and why. I had to almost feel sorry for him too. He is this monster of a man who is quite simply addicted to violence. He feels better, mentally and physically when he is hurting someone, and afterwards he feels calm, and refreshed, and then guilty. He's a classic narcissist I think, and a complete control freak. But in a very weird and warped way, he does actually love Danny and wants him to return that love. He simply doesn't know any other way to behave.


As I was reading it I strongly felt it would lend itself to the screen and you mentioned earlier that you’re working on a screenplay at the moment.  Would you like to tell us a bit more about that?  Have you adapted for screen before?  What are the difficulties and challenges?

No I've never done it before, but I have always written my books in my head first, in scenes and dialogue and movement. That's why they keep me up at night, because they are like movies in my head. When I am typing, I tend to mouth the words and reenact the movements as the characters perform. I have always wanted to see it on the screen, in fact any of my books. The soundtrack would be amazing! I have started it, and I have completed a few online courses on screenplay writing and I have read some books and learnt a lot already. I can't wait to do it, but there are a few novels waiting to be written first!

You mentioned earlier about the collection of short stories you're working on at the moment, one of these which will include an alternative ending for The Boy With The Thorn In His Side, which you’d strongly considered originally.  How do you think your readers will respond to this? 

I hope they like it. I hope it intrigues them. It's actually a very believable ending. Probably more realistic, and leaves things open...hence it will be used in the screenplay to keep the story going. I did write this ending and then changed my mind and went back to to the original ending I had when I was 12. It's nice to play about with things. There are so many ways the story could go!


Apart from the short story collection and the screenplay of the The Boy, are you working on anything else?

Yes, my YA novel The Tree Of Rebels is nearly ready. I thought it was done but then decided to send it to my top beta reader one more time, as I had made so many changes since she first read it. I have started writing the sequel to it as well; pretty much all the chapters are plotted out and the first six are written. So after the short story collection, the next release will definitely be The Tree Of Rebels. I have also written the first draft of a novel called Elliot Pie's Guide To Human Nature, which was a story I'd had in my head for ages, and hadn't had time to get to. In between waiting for edits and feedback on The Tree of Rebels, I managed to get the first draft done, and I have to say, I love it. I really am excited about this one. It's about a young boy who starts 'collecting' strangers as friends in a misguided bid to prove to his agoraphobic mother that not all humans are bad. I also have another novel in the pipeline, and like The Boy, it is from an old story I found in the suitcase! I wrote it when I was 16 but never finished it. I now know the ending, and have written two short stories for it, which are in the collection. It's about a teenage alcoholic who dreams of being a singer, and also follows the story of the local community centre being under threat. It's called A Song For Bill Robinson. So plenty to keep me busy! There will also be a sequel to The Mess Of me at some point. It is also plotted and about a quarter written!

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would just like to say thank you for this interview! I think most authors love talking about their books. It's a bit like talking about your children, and could go on for hours!

Thank you Chantelle. It's a pleasure. 


You can purchase The Boy With The Thorn In His Side from Amazon:

Kindle Version

Paperback


For more information about Chantelle Atkins' books please visit:





Sunday, 17 January 2016

Goodnight David Bowie – One In A Million

I found out via a friend on Facebook about your demise, oblivious earlier in the day when the rest of the world had already heard.  I didn't believe it. Who would? Who could? My brain hurt a lot.

Why, I’d just posted a picture of you for my profile picture on Facebook to wish you a happy birthday, your 69th,  a couple of days before. When you were younger you thought you’d die young, like Marc Bolan maybe, but when you passed middle age I thought you’d go on and on. Instead you winked out on the same date as my father – cancer also took him twelve years ago on January 10th.

Everyone has their own personal memories of you and what you meant to them and I am no exception. I am one of a million, not one in a million as you are. I grew up listening to the charts. I remember Space Oddity in the charts in 1969 when I was ten.  

David Bowie in his early years

Your songs were becoming big hits for other people: Oh You Pretty Things for Peter Noone, and All The Young Dudes for Mott The Hoople which you wrote to save their ailing career – still one of my favourite ever songs. But it wasn’t until you appeared on Top Of The Pops in 1972 playing Starman that something turned on inside me.  I didn't realize then that others would report, years later, that this appearance of yours had been life-changing for them too. But to me, as a not-quite-thirteen-year-old you made a lasting impression, with your spiky hair and androgyny; your unworldly eyes – each a different colour. And the song was wonderful.

David Bowie singing Starman

I became a big fan.  When my family moved back to the outskirts of Liverpool later that year, my sister Ann and I developed our character-inventions. 'Our people' we called them, though we started out acting real characters, like you and Alice Cooper – another of our heroes - before inventing our own.

I remember seeing my brother ready to go out somewhere, one night, with my oldest sister, and I
asked him where he was going. He said he was going to see you. I was so jealous.  I wanted to go too!  Nowadays we can check it all online and I see that the date you appeared at Liverpool in 1972 was September 4th at the Top Rank. I had to wait until the following summer in 1973 to see you at Liverpool Empire. My first ever concert.

In September 1972 I went to a new school and met new friends. One of my friends, Sharon, was a Marc Bolan fan, but also a fan of you. She knew things. Like the date you were coming to the Liverpool Empire and sometime in the spring we took the bus into town to buy tickets. I remember us sitting upstairs on the bus, excited with anticipation, and we bought three tickets, one each for us and one for my sister Ann.

That concert was on June 10th 1973.  I didn’t need to check on the internet because it’s indelibly written on my mind as is the fact that you did two performances, though when I checked the internet it was of course confirmed.  I just wish there was some footage somewhere.  Maybe some will be unearthed some day. We had no cameras in those days, well few did, not like today’s kids with their iphones, ready to document every note, every chord, every flaunt and swagger. We went to the later performance on that date and could hear your first performance from outside. To think you were just on the other side of those bricks, that side entrance.  Did Sharon speak to one of the bouncers who talked about people falling in the pit - where orchestras normally play? There were denim-clad and dyed-hair kids buzzing with anticipation. It was just over a week to my 14th birthday.  I didn’t have a great selection of clothes, I wore an orange t-shirt, one discarded by my oldest sister, maroon loons, and love beads - all the rage then. They cost about 10 pence but they broke during the concert. Some scattered off the thread and I threw the rest of them at you.  We were so near the front we were crushed against the bar of the pit.  We didn’t care.  We don’t at that age.  I was so mesmerised by you, I reached a trance-like state as you delighted us with your songs and your change of outfits, all ostentatious and outrageous and camp.  


David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust Tour

At one point, when you were singing Starman, the bit where it goes ‘I had to phone someone so I picked on you-oo-oo’ as you did the you-oo-oo’ you pointed to three different people at the front. One of them was me.  Was I the second one you pointed to?  Maybe if we could play these things back we would find it wasn’t as we thought.  It is all a blur now but at the time, I knew, I was a hundred per cent certain I was one of those you pointed at and 'had to phone'. For you it was just another concert, just part of what you did, night after night, but for me?  I don’t remember whether that was before or after my resolve, but somewhere in that concert I decided it wasn’t enough just to watch you. I had to be up there with you – just for one second, so that you would know of me, that I existed, and it would be just me and you, for that one second.  But something went wrong. I jostled in an effort to carry out this resolve, Ann must have moved too, Sharon last seen trying to make her way across one of the bars in the pit and being thwarted by a bouncer.  I think I wanted to head to the stage door, hopeless and naive and starstruck teen that I was. But we were jammed packed like sardines, and there were some horrid opportunistic young boys - (well, we assumed they were young, all the people at the front were adolescents) - who from behind jabbed their fingers down our pants (mine and Ann’s), taking advantage of our enforced restriction. We couldn’t even bat them off because there was no room to swing an arm.  God how they jabbed. It was excruciating.  But we couldn't even see their arms, let alone their faces. We’d not come for this, but this was the 1970s for you. I guess we'd already invaded each other's space so the vile boys thought they could trespass some more.  I'm sure we tried to move but they moved with us in the scrum and if we had been able to turn, a scuffle would have ensued and we'd have lost our place.  I didn't feel my body violated so much as my enjoyment. How dare they? What were they doing there if they just wanted to finger girls?  But I don’t want to dwell on that, except to say that by the end of the evening my bra was torn and Ann’s handbag was stolen along with her make-up.  Or it may have been her handbag was emptied of its contents. The whole place was a wreck. The seats were all ripped up and Ann was most upset about her handbag.  Sharon gave Ann a bit of her make-up on the bus home and earlier a kind bloke helped Ann look for her bag or its missing contents and gave her his programme of the concert, as a sort of consolation, which we still have somewhere. We come across it from time to time when moving house or searching the boxes in the cupboard.  I wish I could locate it easily along with one or two other things, like that picture I did of you all in dots.

But through the years I have been determined not to let those scumbags ruin my memory of what was an otherwise magical experience.

The following day Ann sat an O level which she failed, but suffice to say, if she didn't know the stuff by the night before it was too late anyway.


I bought the Ziggy Stardust album not long after the concert. It was my first album, and as is with any firsts, you always remember and treasure it. I played it to death. I got my hair cut that autumn and somebody told me I looked like you with it short where previously it had been straggling to my shoulders, thick like a mop.

I went on to buy Hunky Dory and The Man Who Sold The World, your earlier albums which enjoyed a revival as did Space Oddity which Ann bought. She also bought Aladdin Sane. They were our favourites.  Ann picked up The World of David Bowie, one of your earliest recordings where you were likened to Anthony Newley, for a few pence. It is probably worth a few bob now. The hits kept coming. After Starman, there was The Jean Genie, Drive In Saturday, Life On Mars, Sorrow. In 1974, when you had already moved on from your Ziggy era, I had a Bowie cut, or an attempted one.  It didn’t quite work as yours did but I have a few passport mementos from that time.  I confess to being quite obsessed with you.


 
My attempts at a Bowie-cut, 1974

I decided to dot my ‘i’s’ like yours with the circle on top, rather than the dot.  As mentioned earlier, I did a pencil sketch of you all in dots – I came across it a few months ago but again I can’t find it now

that I want it. I think I wrote the date on it. It was 1974 sometime. I was rather pleased with it. It was a good likeness. I did another one of you, possibly in felt tip, in numbers, rather than dots, but I wasn’t as pleased with that one. Ann also did drawings of you. But they are elusive, like you always have been. That’s what I tell myself about the disappointment at not being able to locate them, at not having the stamina any more for hauling boxes out of cupboards. Maybe I should do another, for old times' sake, in your honour. It was in the summer of 1974 also, that I got drunk for the first time - and I mean seriously drunk -  on holiday in Harlech. Ann and I took the train to Barmouth, where we met some guys who shared their wine with us on the beach. We left them puking while I felt this strange new lease of life and liberation as I sang 'Drive In Saturday' at the top of my voice down the high street as heads turned. I remember seeing them but I felt no embarrassment although I did do some other embarrassing things as one does when under the influence!

In our shoplifting phase, I think it was Ann who nicked a book called The David Bowie Story from a Liverpool store. It wasn’t expensive but we didn’t have much money and we read it from cover to cover, devoured the pictures and the details about your background. Another memento lost over the years to mildew or a charity shop or even the cupboard!

David Bowie as a child - then David Jones

At the beginning of 1975 we watched Cracked Actor, a documentary about your life so far. I was very interested in masks and personas and mental illness then.  You said something about ‘I’m glad I’m me now’.  You felt a bit schizophrenic, you said. Like you felt Ziggy was taking over and you no longer knew where he ended and you began. That’s why you killed him off.  I wrote something about having a new understanding about why you’d done that, because now I was all of 15, and so I was starting to get it, why you needed to change, evolve, kill off Ziggy. I started to get why you didn’t want to be stuck, typecast, stereotyped! It made sense to me all of a sudden.  You’d done something very clever. You’d quit while at your height.  Only a few people can pull it off.  But you did it not only for your sanity. But because you were ready for the next challenge. That was you. Always you. Those notes of mine are probably with the elusive drawings. In a too-safe place.


David Bowie in 'Cracked Actor'

I liked Young Amercians. I liked the funkiness of Fame.  I wasn’t so keen on the stuff you were doing in the mid and late 70s but I admired you for it.  People have always said you were a master of reinvention; it’s become a cliché, but it’s true. I went to see The Man Who Fell To Earth at the pictures and later watched Elephant Man on TV as well as other plays featuring you.

As Ann said on Facebook the other day, “I love the way David Bowie invented characters and they became a part of his life. Kate and I act out characters together and we live in a fantasy world which becomes our reality in the way that Ziggy became Bowie's character. These characters often become bigger than us.”

The many faces of Bowie

For years I have included many of my characters in my writing. Nowadays everyone unashamedly acts out characters in everyday life – people adopt personas on social media all the time!

After your Ziggy era Ann and I got into the next big exciting thing in music – punk, new wave, the colour and theatre of the New Romantics. Would these have happened if it wasn’t for you? So much that we now take for granted, can be traced back to you and your innovation. You were at the cutting edge with your gender fluidity and your appetite for change.

I saw you again in 1987 with my friend Jacky as part of your Glass Spider Tour. When I say ‘saw you’, that is a bit of a stretch. You played at Wembley Stadium on June 19th that year, the day after my 28th birthday. I was in bed the day before with a stinking cold.  The cold was still heavy on the 19th but I wanted to go so we travelled by train from Bournemouth. Jacky bought me a brandy or something.  It will be in my 1987 diary.  We went to an art gallery first but I just sat in a daze. The evening came and Big Country were on first in the pouring rain.  Then you came on.  Wembley Stadium is a far cry from Liverpool Empire.  We only had a distant view of the stage so they had screens up, only our screen wasn’t working. So we missed all your theatrics, except for the odd couple of minutes we caught of you courtesy of the people in front who lent us their binoculars once or twice. The rain was relentless.

David Bowie in later years
I have followed what you’ve been up to in the intervening years, from time to time. Not obsessively. You mellowed into something warm and humorous, like that sketch you did with Ricky Gervais. There was the recent art exhibition of portraits of you at the V & A. There were people who knew you earlier in your life, like a former vicar at my mum’s church who’d played in a band with you. In fact, I Googled it and lo and behold there’s an article in the Exeter Express and Echo about his early days with you:


Former vicar Alan Dodds who played in schoolboy band The Konrads with Bowie

The man who owns the shop Papermoon in my home town also claims to have known you and his dog is called Ziggy. So I feel I am connected with you, tangentially, as it were. They knew you, I have met them, ergo we are connected. From time to time I would fantasise about meeting up with you, via these people, although in truth I knew it was never likely to happen!

You have always been there in our lives, doing something, pushing the boundaries. But still we could not predict you.  You knew when you made Blackstar and Lazarus. You knew the effect it would have on us.  Mysterious, enigmatic and one step ahead in death as in life.  Always full of surprises.  And you kept one more for your departure. We should have predicted you would use death as another art form.  It seems obvious with hindsight, only most of us don't have the foresight. But it is one thing to enact death, when it is distant and far-off, quite another when it is happening. How brave, how poignant.

We thought you were immortal. But time takes a cigarette, his trick is you and me, boy. In the end, we are all stardust. Ashes to ashes. Planet earth is blue, mourning you. Part of my past, our collective past, has died with you.  Your passing has made us all too aware of our own mortality.

Yet part of you will always be immortal. Isn't that why we bequeath our art?  You always will be a legend. Your music, your legacy, it will always be. You were more that a rock star: you were an innovator, a musician, a poet, a philospher, a style icon, a trailblazer, a risk-taker, a visionary, not quite of this earth.  

Goodnight Starman.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Slow TV - what about slow books?


Last month, BBC4 broadcast some programmes for their ‘Slow TV’ series. I would have missed it altogether if it hadn’t been for my mother who watched the first one on birdsong (I missed that one unfortunately) and another on a slow canal trip which she enthused about. I managed to tape the canal one and finally got around to watching it recently.  It was two hours in length and we the viewers were taken on a trip, as if we were on the barge itself.  There was no voiceover: the only sounds to be heard were the various birds singing in the trees on the banks, the occasional ducks, the wind in the grasses, the occasional distant cyclist or walker along the towpath and, of course, the sound of gently rippling water as the barge chugged along at 4 miles per hour.  Occasionally, information about the canal – the London to Bristol - would appear on the screen but never was the viewer overloaded with information.  That was rather the point.  You could sit back and enjoy the relaxing journey. Apparently the canal trip alone drew in 506,000 viewers and a peak of 599,000, above the BBC Four slot average of 340,000.





In this day and age of speed and ever-increasing information overload this is a novel way to escape.  (I will return to that word novel, shortly). But when our lives are saturated by busy social media newsfeeds vying for attention; photos, videos, pages asking to be liked, blogs requesting to be read and commented upon, is it any wonder we cherish this escape into slowness? Time was, when you would perhaps escape the slow drudgery of a slow-paced life, into an action packed thriller on TV.  You might imagine that two hours of scenery along a canal travelling at 4 mph would be a bit boring, but suddenly you are in a different - and quite enchanting - world.  I found myself looking forward to what was coming round the next bend or stretch of the canal. Was that a bridge in the distance?  Was that a person on the bridge?  What an interesting tree. What season might it be? Are those new buds on the trees or last summer's remains? And so on…

And so on to the novel. I am in various writers’ groups on Facebook and Linked In where writing discussions abound.  One blog was posted recently in a Facebook Group about good storytelling versus books where nothing happens.  This is one of those discussions that crops up periodically.  ‘Books where nothing happens’ is usually directed at literary fiction where plot, such as it is, often tends to be light and slow-moving and subservient to characters and their internal environments. Environmental descriptions may be too long for today’s readers, who want a fast page-turner. Or do they?  Of course there’s a place for the fast-paced action-packed page-turner but not everyone is looking for the same kind of book to read. Even the same person will want to escape into a slower world from time to time to enrich their experience or reflect their mood.  Slow TV has shown there is a place for slowness: the savouring, the slow-burning, indeed the extraordinary in the ordinary.  Too many times I’ve heard people complain about lengthy descriptions in books as if they have no place. Slowness doesn’t always mean nothing happens either. Often description can be a great way to build suspense and control pace.  At other times, description can be enjoyed for its own sake and in this sense has a lot in common with poetry.  So next time you read some descriptive or atmospheric prose, don’t just skip over it, enjoy the journey itself, the appeal to the senses on all levels, rather than racing to the story's destination.  You never know, you may be captivated.