London Calling

Greetings one and all. Welcome to my first ever attempt to post a blog on the internet. When Sarah approached me about doing this, she asked what I was doing in August. ‘Oh you know,’ I said, ‘the usual thing. Staring out the window, thinking of ways to kill / maim / torture people, watching “The Shield” and listening to the Drive By Truckers. Or as we in the trade call it, “writing”‘. So she persuaded me to give up some of my obviously very valuable time and here I am. I did think of blogging once before and even went so far as to register a site name and post a first blog. But on reading it back it sounded like the ramblings of a tedious drunk that you can’t get rid of in a bar. And since most of my mates are unfortunate enough to put up with that from me most of the time I thought I’d spare the rest of the world. Or the kind of bloke who stands outside the local Sainsburys talking to his imaginary friends. I know, we’ve all been there. Anyway, glad to have you with me, hope you enjoy, or at least tolerate, my witterings.

I must thank Sarah for that kind introduction, and perhaps hire her as my PR person. The only other intro I’ve had like that was from Ali Karim at who described me as ‘a huge cult’. At least I think that’s what he meant – his spelling’s attrocious.

And speaking as Sarah did of my readings, I did one on Monday night. I contributed a short story to London Noir, the latest in Akashic Books’ continuing attempt at cultural world domination (What next? Isle of Wight Noir? Actually I wouldn’t mind editing that …). The anthology was quickly bought up by Serpent’s Tail over here in the UK and had its launch this week. The book is edited by one of my best mates Cathi Unsworth (whose first novel, The Notknowing, was published last year. If you haven’t read it I strongly urge you to do so. It’s the best crime novel about London since Derek Raymond died.) She managed to put together a fairly eclectic bunch of writers to explore the underside of our fair capital, everyone from Ken Bruen and Patrick McCabe through to rock musicians Barry Adamson and Max DeCharne, to people like me and Joolz Denby. The launch itself took place at the Horse Hospital, a kind of avant garde arts venue in Bloomsbury, London which used to be, yes, a horse hospital. It’s still got the cobbles inside and the slatted walkway the horses used to gain entry to the building and is hugely atmospheric. And also hugely hot. We wondered beforehand whether anyone would turn up. We needn’t have bothered. I’ve never seen it so full. And the great thing was, they weren’t all just friends of ours out for some free booze. They had come because of the book itself and to hear writers read. Seats were snapped up quickly and it was standing room only. Then the readings commenced. Cathi first, then Max, then Joolz, then me and Ken Hollings closing proceedings. All accompanied by Dave Bishop’s soundscaping and images on the screen provided by two old classic London crime films, The Leather Boys and Peeping Tom. Actually, reading that back it sounds a bit highbrow, but it wasn’t. Honestly. I’m just of the opinion that if someone’s made the effort to come and see you read then you should put on a bit of a show for them. Make them feel like they’ve been entertained, had a good night out. Chances are, they’ll be more charitably disposed to parting with their cash to buy your book. I know a lot of writers don’t agree with me and don’t like doing readings but I think it’s all part of the job and enjoy doing them. But then, I was an actor for years before I started writing, and it’s any excuse to get on a stage so I would say that.

But we all read. My story, ‘Love’, concerns a teenage Nazi skinhead in East London who goes on a personal, and surprising, voyage of sexual self-discovery. Saying it like that, I realise I haven’t sold it too well but I’m proud of it. I love using the short story to speak through voices that are marginalised in our society. My previous short story was a first person narrative about a seventeen year old rapist in prison. Often these voices are marginalised for a very good reason – but at least it gives you the opportunity to explore the cause and effect argument about how they came to be like that in the first place because nothing happens in a vacuum. But then that’s why I think crime novels are the perfect tools for exploring society in this way – you can examine everything you want, as long as you present it in the format of a cracking story. All the bases are covered so what’s not to love about that?

Anyway, I’m digressing. (See what I mean about the rambling bloke in the pub?) The readings went down great. I did my bit in my East End Nazi skinhead voice and scared my agent. Which, thinking about it, is probably a good thing. Actually I scared quite a few people doing it, which was handy for getting a place at the bar afterwards.

The evening was a success. On a personal note on the strength of the reading I was invited to contribute to another anthology, asked to do a reading at a prestigious spoken word club in Brighton, was approached about writing a book for another publisher and, most bizarrly of all, was asked if I was interested in contributing an article to a journal for landscape gardening. Hey, it all pays the rent. That’s why I always say writers should work on their presentation skills and embrace readings. Because you never know where they might lead you.

By the way, the reviews for the anthology have been great (each one singling out a different story as their fave which is nice and democratic), the sales are looking good and people want to know about it. I’ve been asked to appear on the news programme London Tonight tomorrow along with Cathi and Ken Hollings to talk about and read from it. Which I think is quite a laugh. If anyone’s read the story (or indeed, any of my other stuff) they’ll know I don’t really do pre-watershed. And since the programme goes out at the same time as Neighbours it’ll be fun to see how many complaints they get. I’ll do my best.

So all in all not a bad few days. Although it’s stopped me doing that staring out the window thing I get paid for. So I’d better get back to it. But only for a while. I’ll be back here later.