Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Artist in Me

A while ago I reported that a piece of  art called "When it starts dripping from the ceiling" had been inadvertently destroyed by a cleaner who thought that the exhibit in a German museum was just a big mess. Today, I have even more depressing news - a Tracey Emin piece entitled "How I wish I slept" was broken by a teenage girl who, during a party at a gallery at which the piece was on display, got over-excited and knocked it to the floor.

Unluckily, only the plinth and glass surround was broken.

Anyway, the good news is that Tracey took it really well and said it was just an "accident". In fact Tracey said: “It's not like my tent which was burned to the ground along with other priceless works of art which was something to get upset about."

The tent was entitled "Everyone I ever slept with 1963-1995" and was a 10 x12 tent on which Tracy had sewn all the names of the people she had slept with.

It took her sixth months to complete.

Wow, that's amazing. Anyway, I thought it was such a great idea when I first heard about the tent back in 2004 that I got out the boys' 2 x 3 pop up tent and decided to give it a bash myself. Unfortunately, I ran out of names after I covered about a twentieth of the door flap. It took me about 10 minutes - even doing it in appliquĂ©. 

Anyway, I'm not someone who gives up easily at things so when we upgraded to a family-sized tent which sleeps 12 (there's 5 of us but everyone's got big feet) I decided to have another bash at creating a Tracey Emin style piece of art. I started  my new piece back in 2008 on our infamous camping trip to the Isle of Wight which I mentioned here. As yet I have still not finished my masterpiece. I've tried to stamp my own mark on the piece though so instead of calling it  "All the people I've ever slept with 1965-2012" I've called it:

"All the things I've ever burnt 1965 - to date."

It's a work in progress obviously. I expect to finish it about 2032 - unless I win the lottery before then.
So far I've managed;

Spaghetti Bolognese
The Sofa
My hair
My red dress (aged 7)
My blue dress (aged 2)
Cupcakes ( Approximately 20 times)
Pizza (Homemade)
Pizza (Shop bought)
Roast potatoes
Roast parsnips
Yorkshire pudding
My hand
My shoulder
My legs
My arm
Mr T's hand ( That one didn't go down too well.)
The family dog (cremated)
My old boyfriend's love letters
My old boyfriends photographs
My old boyfriend (metaphorically speaking)
The clutch on my car
The rubber on my tyres (Numerous times)
Toast ( Too many times to even attempt to calculate)
My ear (actually it was the hairdresser but I suppose that counts.)
My back
Several frying pans
Several more saucepans
The Devil Wears Prada (Paperback)
A pair of Master Sam's underpants circa 2006....

..... anyway the list is endless. But you get the idea. I'm bored now so I'm going off to find something new to burn.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Who's a Naughty Girl?

One day, a few years after my father died, my mother told me something that I never knew as a child. It quite shocked me for a while. However, as the years have passed I've come to see it as rather amusing.

Now that something was that all those years ago when my parents went off to the annual parents evening when I was between the ages of eleven and eighteen my father never actually went into the school. Instead, he sat outside in the car smoking his pipe whilst my mother faced the music alone.

And to think there I was sweating it out at home every year waiting for my father's brutal feedback! I say "brutal" not because father was physically brutal but because a thorough verbal whipping would have been well deserved. Now as far I remember, my mother would usually come in the door with a drawn look and say something like "Mr Gibson/Miller/Collins/Smith/Davies says you need to stop messing around and do some work and "Mrs Ticehurst says you've got to stop clowning around and pull your finger out." (Yes, all of my teachers pretty much said the same thing.) At this point my father would grunt, relight his pipe and then they would both pour a drink of whatever their favourite tipple was at the time. I seem to remember one year it was Advocat, another year it was Creme De Menthe. Although, to be honest, after most parents evenings I think they went straight for the hard stuff and got out the Malt.

And then I would think to myself; "How the hell did I get away with just that!"

Now as I said, I was a bit upset about this when I first heard this nugget of information and thought it was a tad unfair on my mother to have taken all the flack. However, I guess my father must have had his reasons, especially as he was a headmaster himself with an enviable reputation. It would have been excruciating to get an earful about his own daughter, especially after my very well behaved elder brother and sister had already passed through the school with a fistful of merit badges. And then of course, then along came me...somewhat nosier, not quite so diligent and bit of a nuisance at times.

Now my father never said it to my knowledge - but if he had said my existence was a sound reason for not following the rhythm method I wouldn't haven't blamed him.

Hmm..maybe I shouldn't talk about the rhythm method - as a woman who accidentally succeeded in getting pregnant on her wedding night I can't really speak with any authority on contraception. Other than to say - it was a mistake! I didn't mean for it to happen! I was actually envisaging at least three or four years of decadent holidays, sunbathing nude in the back garden and generally annoying people at work. But no, lo and behold, shortly after those marriage vows I end up wiping bottoms and scrubbing baby bottles. And those were just Mr T's. Master Sam was a doddle in comparison...

Anyhow, what brought these reflections on was that I was tidying my study again (anything to avoid housework) and I found my old school reports. Oh, I thought, maybe I wasn't all that naughty at school. And then I read them...

No,  I'm not got post the really bad reports because if I ever get short-listed for the Nobel/Man Booker/Orange/ Most stupidest Person Prize they may come back to haunt me. However, here's a few that made me laugh....

Needlework 1978 (aged 13)

Jane has taken a slower approach to this subject during this term's course,when more aspects could have been attempted. A pleasing standard of work was finally achieved.

This is what I call a bland report which actually is a polite way of saying I did very little. I seem to recall we made a Hessian bag that year - the "slower approach" refers to the fact that I sewed the Hessian bag to my skirt by accident.

Home Economics 1978 ( aged 13)

Has worked well and shown a good deal of interest in her work.

Note that the teacher doesn't refer to me by name - which means she couldn't recall who I was - this stacks up because the only interest I had in Home Economics was eating the ingredients.

German 1979 (aged 14)

Jane is a very pleasant girl to teach. She works well, and if she continues to apply herself she should meet with success.

Ho, ho, ho,- what a creep I was in German!  But the truth was it was German - I was shit scared of the consequences of not doing my homework. Oh, and I actually ended up failing my O level with an ungraded. I know, it's hard to believe - but three choruses of  Stille Nacht and O Tannenbaum won't get you through an exam however hard you try.

Religious Education 1979 (aged 14)

Jane gained 81% in the summer examinations. Well done!

81%?  And I only got a "Well done" ? By modern standards 81% equivalent to an A++++++++ . I therefore pronounce myself a genius and await numerous scholarships, awards etc etc.

German 1980 (aged 15)

Jane has not an analytical mind and takes time to absorb German grammar.

Hmm. Maybe Dr Hammer was smarter than I thought? "Dr Hammer" was the teacher's real name by the way. He was a German teacher's equivalent to Simon Cowell. To which I reiterate - three choruses of Stille Nacht and O Tannebaum won't get you through German O Level.

Chemistry 1980 ( aged 15)

Test result 14%

It was a fix I swear. I loved Chemistry. Really I did.

English 1981 (aged 16)

I do not know if Jane can make sufficient improvement in her writing style to succeed in her examinations in June.

Written by the indomitable Mrs Ticehurst. Okay, so I didn't actually laugh at this one but I smiled with affection. Mrs Ticehurst (I wrote about her here) was the best teacher I ever had. She knew how to get the best out of me, even if that meant taking me down a peg or two and humiliating me in class. I proved her wrong - which was her intention. You don't get many teachers like her today because most of them are too afraid to operate outside of the box. She died about 4 years ago. I read her obituary and shed a tear or two.

So there you have it - more insight into my life. Cripes, it's pretty bad isn't it? And I didn't even mention Metalwork and Mathematics....

Anyway, I can sort of see why my father took the easy option. It was tough on my mother for sure - but hey at least they had some booze in the house!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What A Balls Up - Adele at the Brits

Oh my goodness - did you watch the Brit Awards, The UK music industry awards, last night?

Absolutely hilarious. I cannot believe they cut Adele off at the beginning of her acceptance speech for Best Album to cut to pop/rock group Blur. Adele is the biggest thing in the music business at the moment - I'd hate to think of how much money our government has creamed off her in taxes - and the producers can't even give her five minutes of well deserved glory!

The irony of it is how many times I've listened to long winded, cringingly embarrassing acceptance speeches and Adele looked like she was just going to give what I would call just a " wholesome one."In other words - a speech where I don't have to do one of the following:

1.) Peep through my fingers as I do when I watch a horror movie when I am both appalled and yet strangely compelled to watch the gruesome events playing out in front of me.

2) Hide behind the sofa.

3) Throw up in a sick bucket.

4) Stick cotton wool in my ears


5) Emit various spontaneous phrases akin to;

 Oh dear God, I can't believe she/he/it said that!

 It's a good job her mother/father/entire family are dead because I don't think I can take anymore.

 I can't believe I am listening to this and (five minutes later) I can't believe I'm still listening to this and (five minutes later)  I can't believe I am still listening to this AND looking at that dress.

Remind me never to watch Titanic.

Somebody please, please, please tell her to STOP.

Do you think anyone's called the ambulance yet?

How do all those people sit there and NOT shove that Oscar up her arse?

I've finished War and Peace. Have you seen The Bible anywhere?

Shall we watch The Muppet Movie?

And this is just the Highlights? Oh dear God.

Pass me the double bore shotgun: I need to end it all.

Anyway, Adele was pretty annoyed and stuck her finger up which is not very lady-like. But, then again, that's what I do at most award ceremonies. So I kinda feel for her.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Bored, bored, bored

I'm bored. Can you tell? Well, what does one do in the early hours when everyone else is asleep and you don't want to do the ironing and your brain is kaput - but fiddle around with the template on one's blog.

Excellent therapy. Alcohol would be good therapy too but unfortunately I have to drive first thing tomorrow morning. Humph.

I'm not one for self pity (oh all right I am) but blimey the last couple of weeks have been some of my worst ever. Far too tedious to go into details - but let's just say I was contemplating throwing myself out of the window until I remembered we don't live in a high rise flat. Knowing my luck, if I had thrown myself out I'd have ended up being even more pissed off having to hobble around on crutches - cos that's the kind of thing that happens when you chuck yourself out the window in an impetuous fit and find yourself embedded two foot below the windowsill in the pot plants.

So when you're feeling down it's always good to think of positive things. So let's think....

I am not dead. Yeah, that's a good one. I mean being dead could be a real pisser. Especially if there turns out to be no afterlife - well not that you'd know about it. Now that's a double whammy if you ask me.

I could have put on more weight. (Hmm... could be kidding myself there - there's only so much one can put on in two weeks without spontaneously combusting.)

I haven't reversed into any cars, people, cats, bins, lamp posts and gates for some considerable time. (That's as much as I'm prepared to qualify.)

I love listening to Rick laugh on Pawn Stars. He's great. Have you seen that show? It's like the UK Antiques Roadshow - only it's interesting. I'm not saying Antiques Roadshow isn't  interesting at all - but I've got to the point where I could spot a piece of FabergĂ© at hundred paces. Anyway, I'm bored watching skinny Fiona Bruce fawning over filigree china - even if there's no interesting stuff on Pawn Stars (and there usually is) I can spend the entire programme just trying to work out how many Big Macs Rick, Big Huss, Chumlee and The Old Man have eaten in the last week/month/year/eternity. And that isn't an easy job.

I have started writing a new novel. It's a comedy. I think it's gonna be good. I haven't quite figured how I write comedy when I feel crap. I must have a disorder. You're supposed to write poetry and literary masterpieces - and I write comedy. Life is so unfair. I am destined never to be a literary genius. Harlequin Mills and Boon here I come.

Right that's it. I got up at 1am and now it's nearly 4am. Crikey, I've spent all that time messing around on my blog when I could've watched six episodes of  Pawn Stars.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Skools ain't what they used to be

Generally, I like to write stuff on my blog that is light hearted with the occasional something else thrown in for a little variety. It keeps me entertained and hopefully keeps a few others entertained. Then, of course, there are the times I have to write because I am MAD. Like today.


And not the funny mad I mean the mad "If I had a cruise missile it wouldn't be in safe hands" mad.

This is because last night was parents evening. That day of the year when I turn from a mild mannered jovial woman into a raving lunatic ready to spear any passing teacher.

Now Young Sam is 20 now so I would say that for the last 13 years I have been consistently disappointed by the feedback I get at parent's evenings. Last night was no exception.

So first things first. On arrival at school I look through Master Ben's books to see how he is doing - as well as to see if his teachers can be bothered to mark them. How well the teachers mark his books usually dictates how mad I am going to get in the following interview.

The first thing I see is Ben's maths book - and the teacher has marked it. Excellent. So that's a gold star and I'm reasonably happy.  However, as I'm flicking through I notice that for one of the comments his teacher has written..

"Don't forget to use your rula!"

That's "ruler" folks. As in the measuring instrument. I'm not sure what the other "rula" is but I'm pretty darn sure it has no place in my son's maths book.

You know, I think this "rula" incident is worse than the "phamlet" (pamphlet) incident. I mean it's not just poor spelling - I suspect that  "rula" is actually a novelty spelling like "skool".

Do you think novelty spellings are meant to make school more fun? If so, perhaps next time I write to the school I shall write "skool" in the address. I think that will make my letters even more entertaining.

So the interview commences. I say my piece about novelty spellings. And then the teacher tells Mr T and I that Ben's geography and maths homework has been "inconsistent" and  reads out a statement from Ben which basically is akin to "I have been a very bad boy and not done all my geography homework."

I imagine it was done in some Gestapo-like setting under the pain of having his teeth extracted or, even worse, threatened with a skool meal.

So Mr T and I raise our concerns - Why does no one appear to collect the homework? There's plenty of stuff hanging around in his skool bag that's for sure. Why is it never marked? Is it Ben's responsibility to hand it in? What is the punishment if he doesn't? Why hasn't he ever had the punishment then?  And so on...

So the teacher assures us everything is being done according to procedures. She checks his diary to ensure homework has been set and has been done, follows it up with other teachers if it hasn't and duly signs his homework diary every week. All very diligent and correct.

"Do you have any other concerns Mr and Mrs Turley?"

"Yes," I say looking despondently down at his results. "These results aren't good enough for a bright child."

Cue another talk about how the teachers do all they can, follow procedures etc etc.

Mr T and I are duly humbled. Everything is being done as it should be. Master Ben is just a lazy, lazy boy. A lazy boy who is,  perhaps surprisingly, also a high performance athlete at 11 years old who trains 6 days a week.

I go home and pull out Master Ben's diary ready to chide myself for not being a good enough mother. Again.

I check back through the diary.

Out of a total 19 weeks this skool year his teacher has signed his diary only four times and that includes the first week of term which was only 3 days.

I feel a letter to skool coming on. Because you know what? Our education system is failing our children. And whilst I would certainly not want to tar all teachers with the same brush - it might be a good idea to employ some teachers who are at least smart enough to cover their own failings.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Writing Frustrations

Writing is such a frustrating process. Of course, whatever one writes it is not going to be liked by everyone - it standards to reason - we don't all like Brussels sprouts or Parmesan cheese so why should fiction be any different? When I do a book review for The View From Here it is, as any valuation is, a personal opinion given at one moment in time.

You know, I think I might actually be better suited to being a a restaurant critic. I'd probably be really unpopular as I'd have a lot to say about any dish containing Parmesan cheese but, on the other hand, I could handle being known as a food bitch in exchange for all the free meals. Not to mention those lovely little after dinner mints you get with your coffee. Hmm.. maybe chefs would solicit a good review from me by sending me lots of lovely little mints....and champagne... and a year's supply of their ready made sauces...

I'm open to offers! Email me if you know any good openings....

So anyway, my latest review for The View is a book called 4 a.m by Nina de la Mer which I completed on the weekend and will be up sometime soon. I'm not going to go into too much detail here but it's an excellent debut which shows the author to have a wonderful ear for language. Unfortunately, I don't have an ear for languages - I have an ear for earrings (and a mouth for chocolate) so I found it difficult at times to get to grips with some of the book which is partially written in Glaswegian slang. Nevertheless, I was really impressed with the way Nina uses language and speech to accurately portray her characters.
4 a.m is a coming of age story about two young squaddies in the British army who get involved with the Hamburg rave scene.
I'm getting to the point about frustrations. Really I am. So, after having finished my article I stuck my feet by the fire and pulled out a copy of a well known writer's magazine which I occasionally buy and started to read their winning romantic short story.

Blimey, it was dull, dull, dull. Especially coming after Nina's colourful book. Okay, to be fair, some readers of women's magazines would probably have loved it. It was your typical romance story. Boy meets girl... girl meets boy...blah, de blah blah blah blah blah blah...and everyone lives happily ever. I think there was some conflict in the middle but after the first few paragraphs I was so frustrated I just skipped to the end in case by some wild stroke of originality there was a different ending than I expected. And, amazingly, what I discovered was...

... the heroine had accidentally discovered her boyfriend was a cult leader who was also a stand up comedian who makes jokes about Christianity. The heroine was so distressed (as her father was a pastor) she lobbed herself of the Golden Gate bridge where (because she was having a streak of bad luck) she got stuck on the railings  for three whole days until a passing motorist stopped ( he was throwing up after having a dodgy curry the night before) and saved her. In a moment of spontaneous passion they had wild sex in the back of the man's car (luckily they both suffered from anosmia) and then went their separate ways. Later, she discovered he's a movie star and was really, really annoyed because she declined to take his telephone number.

Okay, okay...I'm lying. I made that all up just to amuse myself.  I can't even remember what happened except for there was a happy ending. You know.. boy marries girl blah, buys a nice set of ear muffs.... blah de blah, blah, blah.....

Anyway, what really irritated me was that the language in the story was totally wrong for the characters, unlike 4 a.m. Young men and teenage boys do not talk like eighty year old nuns. Well not the ones I know. Honestly folks, by the third paragraph I thought the hero was going to get a sex change, develop an ageing disorder and check himself into a nunnery. Not so my friends - he met a girl, there was some sort of conflict over ear muffs and blah, de blah blah blah blah blah blah blah...

So to continue my research, today I decided to purchase a second magazine and look at their wining story and the first line was "When William is six, he can have a puppy." At which point I nearly cried. For the puppy obviously - I mean fancy taking it away from it's mother so young. How cruel. Anyway, I read on and the story was better than I expected and the runner up's story was pretty good too and actually had (dare I say it) sex in it (gasps of amazement, glass shattering), so I'm thinking this is a magazine I might send in some stories as maybe they're a little bolder in their choices.

On the other hand, maybe I should just write about ear muffs or get a proper job.

Monday, February 6, 2012

An Interview, a Review and a Very Unusual Competition

Sometimes I am a bad, bad, lazy girl. Last year, Mike French, my editor at The View From Here, had his first novel The Ascent of Isaac Steward published and I've hardly given it a mention. Now, I could come up with a million excuses (I'm good at the sort of thing as you may of noticed) but instead I've conducted an interview with Mike to try and make amends. So please take the time to read through the following interview and find all about Mike and his novel and all sorts of other madcap stuff. There's also a competition to win a signed copy of The Ascent of Isaac Steward - and as my competitions can be a little challenging you'll get the gist of what's required as an answer in the body of the interview.

Jane: Mike, I've heard there’s a literary casting couch. Is this true and can you explain why it took six years to get The Ascent of Isaac Steward published? (Evil chuckles....)

MikeSorry can you hear somebody laughing? A kind of evil chuckle? No? O well okay.. um a literary casting couch? No, never heard of that do tell me all you know! I have heard stories of agents getting author photos enclosed with submissions - you know the types –here’s me in Barbados on my holidays – on the beach – with palm trees in the background – a clear sky above me - with my bikini – my mouth slightly open - look at my wonderful breasts – do you like my sample chapters - there’s more you can sample if you want.

I kid you not.

Can I explain why Isaac Steward took six years to get published? Am I going to repeat every question you ask me? No and no. Other than of course it’s perfectly normal – many people have said to me when I’ve told them it took that long, that that’s nothing – “six years? Phah, took me decades.” It’s almost a matter of honour. Get published straight of the bat and heh you were lucky, probably the book is rubbish and people will just hate you and throw stones at you. But sweat, blood and tears to get there and it becomes a matter of honour – the longer it took the better. Just look at the following quote from one of our most famous authors, Julian Barnes …

 ‘In my day I used to scoop out coal my ma put in sandwiches, sell it to butcher and use money to buy stamp to post my novel to publisher. Fifty years later and five tonnes of coal fuelled stamps I got my first publishing deal. Got £750 (I think) for it, did a single interview to publicise it, watched the book just about scramble into paperback, savoured the moment and bought back the coal.’ 

JaneBlast. How disappointing. I felt sure those picccys of me in the nuddy with a whip and some clotted cream were going to clinch me a deal.  So what you're saying is - it can be a long haul to publication –  how did you keep yourself motivated through all the rejections and presumably criticism? Did you have any moments when you came close to throwing in the towel?

Mike: Actually I think I got those pics by mistake, I’ll forward them for you. And yes it was hard to keep motivated at times and often it would seem utterly pointless. It went a little bit like this…

Interested? No.
Interested? No
Interested? No.
Interested? No
Interested? No.
Interested? No
Interested? No.
Interested? No
Interested? No.
Interested? No
Interested? No.
Interested? No
...And so on and so on until surely you’d think my brain would have made the necessary neural connections and come up with the association: Interested = No in all cases and at all times, please go away. I think the key is to remember that behind any machine or mechanism that you interact with is a human being, you just have to find a way to get their attention – but unlike a self-service checkout at Tescos, the publishers don’t tend to have a "call if you need assistance" button. My tip would be to find a person within the publishing company that you think may suit your book, ring them and tell them you have an unexpected item in the packing area – or a manuscript that you’d like to send them. Or one of the two. Sorry I get confused.

Jane: Hmm. The last time I had an unexpected item in the packing area I gave birth so I don’t think I’ll try that line. Now I know from critiques on my own work that anything that strays from the norm, in particular in regard to genre placement, is essentially frowned upon by mainstream publishers. The Ascent of Isaac Steward is highly imaginative and creative with strong elements of the surreal. In the feedback/criticism you were given how far did you alter your novel to try and accommodate publishers or was there a point where you just said “Stuff you, I'm going to do it my way” ?

Mike: The feedback was as you’d think … we love this however we don’t get the more surreal elements of the book. That was tough. However to sand blast the novel to strip all that away would have left a very short novel indeed – and I wanted it in, I’ve read too much stuff that is formula and rubbish, I mean proper complete written by an idiot rubbish. And I’d worked out to be any good I had to write what I wanted not what the market wanted. Plus if I was going to plunge a reader into the madness that is someone’s life unravelling then, by its very nature, that is going to be confusing and fragmented and I wanted the book to reflect that. I think to box everything into packets of how we understand and would like to interact with our reality around us leaves us with something missing. Literature, like other forms of art, should displace us from our secured vantage point and say - look what things look like from here.

JaneI found The Ascent of Isaac Steward to be a very sad book as it deals with nervous breakdown, suicide and death. I imagine you had to plumb the depths of not only your imagination but your emotions. How did you do this and how did you cope with the feelings that bubbled to the surface? Were you hell to live with? Is it true that your wife told you to stick your head in the oven and be done with it? ( More evil chuckles...)

Mike:  I think imagination and emotions are intertwined: one feeding off the other - and for anything artistic I think you want to draw an emotional response from those interacting with it – and that, for me anyway, means not being afraid of my own emotions. In my second novel, Blue Friday, during a pivotal scene I wrote the chapter in tears – not because of some release for me – but because I was so in the moment and cared for the characters. If I was to watch a film and be moved to tears then that would be a normal human response at connecting with something sad. If I write something and the same thing happens then that to is normal, it doesn’t mean I have a deep physiological connection with it, it just means as a human being I’m able to empathise. The trick is to take what emotional memory you have (my kitten died when I was a kid for example) and use that in order to empathise and write about a more heightened situation and in the case of Isaac Steward that is despair and death. So that is a long winded way of saying I was hopefully my normal happy self when I wrote Isaac Steward. (My kitten didn’t die when I was a child, although my teddy bear’s head once fell off and he had to go to hospital – or that’s what my parents told me when he disappeared from the end of my bed – apparently I came out in a rash from the emotional wrench of separation for a few days - he’s fine now in case you were worried.)

JaneYour writing is quite distinctive and you very much have your “own voice.” However, I’m wondering whether there's an author or authors that you have been influenced by – or perhaps, conversely, an author or a style of writing you've made a conscious/unconscious decision not to emulate?

MikeI think a writing style – for me anyway – is like an accent and you’re not really aware of your own until people point it out to you. A few people have said that my writing style is distinctive and my reaction the first time I heard this was to be pleased ( we all want to have our own artistic voice ) but also one of surprise – really? Is it? I certainly didn’t make any conscious decision to emulate anybody although of course like everybody I’m subconsciously affected by everything around me and in the case of writers that would be authors like Tom McCarthy, Julian Barnes and James Meek.

JaneThe View From Here is your brain child and has just been recognised as one of the best on-line literary sites alongside Guardian Books and 3AM. What inspired you to create The View From Here and what are your hopes for it?

MikeI wanted to start up The View From Here – blimey that was five years ago now I can’t remember exactly – was it to pay the bills or so I could get invited to free lunches? Hang on it’s coming back to me … no, no, it wasn’t that either. Sorry, well look the honest answer is that it was just a gut reaction that it would be a good idea to pull some like-minded people together, give them as much freedom as possible and to see what came out of it. O and to make it look good, be fresh and inspiring and be the kind of thing that, if it were a person, you could invite over for a beer and not be embarrassed to introduce to your non bookish friends or your mother-in-law. Hopes for the future? That it would survive and find more people to invite it over for a beer – O and it likes dry roasted peanuts – did I mention that? For goodness sake if you do invite it over then make sure you have some otherwise it will get a bit – well – things could get awkward.

JaneWhat book are you reading now and what do you like/dislike about it and if you were able to covert into something (ie like those Transformers Toys) what would it be? And please don’t say Tony Blair’s memoirs morphing in to a waste-paper basket cos just remember I do the jokes around here!

MikeI've just finished reading Life of Pi which I tried a few years ago but stalled at the first few chapters. I’d say if Life of Pi was a sandwich then I enjoyed the filling – the part with Pi and the tiger in the boat ( if indeed there was a tiger in the boat ) but I wasn't so keen on the bread – I’m not even sure if it needed the bread really and for me it would have worked better as a shorter novel without the bookends – sorry bread. If I could convert it into something then I’d turn it into a London taxi. BRM BRM GRRR. ( I’ve been driving in my car it’s not quite a … er, Tiger, I bought it in Primrose Hill from a bloke from Niger. etc. etc. )

Jane: Interesting. I might read Life of Pi... in a year or two. Now, I'm sure my readers would like to know a bit more intimate stuff about you before we finish so can you  tell me three things which drive you mad. Mine are slow drivers, very slow drivers and pedestrian crossings. Oh – by the way you're not allowed to include the fact I am always late for deadlines in your answer.

Mike:   1) 6AM in the shower: moments after washing my hair, thinking, did I just wash my hair? And then washing it again just to be sure. GRRR 

 2) The kid’s homework – I think that speaks for itself – GRRR.

 3) A local advert for Tiger cars ( GRRR ) which repeats their phone number about a million times until you want to scream – my kids love taunting me with it – bless them.

So there you have it and a big thanks to Mike for being such a sport with some of my sillier questions. You can check out Mike's book on Amazon where it is available for 8.99 or if you have Kindle the amazing price of just £1.02. For a literary review you won't do better than Paul Burman's review over at his blog, Bloggety Blog. My own opinion is that it is indeed an "extraordinary novel" as described by the novelist R. N. Morris. I have never read anything like it. Ever. I'll be honest I don't think it is an easy read as it contains a lot of surreal elements that aren't easy to grasp- as Mike freely acknowledges. That said, if you are the type of reader who like challenging, experimental novels full of rich evocative description and you are prepared to indulge your senses and let your mind roam free this could be a novel that works for you. 

       Now, to win a signed copy of The Ascent of Isaac Steward all you have to do is....tell me the name of a famous book and what you would like to "transform" it into. It doesn't have to be a funny answer but one that gives the reader a jolly good idea of what exactly you think about it. The answer I think is the most perceptive/original wins! I'm going to leave this competition open for a week or so because it's one you have to think about so hopefully over the next few days some good answers will come in!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Peculiar English Tradition

I haven't fallen down a pothole. I'm still alive - albeit in rather rotund form. Although to be fair to myself I have actually started my traditional New Year diet. Only this year to make it even more of a challenge I decided to start on February 1st rather than January 1st. Ambitious eh?

 So the challenge is whether or not I can get into a bikini by August.

Anybody out there related to Houdini? I could do with some advice....

Okay, okay I'm teasing- I don't really wear bikinis. I'm English! I wear Laura Ashley smocks and Wellington boots and a pinafore. Even on the beach. Do you know how cold it is on an English beach? An afternoon on a English beach is like being whipped with an ice laden tea towel whilst standing stark naked in a force ten gale.  Painful.  And anyone who doesn't wear (at the very least) a smock, thermals, an insulated coat, woolly hat, gloves, scarf and three pairs of socks to an English beach is destined to have recurrent chilblains for the next forty years.

You know how we English got the reputation for having a "stiff upper lip"? No? Well I tell you how it came about...

When we are babies English tradition has it that we are left in our prams on promenades, piers or in our back gardens for a dose of good old sea air. (Apparently, it's good for the lungs and builds up a cast iron constitution.) Roughly, this tradition translates to 12 hours a day in the freezing cold with only a rubber teat for company and a flock of seagulls pooping on your pram.

For about 3 years. Or until such time you can undo your harness and scream "child abuse."

So that's how we English got a stiff upper lip; it started out because our lips were actually frozen solid. However, after we won two world wars other nations realised that there was no way they could beat a country whose children were subjected to such hideous infant torture. God knows - I remember only too well those days spent looking forlornly out of my Silver Cross pram worrying if the seagulls were going to shit on me and yearning for my mother's breast.

(Okay, maybe a little dramatic licence there as I can't actually remember anything; I was practically mummified.)

Anyway, bearing in mind this great English tradition it's no miracle we were able to evacuate so many of our soldiers from Dunkirk. It was just like a bracing stroll along the promenade with a few German dive bombers instead of  seagulls...

I say Johnnie - there's a Stuka at 11 o'clock.  I'll cover you whilst you and the boys wade out in your Wellies."

Yes, Sir!  It'll be damn cold out there though, Sir!

Just bracing sea air, Johnnie. Perfect opportunity for an afternoon swim. 

Yes, Sir!  Shall I tell the boys to swim the last two miles to Dover for some exercise, Sir?

Excellent idea, Johnnie. Don't forget to practice the synchronised swim routine too.

Yes, Sir!

Right, heads down Everyone!  Damned blasted Jerries... and I wanted to be back in Old Blighty for tea....

Yep, so that's the story of how we got our stiff upper lip.

Well maybe.

My Nominees for the US and UK Elections and Other Waffle

It's the early hours of the morning, and I have had a large gin... Late-night alcohol is always a good recipe for writing gibberish. And...