To celebrate three years of publishing, I’ve given the black sheep of my book family a fresh coat of paint.Read More
As anyone who’s ever been foolish enough to try and write a novel will know, the biggest thing standing between you and the finished book is not the limits of your imagination, finding the time to write, or even writer’s block. No, the true enemy of the writer is procrastination.
It’s amazing, once you commit to sitting in the chair and getting some words down, how many other things present themselves as utterly urgent. Ironing, the internet, the urgent need to sharpen pencils. Or, in my case, making Spotify playlists.
It’s an addiction. I have hundreds of them, all arranged in folders, almost all created when i should have been writing. Today may well have been my nadir. Today I have completely wasted an entire writing day making a playlist of music to listen to while writing.
I am, as I’ve noted before, an idiot.
Still, it’s a pretty damn good playlist, if you’re into writing while listening to an array of music that sounds like the world is coming to an end in the most spectacularly aggressive or miserable way imaginable. It’s crammed full of post rock instrumentals, post metal aggression, and oddball weirdness. And I may have lost a whole day making it, but as I finish editing Sunrise in the next few days and move straight on to writing the second draft of its follow up, Sunburn, it’s going to be a pretty killer soundtrack.
Anyway, if you’re a fellow writer in need of some musical accompaniment, or just a fan of musical genres prefixed by the word ‘post’, check it out below.
Blood on the Motorway: An apocalyptic trilogy of murder and stale sandwiches is out now in ebook and print from Amazon and all other good bookstores. You can get the first book free by joining my mailing list or read along at Wattpad. Oh, and I’ve got a Patreon. Sign up for free books, a free weekly short story, and much more.
Once upon a time, back in the dim recesses of the late 90’s, I came close to writing for the NME. It was a glorious time, full of dreams and free gigs and the possibility of all of my teenaged dreams coming true. Then I went and spoiled it all.
It started with me picking up the NME in our university shop, where it and the Guardian were probably the only two papers that did any trade. I was much more of a Kerrang! and Metal Hammer reader back then, and had a snobbish distaste of indie music that meant I rarely picked up anything with Morrisey’s face on, which is why I rarely got the nation’s flagship music weekly. I know I definitely got it when Kurt died, but then who didn’t?
Anyway, something about this issue persuaded me to pick it up — the cover story was on the true spirit of Independence or some such. It featured a load of mainly indie bands, and Mogwai, who were one of my favourite new bands of the time. So I went to the University library where there was functioning heating to keep away the perpetual cold that came from living in Sunderland, and read.
By the end, I was livid. Properly livid. How could you write about the state of independent, punk rock attitude, and not mention a single band from the rock scene? A rock scene that was at the time in full resurgence and had pulled in the spirit of punk to create some original, eclectic and wonderful sounds (or so it seemed — Fred Durst would come along shortly after and prove that to be a fallacy).
It was the absence of Tool that really annoyed me. Sure, they were on a major label, but they were so fiercely anti-commercial, so aesthetically unique, that their exclusion felt like a slight. From the animated horror films that replaced their pop promos to the sticker on the front of their CD that proclaimed ‘No #1 Fucking Hit Singles’, to the lead single about fisting, they burned with fierce integrity, far more so than whatever Suede knockoff the NME was touting in that feature.
So I went to the small bank of computers available to use, probably waited half an hour for one to become free, another hour to log in, and wrote an email to the editor. I know, how dreadfully middle class of me. I vented my spleen in a diatribe of invective aimed at everyone involved in the whole mess, apart from Mogwai, because I liked them.
I wish I still had that email because I bet it was DREADFUL. Even so, a few days later I got an email back, asking me if I’d be interested in writing for the NME.
Suddenly, my feelings about this great and august British institution changed. I was going to write for the NME! Finally, someone had seen my inevitable genius and was willing to pay me to share it with the world, or at least that subset of the world that extended to spotty young boys in parka jackets who lived in middle England.
My first assignment was to go and review the new pop-punk band A as they supported Reef. Cracking, since I’d wanted to go to that gig anyway. I went and turned in my 200 words of glowing praise for a cracking good gig.
The sub-editor assigned to look at it hated it. Properly hated it. It came back with notes not to make it better, but how to do better next time. They were not about to run with that pile of crap.
Next up, they sent me on a different mission. I was going to go and review up-and-coming band Janus Stark the night before Big Day Out in Milton Keynes, and I’d even get a free pass to the festival. They already had someone to cover the festival, but I could write some additional stuff to get some practice. Incredible. I really liked Stark’s first album, and Big Day Out had an amazing lineup.
I went, I partied, I met the bands, I was basically like the kid in Almost Famous. I came back and wrote yet more glowing praise for everyone and everything involved. Of course I did. I loved this stuff, and part of the point of my missive to the editor was that I wanted to see more positive coverage of the music I loved in their pages. That’s what I thought they wanted.
They really didn’t. When the notes came back, they boiled down to one major problem. There was no invective, no detachment. I had sent them fanmail to bands I loved.
Of course, being a spotty teenager who thought he knew everything, I took this as the final proof of what I’d been saying all along. They wanted a metal writer to slag off metal! They didn’t care about the music, they just wanted to slag off music they didn’t like! Pah, well they could get someone else to do that, thank you very much. I cut off contact and never heard from them again. For years I took it as proof of my own internal authenticity. I was right, goddamn it. They weren’t the NME, they were the enemy. God, it felt good to be right.
Now, I look back on that little idiot and want to smack him upside the head. Of course what I sent them was shit. It was the deluded ramblings of a child. And yet, there I had the experience of decades of music journalism willing to hold my hand, polish the turds into slightly shinier turds, and give me a leg up into the world of music journalism. Somewhere I wanted to be with all of my heart. I fucked it up through a confluence of arrogance and stupidity.
If there’s a lesson in all of this, it’s that if someone doing what you want to do is willing to help you, don’t be a cretin.
And now the NME is dead. I mean, it’s been dead for a while, as evidenced by the fact that it was being given away free in Tescos and the online version is more Buzzfeed listicles than Richey Edwards carving into his arm while being interviewed by Lamacq. But when I heard the news today that the print edition was finally (and some would say mercifully) dead, my first thought was that I’d never see my name in it, which was weird, because I didn’t really realise until today how much I’d still wanted it.
Blood on the Motorway: An apocalyptic trilogy of murder and stale sandwiches is out now in ebook and print from Amazon and all other good bookstores. You can get the first book free by joining my mailing list.
Welcome to Discovery Park, the book of the Rolling Stone Challenge, is now available for sale at Amazon UK, Amazon.com, iBooks, Kobo, Scribd, and Nook, as well as in a shiny print version, available from Amazon.
Chronicling my increasingly frustrated attempt to listen to every album on Rolling Stone's Top 500 Albums of all time list over a two year period, this book looks at why we feel the need to quantify and rank our art, revels in the complex musical world we live in, and wonders why anyone would voluntarily listen to Bono.
Here's a sample:
'Disco sucks. It’s a vile and wretched pox on the landscape of musical history, a music designed to be stripped of all merit save for its ability to make people shuffle around in darkened rooms, trying desperately to blot out the tedium of their existence, literally dancing to the beat of their own repression. That’s even before you take into account the squeaky voices.'
As well as the full challenge from start to finish, there's a few added extras here and there, and the whole thing is priced at a very reasonable £2.99 if you are in the UK. Click on any of the buttons below to buy your copy now!
Those of you who have already bought Blood on the Motorway (on sale now!) may have noticed something a bit odd about the chapter titles. Or you may not have done. Who am I to tell?
When I first started writing Blood on the Motorway I didn’t really bother with chapter names. I went for good old Chapter One, Chapter Two etc. It is, after all, a tradition as old as time. I’d kind of always worked this way, as a quick look through the ghosts of stories past can attest. Thankfully (for you, dear reader) these will never see the outside of the darkened corner of my computer's file system where I have sent them to die, but even a cursory look through them shows a historical predilection for those most boring of chapter headings.
Blood on the Motorway (did I mention it’s on sale, btw?) is a multi-narrative story, with each chapter changing perspective to a new character. When I started writing it I did consider naming each chapter after the character arc, but then I imagined that might give rise to a barrage of one star reviews on Amazon (‘Who do you think you are, George R R Chuffing Martin?’) So I decided against that. It’s something you see a lot of in fantasy books, and this isn’t fantasy at all, so I didn’t want to be misleading readers.
As I started editing the book, however, my position regarding chapter titles changed. It changed at exactly the point that I decided that Chapter Nine should be a lot earlier in the book, and moved it to Chapter Five. In Word, making that kind of a change means major manuscript heart surgery, and a high risk of fatality due to Word being completely useless, but in Scrivener (my weapon of choice when it comes to writing) it’s as easy as drag and drop. I may even have chuckled to myself at how easy it was.
Except then I realised that all my chapters now needed to be renamed, from five to nine. I know what you’re thinking – ‘How can anyone comprehend such hardship?!’ I know. It’s a hard knock life, being a writer.
My finger hovered over the mouse to make the first of these rather irritating changes when a tiny voice whispered into my ears:
‘What if you need to change it again?’
Bit weird, I think you’ll agree, but the creepy disembodied voice had a point. Having this capability in Scrivener would allow me to tweak the order of my novel to ensure the best possible read for the poor saps who would eventually be suckered into buying it, I mean, *ahem* my eventual customers wonderful people who would become my readers. But this restrictive way of numbering my chapters would probably stop me from actually doing that, lazy arse that I am. So I decided that what I really needed to do was come up with new chapter headers for the whole damn book.
‘Who do you think you are, George R R Sodding Martin?’
Ok, so not character names, so what? I pondered it for a second, then looked down at my Spotify window, where the Isis (the band not the terrorist outfit) track ‘The Beginning and the End’ was playing. Wow, I thought, what a good title for an opening chapter.
Now regular readers of mine will know that I’m a bit of a music obsessive, and the more astute of you will also have spotted that Blood on the Motorway is in fact a song title in itself, so I embarked on a mission to plunder my record collection for song titles that reflected my own tastes and the chapters themselves. When I write I have a massive playlist of stuff that becomes a kind of unofficial soundtrack to the words that go on the page, so why not make them into an actual soundtrack?
It’s a merry mess of different musical styles, but it’s also a bit of a hidden Easter egg hunt for the more musically astute readers, to try and follow the background noise that went into the creation of this book. It also reads like a who’s who of depressing song titles, which gives you an indication of what the book itself is going to be like.
So, now that the book is out, I thought I’d compile the chapter headers into a playlist, and let you, dear readers, have a listen. So consider this the 100% unofficial soundtrack to Blood on the Motorway.
My brief abscondment from blogging last year has rather unfortunately robbed me of the traditional look-back-on-the-year-gone post of which I have previously been so fond of boring my audience with. I’d look at the post I did last year for the year ahead, judge myself against it and write one for the next year, so I could end up in an endless feedback loop of recrimination. If blogging offers anything of value to the blogger beyond the knowledge of pestering multiple people at once, it is the accountability you can get by looking back and measuring yourself against that optimistic version of yourself. Last year I’d completely abandoned blogging and was about to walk away from writing online altogether, and so there is no post from this time last year going on about how much I was going to achieve this year for me to look at, get depressed and then write about how next year was going to be the year I’d actually get my life together.
Not that that’s going to stop me looking back anyway.
I seem to remember that at the turn of last year I actually took a conscious decision not to make any resolutions at all. I was determined not to mess about with dieting and all that nonsense (hence the additional stone or so that I’m now carrying), I was going to wrap up Demon Pigeon and make most of the people I know online cross with me for doing so (mission accomplished) and there was some kind of nebulous ‘I’ll do better with the writing thing’. That was about it.
So in the absence of any set goals, what kind of a year has it been? Well I started a new job and managed not to get fired from it, so that’s a good start. I seem to actually be quite good at it, so from that point of view it’s been pretty good. It has brought into my life a level of ‘work stress’ that I’ve managed to avoid for most of my work life to date, but I guess that’s what happens as you climb further up that greasy pole. It’s not unbearable and I’m a hell of a lot better off than a lot of other people, so I’m not about to start bitching about it.
On the health front the aforementioned stone or so (I daren’t look too closely at the numbers until next year, when I will actually do something about it) is testament to a year when I have at the very least enjoyed my food. And my wine. Mostly the latter.
As for the writing? Well I finished the second draft of Blood on the Motorway, my apocalyptic tale of murder and stale sandwiches, but more importantly I came to something approaching an epiphany about my writing, and what I need to do if I’m serious about wanting to make this anything more than a hobby. I sent the second draft out (or bits of it anyway) to some beta readers and seemed to get some fairly positive responses which have encouraged me that perhaps I’m not entirely barking up the wrong tree.
As for everything else, well it’s been a bit of a barnstormer of a year. My lovely family is pretty bloody brilliant. My little boy is currently at the period between three and four that guarantees peak cuteness and my daughter is growing up to be a brilliant, kind and sweet little girl with a tremendous curiosity about the world. My partner and I are nearly a year into planning a wedding and haven’t had to resort to murdering each other even once. She’s been amazingly supportive as I’ve taken on the new job and tried to determine my writing plan, and I can’t wait to stand up next to her next year and look slightly shambolic next to her radiance when we get married.
There’s been ups and downs, as there inevitably is, but as I sit astride December looking back on the year gone, I have to say that on balance it’s been a corker. I’m unbelievably excited about next year, even though it’s going to be one of the toughest of my life if I want to do everything I plan to achieve, but that’s for another post. Stop rolling your eyes, yes there’ll be more of this.
At this point all there is to do is splurge out a list of all the stuff I’ve liked this year, like a child shouting out his favourite Pokémon to a disinterested playground.
I almost never read stuff when it comes out, but the books I’ve enjoyed most this year are:
- Write, Publish, Repeat by Sean Platt and Johnny B Truant, and Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran. Two self-publishing guides that have completely revolutionised my thinking this year.
- Old Gold, Runaway Town and Lost City by Jay Stringer. After a few years of meaning to get around to them I finally read these three books in quick succession, and they completely blew me away. All the brilliance of the American crime heavyweights like Pelicanos, but with a Wolverhampton accent.
- I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. A bit of a fluff read, this was a thoroughly entertaining Bourne style political murder mystery.
I have children so rarely make it to the cinema any more, but The Raid: Berendal was astounding, and I really enjoyed Captain America: Winter Soldier and Edge of Tomorrow. I’m sure I would have loved Gone Girl, Interstellar and Guardians of the Galaxy too, but I haven’t seen any of them so I can’t comment. No, I’m not crying, you’re crying. *weeps*
Despite there not being any albums that completely blew me away this year, there’s been a lot that I’ve really enjoyed. Here’s my non ordered top 21 albums of the year because why the hell not:
- Every Time I Die - From Parts Unknown
- 65daysofstatic – Wild Light
- Crippled Black Phoenix – White Light Generator
- Mogwai – RAVE TAPES
- Helms Alee – Sleepwalking Sailors
- Conan – Blood Eagle
- Dirge – Hyperion
- Cult Leader – Nothing For Us Here
- Lantlos – Melting Sun
- Fu Manchu – Gigantoid
- Electric Wizard – Time to Die
- Trap Them – Blissfucker
- Old Man Gloom – The Ape of God I
- Beck – Morning Phase
- Sun Kil Moon – Benji
- Se Delan – The Fall
- Goat – Commune
- This Will Destroy You – Another Language
- Emma Ruth Rundle – Some Heavy Ocean
- Mark Lanegan Band – Phantom Radio
- NehruvianDOOM – NehruvianDOOM
Of course, the new Colour Haze album comes out today and I’ve not heard it yet, so I fully expect that to make a late bid for Album of the Year.
So that’s it. 2014. All done and dusted save for the fun bit at the end. If you missed it the other day, I did a new post over at The Rolling Stone Challenge, so if you’ve not seen that, you should totally go and read it.
For someone who has recently given up on having websites, I do seem to accumulating them at a tremendous rate. Not so long ago I was basically done with being on the Internet, burnt out by the Demon Pigeon thing and not really wanting to write anything other than the novel. I was in a new job and that was stressing me out, but more importantly I was feeling pretty down about my own writing. I needed a break. I was also sick of paying hosting fees, url renewal charges and everything else. So I closed Demon Pigeon, closed the old self hosted version of this blog and genuinely thought that was me done with the internet. Except I couldn’t just consign all that hard work to the dust. I’d been blogging for over a decade, over which my life had changed dramatically. I’d gone through numerous career changes, started a family and stopped the crazy party lifestyle completely, and the blog was in some ways a document of that time. I had to back it up somewhere, just as an archive. Demon Pigeon too wasn’t just my thing, it had the work of nearly a dozen other writers, and a lot of stuff that I was personally pretty proud of. So I had to back that up too.
I knew I had a Wordpress account kicking about, and since I’d always used Wordpress as a base for both blogs, it made sense to just copy them both over to that. So I did that, closed the other ones down and hey presto, I was done with the internet. Farewell to all that.
Except then I had an idea to start a Spotify playlist exchange site. A few others seemed to like it, so I set up a third website, Tapetraders. Messing around with that a bit I found myself coming back to this site, and then suddenly I was blogging again. Tapetraders hasn’t really had the necessary input put into it so it’s kind of gone quiet over there, but it’s a good idea and I keep meaning to go back to it. But blogging again seems to have really taken root, for some reason. I’ve not got a lot to say but I like to say it. The justification I use is that it keeps my other writing, the proper stuff, sharp. I guess that’s true, but there’s more to it than that. I just like blogging. I’m a blogger.
Which is probably how I’ve ended up with another website. One of the long running things I was doing at Demon Pigeon was a faintly ludicrous challenge to try and listen to every album on Rolling Stone magazine’s top 500 albums of all-time list. Actually, that fudges the genesis of the whole thing a bit. It started here on Blog on the Motorway as a bit of fun, but my co-editor at Demon Pigeon suggested I should move it over, so I did. With his help we turned it into a more focused project, and it ended up being pretty much the most popular thing I did for the site (not a hard accolade to achieve).
I only made it as far as 300 on the list (working backwards from 500) by the time we closed it, and I was gutted that I hadn’t finished it. It was a fun project to do, opened my ears to a hell of a lot of music I’d never listened to, and writing about the dreadful ones was fun enough to make having to listen to them worthwhile.
After a few months of letting the dust settle on Demon Pigeon, I thought about trying to make my way through the remainder of the list, and found myself idly setting up my fourth free wordpress blog. If you’re sitting there thinking to yourself ‘for pity’s sake have I just read all of that just for him to pimp out his new blog’ then, well, yes, you have. The first new entry in the Rolling Stone 500 challenge went live on Friday.
So much for quitting blogging though, eh?