Welcome to my adventures and experiments in creativity. Where writing is like running: sometimes I know where I'm going, and sometimes I see where the mood takes me.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Onward And Upward?

It is with a certain amount of pride, and also a little nervousness, that I present to you my new website:

The ‘tour of the indies’, blogged about in such fastidious (and slightly amateurish, I have since realised) fashion here, has morphed into a project all of its own. Regular readers will know that independent cinemas have had something of a profound impact upon me – I like what they stand for, and how they do it. I would like to get involved in their world in one form or another, and this is my attempt at doing so on my own initiative.

It may flourish, it may wither and die. We can only wait and see.

Well, you can wait and see. The ultimate result depends on me putting a bit of effort in first. So where does that leave this here blog, yet to even reach its first anniversary?

‘The Repository 2’ will continue. At this stage, I can only hope that I find enough time to still write the occasional post on a random subject. I’ll certainly endeavour to do so. Quite possibly, it will end up as a string of pub quiz round-ups and I’ll rename it ‘The Repository of Quizzing Knowledge’. I’d like to think I’ll still write the odd poem too, but that seam remains largely un-mined at present. It still exists though; it’s not a dry well.

When I awoke on January 1st this year, sat up in bed and lazily continued reading Bill Bryson’s Down Under, wondering at the back of my mind what the following 364 days might hold, I didn’t imagine that nine months later I would have quite so much I wanted to try and achieve. By some people’s standards, perhaps I’m doing it all quite slowly, or even ineffectively. To my mind, the main thing is: I’m doing it.

None of it is making me any money (of course/yet/will it ever?), but then a lot of people do things for no financial reward. Don’t get me wrong – everything I’m doing and trying is for the pure enjoyment of it. Crucially, though, I feel like I’m getting ‘better’ (more confident) each step along the way, so if it were to lead me down a new and vaguely-related career path at the same time, I would be one happy man.

I’m a patient person; I still believe in “good things come to those who wait” as much as I now understand how I need to make things happen for myself. Perhaps the next stage is to learn how much patience is too much patience, and how long is too long before realising what the next stage after that is. This is such a new way of thinking for me that I still can’t quite smother that one niggling thought – what if it doesn’t work at all, what if it is a complete waste of time? I guess the only answer to that is – I have to make sure it does, and that it isn’t.

No pressure then!

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Because, Yeah, I Could Do A Better Job Myself

A presumptuous note about Stephen King

Many authors can finish a novel within 500-600 pages, often less. Some stories need more than that though, which is fine. At 933 pages long, Needful Things is certainly a fine example of current bookbinding techniques, but it is not unusual in the Stephen King canon. The Stand, for example, is one of his finest works and every bit the modern epic. While that story spans the entire United States of America, Needful Things is rather more localised, so far focussing on the single town of Castle Rock in Maine, and the titular shop gracing its high street.

“So far” because I’m only just over half way through it and, honestly, struggling a little. It’s good, certainly, but also the very definition of a ‘slow-burner’ because it only properly grabbed me between pages 300 and 400(!). The intriguing and creepy central premise kept me going, but it’s hard to believe other people wouldn’t have given up well before the chapter that sees two women and a dog lose their lives.

The setting is crucial, for a group of people travelling across a continent are bound to encounter new people here and there (in The Stand, the majority of the population is wiped out by a virus). When you set your story in a small town, and spend a LONG TIME describing the arthritic troubles of one of the main characters, it feels like the picture has been painted. The main thrust of this argument, then, is the fact that at 450 pages in, your favourite author and mine chooses to introduce a new character.

450 pages! For pity’s sake!

Some writers see wars start and end, or tear entire galaxies asunder, in less paper than that. Here, for nearly the entire first half of Needful Things, Ace Merrill doesn’t get a mention. Not even a namedrop at page 75 to foreshadow his later appearance. Honestly. Anyone would think novelists just make it up as they go along sometimes.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Haircut (POEM)


Zzzzzzzzzz, went the Remington shaver.
Zzzzzzzzzz, went I
in the warm embrace of the barber’s leather chair.
“Going anywhere nice on your holidays?”
he asks.
Zzzzzzzzzz, I reply.
Dreaming about Magaluf.

Monday, 15 August 2011


Mentioning it in the last post reminded me of this that I wrote last year, so it seemed fitting to re-post it here:

Dave, a friend of mine, owns a dog.

He is friendly, largely obedient, and enjoys playing with a ball.

The dog exhibits very similar qualities.

Jim – for that is the dog’s name – is allowed to ‘do his business’ in the garden, and in this respect (thankfully) he is in no way like his owner. Unfortunately, this perfectly natural occurrence has ruined Dave’s lawn, leading to an intensive programme of scarification, reseeding and general lawn care.

My neighbours own a number of cats. They regularly wander into my garden, sniff at my pots and tubs, and dwell in the borders watching birds.

Mercifully, the neighbours don’t copy this behaviour.

I am no expert when it comes to lawns and gardens, made obvious by the necessity to check the spelling of ‘scarification’ before settling down to write this (‘trimming’ being the most I’ve done to my grass since moving in three months ago). Nor am I an expert when it comes to animals and pets, but based on the destruction of Dave’s lawn by a humble dog, I witness with trepidation this feline multitude frequent my garden.

Perhaps cats can do a garden no harm, but I am not certain. Of the fact that I possess no desire to harm a cat I am certain. But, to give myself the best chance of keeping the garden in a reasonable condition, I would prefer they stayed away. To that effect, I have waged a systematic campaign of passive aggression the likes of which the back gardens of England have never witnessed. Probably.

As a result, the four – or five; it might even be six (a number of them look identical and need to be seen together for an accurate census) – cats know they are not welcome at number 8. This doesn’t stop them coming over the fence of course, and likely they run amok while I’m out at work all day. But when I’m home, the merest suggestion that I might leave the house for the garden is enough to send them scampering back to the correct side of said fence.

All except for one cat…

He – for I presume it to be a ‘he’ – has remained wholly unperturbed by my efforts. Sitting on my lawn, basking in the sun, he refuses to even flinch as I walk within feet of him. He watches my pottering about with a certain fascination, offering nothing but a defiant stare if I direct any sort of attention toward him to suggest he might go elsewhere. Occasionally I look out into the garden and see a cat-free scene, only to turn away, turn back again seconds later and find he has appeared in the centre of the lawn, as if from nowhere.

That the behaviour of this one individual is so markedly different from his fellow cats – they don’t share his unconcerned attitude, but seem unwilling to copy him – has led me to only one possible (and sensible?) conclusion.

My imagination has created a cat nemesis.

Which means I have absolutely no idea how to deal with him. Still, at least his fictional 'business' can't kill the grass.

Self-Esteem In The Pub Quiz Team

“If I could walk with the animals! Talk to the animals! Grunt, and squeak, and squawk with the animals … And they could talk to me!”

* * *

If somebody had said at the end of June that I’d be caring for a kitten and taking ownership of a puppy two months later, I’m not sure I’d have believed them. There’s a distinct possibility I wouldn’t have actually heard them say it in the first place, for my head was overrun with thoughts at the time: trying to enjoy a first proper holiday in two years, at the same time as dealing with a fraught car buying experience that came with a £300 sting in the tail, and dreading the prospect of a particularly emotional funeral.

I know these things are part of life and we all have to deal with them, but dealing with them – particularly for the first time – is what shapes us. And boy, was I getting shaped. The idea of partaking in animal husbandry wasn’t just not on the radar; the radar itself didn’t even exist.

And it’s not like people ever refer to me as ‘Doolittle’ in day-to-day life. I’ve recounted experiences with animals in a previous online life, most notably dealings with a former neighbour’s feline army. At risk of inviting unsavoury jokes, me and other species are not natural bedfellows.

So this last weekend has been something of an eye-opener. Toto, the polydactyl kitten, has been with us for two weeks, but dealing with both him and Chloe, our seven week-old Springer Spaniel, has proved to be a breathless experience. It is said that being forced out of your comfort zone is something to be embraced, but what I didn’t realise is that it also involves being shifted out of your physical space. Being relegated to the landing to do the ironing – as opposed to setting up in the living room and sticking on the Doctor Who Series 5 Blu-ray – was the icing on the cake.

Of course, they’re both adorable animals (Toto even sits and watches football with me sometimes). But that doesn’t mean much when my authority over Chloe starts to wane after less than 48 hours. Kath, my better half, is training in animal behaviour, so she knows how she wants us to raise Chloe. I’m trying to adapt, but when faced with a creature acting on instinct – and a cute, tiny creature at that – it’s hard not to react in similar terms. And when I do think I’m getting it right, apparently my voice betrays a lack of confidence and she pays me no attention anyway.

“Use a higher pitch when you talk to her,” says Kath. “Come here, Chloe,” I squeak. Not only do I feel stupid, she still doesn’t listen. Pity I can’t ignore her when she starts yapping at four o’clock in the morning… Again, I recognise that worse things happen to people far more undeserving than me, but life is treating my soul like Play-Doh again. I managed fifteen minutes (FIFTEEN MINUTES!) of writing over a three-day weekend. My creative ambitions feel like my car – unexpected warning lights glaring out from the dashboard just as I’m getting comfortable in the driver’s seat. The home I’ve just settled into suddenly feels like an alien planet.

* * *

Can I have my comfort zone back please? It’s little wonder that I see the constant rain of bird shit on my car as a metaphor. Damn animals, even the birds are tormenting me! By eight o’clock on Sunday evening, I’m craving the comfort and reassurance of the weekly pub quiz. It’s the last hope for normality. If I can’t reclaim some self-esteem dredging up pointless trivia from the dark recesses of my brain, it’s time to give up.

And it doesn’t disappoint – I even get to throw in some geeky and wholly unnecessary knowledge of Formula One to make myself feel better. The difficulty level is such that we’re pretty sure we won’t win, but we hope to be in with a shout. To simply sit back, relax, and answer a few questions is to recall the carefree days that adulthood too often casts by the wayside. We enjoy some good conversation, a half-time chip bap, and a score of 46 points out of a possible 65. Teams have won with less in the past. The competitive instinct may be subdued by the release of pressure, but it doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear our name read out somewhere in the top three.

The results are announced. The winners score 61.5.

Oh well, better luck next week. It’s not the taking part that counts; it’s the reassurance to be had from a routine of simply turning up in the first place. I return home, wondering what time Kath and I are going to be woken up.