The words of the prophets are written on the (Subway) walls

Sometimes a simple statement, a simple phrase, can have maximum impact. Less can indeed be sometimes more. A match when struck and left on a pile of paper can cause an inferno. I find graffiti can have a similar effect on me. Just glancing over a statement can play on my mind for the rest of the day.

To complement the fabulous art galleries in Liverpool like the Fallout Factory, TATE and the Walker – to name but a few – there is another type of canvas on display all around the Pool of Life. Art pieces randomly pop up creating an external gallery populated by the graffiti artist.

Happiness is a journey

As a lover of words it is the notable turns of phrase picked up on the streets that really have a deep impact on me. Like, for example, the ‘Happiness is a journey, not a destination’ painted in bold yellow on Maryland Street. ‘Dream Big, Dare to fail.’ Found etched in gaffer tape in the window of a College. Or the simple ‘Money eats brain.’ I first encountered this simple piece of syntax walking past a disused public toilet by the St. Georges Hall. It made me chuckle and really think about how cash can in fact rot the cranium.

There is also a Banksy in Liverpool. I still to this day mourn the loss of the giant rat that was sadly annihilated by property developers, like so many beautiful things in Liverpool.

Banksy rat

We also have our own spray can legend, TOMO.

While the student club BUMPER always offers advice outside on its billboard. Just before term erupted last September there was the warning:

HIDE THE NOODLES, THE STUDENTS ARE COMING

and recently in the aftermath of the Christmas selfie avalanche that bamboozled the internet:

Ann Summers has been selling selfie sticks for years.

I am aware the influence pointing out graffiti art has had on my ten year-old niece, as we bomb around the city together on a Saturday.

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The ginger minx presented me with a drawing of her own.

heartair balloon

Shame the kid wants to be an accountant. Apologies to people who work in finance and the world of filthy lucre, but let’s just get one thing straight, all the worlds’ top economists and financial experts did not predict or see the triple dip recession coming at all. An equation that for me simply does not add up!

Please keep your eyes on the hunt for any interesting pieces of street art and let ten minutes hate know. And you will soon see that sometimes the City’s best galleries can be outside on the very streets.

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Interlude by Rupert Smith

They say you cannot judge a book by its cover, but I must confess that it was the strikingly handsome chiselled profile of the chap gracing the cover of Rupert Smith’s INTERLUDE that initially made me hover over the shelf.

interlude

Thankfully, as I started to read the tale, it became apparent that the content was impeccable. I was entranced. You know it is the mark of a good book when you cancel social plans and get up half an hour earlier before work to read some more. I was a literary addict consumed and ravaged by my desire to just read on.

INTERLUDE:

Edward Barton was one of the most successful novelists of the twentieth century. The critics didn’t like him, but readers loved him – and so did the film industry, turning out movie after movie based on his blockbusters. Then at the height of his fame, after the worldwide success of his best-selling novel Interlude, Edward retired from public life and never wrote another word.
It’s left to his granddaughter Helen, married with two young children, to untangle the web of fiction and lies surrounding Edward Barton’s legacy, and to reveal the secret at the heart of her family – a love story far stronger than anything in his novels.

ten minutes hate was beyond pleased when author Rupert Smith agreed to be interviewed.  He spoke about all things literary, seagulls and an open mic night for new talent.

10mh: Do you have any rituals or specific routines when writing or working on a script?

No, other than getting up and getting to my desk and working for as long as I can, fuelled by coffee and sandwiches. I don’t really buy into the fanciful idea that writing is some kind of magical process. It’s just a job. A writer I knew got quite misty-eyed about his fountain pen, which he thought was a conduit to the imaginative realm, or something like that. I just thought ‘please, get a laptop and join the real world’.

10mh: What qualities do you think make a fantastic story?

I have very traditional, perhaps conservative ideas about narrative. I believe in structure, and suspense, and giving the reader an enjoyable experience. You must have humour.  I like there to be an obvious point to the story – something that you can sum up in a sentence or less. If you can’t do that, then you don’t really know what your book is about. I often get criticised for having ‘unlikeable’ characters, which I think is just another way of saying flawed or realistic characters. I like protagonists to be interestingly flawed. It’s what interests me in people, and in fictional characters.

10mh: Who are the authors and artists you admire?

Far too many to list here. Off the top of my head, JB Priestley, Honore de Balzac, Agatha Christie, Somerset Maugham, Elizabeth Taylor, Evelyn Waugh, EF Benson, Jean Rhys. But there are thousands.

10mh: If you could be an animal, which one would you choose and why?

A seagull. I’d like to be able to fly, obviously, and I like the beach. Also, shitting on people from a great height would be fun.

10mh: INTERLUDE references the power of cinema, what films do you go back to again and again?

I love black and white Hollywood stuff like Now, Voyager, The Lady Eve, Some Like It Hot and so on. And I love really schlocky horror movies – Poltergeist, Lifeforce, Species, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Faculty. Apart from that, I’ll watch just about anything with a handsome leading man, as long as it’s not too violent. Netflix is great for that kind of thing.

10mh: INTERLUDE has had a fantastic critical response and I finished reading it 16 days into January, thinking, ‘I have found my book of the year.’ What future projects do you hope to develop?

Thank you, I really appreciate that. The critical response has been great, although it’s really hard these days to get any coverage in the press. I’ve got a couple of projects on the go at the moment. Under my other writing name, James Lear, I’ve got a new erotic thriller coming out in the summer called Straight Up, it’s kind of like Lee Child but with hot gay sex. I’ve got a novel and a non-fiction memoir both doing the rounds but it’s one of my rules that I never talk about projects until the ink’s dry on the contract, so you’ll have to wait and see about that.

10mh: What advice would you give to new creative writers?

I’m the last person to ask for advice. My ‘career’ has lurched from one disaster to another, occasionally squeezing out some good books along the way. The only serious piece of advice I have is ‘marry well’. If I didn’t have a husband who earns a proper salary, I’d be in the gutter. But if you want literary advice, it’s this. Books are for readers, NOT for writers. You should always focus on giving the reader a great experience, not on some bollocks that your creative writing tutor told you.

And finally, if you want to read some of your work to an audience, come along to my monthly event Books in the Attic at Hackney Picturehouse in London, we have open mic slots.

Author picture courtesy of Fannar Gudmundsson

Author picture courtesy of Fannar Gudmundsson

Interlude by Rupert Smith is available now.

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Staunch supporters?

As you may have noticed from a recent post, ten minutes hate is aware there is an election on the horizon. And while this half of the writing team is quite relieved to be on the opposite side of the world from all the fuss, behind the scenes emails have been flying about the thorny topic of who, if anyone, to support.

My colleague, Mr Maguire, was threatening to make his decision after reading all the major parties’ manifestos. For which endeavour we must surely thank him. I can think of quite a few better ways to spend time in a favourite reading chair. Fortunately, for those of us without that level of dedication, the internet is here to save the day.

I Side With will ask you an array of questions – the answers to which can be very nuanced if you so choose – you aren’t hampered by binary responses. Then it will tell you the party that matches your views on the issues you hold dearest.

Now I would have considered myself a very disillusioned former Labour supporter. I could list everything they have done since those heady days of 1997, but like any break up, what would be the point? These days I think of them, if at all, like an ex whose number flashes onto your phone’s screen as you quietly put it down onto the table, walk into the kitchen and put the kettle on. Whatever the Labour Party had to say, I wasn’t in the mood for listening.

So imagine my surprise to finish the quiz and be told I am 84% Labour! I doubt even Ed Balls gets that much… About as Labour as it is possible to be and still I thought they weren’t worth the candle. It is almost as if there is an agenda to keep the focus on the awkwardness of Ed Miliband and away from his party’s policies. Imagine!

In a way though, the sheer abundance of ‘Ed Miliband looking daft’ photos that exist is heartwarming proof that the ruthless media operation of the Blair-Brown era has finally been laid to rest. Alistair Campbell would have ripped the still-beating heart out of any picture editor who even contemplated publishing this:

Miliband cuppa

… and there are many more examples.

Still, this focus on the leaders is itself very-unBritish. We don’t have a Presidential system, so unless you live in Doncaster North you are not actually able to vote for the poor man in the picture above. (Who among us can say that they have never suffered via an unstable cup and saucer?)

Suaver media presences have had their hands on the wheel since 2010 and look where that has got us. Simply put, we cannot let PR guy Cameron and his millionaires club cronies win again. In the words of a family member:

Public services will not survive another Tory Government.

There is now little left to cut.

As in 1945, when a vote for Labour was a vote for the NHS, so it is this time. Have Labour been awful in the past? Yep. Are they led by a guy who struggles with basic chinaware? You betcha. Am I going to vote for them anyway, in a fit of hope over experience? Yes, I am and I think you should seriously contemplate it too. The NHS needs us.

More from Mr Maguire, to follow when he has read all those manifestos…

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A bloody canvas

Pierre Lemaitre was awarded the 2013 Crime Writers’ Association International Dagger for his first outing in crime fiction, Alex.

pierre lemaitre

The follow-up, Irene, sees Commandant Camille Verhoeven – his dwarf hero and main protagonist – married and about to become a father. His life is a long sought after one of ease. The story opens with a murder of unprecedented savagery. The author is unrelenting in his description of the macabre crime scene. This is not a spoiler alert but a warning to the squeamish amongst readers.

When they arrive at a crime scene, rookie officers unconsciously look around for death. Experienced officers look for life. But there was no life here; death had leached into every space, even the bewildered eyes of the living.

The French writer paints a picture and it is a gore-ridden massacre, not so much on a small detailed canvas, more of a bold brash bloody mural. The killer’s signature style is to pay homage to the classic crime novels. The gutter press, one suspects the French equivalent of The Daily Fail or The Scum, quickly label him the Novelist.

The tale soon becomes a personal duel between Verhoeven and the sick murderer. It is a credit to translator Frank Wynne for he transfers this piece of writing from the French into a succinct and exceptionally well written piece of crime fiction.

IRENE

What works about this gripping and intelligent story is the clever plot that weaves dark and comic scenes into a tapestry of realistic terror that surreptitiously wraps around the reader, attempting to choke. You share the sense of urgency with Camille and his team, to catch this serial psycho and stop him recreating tableaus from the pages of crime novels. It is an enthralling read and clearly written by a crime aficionado, as the author himself declares,

Since I owe almost everything I am to literature, it felt natural to begin by writing a novel which was a homage to crime fiction.

I recognised the first murder but could not think were from until informed it was from the cult classic, American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis.

AmericanPsychoBook

Le Maitre explains,

American Psycho was a tremendous shock to the reading public. Bret Easton Ellis raises so many moral questions with such intelligence, such skill. Though not considered a crime novel, this defining work deftly addresses readers’ ambiguity towards the very violence which is an essential, ‘pleasure’ of crime fiction. Yet many criticised the visceral brutality in American Psycho, as though the purpose of such fiction is to exercise our hyper-violent societies, but to remain within ‘reasonable limits’.

Simply, this is a pulp crime novel taken to another level. It does not leave a temporary fixture on the imagination, like some throwaway novels in this genre, so much as a dark imposing stain.

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Votes for the people, by the people

On the 27th January 2015 as I began to organise my thoughts for this piece, it was 100 days until the election. Already the bun fight has begun, cakes and pastries layered with shale gas, tuition fees, immigration and other issues. The word that seems to be repeatedly being used, issues, issues, issues. I often think it is like a schoolyard scrap, ‘My plans for the NHS are better than yours’, yada, yada, yada.

What appears to be lacking in this debate is a vital ingredient to credibility and that is authenticity. I do wish some of our politicians would take heed from the ancient poet Rumi,

If only people raised their words, instead of voice, it is rain that grows flowers not thunder.

Who to vote for at this stage is a decision of extreme difficulty. I am somewhat apathetic as I look at the parties and what they have to offer. Although I do know for certain one I am not and that is UKIP. I have no desire to be transported back to 1957.

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As I drove across Yorkshire before Xmas, I was startled by the abundance of posters and paraphernalia associated with UKIP that I saw, a surreptitious malignancy that is growing. My friend drove me past rural picturesque scenes, I was immediately reminded of the scene in the magnificent film CABARET, where a young Aryan school boy in Nazi youth attire breaks out into song at a propaganda rally, Tomorrow Belongs to me.

Recently, I found myself in the jewel in the crown of Liverpool’s Bold Street, News From Nowhere. I can always guarantee finding a book that will stimulate my mind, feed my soul and challenge my way of thinking.

On this occasion, I found myself mulling over the political spectrum and how it is exceptionally difficult to see between the different policies, many of the parties seem to converge, with the deviations being unseen by the untrained naked eye. It used to be a simple battle of red versus blue, but now it is not so straightforward.

Yet people are hungry for change, for something more. I do not in any way want to start to sound like Russell Brand. I have always thought of that man as a ‘Brand’. Brand by name and Brand by nature. I still have not forgiven him for recreating the fabulous role of Arthur in the same titled film, ingeniously played by Dudley Moore, in the same way I will never forgive Nicholas Cage for remaking The Wicker Man.

So, on this charcoal grey January day, I stumbled upon a little book of wit that was published in 2010 by Mark Thomas, The People’s Manifesto. The author toured the country to find out what people really wanted out of their elected government in 2009. The book evolved from a live show and I think it is worth reading to stimulate the current political debate. Re-awaken your voting animal!

If we can just cast our minds back to 2009, the world was in the middle of an economic crisis. Banks and countries collapsed, only to then be rewarded generously for the mess of their own making. Thomas asked audiences from all over the country to voice their ideas for policies. He was working on the basis that most people often proclaim that they could run the country. The eclectic mixed bag of written forms were sifted through and then the audiences would vote on the ones that they would like to see put down into the manifesto. The result is this witty, satirical – and often surreal – call to arms.

Some of the policies are exceptionally practical. I particularly liked the proposal to cure the world from the rise of body dysmorphic disorder:

MODELS SHOULD BE CHOSEN AT RANDOM FROM THE ELECTORAL ROLL. THIS OF COURSE WOULD RESULT IN A MORE REALISITIC PORTRAY OF REALITY IN ADVERTISEMENTS.

I was pleased to see that one law has actually been executed, IT SHOULD BE LEGAL FOR GAY COUPLES TO GET MARRIED. After all homosexual couples should suffer the same as married heterosexual couples, it is only just!

As mentioned, some of the laws declared are downright surreal: I do not own a dog and although doggy poop or doggy caramel as I often call it, (to try to detract from the harsh reality of canine roughage) on pavements does anger me, I feel this particular point is somewhat sadistic.

PEOPLE WHO ALLOW THEIR DOGS TO S##T ON THE PAVEMENT WITHOUT CLEANING IT UP SHOULD BE FORCED TO WEAR IT AS A MOUSTACHE.

After seeing too, too many pictures in the newspapers of the elderly battered and bruised by muggers, perhaps this next rule is one that may act as a deterrent:

TO RANDOMLY ARM OAPs

That would cause some surprise to hapless crooks.

There is lots of press at the moment about the minimum wage and zero hours contracts, so I do think that to state THERE SHOULD BE A MAXIMUM WAGE seems fair. Certain points make perfect sense, EVERYONE SHOULD BE GIVEN THE DAY OFF ON THEIR BIRTHDAY. If you think about it even an atheist is given the day of for Jesus’ supposed birthday, one for his death and one for the David Blaine-like trick of coming back from the dead.

My particular favourites in the manifesto are those that the author quite rightly highlights,

…are they really suggesting that managing a banking crisis, a recession, mass unemployment and a massive national debt of around 200 billion doesn’t require their full attention.

And then there is another,

POLITICIANS SHOULD HAVE TO WEAR TABARDS DISPLAYING THE NAMES AND LOGOS OF THE COMPANIES WITH WHOM THEY HAVE A FINANCIAL RELATIONSHIP LIKE A RACING DRIVER.

I have had an innate disliking for the newspaper the Daily Fail for a long time so it was refreshing to discover my gut instinct was right. One of the papers original founders was an anti-Semite who visited Herr Hitler on several occasions and thought the little ball of fury was misunderstood! Lord Rothermere excused the stories of Nazi violence as exaggerated. Therefore, it seems only correct that:

THE DAILY MAIL SHOULD BE FORCED TO PRINT THE WORDS, ‘THE PAPER THAT SUPPORTED HITLER’, ON ITS MASTHEAD.

Whilst on the subject of fascists, I liked the suggestion that ANYONE FOUND GUILTY OF A HOMOPHOBIC HATE CRIME SHALL SERVE THEIR SENTENCE IN DRAG.

I think Putin would look fabulous with a Dame Edna-esque purple rinse and a Gucci dress, being forced to sing From Russia With Love.

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This Manifesto is required reading and works well with a good dosage of the only newspaper worth looking at, Private Eye. I find this satirical rag is also a great way to get a handle on a political story.

Mark Thomas’ The People’s Manifesto is an antidote to the acidic political debate that we are going to see more of until Election Day.

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Reading to remember

As I read the accounts of survivors this Holocaust Memorial Day, it struck me that many of them came from those who had been children during World War II. One even remembered her sister being born in the camp. Even so, they were saying that this was likely to be the last year they would be fit and well enough to visit Poland for the ceremonies.

wire

As interest in the War started to rise during my childhood, and the survivors began to find some comfort in recounting events long-buried, I read a number of memoirs of the events, both in class and out of it. I probably started with Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, telling of a very ordered, quiet life and home interrupted by derring-do with the Dutch Resistance and eventual imprisonment.

Then I picked out Kitty Hart-Moxon’s record of her Return to Auschwitz from our school library. At the time I was at boarding school and couldn’t contemplate what the death camp showers actually meant or looked like. Gazing up at the institutional shower head above me and taking an extra big gulp of air before turning it on, just in case.

Anne Frank’s story was televised when I was a similar age, able to swoon with her over Peter and chafe at being locked up day after day with her family. I remember thinking how tragic it was that she died so close to the end, that if she could have held out a little longer, food and medicine might have been forthcoming. As if the survival of one diarist might have outweighed those lost. And if it is possible to wish for young Anne’s survival, why not that of all the others?

Then there was Schindler – his Ark first, then List – before a borrowed Primo Levi or two. My favourite being If Not Now, When? perhaps because of its partisans who fought back against the Nazis despite the seeming impossibility of victory at that time. And I notice that across all of these narratives it seems as if we prefer the hopeful outcome. That evil can be defeated s0 its victims can return to ‘normal’. It was difficult to read of Kitty Hart-Moxon dealing with colleagues in the UK who would joke about the tattooed numbers on her arm.

Again, a failure of my imagination. As a child I couldn’t understand how you could escape that from all that horror to die by your own hand, as Levi had done, as one of the characters in the excellent, engrossing film The Counterfeiters does, just minutes after the end of the War. It took further reading and here Maus opened my eyes still wider. Surviving was only a part, not the end. Only perhaps the end of the beginning, as the nightmares didn’t stop when the camps were liberated.

Stupidly, I had always thought Zyklon B a humane, clinical death. The science seduces you into believing it was something like chloroform. Maus knocked that right out of my mind. Art Spiegelman’s use of mice and cats to tell his father’s story life – both during and after the War – makes the brutality worse, perhaps because it reminded me of the humanity of those history tells us should be monsters but aren’t. Instead they were family men and women. Competent officers, effective administrators and clerks, who signed off on mass murder as if it were no more than shipping goods from A to B.

And what of when the goods were human beings? Although most memoirs feature the journeys to the camps, they are usually eclipsed by what is waiting on arrival. Jorge Semprún’s The Cattle Truck (also published as The Long Voyage) opens with 120 men being packed in for five days of hell on the way to another – the camp at Buchenwald. It is one of the most claustrophobic openings to a book I have encountered and completely unforgettable. He uses the time to recount his story to an older man, measuring out the miles in tales of his capture, Resistance life and youth in Spain during the Civil War.

Semprún has written extensively of his deportation to the camp, calling it the defining moment of his life. He also speaks in this interview of the blending of his memories with narrative devices more commonly found in fiction:

… my books are generally both memoirs and novels, both fiction and first-hand testimony. My aim was to create a synthesis of the two genres…

When I was working on the most painful parts of the autobiographical narrative, the ones I had postponed for so long, I forced myself to be as stringent as possible, to be absolutely faithful to the historical truth. I did not want to romanticize any of the details, or to distract the reader with dramatic turns of event or artificial moments of narrative tension. So I decided to use my imagination only when it felt necessary in order to produce a more lucid image of my overall experience of the camp.

Works of imagination have the power to deliver sometimes unfathomable truths to readers. Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home is not entirely a novel of the Holocaust, yet it lurks in the shadows. On the surface, one would think his infidelities, relationship with his daughter and wife are what are pressing on poet JHJ, that and the work he is supposed to be doing while he dozes in the sun. Women weave around him – daughter, neighbour, wife, lover, friend – but it is the memories of Joe’s mother and sister that endure and prove fundamental.

In talking of what has been lost, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated captured the lost shtetl life while The Yiddish Policemen’s Union – which I read in a sticky hot Bangkok December – Michael Chabon’s tale of an imagined Alaskan town peopled by many of the six million, having escaped there in the Thirties, brought a different perspective. I seem to recall (although searching can’t track it down) the author saying that the Holocaust had robbed him of the great networks of European Jewish life: the uncles and aunts, great-grandparents, cousins, friends of the family and distant relatives, that would have been his otherwise.

Seventy years on, what we sometimes think of as historical events, read in textbooks and ‘witnessed’ at arm’s length via films and memoirs, is still part of the unspoken horror of family remembrance, containing the power to warp and destroy relationships down through generations. As even the children of the Holocaust pass into old age and beyond, soon all we will be left with are their stories and their conviction that to know the truth is to guard against it happening again.

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Naomi’s Room

We have all been there, so it’s not hard to conjure up the scenario. A bustling Saturday shopping afternoon, you try to manoeuvre yourself through the lagoon of people who bash past oblivious to anyone in their pathway. Basic manners and people skills: clearly two lessons that were eradicated from their upbringing. People who were not brought up, but rather brought down.

You clasp tight hold of the child’s hand by your side. But being an infant, this is no ordinary day, no day is ever ordinary when you are three or four. It’s a world of imaginative possibilities. An escalator is a runway to a sci-fi alien world, a conveyor belt to the land of robots. A discarded take away box is a trunk of treasure and then there are all the neon flashing distractions of window displays and other excitements.

You may lose your grip for a fraction of a second, look down and he or she is still there, look away and then back and the kid has vanished, gone! This is every adult who is responsible for a child’s absolute nightmare. Because adults know the darkness of the world we inhabit. In that fleeting moment, the amygdala does not just hijack the brain, it tortures it.

Generally a few seconds later the child re-appears, you catch sight of him or her and your heart returns back to its normal rhythm. You shout, an almost roar, out of sheer panic about wandering off and how it is naughty or some other disdainful reprimand. It doesn’t matter what you say, it’s just words, noise expressing your inner fear. And equilibrium is restored.

But what happens if the child does not re-appear?

This is precisely the dilemma that Jonathan Aycliffe throws at his reader in the beginning of the short tale of terror NAOMI’S ROOM. From the onset he establishes his tale in the land of comfortable academia. It’s domestic bliss with Charles, the main protagonist, aged 30, his wife Lucy, 26, and their daughter Naomi who is 4.

It’s a world of possibilities,

Your life seems so directed when you are thirty.

Charles is a published promising academic, with an acclaimed piece on Gawain and the Green Knight. The loving couple and their daughter live a charmed life and the action starts with the two prepping for Naomi’s first proper Christmas. Taking Naomi on a trip to London, on Christmas Eve, her mood is one of excitement.

Naomi’s sense of adventure was infectious.

This picturesque idyll is not so much shattered as completely decimated when Naomi goes missing.

Nothing bad happened to children on Christmas Eve.

Each chapter is crafted to keep you reading on with a suspenseful final paragraph. This tale is in the style of supernatural masters like M.R. James and Susan Hill. The sadistic style of writing that is unflinching in its descriptions, slashes the canvas of comfort and provides an engrossing narrative. It is horror writing at its best, suspenseful, chilling and occasionally gruesome.

I’d say you know it’s a captivating tale when you open the envelope it came in as you come home from a solid day of graft and decide to look at the first paragraph to realise you are 80 pages in and the last hour or two has gone by. It was only when I finished NAOMI’S ROOM that I actually looked at the cover in greater detail. Thankfully, I had not given it a glance as on reflection this could have put me off, a naff superimposed stock image of a spooky child clutching a doll over a staircase was about as sinister as athlete’s foot, but I guess that depends on the severity of the foot ailment!

naomis-room

If like me you choose to read this tale in a room of your own, I can guarantee that when you bed down in the evening, a light of sorts will have to be turned firmly on somewhere in sight of the naked eye. You will hope that the mind does not decide to work overtime and you will hope that Madam Sleep wrestles you quickly into unconsciousness.

It does amaze me the fixation that society seems to have with fictional horror and crime. The world is crammed with gruesome realities from IS to UKIP, yet we still have an innate fascination with atrocities from watching hangings in Elizabethan times to reading penny dreadful novels in Victorian days, the 1970’s slasher flicks to the bordering-on-snuff films of the SAW franchise.

Perhaps we are all just twisted souls?

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The tortoise had it right!

Next time you’re in a public space, a café, a bar arena or even a restaurant, take a peep around at how many people either alone, in couples or groups of friends are on their phones, travelling the internet, keeping up to speed with the latest viral sensation.

everyday robots Copy = Babycakes romero

This need for a flash spectacle is fantastically portrayed in the recent film BIRDMAN. Michael Keaton’s character, a washed up actor, gets accidentally locked out of his Broadway production naked midway through the play’s performance and has to walk through a congested Times Square. A common nightmare that I and I am sure others have.

People are addicted to the net, trailing through Twitter, Facebook and the like, an endless stream of information flowing like a river full of driftwood that cannot be used for anything of purpose. Although there will be an occasional salmon. This buzzing is constant on all apps.  We are all moving so fast and trying to achieve the unachievable.

I saw Carl Honore talk on the excellent TED site last year on slowing down and paying more attention to what is around us. His discussion on the slow movement encouraged me to buy his book, IN PRAISE OF SLOW. I generally buy a lot of books from the site ABE books. As they deal in second-hand copies, there is always something exciting about getting a book someone else has had, with occasional receipt or ticket as book markers, scribbling inside and the odd personal message.

In praise of slowIn general the books come in a day or two from the time I order them.  For some reason this particular book took a few weeks. Perhaps a witty bookseller was teaching me a lesson before I had even opened the pages of the manifesto. In keeping with the title of this book, I have read it slowly over the last few weeks. Normally when I am captivated by a subject I consume it quite fast, but I felt particularly with this topic it would be better to cogitate over each idea. I’d highly recommend reading it in a similar fashion.

Warhol said,

We spend much of our lives seeing without observing.

This is very apparent in the arguments put forward in the for a slower approach to all aspects of our lives from sex to food. To start the New Year, ten minutes hate caught up with Carl Honore and asked him to summarise why we should slow down:

  1. To recharge your physical batteries. Our bodies burn out when stuck in fast-forward. Pausing from time to time to rest allows us to enjoy life with more energy.

  2. To look back. Memories are hard to form when we live too fast. Pausing allows us to savour and learn from past experiences.

  3. To see the big picture. Pausing to reflect allows us to look beyond the trivial distractions of the moment to ponder the deeper questions: Who am I? What is my purpose here? How can I make the world a better place?

  4. To take pleasure. Many of us are racing through life rather than living it. Pausing allows us to engage fully with the moment, which means doing everything better and enjoying it more.

  5. To connect. Relationships wither when we try to rush them. Pausing allows us to listen to other people, to be with them fully. It also allows others to connect with us.

  6. To be more creative. Neuroscience tells us that slowing down is an essential pre-condition for creativity. Pausing allows us to unleash our imagination and creative powers in the workplace and everywhere else.

  7. To save the world. We are burning out the planet by consuming much more than we need. And much shopping is driven by impulse decisions. Pausing allows us to resist the siren call of turbo-consumerism and to make sensible decisions about what to buy.

You can find more information here.

So far for 2015, I am trying to ensure I spend quality time with friends and family, where they have my undivided attention, not ‘oh, I just need to take this call.’

I’ve joined a rambling club so a couple of times a month I can land in the middle of nowhere and walk for the day without any digital toxins, using a compass not a sat nav. I find it quite disturbing to be told you have reached your final destination, it sounds too much like death. In the same way I can never get over the fact they call an airport a terminal, after all that is also too, too final.

To combat the 24 hour online working society that we have become, where we can work anytime and anyplace, I now have a tech-free curfew for a few hours every day, I keep away from a digital screen. I can still write down my ideas but only in a sketch book. No digital sound beats the scratching down on to paper with a sharpened pencil. In the orchestration of our lives, we would all benefit from a marked rallentando, before the inevitable conclusion that awaits us all.

tortoise and the hare

As Simon and Garfunkel aptly sang in The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy):

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the moment last…

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Lily Poole by Jack O’Donnell

How much is too much to spend on a book? As with so much in life, George Orwell has already considered and quantified the answer for you. That said, I imagine the ideal price of a book is different for all of us and, while I love picking up the out-of-copyright classics and browsing through the 99p list on Amazon, for me – for a new-ish book I have a real hankering to read – the sweet spot is around a fiver. Perhaps it is a relic of all those book tokens I used to get for birthdays and Christmases.

So how much would you spend for a book that hasn’t been written or printed yet? Unbound is a concept akin to Kickstarter, for both established and new authors who are seeking funding for new works of fiction or non-fiction. They have already created a bit of a splash with their backing of Paul Kingsnorth’s Man Booker Prize-longlisted The Wake. For the readers, it is about becoming more than a consumer, being a talent-spotter perhaps, or paying it forward. You may even gain the opportunity to name a character…

And for the writers? As Miranda Ward writes in her Unbound-published and utterly brilliant book F**k The Radio, We’ve Got Apple Juice:

This whole idea is fundamentally about sustaining yourself, as a creative type, so that you can create more. Ultimately, it’s always about the creative output, and the act of creating, not about the money, the money is simply what allows that process of creation to occur unfettered.

Of course, to be successful at this you need to – let’s be real, here – milk your contacts list for all its worth. You need benefactors, patrons and preferably rich ones, as every Renaissance artist knew. Or you need your idea to resonate with many, many people, so that they see fit to bung you a tenner. In these straitened times, that’s no mean feat. But if anyone is worthy of a portion of your hard-earned, it’s ABCtales writer Jack O’Donnell.

Jack

His novel-to-be Lily Poole, ‘a ghost story without a ghost’, is currently at 47% with an array of different pledge rewards available. Here is the pitch:

Lily Poole breaks the mould of horror fiction to ask serious and urgent questions about society and psychology, and does it while telling a gripping story about murder and deception, about Scotland and mental health, and about love and family.

There’s also an excerpt from the book available on the pledging page and I am sure it will whet your appetite for more. Which will be forthcoming, if enough of us stick some cash in the hat. Articles on the future of books and publishing are often full of doom and gloom, and who knows where things will eventually end. I wouldn’t want to venture any predictions. Other than to say that Unbound offers an alternative, a chance to discover books from outside mainstream publishing – such as their recent ‘Women in Print’ initiative – and to follow them from idea to realisation. How could any book lover resist?

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Filed under Minitrue

The Sound of the City

My desk space in the city is located just off Dale Street. I love walking to work across town in the morning, past the sprinkling of market traders that are left, setting up for the day ahead. I see steaming cups of tea being administered to people who look like they desperately need them. I try to interact with this dying breed of trader. Use them or lose them! I try to buy vegetables from the stalls as often as I can. I could not get a pumpkin at Halloween last year for love nor money. One of the regular stalls I go to complained about how they simply cannot compete with the supermarkets,

Even I had to buy mine from the Asda, lad!

I love this humour that is used as an attitude in this city. The unshakeable wit of Scousers that can be heard everywhere. Recently on a bus a teenage girl was arguing/flirting with one of her male friends, who had taken a picture of her on his phone,

Do you know it’s illegal to keep a picture on ye phone if the other person doesn’t want you to?

She barked. To which he quickly retorted,

Do you know it’s illegal to have them eyebrows?

The acidic comeback is natural to the average Scouser. It’s all part of the sound of the city. It is all about survival. I have noticed in the past few years, a couple of the flower sellers have vanished on my route, withering away into nothing like the flowers they sold. There is still the occasional Eccoooooooooooo of an Echo seller and thankfully the sounds of the buskers if you can manage to ferry your way past the Predator, the Alien, a balloon squeezing Mario (plumbing obviously has been affected by the recession) and the odd Olaf. (Please note it is not recommended to tell a three-year old if the said man in a snowman costume is not present by stating, ‘he must have melted’, as my nephew was traumatised by this for several hours after.)

But one of the most gratifying sounds is the one I often hear, the music from rehearsal rooms on Dale Street. A banging drum set beat as I walk to work early in the morning and guitar solos flooding into the night air as I finish in the evening. This always raises a smile on my face, as you can hear the soul that is going into the practice. It is so much more refreshing a sound than ‘Cashier number three please.’ It is part of the DNA of this city, music, yes respecting the past but also moving progressively forward, to the future bands.

princes buildings

I was appalled at the news that this magnet for musical talent, the Princes Studios could be threatened with closure. We need to close a vital creative hub – that makes great sense! We need new apartments in the city like the world needs Ebola!

As those behind a recent petition to the Council asking to save the building have written:

Princes Studios currently houses over 250 musicians and 50+ bands who make up a large percentage of Liverpool’s illustrious music scene.

If the building closes it will have a huge negative impact on the Liverpool music scene as there is a chronic shortage of flexible and permanent rehearsal space in the city.

I was so proud to show off this City over the holidays to friends who were genuinely shocked by the culture, humour, history and vibe that we have. I do wish I was equally as proud of its elected leaders. The local Council – the alleged custodians of the city – do not seem to realise they do not own this city, the people do!

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Filed under Minitrue