My Holiday Book Bag (2)

A long time ago I was reading a biography about Richard Burton, in fact it I think it was ‘Rich,’ the biography by Melvyn Bragg. Bragg used Burton’s own diaries in his work and wrote, amongst other things, about Burton’s love of books and when Burton went on holiday he looked forward with delight to the contents of his ‘book bag.’ I know it’s a pretty tenuous link but one thing I have in common with Richard Burton is a love of books and when I go on holiday, one of the delights of lying under a warm sun on my sun bed is a good undisturbed read. OK, I read a lot at home and on my lunch breaks at work but it’s a few minutes here and a few minutes there and whenever I get interrupted it kind of breaks the flow. Some books, as we all know, are just made for a really long, uninterrupted read.

DSCF0004edOK, That was the intro copied from my earlier post Holiday Book Bag part 1. You might be thinking what is this about? A Holiday book bag in January? Yes, well here’s the thing, I’ve saved up my holidays for a winter escape from the UK and believe me, there is nothing more satisfying that calling up friends in the UK from sunny Lanzarote, where we are staying for six (yes six) weeks and asking ‘What’s the weather like back in the UK?’ Especially when they answer, as you knew they would, ‘It’s freezing cold and lashing it down!’

Anyway, I’m sure it’ll still be cold in February when we return so let’s move quickly on to the book bag. There is nothing more exciting for an avid reader like me, and the aforementioned Richard Burton, to plan what to pop into a book bag. Going to Lanzarote there are some restraints of course. One, we are flying so we only have limited luggage space so straight away I eliminated my hard back books which is something of a pity as I have some cracking hardbacks ready to be read. Anyway, I’ve stuck with paperbacks, some I have purchased recently and some have come my way as Christmas presents. Here is my final list.

Charlie Chaplin by Peter Ackroyd.

Peter wrote an excellent book about one of my writing heroes, Charles Dickens and I felt that this book was going to be in the same sort of mould. Long, intense and full of detail. Actually it’s a pretty slim volume and not the intense scrutiny of Chaplin that I was expecting. However, on the credit side, it’s a thoughtful and detailed look at Chaplin, his movies and his personal life and a cracking read it is too. One hundred years ago Chaplin was the most famous man in the world. I’m not sure who would qualify for that title today as despite global communications and the Internet age, the world is separated by many different languages and cultures. A hundred years ago there was no language barrier for Chaplin, and his silent films with their universal language of comedy, went all the way round the globe and he was as famous in countries such as Russia or Africa as he was in Europe or the USA.

Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth by Gitta Sereny.

This is a classic of World War 2 literature and concerns Albert Speer who was Hitler’s architect and then rose quickly in the ranks of the Nazi hierarchy to become Armaments Minister. He was spared the fate of hanging at the Nuremberg trials after admitting that the Nazi leadership, himself included, should take responsibility for the crimes of the Third Reich. What is interesting about the Nazi years is the way Hitler himself seemed to entrance people by the power of his personality. Much has been written about his speeches to the Nazi faithful and the many Nazi rallies of the 20’s and 30’s and yet, looking back at archive film, he looks to be almost something of a madman. However, those who attended the rallies speak of his almost magnetic power as an orator. Speer himself was surprised at first seeing Hitler speak because the speech he heard that day was about unifying Germany, bringing back employment and pride to the German worker, not about death to the Jews. It struck a chord with Speer and he began to follow him. It was the same with many people and as is pointed out in this book, had Hitler died in 1937, he would perhaps have gone down in history as a great German, not the mass murderer he turned out to be. There is an embarrassment among Germans of Speers’ generation; a feeling of how could Hitler have lied to them, how could he have done those terrible things? Something repeated many times is the feeling ‘if only the Führer knew! The fact is, Hitler did know but did Speer know too? An answer, of sorts, is the conclusion to the book.

One of the great aspects of this book is that the author’s journey into Speer’s life is a personal journey and one she shares with the reader. In the final pages we hear about how the author returns home after a weekend away and sees her telephone answering machine winking with various messages. The first one is a message from Speer himself, saying he was in London for a BBC interview and wondered if Gitta and her husband wanted to meet up. The next message is one from a television news company asking her to comment on the death of Speer!

Bleak House by Charles Dickens.

David Copperfield is my favourite Dickens book and one of my favourite books ever but I’ve had difficulty getting into Dickens’ other books. I gave up on the Pickwick Papers, although I liked Oliver Twist and Great Expectations but that’s about it. Hope this will be a good read especially as it’s the only novel I have brought.

The Life of Noel Coward by Cole Lesley.

I do love biographies and this memoir of Noel Coward’s life looks good. One of the reviewers quoted on the back cover says reading this is like ‘a holiday in a rented Rolls!’ One aspect of the earlier part of the book -I’m only partway through as I write this- is Coward’s visits to Manchester where he stayed at the Midland hotel when he was in his late teens. Even then he was a self assured young man about town and on the verge of fame. He charmed many of the rich and famous of the time and was always in demand as a country manor guest for weekends at home or abroad. Noel was a man who liked to travel, especially after a long spell of hard work, and he liked, at times, to travel alone. Indeed, the author quotes from a poem by Noel which reads in part; ‘ When the dream is ended and passion has flown, I  travel alone.’ Noel always took with him on holiday a portable typewriter, lined foolscap writing pads, and his ‘bursting’ book bag. This apparently contained the latest good novels, two or three classics and always Roget’s Thesaurus and Clement Wood’s Rhyming Dictionary.  Not a bad choice! I look forward to reading more about the witty Noel Coward and his life.

The Collected Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker.

Dorothy Parker was a jazz age writer and she chronicled the decadent twenties and thirties in her witty stories and reviews. Born in 1893 Parker sold her first poem to Vanity Fair magazine in 1914 and was then engaged by the magazine to write captions for fashion photographs and drawings. She later became drama critic for Vanity Fair and the central figure of the famous Algonquin Hotel Round Table, a group of celebrated authors and writers. I’ve already had a glance through the first few short stories and they look very well observed and entertaining so far.

Those are my January holiday books. Check out the video version of this post below!


If you are already planning for your holidays don’t neglect your reading matter. Why not take a copy of ‘Floating In Space’ along? Click the links at the top of the page or click on the icon below . .

Floating in Space

Why I wrote a Novel and 10 Reasons Why You Should Buy It!

Why write a book? Why indeed. Why would anyone want to spend months, or in my case years, writing a book? There is so much to it, and so much involved. It’s so difficult and once done writers are instantly faced with another question; why would anyone want to spend a lot of their hard earned money buying it?

Screenshot 2015-02-08 15.55blog title ed2Well, to start with the writing part first. Why write? The answer is easy for me because I’ve always wanted to be a writer, I write for me, for my own personal pleasure and enjoyment and if anyone reads my work, well that’s just a bonus!

I love reading and I love movies and TV, and remember; before a word can be filmed on a movie, we need a script, and scripts need writers! As long as I can remember I’ve always had ideas forming in my head: Scenarios and stories, and I’ve always written them down. My home is full of old notebooks and computer files littered with half started stories and story ideas. When I was a school boy I used to write scripts and always noted down who would play the character on screen but looking back at one of them in particular, I think my producers would have been hard pushed to attract Steve McQueen to play a secret agent based in Manchester!

So there it is; I write because I want to, and because my imagination is at work churning out ideas randomly. Some time ago though, I looked at the things I was writing and felt that in order to be saying something worthwhile I had to turn away from sci fi and espionage and write about the life that was right in front of me, working class life in Manchester and the North West of England. I’ve spun a story in my book ‘Floating In Space’ that was more observation than anything; a northern world from the late seventies recreated not necessarily with accuracy but pretty much how I remember it. Buses with bus conductors, pubs and barmaids, music and beer, and men and women and their attraction to each other. I suppose it’s a bit of a flashback to fiction from an earlier generation. Remember those working class ‘kitchen sink dramas’ from the late fifties and early sixties, things like ‘A Kind Of loving’ and ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’? Floating In Space is similar to those works but set in the late seventies and I’ve tried to recreate the atmosphere of the pubs and bars of those times, especially the busman’s working men’s club, as well as I can.

The answer then is that I like to write, in fact I love writing and as I have said so often before, my blog gives me a taste, be it ever so small, of being a real writer and putting something together every week for my deadline, my one weekly deadline of Saturday morning.
Next question: So why should you buy it? Why should you shell out your hard earned cash to read my book when you can go out and buy the two classics mentioned above straight away for a guaranteed wonderful read?
Well, here are a few reasons:

1. Support new writers! If we don’t support new and up and coming writers then the publishing industry will die on its feet and what are we hungry readers going to read then?
2. The Kindle version is just over a pound so surely it’s worth taking a chance for a measly one pound ten pence!
3. You might just enjoy it!
4. Think about me up there in the rainy north of England! Who is going to support me if you don’t buy my book?
5. Still unsure? Why not go to the Floating In Space page here and check out some more information?
6. Even better, check out this video of me talking about my book!
7. For two unbiased, impartial reviews go to my amazon page here! (No they absolutely were not written by two of my mates who had been plied with alcohol!)
8. For a little taster have a look at this excerpt when two of the characters visit an Oxford Road pub!
9. I’ll be upset if you don’t buy it!
10. After all the months and years of writing, editing and re-editing, would you really deny a new writer the chance to be heard?

Anyway, that’s your ten reasons, so why not buy the book: Click the picture below!

FIScoverbuynow

The Writer’s Guide to Mobile Phone Calls!

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s funny how mobile phones have literally changed the world. In fact it’s hard to remember a time when we didn’t have them. Off the top of my head I really don’t know what the last mobile free year was and to find out I’ve had to do a google search. The first mobile phone service started in 1983 in, well, where else? The USA. It wasn’t until 1992 that the UK had consumer mobile phones on sale. I remember buying one of the very first ones round about then, it was a motorola personal phone which was a pretty big device and seemed to use its charge up pretty quickly.
The first text message was sent in 1992 and the first camera phone appeared in 2000 with picture messaging available from 2002.

I love my mobile. It isn’t a smart phone but it does everything I need it to do. It has wi-fi which I hardly ever use. It has a camera which is a must for me as I’m always taking snapshots with it. My mobile also has a little memory card with some of my favourite music tracks so I can just plug in my headphones and it’s ideal for whiling away the time on that long train journey. Certain things about mobiles are annoying though and here are a couple of the main ones.

MobileQueuing up at a supermarket till and the woman in front is just about to pay then she decides to answer the mobile phone ringing in her pocket. Is it a vital call? Is it of major importance? No, it’s her mate calling up for a chit chat but all of us in the queue have to wait while she carries on chatting as if she has all the time in the world. I’m at the point of saying “We’re all wanting to pay and get off home!” when someone behind me shouts “We’re all wanting to pay and get off home! Put that f***ing phone down!” The lady appears shocked to hear this but we are all highly fed up of her, including the supermarket till lady.

Why is it that when a vital call is required in a TV soap, the soap star in question has left their mobile behind or is out of battery or even just doesn’t bother to answer? Soap writers just can’t get their heads round mobiles! They are just a plot busting device so what do they do? Characters leave them behind, run out of battery or just plain ignore their phones. Sorry, that just doesn’t happen in real life. Take a look around you in any public place. People are glued to their mobiles!
The other day my phone was ringing and when I looked it was an unknown number. Now, and this is another great thing about mobile phones, you can see who’s calling you! Great stuff! Don’t want to deal with a call from the ex – just don’t answer her!
Called a sickie in to work and your boss rings you in the pub? Leg it into the toilet, put on a croaky voice and say to the boss, “Can’t talk at the moment, I’m really poorly!”

Now normally I wouldn’t necessarily answer an unknown caller after all, it’s bound to be some plonker trying to sell you double glazing but; and here’s the thing about writing and trying to get stuff published, I’ve currently got quite a bit of product ‘out there’ sent to publishers, magazines, and producers, all with my name, address and mobile number displayed prominently so I could not afford to miss that call. I was particularly hoping to hear from a radio drama producer who had looked at a radio play I’d written and had not rejected it out of hand but liked it and wanted to look at the next draft. Well, I wasn’t really contemplating a next draft; I thought the piece was pretty much ok as it was, in fact, I was pretty pleased with it. Here’s what I’d done, I’d taken all my nerdy knowledge as a self-confessed conspiracy theorist, written something about –not the JFK assassination but the RFK shooting, re-invented it as the shooting of a British MP, set it in Manchester and thrown in a lot of speculation about organised crime and MI5 and stuff and thought I’d arrived with something pretty good.
Anyway, you can imagine my feeling when my mobile was ringing. I very briefly imagined a scenario where the radio producer was offering me a lot of money, asking me about who I wanted to play the main characters; did I need a car to pick me up for the rehearsals and what about the recording day? Was the 20th a suitable date? Well, I’m sure you’ve got the picture, anyway, so I pressed the answer button on the phone and here’s what happened; I thought I’d put it in script format just so you can really get a feeling for the scene:

(INTERIOR DAY, STEVE HIGGINS IS AT HOME, WATCHING TV.)
(FX: MOBILE RINGING.)
STEVE: Hello.
CALLER: Is that Steve Higgins?
STEVE: Yes, speaking.
CALLER: Steve, have you ever considered replacing the windows of your house?
STEVE: (APPREHENSIVELY) Well, actually, no I haven’t. .
CALLER: Well here at the Acme window company we have chosen you exclusively to receive a very special discount offer of 45 percent when you replace the window frames of your house with our fully guaranteed hi tech replacement double glazed windows and frames made from hyper glass, our new and exclusive new-
(CLOSE UP OF MOBILE AS STEVE ENDS THE CALL. CUT TO DISAPPOINTED LOOK ON STEVE’S FACE; FADE OUT)

Writing isn’t particularly easy but it’s something I’ve always done and have always loved. The end product is usually its own reward but like any writer it’s great to have your work get somewhere and be read by others. That’s why I so love the digital age. Every time I publish something on wordpress and get some tiny comment back or even just the odd ’like’ it’s a great feeling.
Just going back to the radio producer and his request for another draft it just reminded me about screenwriter William Goldman’s book, Adventures in the Screen Trade. Goldman tells how it’s fine to get your script finished but then the producer always wants another draft and then the star steps in, he wants a new draft and he doesn’t like it when his character does this, he thinks the character should do that so can we have another draft and then he drops out and the new star likes the script only he doesn’t think that should happen so, can we have another draft please . .The day I actually get to hear my characters on the radio investigating the shooting of my fictional MP I’ll be overjoyed but I have a feeling that if the script ever gets produced, someone other than myself will have had a hand in the proceedings.

Anyway, just to finish, here’s my favourite mobile story. Many years ago when I was working as a bus driver in Warrington, I was at the wheel of my bus but had got stuck in a queue of traffic just as we were approaching Warrington bus station. I picked up one of my fellow drivers who had nipped out on his break and popped into the shops. We were talking about a nutter who travelled on our buses and chatted to all the drivers. Now some nutters are pretty nice people when you get to know them but some are the bane of a bus driver’s life! I didn’t really care for this particular guy so I tended not to let him on my bus if I could help it. By coincidence we saw the same guy just then, walking along towards the bus station and my friend said, “go on, pick him up.” Well we were stuck in a traffic queue going nowhere so I opened the doors and let him on. I don’t quite remember how this nutter looked but he did have a kind of Lara Croft thing strapped to his leg.
“What is that?” I asked him.
“That’s me mobile phone,” he said and pulled out a big 1990s style mobile. “I love it,” he said. “You can have loads of fun with it.”
“Fun? In what way?”
“Well,” he said, “watch this.”
Now in the next lane there was a tatty old builders van with a mobile number painted on the rear doors and behind it was a very smart Jaguar driven by a very posh chap wearing a suit and tie.
The nutter dialled the builder’s number and when the call was answered said something like this;
“That bloody van of yours is a disgrace! I’m sat behind you in the traffic and your engine fumes are bloody choking me! Get that great heap off the bloody road!” Then he cut the builder off.
Nothing happened for a moment then the builder, a man with a physique not unlike that of the incredible hulk, squeezed himself out of his van and walked back to the Jaguar.
Just then the lights changed and we drove off. I’ve always wondered what happened next but if you ever get a phone call like that in Warrington check that there isn’t a guy with a mobile phone strapped to his leg in something like Lara Croft’s dagger sheath nearby!


If you liked this blog, then why not read my book?  Click the icon below to go to my Amazon page!

Floating in Space

What happens when classic TV gets remade?

. . . Or perhaps more importantly, why does classic TV get remade? Why not just let sleeping TV classics lie? What! When there’s more money to be made! The thing about classic TV is that people know what it’s about. When they made Mission Impossible into a movie with Tom Cruise we all knew that somewhere in the movie Cruise would get to listen to a recording giving him some impossible mission with the reminder that ‘if any of your people are caught or killed, the secretary will disavow knowledge of your actions!’ The PR man’s job is half done already, done by the collective TV memory of millions of people who watched the TV series. Recently movie producers did the impossible, re created (re-imagined to use movie-speak) Kirk, Spock, and Scotty from the original Star Trek. The first was a pretty good movie, the second, Into Darkness, I wasn’t so keen on. Someone must have liked it though because director JJ Abrams has now been recruited to inject new life into the Star Wars franchise.

Every day the more visible you are on the internet the more stuff comes into your inbox. Some of it is unwanted, TAG_Teaser_Email_05_asome of it is junk but occasionally you get something pretty interesting. I recently received this picture to the left and a week later the video link below. Looks like there is a new version of Thunderbirds in the offing. As a school kid I was brought up on Gerry Anderson’s TV productions. I vaguely remember Four Feather Falls, a cowboy puppet show, but then came Supercar, Stingray and Thunderbirds, all part of Gerry’s vision of the future. What was great about Gerry’s TV shows was that they were aimed at kids but all had a serious adult perspective. They didn’t look down at kids, they treated children more as future adults. Supercar, Stingray and Fireball XL5 were all thirty minute shows but Thunderbirds was a full hour and many of the episodes were serious and complex. One episode entitled the ‘cham cham’ was about a musical code written into a song and it was up to Lady Penelope, the Thunderbirds London agent, to get to the bottom of things. Another Lady Penelope episode that comes to mind was ‘Vault of Death’ in which an employee is trapped in the vault of the Bank of England and the international rescue guys try to save the man before the oxygen runs out. Of course it is Parker, Penelope’s chauffeur, manservant, and former safe cracker who manages to open the vault with a hairpin!

Scott Tracy Thunderbird 1 pilot

Scott Tracy Thunderbird 1 pilot

Sylvia Anderson, Gerry’s wife, was the voice of Lady Penelope and Sylvia always had a credit on the shows for characterisation. It was always the characters that brought the shows to life, not just the incredible Thunderbirds craft launching from under the swimming pool or other hidden places. Gerry and Sylvia went on to make live action shows like UFO and Space 1999 before they had an acrimonious split. Later Gerry tried for a comeback children’s show with Terrahawks but without Sylvia’s characterisations the show didn’t really hit the mark.

Anyway, I do wonder how the guys from this new series targeted me. I must have left something somewhere, some random cookie in cyberspace that let the marketing people know that I used to watch Thunderbirds years ago. Well, I’m not ashamed to say that I did and I also subscribed to the Gerry Anderson comic TV21 and built a plastic kit version of Thunderbird One. Hope the new series lives up to the old one, although I seriously doubt it. Anyway, if today’s kids don’t enjoy the new Thunderbirds, they can catch the classic original on DVD!

By the way, if you enjoyed this post then why not buy my book?

FIScoverbuynow

 

The Lost Worlds of ‘Floating In Space.’

Have you ever read that book by Arthur C Clarke, ‘The Lost Worlds of 2001′? It’s a great book and from a writers point of view a great idea. What Clarke does is take all the unused and discarded material from his book 2001 A Space Odyssey and put it into this book. It shows you the development of the story, how it evolved, the input from Stanley Kubrick, the director of the movie version, and he shows us the different directions the book could have taken and all the avenues that were removed from the finished book. It’s a great idea for a writer because all that work on all those unused pages can now be used. On top of that it shows others how a story evolves, especially when working with someone like Kubrick who had ideas he wanted to incorporate into his film.

In writing Floating In Space I also had a considerable stack of pages I didn’t use. Here’s something that took the main character, Stuart, away from life as a bus driver and went on to see him as a cigarette vending machine man.

I have never understood what people see in cigarettes or what people want from them. Imagine it’s hot, and you’ve been on a long walk or stuck in an over heated car and you’re dying, yes literally dying for a drink and as the cool, cold, liquid; water, beer, or fizzy pop or whatever pours into your mouth the relief flows over you like, well like water. Yes, I get that. I understand it I, but people who tell me they are dying for a ciggy, well, I just don’t get that at all. Those who suck on the noxious fumes of a cigarette and draw them in deeply, well, I suppose it must give them some sort of relief or comfort but am I missing something? Especially when those same fumes can actually kill you? I mean have you ever looked at a packet of cigarettes? I mean really looked? Tobacco contains diesel fumes and other chemicals. Your sperm count may be affected? Incredible that these white sticks of death are so sought after in this society, and also that of course, I sell them.

My phone is ringing for the second time today. It’s the girl from the Bulls Head, a pub set in the country, not that far in the country but far enough for the landlady, a heavy smoker who relentlessly uses the ciggy machine despite the incredible prices it demands, to go into a near fit when the machine conks out.

Betty has left two messages already about her machine not working and she knows I get the messages but she needs reassurance that help, and nicotine is on the way.

“Betty, Stuart here, the ciggy man-”

“Stuart, where are you? The machine conked out last night and I need it fixing. You know there’s no shops around here and now the garage has shut down we can’t get any ciggys!”

“Relax Betty, I’ll be there tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow! Tomorrow! Stuart we can’t wait that long. You know what the customers are like. Stuart you have got to be here today. You’ve got to!”

“All right Betty, relax, relax, I’ll be there later don’t worry.”

“Well, what time? What time Stuart?”

“Betty, I’ve got to go, I’ve got another call coming in. See you later!”

“Stu-”

And I’m gone. I have to give her the chop because otherwise I’d be there all day. And I’ve got more machines to fill, more sticks of death to give out because that’s me, that’s what I do –I’m the ciggy man.

They recently changed my van, a Ford Transit to a Mercedes Sprinter. It’s not great but it’s fast and comfy and I like the air conditioning that keeps me cool. I’ve just done three calls fast and furious. Shoot in, count the machine, shove in a load of ciggys, take out the cash and I’m gone but now I’m ready for a break. I know I’m on for a brew at the Stanley but I’ll just stop in here in the Lodge and hope the manageress is in instead of her miserable husband the manager and no I won’t get a brew but the manageress is so gorgeous that I like to make time to talk to her.

Inside through the main entrance, a quick hello to the girl on reception “Hi” I say easily.

“Any freebies?” Asks the young girl with a friendly smile.

“Next week,” I say and she laughs and says I always say that -because I do and I never give her any but then I’ve no intentions of doing that, not when every loss, even one packet goes out of my wages.

I go through into the pub and it’s just the bar maid who’s a bit of a misery and never has much to say but after a moment when I’m engrossed in counting the machine and entering the figures on to the hand held computer I carry, I suddenly smell that lovely perfume of Jan the manageress and here she is coming over to see me.

“Hi, not seen you for ages how are you?”

“All the better for seeing you. Nine thirty in the morning and you look so gorgeous. I can’t believe it.”

“Gorgeous? I’m a wreck. Look at the bags under my eyes!”

Now she’s mentioned the bags under her eyes to me a hundred times before and it’s obviously some sort of an issue with her. Perhaps that misery of a husband has mentioned it to her and now she’s getting paranoid about it because that’s what women do. They focus on some small insignificant thing and let it ruin their lives. I went out with one girl years ago and she was obsessed with her bum. Always checking it in the mirror, always worrying about it and yet, her behind was a lovely curved behind that worked well with her legs and all her other bits and pieces.

Jan is tall, about thirty-five, fortyish: Lovely thick brown hair all flowing and slightly curly. The sort of hair that you’d love to put your hands through. She’s always well dressed, today wearing a loose shirt with a sort of floral design and a matching knee length skirt, not flowery but with the same sort of purply colours.

“Bags? What bags? What bags are you on about? You’d have bags if you had a job like this, running around with a shed load of cash and cigarettes worrying about all the villains in Liverpool who are probably lying in wait for me somewhere.”

She laughs and it’s a nice warm laugh and I think she was going to run off after a quick word but I’ve got her now. She’s got lovely eyes and I wonder what she’s doing with that misery of a husband she’s got. Have I mentioned him? A right misery.

“Where’s your husband?” I ask. “I haven’t seen him for a while.”

She smiles and says “Tony? He’s my partner not my husband.”

Your partner? You’re not married?” Well, this is news to me, in fact the best news I’ve had this week. My mobile phone is ringing and I take a quick glance and see it’s the Bulls Head again and I just reject the call quickly and Jan says “you should have taken that, don’t mind me,” but I do mind her and the news about Tony is good news.

I hang on to her for a while but then she’s off and I fill up the machine, take out the cash, and I’m ready to go. “Put plenty of Marlboro lights in,” she had said because that’s what she smokes which is a shame because I hate women who smoke but as it’s her I’m going to make an exception and yes, I did put in more Marlboro Lights, the sticks of death she prefers.

As I drove away I caught her eye as she signed for some delivery on the steps of reception and she smiled and I thought about how much I liked her and desired her and yet I’d just delivered her drugs of choice.

Round the corner at the Stanley it was time for a brew. The landlady was a young girl called Julie and she was nice, in fact she was very fit indeed. She did a lot of jogging and it was nice to watch her when she filled in for the cleaners on their holidays and she did the hoovering wearing a tee shirt and no bra and it was lovely to watch but she didn’t have the ‘oomph’ factor if you know what I mean.

On the other hand there’s this cleaner there, Marge, who’s in her mid to late fifties and she is so gorgeous it’s not true. Did I say fifties? Me, fancying a woman in her fifties? I can’t believe it myself sometimes but all I do in here is chat and sup tea and eventually Julie who must be watching on cameras or something will come down and we’ll have to get a move on and break up the party. I’m always sorry to say good-bye to Marge. She has the trim figure of a girl in her teens, a lovely warm inviting smile and all she really needs to look a million dollars is for someone to sort out her mop of untidy hair and give her some exciting clothes. Still, she’s a cleaner and she not likely to wear her best outfit for cleaning is she? When I’m ready to leave we stand at the door for a couple of minutes of last minute chit chat and when she’s in close it’s all I can do to stop putting my arms around her and holding her. She’s always on about her partner so I don’t think for a minute she’d be interested in me but the thought is always there and it’s a nice thought. A nice thought to hold on to when you’re feeling lonely and unloved as I sometimes do.

Anyway I go on and on, filling the ciggy machines, having a chat here and there and having a brew here and there. Some pubs you can’t wait to get out of and others I could stay all day.

I pulled the van out of Prescot and cantered up the short stretch of motorway to the Bulls Head. The Bulls Head is in the country; well, in a way but it’s in the start of the country, ten minutes from the M62 motorway, ten minutes’ walk from a small row of shops where you can buy cigarettes; full packets of cigarettes not vending machine packs with sixteen or eighteen cigarettes but no, this customer wanted my cigarettes, my overpriced and under packed cigarettes.

I was listening to Perry Como on my van’s tape deck. Perry Como? I can hear you say, well, I like everything musical except for rap and opera. Sometimes I play rock, hard or soft, sometimes soul, sometimes dance. Sometimes I even play classical stuff like Handel and Strauss.

Just as I pulled up to the Bulls Head I could see Betty waiting. She opened up the emergency exit meaning I wouldn’t have to go all the way round and as I stepped in with my keys and tool box she had the £5.20 in her hands for a packet of Lambert and Butler.

“I though you’d be here ages ago,” She said, anxiously.

“Wasn’t in the area Betty. I had to finish me work in Prescot then drive over.”

“I’ve been in all day. You could’ve come any time.”

“Don’t worry. I’m here now.”

You’d think it was the doctor, coming to see a sick child or something. Instead it’s me. Here to fix the ciggy machine.

The minute I had the locks off and the door of the machine open she was over with her money.

“Here. Twenty Lambert.”

I took the money and slipped her a packet of the life givers.

“Eighteen Lambert,” I corrected her.

“Eighteen,” she muttered as she slit the cellophane with her fingernail and took out a cigarette. “Robbin’ bastards. At least its eighteen. Most packets in that machine you only get sixteen! Why don’t you get twenty? Why can’t they put twenty in? I wouldn’t mind paying five pound twenty for twenty but eighteen! -Robbin’ gets!”

She stuck the cigarette between her lips and lit it quickly in one smooth action slipping the lighter from her hand and back and into her jeans pocket while she breathed in the life giving aroma. The white stick nestled in between her fingers and made the natural trip to her lips frequently. She cradled the white stick feeling it’s warmth, watching it settle in her fingers and develop its comforting grey ash.

It seemed to me that many smokers take on the pallor of ash. Their skin becoming grey, ashen and wasted and people like me could spot them a mile away.

Betty had a nice figure and wore a denim shirt and denim pants. She had big round eyes and with a bit of effort she could be nice. I often wondered what he would be like dressed up for a night out. Not that I could really stand to be near her as she smoked ciggy after ciggy.

“We need a new machine in here you know. If that one’s gonna start packing in like this every five minutes. We’re out in the middle of nowhere here you know. No shops. No nothing.”

What she would have done if she were living in the real middle of nowhere, somewhere like the highlands of Scotland I do not know but already the tobacco was doing it’s work calming her, easing her. She came and leant on the bar folding her arms and watching the workings of the machine with her warm round eyes.

“Look,” I said. “Torn up beer mat. Some plonker’s torn up a beer mat and stuffed it down the coin chute. Probably kids. Do you let kids in here at the weekends?”

“Little bastard! I know who it was. I’ll kill the little toe rag and his Mum when they come in tonight! No ciggys since Sunday afternoon!”

“It’ll be good for you. A break from the ciggys for a while. Do a bit of joggin’, get some nice clean air in your lungs. Come back here for a few carrot sticks and a low fat dip. You should think about you health more.”

Betty laughed and told me the story she had told me a hundred times before about all the people who smoked in her family, like her grandad who lived to be 86 and her dad who’s as fit as a fiddle and how they all smoke non stop.

“Are you rushing off or do you want a brew?”

Now take tea, there’s something that’s good for you, something worth waiting for. I never say no to a brew.


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Blogging the Blog

quotescover-JPG-15So just what makes us bloggers and why do we blog?

Well, if you write something, it stands to reason you will want someone to read it. It’s deep in the psyche, this need to communicate and express yourself but bloggers blog for a number of reasons. One is that we have a particular interest or passion that we just have to talk about. It might be a sporting interest or a hobby that we love. It could be a love of poetry or books.

If you spend a lot of your free time cycling for instance you might want to indulge your love of this hobby by writing about it and discussing cycling issues or sharing information and tips about cycles. I subscribe to a lot of blogs about my favourite sport, F1 racing, as well as blogs about writing and my favourite movie directors for instance.

Another reason for blogging is to promote a business. There are many photographer blogs on the web, some are from amateurs who want others to see and comment on their work, some are by professionals who are actively promoting themselves and their business.

Authors are frequent bloggers, perhaps because publishing has been turned on it’s head by the internet and the digital revolution. No longer must we writers wait for the publisher to find us, we can get our work out there straight away and build up an Internet presence which in turn benefits our self published works. Whether self publishing is a good thing I’m not so sure. I feel that personally I’ve rushed a little too quickly down the self publishing route but the experience has been good for me. I’m well aware of the state of my manuscript and it’s grammatical errors and I’m well on the way to sorting that.

I have to say also that the print version of Floating In Space will shortly have finished it’s re sizing and grammatical revisions and will be ready to hit the market soon. Blogging for me is primarily to promote my work but I do love writing and I do love writing my little blog. One good thing about blogging is that it gets the creative juices flowing. It gets you thinking, what can I write about? What can I write about next time? So far the ideas have kept on coming and I’ve got six or seven draft blogs in the pipeline although I have to say two have them have been there so long I think they may be heading for the trash file shortly.

popartpic1edQuite a few people have asked me about my novel. What’s it about? is a frequent question. Well, it’s set in the late 1970’s and it’s about a young man in South Manchester and his small group of friends. He goes from working in an insurance company to finding himself as a bus conductor in a short space of time and the background to the book tells us about life in the seventies: Music, drink, pubs and Mancunian night life.

Is it a science fiction book? No it isn’t.

Why is it called ‘Floating In Space’ then? Click the links at the top of the page for more information or, buy the book and all will be revealed!

The CIA and Life through a Purple Lens.

Photographic_lenses_front_viewMany years ago when I was a bus conductor it was pretty easy to spot the fare fiddlers. They would never look directly at you. As I strolled down the bus asking for ‘any more fares please’ I knew who had paid and who hadn’t, after all, I had usually just watched them get on the bus. One scruffy guy got on one day and went straight down the bus, sat down and set a fixed gaze out of the window. Ok, I was chatting to other passengers at the time but I still knew he was new to the bus and I wanted his money.

“Fares please”, I called. Nothing. So then I turned directly to him and asked “I don’t think I’ve had your fare mate?” He finally turned away from the window.

“Where are you going to?”

“Levenshulme” he said.

“Thirty five pence please.” The guy thought for a minute, reached into his pocket and pulled out a can of soup.

“Can I pay with this?” He asked. The answer was no. He was asked to leave. After all it was pea and ham soup, tomato might have been another matter.

Here’s an extract from my book ‘Floating In Space’ that deals with another odd ball passenger;

A harassed looking girl boarded in Stockport. There was something about her that I couldn’t put my finger on. She asked for a single to Manchester and did I require identification?

“Identification?” I asked.

“Only I don’t have my credentials on me at the moment. I’ve got to be careful.”

“Careful of what?”

“Well my boyfriend’s a nuclear arms salesman. I’m being watched by the CIA and God knows who else. MI5 have probably got the scent by now.”

“Right, we’ll keep a low profile then.”

“Probably best if you know what I mean.”

She was a Nutter.

“What was that all about?” asked Milligan, my driver, when I went back up to the front of the bus.

“Nutter” was all I had to say.

“That’s the 189 you see Stu. Used to be a hell of a lot of them on this route. Quietened down a lot lately, oh yes.”

The rest of the trip was pretty unremarkable. When we finally reached Albert Square in the city centre the nutter came storming towards me down the centre aisle and yelled at the top of her voice “If my boyfriend’s not a nuclear arms salesman then how did I get CIA Clearance?”

She charged through the open door and on into Manchester. An old chap behind her departing at a much slower and more sensible pace said, “Answer that one then!”

You can read more about life on the buses in Manchester in my book Floating In Space.

One final nutter to finish with; There used to be a guy who never boarded our bus but spent his time hurtling through the traffic on his bike cutting up cars and buses alike. How he was never ran over I do not know. My colleagues had dubbed him simply ‘the Levenshulme Nutter.’

One day, years later when I made been promoted from bus conducting to the lofty heights of bus driver, I was driving through Levenshulme on the 192 service when the Levenshulme nutter cut across me and I nearly ran him over. I stopped next to him at the traffic lights, opened my window to give him some abuse then, noticing his outsize spectacles with their purple lenses said, instead “I like your glasses!”

He popped the glasses up on his head and said “Yes, but it’s the man behind that counts!” And cycled away. I never saw him again.


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Unknown Numbers and Taking That Call.

The other day my phone was ringing and when I looked it was an unknown number. MobileNow, normally I wouldn’t necessarily answer an unknown caller but, and here’s the thing about writing and trying to get stuff published, I’ve currently got quite a bit of product ‘out there’ sent to publishers, magazines, and producers, all with my name, address and mobile number displayed prominently so I could not afford to miss that call. I was particularly hoping to hear from a radio drama producer who had looked at a radio play I’d written and had not rejected it out of hand but liked it and wanted to look at the next draft. Well, I wasn’t really contemplating a next draft, I thought the piece was pretty much ok as it was, in fact, I was pretty pleased with it. Here’s what I’d done, I’d taken all my nerdy knowledge as a self-confessed conspiracy theorist, written something about –not the JFK assassination but the RFK shooting, re-invented it as the shooting of a British MP, set it in Manchester and thrown in a lot of speculation about organised crime and MI5 and stuff and thought I’d arrived with something pretty good.

Anyway, you can imagine my feeling when my mobile was ringing. I very briefly imagined a scenario where the radio producer was offering me a lot of money, asking about who I wanted to play the main characters, did I need a car to pick me up for the rehearsals and the recording day? Was the 20th a suitable date? Well, I’m sure you’ve got the picture, anyway, so I pressed the answer button on the phone and here’s what happened; I thought I’d put it in script format just so you can really get the feeling.

(INTERIOR DAY, STEVE HIGGINS IS AT HOME, WATCHING TV.)

(FX: MOBILE RINGING.)

STEVE

Hello.

CALLER

Is that Steve Higgins?

STEVE

Yes, speaking.

CALLER

Are you the same Steve Higgins that has just registered the domain name stevehigginslive.com ?

STEVE

(APPREHENSIVELY)Yes . . .

CALLER

Well I represent a new web design company and for a small fee we can completely re design your site and actively promote it and-

 

(CUT TO DISAPPOINTED LOOK ON STEVE’S FACE; FADE OUT)

 

Writing isn’t particularly easy but it’s something I’ve always done and have always loved. The end product is usually its own reward but like any writer it’s great to have your work get somewhere and be read by others. That’s why I so love the digital age. Every time I publish something on wordpress and get some tiny comment back or even just the odd ’like’ it’s a great feeling.

Just going back to the radio producer and his request for another draft it just reminded me about screenwriter William Goldman’s book, Adventures in the Screen Trade. Goldman tells how it’s fine to get your script finished but then the producer always wants another draft and then the star steps in, he wants a new draft and he doesn’t like it when his character does this, he thinks the character should do that so can we have another draft and then he drops out and the new star likes the script only he doesn’t think that should happen so, can we have another draft please . .

The day I actually get to hear my characters on the radio investigating the shooting of my fictional MP I’ll be overjoyed.

Writing, blogging and the Power of Books.

Writing, Blogging and booksWhere ever I have lived or stayed there will always be a time when you will find me curled up in bed by the glow of my reading lamp, reading a good book. If I rewind all the way back to my childhood that is still where you will find me, with either a book or a comic. One of the first books I can remember reading was a book I got for Christmas, it was in two parts, one part was about the mythical King Arthur and the other about the legendary Robin Hood. I have been interested in both of those two people ever since, perhaps because of that book. King Arthur and his knights of the round table: Was there really a round table, was there a Camelot? Was there even a King Arthur or was it just the imagination of Sir Thomas Mallory who wrote the book Morte d’Arthur many years ago. Was there a man called Robin Hood? Well, those are just two stories that continue to fascinate me and are still with us in books and in the movies.

srfQGYLvEkOpm9pxXCkIUGTMhWN Errol Flynn played Robin in the wonderful ‘Adventures of Robin Hood’, Kevin Costner also played Robin in a more recent movie and when I was a schoolboy as well as reading about Robin I could rush home and watch the Robin Hood TV show with its cheery theme song ‘Robin Hood, Robin Hood riding through the glen’.

Reading stories like that is the catalyst that makes someone into a writer. It’s not enough to read a great story, you want to tell one too. I have been a writer as long as I can remember and if there is a pencil and a notebook handy I will write in it. As a TV obsessed child I invented numerous TV programmes, wrote scripts for the pilot shows and cast all the characters. I wrote stories too and English was always my favourite lesson at school. I do a great deal of writing in my car. Well, not the actual writing but the thinking anyway. I’ll get an idea and think about it then I’ll store it somewhere in my head and return to the theme on my next journey. I have an old dictation machine in my car, a small hand-held gadget with mini tapes and I frequently grab it and mutter something into it. When I get an idea that I don’t have time to stew over or even when some phrase or line of poetry comes to me that I think is worth hanging on to, it is quite a handy gadget to have.

I started this blog as a way of publicising my self-published kindle e-book but now I think I’m more interested in the blog than the book! Because of this blog I’m becoming more of a seasoned and professional writer. After all, if I was a professional journalist or columnist I would need to be thinking ahead, what’s happening in the world, what can I write about? What can I comment about? Now, just like a professional writer I’m looking ahead and I always have two or even three draft blogs in the pipeline. Whenever I’ve started to worry about what to write next, something has come to me and usually it’s a couple of related ideas that I can make into two separate blogs. Blogging is increasing my output as a writer and making me think more about my work. Yes, I’m actually becoming a proper writer!

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Personal Heroes and bonne sante

Picture courtesy wikipedia

Everyone has their heroes, writers perhaps more so than other people because it’s our personal heroes that inspire us or perhaps even make us want to write. I come from a working class area of Manchester called Wythenshawe and when I get a bit down and look at my pile of rejected screenplays, essays and novels that seems to get bigger monthly, I wonder if I will never make it to the big time as a writer. That’s when I think about four working class northern men who did make it big, who worked hard at their craft and had incredible success. They weren’t authors but musicians; the Beatles!

One hundred percent northern through and through, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr became the Beatles and didn’t just make it to the top of the hit parade they reinvented the pop music industry and their genius as both writers and performers will live on as long as music is listened to.

Many moons ago when I worked for a cigarette vending company I used to visit a small pub in Woolton and the owners of the pub were two retired ex shell tanker drivers. They were both friendly guys but one in particular was outgoing and talkative and if he was on duty at the bar we would always have a good chat while I sorted out the cigarette machine. One day we got onto the subject of the Beatles and Lennon’s working class background and I was surprised to hear that Lennon’s house was just around the corner. Woolton is a very pleasant middle class suburb of Liverpool and I remember thinking what? This is where Lennon was brought up? John Lennon always struck me as a typical working class guy and his image as a sort of working class hero led me to assume he had a background in a rough and tumble area of Liverpool, like the Dingle where Ringo was brought up. The truth was different. Perhaps Lennon fermented the working class hero thing, perhaps the fault was mine, I just assumed something without knowing the facts.

Driving round the corner I found Lennon’s old house, 251 Menlove Avenue. This was where Lennon lived with his aunt Mimi from the age of five. He was living here when he started his first band, the Quarrymen and also when he met Paul McCartney. Lennon’s life was one heck of a journey taking him around the world with the Beatles and finally to New York with Yoko Ono where he was shot and killed in 1980.

This blog is about personal heroes and I’ll introduce you to more of them in another blog but for now I’d like to finish by wandering off the subject and returning to that pub in Woolton.

I’m not totally sure but I think the pub was the Derby Arms and the owner, whose name I cannot remember told me a story about the death of his father. His father was an old chap, a veteran of the first world war and had picked up a habit in France of always having water with his meals and he would always raise his glass and toast ‘bonne sante’ to whoever he was with.
My friend went to visit him in hospital on his deathbed and asked the nurse how his was. ‘OK’ they replied ‘but a little dehydrated. Try and get him to drink a little water’
In the hospital ward the son passed a glass of water to his father’s lips and the father murmured ‘bonne sante’ before passing away.


So to all you who are reading, let me wish you ‘good health’ and if you enjoy my writing  why not take a look at my book. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.