Thanks, Dad

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B40CC9D0-79A6-4DA7-BEF7-FFD1F8333A7B.jpegAs an impressionable kid, susceptible to the same crippling doubt that would continue to affect me as an unimpressive teen and self-loathing adult, I had to contend with my father as well as myself. He had scattered the confetti of neglect in my direction along with the force-feeding of his malnourishing religion. I was the goose, trapped in a man-made device whose restraints’ primary purpose was to engorge me on godfulness from throat to liver, until I became a honed, conditioned pâté, ripe for the spreading.
But there was a thing, and the thing was this: my wings had never wung. They didn’t know how. Everything I did was wrong; nothing was right. And the few aspects of my existence in which I did take pride, however fleetingly, were —of course— unworthy of his unmatchable achievements. He’d always received higher grades than me, and earned better wages. His spelling was better than mine, as were his enunciation, pronunciation, and inflexion. I knew this because he would tell me so. A hundred times a day.
He’d criticise my accent, despite his responsibility for the geography of my birth, wishing to ensure I knew how to speak properly —lest people thought me dense. That was his worst nightmare: that an unworthy, unclever child might cast her reflection on him. Nobody wanted a stupid child, least of all him —especially when I considered that almost biblical, yet perpetually unspoken chant of his: idiot begets idiot, begets idiot. He didn’t have to say it, but I knew it was there, in the voice behind his sight. I could hear the cogs of his brain whirring and churning the mantra every time he turned his pedantry on me and his blatant displeasure in my direction.
I turned to atheism, comedy, and romance, so that the last laugh —and love— would be mine. And they are. Oh, how they are.

Hear me laughing, Pater.
See me write.

And watch how I love —the right way.

Love begets love, begets love.

It’s *You’re Call —fixing the fundamental

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*Your.

Damn it.

Do you have to be gud wiv werds to be a decent writer? Nah —but it certainly helps. If you want to cut down on those rejections, for instance, it’s not a bad thing to up your technical accuracy game. If you wish to master your craft or hone your skills, then you might want to start with the basics.

Here are some of the most common mistakes writers make —and some easy ways to remember the correct usage. I’ll stick with cat/dog/coffee/pizza analogies, because writers (be warned: this might get a little gross and/or sweary, because me).

ITS vs IT’S 

ITS is possessive; that is, something belonging to it. So, if we’re talking about a cat who has a propensity for displaying all things posterior, then we might say it had its ‘… tail in the air, flaunting its sticky brown bumhole …’

Just as that which belongs to her is hers, or something belonging to him is his, then that which belongs to it must be its.

IT’S is a contraction of IT and HAS, or IT and IS. A contraction is the abbreviation (shortening) of a phrase or word group, using apostrophes to denote the omission of a letter (or letters).

Common contractions include: 

  • Don’t (Do not tell me how to write);
  • Haven’t (I have not written anything today because I’ve been dicking around on Facebook for twelve hours);
  • Shouldn’t (You should NOT ever, ever, ever put pineapple on pizza).
  • She’s (She is banging on about fucking grammar again, the pedantic bint).

And the one we’re talking about here: it’s (it has/it is).

Example:  ‘It’s too late.’ (i.e. ‘I was just about to scoff a bunch of soggy, overboiled ramen but it is too late because the cat’s been sick in the bowl, so I guess I’ll have pizza instead. But with no pineapple. Because ew.’)

PLURALS vs POSSESSIVES

Speaking of apostrophes —those buggers get everywhere. And I mean everywhere. Have a gander:

shop

Sofa’s. The sofa is what? Comfortable? What about the chair’s legs? The recliner’s a bit tatty but that’s nothing compared to the bed’s grotty old mattress? Maybe something belongs to the bed, which is owned by the recliner, which is the property of the chair … AAAARGH!

Assuming the store has more than one sofa/chair/recliner/bed for sale, they should have used plurals here, which, in this case, is as simple as adding ‘s’ to the end of each item.

As for Goodwyns Furniture; assuming Goodwyn is one person, Goodwyn’s Furniture would be correct. I dunno —perhaps signwriters are easily confused these days. Humph.

Here are some photos of a rather splendid bookstore chain. I guess only half of these shops belong to Mr W.

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Are you still with me? No? Okay —back to animals, then:

  • The dog’s knackers —a pair of soft, dangly objects between a dog’s legs;
  • The dogs’ knackers —the danglies of more than one canine;
  • The dog’s knackered —the dog is exhausted, probably having tried and failed to catch the cat who spewed in the noodles earlier today.

Recap

Something belonging to one thing: the thing’s thing.

Something belonging to more than one thing: the things’ thing.

It’s easier to nail if you sort out the plural first and then determine the correct possessive:

Cat —>cats —> I wuv cats’ wikkle toebeans (aww).

YOU’RE YOUR OWN WORST ENEMY

You’re writing a nice l’il story, but you’re just not sure about your grammar. Here’s a quick once-over:

You’re —a contraction of you and are.

Your —something belonging to you.

So:

Your coffee’s gone cold. You’re just too wrapped up in your novel to remember to drink it (you badass wordsmith, you).

On that note, here endeth the first lesson. Up next: You and Me, Lose and Loose, and Why Eyebrows are Ripe for the Pluckin’.

 

 

 

 

Beware of the Bull -by CM Franklyn

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Guernica – Pablo Picasso

This whole place is white. Eggshell white. There’s not much else to be said about it. Not much else, because it’s just a room —and there is hardly anything in it. Not yet. Far better to start with the absentees in any case; in rooms, life, and everything else, that which is missing can often provide the greater presence.

First, there are no windows here, so we are not privy to the weather conditions. And as there are no windows, there are no blinds, and consequently no slashes of sunlight cast upon the floor. There are four walls, one ceiling, wooden boards underfoot, and a table. The walls keep the ceiling up, and the ceiling keeps the walls down. The floor is there for walking and for the table to rest upon. The table is a device for people to sit around, for this is what shall happen in a short while. And as they come, so shall they bring chairs, for they know their own comfort. And comfort is enough —for now.

Bringing her life along, yet making sure to leave it behind, Sam enters through a doorless space. Hi, Carl, she says, once he has squeezed in after her. Hi, Sam. This is not the most inventive of introductions, and these are not the most engaging of people, it has to be said. But this is how it goes in a place like this. This is how it always goes. And it’s enough.

Dave, next. Like Carl and Sam, he has a monosyllabic name for simplicity. Some of these people, as we shall discover, have monosyllabic brains, too. Hi, Carl. Hi, Dave. Hi, Carl. Hi, Sam.

One-by-one, the seat-bringers surround the table until every space is filled in this, the eggshell room in which they will chat. They all have names, and we will come to learn them; whether these people will learn anything about themselves is largely dependent upon confidence, contemplation, and foible.

Bill is entrant number seven. He gets right up in Sam’s face straight away and yells, LIKE ME! But Sam doesn’t want to like him yet, having only just met the guy.

Even after he shows her his private collection, she finds him hard to like. Especially after he shows her his private collection. Managing a half-polite semi-smile, she ferrets herself away into a corner of photographs: images of cats, food, guns —and guns’ results. The latter doesn’t matter; that sort of stuff only registers with people who care. Ferreting away doesn’t seem to matter, either. Not to Bill. What is he supposed to think? The girl is clearly playing hard-to-rape. Pfft —she obviously wants it.

Girls, man. They want it

ALL.

THE.

TIME.

All of them. Bill knows this, so he backs Sam into a corner and up against a version of herself. She’s fuckable, he thinks. You’re gorgeous, he says, even though he doesn’t know her from Eve. This is not to be considered creepy in the slightest; women are well-accustomed to such compliments, and as such, should appreciate every last one. Bear them all with fortitude and a little bit of gratitude, they should, for they might never know another. In any case, there are far worse things to be worrying about than the odd catcall or thirty. Girls should get a grip and worry about serious matters such as the environment or climate change or —wait: strike that. Reverse it. Girls should never worry their pretty little heads about serious matters such as the environment or climate change because those things are not even real issues anyway, and even if they were, they should certainly not be addressed by spoilt brats who should be at school where they can look forward to a bright and wonderful future —it’s so nice to see!

In the next breath, and after a good ol’ cup of covfefe, he mentions his height —it’s a whopper of a number. Huge. In fact, this number of ultimate and almighty bigness means PRAISE MY ENORMOUS PENIS but she (the silly girl) thinks he’s telling her how tall he is. Ha!

Unsure of her options now, being that she has always been taught to welcome attention from men no matter how vulgar they are because it would be rude not to and people would consider her unworthy of a second glance and she must always explain herself and her behaviour and her face and justify her choice to wear make-up on it because everyone knows she looks better without it and she must regularly apologise for her weight and shape and the clothes she adorns it with and she must respond with kindness and a wink to every comment from Every Man Ever otherwise how else will she find a husband and how else will she ever become a mother or feel any sense of self-worth whatsoever and who would even look at her twice let alone want to mate because look how ugly and inappropriately burdensome she is, she hands him her coerced thumb. It is up, but her eyes are down.

Happy with that for now —but only for now— the man sits his arse down with the girl’s digit held aloft for all to see. He didn’t have this much luck with the previous one, who is not in this room. She was a proper pig. A pig who had refused to praise his celestial diamond-cut throne-dwelling penis of golden gloriousness so he’d made sure to tell her how fat and ugly and worthless she was and said he hadn’t meant it when he’d called her gorgeous, the fatuglyworthlesspig. He’d made sure to drive the point home with sharpened words. He’d made sure the pig knew he considered her A Fat. He’d made sure the pig knew he considered her An Ugly. That was all she was, and that was enough.

Now, the group sit ‘round the table not quite knowing what to say, so, being default-weather-talkers, they discuss the mundane. Anyone notice the rain last night? It was wet. They offer equally dull gusts by way of response, including but not limited to the wind (it blows, man) and the ambient humidity which is frizzing all the female hair (a look which is downright unattractive and puts a man right off no matter how otherwise-fuckable the bearer) before they move on to the next topic: films.

John’s favourite is ___________, and the other men agree. This makes them look cool. It makes them look clever. It makes them look educated. Ann, though (oh, Ann, when will you learn?) says ________ is the best movie ever made. She enjoys it and it brings her happiness. But this makes her look stupid. The others laugh and mock, and mock and laugh. She takes off her face and hands it around for the others to witness the parallel blue streams of her twilight tears.

Seven eighths of the room’s inhabitants enjoy a long-running TV show (no, not that one). The odd man out does not. But, as his opinion is crucial and must be shared with the others, he takes a big brown ice-cream swirl of a dump on their enthusiasm. That’s enough, that’s enough.

Next, their favourite author. Dave really enjoys _________, of whom nobody in this room has ever heard, but who is somebody everybody pretends to know. Lucy, though, has a bit of a thing for ________, and happens to have upon her person, at this table, in this room, a copy of ­­­­the latest novel. She approaches her neighbours in turn and fans the pages in their faces. It smells nice (it’s a book —of course it does). But ________ is considered a joke even though she consistently churns out best-sellers, making money while she sleeps the most enviable slumbers that reek of happy Saturdays and extended middle fingers.

Four people fall to the floor and roll about on it, laughing. The reader is as stupid as the author and they know it, so they want her to know it, too. As she is laughed out of the room, the remainers agree on one thing: no pineapple on pizza. Next, a related topic comes up. Neither John nor Ann would be found eating anything that ever had a face, or that which came from anything that came from anyone who ever had a mother. This is a red flag to the proverbial because plants feel pain, too. But it’s the one about the animals being grateful (as in they should be) that gets on Ann’s tits. This weighs heavily on her everything, and she voices her concerns —silly girl.

Dave can’t be doing with this nonsense. Stupid girl, having an opinion; this place has no time for outsiders. With one click of his fingers, he banishes Ann from the room.

The six insiders are still on the subject, and John holds up a photograph of a piglet. It’s tiny and wearing a onesie. Isn’t it cute, he says, and it is not a question. Bacon, someone else says, which is not only hilarious but entirely original because nobody has ever before had the sheer genius to come up with such a thing. What a wag!

People are stupid. So stupid, in fact, they can no longer sit down, as they no longer have arses, having laughed them off at the side-splitting comment about thinly sliced pigmeat. But John is his own enemy —he goes on to hold up a dripping red foetus even though nobody had asked to see it. And now, there are five.

Sam, who is clearly gagging for it by now, frames her face and shows off her freckles. This time, it’s Carl who’s taken by her fuckability. She must only be doing it for attention, he thinks (and says, to the others). He’s right, they think. You’re right, they say. But there is a thing, and the thing is this: she knows she’s attractive. This is strike one. A real woman should never be aware of her own beauty unless she is describing for men her shaven netherparts or the effect of shower water on her breasts; drips and beads of H2-Oh, I’m so horny. Otherwise, she should consider herself quite the moose.

Strike two: she’s wearing a cosmetic mask. She’d look much better without it, and the chorus tells her so via a bollockful of ugly voices. Strike three: she displays herself in another frame now, but this time her tattoos are on display. Females should not be permitted to darken their bodies with ink, for the sake of utter fuck. Have they learned nothing?

It’s obvious what’s going to happen, too —she’ll be in town, or at the mall, peacocking all around (well, pea-henning, to be more accurate), ugly ink on display for all to see, and she’ll be the one to complain when people prod her! You can’t go around like that and not expect to be touched. You just can’t. Pfft —girls should be happy in their natural skin, and that should be enough.

And sure, she could come up with excuses. Shoddy reasons for wanting to look like an ol’ slapper. But it doesn’t matter that she feels good about herself, finally. It doesn’t matter that she’s escaped years of abuse, finally. And it certainly doesn’t matter that she’s found confidence and embraced self-expression and is now experiencing if not self-love then self not-hate, finally.

But who cares, because tits. Who cares, because lingerie. There are no question marks here because there are no questions, only judgement and condemnation. She is clearly asking for it, having brought it on herself via wardrobe and demeanour, so one of the men gives it to her. It doesn’t matter which one. One is enough.

And now, there are four. The man stays, because he was only doing as nature intended. And, as we all know, boys will be boys will be boys will be boys will BE BOYS BE BOYS BE BOYS BOYS BOYS especially when females encourage and insist upon causing the eruption of their volcanic ballbags. If only the weaker, infinitely useless sex would realise they are there solely for the pleasure of the penis, the world would be a much calmer place. Silly girls. Silly, silly girls. Pfft.

It’s just Carl, Bill, Dave, and the one-girl-left, now. I’ve forgotten her name, because she’s unimportant. She’s just a girl. A girl in a roomful of men. A ballsack of masculinity. A murder of testosterone. A girl with skin unlike their own, and with a sexuality and gender far removed from theirs.

They make a bet to turn her, although they regret not having asked her to do a duet before Sam’s departure. She’s sure to have gone for it, too, lesbianism not even being a real thing in any case. It’s all just play-acting. They love putting on a show for men, they do.

In a way, they kind of pity her. It’s a threefer: she’s worth less than them because she’s a girl. She’s worth nothing to them because she doesn’t like cock. She’s worth less than nothing to them because she has dark chocolate skin. Or is it mocha? Gravy? Caramel, maybe. They aren’t quite sure which foodstuff or drinkthing to use to describe her, so they settle on ______. It’s a word they haven’t been able to say until now, and they sure are pissed about it. Why should _______ be the only ones who can say ______? It’s not fair. It’s just not fair.

It’s fine, though, there’s nothing to see here. No racism here. There can’t be; they each knew somebody who used to work for someone who had a cousin somewhere whose best friend’s paperboy’s uncle’s teacher’s sister’s dog walker’s hair stylist’s boyfriend was a ______. Oh —and they liked that actor in that film. The one who’s always mistaken for the other one because they all look the same. And there’s enough black performers in any case. And as for them getting their own superhero movie? Pfft —one was enough.

Now, they touch her hair. In turn, each man grasps a strand and pulls it to fuckdom come to see how long it really is. Handsy people have hands and they have the right to use them, gosh darn it. Wow! How does it coil up so tight? It must be difficult to get a comb through. I bet it was a bastard when head lice were doing the rounds. Why do you all smell of coconut oil? Give us a song, I bet you have a great voice. Next, they ask where she’s from, and because she gives a stupid answer like Liverpool or Cape Elizabeth or Manchester or Nova Scotia, and because she is clearly stupid, they have to explain no, originally. And why do you wear sheets on your head? Why do you have an Anglicised name? You’re so exotic. I’ve always wanted to try it with a ______.

As they try to cure her with their insatiable, irresistible handsomeness, they flag up a concerning discovery between her legs. This makes her a fourfer, now. With her quartet of unworthiness, she’s erased from the room. She’s not even worth turning; she’s not even a she, for fuck’s sake. Since when did pink, white, and blue make the colour of a woman?

With her exit comes her replacement. Jane comes in on wheels and with electronically enhanced ears. How do you people manage to have sex? Does everything work? Is it all in proportion? What’s wrong with you? These questions are not spoken but yelled, for she is OBVIOUSLY A BIT DENSE. Her husband must have married her for the cash because they clearly rake it in with disability benefits. Scroungers, the pair of ‘em. Either that, or it’s a case of pity; he cannot love her. Not in the proper way —the only way: between one man and one woman. I mean —look at her. She can’t use her legs. Scrawny little atrophied things, they are. That’s hardly a turn-on in bed, is it? What is even the point of her existence? What is the point of her?

She retreats; she must be too weak to stay.

Another girl takes her place. A knocked-up, beaten-down girl with only antacid for company and seventeen weeks to go. She should have held her legs together, they say. She’s on her third husband and fifth tit-sucking parasite so they’ll be burying her in a Y-shaped coffin they say they say they say they say THEY SAY THEY SAY THEY SAY they tell her what a terrible role model she is —or what a good one she isn’t.

Funny thing is, though, this is the same thing they tell the ones who do keep their legs closed. The same thing they say to Women of Choice. The same thing they tell women, period. Oh, periods —yet another subject on which they have words. And once those words are spoken, being that the female form belongs to them for purposes sexual and legislative, they mutilate their argument via a certain type of explanation reserved only for their gender (someone should totally come up with a catchy term for that).

But yes, girls need everything spelled out and underlined and yelled at them, such is their stupidity. Men, though, men are a blessing to the thickest, most stupid of doom-brained females. It is those men —these men, right here—we should all appreciate. Poor souls, experiencing sexism —nay, sheer hatred all the time. Fucking feminists. I mean —did you catch that Scouse Bint the other day, shaming some guy just because he sent her an innocent message? Those things are private, for Satan’s sake. Did he give his consent for her to take that screenshot and post it for the world to see? Did he bollocks. A simple, innocent request from a complete stranger offering her a role in his movie along with a gaggle of other redheads —she should be flattered.

Poor men. Poor, poor men.

As they contemplate everything they’ve just witnessed, everything they’ve just heard, every ugly girl and every memory of every fat girl they ever had to endure and every lezzer they had to try to cure and every disabled girl they wouldn’t fuck even though they should be grateful because who else would have them and all those not-even-female-girls who dare to call themselves women even though they have a dick and how dare they because there are only two genders which is something everybody knows because nature and science and GOD, they cry as one, holding and hugging and wiping tears away from a breakage of broken faces. But it doesn’t last; they quickly collect themselves and man up. There’ll be none of that, none of that. There are better, worthier girls out there. Girls who will worship at the Altar of the Enormous and Almighty Penis without question.

One of them says let’s have a fight and is immediately met with a flying fist. Much better –a violent bandage to bridge a sappy wound that’s been bleeding estrogen. The trio get into a scuffle, enjoying every punch, hook, and scratch –no, not scratch, too feminine. Strike that. Every Thump!

They fight, and they fight. And then they fight some more. But besides their own collective, there is nobody left to pass thumbs and hearts around, so they can neither seek nor receive the oxygen of validation.

It’s no surprise they’re pissed. Pfft —fucking men-haters, with their refusal to cook a decent meal for their husbands or sweep up after their boyfriends. Bloody lesbians with their anti-men stance. Bloody man-hatin’ feminist lezzers, the lot of ‘em. How do they ever get wet enough for penetration? They’re such a passion-killer, those dykes, they put the dry into misandry. A good helping of cock would cure them. One cock would be enough.

Hearing the red flag of commotion, the proverbial animal bounds into the room. Like a wrecking ball of cartoon meat, he bowls over to the three men and stops still before making any sort of contact. He looks not so much wrong, as unright. It’s as if he’s been written by Picasso or painted by Burroughs.

So fragile are they that a single breath from his ringed nose is enough to floor the brittle trio, who shred into shards and fall down, piece-by-piece. Down to a floor upon which they can no longer roll, laughing. Down to a floor upon which they sit, now, shattered smatterings of bone china so white and so fragile that even a single pfft from a whispering nostril was enough.

Job done, but retaining unspent aggression, the bull begins to back away into the nowhere and the everything outside the room. There, where it is not so contained and not so white, we get a closer look at the anime meat of his fibre. He’s made of a non-exhaustive list of real men, birthed by and bathed in estrogen. Fighters. Champions. Feminists. Gay men. Men assigned female at birth. Black men, brown. Tall men, short. Round and thin and young and old and masculine men and feminine men and …women, holding up the rear. Women, leading from behind. Gretas and Lindas and Catherines and Jessicas and Allegras and Erikas and Sheilas and Angelas and Lisas and Lizas and Emmas and Pixies. Nicola, Nikki, Peggy and Pippa, Renee, Laura, Brooklynne, Betty, Toni, Larissa, Sloane, Zoe, and Cate are here. Priya is Jennifer is Shana is Sheri is Georgina is Sandra is Tanya is Thana is Sarah is Marie is Roberta. They —we— are all made from the same fabric. We are enough.

The bull needs to break something down, and fast, so he selects the fourth wall. The fourth very white, very fragile wall. From there, a tiny voice from a tiny reader: not all men.

Del Toro sees the red flag again. We bound over. There are smashes, shattering, shards. Unfixable, unputbacktogetherable. No words have they; no power, now. We brush the shreds into the eggshell arena where we lean over their fibre and offer a selection of thoughts and prayers.

Now, the sediment of misplaced sentiment rests where once sat a girl —in a room; a white, fragile room. There’s not much else to be said about it. Not much else, because it’s just a room —and there is hardly anything in it. Not yet. Far better to start with the absentees in any case; in rooms, life, and everything else, that which is missing can often provide the greater presence.

The Perfect Short Story

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Mc

Books. I love ’em. But only the good ones. Only the unputdownables, whose brilliance has you gasping/ salivating/ doing a bit of a sex wee. 

But there’s a thing, and the thing is this: I don’t have time to read for pleasure any more. What with reasons and stuff and things, the only sort of bookage my eyes get to see is that-which-I-am-being-paid-to-edit. 

And then last week happened. I took a basketball to the chops, stabbed myself in the foot with a fork, and the laptop threw a six. What’s a gal to do when she can neither walk nor work? 

And so, I started a sentence with ‘and so.’ Then I regrouped and decided to delve into the pocket universe of Steve Shaw’s Black Shuck Books; specifically, the Shadows collection. T’is a darling l’il assortment of tasters —micro-gatherings that showcase individual authors. Or, y’know —single-author collections, as they’re more commonly known. 

Gorgeously designed by Steve himself, and complimenting one another like blackcurrant ‘n’ liquorice and pineapple on pizza (what?), these wee bookies are a delight to behold.  And once beheld, they shall be reviewed. And the reviewer should read a book in its entirety, right? Because unputdownable, remember? 

Nope. Nuh-huh. I just read a story so fucking good I just had to put the book down. I had to leave it alone while I did a rather ungainly thigh-wobble of a jig, and immediately messaged seventeen-thousand-and-thirteen friends to tell them about it (the story, not the wobble). 

This was a first for me —virtually nothing impresses me these days— but Gary McMahon just.fucking.floored me. The fucker. 

I couldn’t think straight. I could barely breathe. And no —I’m not exaggerating. I was bouncing off the walls and squeeing ’round the house. I just wanted to savour the taste of those words —that idea— a little longer, so I didn’t —couldn’t—move on. What I’d just witnessed was, well, perfection.  

I’m talking about *Text Found on a Defunct Webpage; which opens Gary’s collection, At Home in the Shadows

Jesus. Hermione. Christ. How on Kepler-452b has this work of art passed me by for eleven frickin’ years? And how the HELL am I supposed to do it justice without spoilers? I dunno, like. But I’ll try. 

Originally published online as ‘Under Offer’ (The Hub, 2008), this story is smarter than the average bear. It is, as they say in those parts where they use terms like ‘a fucking diamond,’ a fucking diamond.  

Not every story has to be story-y. Not every beginning has to begin with a start. IT’S OKAY TO BE DIFFERENT, FOLKS! I’m not talking about clever choices of tense here, or ‘surprise’ dog-POV, or anything of the sort. I’m talking unique. Despite its originality, the piece is deceptively simple. And yet, this dude is writing so far outside the box that he isn’t even in the vicinity of the forest where the trees are felled to make the cardboard.  

I’m not gonna do that fucking annoying comparison thing. McMahon isn’t the next so-and-so, and neither is his work reminiscent of such-and-such in their finest hour. But what I will tell you is this: it’s impressionism at its best. Monet didn’t paint every leaf, right? He painted GREEN; your brain fills in the rest. 

From conception to execution, Text Found is one of those sinister AF pieces that stays with you for yonks afterwards. Why? Because omission, my friends. Because ambiguity. The power of suggestion —literally (and I mean ‘literally’ literally, not figuratively, before you say it, pedants). Take an idea, suggest the events, hint at the characters, and tease the reader. Be subtle; leave ’em wanting more —brevity is the order of the day.  Be sneaky; be wickedly funny. And be out-and-out creepy. Be everything on the list of must-haves and definitely-dos, and do none of the don’ts. Be. Just be. 

And Gary McMahon has beed, indeed. And that ending —damn.  

 

The Obligatory Link (i.e. the BUY EEEEET) Section: 

 

Black Shuck Shadows on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/bookseries/B07NRKT4M5/ref=dp_st_1913038114

Gary’s Amazon page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gary-McMahon/e/B004B6NN3A?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1565956801&sr=1-1

And, for Steve Shaw’s freelance design: http://www.white-space.uk

Black Shuck Books: https://blackshuckbooks.co.uk/shadows

 

 

 

 

INTERVIEW: STEVYN COLGAN – A MURDER TO DIE FOR

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Stevyn Colgan knows stuff about things. He just does. And, as it’s publication day for his new novel, A MURDER TO DIE FOR, published by Unbound Books, I asked him some things about stuff.

COLGERS 8

 

How did you get started?

I wrote my first novel in 1984 on a typewriter I’d bought in 1979 with my very first full-time wage packet. It wasn’t a great novel (I read it through recently,) but it was an achievement, and proved to me that I could write a sustained piece of work. So then I wrote another. And another. And I kept writing. And, around the turn of the Millennium, I realised that I’d written 13 novels (and, thankfully, computers had come along to make it easier.) But I’d never submitted them to publishers because I didn’t think they were good enough. I was still learning the craft as far as I was concerned; the pleasure was in the writing itself, and in telling stories.

Then what?

I didn’t have an agent or any contacts in the business (I was still a cop) so I decided to send a few off as blind submissions and, while there were some encouraging bites, there was nothing concrete. Rejection is always a downer – especially when it’s an obviously standard rejection letter – but I didn’t let it get to me. I got on with life and wrote two more novels. But then, in 2007, a mate said to me, ‘why don’t you try writing non-fiction?’ So, I wrote a book about the interconnectedness of things and suddenly I landed an agent, a fat advance, and a deal with Pan Macmillan. And I piqued the interest of the people behind the TV show QI. And so, for the next six or seven years I went down that route; I wrote a trivia book, and books on problem solving, the future of policing, and the campaign to save Bletchley Park.

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So, you’re Quite Intelligent, then?

Well, I contributed to the QI annuals, wrote for the radio series ‘The Museum of Curiosity,’ and eventually became one of QI’s main script-writers. I started to get a little bit of a name for myself. Then, in 2016, I decided to return to my first love. I submitted a novel to my agent, and he said, ‘But you do non-fiction’. ‘Not exclusively any more,’ I said. ‘I’m a wannabe Renaissance Man.’

‘Well, give it a go,’ he told me. So I did.

It’s been a long journey but I’ve finally got there. Novels have always been where my heart is. In fiction, you can play with language in ways that would be difficult with non-fiction. A brilliant metaphor is a thing of beauty – imagine PG Wodehouse or Douglas Adams without them. As much as I love the challenge and the research and the discipline of non-fiction, I’m so much happier writing stories.

How was the conception of A MURDER TO DIE FOR? Did the idea just come to you, or did it evolve over time?

It began with the urge to write a comedy novel. Britain has a great tradition of comic writing, from Jerome K Jerome, Stephen Potter and the glorious P G Wodehouse to George Macdonald Fraser, Stella Gibbons, David Nobbs, Helen Fielding, Michael Frayn and the late, great Tom Sharpe. That’s to name but a few. But we seem to have dropped the ball somehow. These days it’s hard to find new comic novels that are written for a general readership. It can still be found as a sub-section of other genres; there are still plenty of laughs in women’s fiction, for example, and, thanks to people like Douglas Adams, Jasper Fforde and Terry Pratchett, there are chuckles aplenty to be had among the wizards and aliens too. But there’s a dearth of comedy novels out there for a general readership and I wanted to bring some smiles back to the faces of people on the daily commute to work.

What was your main source of inspiration?

Inspiration came from many directions. The first element in the mix was my love of classic crime fiction. I do love a good whodunit, and I’ve read almost everything by the likes of Christie, Marsh, Allingham, Sayers, Conan Doyle et al. I also like TV whodunits … but not cop shows. Like many police officers – or ex-police officers – I find them dull. Everything is overly-dramatic, the procedures are all wrong and I can’t suspend my disbelief if the programme makers try to sell it as ‘real-life’ when I know that it isn’t even close.

But classic murder mystery is a different thing altogether. It doesn’t pretend to be real. It’s delightfully silly and set in a world far-removed from reality; a world of poisons, elaborate alibis and ridiculous mechanisms. And beyond Poirot and Marple, there are shows set in the 20th century that have that same glorious silliness to them as well, such as Murder She Wrote, Columbo, Jonathan Creek, and Midsomer Murders. The latter, with its cop show façade, is deliciously bonkers at times; any script that features someone being staked out on their croquet lawn and then being bludgeoned to death by having their wine collection hurled at them by a replica Roman trebuchet has my vote any day.

Did real life experiences play a part?

Yes. The second element was my own knowledge and experience of being a police officer. I’ve been involved in real homicide investigations and they are a far cry from the world of literary and TV detectives. Real crime is visceral –and real crime investigation isn’t even vaguely glamorous. I thought it would be fun to throw the two cultures at each other. All the best comedy (and drama) comes from conflict.

How did it all come together?

The third element came to me when watching a TV show about fan conventions. I’ve been to a few in my time, including the extraordinary Comicon in San Diego, where the fans dress up in costume – cosplayers – and are almost rabidly passionate about their show/ film/ book/ author of choice. I suddenly thought to myself … what better place for a murder to happen than at a crime fiction convention where everyone is dressed as their favourite detective? So then, when a grisly murder is committed, the police find themselves having to investigate a case where the victim, the witnesses and very possibly the perpetrator are all dressed much the same. And, to add the police officers’ annoyance, they find themselves having to compete with the fans who believe that they too can solve the crime using skills honed by a lifetime of reading crime fiction. It was so much fun to write.

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How did you end up with Unbound?

I’ve now done four books with Unbound. From the start, their business model struck me as brilliant. The publishing industry had, in recent years, become tremendously risk-averse. Maybe it was the decline of bookshops, or the threat of e-books – I don’t know – but it seemed that, all of a sudden, the only books getting commissioned were TV tie-ins or celebrity-related publications. Certainly, the huge advances being paid out to the stars meant that there was no longer any money for the little guys like me. Unbound’s idea was simple: create a new publishing house with all the advantages you’d expect (editing, guidance, design, distribution,) but get prospective readers to choose which books get published, rather than the accountants. They do this by pledging money up front.

Sounds like a great idea!

This wasn’t a new idea; it’s the same subscription model that paid for Dr Johnson’s dictionary and for most of Charles Dickens’ novels. All Unbound did was bring it into the modern age by using the internet. So, you pitch a book and if they like it, they take it on. If they don’t, they ‘wish you luck placing it elsewhere.’

How does it work?

There’s a discussion about the sort of book you –and they– would like to make. It could be an e-book, a paperback, or a hardback. The project is then costed and a total is set that needs to be achieved. You shoot a promo video with them and then launch the book on its own page on the Unbound site. You can set all kinds of pledge levels, from a few quid for the e-book, right up to things like having dinner with the author, or signed and dedicated copies, or tickets to the launch party. You really can be as inventive as you like.

Then, the crowdfunding begins. Once the total is reached, things switch back to traditional publishing. Unlike other platforms like Kickstarter, where you’re pretty much doing everything yourself, at Unbound you’re assigned a structural editor, copy editor, designer, cover artist, proof reader, marketing person … and then the book goes out to all the usual book outlets as a trade edition. However, those people who pledged money get posh special edition copies and they get their name listed in the back of the book to say thanks for believing in it.

Sounds pretty good …

As I said, it’s a great model. And it’s good for writers too:

(a) you have a direct connection, via the Unbound site, with your readers;

(b) the profit-share on all money made after the 100% production total is 50/50 between Unbound and author. So every book you sell, you get 50% as opposed to the 10-12% you’d traditionally get;

(c) you stand a much greater chance of being published. And the finished articles are beautifully produced books. Unbound has been going for just over five years but has already scored a Man Booker Prize longlist nomination, a Book of the Year award, sold the TV and film rights to several novels, and enjoyed a string of Number One best-sellers. It also has its own literary magazine and a podcast called ‘Backlisted’. I’m pretty sure I hitched my cart to the right horse.

How much of yourself did you put into A MURDER TO DIE FOR?

Quite a lot, as it happens. One of the main characters is a retired detective called Frank Shunter, who is coming to grips with leaving the force. I went through a similar thing when I retired after 30 years as a policeman. I live in Buckinghamshire and, for three decades, I got on a train and commuted for an hour into London, did my eight hours (or 12 hours depending on the shift I was working,) had a beer with colleagues after work and then spent an hour commuting home. I saw more of London and my colleagues than I did my family. So when I finally hung up my helmet and boots, I was a bit lost. I realised that I didn’t really know the area I lived in that well and I had no friends locally – all my mates were in London. So I had to readjust to a very different life. Shunter faces the same situation after moving to the country. Plus, he can’t quite switch off the policing instinct. I’m the same. I’m still doing talks and university lectures on criminal psychology and crime prevention even now.

Shunter’s about my age, too –and he sees the world much as I see it – he’s a bit of a dinosaur, but an unfettered optimist too. When you’ve seen the worst that humans can do to each other, you get to realise that 95% of people are pretty good. The world isn’t anywhere near as bad as the tabloids would have us believe.

That’s bloody lovely, that is! Nice and uplifting … Is this book suitable for little old ladies, then? Coz me Ma wants a gander, like.

There is some swearing, but not a great deal. I’m very much of the old school in that respect. I have no problem with any swear word, to be honest, but I believe that they should be used sparingly to preserve their shock value. Think of the use of the F-word in ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian.’ Two instances? Three? But each time – perfect.

Did you have any actors in mind as you were writing your characters?

Yes, but curiously, it was for their voices more than their physical appearance. There are a lot of middle-aged ladies in the book and, in my head, each had a particular voice. One was Margaret Rutherford and another was Hattie Jacques, for example. I’m a big fan of radio dramas and audio books, and that’s probably why. June Whitfield is just perfect in the BBC Miss Marple radio dramas, Bill Nighy is fantastic as Charles Paris, and no one will ever be a better Lord Peter Wimsey than Ian Carmichael. Some of the police officers in the book were based on real people I worked with – or they were an amalgam of all the worst behaviours of several real people – but the voices I imagined for those characters didn’t belong to the cops they were based on. Blount, for example, I imagine sounding rather like Richard E Grant in ‘Withnail and I’ – pompous, angry and endlessly frustrated by circumstances.

Are you a plotter, or a pantser?

Pantser –very much so. I don’t even aim for a specific word count. It finds its own level. Neil Gaiman got it spot on with his Eight Rules for Writers, I reckon. The first three are (1) Write, (2) Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down, and (3) Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.

The sooner you get on with it, the better –build some momentum. I have friends who have been plotting for years and haven’t yet written a word. That’s not being a writer by my definition. That’s being a researcher. Plotting can be more fun than the physical business of writing so I understand the appeal but, for me anyway, too much plotting is a distraction. I want to get a first draft nailed to the page. Your first draft is like buying a chunk of marble, and subsequent drafts involve chipping away at it like a sculptor to get it into the most pleasing shape.

How many re-drafts does it normally take?

I will quite often do 10, maybe 15 re-writes and re-drafts. Each time I go through the story, the characters become more real and more detailed. Relationships blossom and plots thicken. Obviously there is always some planning involved; I don’t start writing until I have some idea of where I’m going. There has to be a finishing post. But how I get there is the fun part and the journey quite often surprises me. I love that.

Describe your writing environment. PC or laptop? Trousers or pantsless?

I’m lucky that I have my own office. I’m also lucky that my kids have grown up and left home, and that the road I live in is very quiet. It’s ideal for writing – although I keep the blinds shut, as watching squirrels and the many red kites we have in this part of South Buckinghamshire can be very distracting. I’m surrounded by bookcases and books, which feels nice, and I write on a desktop PC with a full-sized keyboard and two screens – it’s great to have that extra screen for research pages, notes etc. I write in Microsoft Word. No bells or whistles, just the words.

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Two screens? Swanky! Do you write to music?

I can’t work in silence, as it makes my brain look for distractions. So I will sometimes have music on – instrumental only, as lyrics are as distracting as squirrels – or ambient noise. Stephen Fry introduced me to coffitivity.com and it’s been a real help. That murmur of barristas and punters in the background takes the edge off the silence but doesn’t distract. Similarly, the Bodleian Library in Oxford has a live web-feed of the sound from the various rooms there. That’s quite nice as background noise.

Do you stick to a schedule?

I write from 9am to 11am and then break for elevenses. Then from 11.30am to 1pm before stopping for lunch. Then I write from 2pm to 4pm when I have tiffin – more tea and maybe a cheeky biscuit – and then I stop at 6pm. It’s important to me to be disciplined and to treat it as a job. If I don’t, it’s just squirrel-watching all day. Of course I wasn’t always this lucky – I had a full-time 40 hours a week job (plus commuting) and a family. But, if writing really is your passion, you find the time. For example, I’ve never played computer games and I don’t do sports; every spare minute I ever had went into writing – which is how I managed to write 15 novels before I became a full-time writer.

So, what next for the writing MACHINE that is Stevyn Colgan?

2018 looks to be quite an exciting year. There will be signings and lit festivals and appearances here and there to promote A MURDER TO DIE FOR. I’m also making inroads to production companies to sell the book as a TV serial. And then, in July, my most recent non-fiction book is getting a makeover and a release in paperback via Penguin Random House. It was called ‘Why Did The Policeman Cross The Road’ but we’re re-badging it to encourage a wider audience. I’m not sure what the new title will be, but it’ll be based around the idea of always being ‘One Step Ahead’. That might even end up being the title. And I’ll also be launching the campaign to crowdfund the sequel to ‘A Murder To Die For’ with Unbound. It’s called ‘The Diabolical Club’ and it picks up two small plot strings left unanswered in ‘Murder,’ and turns into a whole new murder mystery that involves a skeleton buried standing up, a local dogging club, a secret kept since the first World War, and the mystery of Agnes Crabbe’s (my fictional murder-mystery writer) lost manuscript. And, as always, lots and lots of laughs.

Just this morning someone told me that they’d laughed out loud on the Tube while reading ‘A Murder To Die For’. Job done.

Job done, indeed. Thanks, Stevyn! 

 

The hard-sell promo bit:

You can buy Colgers’ A MURDER TO DIE FOR here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Murder-Die-Stevyn-Colgan/dp/1783524383

Some more stuff and things about Stevyn Colgan over on Unbound: https://unbound.com/authors/stevyn-colgan

PLEDGE AWAY to his latest bookiewook here: https://unbound.com/books/the-diabolical-club/