Books to read beside the sea…

In summer our reading takes us inexorably to the sea.

It may have been the Prince Regent, in the early nineteenth century, who made this flight to the coast fashionable with the remodelling of his summer palace, the glorious Brighton Pavilion. And so he might have taken with him on those summer jaunts, Sir Walter Scott’s The Pirate (1821), or James Fenimore Cooper’s, The Pioneers (1822). I don’t know.

Read the rest of this post over on The Literature Network.


Man on the Moon

Forty years ago on July 20th Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. Having travelled 250,000 miles across space he brought his NASA moonlander down with literally seconds of fuel to spare. It was true Boy’s Own stuff.

To celebrate this fact over on the 50 Word Short Story group I’ve been running a Moon Man 50 Word short story competition.

Thanks to Aliya Whiteley who chose the winner and runner up and also seven other highly recommended.

BBC Moon Archive

Winner: Jake Webb

Imagine my surprise when I found my wallet on the moon! Someone had nicked it weeks earlier. The money was gone but the restwas still there: lucky dollar bill, Krakow bus ticket, the paperclip mygirlfriend gave me. I sat and looked at the Earth and thought, ‘Well,alright.’

Runner Up: Eric Karl Anderson

Emergency ‘Moonwalk’ Wedding Cake Recipe:

– Bake four layers hazelnut meringue
– Sandwich together with chocolate mousse
– Spread chocolate ganache over bubble wrap
– Cover cake
– Freeze
– Remove wrap revealing crater-like surface

The bride’s mother, diagnosed with terminal cancer last week, declares it “out of this world.”


Will Jones (Baltimore, MD)

I woke to crying, and stumbled into my son’s room.
“I don’t want to be an astronaut, Daddy.”
He’d dreamed he was alone on the moon and couldn’t get down.
I rocked us to sleep. Then I went to the moon, so he wouldn’t be alone if he came back.

James Burt (Uni. Sussex)

The moon landings were real, but they cheated a little. Part of the moon’s dark side is near the M11 and the famed mission happened there. The journey was too short, so Aldrin, Armstrong and Collins hid out in a derelict motel, staring sadly up at the sky.

Armanda Baruti (Universität Bern)

Not Over the Moon

The earth loved being circled by the moon, until one day, by blocking the sun she sent the moon into hiding. How stupid of her!

She sees him once in a blue moon but he doesn’t say hi. All she asks for is him but she’s asking for the moon.

Jon Longworth

Eat your cornflakes! My mother. At the bottom of the box lies a small plastic model of a Saturn V rocket. It will go with my lunar landing capsule from last week. Which went with my astronaut from the week before. Twice the cornflakes. Twice the rockets. Twice the dream.

Darlene Longo (Toronto, ON)

Ten years old …wide eyed glued to the tele.
IT was really true, all spacesuited up they were walking on the moon.
But where was the man in the moon, the one who lived there, and where did the little green men go?
I think they were on another channel.

June Anne Welsh

Do you know in Napoli, if the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore? And when the world shines like you’ve had too much wine? Same thing – amore! And when stars make you drool, like Pasta Fagiul…? Got it…? Amore. So Dean Martin says .

Rebecca Bachtel

The Moon stared down at the sea, admiring her reflection.
“I deserve a symphony,” thought she. “Breach for me, great whales! Glitter on the surface, o phosphorescence!.” The mermaids leant their voices to keep tune.
After several hours, with a satisfied yawn, the Moon made her way towards the horizon


Holiday, writing, reading…

Just to recap before the film…

Actually I’ve checked the cinema listings for tonight and there’s not one thing I want to see. Except the film with Eric Cantona in and the only showing of that was 12 midday. As it’s about two million degrees I might give that a miss.

I’m pleased Eric became an actor. I remember when he hung up his boots he said he was going to become a poet. As Simon Armitage, real dogs-bollocks poet, said, ‘You wonder how long he’d last, setting off on a pissing-wet Wednesday for a train to Redditch, to read to three men and a dog in a cornered-off section of the library then back to a B&B… and the world snoring champion in the bed behind the cardboard wall.’

I’ve just booked a B&B myself, although I’ve discovered they are called ‘boutique hotels’ these days. The brilliance of their websites. One listed all their rooms one by one, each had a name, ‘the Hunstanton suite’ and so on and then at the bottom in capitals,


New? Global warming I presume leading to the reposition of the oceans.

The worst ones are where the owners themselves feature in the photos. They glare out at you trying to look welcoming but instead manage only to look like a smiling Rose and Fred West.

We’re going to ‘sunny hunny’ Hunstanton on sea.

“Has the room got a tv?” Will has already asked. “Cracking line up for Wimbledon tomorrow.”

I’ll be ok, I’m currently reading 5 books. Although this is not strictly true. I’m listening to one. Edward Hogan’s Blackmoor. I bought it after seeing that it won some young writer award. It took him 6 years to write apparently and he’s only fifteen now.

Normally I get these audiobooks and I never listen to them fully. They’re the blanket which help me sleep. This one though, I’m hooked. It reminds me of Ian McEwan mixed with Ruth Rendell. Both compliments.

For the last two evenings, exhausted, I’ve been lying on my orange sofa listening to it. I’ve also been alcohol free. Then to bed early to read.

Like the movies I like the idea of tv but books always seem a better option. I’ve been off work for ten days now, holiday not ill, and I don’t think I’ve watched one tv programme. That I’m exhausted is because I’ve been exercising every day.

Yesterday at the gym I was watching this bloke running. ‘I want to look like that,’ I thought although why I would suddenly develop dark Hispanic features I don’t know.

Then I went on the running machine myself and this old bloke with legs up to his nostrils appeared next to me. He ran 5 kilometres in 18 minutes. It took me 26 minutes to get that far and then one of the personal trainers came and slapped an ‘out of service sign’ on me.

I’ve also been working, writing. When you’re writing time collapses. You can sit down and three hours have passed, on consequetive days.

I’m going with the flow at the moment. The main section of the book, first draft, was almost finished. Then I had this idea for a prologue. 25,000 words later…

I wonder if there’s any precedent for a novel having a 25,000 word prologue?

In my head I’m thinking of The Insult by Rupert Thomson. That finishes with someone telling a story about 100 pages long. I’m hoping this will work like that but in reverse. And in my head I think it might be pretty cool to read a novel where chapter 1 starts on page 112.

In my head also is the thought that perhaps it’s a disaster.

Right now, I don’t care. I’m loving it, you see. I’m telling a story. I’ve got characters. Next scene is a break in on a Russian base in the Antarctic. Then there’s a suicide mission across the ice to find the ‘holy grail’. Then there’s a suicide mission to find the person who’s gone on the suicide mission.

This story is within a story that is part of a letter that is sent to the character with which chapter one opens.

Perhaps I should go to the movies. There I might learn how plots work.

Currently reading: All Points North by Simon Armitage, 31 Songs by Nick Hornby, The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross, Blackmoor by Edward Hogan, As You Step Outside by VG Lee.

Currently listening to: Michael Jackson. Aren’t we all? And I only wrote about him last week too…


Pride Words / Gig

On Monday I’m appearing at Pride Words at Foyles bookshop in London. It’s the first time I’ve been asked to provide next of kin and emergency contact details for a reading so I’m wondering what kind of crowd they’re expecting.

I had some trouble filling in the form as I don’t know what my mum’s or my partner’s addresses are. I toyed with the idea of putting down my own address, thinking that if anything happened to me then everyone would probably gather round there. But then I realised that they wouldn’t know anything had happened to me if I gave out an address for a place where they’re not.

I’m looking forward to the event but nervous as well as I always come away from these events feeling depressed. I believe everyone else is cooler and more intelligent than me. Mind you, I’m the kind of person who can feel inadequate crossing the road.

“Look at him, the way he nipped between the cars, it was brilliant!”

I’m currently reading Simon Armitage’s ‘Gig’. I bought it after watching his BBC4 documentary on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. If you don’t know, Armitage is a poet, and he has recently translated Sir Gawain which is a 14th century poem about a knight from Arthurian legend.

Anyway the documentary was brilliant. Armitage followed the journey Gawain would have made in his quest to battle the Green Knight. The poem has beautiful descriptions of place, sex, and a powerful narrative.

The documentary also had a fantastic soundtrack and it was then that I remembered seeing Armitage’s book about music last year when it was out in hardback. I can remember where it was too. It was Sheffield’s Waterstones and I was in there during the break between matches I was watching at the Crucible (the snooker place).

The book is funny (‘It’s amazing how many hermits have websites these days’) and warm and in one point moved me to tears. This was when he got to interview David Gedge from the Wedding Present in the Holmfirth Pictodrome. The whole interview consists of Armitage asking Gedge a series of either or questions:

SA: Hudderfield or Halifax
DG: Er… I don’t know really.. Er…
SA: The right answer’s Huddersfield.
DG: Put me down for that, then.

There was something honest and unassuming about it that touched me. The truth these days is either hard, or slippery, so we spend a lot of time giving poncey responses to poncey questions.

I can remember the first records I ever had. They were bought for me and my brother by our mum and dad. It was on the same day they bought us a stereo. It was one of those that looks like a suitcase and weighed about half a tonne. The records were something by Shawaddywaddy and Ravel’s Bolero. As a musical education it was a start.

My mum moved house a few years ago so me and Will (my partner) were called in to clear out / sort through my old stuff. One of the boxes contained my old music cassettes and I was pleased to see that it contained nothing too embarrassing, Floodland by The Sisters of Mercy, Closer by Joy Division, Boy by U2, Get Close by the Pretenders, Ratus Norvegicus by the Stranglers, Savage by Eurythmics, Bauhaus, New Order and so on.

(I haven’t got that good a memory, I’ve just brought down the box from my spare bedroom. Sad in a way because I don’t have a cassette player to listen to them. My current CD collection represents my musical taste from the last 8 or 9 years during which time I’ve been settled back in the UK.)

Like a lot of people that have older brothers, my older brother was a big influence on me in his music tastes. He was also always a lot cooler than me. He was in a band, various bands in fact, and then worked in a record shop.

Nick, my brother, was the kind of person who could nip out to the local shop for a hairspray and then come back a week later having been to London and Brighton. At 40 he hasn’t changed a great deal although his flights become more precarious and worrying.

That same day in Sheffield at the Crucible he managed to disappear. It was only as he leant forward to speak to the taxi driver, late at night, not recognising the town he was in to ask the question:

“Are we in Derby?” (where he lives)
“No, this is Bradford mate.”

Back then I was more into computers. On a Sunday I was allowed to plug my Sinclair Spectrum into the tele in the lounge. If Nick was around then he would play too and I remember one of our favourite games was Psion Tennis, little black stickmen running around a black and white court.

Nick would be in charge of the music and I can remember while playing that tennis game was the first time I heard The Smiths. Years later Morissey’s lyrics would come to be music that defined my coming out and Hatful of Hollow still seems to me to be an album full of gay angst. I mean just read the song titles, ‘William, It was really nothing’, ‘What Difference Does it Make?’, ‘These Things Take Time’, ‘How Soon is Now?’, ‘Handsome Devil’, ‘Still Ill’, ‘Accept Yourself’ and so on. And to this day my favourite lyric remains, ‘If you ever need self-validation, I’ll meet you in the alley by the railway station’.

I’ve got nearly everything Morissey has recorded since The Smiths but I’m pleased to say, in my humble opinion, that the latest album, Years of Refusal, is the best thing he’s done since his musical youth.

The first gig I went to was Sting at the Royal Albert Hall in 1985 for the Dream of the Blue Turtles Tour. I was 14 and went with my brother on the train to London.

I remember just before we set off I was in my bedroom playing Bomb Jack on the Sinclair Spectrum.

“Come on,” he said, “we’re going to see Sting.”
“Hang on, I’m about to get my high score.”

You see, not cool.

The best gig I’ve ever been to was Elbow last year at Rock City. They came on stage in darkness. The strings were playing the intro to Starlings. Through the smoke the band members all raise the trumpets they are holding and then comes the blast of noise and then, alone, Garvey’s voice. It makes me almost cry just thinking about it.

You see, not cool.

The worst gig I’ve ever seen was two years ago at the Charlotte in Leicester. I can’t remember what the band were now but they were something young and trendy. The place was packed and they made us wait for ages and ages before they came on like they were the fucking Beatles reformed of something and then they played for about fifty minutes before pissing off.

I went and stood at the back and drank wine so it wasn’t a total washout.

The band I’m most pleased I’ve seen is The Cure because I love The Cure. They’ve had a new album this year too and like Morissey it’s probably the best thing they’ve done in years.

The biggest gig I’ve been to was Michael Jackson. He was good. It was in Montpellier in the South of France. That’s when my dad worked on a roller-coaster and it was a good summer all round.

The band I’ve seen the most is Marillion and they are always excellent. I’ve been to their last two conventions in Port Zelande in the Netherlands and that’s just a good time all round. Lovely people, food, place and music.

All of this might explain why I wrote a novel about a band, gay pop duo Down by Law. I don’t know. All of the above though I’m sure are the things I am into, books, music, poetry, travel and that is how I see myself, this passionate, awkward, uncool outsider. How this will translate into me appearing at Pride Words might be interesting to see. I hope my next of kin details will not be needed.


Live Literature Lives

On the stage in the Phrased and Confused tent at last year’s Summer Sundae festival I was asked if when I was writing ‘Me and Mickie James’ I knew that I would be expected to go out and read from it, living the ‘rock & roll’ lifestyle, as it were. My answer was simple.


Read the rest of this post over on The Literature Network.


Write What You Know. George Orwell and all that.

Writers are often asked how much of their own life is contained in their writing. Running by the side of this is that old adage, write what you know.

I haven’t given these matters much thought, but this blog will be my response. That it will be half-baked there is no doubt. In my defence I would say that even people who have thought about these things long and hard have come down on opposite sides of the same fence.

This is the beauty of freedom of speech and as Spike Milligan once said, ‘if speech is free, it might as well be silly’.

That I am thinking about this at all is because of the Stephen Fretwell concert I went to on Thursday night.

Stephen Fretwell is a singer songwriter, guitar player. In the world we live in of silly talent shows Fretwell is the truly talented. I could go on but I won’t because you are going to buy his CDs after reading this blog. That is the power of advertising as Saatchi and Saatchi would said while popping a coke they don’t really want, driving the car that looks like more money than sense.

Anyway, when introducing his song ‘Funny Hat’ Fretwell said, ‘This is a song about being in a hotel room late at night with a drunk transvestite when your girlfriend is on the way up’.

That I love that song more than I already did is because I now know where it came from.
George Orwell in his essay ‘Why I Write’ wrote that there are four reasons for writing. 1) Sheer egoism. 2) Aesthetic enthusiasm. 3) Historical impulse. 4) Political purpose.

He starts the essay by saying that he always knew he was going to be a writer, and that from an early age he was writing himself into situations. For example, ‘He pushed open the door, his mother was standing by the ornate fireplace’ and so on…

That he became a political writer was because of the age he lived in. His essay, ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’ starts, ‘As I write, highly civilised human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me’.

That 1984 is not an autobiographical book is clear although there was a belief at the time of its writing that Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt were planning to divide the world, post WWII.

I was at the right age at the right time for 1984 because in the year 1984 I was thirteen and I loved books. As you can imagine that year there was a big hoo-ha about Orwell’s book and I knew that I wanted to read it.

1984 was also a time when a) the Cold War was in full swing and b) a film was made of the book.

The Eurythmics were to do the soundtrack. All the way through the film I was waiting for the song. It never came. At least, not until right after the titles were rolling. I loved the Eurythmics and all I could remember afterwards about the film was that their song wasn’t in it.

At that time also my mum and dad ran a pub. The pub itself had undergone something of a transformation that year. We’d had the builders in for weeks, and with old bricks they’d built all these arches within the pub so the pub itself was divided almost into a series of caves.

Sticking out of the arches was all this found detritus, lawnmower handles, spades, iron bars and so on. You had to see it to believe it.

One of the caves became a cocktail bar, ‘Gatsbys’ and late at night we served cocktails, of course. The base mix for these cocktails was a powder that came in packets like Vesta curries. I was allowed to make them up, in these large jugs bought specially for the purpose.

I always used to get a thrill opening the fridges and seeing these jugs. The powders mixed with water were colourful and they had glorious names like ‘Pina Colada’, ‘Margarita’ and so on.

Around this time too I wore a trilby hat and a cardigan. I was the height of fashion even then.

This is Will’s favourite picture of me, age 13, leaning against a castle somewhere in France in my hat and cardie. I looked like a mix of Little Lord Fauntleroy and Huckleberry Finn.

But to get to my point, running above the arches within the pub were a series of shelves and on these shelves were old books, got from the junk yard I guess, because they were ancient, dusty, damp and they stank.

Books back then didn’t have pictures on and they were all hardback and different colours.

Because I loved books though I would pull over one of the bar stools, climb up onto it, and look at the books.

That’s where I found 1984.

A couple of years after this when I was sixteen mum and dad both left home.

Dad decided that it was the time in his life to become a drifter and after a poor start; he had gone to the airport and asked for the next flight out of the country, ‘Lanzarote, yes!’ he said, thinking he was going to Spain only to find himself landing on a small volcanic island, he ended up quite happily working on a beach in France, on fairgrounds, in cafes and grape picking etc.

This was also the time I read Orwell’s ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ and I quite enjoyed it because all those situations reminded me of my dad.

‘That’s him’ I thought as Orwell landed himself in a penniless scrape with assorted bums, psychopaths and alcoholics.

That I always write about people now who don’t have proper jobs, who drift around, don’t drive, or have mobile phones, but are seduced by the easy glamour of a tacky cocktail bar while wearing distinctive clothing might have something to do with all of this.

Or it might be entirely unrelated.

As I said, I haven’t given it much thought.

Currently reading – Dreams of Leaving by Rupert Thomson

Currently listening to – Man on the Roof and Magpie by Stephen Fretwell

Stephen Fretwell singing William Shatner’s Dog


A Day In The Life of a Writer. Yesterday.

I wake up. First thing I do is check the time. Have I overslept? I got home from work last night at 11 p.m. and then watched Question Time on the iPlayer. The one glass of wine I intended to have turned into several. Question Time turned into The Week. I like politics, especially when I’m drunk.

Sun is coming through the curtains. My mobile says 8:45. This is not ideal but ok. If I don’t write in the morning then I can’t write at all. Usually I like to read in bed for an hour first. If I do that it’ll be nearly 10 o’clock. Then by the time I’ve checked my emails, usual internet sites it will be 11.

I start to panic. I’m not going to get any writing done.

Downstairs there is a knock at the door. I know it will be the postman. He’s the only person who knocks on my door. I am naked.

I don’t always sleep naked. Sometimes I like to have a sweatshirt and underwear and I regularly have two duvets and a sleeping-bag on my bed.

I’ve ordered some books from Amazon. I imagine that’s why the postman is knocking. On top of the nakedness I have an erection. Why does the postman always come when I have an erection?

I can’t very well go downstairs like this.

I used to do door to door sales in Australia. Sometimes when I was doing areas by the coast you’d get surfer dudes out of bed. I used to hope they’d come to the door naked. It was a boring job and the mind tended to wander.

As it happens, it rarely happened. This is just one way in which life is different to fiction.

I stumble into the spare room and pull on yesterday’s work trousers and a cardigan. I either looked dishevelled and interesting. Or a tramp with a hard on. No time to check in the mirror.

Postman done I make a cup of tea and go back upstairs to bed. The books I ordered were ‘Jack’ and ‘The End of Alice’ by A M Homes.

A M Homes is getting to be one of the writers of whom I have read their complete works. In this she will join Rupert Thomson, Magnus Mills, Haruki Murakami, Kazuo Ishiguro, Raymond Chandler, Raymond Carver, Andrey Kurkov, David Mitchell, Timothy Mo, Sarah Waters.

She will be, I note, the only woman on the list. Except for Sarah Waters.

I spread the books out on my bed. The two A M Homes ones and also Nocturnes by Ishiguro. I have recently bought this too.

I haven’t got too long.

I choose the Ishiguro and read the first story.

So far I haven’t mentioned much writing. That’s the thing about writing. A lot of it is in your head. The rest of the time is not writing.

So when I am sitting in bed naked, books spread out before me, drinking tea, I am actually very busy. Convincing other people of this is sometimes a problem.

I have just finished six days in a row at work. Therefore I haven’t had much time to write. In fact, I haven’t done any. Prior to these six days I’d had five days off. In those five days I’d written 8,000 words.

Writing is like that for me. Once I start it’s easy to carry on. Once I stop it’s difficult to start again.

Once downstairs, and dressed, I open up the document.

I stopped right at the end of a long section in which a character on a boat to the Antarctic is telling a story over the phone to another one of the characters back in England. This story is about his time in Iraq and it’s kind of a love triangle.

The character on the end of the phone is in love with the character telling the story.

This 8,000 word section from my previous days off is this story.

This novel is a novel of people telling stories to each other. I like all the characters and the stories but I wonder if it works as a novel.

I have a cup of coffee.

Also all the stories are about death. Would someone want to read about so much death?

Someone slips under a tram, gets hit by a car, falls into a vat of acid, loses their hand in an industrial accident. But pulls through! Loses their feet to frostbite, is the victim of a serial killer, dies of cancer, dies in a water-skiing accident.

And so on.

As I don’t know if it works I am trying to establish a life / work balance. I don’t want to spend a whole year doing this and then have to delete it. If I’ve done other things I can look back on those things.

Like drinking tea in bed. Drinking wine and watching Question Time on the iPlayer. For a few years I didn’t do any of those things. I used to write all the time.

I follow pretty much the Stephen King model of writing. I try and do 1000 words and then stop. Like him, sometimes this can take hours and other times I can rattle off 1000 words in an hour.

While I’m writing though I am constantly checking things on the internet. Looking at the news, Facebook, my blog, YouTube and so on. So often I don’t feel like I am writing. When I stop I feel useless and berate myself.

“You’ve wasted your day. You’ve spent it on the internet.”

But I do hit my target.

At three o’clock I stop to go to the gym. If I’m going to sleep naked I owe it to myself to look the part.

Also I’ve managed to stop in a good place. David non-Dave has built a city out of toilet rolls for the miniature person who was living in his bum. This is a person he killed earlier in the book. He’s about to show it off to the other characters. His city that is and not his bum.

David non-Dave is having a nervous breakdown I should say and it is not a real miniature person living in his bum. These miniature people made an earlier appearance in another story of mine, ‘Neighbours’.

That’s another tip. Recycle.

After coming back from the gym I go straight out food shopping. This is on foot as I don’t have a car.

It’s a beautiful sunny day.

As I walk I wonder if I’m wasting my time with all this writing. There are other things I could be doing. I would like to be in the countryside somewhere walking by the side of a canal.

Then I imagine falling in the canal and getting attacked by a shark. It bites off my legs. But how would a shark get in a canal?

There was a lorry heist. They expected cash but instead found themselves with a shark on route from one aquarium to another. They don’t know what to do. Under cover of darkness they release it into the canal.

One of them has a favourite film of Jaws. During the heist he says, ‘We’ve got ourselves a shark situation.’

It could happen. There are sharks in the world. There are aquariums. It’s just the question of thinking it.

When I get back home I reopen the document.

I’ve been thinking about the beginning. It needs re-writing. I pour myself a glass of wine. I pick up Music For Torching by A M Homes and re-read the opening. It’s a good beginning. I’d like something like that, but Homes has already used it.


I need more humour. The characters need to stand out more. Perhaps I should scrap the whole thing.

I drink some more wine. I make dinner. I watch the Pulling special. This is reassuring because it is more rude than my books. This is important to me but I’ve already gone on enough.

At ten o’clock I go to bed. I read ‘Jack’ for two hours.

I drink two beers.

I fall asleep.

Tomorrow it starts again.

Currently reading – see above

Currently listening to – Friendly Fires by Friendly Fires

Drew Gummerson’s first novel ‘The Lodger’ was published in 2002. It was a finalist in the Lambda Awards in the States. Drew’s latest book ‘Me and Mickie James’ was published by Jonathan Cape in July 2008. Drew is also an award winning short story writer, his short fiction being widely published and featured on Radio 4.

Drew Gummerson

Drew Gummerson is a writer. In 2002 his first novel, The Lodger, was published and was a finalist in the Lambda Awards. His latest novel, Me and Mickie James was published by Jonathan Cape in July 2008. He works for the police. Visit his website here.

Me and Mickie James

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