Diana, Meghan, Nixon and Me

As I’ve mentioned in a number of blog posts, it’s not enough to simply write a book, you have to get out there and start to sell it. Marketing is the bane of any self-published author’s life. Videos, Tweets, Facebook posts and WordPress blogs; I’ve done them all endlessly trying to bring my two short books into the media spotlight and flog a few copies.

Now that the lockdown has eased, I thought that perhaps I should try something new. In a local freebie newspaper in my home town of Wythenshawe in Manchester, I noticed a small article about a local writer who had recently had his work published. I contacted the paper asking if they might be interested in writing about me. We exchanged a few emails and I told them how I had self-published Floating in Space and how Cyberwit publishing had approached me offering to publish a collection of my poems.

After a few emails that was apparently that and I heard nothing more until in my junk mail I spotted another follow up message saying that the paper might have enough space to write about me and did I have a picture of me with my poetry Book A Warrior of Words?

Quickly, with a speed I am not usually associated with I put on a smart shirt, grabbed a copy of Warrior, shoved a camera into Liz’s hands and got her to snap off a few pictures of me with my prized book.

I heard nothing back but while I was shopping at Asda, I saw a stack of the free paper The Local Voice and picked one up. To my surprise there I was, beaming at the camera on page 8 proudly displaying A Warrior of Words to the unsuspecting reader. If that small article will get me any new sales only time will tell. Until then I’ve put the order for my new Ferrari on hold. I have to say though that seeing my picture in the paper did give me a sense of pride, just like whenever someone presses the ‘like’ button on one of my posts. Writing gives me a sense of accomplishment and like everyone, the occasional pat on the back – or picture in the newspaper – gives me that feel good factor.

Just while I’m on the subject of newspapers I sometimes wonder how they have kept going during the digital revolution. Many years ago, I used to buy a newspaper every day. I’d read it on the way to work if I was travelling by bus or train. I’d read it on my break and do the small crossword and the word games, trying to find the nine-letter word and make as many smaller words as possible out of the letters. I’d even scan through the sports pages in case there was something in there about motor racing.

My mum and dad used to read the Manchester Evening News from front to back. Once, when scanning through the births, deaths and marriages section, she spotted the death of the mother of an old school friend, contacted the newspaper and as a result was able to meet up with her friend again.

Now I rarely buy a newspaper. I read them on the internet but whenever my quota of free news has been reached and I’m asked to pay to read more, I always decline. I can read the news on the BBC website for free as well as some excellent articles on the Guardian website so why should I pay? How do newspapers survive I wonder when people always go for the free option? Well, if you want to read quality journalism you have to pay for it and although many newspapers and magazines occasionally give you a snippet of an article for free, if you want regular content, they will always ask for a subscription. Even some of my favourite racing magazines like Motor Sport and Autosport are both now only available digitally.

I am happy to report though that one outlet of quality writing is still free, yes, you’ve guessed it, you’re reading it!

Advertising brought in a great deal of revenue for newspapers in the past, indeed motor car sales and estate agents must have funded most of the free newspapers we used to see but now specialised websites for property and motor cars have appeared and all that advertising revenue has been diverted to them. Nice to see that some free papers are coming back though, especially one with my picture inside!

Another spin off from that small item was a call from a local community radio station wanting to do an interview with me. Covid restrictions meant that I couldn’t go into the studio which was a pity because I did rather want to be invited inside. I could actually imagine myself as a DJ. I think the late night shift would suit me, playing chilled down music as the sun slips down, perhaps even mixing in some poetry and some chit chat to go with the tunes. Oh well, enough day dreaming. Denise, the local DJ and I had some introductory chat and went on to talk about my books. Unbeknown to Denise, I had just arisen from a dreadful night’s sleep, my arm and shoulder had been hurting and had kept me awake most of the night. I’d finally nodded off when it was time to get up and only just got to the phone at the agreed time for our telephone talk. I didn’t have time to crank up my laptop and access my notes, ready made in advance with useful hints about writing poetry and also about how Floating in Space took shape.

This was only the second time I’ve been interviewed so I’m hardly an expert. The first time ever was a few years ago on Salford City Radio and the DJ and I planned the interview in advance, in fact he asked me to give him a list of questions that he should ask me so I had my answers already rehearsed and also had a list of some facts and figures about blogging which I could quote when we got talking about that subject. That was a really interesting experience and I was able to bring my video camera and mini tripod along so I was able to make it into a YouTube video.

Afterwards I started looking at TV interviews in a different light, how rehearsed are they I wonder? Did Oprah give her questions to Harry and Meghan in advance? Did they give specific questions to Oprah to be asked on air? I was watching a documentary the other night about the late Patrick Swayze and he was interviewed on TV by a US TV host I’m not familiar with. His friend advised him to be careful because the host was known to ask questions that surprise the subject, even to the point of them crying. Swayze dismissed the advice but when they were on camera, the interviewer asked Swayze about his new ranch and his father who had just passed away. Swayze choked up straight away as it was his dad who had got him interested in horses and he had bought the ranch specifically for his dad to manage. That interviewer had certainly done her homework!

Which other TV interviews are remembered as classic ones? Well the two that immediately come to mind are the David Frost interviews with disgraced former President Richard Nixon and the famous Martin Bashir interview with Princess Diana. That latter interview has been in the news recently as it has been revealed that Martin Bashir apparently falsified various documents in order to get Diana on board with the project. Devious that may have been but clearly Diana had her own agenda which was to get her story over to the public and gain public support and sympathy. The quote most often associated with that interview was when Diana said ‘well there were three of us in this marriage so it was a bit crowded’ referring of course to Charles’ relationship with Camilla.

The Nixon interviews were really compelling watching and what was just as good was the film version Frost/Nixon which starred Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen as Frost. The film shows the background to the interviews, the financial stakes as well as the political ones and finally Nixon and Frost commence a verbal battle about Watergate in which Nixon makes his famous quote ‘when the President does it, that means it’s not illegal!’

When I came review it, my interview was not quite as interesting as the ones I have mentioned above but at least I remembered some of my prepared thoughts and managed to get them over. I am always impressed when on TV and in films, people just seem to press a button and their laptops are up and running. My laptop takes a lifetime to get going and my notes appeared just as I was saying goodbye. Anyway, the good thing was that as the interview was recorded, Denise, my interviewer, should be able to cut out all my mumbling ums and ahs and make me sound reasonably interesting.

Well, I hope so!


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Avatar and The Cycle of Life

I don’t know about you but this hasn’t been a great week for me. I started off with a bit of an ache in my right arm but when you are as ancient as me you get used to your body sending over these signals of age every so often. After a few days it became worse, a nagging ache that turned into a pain. As it happened, I’d had that pain before, in fact, I’d even written about it in a blog post. I was going to write about it again but there was the old blog post just aching to have new life breathed into it, to be rewritten, remodelled or repurposed as we blog writers like to say. After all, no work of art is ever finished, just abandoned. Of course, I do have a sore arm and it’s difficult to type at the moment but what the heck, anyone who knows me understands that at heart I’m just a lazy old codger and so instead of writing something new like a real writer, here’s what happened last time I had a sore shoulder.

2002 (ish)

Samsara, in the Buddhist way is the cycle of life; birth death and rebirth, represented by the circle. That circular vision of life is not always so easy to explain but let me tell you about it in my own way.

A long time ago, years ago in fact I had this really bad pain down my right arm. It didn’t get any better, in fact it got worse and worse so I called in for an appointment at the doctors’. I got to see Doctor Kowalski (as usual names have been changed to protect the innocent.) The thing with Doctor Kowalski was that anyone could see him any time because he wasn’t a doctor who was much in demand. Why not you might ask? No one really wanted to see him because all he wanted was to get you into his office and get you out again.
I sat down and the doctor smiled and asked ‘how can I help you?’
‘Well,’ I began, ‘It’s this pain down the side of my arm . .’
I stopped because Doctor Kowalski was already writing out a prescription. Already, and this was before he had examined me and before I had even finished speaking. Moments later I was on my way out of his surgery and the next patient was already on his way in. All I had to show for it was a prescription for pain killers.

Dr Kowalski must have looked good on the surgery stats as it looked like he dealt quickly with a lot of patients but as we all know, statistics don’t always tell the full story.

A few days later the pain was as bad as ever so I went back but I asked to see Doctor Edwards. Now Doctor Edwards was one of the most popular doctors in the surgery. Why? Because he actually listened to you! He was fully booked up for a while and it took me a week to get in to see him but when finally I sat down in his office, he listened attentively, asked a few questions, took a look at my arm and then sent me for an X ray. It turned out I had a nerve trapped in my neck which was referring pain to my arm and I needed to see the physiotherapist but the waiting time was about six weeks so I decided to go to a private physio.

2021

Anyway, back to 2021 and here I am finding that the only pain free position available is reclining on the couch. Ok I thought, as I’m in position anyway I might as well fire up the TV and slap a DVD in. What did I have that I hadn’t seen for a while? Well the DVD I chose was Avatar. A few years back I got into a conversation with Liz’s younger daughter about the great films of all time and the one she chose was Avatar. Yes, I said, but you’re probably not familiar with real great classic films like Sunset Boulevard, Citizen Kane, Casablanca or even The Godfather. No really, she said, watch Avatar, it’s amazing.

Avatar was written and directed by James Cameron and I have to admit he has made some pretty good films. The first two Terminator films were his projects and he was also responsible for Aliens, the second in the Alien series of films and a great film in its own right. Titanic was again written and directed by Cameron and was just not only an enjoyable film but also a magnificent feat of film making involving a huge mock up of the Titanic built on hydraulic rams which enabled it to drop into the sea for the sinking sequences.

Avatar makes a lot of use of CGI, computer generated images, only this film takes CGI to a whole new level. I actually think that CGI can detract from a film because sometimes it’s so obvious that you are watching something generated by a computer. In Avatar, the imagery and effects are nothing short of incredible. The film is like a sci-fi combination of Dances With Wolves and a Vietnam war film. In the future, an alien planet called Pandora is ripe for exploitation of its vast mineral wealth. The only problem is that a tribe of humanoids, the Na’vi, inhabit the planet and they are not so happy about moving just so the earth people can come and dig up their planet and mine its precious metals. Because of this, the military have initiated the Avatar project which involves growing an alien body and then using technology to transfer a human mind into it, so better first hand relations can be made with the tribe. Jake, a crippled ex marine is invited into the team to take over one of the Avatars and a series of events enable him to get close to the tribe. His job is to convince the Na’vi to move away but as time goes on, he finds himself becoming closer to the tribe and evermore understanding and respectful of their ties to nature and their way of life.

Computer technology has enabled Cameron to produce some incredible scenes of beautiful other worldly forest landscapes as well as numerous animals the tribe interact with and the story that the director weaves is a very thoughtful and moving one. Avatar really is a film that is up there with the all time great films of the cinema world.

2002 (ish)

I eventually got to see the NHS physio. She was a lady, a little old lady in fact. When I walked in to see her she offered me a seat then shouted at me to ‘sit up straight!’ No wonder I had neck and back issues because my posture was dreadful! She may have been a little old lady but she gave me some stick, not only verbally but she did a lot of work on my neck with her hands and eventually the pain in my arm slipped away and I gradually returned to normal.

At the end of my treatment she told me that if the issue returned not to bother going to the doctor again; ‘Come straight to me and I’ll sort you out but for heavens sake, sit up straight. Get your posture right and you’ll be fine!’ ‘OK,’ I said, ‘thanks.’

Some months went by and I began to get the same symptoms again so I went into the doctors’ surgery and asked to see the physio. The lady on the desk said no, I had to see the doctor first. I told her what the physio had said, go straight to her but the receptionist was adamant- I could only see the physio with a referral from the doctor. As I was dejectedly leaving the surgery I saw the physio and went over and told her what happened. She took me back to the reception, gave the receptionist there some first class stick and booked me in the next week to see her. Happy days!

About six to eight months later I once again began getting the neck and arm problems so I returned to the surgery. The receptionist advised me (with far too much smugness, I thought) that the physio had retired and a new younger model had taken over and this one would not see me without first seeing the doctor.

I made an appointment, went in to see the doctor and found myself with Dr Kowalski, pen in hand, ready to write me out a prescription for painkillers!

2021

My arm was really killing me so I went in to see my GP. I called in for an appointment but apparently, appointments can only be arranged by calling in at 8am. The next day I tried calling but could only get an engaged tone. When I finally got through all the appointments for that day were taken. I did manage to get myself booked into a private physiotherapist and he got straight to work giving my neck and shoulder a good pummelling and leaving me with a regime of exercises to do.

The next morning Liz got up at 8 and called the doctors’ surgery. After about thirty minutes she finally got through and managed to get me booked in to see the doctor. I dragged myself and my sore arm along and as I was telling Doctor Khan my story of pain and woe the good doctor was already sorting me out some painkillers and a sick note and telling me that I would be fine within a week, a prediction that has so far failed to come true.

See, the world is a circle after all!


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Statistics, 2020 and a Troll Through Some Popular Posts

Being a creature of habit, I always tend to do a blog post at the start of the year, looking back to my posts of the previous year. In one of my first posts of 2020 I did one looking back through what had happened to me in 2019 and linking it to my best posts of the year. My best or favourite posts are not necessarily the ones that picked up the most views or the most likes. WordPress has a pretty comprehensive stats page so this year I thought I’d spend a little time going through them. All the links to previous posts open up in a new page.

image courtesy wikipedia

My all-time top scoring blog post is this one about David Cassidy. Cassidy became a big star on the hit TV show The Partridge Family about a family that formed themselves as a pop group. When the songs from the TV show were released as singles they quickly became hits and Cassidy himself soon began making his own records. His star shone very bright for a while but then faded leaving Cassidy trying to make his way in film and TV almost as a has been when he was still young. My post is actually about me and the time I went to the barber’s -sorry, hair stylist- and asked for a style like Cassidy’s. One of the reasons for the success of that post might be that its very search engine optimised, meaning that it always comes up in any search for Cassidy. I like to think it’s a pretty good read too. The post also showed up as my second most read post in 2020.

My most read post in 2020 was one from 2016, 6 Kitchen Sink Dramas which is a post about a new style of films in the 1960’s that focused on the working class. The post looked at 6 particular films that I thought were the very best of the 1960’s. A similar sort of post from 2020 was this one, Films, Allegories and McCarthyism which was about films which were in some way related to the McCarthyism of the 1950’s. Hollywood was particularly affected with many actors, writers and other film professionals having their careers either compromised or in some cases, completely ruined. The post was also one of the first for which I decided to make a short video trailer for use on social media to bring in those new readers. The post doesn’t seem to register that well in my stats, but it was one that I personally thought was good and I enjoyed doing the research and writing.

Coming in third in my all-time most read posts was one from 2014 about the JFK Assassination. Again, this is another post that always seems to do well. I spent a lot of time on the post doing research with the stack of books I have on the subject. In this post I stay clear of wild theories and tend to stick with the basics in particular Lee Oswald’s rifle, famously found on the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository. The rifle had a telescopic sight which the FBI found later was not only mis-aligned but actually impossible to set up. They solved the problem by adding metal shims to the mounting, meaning that FBI shooters who test fired the rifle used it in a configuration that was not available to the alleged assassin Lee Oswald.

While I’m on the subject of the Kennedys, another post that’s showing up well in my stats is an old one from  2015 about Marilyn Monroe. Researching from various books and websites I tried to piece together the events of Marilyn’s last day. Marilyn was very angry in her last days. She claimed to friends she was fed up of being tossed around ‘like a piece of meat’ by the Kennedy brothers and threatened to blow the lid on her dealings with them in a press conference. Bobby Kennedy wanted her notebook, the one in which she had noted down details of her meetings with him. Kennedy wanted it destroyed and Marilyn kept quiet. The Mafia wanted derogatory information on the Kennedys and had even had Marilyn’s home bugged. A press conference was arranged for Monday August 6th, 1962. Was she about to reveal her affair with Bobby? Sadly, Marilyn was found dead in the early hours of the 5th

Another of my favourite topics concerning the USA are the Nixon years and coming up third in my 2020 stats was a 2016 post about Howard Hughes and the Watergate Tapes. Billionaire Hughes wanted the US government to shift their underground nuclear tests from Nevada to somewhere else. In his dealings with President Nixon he bandied around a figure of a million dollars. Was this the same million dollars that Nixon mentioned to presidential aide John Dean?

Fourth in this year’s rankings and also fourth in my overall stats was a post about American Pie, the hit song by Don McLean. I’ve always loved that song and years ago I used to read a magazine called The Story of Pop. One edition was dedicated to the song and it fascinating to read about the true meaning of Don’s lyrics. Who was the Jester? Who was the King? All is revealed in the post.

Jason King

In fifth place in my 2020 most read posts was one from 2014 about Jason King. Jason who, did I hear you asking? Back in the 1970’s Jason King was a character in the TV show Department S. Jason was played by Peter Wyngarde. He was an author who worked with two colleagues in a government investigatory department set up to solve the most baffling of mysteries. Jason was a very avant-garde character, especially in his clothes and Wyngarde himself, no slouch in the fashion department, used his own clothes in his portrayal. Chief among his fashion items was a tie with a fashionably large knot and as a teenage schoolboy, I made it my mission to emulate that super knot! Did I succeed? Click this link to find out.

A lot of my 2020 posts seem to have been eclipsed by views of posts from bygone years but one of this year’s posts was my 6th most popular. It was a book post and reading, especially second hand books, is one of my great loves. During the first Lockdown in 2020 the weather was good and the sun was shining so Liz and I spent a lot of time reading and generally pottering about in the garden. One of the books I read was the diary of Michael Palin of the Monty Python team. The diary talks about Palin giving up smoking, making the first series of Monty Python and various other film and TV projects. It was interesting especially the peripheral things Palin mentions, the Apollo 11 moon landings, the strikes, the three day week and so on and it also brought back a lot of memories of my schooldays when my fellow pupils and I were great fans of Monty Python. Click here for the full post.

Coronavirus is basically a total pain in the neck and has ruined everything from Christmas celebrations to our regular quiz night down at the Lord Derby in St Annes to our random nights out in various pubs and our regular meals at a whole host of restaurants that we used to frequent. I hope 2021 turns out a lot better. We started off 2020 in Lanzarote and while we were there we found a fabulous villa close to all the bars and restaurants we loved. What the heck we thought and spent a shed load of money to book it for 2021. Now we’re in the middle of the second wave of the pandemic but I still live in hope that we may still be able to go there. So apart from that trip last January we didn’t do much travelling. We did do a few trips in our motorhome though and my post from this year, The Ups and Downs of Motorhoming did pretty well, coming in as my 8th most popular post. This was another post for which I used a short video trailer over on Twitter; here it is below:

Later in the year, in October we went off to Scotland visiting the Highlands, the Isle of Skye and Plockton among other places. I even managed to put together a video which pulled in some reasonable stats over on YouTube. Pity I didn’t spot a few typing errors in the post’s captions but now it’s got such a lot of views I don’t like to replace it. You can read the post and see the video by clicking here.

There are plenty of other stats that I’ve gleaned from my WordPress stats page. In my first year of blogging, 2014, I wrote 58,895 words. That figure has gradually expanded and this year, up to the 26th of December as I write this, I published 76,659 words (plus however many words are in this post). Average words per post in 2014 were only 633 words so these days at an average of 1446 words per post the reader is getting real value for money. I say value for money but as SteveHigginsLive.com is an entirely free service that’s not strictly true but I like to think I am doing something towards keeping readers amused during this locked down, mask wearing, hand sanitising time.

76,000 words though, I wish I could motivate myself to write that much on the sequel to Floating in Space!


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Locked Down Blogger Part 2

It finally happened last week. It had been rumoured and expected. It had been predicted many months ago and so here it is. I’m talking of course about the second wave of the Coronavirus epidemic and the resulting second lockdown. There was some advance notice and as a result Liz and I were able to book a table and enjoy a last meal out. We even thought what the heck and went for a second bottle of wine just like the other couple in the next table sitting a socially distanced two metres to our left.

So that’s a month coming up with no nights out at the pub, no meals out and no quiz nights. The big problem with this second lockdown is the weather. In the first one I was quite happy sitting out in the sunshine reading a book. Now we have entered November here in the north of England it seems as though it has been constantly raining. What can we find of interest then? Well the big interest for me just lately is the American election. Like many people, I thought the election was a foregone conclusion, that Trump would be out and whoever the democrats chose would be in. It just so happened that the democratic candidate was Joe Biden. Joe is getting on a little bit for the top job and wouldn’t necessarily have been my choice but then again, neither would Donald Trump. As I write this the election is still ongoing, they are still counting the votes in a few remaining states. Both candidates are claiming victory and one is claiming huge voter fraud. Biden has so far been pretty much acclaimed as the winner, having received congratulations from previous presidents Obama and George W Bush. No congratulations have been forthcoming from Donald Trump and his legal team has already initiated legal action. I’m not sure who exactly they are planning to take to court but either way, that has not stopped Joe Biden getting his transition team together and making plans for when he takes office.

I wrote something back in 2016 about the smooth transition of power in the great democracies and even wondered what would happen if ever the outgoing president refused to budge. That was just wild blogging speculation but now some commentators are saying it could actually happen. This is almost as interesting for me as Watergate.

There was a time when I thought I understood the US election, now I’m not so sure. Hillary Clinton and Al Gore both won the popular vote in previous elections but failed to get enough electoral college votes to take them to the White House. I’m even confused about the primaries, I mean I was convinced Bernie Sanders would be the democratic candidate, but he stepped down earlier in the year and then Biden seemed to become the candidate virtually unchallenged and his projected walkover victory over Trump has just not happened. Many people actually support Trump. Some give their support because they are dyed in the wool Republicans, some presumably admire him but either way, 48% of the votes were for him.

I was watching TV the other day and a female black voter was being interviewed and surprisingly, she was voting for Trump. She wouldn’t vote for Biden she said because he was a socialist, which in the USA is one step from being a communist. Maybe that explains why Trump has such a following; in many places he must be seen as the anti-socialist. Trump did well in Florida where many Cubans found home after leaving communist Cuba.

When Nixon won the election in 1968 he spotted a supporter in a crowd with a banner proclaiming Bring us together and made that a campaign slogan. Bringing Americans together is a big ask for whoever wins in 2020 but I wish him luck in doing just that.

Theoretically this should be a great time for writers. What could be a better time to write than the lockdown, after all there isn’t much else to do. A few months back I shelled out a hundred or so dollars to list my screenplay on a web site called InkTip. InkTip is a way of bringing producers and writers together. They produce a newsletter for producers listing scripts and also provide subscribers with weekly lists of producers who want scripts. My screenplay has seen a lot of action lately with various producers reading either the synopsis or the script itself but that million-dollar deal has yet to surface. I live in hope.

My screenplay was one I wrote quite a few years back and I read through it recently and had an idea for a new ending. I added the new ending, tidied everything up and that final version was the one I added to InkTip. As I reviewed it again the other day – I don’t know about you but I’m always reviewing my old stuff- I realised that it was written before today’s mobile phone, Twitter and Instagram age. Not one of the characters has a phone. I might have to spend the lockdown adding mobile phones to my screenplay and bringing it into the 21st century.

Another project I’ve been working on during the lockdown is a video covering my recent trip to the Scottish Highlands. It’s mostly GoPro video from a camera stuck to my motorhome window. I’ve added some stills and some bits where I talk straight to the camera. I had a lot of technical problems putting it together, particularly recording the voice over. The voice over is pretty important because the actual visual stuff isn’t that exciting. When I recorded it, my laptop clearly couldn’t keep up with playing video and recording sound at the same time, so I had to record my voice separately and then add it to the video. That makes it difficult because normally as I’m reading the narration I tend to react to what is on screen so I can slow down or speed up if required or just add lib if I need to.

I was feeling pretty pleased with myself when I finished it and quickly got it uploaded to YouTube. I added the video to a video creators page that I follow and got some pretty reasonable feedback. What was really annoying was when I decided to tinker with it and spotted a couple of things I hadn’t noticed. One was in the credits at the end where I credited the music as Soul Grove instead of Soul Groove. Oh, and there was one more. In one of the stills of the motorhome I hadn’t picked up that Liz was rather cheekily giving me the V sign through the window! The thing is, the video had already garnered 72 views so do I delete and add the updated version or just leave things as they are? Decisions, decisions.

I’ve has a couple of nights on my own this week, as usual keeping my mothers house ship shape and lived in. One night I thought I’d make one of my favourite dishes, bruschetta. It just so happened I had some ciabatta in the freezer as well as onions and tomatoes. So here we go, I sliced the bread and popped it in the toaster for a light toasting. While that was going on I chopped the tomatoes and onions, mixed them up with a little garlic and olive oil. I Popped the bread out, slapped on the tomato and onion mixture and settled down to eat. It was wonderful.

It was so good I decided on another Italian favourite for the second course. aglio olio peperoncino. It’s basically spaghetti with olive oil, garlic and chilli. What could go wrong with that?

The quick answer is everything, overdone spaghetti, burnt garlic and those chillies I used last week on a curry that weren’t very hot: this week they were hot!

When is my favourite Italian restaurant opening again?


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The Story of my Life in Less than 2500 Words

My life in 2500 words? Really? My whole life, everything? Is that possible? Well, hang on a minute, give me a chance. I’ve been reading a book by Nora Ephron called I Feel Bad about my Neck and its really just a series of essays. In fact, Nora would be a great blogger because all her essays are nice blog sized pieces which could all easily be humorous blog posts. Her book is a little bit of a cheat really, it reminds me of a book by Spike Milligan I read years ago, A Bit of a Book I think it was called. It was full of little drawings and sketches which could easily be flipped through and other things like blank pages entitled the blank of England.

It was all very humorous but I read the book in about thirty minutes. Nora’s book is one I tend to read at work on my lunch breaks and if I had taken it on holiday, I would have easily read it in a few hours. Anyway, I shouldn’t really be bad mouthing Nora because her book is pretty funny and one of the essays was called The Story of My Life in less than 3500 Words which has inspired this blog post. Some of course would say that this blog post is a blatant rip off of Nora’s book but I can assure you it isn’t. Well, not that much anyway.

This won’t be my whole life of course, I’ll probably leave many things out, especially the bad bits and the boring moments but here we go.

I was born in 1956, way back in the mid-20th century in Manchester in the north of England. I was born in October which has always rather annoyed me. Why couldn’t I have been born in July or August or better still earlier in the year, sometime in the spring? I don’t like October; in fact, I never have. I don’t like the fireworks coming up in November and the endless weeks of bangers going off at unexpected times of the day and night and neither do I like Hallowe’en where complete strangers have the cheek to knock on my door and ask for treats. Not only that I don’t like the cold which is why I would much prefer a warmer time of the year for my birthday. It’s not much to ask and I would enjoy it much more.

(I’m starting to worry now about fitting everything in. Here we are, two paragraphs in and I’ve not mentioned much except my birthday.)

I went to school in Wythenshawe in the south of Manchester and I’d like to tell you that I excelled in various things and won various prizes and stuff like that. The fact is I didn’t although I did get picked for the school high jump team once. I had managed to jump an incredible six foot and to be honest I’m not sure how I did it. I could say I discovered an innate skill for high jumping but well, that’s another of those things I’d like to tell you, despite it actually being untrue. One day I did this amazing jump, I’m not sure how and the next thing I was asked to join our team at a local school for some sort of athletics competition.

The big problem with that was that the match was on a Thursday and on Thursdays I used to like to be at home for my favourite TV show which at the time was Thunderbirds. I did mention to the other members of my team that the possibilities of me arriving at the rival school for the high jump was pretty non-existent but my fellow team members, who I might add at this point were all older and bigger than me and actually now I think of it, rather hostile explained a lot about team spirit and stuff like that and how much better it would for me to be on time.

This is me when I was a pretty good looking guy. Later my looks went all downhill.

Some threatening behaviour was involved which made me think more about the team spirit thing and so I turned up ready for the jump. The annoying thing was at this school, the name of which escapes me, the high jump was set up on a sort of uphill slope which made it a little difficult for me to get up to speed for the correct lift off for the jump. To cut a long story short, I failed my jump, I was eliminated and was never asked to join the team again. To this day I remember the look on our team captain’s face as he shook his head mumbling ‘Six feet?‘ The flip side is that I was free on a Thursday for Thunderbirds.

I liked junior school but after that, school just went downhill for me and I left aged 16 clutching my four O levels. I should confess that actually one of those O levels was a CSE grade 1 which counted, so I was told, as an O level pass. Still I am now 64 years old and never once in my entire life, not once, have I been asked for proof of my 4 O levels, not in any job ever. So now I think of it, I just might as well have told my employers I had ten O levels or maybe even just upgraded them to A levels. Of course, that’s the kind of knowledge that only comes with experience and nowadays, no one is interested in whether I have 4 or 12 O levels or even whether I have any at all.

When I was at school I wanted, among other things to be a journalist. I went along to our careers teacher, Mr Sherriff, imparted this information and waited for his advice. I remember him asking me how I was going to do that. Him asking me? Wasn’t it supposed to be the other way round? Wasn’t he supposed to tell me that I could go on a course or maybe apply to the Manchester Evening News to be a trainee reporter? The next few minutes are a bit of a blur but I remember leaving his office after being told that I would soon receive a letter telling me about my coming interview. Now the Manchester Evening News had been mentioned, mostly by me and I remember telling all my friends I was soon to be interviewed for a reporter’s post with the News. My schoolmates were impressed, in fact very impressed because all Mr Sherriff ever did was get pupils a job with Barclays bank. A few days later Mr Sheriff called me back and handed me a letter. I had an interview arranged for 3 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon. I remember hoping that I would be back in time for Thunderbirds. Did I know where Barclays bank was asked Mr Sherriff? It didn’t matter because he gave me a handout detailing its location in Manchester city centre. Barclays bank I asked? What about the Manchester Evening News? The Manchester Evening News don’t have trainee reporters blared Mr Sherriff and quickly dismissed me.

I went for the interview. It was all very pleasant but I didn’t get the job although I wasn’t particularly upset about it. Once again my Thursdays were free for Thunderbirds although by this time, I was probably watching the next Gerry Anderson series, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. I wasn’t a great fan of Captain Scarlet although I do remember getting a model of an SPV, Captain Scarlet’s Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle for either Christmas or my birthday so I must have been at least somewhat interested in it.

After a quick look on the internet I see that by 1973 when I left school, Gerry Anderson was making the live action series The Protectors so that’s my Captain Scarlet memory right out of the window.

I’ve always been a fan of Gerry Anderson, all the way from Fireball XL5 to UFO. I didn’t like Space 1999, I much preferred Star Trek but before leaving Gerry I just want to say a last word about Thunderbirds. It’s really more of an observation than anything but I just want to get it off my chest. It’s something which has been annoying me ever since I first saw the show as a schoolboy, and it’s this:

Thunderbirds was a sci-fi puppet show from the 1960’s. A secret organisation known as International Rescue is based on former astronaut Jeff Tracy’s island home. His five sons pilot the Thunderbird vehicles and Alan Tracy, as you might know, is the pilot of Thunderbird 3, which is a space ship. Thunderbird 3 launches from underground, blasting off right through the circular opening of the island’s Round House. Now to access the craft, Alan sits down on the settee in the Tracy Island main house. His Dad, Jeff Tracy, flicks a switch and Alan and the settee drop down into an underground complex. OK? With me so far?

Well this is where the problem arises. As you can see from the video above, Alan and the settee drop down on a sort of hydraulic pole, just behind him we see another settee, being pushed up towards the lounge on another hydraulic pole, where it pops into the vacant slot where Alan’s settee was moments earlier. However, as Alan’s settee is going down on the first hydraulic pole, and the alternate settee is on a second hydraulic pole to his rear; there is no way that second settee is going to pop into the vacant slot left by the first. Also, what if Alan was watching TV when the call came in and he goes off on the departing settee with the remote control? It could be halfway to trajectory insertion when Jeff wants to switch over to Sky Sport and he says, “Who’s got the remote?”

Not only that, imagine if Alan was on his way to an emergency launch which came in while Grandma was in the kitchen making everyone a cup of tea and a slice of toast?

THE SCENE. INTERIOR. DAY. TRACY ISLAND LOUNGE.

JEFF TRACY
This is a job for Thunderbird 3.

ALAN TRACY
OK Dad. Ready for launch.

JEFF TRACY
Off you go Alan.

ALAN TRACY
Bye Dad, tell Grandma I’ll have a brew later.

JEFF TRACY
Look Alan, those tea bags don’t grow on trees you know. We have them imported from the UK.

ALAN TRACY
Gee whizz Dad, never thought of that. Only thing is, that rocket on collision course with the sun, don’t you think that has to take priority?

JEFF TRACY
Well . . . Sometimes I fancy an extra cuppa anyway so I guess I could always finish yours off. Hot diggedy dog Alan, you’re right. Off you go and I’ll sort your brew out.

ALAN TRACY
Thanks Dad.

JEFF PRESSES A SWITCH AND THE SETTEE DROPS AWAY ON ITS HYDRAULIC POLE INTO THE CAVERNOUS SECRET WORLD BENEATH THE TRACY HOME.

JEFF TRACY
Right, that’s that. Think I might have a gander at Sky Sports. Where the heck is the remote? Grandma! Grandma! Where has the old biddy got to? Bet she’s got the damned remote, she’s always watching daytime TV.

JEFF GOES OFF STAGE RIGHT TO LOOK FOR GRANDMA.

GRANDMA ENTERS STAGE LEFT WITH A TRAY OF TEA AND TOAST.

GRANDMA
Jeff! Alan! Now where have those two got to? Where have they moved the settee to? Sure it used to be just hereeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Yes, when you look closely, that Thunderbird 3 launch procedure has a major health and safety issue!

This where I have to make a confession and reveal the stuff above about Thunderbirds I wrote for an earlier post a few years back but it’s nice to see that it has slotted in so nicely.

Anyway back to the story of my life. My first job was as a clerk in the estates department of an insurance company, Refuge Assurance Ltd. Now on my very first day the first thing I was told was the difference between Assurance and Insurance. I’ve often thought about that. I wish I could remember what the hell that difference was. It’s bothered me for quite a while. Anyway, I worked in the Estates department which I have to say was actually really interesting. Our company owned a lot of property in central Manchester and I used to collect the rents and enter it all in a big ledger. Once, we were told in hushed tones about the impending arrival of a million-pound cheque. As it happens, I’ve written about that before but just in case you didn’t read that earlier post, this is what happened:

As I was only a mere teenage accounts clerk, I was running low on the pecking order to see this cheque, although it was actually my job to process it as I did with all the other cheques that came into the department. In due course, one of the very senior managers came down with the cheque and with great reverence it was handed to my boss Mr Ross. Mr Ross perused the cheque for a while along with a small clique of other managers and then conveyed it to the senior clerk, Mr Elliott. After marvelling at this great artefact for a few moments, he then passed the cheque to me. Numerous staff members from our and neighbouring departments also came to take a peek at this financial wonder which I believe, was the result of the company either selling off our sister company, Federated Assurance, or doing some fabulous property deal.

Anyway I did my job and duly entered the cheque into the ledger then put it in the safe ready to go down to banking prior to 3pm, as in those days, banks closed at 3pm. ‘Good heavens!’, declared one of the senior managers, ‘we can’t just leave the cheque there, all afternoon.’ I don’t know what they thought was likely to happen to it but I was despatched on a special journey to the bank for this very special cheque. Actually, that suited me quite well. After paying the cheque into the local bank I sauntered round the corner to the sandwich shop, ordered sausage on toast and after a quick gander through the Daily Express, made my way quietly back to work. Just as I arrived back in the office, I realised that the senior management staff were still there, waiting for news. What had happened? Were there any problems? They seemed rather disappointed when I told them that no cataclysm had occurred, the bank had not come to a standstill but the million-pound cheque had been routinely deposited. Thinking back, I’m not sure I liked the way they were looking at me, perhaps they knew all along I’d been to the sarnie shop!

Anyway, getting back to the cheque, it was actually not really that impressive. It was not printed but hand written in a very scrawling, looping, and altogether unreadable hand and it occurred to me that the payee, Refuge Assurance Company limited, could quite easily be changed to Stephen Higgins Esquire had there been some tippex handy. As this was an accounts department you might think we had a great deal of tippex, however tippex was completely Verboten.  It was never used, and in the event of a mistake being made, the procedure was to strike a line through the error, sign your name, date it and then add the correct figure. Looking back, I’m starting to wonder whether that’s why management were so keen to get that cheque into the bank, did they see me eyeing it up with a greedy sort of look on my face?

A few years later I handed in my resignation. Just before that a colleague who had a degree but as a clerk was completely useless, also handed in his notice. After our resignations we compared notes. He looked very pleased with himself because the company had offered him more money to stay on. I lied and told him they had offered me more money too although actually they didn’t offer me a bean. As a matter of fact, looking back, they seemed rather happy to see the back of me.

Well, I’d like to tell you more about myself, how I left the Insurance world behind and went on to greater success. I’d like to tell you that. I would. But the truth is . .

I’m already over 2500 words!


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James Hilton, Winston Churchill and the Lockdown

When I get stuck looking for a new idea for a blog post I sometimes look back at my old ones just to see if anything there might inspire me. Sometimes I’ll think of something I could have said about a particular subject which I didn’t say at the time so I’ll start writing about that and then I’m off. Sometimes a writer just needs something to start him off. In fact over on Twitter I sometimes use a meme that goes like this

Some old posts can also be re-purposed. That is to say an old post can be given a new lease of life by a re-write, a few new paragraphs, some new pictures and maybe a link to a relevant video. One old post I looked at tapped right into a long running daydream of mine. Imagine me, a writer from the north of England getting the chance to go and work in Hollywood, writing scripts. I can just imagine the trip over on a Jumbo Jet or whatever passes for a jumbo jet these days. Arriving in Hollywood and looking at all the sights I have read about and imagined over the years, The Brown Derby restaurant, Romanoffs, Schwabs drugstore and maybe even catching a glimpse of Pickfair, the old Fairbanks/Pickford mansion on Summit Drive, the home according to David Niven’s book Bring on The Empty Horses of many of the great stars of the golden age of Hollywood.

Alas, every single one of those places has gone eclipsed by the passage of time. Even the new owners of Pickfair, actress Pia Zadora and her millionaire husband, decided that after aquiring such an historic place, the best thing to do would be to knock it down. Termites had ruined the property, or so they claimed.

One other thing that is real enough is the bit about the writer from the north of England making his way over to Hollywood. No, it wasn’t me, it was James Hilton, the author of one of my favourite books of all time.

James Hilton is one of my personal writing heroes and yet his name may be unfamiliar to many of you reading this blog. He was a journalist and an author and made the trip from his home in Leigh, Lancashire, (now Greater Manchester) in the UK to the Hollywood hills in the United States to become a screen writer. He is probably more well known for his book ‘Goodbye Mr Chips’ which was made into a film with Robert Donat (actually another northerner from Didsbury in Manchester) but my favourite of his books and quite possibly my all-time favourite book is ‘Lost Horizon’.

Lost Horizon is a book I found in a second-hand shop many years ago. A battered 1940s paperback I paid twenty-five pence for and yet that small investment has paid me back many times over for sheer reading pleasure as Lost Horizon is a book I re read every year or so and I often pull it down from my bookshelf when a current read fails to entertain me.

Lost Horizon is a completely original idea and is about British consul Robert Conway in the dark days before World War II. Conway is helping his fellow British citizens escape from civil war in China and he and his small party escape in the last plane only to be kidnapped and taken to a distant Tibetan monastery. Conway meets the High lama and after a time it is revealed that the Tibetans  want to preserve the best of world culture and art and make it safe from the coming war.

Hilton is one of those few people who have invented a word or coined a phrase that has become part of the English language. In this case it was the name of the Tibetan monastery, Shangri-la which has since become a byword for a peaceful paradise, a distant haven. Camp David, the US President’s retreat was originally called Shangi-la until renamed by Eisenhower for his son, David.

Hilton’s journey from Leigh to Hollywood must have been a magical one and one I envy, especially as his time in Hollywood was a golden age for movie making. Lost Horizon was made into a movie by Hollywood director Frank Capra and starred Ronald Colman as the urbane British diplomat of the novel. It’s a movie that was restored some time ago and is a great DVD if you happen to see it. Colman also starred in another movie authored by Hilton; ‘Random Harvest ‘.

Hilton settled in Hollywood and wrote a number of screenplays for classic Hollywood movies such as ‘Mrs Miniver ‘. Sadly he died from cancer in 1954.

How would Hilton have coped with the Lockdown? Pretty well I should imagine. Professional writers are not like us amateurs, they are not governed by how they feel, if they are in the mood or not, if they are feeling creative or not. They just get on with it.

A few weeks back I decided that a good project for me would be to make one of my blogs into a video. I chose one from a short while ago A Letter to my Younger Self. I opened up my laptop, clicked on my Animoto page and began. I’m still working on it. It wasn’t as easy as I had thought. I could quite easily have read the post to camera but I wanted something a little more exciting and the good thing about Animoto is that they have a great library of stock footage and photos so combined with some of my own images the result should be good.

Here’s the problem though, and this is the big issue with technology that I come across time after time. Once the designers have put together a great peice of software or an electronic device, they just cannot leave it alone. Windows Sound Recorder: they replaced it with Windows Voice Recorder and all the things I used to do on there, I can no longer do. Windows Movie Maker: my favourite video editing platform: discontinued in favour of HD Movie Maker. The old version was so much better especially when editing sound. The new version is quite different. In the past I could position and reposition sound clips with the mouse now in HD Movie Maker the user can only trim sound or use the delay option. Oh well at least Animoto, the online editing platform I use frequently is untouched, or so I thought.

Wrong! This week Animoto unleashed a new version of its editing software on its users. Does it have improved features? Yes. Is it easier to use? No. Well to be fair it’s not bad but every so often the web page seems to crash and I have to reload the page and start editing again from the point my work was saved. Perhaps that’s the fault of my laptop although it never lost the page with the old version. There are some other litle teaks I don’t like too so I might just put that project on hold for now.

This week Prime Minister Boris Johnson decided to ease the current lockdown. Now we can return to work and also travel around if we want to visit somewhere. Most businesses are still closed of course but it might mean places like Blackpool and other seaside resorts will be expecting daytrippers soon. Personally I think his advice is ill advised and we should be keeping the lockdown on for a while longer. The thing is, the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales seem to agree with me so if you are planning a trip to either of those places soon, forget it because the lockdown is still in place there.

The other night I stayed up late watching the film Darkest Hour which is about Winston Churchill and the beginning of his Prime Ministership in World War II. It paints a rather bleak picture of Winston’s premiership with the Conservative party apparently holding back from supporting him and a growing clique actually wanting to replace him with Lord Halifax. When France fell to the Nazis Halifax wanted to explore peace talks with Hitler which Churchill was violently opposed to. I’m not sure how true to life the film was and although I can imagine not everyone was 100% behind Churchill, I found some of this film a little hard to believe. There was a vote of no confidence in the commons in 1942 although Churchill won this by a resounding 475 votes to 25. In the film, conservatives still will not support Churchill in the commons until outgoing premier Neville Chamberlain signalled them to do so by placing a white hankerchief on his knee. By then Chamberlain and his policy of appeasement were totally discredited so would he really have had such sway over his fellow MPs? I doubt it.

What Churchill would think of today’s devolved government I shudder to think.

In these difficult times I take comfort from, as usual, Marcus Aurelius. I receive a regular email from The Daily Stoic and it is surprising how words of wisdom from the past can be relevant to today. One email I picked up this week went like this : All of us who are alive today are the last in an unbroken line of our ancestors who survived two world wars, the plague and much more. They kept calm, they carried on. They learned, as Marcus did, that things can only ruin your life if they ruin your character. We might not control world events, but we can control how we respond. We control whether we hold our heads high. We control whether we help our neighbours. We control whether we contribute to the panic or not.

Not only that, the important thing to remember about the Corona Virus is that . . .


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Blogging, Editing and Re-Editing

One of my workmates asked me recently if I had written a new blog post lately. Yes, I answered, a new post every Saturday.

‘Every Saturday?’ asked my friend. ‘You can’t write a new one every Saturday!’

Well, that’s what I do, a new post every Saturday.

It’s not so easy knocking out a new post every week and just lately I’ve noticed in a few of the blogs I follow that other bloggers must also feel the pressure to produce new content.

How do we get the ideas? How do we keep on writing week after week?

Well I have to admit that just lately I have faltered a little and I have started looking at blog post prompts that various bloggers have left scattered about the four winds of the Internet.

Write a post about your favourite book: Done that one!

Write about your favourite sporting event: Done that one!

Write a post linking various videos together: Done that too!

Write a post about your favourite music: Done that one too.

Not long ago I found a whole set of prompts about cookery and incorporated them into a post like a series of questions: What do you like to eat? What’s your favourite recipe? What was the first meal you cooked yourself? That particular post was pretty popular and I even found a whole new set of followers who post regularly about food on their food themed web sites. As that is pretty much the only food blog I’ve produced they must be pretty fed up now with my regular content. Sorry guys but then again, I do have quite a few posts about restaurants. This is one of my favourites about Giorgio, the worst waiter ever.

Another way to produce new content is to take an old post and add a little more material to it and perhaps even spice it up with a few pictures or videos. I have done that a few times most noticeably with a post about annoying elements of the 21st century. It started life as 10 annoying things and every now and again I’ll brush it off and add some new annoying thing. I think now I’m up to 16 annoying things!

Somebody once said that no work of art is ever finished, just abandoned. That is really how I feel about my blogs and my videos. I’m forever watching my old videos and thinking ‘that bit isn’t right, I’ll just change it!’

One of my best videos is one about the graves and cemeteries of World War I and II in northern France. It’s a sad video but the visuals are good and I put together what I thought was a pretty good narration based on some blog posts I’d written previously.

One big mistake was when I edited the video I put in a shot I’d taken at the start of our trip to France. It was a really great motorhome with a trailer and then I panned over to our much smaller model, thinking at the time I’d add some jokey comment about ours being smaller in the narration.

Anyway, I added the comment and put everything together then uploaded it to YouTube. It seemed to do pretty well getting a lot of views but when I added it to a Facebook video page expecting a certain amount of praise, one reviewer mentioned that the jokey stuff didn’t really go with the overall tone. Looking back at the video I realised he was completely correct however by then the video had pulled in a few thousand views (some free promo credit with Google ads had helped there!) and I was reluctant to substitute the re-edited version as then I’d lose all those views! Oh well, there is a more subdued version on Vimeo, alas without so many views.

One video idea lately came from a post I wrote about cameras. In Cameras then and Cameras now, I looked back at my SLR case with my Olympus film cameras and compared it to my current camera gear. I took a few photographs for the blog and thought hey, why not make this into a video?

I powered up my trusty Canon G7X and ran through my film camera case, pointing out all the relevant bits and pieces then did the same for my current camera bag and my video case. When I came to review the footage the sound wasn’t so very good, probably because I was behind the camera talking rather than in front. Oh well, I re-recorded my narration which is sometimes a good thing as I can snip out all the ums and ahs which I invariably produce. The end result seemed a bit flat somehow. Anyway, I added all the usual music and captions and uploaded it to YouTube. Somehow it just wasn’t punchy or snappy enough. Take a look at it here.

The other day I decided to remake the video this time using the online editing site www.animoto.com

The result was visually much better with some eye catching fades and cuts which the animoto templates provide but my narration still sounded a bit flat even after I tweaked the sound using my sound mixer so I recorded another narration. I think this one is better, at least it’s a little more dynamic.

Oh well, another work of art about to be abandoned!


If you enjoyed this post then why not try my book, Floating in Space, a nvel set in Manchester, 1977.

Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

7 Questions for a Self-Published Author

Question 1:

How did you come to write your book?

I’ve always been a writer, even as a school kid I was writing stories and screenplays. I used to write scripts and do all the casting. Not sure whether Steve McQueen would have appreciated the roles I was planning for him though.

Later on when I was in my 20s I tried to move away from all the sci-fi and espionage stuff I was writing and write about something more personal to me, something that I had a personal connection with so I started writing about life working on the buses, which is what I was doing at the time.

I wrote about working as a bus conductor and driver and jotted down my observations about the people I met and carried on my bus. Then there were other stories about my personal life, drinking in pubs, chatting up girls in nightclubs, listening to music and so on. Later I realised I could bring all this stuff together even though it was just a series of essays then, and even make it into a book, which I eventually did.

Question 2

How did you go about publishing the finished book?

I had the book turned down by three publishers, not really a great amount.  I wrote a blog post a while ago about books rejected by publishers and I found out that Day of the Jackal was rejected 4 times, Gone with the Wind 38 times and The Time Traveller’s Wife 25 times. Publishers are only human of course but these days writers don’t need them, we can just publish online, just like I did at Amazon using their website Createspace which is now kdp.amazon.com

Question 3

Tell me about the problems of marketing and getting your book noticed by the public.

Well, that was the hard part, writing it was easy in comparison!

Building up a presence on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube was a gradual process and the same is also true for my blog on WordPress which I started really just to promote the book. I started off with essays about how I wrote the book and videos of me talking about the book and so on.

I read somewhere that over 5000 books are published every day on Amazon, an incredible figure so how can anyone compete with that? Well, just by getting out onto social media and plugging away with tweets, new blog posts, videos on YouTube and so on.

Question 4

Tell me about your website and your blog

Well, it was originally created just to promote my book and get my message out there to potential readers but it’s also a challenge, a writing challenge. My big problem is that I’m lazy and I need a big push to get me writing so having a deadline, 10:00am on a Saturday morning, is something that gets me motivated as a writer. I know that I have to write something by then.

I even feel like a sort of writing professional because I have my deadline, my one deadline, and I’m always working towards that, trying to get something ready to post for my followers.

Question 5

What sort of posts will we find on your blog?

Generally I try to write stuff that is similar to my book, little bits of fluff, anecdotes with a funny twist, things like that. The idea is that if people like the blogs, they should like my book, Floating in Space which is written in a similar style. A typical blog post, and one of my favourites, is the one about hoodies (Hoodies and a Shaggy Dog Story) and an incident where an old lady’s handbag was snatched. Another favourite was called the Cat Wars and was about a crazy situation that built up when I was looking after my neighbour’s cat.

The only problem now is that I’m running out of anecdotes but I still manage to write about two other favourite themes, second-hand books and classic films.

Question 6

What about video, do you use video in your blogs and marketing?

Any internet post on social media performs better with images, a 37% percent increase in engagement and even more so with video.

Here are a few stats:

100 million hours of video are watched each day on Facebook.

500 million people watch Facebook videos every day.

Facebook videos receive 135% more organic reach on average than a photo.

2 thirds of content on Instagram is now video as opposed to pictures but video has to be snappy. If viewers are not hooked in the first few seconds, they just click away from your video to something more interesting.

I use video on my website to try and engage readers and all my adverts, because I do use advertising every now and then, are all video based.

A lot of years ago, in the 1990’s I really wanted to get into TV and video and I went on a video production course at the WFA media centre in Manchester. Subsequently, I made a few attempts to make some things for TV, all of which ended in failure but as a result I do have a bit of technical knowledge with video editing and production which has helped me a lot.

Luckily, today’s technology today makes it pretty easy to create simple videos and I use them a lot in my blog posts.

Question 7

What are your plans for the future regarding writing and blogging?

Well, more of the same really. I’m actually very slow at producing video content so I need to maybe speed up a little with my video production.

I really need to work more on my follow up book.

I’ve written some screenplays that were rejected so I plan on turning those into a book. The big problem is just me, being motivated and just getting myself geared up to work and write!


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

 

2018 and All That

OK so there it is, 2018 all done and dusted and we look forward to 2019. How was your year? Good, or bad? Was it all that you expected, or not? Here’s a quick look back at my personal 2018 with some of my blog highlights thrown in for good measure.

In January, Christmas and New Year quickly receding into the murky past, Liz and I were looking forward to a long break in Lanzarote. Lanzarote is really lovely at this time of year. Sometimes it tends to get a little windy and a few times in the evening temperatures dipped a little causing a flurry of fleece jackets to appear in the bar we frequented. The bar I should add was substantially an outside rather than inside bar and we sat alfresco under an awning while we drank, ate tapas, nibbled on olives and nuts and listened to some soothing pop classics performed either by a local pianist or the local sax player. I went into more detail in Thoughts from a Lanzarote Sun lounger but it was a very relaxing time.

The only problem of any significance was some annoying keyboard issues with my laptop. The letter O key was not working which caused some difficulties in producing a TV themed blog called ‘Putting the ‘O’ in Columbo’. Columbo being the famous TV detective played by Peter Falk and one of my very favourite TV shows ever. I had taken the laptop to my local computer store who had replaced the keyboard but when I arrived in Lanzarote ready to pound out some more blogs and possibly even add a few more pages to my new book I found the keyboard misbehaving again! I was not happy and a lot of the blogs I wrote while I was away were produced mostly on my Ipad.

There were some lovely restaurants in Lanzarote but in one of them the antics of one of the waitresses put me in mind of an old friend of ours, a waiter called Giorgio. He was a lovely fellow Giorgio. As a waiter he just wasn’t one of the best but he always made us smile and one sunny afternoon I took a break from the pool to write a post about him and some similar waiters called ‘The Giorgio factor.’

Back home in the UK I was spending an increasing amount of time looking after my elderly mother who was 89 in 2018 and has the beginnings of dementia. Only two years ago or so, I used to call up Mum and say I was coming to stay. Arriving there after work I would find my little box room all neat and tidy with fresh covers on the bed. My Mum is probably the only person I have ever known who irons socks and underwear and it is sad to see her today with her memory loss getting worse by the day and it is me who irons things for her, and me who puts the fresh bedding on the beds. In Some Random thoughts on Boxrooms, Stormy Daniels and Action Man I talked about how good it felt to return to that room, surrounded by the old books, vinyl records and cassette tapes of my past life. When I am there I sometimes feel that I have never really grown up.

I had a small health scare earlier in 2018. Nothing exciting just that a check up revealed slightly high blood pressure. The end result was that I was advised to check into the gym and see if a little work out might help. The practice nurse handed me a free three-month course at the YMCA which was my very first introduction to the world of pumping iron, the gym and physical exercise which until then I had completely shunned. I actually enjoyed the course, it was nice to feel healthy (well, healthier) and I jotted down a few remarks about the experience in a blog called Working Out That Sweet Illusion!

In May I was working hard on one of my videos, a look back at the places which inspired my book Floating in Space. I visited Manchester on a few occasions and shot plenty of video, a great deal of which, sadly, wasn’t of a particularly great quality. One of the problems in shooting video on a visit to Manchester is that I tend to combine filming with a tour of my old pub haunts in the town, as well as visiting some new ones so at the end of the day my hand tends to become a little rocky on the lens when too much beer has been downed.  Eventually after a number of false starts I put together a short film about Manchester and added a narration compiled from some old blog posts, text from Floating in Space itself and some new observations. I still wasn’t happy with the video and was struggling to get it right so I decided to use the narration (re-purpose I think the correct phrase is) in a blog post entitled Manchester, 41 Years On.

If you want to see the video which I eventually finished, click here.

Picture courtesy Wikipedia

Anyway, in June I decided to turn to something much more interesting than my little life and write about two of my most enduring interests, books and the Watergate Scandal. President Nixon must be one of the most interesting figures ever to become President of the USA and his journey to the Oval Office was remarkable. Nixon spent two years as vice president to Eisenhower, looked like winning the election in 1960 from relatively unknown John F Kennedy but it was Kennedy who pipped Nixon to the prize. Nixon ran for governor of California and lost, declaring to the press politics was over for him: ‘You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore!’ However, in the tumultuous year of 1968 he was back, once again the Republican candidate for the presidency and this time he won. When Lyndon Johnson left office he advised Nixon to make tape recordings of his conversations as he had done, saying that they were invaluable in preparing his memoirs. That advice proved to be Nixon’s undoing.

In a post called ‘Writing and the Big 300 I published my 300th blog post, a small milestone for an amateur writer like myself. I concentrated on the flip side of writing; the continual search for content and some of my other writing projects, things like my scripts. In particular I talked about a sit-com idea I had that I submitted to the BBC Writer’s Room web page. Alas, after many a month in deliberations the BBC decided my project was unworthy of putting into production. Pity really because I thought it was rather good.

Getting back to my holiday travels, Liz and I journeyed back to France once again for a wedding in the Alsace area of France. We went in Liz’s new motor home and after the wedding festivities were over we travelled through the north of France taking in many of the famous World War One battle grounds and cemeteries. The summer as you will no doubt remember was hot, in fact very hot indeed and I put together a post about our travels in the motor home, my impressions of visiting the military cemeteries and my frustration with mobile wi-fi! I also had time to make a short video about the military cemeteries which you can see here.

In August I turned my attention to Manchester Airport in a post called Airports and Things. As a schoolboy, Manchester Airport was one of my favourite places and my friends and I spent many a happy hour cycling down the quiet lanes that back on to the runway where we jotted down aircraft numbers. In 2018 the Airport Authority introduced a controversial drop off and pick up charge of £3 which caused many complaints from the public and in the post I argued the case for a larger number of smaller airports rather than fewer huge airports.

A lot of my posts are inspired by the books I read and one fascinating volume was a book by Noel Botham about the death of Princess Diana. He claimed the Princess had been murdered by elements of M16 loyal to the Royal Family and went on to explain various issues with the accepted story of the Princess’ death. Whether the Princess was really murdered or not, numerous parts of the story do not add up and they all contributed to a story of mystery and intrigue.

To round up my personal 2018, a meander through my old diaries prompted a post called Dear Diary and just to get in the festive mood in December my brother and I went on a pub crawl in Manchester In Search of Dark Beer. You just can’t beat a perfect pint of mild!

Well, that was my year. How was yours?


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Videos, Blog posts and the Search for Content.

It doesn’t get any easier, the search for words and ideas for a weekly blog post. And it just goes on and on, just like marketing. You write a book, self publish it on Amazon, then realise that if you want to sell a few copies you need to promote your book more and more on social media. After all, before people can make a decision about whether to buy or not, they need to know more about your product, and if they’ve never heard of it at all there is only you who can tell them about it.

One of the ways in which I have worked is to show the public something interesting through either my blog posts or videos and hope people may think, ‘hey that was interesting. Wonder what this guy’s book is like? That’s the theory anyway. In practice coming up with varied content week after week is hard work. Sometimes I have to cheat a little. Cheat did he say? Well a little bit. Sometimes I take an old blog post and liven it up a little, rewrite it and add some new images and graphics and hey presto, new blog post!

Sometimes I’ll take content from a stalled project and use it for something else, like another blog post. Back in 2017 I was in Manchester, the location of the events in my book, Floating in Space, and shot some video of the town as it looks these days. I had a vague idea of talking about the city and how it has changed during the last 40 odd years and looking at some of the pubs and bars I used to frequent. Back home I saw that my footage wasn’t brilliant and there didn’t seem to be enough useable video to work with. One big problem for me is that when I visit Manchester, the lure of my old pubs and haunts is just too great and I tend to have to go and visit them and of course, have a pint or two in them too. Then there are new venues that need to be tried out and evaluated. This process of evaluating is very important, especially to a top blogger and chronicler of Manchester, like me! The thing is, after a few pints, which of course are essential to the evaulating process, I’m not necessarily in the mood, or the state, for shooting video!

Making a documentary film, even the short ones I make, is pretty hard. I started off putting a rough cut together then working out a narration but things just wouldn’t come together. A better way, I found, was to sit down and write something and then try to select images that fit together with my words. Editing, especially the way I work, can be a slow process. After that particular video project stalled for the umpteenth time I realised my Saturday blog deadline was fast approaching and that I had little worth publishing. That’s when I decided to take my narration and re-purpose it into, yes, you’ve guessed it, another blog post.

My post Manchester 41 Years On, was a nostalgic look back down memory lane and a sort of appreciative look at present day Manchester. It combined a lot of text from Floating in Space, written quite a few years back now with some new fresh words inspired by my recent visit to the old home town. I liked it so much that I determined to get back into the editor’s chair and sort out that video!

After numerous re-edits I finally got things in some sort of order. I did have a version with some background music but it was annoying so that had to be removed. My narration wasn’t perfect but after a session with the old sound mixer and the snipping out of those many errs and ahhs, things seem a little better. Not Oscar nomination material I suppose, but a pretty reasonable short video. Take a look and see what you think!

By the way, this post came direct from French mobile internet hell! Stay tuned and I’ll tell you more next week!


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.