I’m reading my first rock autobiography of the year and I start wishing I could write fiction as raw and truthful and powerful as a Bruce Springsteen song, that would last as long in the head and the heart, and I stick one of Big Brother’s cast-off tapes in the cassette player in the kitchen and Thunder Road kicks in and my heart soars and I’m twelve again and buying a second-hand Born To Run LP to play on Sister Number One’s hand-me-down record player, and I’m nineteen and clinging to Born in the USA when my peers are telling me it’s not cool, and I’m thirty-five and BB’s handing over the Springsteen tapes he’s replaced on CD and I’m rediscovering that feeling of gritty bluesy rock n roll, and I want to phone BB and tell him how glad I am that he let me rifle through his record collection, and how much joy and catharsis all that music has brought me over the years, a liferaft and a battle cry and a manifesto. But I can’t, because I’m British and reserved, and what is more I’m a gruff northerner. Nevertheless… Nevertheless.
This time last week I was still buzzing from the excitement of being on the radio. Those of you with flash enabled can catch up on the Chapel FM website, we start about a quarter of an hour in, with a burst of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit (and we finished with a quick blast of The Damned’s version of the same song. I chose that one, did you guess?). Feedback so far has been positive, and we had a fabulous time making the programme. I have a new respect for radio presenters.
In the programme there are 2 stories by Andrea Hardaker, a story and 2 poems from Rosalind York, and 2 stories from me (Viv’s 64th from The Little Book of Northern Women, and a short piece of comic fantasy called Can’t Stop the Rock. It’s about reanimating dead rock stars, I wrote it a couple of years ago but maybe this is the year we need to put it into action).
Constructive criticism welcome, as always, but I hope you enjoy listening.
Some people never liked the audio cassette, but I was (and still am) disproportionately fond of them. Wondering what was on an unlabelled one this morning, and assuming it belonged to OneMonkey (I am an obsessive labeller. I bet you never could have guessed that) a wave of memories crashed in as it turned out to be the final programme in the 2007 edition of BBC7’s listener-written sci-fi chain-story (Picture This), plus the accompanying interview with Robert Shearman who wrote the first and last episodes. Steph May, author of alternative ending 2, got a mention in the interview but sadly I didn’t – never mind, you can still read my alternative ending on the archived BBC webpage.
As I listened I was transported right back to the kitchen (2 houses ago) with the cassette player and DAB radio next to each other on the table so I could tape it for posterity. Not long after that I got this package through the post, containing the whole thing on one of those new-fangled CDs, and my excitement levels reached danger-point. I think it was the fact that this was from the BBC – blame Douglas Adams for that feeling, I guess (among other things).
The next unlabelled tape did turn out to belong to OneMonkey, and the whole of side 2 was snippets of Tommy Vance’s Radio 1 Rock Show, probably from around the start of 1993 (Bruce had announced he was leaving Maiden at the end of the tour, and Tommy Vance hadn’t yet defected to Virgin 1215 – these are the things I measure the passage of time by). A few years before I even met OneMonkey, and yet it brought back such vivid memories because I’d been listening too, in a different county. This is what I love about cassettes; even when it’s an album I’d taped off vinyl to listen to on the move, I can often still remember what I was doing at the time, and the ones with bad editing and the odd word from Mark Goodier or Bruno Brookes just add to that scene-setting. Don’t expect me to get rid of my tape shelves any time soon.
It hasn’t been universally welcomed, but like it or not you’re unlikely to have escaped the fact that Metallica were the first metal band to headline Glastonbury, last weekend. I’m not what you’d call a Metallica fan (I do still listen to the black album, and it’s still good) and I also have mixed feelings about their headlining status, though not for the same reason as the widely-reported row about it, but I definitely couldn’t help knowing that a) Glastonbury was on last weekend and b) Metallica were headlining on Saturday night. Yet I had to go look up the Sonisphere dates when I was trying to tell OneMonkey about Bruce Dickinson’s flying intro (it’s this coming weekend, the weekend of the Tour de France wondering what’s hit it in West Yorkshire, since you ask).
Consider these screenshots:
Even allowing for some of those 2 million and odd hits not actually being about the festival, doesn’t it tell you something that there’s only a few hundred about Sonisphere? (I would have used Donington as a comparator, but since it has the unhelpful name of Download these days, I didn’t bother)
There’s a concept on the BBC (for those of you reading this from outside Britain) called ‘undue prominence‘, which basically means the BBC can’t be seen to be promoting something, whether it’s a brand of soap powder or a particular band. Given the continual pushing of Glastonbury on 6Music for days (weeks? months? ‘tickets now available’, this singer rumoured, this band confirmed) leading up to the festival, and the re-playing of parts of Glastonbury sets for a couple of weeks afterwards, the BBC news website headlines about it, and indeed the BBC Glastonbury website, I have to wonder how far they’d have to go to fall foul of the guidelines. You’d be forgiven for thinking that there was only one music festival on at this time of year, and hadn’t heard that Download was 2 weekends before Glastonbury, or Sonisphere (as we now know) the weekend after.So, is it a breakthrough that Metallica were one of the Glastonbury headline acts this year? Er, no. Surely we want greater diversity of music reporting, not a nod to ‘minority tastes’ on the all-but-state-sponsored festival du jour. Bruce Dickinson has been quoted as saying Iron Maiden wouldn’t play Glastonbury, and I would hope they’d stick to this if they ever were asked. There was a time when Radio 1 (in the days before 6Music) acknowledged that rock and metal existed and was popular; I listened to the whole of Donington 92 live, mainly because we always had Radio 1 on in our house (we even listened in the car as we embarked on a family holiday, the climax of Maiden’s set was a bit crackly as we ate fish and chips in a lay-by). The following morning I bought a second-hand tape of The Number of the Beast and the rest is history. How does the music-loving teenager come across any genre outside the mainstream these days? I end up listening to 6Music as the least worst option on my clock-radio (can’t get Planet Rock outside the kitchen for some reason) and I like Shaun Keaveny but the music choice leaves a lot to be desired.
We could of course learn to have properly diverse festivals. Germany apparently managed it with Rock am Ring at the start of June, where Maximo Park were on the same bill as Metallica, and a good mix of the Glastonbury, Download and Sonisphere line-ups seem to have coped with playing on the same day as each other, in the same venue. Until that happens, it would be nice if the mainstream media noticed that live music events do happen outside Somerset, even in June.
(Though not if they report them like this review in the Guardian from 1999 which has been bugging me for nearly 15 years. Maiden didn’t even play Moonchild – the song he quotes the lyrics from – that night. I was there. And I can point to a set-list that says they didn’t, too. Either send someone with an affinity for the music on offer, or at least someone who’ll pay attention)
Metal and fiction: two of my favourite things, so you can imagine my delight when I chanced upon Despumation Press. This is a new venture that ‘seeks to champion writing that explores the diverse themes metal customarily addresses using language in such a way as to evoke the feeling of listening to the music’. Sounds cool, and they’re seeking submissions based on your favourite metal song.
It turns out their favoured end of metal isn’t mine (you may recall all that talk of ‘hair metal’ in the past, not a term I’d ever used but it seems to cover a big chunk of what I like. That and NWOBHM of course), so I guess I won’t be offering them my efforts but I did want to have a go for my own entertainment. Or maybe even education.
Capturing the rhythm of a song sounds quite hard and I’m not absolutely sure how to go about it. I’ve read poetry with a definite driving beat to it, so maybe that could be replicated in prose. Could you vary the sentence length, the types of words; get all flowing and lyrical for the guitar solo? Even if you’re not keen on metal you could get a piece of flash fiction from your favourite song (or a novella, if you’re into Dream Theater). One to try I think, and if you have wide-ranging musical tastes the variety of styles could be interesting – maybe you’d have to detail the soundtrack in the introduction, if you released them as a collection. Of course, this assumes you can listen and write at the same time.
Sometime around October half-term 1993 I went to a car boot sale in a Cumbrian market town with my parents. It was a regular habit of ours in the few years either side of that time, and I rarely failed to emerge with an LP or a well-worn cassette. For whatever reason that weekend I bought a leather jacket.
It’s now too long ago for me to say for sure why it caught my eye – whether it was the only one I’d seen for sale at the bargain price of ten pounds or the vendor looked particularly worthy of my cash I can no longer recall. Whatever the reason, I stepped over and asked if I could make it mine.
It was too big when I was fifteen, it’s too big now, but a penchant for chunky jumpers has mitigated that to a certain extent. A minor detail like size was not going to put me off when I knew I’d found the biker jacket I was fated to wear for the remainder of my youth (and beyond). The man who wore it before me, whose features have faded from my memory at this distance, told me this jacket had already lived a rock ‘n’ roll life. It had seen Ozzy and Judas Priest, had beer spilt on it, accompanied him to major gigs. He told me to look after it and treat it well. Reluctant sale due to sensible wife.
In twenty years that already well-worn jacket has been to many more gigs. It’s been to Paris (and Newcastle) to see Iron Maiden, it’s seen the Damned more times than it might have appreciated, it’s been to rock clubs and the beach, supermarkets, libraries and my graduation (I had to take it off at the last minute to put the gown on). It’s had the very minimum of beer, snakebite and tea spilt on it and I’ve done my best to keep it away from people with lit cigarettes. It’s been photographed for my blog and painted for a recent portrait of me by my dad.
The story of my life, written in creased black leather and rusting studs. The lining, which used to be red, has a few splits in it and some stitching’s coming loose on one sleeve, but it’s still holding together. Will I still be wearing it in twenty years? Maybe not, but whatever happens I know I won’t have passed it on to a teenager I’d never met before. Though I’m glad that that anonymous Cumbrian man did.
I was musing on favourite books, and wondering what I’d put as mine, but I dismissed it within moments as a ridiculous idea. Even if we allowed that it would change in half an hour, and probably every half an hour for the rest of my life (though some books would be chosen many times) I still couldn’t pick a favourite.
Spare a thought, then, for the editor, the competition judge, the slush-monkey. Over at the Short Story Club we’ve been reviewing the year of official existence (we will be continuing, at least for now, but this is a bonus) and specifically trying to pick our favourite winner of the monthly story competitions. We’re doing it for fun, and maybe as a chance to reflect on what we’ve learnt, but in each of those months someone has had to choose this story over that, all the way to a shortlist, from which Louise Doughty has had to pick the winner. How many times has she wanted to cry ‘Hang on, I meant that one. No, this one. What was the one about Bernstein again?’ Alas, once the winner has been announced, there’s no changing your mind.
If you ask me who my favourite band is I will probably still say either Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden or the Clash depending what mood I’m in, as I have done since I was 14. OneMonkey may occasionally goad me into admitting I listen to Half Man Half Biscuit or the Damned more than I listen to the Clash these days, and I do get very excited about Terrorvision, but I would be unlikely to cite them as favourites. Even less likely to cite AC/DC or the Dogs D’Amour, much as I love them both. Consider, then, the fact that I realised as I neared the end of my time at university that the only albums I’d had with me every term were one by AC/DC, and one by the Dogs D’Amour. There’s a lesson in there somewhere – if you find it, send it my way.
A musical Proustian moment yesterday, as I stumbled (electronically) across someone who looms large in my past, now known (musically) as This Morning Call. I listened to the track Clockworks (pretty good, like mellow ’90s indie-pop, though that could just be me hearing known influences) and as soon as the vocals kicked in, I was a teenager again, sitting in a music rehearsal room, fluffing my basslines – an almost frightening intensity of memory. I became roadie/mascot not long after and that was the end of my musical career; I was already writing stories, mainly for my own entertainment and at that time it never occurred to me that other people ‘out there’ might like my stories and some day be prepared (occasionally) to pay me for them. Though that would probably have been poor consolation, Chrissie Hynde being way cooler than Douglas Adams in my teenage opinion.
But I digress (I know, so unusual around here). The ability of music, even just a snippet or an opening chord, to transport someone through time and space is amazing (there must be a story in there somewhere). There are Iron Maiden tracks that… Actually I think I have Maiden songs for almost every occasion, they’ve been such a constant soundtrack, but there is one (Invaders) that still takes me straight back to being 13, stretched out on my bed one Sunday with my headphones on, listening to the tape I’d just bought from a car boot sale in Workington; if I’m not doing much else as I listen, I can feel the breeze from the open window (it being the final weekend of the summer holidays I think) and see the slightly dimmed light from the curtain drawn across the glare of unfortunately-positioned sun.
Thankfully for you, I’m not about to write a ridiculously long and rambling (if wonderfully immersive and enjoyable) tale stemming from hearing a snatch of Maiden at an inopportune moment, but it serves to remind me how important music is. The Librarian has in fact just reviewed a book about that very thing (Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks). And I continue in my quest to write while listening, not just to the constant music in my head.
Phew! Temporarily at least, official acceptance rate for the last 12 months is back up to 21%. The nice people at The View From Here have decided to use a story of mine called The Fan-boys on Tour – it’s not in the speculative field, firmly mainstream in fact, and depending on your viewpoint it’s about brotherly love or a couple of punk losers. I’ll let you know when it’s available, and then you can make up your own mind.
There was a time when my life had a soundtrack. Music was as necessary to my continued existence as water (or in my case, tea). My dad was the same and I grew up with radio 1 the constant background except when one of his albums (the Smiths, Queen, the Stones, or if we were really unlucky Roxy Music) was put on in its place. It never seemed to affect my concentration, and I could happily read a novel or do A-level revision with musical accompaniment. At some point in my twenties I turned the hi-fi off to concentrate better. Then I didn’t put it on when I sat down because I wanted to think clearly, then I fell out of the habit altogether and the only music was in my head (there is still always music in my head. This week it’s been mainly Iron Maiden with a bit of Slayer). Generally speaking, I read or I write when I’m at home, and sadly I seem to have lost my ability to do either when there’s music on, I’ve even had to ask OneMonkey to turn it down in the next room. Stephen King apparently writes while he listens to AC/DC, Guns n’ Roses or Metallica, and I envy him (OK I don’t envy his Metallica). I need to learn to write to a soundtrack before I lose the ability to hear the music in my head.
Chapter six of Resurrection Joe is now available for your delectation. I realised I’d forgotten about it so it’s a bit later than my roughly monthly schedule would suggest, but I hope you’re not all too devastated at having to wait a while for it (I am of course joking, I know the view-count is made up of my friend D, and people whose cats land on the keyboard and take them to it by accident).
If you haven’t read the earlier chapters, you’ll probably still be able to follow the goings-on (though there’s nothing to stop you going back and reading them). Joe’s a goth who works in a bookshop, Caroline’s her flatmate and has an unsuitable boyfriend, Craig’s their friend and is glam (in the Motley Crue sense, not Slade). This chapter’s mainly set at a rock night, where important truths are learned (isn’t that always the way with rock nights…)
On a weekend when I attended the Wendy House for the first time in a very long time, I give you chapter five of the eight-year-old saga of northern goths, Resurrection Joe. In case I haven’t said this before (I really can’t be bothered to check. It’s a Sunday afternoon, I’m surprised I have the energy and enthusiasm necessary to type this), the title is taken from a Cult song, just to keep the theme going. Enjoy.
Because I’ve had a tiring week at work and don’t have anything original to offer up for your delectation, chapter four of Resurrection Joe is now available. I notice that more people seem to have read the first chapter than subsequent ones, which probably should tell me something about how not to write opening chapters, so why not try diving in head-first at chapter four and seeing if you can work out who everyone is and what’s going on.
I’ve also fixed (I think) the annoying random line-wraps in the earlier chapters that I hadn’t noticed, so if that was what put you off in chapter one, give chapter two a go now, it’ll be easier on the eye if not on the mind.
Partly because it’s been about a month since the last one, and partly because I’m full of cold and feeling sorry for myself so I’m not in the mood to write a proper post, the third chapter of Resurrection Joe is now available. Think of it as an early Christmas present, if you like (but I don’t imagine you’ll have much success if you try taking it back to Marks and Spencer in January).
OneMonkey, reading a Doctor Who novel (yes, he does it too), just asked if every fictional character who gets poisoned by a cup of tea suddenly starts appearing in the first person instead of the third. It’s an intriguing question, and one I may get back to. But for now, here’s Resurrection Joe Chapter 2.
A year or so ago I read an article in The Guardian about a promising young author named Gwendoline Riley. The brief description of her and her writing resonated with me, and I decided to investigate in the hope that I might be inspired or pick up some tips.
Since Sick Notes was the only one of her novels in my local library, that was the one I read, thoroughly and critically. I could see a superficial similarity of approach in Sick Notes and in my own first novel (unpublished, naturally), but I couldn’t find any common ground with the characters and I found I didn’t really care what happened to them. Not any criticism of Riley’s writing, just a comment on the different aspects of (for want of a better phrase) youth culture we’d used as settings; hers was an alien world to me, as is Raymond Chandler’s LA, but unlike Chandler, Riley didn’t present me with any enticing surroundings that I wanted to set up camp in.
For what it’s worth, and in case anyone else feels like comparing my first novel with any of Gwendoline Riley’s, I’ll put the first chapter here, probably serialising the rest of it later as I get round to it (a free novel – don’t all clamour at once). It’s about the same length as Sick Notes, as it happens, and I wrote it when I had too much time on my hands, back in the Winter/Spring of 2000/1. Thus far, only about half a dozen friends have read it, and very likely that’s the way it will stay (who has the time to read these days?). My style’s changed over the last seven or eight years, and I like to think I’ve improved with time and effort, but maybe I’m just deluding myself.
Ladies and gentlemen, Resurrection Joe, chapter 1…