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.

 

 

 

Four Writers’ Homes

Clouds Hill

TE Lawrence’s home was a small cottage called Clouds Hill. I read somewhere recently that the house had now been refurbished and open to the public. It is a small place and I remember seeing a TV documentary about Lawrence where someone who visited in the past advised that guests were generally left to their own devices, that food was eaten from tins left in the cupboard and that a lot of classical music was played.

Lawrence of course was more popularly known as Lawrence of Arabia, the man who organised the Arab revolt during the First World War. As the feature film by David Lean tells us, Lawrence was dismayed by having to lie to the Arab people, telling them that Great Britain would honour their claims for freedom at the end of the conflict when in fact the UK had every intention of holding on firmly to the Arab lands.

Churchill was impressed by Lawrence and invited him to attend the Paris peace talks.

Lawrence later wrote his classic book, Seven Pillars of Wisdom upon which the film Lawrence of Arabia was based.

A number of elements of the book have interested scholars ever since. The book is a work of history but also a great work of literature and readers have wondered ever since about whether the work was accurate, especially as in one infamous chapter, Lawrence relates how he was captured and beaten by a sadistic Turkish officer.

In that same TV documentary, Lawrence’s brother addresses the camera and sheepishly tells the viewer that not many people can understand how someone can enjoy pain. That was in response to a 1960’s newspaper report about a man who claimed Lawrence paid him to be beaten regularly. Clearly Lawrence was a complicated man. In later life he hid from the public by using the names John Ross and later T E Shaw. He was fatally injured in 1935 after a motorcycle accident.

After a little research I find that the property is now owned by the national trust and is open regularly for visitors. Find out more at https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/clouds-hill

Chartwell

Nothing that I can add to the mountains of books and articles written about Winston Churchill can make much of a difference, but anyway, here we go. Can there ever have been someone who was not only a great politician but also a great writer and also one of the giants of history? I have always felt a tiny spark of excitement when even now I read Churchill’s words on when he attained the premiership in the dark early days of World War II. ‘I felt,’ he wrote ‘as if I was walking with destiny.’

The amazing thing is that only a few years previously Churchill was a has been, a man written off as a former chancellor who had crossed the floor of the house once too often and now was distrusted by everyone.

As it happened, his dire warnings about Nazi Germany and the impending war made him the obvious choice to succeed Neville Chamberlain, whose policies of appeasement had perhaps led Britain towards the path of war.

Churchill’s home, Chartwell had been bought largely from the proceeds of his books. Indeed he was fond of commenting ‘all this, came from my pen.’

During the time of his so called wilderness years he spent a lot of time at Chartwell and even built some of the walls there with his own hands. He painted there and prior to World War II many informants came to him to reveal information with which he used to call attention to the tragic state of unreadiness of the UK for war.

This is also a national trust property. You can find more about visiting Chartwell here: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/chartwell

The Boathouse

It’s a long time since 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 . . .

Click the following link for more information on the boathouse: https://www.dylanthomasboathouse.com/

Mendips.

Lennon is a different kind of writer of course. He did publish a couple of books of his doodlings, one was called In his own Write if I remember correctly but mostly his creative urge went towards his music. Early on, he and fellow Beatle Paul McCartney agreed that all their songs would be known as Lennon and McCartney songs, even though some were written totally by Lennon and some totally by McCartney. Sometimes McCartney would finish off Lennon’s song, other times Lennon would sort out a problem song McCartney couldn’t finish. It was a great collaboration, perhaps the greatest in pop history.

Picture courtesy wikipedia

All the Beatles were from Liverpool of course. Lennon was brought up by his aunt Mimi in the Liverpool suburb of Woolton.

Many years ago I used to have a cigarette vending machine round and one of my sales areas was Woolton. One of the pubs I used to service there was a small modest place, owned by two former Shell tanker drivers. They had retired and pooled their retirement money to buy this small pub. They made little money they told me, in fact neither of them ran the pub, they employed a manager to do so.

One was a quiet chap, the other a pretty talkative fellow. The manageress never spoke to me much but the talkative owner was always in the bar and he usually made me a cup of tea and we would have a bit of a natter and then I would be off on my way to service some other pub.

One day we started talking about Lennon and my friend mentioned that Lennon had lived just around the corner from that very pub. Later I followed the directions given to me and found myself parked outside a typical 1950’s looking suburban semi-detached house. Surely Lennon came from a deprived background, a rough and tumble council estate? But no, there was a blue plaque on the wall denoting Lennon had indeed lived here. It was somehow not what I was expecting.

Since I last visited here I see that the house is now owned or at least managed by the national trust along with Paul McCartney’s former home. Click this link for more information: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/beatles-childhood-homes


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

7 Questions for a Self-Published Author

Question 1:

How did you come to write your book?

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

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

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

Question 2

How did you go about publishing the finished book?

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

Question 3

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

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

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

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

Question 4

Tell me about your website and your blog

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

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

Question 5

What sort of posts will we find on your blog?

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

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

Question 6

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

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

Here are a few stats:

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

500 million people watch Facebook videos every day.

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

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

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

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

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

Question 7

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

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

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

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


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

 

4 Simple Secrets of Self Publishing

One of the bylines I use on Twitter is ‘hear it straight from a self-published author’ so I thought it might be an idea to write a post about just that, about being a self-published author.

1. The first thing to remember in the world of self-publishing is that it’s just you, no one else, just you.

You are the writer, the editor and the proofreader all rolled into one and there is only you to tell you that that bit is good and that other bit is not so good and that the book is too long or too short, or anything else for that matter. Sometimes you might find you need a little help, particularly in the area of proofreading. After I wrote my book and then rewrote it a few times I personally began to develop a sort of word blindness and I tended to see only the words I thought I had written and not the ones I actually had written. Spelling and grammar checkers will pick up things like repeated words, bad spelling and so on but a really good idea is to get someone to proofread your work. How many mistakes Liz has spotted in my work I shudder to think!

2. Once you have clicked the button at Amazon to publish then another thought may begin to enter your head: Who is going to buy your epic work? How will they even know about it?

The answer is marketing, and who will be marketing your book? Well, for a self published author, it’s going to be you! Yes, that’s your cue to start Facebooking, Tweeting and Blogging so you can get your message out to all those eagerly waiting readers; a new book is available, come and get it.

A thousand websites are out there that will tell you about the intricacies of marketing and blogging. Some will drop a tiny sliver of free info onto your doorstep, others want you to sign up for their webinars and their courses all guaranteed to sell your book, at a price of course.

For me there are a few select websites that I read regularly and I do follow their advice,  particularly when I decide to shell out some money and actually advertise. Apart from advertising, I publicise Floating in Space in all the usual places I have mentioned plus I have a raft of videos to bombard the public with, some short and snappy and others that go into more detail. Then of course, there is this humble blog, going out once a week in the hope that these short missives about life, the universe, books and classic films will hopefully entice a few people to buy my book and bring me in a few sales. Will you be a best seller and make lots of money? Some writers do of course but when £5 a month drops into my bank account, sometimes more, sometimes less, I count myself very happy indeed.

Got yourself an author blog? No? Get yourself one ASAP. An author blog is a way of communicating straight to the book buying public. WordPress is a great way to start, fairly easy and free. The only thing I pay for at WordPress is my website address, http://www.stevehigginslive.com

3. Have you self-published at amazon?

Well if you have, having your author page at amazon is very important too. Get yourself a good bio sorted and some juicy stuff about your book. Another place that’s important is Goodreads. Take some time to set up your author page there too and try to interact with readers and other authors. Take a look at my Goodreads page here.

4. One last thought.

Ok, you’ve gone down the self-publishing route but that doesn’t mean you have to stay self-published. Keep on researching publishers and keep on sending off your manuscripts!

Oh and one other thing, just because you have found these four ‘secrets’ published on the Internet, that doesn’t mean that they are right, or good or even worthwhile listening to. I am just like a thousand other writers knocking out works like this that float off into the internet. I have no editor to tell me my post wasn’t helpful or interesting or generally up to much. I just have me and some grammatical support from my lovely proofreader who labours away correcting my tenses and spelling and other errors for no monetary gain at all, although I do take her out for a meal now and again.

So if you fancy becoming a self published author and blogger, join the club. Floating in Space is currently rated by Amazon as the 520,413th most popular book on their site. Almost a year ago it had hit the dizzy heights of 4,536th most popular so that is quite a fall, maybe it’s time to consult my head of marketing (me) and maybe sort out a new video from my personal video producer (me) for a new ad campaign!


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

 


 

The Self Published Writer’s Guide to the Radio Interview

A great opportunity to promote my work came my way this week. I’d like to be able to say that it was an opportunity that I created because I’m a top-notch marketeer and all round internet savvy guy. As it happens it was something that happened quite by chance. It turns out that one of my fellow northern bloggers thought that I’d be an ideal interviewee for her husband who happens to be a radio DJ. It was also an ideal opportunity for me to rabbit away on radio about my books, (ok, book!) blogs and YouTube page and generally promote myself with the possibility of flogging a few more copies of Floating in Space and maybe even getting a few more followers on my various internet pages.

I have to say I’ve always fancied being a radio DJ. I’ve always liked Paul Gambacinni whose smooth transatlantic tones used to tell us all about the US chart placing on his BBC radio show and he is still broadcasting today on BBC Radio 2. Another favourite DJ was Adrian Juste, who back in the 70’s and 80’s did a BBC radio show which combined music and comedy clips. Sadly he was sacked by the BBC when the new Radio 1 controller made some sweeping changes in the 1990’s. Shame really because Adrian was doing something very different on the radio, combining music and comedy. I loved his show.

Now my adventure on radio wasn’t exactly Radio 1 or even Radio 2 for that matter. In fact it was on Salford City 94.4 FM, a community radio station and the DJ was a really nice guy called Allan Shalks. Salford City Radio, according to their website blurb is . .

‘a multi award-winning non-profit community radio station brought to you by more than one hundred local people every week.

We encourage new, unique and innovative radio with a local feel and local relevance. All our shows are produced and presented by volunteers and we offer Salford a unique service that promotes local news, people, topics and events.

We are also famous for our fantastic and varied taste in music. We cover everything from unsigned bands and new artists to specialist genres.’

Writers, even those of the self-published variety have to cope with various things in their writing lives; book signings and stuff like that. A particular milestone for me was my first media interview. How did it go? Well it went something like this:

I wasn’t sure exactly where the radio station was so I did a recce the day before and I arrived early. Allan Shalks, the DJ who had kindly offered to have me on his show was there waiting and we had a quick chat, settled on some writer and blogger friendly topics and we were all set.

I was a little surprised because I had imagined that a radio station was full of young media students eager to climb the ladder of media success and get something down on their CVs before sending in their applications for Radio One.

Actually, Salford City was a pretty laid back environment staffed with people of a similar age to myself, in fact I could even imagine myself in the DJ seat, turntables at the ready, earphones in place, ready to knock out a few tunes for the Salford populace. I brought along my trusty video camera hoping to put together a video to record this momentous occasion in the life of a blogger. Record book sales of £25 in one month and now radio fame! Whatever next!


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins available as a Kindle download or traditional paperback. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.