The Trials of a Self Published Writer

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. It’s a desire that I suppose came from reading a lot of books. Someone had an idea, wrote a book and I read the book and in doing so the author transmitted his thoughts and ideas to me through the book. It’s only natural, at least it seems so to me, to want to do the same, to not just receive the thoughts of someone else but to transmit my thoughts and ideas, in the form of a book, to others.

When I was younger I discovered Dylan Thomas. I like his poetry but also I love his short stories and his plays, especially the ones he wrote for the radio. I was also attracted to Dylan because of his image, that of the boozing pub going artist who drank beer and wrote poetry and who died after proclaiming that he had drunk 18 straight whiskies. ‘I think it’s a record’ he said before passing into a coma in New York, never to recover.

As it happens I’m nothing like Dylan Thomas at all except that we both share a love of writing. When I left school I wanted to be a journalist but back then I was held back in life in so many ways by an overpowering shyness that crippled me and stopped me from doing so many of the things I wanted to do. In some situations, I couldn’t even speak but happily writing was something that I could do alone in the privacy of my bedroom. Perhaps that’s why I love writing because all I have to do is open my notebook, or laptop, and write away.

My first attempts at serious writing were stories based on my love of television. They were stories of espionage and time travel and one day in my twenties I decided to change my focus and write about things around me. I wrote an essay about my work colleagues and an evening in a working men’s club. It was about snooker and pool and card games and pints of Boddingtons bitter. I wrote more and more similar essays and then I decided I could put them all together and with a little editing make them into a story and then into a novel.

I worked on my book intermittently over a period of many years. I wrote lots of it in long hand and then bought a typewriter and began to type it up. When the home computer revolution happened I began to type it all out onto my computer and then when it was nearly finished, my PC crashed. I couldn’t find my back up copy so I started again. Once again I had nearly finished when I found the older copy. Now I had two slightly different versions and reaching the end, typing the final page just seemed like an impossible dream so I stepped away from it all once again.

I took my laptop along on a holiday to France which turned out to be very wet. It rained almost every day so I opened my laptop and edited everything, deleting all the unwanted versions and duplicated chapters. I wrote the ending, tidied everything up and finally my book was ready. So, there it was, my manuscript representing years of work and effort. What do I do now I thought?

That’s the problem for amateur writers today. You’ve produced a piece of work, what do you do now? How do you get it published? You could try getting yourself an agent. The thing is, agents aren’t interested in unpublished authors. It’s a sort of catch 22 situation; you want an agent to help get you published but the agent doesn’t want you because you are unpublished.

I picked up my copy of The Writers and Artists Yearbook and started trolling through the listings of publishers who accept work from people like me, new and unknown authors. I sent my book off to three publishers and was rejected three times.

Getting a rejection, even three rejections isn’t the end of the world, in fact for a writer it’s pretty much par for the course. Even so, getting a rejection email is disheartening, it really is! It’s like all those years of work, all that effort coming down to one short email from someone saying they are not interested.

Someone at work mentioned to me that they had self-published their own sci-fi novel on Amazon. Self-published? Is that possible I thought? So that’s when I turned to self-publishing. It wasn’t quite as easy as I had thought it would be and the process itself highlighted a number of issues with my manuscript but I persevered and finally my book became available as a Kindle download or a traditional paperback.

Right, I thought, that’s it. I’m finally published. Now I can just sit back and wait for people to buy it. The thing is, who would know about my book? How would readers even realise that a new novel was available? Yes, that’s the thing. Writing a book isn’t enough, nor is actually publishing it. This is where marketing comes in. To sell your book you need to advertise. You need to use all your social media channels to tell everyone and his dog, here is a new book, come and buy it. You need to start an author page at Amazon and one at Goodreads too. Then you need an author website which is where this page comes in. How can you keep people coming in to read your blogs? Well, you need more social media and more blogs and for more blogs you need more and more ideas. How can you make your social media posts more interesting? Well you might want to add some graphics. Then you might want to add some animated graphics and even video so now you might find not only have you written a novel, you’ve written over 500 blog posts and graphics and made over a hundred videos, all to bring in more blog readers who may, or may not, buy your book.

The other day I was watching the classic film Treasure of the Sierra Madre. If you haven’t seen it it’s about a bunch of Americans prospecting for gold down in Mexico. The leader of the prospectors explains the value of gold in this way. A thousand men go searching for gold. One man finds an ounce of gold. His small find represents not only his hard work but the work of the other 999 men who were unsuccessful. Gold is worth so much because of the effort that went into finding it. Now I could argue the same point about this blog, that even though it is free to read this humble post, it’s actually worth quite a lot because of the hours, weeks and months of effort that went into preparing it, writing it, making the videos shown here and designing and producing the graphics that adorn this and all my many other posts.

So you might be thinking now, wow, what a great deal you’re getting! All that effort, just for you. Should you click on one of the links for Floating in Space or A Warrior of Words and maybe buy a copy? Personally, I’d say ‘yes, you should’ but most readers might be thinking well, maybe later and click over to Facebook and take a look at what their friends are up to.

Yes, I thought as much.


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The Big 500

Yes, here we are, the big 500. My 500th blog post. I have to say that I had big plans for this post but plans, as we all know, don’t always work out. I started out wanting to write on the theme of 500: Things named 500, famous 500’s and so on. The problem is, the only thing I could come up with was the Indianapolis 500, the famous Indycar race in the USA.

That was fine of course, I’m a big motor racing fan and I do know a little about the Indianapolis 500. The Indianapolis motor speedway where the event takes place is known as the brickyard as it was originally paved with bricks. Graham Hill and Jim Clark were famous European winners of the Indy 500 back in the 1960’s. Emerson Fittipaldi, another F1 driver retired after two world championships in the 1970’s but made a comeback in Indycars winning the Indianapolis 500 in 1989 and again in 1993.

OK, that’s it off the top of my head. For anything more I’d have to head for Google. To be honest, I did do a search in Google for some ideas. Some suggestions from over there were the dog recently rehomed after 500 days in the kennels and the Fiat 500 motor car. I did hire a Fiat 500 once in Lanzarote which was fun. I’m OK driving on the other side of the road but sitting in the left hand seat and changing gear with my right hand, well I’ve always found that to be the difficult part. Anyway, the Fiat 500 was a pretty tasty motor car, even for a big lug like me but I’m not sure I can say much more about it. Glad to hear about that dog getting rehomed though.

Perhaps a quick troll through my blogging landmarks might help.

Blog 100: Mr Todd and the Sound of that Elusive Next Blog.

Looking back to my 100th blog I see I was still searching for things to write about. A blog post prompt tasked me to write about a sound and the one that came to me was Mr Todd’s projector. Who was Mr Todd? Well he was a teacher at my junior school, Crossacres Junior School in Manchester and every Christmas Mr Todd set up his projector and we filed into the hall, sat down cross legged on the floor while the curtains were closed, the lights switched out and Mr Todd’s projector took us into another world, the world of films. They were mostly cartoons, things like Woody Woodpecker and Bugs Bunny and sometimes he showed a few Walt Disney animal documentaries.

Those Christmas film shows were just wonderful for us children, sitting in the dark watching those slapstick antics on the screen. I used to like to sit near to Mr Todd and marvel at the projector. He would open up little doors in the workings and make adjustments, and little shafts of light would escape until he closed the small doors again, and the whirring of the reels and the clicketty-click sound was a sound I loved.

One day, and I think it must have been my last year at junior school, Mr Todd retired but not only did he retire, he took his projector and films with him and the last Christmas at Crossacres was empty without him. I remember sitting in the hall listening to the choir or some play or other and hoping that eventually someone would give the signal to close the curtains and the projector would be wheeled in and the fun would begin. Mr Todd and his projector however, never returned and Christmases were never the same. Still, whenever I hear the sound of a projector the memory of that Christmas film show returns to me. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the Hitchcock movie ‘Rebecca’, but there’s a sequence in the film where Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier start watching their home movies and we hear that clicketty click projector sound again.

The World of the Vinyl Single

My 200th post was actually about TV Spies. It was OK but nothing exciting but for my 201st post I found myself writing about The World of The Vinyl Single. In 2022 there are still music charts although youngsters today prefer downloads to actually owning a physical copy of their chosen music. They have never known the joy of spending Saturday afternoons flipping through the singles in the numerous record shops of cities like my home town of Manchester. Not for them the allure of the soft dark vinyl or the album art or sleeve notes. No personal annotations like there were on my record sleeves with the discreet addition of the date I bought the record. The first single I ever bought was in 1973 and it was Olivia Newton-John’s version of ‘If Not For You’. Reduced to half price it was 24 pence. I sometimes wonder what was the last ever vinyl single I ever bought. One day I’ll have to search through my boxes of old records and work it out.

Edit: An Alternative 200th Post

WordPress is pretty good at showing you how many posts you’ve done but finding the 100th, the 200th and so on meant having to count back to blog number 1. I have to admit here that I made a big cock up looking back and after a recount I think my 200th blog post was actually one about photography. It was called Adventures with a Camera. I showed the reader some of my favourite pictures and talked about my favourite cameras from my first one, an Instamatic 126 to my current one a Nikon D100.

Night Shift

My 300th blog post was a poem, not one of my very best but my 301st was a post called Night Shift. What I did was string various threads together and link them to my night shift. As I’m now semi-retired I don’t do night shifts anymore so reading this post was a nostalgic look back for me at how things used to be: Trying to get some sleep during the day, the burst of activity at the start of the shift, the gradual winding down of things. The endless cups of tea, the midnight sandwich and finally the relief when the morning shift came in to take over. Going outside and getting into my car after the last one was a good feeling and so was the feeling that while everyone was off to work for me it was the other way round, off home for a sleep and remembering to set the alarm so I wouldn’t sleep away what was really my first day off.

Edit #2

After a substantial recount I found out later that my 300th post was (surprise, surprise) The Big 300. I think I was a little surprised to have got to that milestone and I talked a lot about writing and finding inspiration and also about the film and TV scripts I have written and had rejected. Writing scripts isn’t so hard but it’s what to do with them afterwards. Who will read them? Who can I send them to? Most companies are not interested in unsolicited scripts or ones from an unknown author or writers who are unrepresented by agents. For a while I paid to list one of my screenplays on Inktip.com and although I had some interest, producers weren’t queuing up to buy my script.

The Big 400

Blog Post 400 was about Things to Do During the Pandemic. Well, I guess we are all pretty happy to have put the pandemic (mostly) behind us. The things I was doing during the pandemic were watching TV, drinking wine and ordering restaurant meals to be delivered. Nowadays I’m doing pretty much the same thing although I’m actually back visiting restaurants instead of asking them to deliver food. Of course, the food is only part of the restaurant experience. Chatting to friends, having banter with our waiters and being waited on is really what a restaurant is about as well as good food and wine. In 2022 Liz and I have discovered a different restaurant called Spago and we have currently been taking advantage of their January and February offers. We have already found our favourite table (table 12) and the waiters are by now pretty used to our little idiosyncrasies (we like to pour the wine ourselves, we don’t like sweet stuff dribbled on our food, we like a lot of lemon in our table water to name but three).

The Big 500

Of course, we also like to visit our regular restaurants too like Ego (table 30 please) and Allegria (table 16). I also still watch far too much TV. Interestingly in the 400th post above I talked about watching Rocketman, the Elton John biopic. Last night we watched Bohemian Rhapsody the 2018 Freddie Mercury/Queen biopic.

Just like those earlier blog posts, in 2022 I’m still trying to flog my books, Floating in Space and A Warrior of Words. I’ve got a few more followers than I had back in 2014 when I first started blogging. Have I made any money from my blog posts? Er, no. Have my posts gone viral? No. Has writing and blogging made me a better writer? Well, those 500 blog posts haven’t hurt me in any way and more writing can’t be bad for a writer, it can only be good. Do I still like blogging? Of course, I do. The only problem is, what can write for blog #501?


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Dylan Thomas

The 27th of October was the birthday of one of my favourite writers. I love lots of writers but probably my all-time favourite is Dylan Thomas. I love the outstanding power of his writing, his incredible imagery, and the wonderful pictures he creates with his words.

Dylan also is the sort of writer I’ve always wanted to be: A bohemian, pub crawling, boozing writer who fought with himself as he laboured to paint his word pictures. Whether that was really the case I don’t know but Dylan did like his pubs and he did enjoy a drink.

The fact of the matter is that I’m nothing like Dylan, except we both share a love of words, particularly the sound of words, which is the key to the richness of Dylan’s work, especially his poetry. If you think about it, there must be a connection between the sound of a word and its meaning, a deep organic connection. After all, how did words begin? Imagine some ancient caveman, just wanting to get some concept over to his mate. What are the deepest and strongest feelings for a human being? Well, for a caveman food must be one, and love too. Surely love was present in those primordial days when every caveman went out on Saturday with his club looking for his mate. There must have been a moment when ancient man strived to say something to his mate, tried to express his feeling and a sound that was the precursor to the word love slipped uneasily from his lips.

If you have read any of Dylan’s poems and are yet to understand his magic, let me give you a tiny bit of advice: Listen to Dylan’s voice. Yes, Dylan, like many poets wrote for his own voice and if you click on to any Dylan Thomas page or search anywhere on the internet you are bound to come across some old recording of his voice. Don’t make do with lesser voices, even when we are talking about great actors like Richard Burton or Anthony Hopkins. Search out Dylan himself and you will be won over, like me, by the power of his voice.

It’s not just his poems that are rich with the power of words. Dylan wrote and performed a good many radio plays and broadcasts and my very favourite is ‘Return Journey.’ It’s about Dylan himself returning to Swansea in search of his former self ‘Young Thomas’. He visits young Thomas’ old haunts and meets with people who knew him fleetingly; the barmaid who used to serve him, journalists who worked with him and even the park keeper where Dylan and his young friends would play in the park. It’s a lovely piece where fantasy merges with reality and we slip in and out of the two as the story progresses.

Many years ago I visited Dylan Thomas’ house in Wales. The house is in the village of Laugharne and is not far from one of his famous watering holes, the Brown’s Hotel which I’m pretty sure was bought by one of the comedians from TV’s Men Behaving Badly.

The boathouse was bought by a trust some years ago which saved the property from collapsing into the sea. It’s a lovely place and on the day I visited, we had to leave early although I can’t remember why. I came back the next day and the staff remembered I had left early previously and let me in for free. I wandered about Dylan’s old house and sucked in the atmosphere before buying various books and pamphlets about Dylan and his works.

In another old TV documentary I tend to watch now and again, the presenter, a poet himself, thought he could imagine the conversations of Dylan and his wife, the chit chatting, the arguing and the making up later, or so he supposed.

I took a primitive digital camera with me and took a few shots of the house and Dylan’s famous writing shed. I read somewhere recently that the shed has now been removed and taken to a museum with a duplicate shed now occupying the site.

I enjoyed my visit and Dylan’s own poem always makes me think of it:

In the mustardseed sun,
By full tilt river and switchback sea
Where the cormorants scud,
In his house on stilts high among beaks
And palavers of birds . . .

As you might have guessed from reading these posts, I really do love my books. One particular book pictured here, about the last days of poet Dylan Thomas is one I’ve had a long time but have not got around to reading until more recently. I do endlessly peruse our local secondhand shops for books but I have a feeling I bought this one from one of two online bookshops, either Abebooks or Awesome books, both of which I use especially when there is a particular book that I am after.

This book is a rather slow one but it details Dylan’s last days and ultimately his death in New York in the USA.

Dylan was a slow worker when it came to writing and there was always something, usually a pub, to draw him away from his work. In his latter days he was concerned that his talent or his inspiration had gone and that all his best work was perhaps behind him. He was short of money as usual and that is what drove him to accept an offer to go to the USA on a poetry tour by Canadian poet John Brinnin. Brinnin was the director of a poetry centre in New York and the trips Dylan undertook there were very lucrative for the always hard up poet. Thomas had a number of wealthy patrons, in fact his famous house in Laugharne was bought by for him by an admirer but money went through Dylan’s hands quickly.

He had travelled there before and on his penultimate visit had become romantically involved with a lady called Liz Reitel who worked for Brinnin at the poetry centre. When Dylan arrived for his last visit Reital was shocked to see the poet looking poorly and ‘not his usual robust self’. Dylan was in an odd mood and related a strange story of an encounter on the aircraft with a priest. Over the next few days his mood alternated between being tired and poorly and getting drunk with some moments of normality. I get the impression from the book that Dylan liked attention, he liked admirers and although he was in the middle of an affair with Liz Reitel, he was not averse to enjoying the attention he received from other women.

At the poetry centre, preparations were under way for a recital of the newly finished Under Milk Wood for which Dylan had produced some new edits and updates. Towards the end of the book Liz mentions that she was disappointed that these revisions were not included in the published versions of the play despite the fact that she personally typed them up and passed them on to Dylan’s publishers.

The recital went well and was in fact tape recorded by someone at the time with Dylan taking the part of the narrator.

The book goes on to detail Dylan’s various moods and the symptoms of whatever was ailing him.

Liz called a doctor when Dylan became unwell again and the doctor gave Dylan an injection of morphine sulphate which may or may not have helped him.

After a night of drinking at the White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village, Dylan returned to the Chelsea hotel claiming famously that he had downed ‘eighteen straight whiskies. I think that’s the record!’

Dylan’s breathing became difficult later in the evening and an ambulance was summoned. Thomas slipped into a coma from which he never awoke and later died on the 9th of November, 1953. He was only 53 years old and died with assets of only £100.

I was always under the impression that Dylan had drunk himself to death but that may not be the case. The autopsy did not find any evidence of liver cirrhosis and his death may have been due to pneumonia and bronchitis as well as the injections he had received from the doctor. It was later thought that the morphine may have inhibited Dylan’s breathing rather than easing his pain.

This was a good read although the author’s style was not completely to my liking. One interesting thing about it was that in my copy, it was a second hand book remember, there was an inscription on the first page. The book was clearly a gift. Did the owner pass away? Did his family send for the house clearance man and clear away his belongings? Who was Kate, the lady who signed the book in 1992?

Who was the person she loved and thought the world of?

In a way it is almost like Under Milk Wood itself, where the dead come alive again at night as time passes . .


This post was compiled from my previous posts about Dylan Thomas


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Advertising, Comedy Writers and Patricia Cornwell

Advertisements do get on my nerves. They’re perhaps not so bad when reading a magazine, you don’t even have to look at them but TV commercials, well they are just a pain in the neck. Occasionally, if you are watching terrestrial TV and a commercial break comes on, sometimes you think OK, I’ll put the kettle on or go for a quick bathroom visit then you can sit down and you haven’t missed much. I’ve noticed lately however, that on some of the more commercial channels like ITV2 and 5USA for instance, the commercial breaks seem to go on for ever and sometimes it’s easier to just record the film or whatever you are watching and watch it later, when you can fast forward through the advertising.

Liz and I have a Sky subscription. It’s only the basic one, we don’t get sport or the movies channels, or the Formula 1 racing for that matter but we do hand over a sum of money to Sky every month in return for various TV channels. It almost seems then, that we are actually paying to see advertisements which really gets me so mad as I am paying for something which is annoying!

Still, I suppose the TV channels have to find a way to maximise their profits; they don’t put out TV shows for free of course, they do it to make money. I sometimes wonder how the world of broadcasting would have evolved without advertising; it would be so much better. Imagine all TV stations like the BBC, devoid of adverts and showing just the things we want to see. I remember once seeing an interview with Galton and Simpson, the famous comedy writers. They wrote for Tony Hancock and they wrote sitcoms like the classic Steptoe and Son. They said that sitcoms on commercial TV were essentially two 12-minute acts, with the remaining 6 minutes taken up by advertising. Writing for the BBC they said gave them an extra 6 minutes to play with. ‘Integrity time’ I think they called it.

Ray Galton and Alan Simpson met at a tuberculosis clinic in 1948 when they were both recuperating from the disease. They went on to write scripts for various radio shows before beginning a collaboration with Tony Hancock for the Hancock’s Half Hour radio show and for the later TV series. When Hancock ended their relationship, the two writers wrote a series called Comedy Playhouse. One particular episode was very popular and from this the two created Steptoe and Son, the classic BBC comedy.

Another writing partnership that I have always been fond of is Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement. They wrote the TV series The Likely Lads in the 1960’s and its 1970’s follow up Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads. I’ve always loved the Likely Lads, in particular that latter follow up series. Rodney Bewes and James Bolam played the eponymous lads and the series was set in the Newcastle upon Tyne area of north east England.  The later series was funny but also had a poignant quality as the two lamented the way things had changed since the days of the 1960’s. In the film version the two take time to attend the last moments of their favourite pub, the Fat Ox, soon to be knocked down by developers. All around them they can see change as back-to-back terraced houses are knocked down in favour of new housing estates. The feature film captures all the elements of the show and there were plans for a revival of the series but the two actors, Bolam and Bewes, apparently had a falling out and Bolam declined to appear again as his character Terry. After Bewes passed away, Bolam maintained that there never was a feud but that unlike Bewes, he was not interested in doing more Likely Lads.

La Frenais and Clement wrote a pilot script for Ronnie Barker in 1973 which later became the hit comedy series Porridge. It ran for three series and was also made into a feature film. The series starred Barker and Richard Beckinsdale as two inmates of Slade prison. Barker plays Fletcher, a prisoner who knows the prison ropes and is described in the opening titles by the judge as he is handing down a prison sentence (actually a voice over by Barker himself) as an ‘habitual criminal’. Beckinsdale plays Godber, an inmate serving his first term in prison who Fletcher takes under his wing and tries to educate in the ways of prison life.

Richard Beckinsdale who sadly passed away from an undiagnosed heart problem in 1979, was one of the bright new comedy actors of his time and would surely have gone on to greater things. He also starred in the TV comedy Rising Damp, about a seedy landlord played by Leonard Rossiter with three regular guests played by Beckinsdale, Frances De La tour and Don Warrington. The classic series even now enjoys many re runs on TV.

Another of my favourite comedy writers is Spike Milligan. He wrote most of the episodes of the classic radio comedy The Goon Show which starred Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Milligan. The Goon show was a revolution in radio comedy and featured a sort of surreal humour allied to numerous comedy voices, mostly supplied by Sellers, and many outlandish sound effects.

The show debuted in 1951 but the pressure of continually having to produce a new script weighed heavy on Milligan who suffered a nervous breakdown towards the end of 1952. Other writers were drafted in to help with scripts including Jimmy Grafton, (who ran a London pub where the cast originally met) Michael Bentine and others. The members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus all credit Milligan with inspiring them to work in comedy.

Milligan was a prolific writer, creating many radio and TV scripts as well as a play, The Bed Sitting Room which was also made into a film.

Back to Advertising.

I seem to have drifted off my original subject which was TV advertising. All TV adverts are not bad I suppose. Some that come to mind were the Cinzano ads featuring Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins. Together, they made a very funny series of ads back in the 70’s. Here’s the one I think is the funniest . .

Also I have to admit liking those ones featuring the Meerkats. There’s a great one where one of the meerkats, Sergei, (sad isn’t it when you watch the TV ads that much you even know the names of the meerkats) has been left alone for a while and he is really sad. When his pal finally returns and asks did you miss me? Sergei replies Miss you? I didn’t even notice you’d gone!

Remember the one about JR Hartley? I couldn’t even remember what they were actually advertising but after a quick look on Google I see it was yellow pages. An old chap is looking for a book, Fly Fishing by JR Hartley. He finds a copy using the yellow pages but who is the guy? It’s the author himself, Mr JR Hartley!

A personal favourite was one advertising a new Ford car using Steve McQueen. McQueen’s image was pulled from the movie Bullit and digitally inserted into the ad for a new Ford Puma.

Patricia Cornwell.

Patricia Cornwell is an American writer of mystery novels mainly featuring her heroine, Kay Scarpetta. Scarpetta is a medical examiner in the US state of Virginia and solves many murder cases using forensic methods and technology. Many credit Cornwell with inspiring the rash of CSI TV shows and other books and films that feature hi tech forensics.

I have a lot of respect for Patricia and any writer who can produce numerous high-quality novels. As for me, I’m still here labouring (sometimes) on the sequel to Floating in Space so my output is just a pale shadow compared to Patricia’s. Over on Twitter where I knock out a few Tweets every day in hope of attracting some attention to my blogs and books I have a shedload of followers but not a lot of interaction. Often my Tweets go off into cyberspace sometimes without anyone even noticing. The highlight of my week therefore was not only Patricia Cornwell following me on Twitter but also liking one of my Tweets. Pity she couldn’t have given me a retweet but heck, I’ll settle for a like. Thanks Patricia!


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Dreams and Dreamers

I’ve not had a particularly great week this week. The weather has been poor, I’m still off work because of my sore neck and shoulder and despite feeling better over the past month, these last two weeks have actually seen me going the other way, my neck and arm are starting to hurt more.

The other day I woke up far too early, it was 6 am when I stretched out and fumbled for my phone to check the time. It was a Friday and I didn’t have a completed blog post for my usual Saturday morning deadline, the deadline that for the past few years has kept me honest as a writer. I padded off wearily to the bathroom, had a glass of water and availed myself of the facilities and went back to bed. I don’t dream that much although a few years ago my dreaming seemed to increase, so much so that I started a dream journal, a notebook just by the bedside so that when I awoke I could jot down the details of my dream. Later when I came to review the notes I tended to find a whole lot of gibberish that not only made no sense but didn’t in any way nudge my memory and bring back those quickly forgotten dreams.

A long time ago I awoke after a crazy dream in which I was out with a friend I hadn’t seen for years, and somehow, don’t ask me how, I had lost all my clothes. We had been out drinking and were walking home then something happened and I woke up somewhere without any clothes. I woke up then but that wasn’t the end of it.

The next night I had a sort of follow on dream. I was wandering around with no clothes, although I had come across a blanket somehow and with me was Michael Portillo (yes, the ex-MP who hosts a show on BBC about railway journeys). Well we ended up in this hotel and I was starting to worry. Well, who wouldn’t? No clothes, no wallet, no mobile. Who could I call? Should I try and cancel my bank cards? What happened to my keys? Where am I and what has Michael Portillo got to do with it?

Michael was standing nearby and using his influence as a famous former MP. Someone brought him a phone and he started chatting into it. Clothes were brought for him and I could hear him speaking to his bank. It actually brought to mind that sequence at the beginning of one of the Bond films where Pierce Brosnan has been in a Chinese prison, escapes and finds himself in Hong Kong. He walks into this posh hotel, his hair long and unkempt, his clothes in rags and the guy at reception says “Will you be wanting your usual suite Mr Bond?”.

Some people just have that manner about them don’t they? Me, I’d have been unceremonially kicked out of that hotel, assuming I’d even made it past the front door! I can just imagine the scene:
Your usual suite Mr Higgins? Just a moment please?”
The manager beckons to a large man looking similar to Oddjob from the Bond movie Goldfinger. The next moment Mr Higgins hurtles through the front door. As he is propelled into the street he murmurs, “that’s a ‘no’ then is it?”

I often wonder where dreams actually come from. What is it in the deep recesses of the mind that produce these spurious dramas? When I was younger I don’t really recall ever dreaming that much. As I grew older I seemed to dream more but tended to forget most of my dreams very quickly. These days I do dream quite a lot and I dream pretty sensible things too. The ending of ‘Floating In Space’ was something I dreamed one night and I typed it up and replaced the original finale which, although inspired by real events, was a little unbelievable. Also, I have an entire story which I’ve partly written into a screenplay which I dreamed one night and which played out in front of me as vividly as if I was sitting at the front row of a picture house. It is about a man who appears one night wearing a white suit and who gets involved in some strange circumstances. So strange that those around him begin to believe the man is a kind of Saviour; a sort of new Jesus figure, and his companions become disciples in the way of those who followed Jesus himself. I still have my notes from that dream and the story is on my ‘to do’ list to finish.

Dreaming a story and making it into a novel or a screenplay isn’t quite as strange as it seems. In 1898 an American writer, Morgan Robertson wrote a story about an unsinkable ship called the Titan which sailed from England to the USA, hit an iceberg and sank. The story was published fourteen years before the Titanic disaster. I remember reading the story of this writer years ago, even that the writer saw the story played out in front of him like a movie but all the research I did on the internet for this blog seems to imply that the author was a man who knew his business where ships were concerned, felt that ships were getting bigger and bigger and that a disaster like that of the Titanic was inevitable.

That particular morning I fell back asleep and when I finally awoke, the sun was streaming through the windows and I felt refreshed and ready for a steaming hot cup of tea. In the kitchen I flipped on the kettle and while I waited for it to boil, I scrolled through my iPad. I was particularly interested in my YouTube stats because I had recently entered two of my short videos into film festivals and I was hoping that even if the videos didn’t get anywhere in competition, they would at least bring in some views and increase my media profile.

The stats for my videos were tremendous and I remember feeling a little buzz of excitement. My mobile phone rang just then. I didn’t recognise the number but I took the call anyway. It was a fellow who identified himself as one of the producers of the new James Bond film. They weren’t happy about the film; it hadn’t been released yet due to the Covid pandemic but they reckoned after seeing my film festival entries that perhaps I could take a look at their final edit and suggest some improvements. There was only one possible answer of course: I said yes straight away. It turned out there was an edit suite ready for me somewhere in London and I could expect a call back as soon as arrangements were made for the helicopter to pick me up.

Breakfast then was a quick bacon and egg butty which Liz expertly sorted out while I had a quick shower and a shave. I was just finishing off eating when I heard sirens and could see flashing lights in the street. A small posse of police cars had stopped all the traffic so the helicopter could land. It felt slightly surreal giving Liz a goodbye hug and kiss and then ducking down and running towards the aircraft. Moments later, St Annes was dropping away beneath me as we made our way towards Blackpool airport where we transferred to a jet specially chartered by MGM.

The aircraft lifted easily up into the clouds and headed south and almost as soon as the seat belt light went out the stewardess appeared and served me with a nice pot of tea. She did try to serve me coffee until I mentioned I’d rather drink a cup of mud. Funnily enough, in one of the Bond books, coffee drinker 007 describes tea in exactly the same way.  Scrambled eggs came shortly afterwards served with toast. I didn’t have to heart to tell her I’d already eaten.

The stewardess was soon back with a telephone call for me. It was Sky TV and they wanted to know that as I was on the way south would I have time for an interview? I scanned through my schedule for the day and I could see that we could maybe just fit that in as long as the Bond thing went smoothly enough. They must want to talk about the Bond film I assumed but apparently, sales of Floating in Space had just recently taken off and they wanted to ask about that.

It was a pretty busy day in the 007 editing suite although as I absolutely love editing, it was highly enjoyable. No more working on my cheap laptop. The edit suite was state of the art and I engineered a few minor but subtle changes. Apparently, the cast was standing by at Pinewood studios in case there was anything I wanted to reshoot but I didn’t think it was necessary. Not only that, Melvin Bragg was waiting down at the Sky television studios.

On the way down there having said goodbye to the lovely James Bond people, I settled down in my limo and had a quick check on my bank account. Whoa, there was a hell of a lot of money in there, money I wasn’t expecting to see. Checking through my emails, there was one from Amazon advising that Floating in Space was now the best-selling work of fiction in the UK. Straight away I started thinking about the villa in the Loire Valley that I had been looking at a few weeks ago on the internet. Wonder if I could fly down there and take a look at the property? If I liked it, if it was really as good as it looked on the website, could I really afford it? Looking at my bank account again, I reckon I could.

It wasn’t long until we arrived at the studios. Melvyn Bragg looked a little older than I remembered him although I had only ever seen him on TV and that was quite a while ago. I went into makeup and he and I had a quick chat about what we were going to talk about. In the green room I happened to mention I was a little thirsty and in a jiffy there was someone there with just what I wanted, a Pepsi Max with ice and lemon. The assistant mentioned that the other guest was about to come through and I was just about to ask who it was when Olivia Newton John entered. The same Olivia Newton John whose poster used to adorn the wall in my teenage bedroom so many years ago back in Manchester. We had a chat, far too brief a chat and then I had to go for my interview.

How did I come to write Floating in Space? Would there be a sequel? Would the book be taken up by a traditional publisher? What about the film version?

Later on some of the TV executives took me into London for an early evening meal. I was pretty hungry by then. I could have murdered a donner kebab but we ended up in the west end somewhere eating one of those meals that look like a piece of artwork on a plate but actually can be eaten in a few mouthfuls.

They offered me a room at some swanky London hotel but I was still hungry and if I remembered correctly I think Liz had planned something special for Friday night so I declined the room and asked to be taken back home. When I was settled in on the aircraft once again I gave Liz a quick call and she mentioned that she had already decanted some red wine. The stewardess served me a gin and tonic in one of those large glasses with plenty of ice and lemon. To be honest I actually fancied a pint of lager but anyway, as I reached forward to take the drink, I slipped and went head over heels towards the floor.

I lifted my hand up to check my fall but I was back in bed. I looked over and Liz was scrolling down her mobile phone. ‘Bloody hell!’ she said, ‘that snoring was going right through me. Where’s my cup of tea?’


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Old Age, Editing and a Touch of Variety

Week after week, I knock out a new blog post all in the mostly vain hope that my readers will watch the promotional video down at the bottom of this page and either buy my novel, Floating in Space or my poetry anthology A Warrior of Words. If one of those videos should perchance ‘go viral’ as they say and get some huge viewing figures then those viewers might even be suitably impressed enough to go out in great numbers and buy my books. Then I’d make a huge load of money and quite possibly depart for the South of France with the intention of trying some new wines and new cheeses at pretty frequent intervals.

You might think that once I had those royalties in the bank I might not bother about this lowly WordPress blog anymore. Nothing of course could be further from the truth. This blog and my one deadline of Saturday morning at 10am is the fuel that gets me writing. So far, nothing has stopped me putting out a post, apart from the odd occasion when I have forgotten to press the schedule button or pressed the publish button instead by mistake. The other thing that has sometimes curtailed these blogs is that moment that must come to all writers, the moment when a blank page stares back at you and you have nothing to fill it with.

Now it just so happens that I have been a little stuck for a blog post this week so what I’m going to do is combine this post with a half written post about favourite comedy sketches. Now of course you might be wondering how this is going to work so I suggest you think of this post like you might think of an old variety show, you know, those old Saturday night TV variety shows with a mix of singing, dancing and comedy.

Here’s the first clip from The Two Ronnies, one of my favourite sketches, seriously well written:

 

Last week I wrote about my latest radio interview which was only for a local community station but even so, it was an interesting experience. I am still off work and still suffering with pain in my right shoulder and arm and it’s not so easy to type but I’ve found that by getting into a semi prone position on the couch (some would say that would be my default position anyway) I am actually reasonably comfortable.

Due to Covid 19 it was not possible to go into the studio for the interview so we had to do it by telephone. I had written up a few notes to help me and make me sound reasonably intelligent, a difficult task as you can imagine. What made it more difficult was that the previous night I had slept really badly due to my sore arm and had finally nodded off round about the time I should have been getting up. Anyway, I did get up, got ready for my call and waited and waited for my trusty laptop to fire up. Fire up it did and then displayed a message saying ‘do not turn off your computer while Windows is updating’, not that it fires up particularly quickly anyway. Yes I always seem to get either that or something similar whenever I need my laptop in a hurry. In fact, come to think of it, scrap the South of France idea I mentioned above, I think I’ll spend a huge amount of money on an all singing all dancing new laptop before I venture off to France.

Time for some more humour. This clip is from the Monty Python team and I must add a quick personal story first. Years ago I used to work in the GM Buses control room. I was employed in the enquiry office taking calls from the public and we had the far corner of the control room to ourselves. Opposite me was Jed, a guy who hated the job and sat scowling at his desk waiting for his next call. Two young girls sat in the corner chatting and across from me was Mr Nasty, so called because of the various arguments he used to get into with the public. A young lad called Andy sat in the other corner.

Jed took a call quickly and efficiently, giving out bus times to the customer then quickly finishing the call. Next was Mr Nasty but his call clearly wasn’t going well. This was my first week in the job and I remember wondering whether or not I had made a good career move. The enquiry opposite me began to escalate into an argument and just then my phone rang. I picked it up and said ‘Hello, GM Buses’. A voice then asked me ‘Is this the right room for an argument?’

What? I looked around and my eye caught Andy quietly giggling to himself. I answered ‘I’ve told you once!’ just like John Cleese in the original Monty Python sketch. I had found another Python fan.

 

Okay, where was I? Of course, the root problem is age. If I wasn’t so old and knackered I wouldn’t have had the shoulder problem, I would have got up on time and started my laptop off good and early. The big problem is the inconvenience of getting old.

Yes, seriously inconvenient. Old age comes along just when you don’t want it. You have a few years on the clock, you’ve gained some experience of life, a lot of experience of life in fact. Some wisdom, some money in the bank. Retirement beckons and if you have been smart and invested in a private pension plan, retirement might even come earlier and sooner than it comes for most people. Of course, maybe the mortgage has been paid off and you may be sitting on a prime piece of property. You could sell it, downsize, buy a place in Spain or the south of France, maybe even in the USA, after all, over there they mostly speak the same language.

But what happens? Your back hurts. Your neck hurts. Maybe you need a hip replacement. You might be experiencing a little deafness or poor vision. Yep, old age can be really inconvenient. What has the government done about it? Yes, they have increased the retirement age rather than lowered it. What were they thinking? Lower it and straight away a whole raft of jobs becomes available to all those out of work people hoping for a job and as for us older people, we can jet off to somewhere warm and relax before our aches and pains get the better of us.

You might be thinking this might be a good spot to add another comedy video. I thought that too but in my draft post, 10 Classic Comedy Sketches, I had only got as far as number 3 and when it comes down to it, I’m not sure that number 3 was actually good enough to get into the top 10. Anyway, so as to continue the variety theme, here’s a little music from another unfinished draft; 10 Great Beatles Cover Versions;

Getting back to my interview, it seemed to go off reasonably well and like the seasoned blogger that I am I started sharing links to the interview over on Facebook and Twitter. What else could I do though? How else could I promote the interview and me at the same time? What about making it into a video? Difficult I know! If I had been really on the ball I could have set myself up at the table in front of my camera and videoed things from my perspective. I hadn’t, so how could I make it into a video? Well, I could easily add the soundtrack to a still picture of me or my website logo but that would be a bit boring. No, what I could do was to pretend to be doing the interview on camera and lip sync to my recorded answers. Genius!

How hard could it be to lip sync? Back in the sixties many films, especially European ones were made with only a guide soundtrack and all the dialogue was dubbed later. A prime example would be the spaghetti westerns like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Dubbing was pretty much the norm in European films, as many times they would be dubbed not only in their native language but in other languages too so as to facilitate sales in other countries.

Another interesting example is the James Bond films which surprisingly contain some excellent audio dubbing. Gert Frobe who played Auric Goldfinger was German and did not speak English well. His voice was dubbed in the film by another actor. I think I mentioned in a previous Bond blog post that Ursula Andress who played the first ever Bond girl Honeychile Ryder in Doctor No was dubbed in the film by Nikki Van der Zyl who did voice overs for many Bond girls. Apparently, Ursula Andress was felt by the producers to have had too strong a German accent.

Shirley Eaton played Jill Masterton in Goldfinger and it was she who was famously covered in gold paint. Jill’s voice was dubbed by Nikki in order to give her a softer voice. French actress Claudine Auger who played Domino in Thunderball was also dubbed by Nikki.

Not long ago on one of my promotional videos, I decided to lip sync myself when some unexpected wind noise ruined one of my recordings. I have to admit, the result was only partially successful even after hours of work. Actually it would have easier just to reshoot on a less windy day. Anyway, all that experience would pay off now and I could lip sync my new interview. Sadly after a few hours of lip syncing and coming close to smashing my beloved video camera and laptop to pieces I decided on another tack. I filmed myself talking but with the phone covering my mouth so my lips couldn’t be seen on the finished film. What a directorial film making genius. Why Hollywood has never signed me up I’ll never know?


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Frozen in an F1 Barbecue Summer

When I first started this blog a few years back I used to post pretty randomly but after reading up and subscribing to a few blogging experts I felt that I should decide on a regular time to post. I chose 10am on a Saturday morning. The great thing about having that particular slot is that I can focus my writing towards it, it’s almost like being a professional writer and having a deadline for a newspaper or magazine column. The flip side is that when I’m not so well or haven’t any ideas I start worrying. What will I write about? What if I cant think of anything? So far everything has gone pretty well, the deadline actually gets me motivated to write. Maybe I need a deadline to help me with the follow up to Floating in Space!

Just then the phone rang. I checked my mobile and it was my editor, Issy Readiyet.

‘Issy, how are you?’

‘Steve, I’m great, how’s your new post coming? Is it ready yet?’

‘Well, I’m still working on it Issy, it’s still in the err developmental stage. I’ve got a working title though.’

‘What is it?’

‘Frozen in summer.’

‘What? That sounds a little cryptic. Not sure the readers would go for that. What’s it about?’

‘Well, it’s still a work in progress but it’s summer, and it’s really hot and I’ve got this . . .’

‘What?’

‘Well, I’ve still got a sore shoulder. A frozen shoulder . .’

‘Oh Steve, you’re not still on about that trapped nerve and the shoulder pain? Haven’t you written about that already?’

‘Well, yes but I think there’s still a little mileage in there and I could do with a little . .’

‘Sympathy? Come on, snap out of it Steve. Call yourself a writer? I need some copy and don’t forget we’ve got to sort out the graphics and images and maybe search for some video links. It’s not easy being an editor you know! Get on with it and don’t forget to change that title!’

I would have said ‘bye Issy’ but I was already listening to a dial tone.

Up here in the north west of England it’s been a hot week and last weekend it was one of the highlights of the year for me, the British Grand Prix. Here in the UK Formula One racing can only be seen live on Sky TV. I do have Sky, the basic Sky but being a member of that ancient and revered order, the order of tightwads, I really cannot break my solemn oath and just go and randomly pay for an expensive TV F1 package. The only alternative of course is to watch the highlights on Channel 4, the only terrestrial channel that broadcasts F1.

The big bonus for the British Grand Prix though is that it’s live, yes, actually live on Channel 4, and not only that, they are showing the practice sessions, the qualifying, (my favourite part) the sprint race (something new) as well as the actual race live. It’s the only race Channel 4 are allowed to broadcast live so as I have done a great deal of moaning about only getting to see the highlights I should be happy, shouldn’t I? Finally seeing an F1 race live in this new 2021 season which has been a great improvement on previous rather dull seasons. The flip side to this is that just lately a lovely summer has settled down on us here in the north west of England. Do I really want to be sat inside watching F1? Should I just record it and watch it later? That would defeat the object wouldn’t it? After all, as a true F1 fan I should really be watching it live.

Because of Covid and now also because of my sore shoulder (did I mention the trapped nerve and my shoulder pain?) we haven’t used our motorhome much this year. We did have a run out to Yorkshire a while back and a pub stop over before that but otherwise the only trip was a run out to the garage for the MOT. Liz had bought a small portable gas barbecue ready for our travels and it was lying unused in the corner so we thought it was time to give it a trial run.

(Editor’s note: Barbecues? Where are we going with this?) I do like barbecues but the flip side is that they are dirty and smelly and greasy. I always start off with some dry wood, pack in the charcoal and light up with some firelighters. Sometimes we’ll get a slow burner barbecue so we end up supping too much wine while we wait for things to get going. Other times we’ll get the reverse, a barbecue that catches quickly and voom, goes off in a big hot burn. That’s usually when we are expecting a slow burner and are still finishing off the salad and so when we sit down I realise I’m going to have to slap all the meat on quickly before the coals burn themselves out. The really annoying thing is when we are in the motorhome and I realise that after the barby has finished, I am somehow going to have to clean this horrible, greasy mess and get it packed away so we can move on.

So how have things gone with the gas barby? Pretty smoothly actually. None of that messing about with the coals and lighter fluid. The portable job snaps quickly together, slap in the calor gas cylinder, press the starter and hey presto, we are ready to barbecue. The other great thing about this one is that there is a water reservoir that catches all the grease and fat. Just swill that away somewhere in a corner of the garden, a quick wipe with a paper towel and we are all ready for next time. Barbecuing with gas, I love it!

(Editor’s note: you’re not giving me much here that can be linked to a film clip or video. We need some visual content to liven up this post!) Ok Issy, calm down, how about this: Author Ian Fleming had some trouble with his back and actually incorporated the experience into one of the James Bond books, Thunderball. Bond gets sent to a health farm called Shrublands. There, the inquisitive 007 notices a fellow guest has an interesting tattoo on his hand and decides to contact headquarters to see if they recognise it. The guest overhears this and decides Bond needs to be taught a lesson. The opportunity arises when Bond is placed on a traction machine that is supposed to stretch Bond’s back, just the sort of treatment I need! Anyway while Bond is on the machine it is suddenly ramped up to high speed and nearly breaks Bond’s back. Luckily Bond is rescued in time but later gets his revenge. That traction machine clearly made an impression on Ian Fleming.

I was so engrossed in the easy preparation for our upcoming barbecue I forgot about the Grand Prix. At about 4pm, a full hour after it started I went inside to see what was happening. One of the great inventions in the world of TV has to be hard drive recording. Don’t you just love it? You can actually start watching the race or indeed any programme while it is still recording. I started with the race build up and fast forwarded through all the team baloney about how the mechanics and engineers and everyone back at the factory had done a great job, blah blah blah. Paused for a moment when I thought will anyone actually say anything controversial? No was the answer.

I did stop for a moment with Daniel Riccardo, the Australian driver. Looking at his race team fireproof top and all the advertising on there I started to wonder whether it actually does those advertisers any good, sponsoring an F1 team? I mean who or what is Splunk? What do they do? What product do they make or what service do they provide? I’ve no idea, so do all the millions they pump into McLaren ever get a return? Does anyone think: Daniel had their logo on his shirt, I’ll buy their product? Nah, doubt it.

Ok, they have got their name in front of the public but they need to do a little more to start making use of that.

(Editor’s note: So how was the Grand Prix by the way?) Sorry Issy. After fast forwarding through the usual baloney which I must admit I quite used to like, we finally got to the nitty gritty. The green flag was waved, the red lights went out and Hamilton and Verstappen dived straight away into a great wheel to wheel battle. When they reached Copse corner, the two went for the same piece of tarmac and Verstappen was off into the barrier and Lewis lost his nose wing but managed to continue. That left Leclerc in the Ferrari out in front. Fast forward through all the accusations and counter accusations -Max was too aggressive, Lewis was too aggressive- blah blah blah. Lewis was able to take the restart but Max sadly wasn’t, his car being a total wreck. The race restarted and Lewis chased Leclerc all the way to the end of the race, took a ten second penalty and still won. An OK race and despite fast forwarding through most of it, it was quite exciting although as soon as Lewis took the chequered flag I was off out back to the sun.

Yes, Grand Prix out of the way and it was time to relax. A bottle of merlot had been warming gently in the sun and now it was time to test the wine. Liz poured our drinks and we took a sip, yes it was a cheeky little Spanish number, easy on the palate and just right to serve with steak, sausages, burgers and small kebabs all of which were on the menu that day. The great thing about the small gas barbecue was that instead of having to get up and keeping checking and turning the meat, out new gas barby perched happily on the table top just by Liz so she could easily reach out and turn the kebabs.

Obviously, I would have liked to have done the barbecuing myself rather than be waited on by the lovely Liz, but sadly, being partly crippled by neck and shoulder pain I wasn’t able to assist in the way I normally would. (Editor’s note: Baloney!)


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The Story of My Life Part 2

OK, here we go. Remember the post from a few weeks back? Life story in less than 2500 words? You do? Great stuff. Here’s the continuing story then, this time restricted to 2390 words.

Only 2390 words? What can I say? I did 1000, then 1500 then after 2200, I felt I’d gone as far as I could, not only that, I felt I had to go out and do some Christmas shopping instead of living dangerously and waiting until December 24th like I usually do. The funny thing is, when we get to Bonfire Night on November the 5th, I always think that this will be a good time to take a crack at Christmas shopping. I always think that. I never actually do it, you know, actually buy anything but I do think about it.

I think I finished part 1 at a point where I was working at an insurance company in Manchester city centre. If you want to refresh yourself with that earlier work, feel free to click here. I really did enjoy my time working in the insurance world. Well, I liked being in Manchester city centre and I liked the world of after work drinks in the city centre, evenings after work in the city centre. Actually, I suppose I just liked the city centre.

Back in the 1970’s there were a number of great bars and pubs in Manchester. I remember an exclusive looking bar I sometimes ventured into on a side road just off Deansgate. It was called Sims as I remember. I used to get myself a bar stool and order a very James Bond dry martini. For a while I wore a grey trench coat and it has just occurred to me I must have cut a figure similar to Delboy in the classic TV comedy Only Fools and Horses. Remember that scene where he leans on the bar but doesn’t realise the bar top has been lifted up? Well happily that didn’t happen to me although I must have looked like a right plonker sat at the bar sipping my dry martini. Of course, in those days I knew nothing about drinks or what to order. I spent quite a few years ordering a pint of mild in pubs all because I hadn’t a clue what to ask for. I remembering ordering a beer and the slightly stunned barmaid asked ‘what sort of beer?’ Luckily just then I overheard someone nearby asking for a pint of mild so I asked for the same having no idea what it was. Later on, when I realised all my mates were drinking lager, I started drinking that.

Sometimes, I felt that I wasn’t in the mood to quaff a full pint, especially at lunch times. We had a short lunch break at the insurance company where I worked so I felt I had to order something smaller. I’m not sure why I didn’t just ask for a half pint but for some reason, perhaps I had read too many James Bond books, I ordered a dry martini and lemonade. My work colleagues were always rather amused by this so I decided to try and change back to beer. It wasn’t easy. The barman at the time in the Beef and Barley had made it his mission to have my martini all ready when I came in. I’d approach the bar and before I could say, pint of lager please he would whip out a dry martini. If there was a bunch of people at the bar, he’d always find time to sort out the martini before I could put my order in. I wouldn’t mind but it wasn’t as if I was giving out big tips, after all, as a committed and fully paid up tightwad, tipping is not only not part of our mission statement, it is completely against our cultural ethos. These days I’d just say, look, I’ve stopped drinking martini, give me a lager. Back then, the only answer was to just stop going in there and walk the extra 100 yards to the Salisbury.

The Salisbury pub in Manchester City Centre

Incidentally, my uncle Raymond, who lied about his age in order to join his older brothers in World War II, once told me he had been arrested by MPs in the Salisbury so that pub has a particular bit of Higgins history that I have always liked.

Another bar I used to frequent, especially on a Saturday night, was the ‘Playground’, a small disco bar on Oxford Rd. Flickering multi- coloured spotlights rotated across the red carpeted room, which, on Fridays and Saturdays was generally packed. It had a small dance floor sunk low like a pit, where people up on the raised bar level could look down at the gyrating girls, and where also, on week day lunchtimes, a topless dancer appeared at the stroke of one o’clock to translate the soul and disco music of the time into pulsating physical motion, the eyes of jaded office workers glued to her as she did so.

My friends and I used to meet up in the Salisbury, by Oxford Rd station, have a few pints and a bit of a natter to any Insurance colleagues who we might find there, then make the short walk to the Playground. There was a paltry fifty pence charge to get in, the solitary bouncer was silent, but not unpleasant and the DJ, who always began the night with ‘Love’s Theme’ by the Love Unlimited Orchestra, played alternate sessions of rock, disco and chart music.  We were all mad about Jenny, the barmaid. She was lovely. She had a kind of round, open face, framed by thick blonde hair and her skin was a creamy white. She served us Worthington ‘E’ and we melted into the hubbub of people on their Saturday night out while the music of the seventies drifted through us.

The Playground as it is today

I’ve got to admit, I’ve cheated a little bit here because that last section about the Playground was lifted straight out of Floating in Space. I loved that bar and I was pretty gutted when it closed down. It’s still a bar today in 2020 but not quite the same. The dance floor has gone although there is still a bouncer on the door. I spoke to him last year before this whole nightmare Covid 19 stuff and he showed me round and said it was OK to return with my video camera and take some shots. Maybe I will in 2021.

Sometimes my friends and I went down to our favourite club. It was a place called Genevieve’s. Genevieve’s was in Longsight, which was a pretty rough area of Manchester and one of the hazards of the place was that you never found your car quite the same as how you left it, if you found it at all.

I remember one long ago Saturday night. My friends and I had to queue up for about ten minutes to get inside but we took that as a good sign. After all, a queue meant the club was busy. A group of grizzly bouncers scrutinised us and under their intense gaze we paid the entrance fee then went on inside. We were met by the warm fireside glow of soft lighting and the loud, pulsating beat of disco music. Coloured spot lights flashed over the four dance floors, in the hub of which sat the DJ, turning slowly around in a revolving booth.

There were five bars. Two small corner bars, two long bars, and a circular bar at the far end of the club. It really was a well set out place. We headed for one of the corner bars and my mate asked “bitter Steve?” I nodded and he called out to the barmaid.

A small army of bouncers was wandering around the club and as we waited for our drinks an argument broke out at one of the slot machines. Without any questions two burly bouncers grabbed the offender and propelled him expertly to the door. Another hooligan tried to come to the rescue by jumping on the back of one of the bouncers but a third bow-tied, black suited gorilla punched him solidly in the side, twisted his arm up his back and quickly removed him also. It was the sort of place where they didn’t stand any messing and the beer tasted like 3 parts water to one part beer and your feet stuck to the floor as you walked around. No one to my knowledge ever decided to complain to the management.

Genevieve’s attracted all sorts of people. There were smartly dressed, obviously wealthy people, peeling off rolls of bills to pay for whiskies and gins and other spirits. There were many attractive, well dressed girls. The younger girls drank halves of lager, sat in groups, and danced in groups to the Motown music of the sixties. They would drop their handbags onto the floor as they converged together for the formation dance routines for ‘Jimmy Mack’ and ‘Third Finger Left Hand’.

There were groups of lads too, who held cigarette packets and lighters in their hands, or placed them down in front of them on the tables while they drank, talked and eyed up the girls.

I spent a lot of my young life in that club. Tracks like Bus Stop by The Fatback band and Young Hearts Run Free by Candi Staton always remind me of Genevieve’s. Despite the watered down drinks and the frequent fights, my friends and I had a lot of fun there until one day it either closed down or we found a better place to go.

Just to try and give you a better idea of the times, in 1978, Jim Callaghan was the UK Prime Minister and Jimmy Carter was the US President. The movie Grease was released starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. The Bee Gees released Night Fever and the biggest selling hit of the year was Rivers of Babylon by Boney M.

Anyway, after a few years of working as an office clerk my friend Chris and I decided to pack our jobs in and go and work in Spain in a place called Lloret de Mar. His sister was based there and according to her it was a great life; sun, sand and of course, the young ladies.

We both decided to finance the deal by selling our cars. My car was a major mistake. It was a Mini Cooper and although it was a great car the insurance for that particular vehicle for a young man back in 1978 was pretty horrendous. When I came to sell the car, it attracted young men like me, all of whom were pushed to pay the insurance. Then a whole lot of problems occurred with the car and so I ended up selling it for a measly £50.

Chris and I hitchhiked down to London then got the boat train to Paris and then after being becalmed in French hitchhiking hell for days, we just jumped on a train direct to Lloret.

We met two girls on the train and had a fun time travelling together for a few days. ‘My’ girl was called Lee, which she said was short for Emily.

On arrival in Lloret we found a small pension consisting of a couple of rooms and a bathroom and spent a lot of time going down the pub drinking beer and chatting to girls.

We were pretty popular for a while. A short while. Later I realised our popularity was directly related to the money we had. The locals we met, by locals I mean the British ex pats who had flocked to the area just for the same reasons we had, all had pretty much nothing and anyone else who either was a new arrival with money or an expat who had some kind of a job was fair game to cadge off. For a short time I worked in a pub. I wasn’t paid any money but they gave me a meal for my trouble. Any time I was behind the bar collecting plates and glasses for washing, my new mates all hissed ‘Steve, pour us a lager while no one is looking!’ I didn’t and as a result my popularity plummeted. One night I was in the pub drinking with friends and after an evening of fending off various cadgers I told one of them to, in polite terms, go and have sex with himself. Alas this did not go down well and I became somewhat unpopular in that small Spanish town. After a few weeks I got a little fed up of this and so I moved on and left my friend behind. He was happy, he was a popular guy and he spent the summer with new friends loitering about Spain.

I started hitchhiking back north through France. I remember meeting an American guy. He was doing something similar to me, he had packed in his insurance job, sold his car and was travelling around Europe. We travelled together for a while. Every night he checked into a hotel and I put my tent up somewhere nearby. He had his evening meal in the hotel, I had some bread and cheese from the local shop and we had a few drinks together of an evening. Like all Americans, certainly those I have met, he was a friendly guy. It was clear to me he was dining well and I of course wasn’t. I must have ponged a little though after all those weeks on the road and I have to say I wouldn’t have minded using his shower, but the offer never came. After a while we parted company.

Not so long ago I found my old notebook from those days and written neatly in there are his name and address and phone number in the USA. I’ve always wanted to visit the USA and the Americans are such friendly, outgoing people. Wonder what he’d say if I turned up on his doorstep. Remember me? Steve Higgins? France, 1978? Any chance of using your shower?

I fondly remember turning up at home. My mum answered the door with a look of shock. ‘What are you doing here?’ she asked. I thought you were going away for six months?’

I’d returned after about six weeks. ‘I don’t know where you’re going to sleep’ she went on. ‘We threw your old bed out the other week!’


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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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10 Incredible Tips to take your Writing to the Next Level

As the writer of some 394 blog posts I thought it was perhaps high time that I tried to impart some of my hard earned blogging and writing knowledge to you, my esteemed readers. Not only that, I read somewhere that those ‘how to’ kind of blog posts get some great readership so here goes . .

1. Writing.

Now this might seem to be a bit of a lame subject to start with but writing these days usually involves a keyboard of some sort, unless you’re from the old school of pen and paper writers. Even then, all your hand written work still needs to be transferred to a computer so try this link which has quite a few handy keyboard tips.

27 Handy Keyboard Shortcuts Every Writer Should Know

2. How many words should you write?

If you are writing a novel how much is enough? Have you written too little or too much? Floating in Space is only a slim volume so maybe I should have written more. Click the link below to find out.

https://self-publishingschool.com/how-many-words-in-a-novel/

3. Displaying a link for your book.

Now when I search Amazon to get the link for Floating it is always a long, long link which takes up perhaps two lines of text. I usually try to hide an unwieldy link like that within the text so for instance, why don’t you click here. Let your mouse hover for a moment to see just how long that link is. To get yourself a much cleaner universal link, one that will direct your readers to the Amazon store relevant to the country in which they live, click this link https://books2read.com/

Using this link will direct you to a page where you can enter your page link and convert it to something not only a little leaner but also one that is universal. Here is my resulting link:

https://books2read.com/u/3LD92N

If you fancy settling down to read about Manchester in the 1970’s give it a click!

4. Stuck for Book Marketing Ideas?

Try this link for 119 ideas!

119 Book Marketing Ideas That Can Help Authors Increase Sales

5. Wanting to write a novel but short on ideas?

Try this link for 8 novel writing ideas!

8 novel writing tips from accomplished authors

6. Have you got a Facebook Author Page?

No Facebook author page? Can you really afford to ignore Facebook in this social media age? Surely not! Click the link below to get your Facebook page up and running!

https://kindlepreneur.com/facebook-author-page/

7. Are there any YouTube pages for authors?

Yes there are plenty. Here’s one from Joanna Penn, a writer who also has a blog page and a YouTube channel where she shares information and inspiration about writing fiction, writing non-fiction, self-publishing, book marketing and making a living with your writing.

https://www.youtube.com/user/thecreativepenn

8. Any Twitter Tips?

Twitter, in case you didn’t know is a great place to market your work and send it out into the world of social media. Here’s an excellent post by writter and blogger Rachel Thompson, 5 tips for marketing your book on Twitter. The one about optimising your author bio is one I’ve used myself.

https://writingcooperative.com/top-5-twitter-tips-to-powerfully-market-your-books-81de1a9af202

9. What about Instagram?

Try this link for information on creating an author page on instagram:

https://kindlepreneur.com/instagram-for-writers-and-authors/

10. How did I find out about all this stuff?

Well, some of it was pure research, some of it I just stumbled upon as I bumbled through the internet and some was by following some great author and writers’ pages like Roxanne who publishes a very handy list of helpful links every week right here on WordPress.

https://moonrox.wordpress.com/


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