Starter for Ten – 20/6/2019

Why had he jumped so high? That was the first thought that had gone through Mark’s head. There were plenty of stage-divers who had just stepped to the edge of the stage and even crouched down before they gently pushed themselves out onto the outstretched hands of the crowd. Sure, some of them had jumped but none had jumped as high as Mark did. Why did I do that? Thought Mark again.

The other thought that managed to register in his mind was how much flannel there was. From his viewpoint he could get a really wide-angled view of the entire moshpit and there was indeed a lot of flannel shirts. Red and black cheques was a popular design, but there were other variants – yellow and black, browns and purples. Given the natural heat of the moshpit a number of shirts were tied around waists, but yet more had been simply tied to one of the metal posts that supported the ceiling and lighting rig. Mark had never liked flannel. Gigs were jeans (black), band t-shirt (never for the band that you were seeing, that was just awful) and leather jacket (black, which was deposited in the cloakroom as soon as you were inside).

As he reached the zenith of his leap he could already register the uncertainty on some of the faces of those others in the moshpit who Mark had assumed would play the part of his saviours. It was the height he’d reached, he could see that now. Possibly also the boots too. If he’d been able to remove himself to a vantage point of the ceiling then Mark would almost certainly have agreed with the others in the moshpit that catching him wasn’t likely to add to their enjoyment of the evening.

And after all – it wasn’t like there was a contract between them. Sure, they’d happily caught at least 30 other stage divers through the course of the evening, but if he was asked if there was an explicit understanding that they would catch Mark if he chose to jump onto their heads then he’d have to reluctantly agree that there was no such agreement.

The hands were the first to go. Normally when a stagediver launched themselves into the crowd a wave of hands and splayed fingers was raised above heads like the tentacles of an anemone. The fingers had quickly been withdrawn, followed by the hands and arms in his instance. Then imperceptibly and magically a gap had appeared. Where miliseconds before the crowd had been packed so tightly that bodies were in full contact with each other, now a space had appeared to the extent that Mark could see the discarded flyers and chewing gum on the floor as it rose to smash the nose on his face.

Starter for Ten – 19/6/19

It was a pebble beach. The road from the cliff wound around towards the sea and doubled back. It brought you out at the top of the village where the boats could be reversed with care onto the top of the shingle.

The stones were graded in size from the top of the beach near the village down to the water’s edge. Large frying pan sized rocks at the top which would barely move if you stood on them. They ground together with a significant noise. Beyond these, the wetter, darker ankle-turners. These are the ones that tourists would take home from the visits and rest on mantlepieces or in gardens – moments stolen from this beach.

The grinding of the stones kept on until the impacted dark sand. Although it appeared black on first glance, sifting it through your hands would show that it held grains of white and grey – the overall appearance though was undeniably black. Sitting heavy and black, awaiting the inevitable tides which would briefly give them movement, lift them in a frenzy of wash until settling them down in a hard retreat.

Because the bay was sheltered the storm winds never drove the waves into the sort of impressive peaks that the blonder, sandier beaches down the coast did. This dark beach was singularly unusual in its appearance – almost an anti-beach. Some thought it unwelcoming and were content to leave it to the hobby fishermen who used the protected cove as a means to launch their boats.

It enjoyed a brief popularity in the 1940s when an influential newspaper claimed that the black sands were a tonic for conditions of the skin. Many in the area claimed that this was the work of the mayor of the time who imagined queues of tourists purchasing souvenirs and contributing to the upkeep of the town. There was even some truth in the claim – the black sands held a greater concentration of some mineral which promoted the easing of symptoms for eczema, but ultimately, the dour view and the bleakness of the cove left the tourists cold and the beach empty.

Starter for 10 – 18/6/19

It’s only a tiny hammer. Probably the smallest in the forge. Approximately, 10 inches long but the peen is only half an inch in diameter. Slowly, relentlessly it drops onto the sheet of pewter as it’s warmed by the furnace. The aim is to keep the metal malleable enough to work, but not to cause it to denature or melt out the pock-marks that the peen of the hammer drops into the surface.

It has occured to many minds that it must have been possible to create a tool that could make this sort of pattern on a more industrial timescale. Surely that would be easier than this relentless tapping of hammer on pewter. And indeed tools have been created – the most recent one looked like a cross between a rotovator and a pizza cutter. They made trial sheets of the hammered pewter created with the new tool and hoped. They found that although it was seen as a positive, the collector’s eyes were always able to pick out the difference between the mass produced article and the artisan. Every time.

There is a comfort in that for the worker, as the drop of the hammer continues unabated.

Starter for 10 – Monday 17/6/19

All great athletes warm up. Modern athletes have taken this to boring extremes, such that there are exercise bikes on touchlines and plungebins full of ice to ensure peak performance. Writers are no different. As you can see by this rather clunky paragraph, I’m just starting to get my brain in thingy. Gear, that’s it.

So, the idea of a Starter for 10 is to spend 10 minutes at the start of each writing day just splurging words from your brain into a blank document. The key is that there’s no real thought involved, it’s not quite automatic writing but an equivalent might be an artist’s sketches. I’ve done this off and on for a number of years and it’s amazing how many times something useful will come from it. A non-cliche phrase, a plot idea, a character who takes the opportunity to leap into being.

My guess is that approximately 50% of them are valuable for bits of content, but even the other half still have value from the point of view of limbering up, to ensure that when I start writing I’ve shrugged off some of the weirdness that comes with putting words on a page. I’m also yet to snap a tendon while writing so draw your own conclusions.

I’m going to be sharing all of these 10 minute blurps starting….NOW!


“Draw the energy through your feet and let it pulse, through the bones of the toes, rising through the calves, the quads, strengthening through the core, breathe in deeply as the energy expands the consciousness of the chest and finally bring the energy into an awakening of the mind – an expansion of the brain and a capturing of the possible permutations of the day. The power of life that yoga gives us access to is just as present here on a building site as it is on an Instagram-worthy beach, remember…”

“Miss? I don’t think I’m doing it right.”

“Sorry, I should have said – you will need to take your boots off first. The ley power of the earth might struggle to penetrate work boots.”

“Do we all have to take our boots off?”

“Well, it depends if you want to achieve your full human potential. Do you want to achieve your full human potential Gary? Do you think HR want you to achieve your full human potential Gary?”

“No, I do. They do. It’s just my socks are a bit ripe.”

“Ha! Yoga is about nothing more or less than nature itself, Gary. Take your boots off and let me tell you – during yoga sessions it’s very common that people will fart! I’m often asked if I’m embarrassed by this simple human function. You may as well ask if I’d be embarrassed by an arm – or the view of a meadow, or the sound of a baby crying – yoga is life, life is sometimes less than what we might consider to be perfect – life and yoga can some- AK SWEET FUCKING CHRIST – URK IS THAT YOUR FEET? WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU? IS THAT CANCER? DO YOU HAVE FOOT CANCER? OH JESUS – URPH – PUT THEM BACK ON. BURN THEM WITH FIRE.”


Well, that was fun. I didn’t know that was in there somewhere. Right, off to work for the day. Today marks the first day of actual writing of the first draft. The last couple of weeks I’ve been balancing my time between having my gallbladder fall apart (which in itself has been a useful form of research) and researching all manner of topics relevant to the book:

  • I went and met some Manchester Terriers and now my life won’t be complete until I adopt one, they’re beautiful, clever and loyal and my huge thanks to Ann and Chris for letting me meet their pack.
  • I spoke to a drone expert about how drones work and some of the technical questions I had which will become apparent as I start to post sections of the book.
  • I’ve been fortunate to speak with a number of experts who deal with Toxoplasma Gondii, a parasite which infects over 6 billion people on this here planet (stop itching).
  • I had a very productive conversation with my very good friend Kerry who took me through the process of how to amputate the lower portion of a leg. Apparently the patella is nicely placed that you could flip it over and close off the artery much like closing the lid on a Heinz Tomato Ketchup bottle.

Off to write, wish me luck x

Research, Research, Research

As I get more settled with the synopsis and the plot of what actually happens in the story, it means that I can start to dive into the deeper research around the various elements that crop up in the book.

This is proving to be an interesting step to make as it requires talking to experts and sounding authoratitive about what I’m doing. After all, if you’re asking people to give up their time to speak on things they know about, then the least I can do is sound like I know what I’m on about as well.

Thus it’s time to strap on the star-spangled sequinned jump suit, fire up the thrumming motorcycle and try once more to leap credibility canyon. It’s never a pleasant feeling to pretend like you know what you’re doing, especially when you’re flying through the air. It’s exhilarating! Then terrifying! Then exhilarating again! Then… Oh, you know what, of course The Simpsons have already done it…

Anyway, these are the research topics I’m talking to people about:

If you know anything about any of the above. Or you know someone who knows someone then give me a shout!

We’re In This Together

I’m still very much trying to get a handle on what it is that I’m doing here. I read a few posts about the practical realities of sharing a work in progress (interesting one here) and I’ve also explored some of the platforms where writers upload their work as they go – Wattpad seems to be the biggest of these – but I’m not sure that any of that has furthered my understanding of the pros and cons of blogging a WIP (that’s one thing I learned*).

As ever the Nine Inch Nails have the answer: clearly, the way out is through. I’m just going to keep writing on both the book and the blog until I figure it out. It’s what the nerdy kids call grinding (the cool kids have a different definition). Obviously, this means that you might have to witness me driving into and reversing out of a number of cul-de-sacs but, really, what else have you got to do with your post-Jeremy Kyle life? And as NIN have pointed out…

So what have I concluded thus far?

  • This blog will contain spoilers for the book. I’d love to find a way that someone could read this blog and not have the book spoiled, but I think the only way around it would be for me to be unnecessarily elusive.
  • I’m feeling positive about sharing it all. There’s an uncomfortable feeling of being exposed, but I think another way of saying that is that there is accountability. After all, I really don’t want to just say that I’m writing a book, I actually want to write one.
  • I’m very grateful for anyone subjecting themself to this. FWIW I really think it will help me improve the book, especially if you get into the habit of commenting – this is very much a two way process rather than me simply broadcasting.

In book news I’ve now got a full synopsis and a breakdown synopsis, where I gave myself a single line to say what happens in each chapter. I’ll share it with you in the coming days, I want to tinker with it a bit more first. I also think I’ve got a work schedule set in my head. I’m going to aim to have a first draft written by the end of July. It’s probably going to be around 80k words, which means that I’m looking at roughly 1,333 words per day. In the current synopsis there are 25 chapters, so that would give just over 3,000 words per chapter. That gives me August to forget about it, come back to it in September and either burn the whole thing and murder everyone who ever subscribed to this blog until no record of it exists anywhere, or rewrite enough of the first draft that I could take it to my agent and see what she thinks. I’d need to be feeling strong for that last option because my agent scares me to the point that my bone marrow curdles when I think about her.

*The other thing that I learned is that the world now has enough poor vampire fiction to last until the sun expires. I also learned that Black Woman White Man is a genre that not only exists but is common enough that its earned its own abbreviation – BWWM. Am I really naive to say that’s a bit weird? Isn’t it just a romance? Why would it make any difference that she’s black and he’s white? I mean if they’re all set in Alabama in the 1800s then I get it, but these all seem to be modern stories. Has anyone actually read one?

Really, neither am I.

“And what do you do?”
“I’m writing a novel.”
“Really, neither am I.”

I can’t remember whose joke that was, probably Groucho or Wilde (EDIT, it was Peter Cook) but I do remember the sort of laugh I emitted when I heard it. It was a “hurr-huh-heh” sort of number. Contextually, I can see that it’s a joke, I can appreciate the wit, but I also don’t think it’s funny. Mostly because I’ve been the aspiring novelist in that situation too many times and the all-too-accurate rejoinder hurts.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve written a lot in my life, mostly paythebills journalism but I’ve also had two non-fiction books published. Neither of them are particularly good; although in my defence I will flag up that both were written in less than eight weeks, which isn’t a very mentally healthy thing to do. Heck it all, I’ve even got an author headshot (rejected options below) so I’m clearly legit.

So why am I sharing all of this with you – my as-yet-non-existent-reader? Well because I’m writing a novel and I’d like to document the process on this very blog and use that as a way to keep myself on target.

It should be fun! It might be fun! I already regret doing this!

Look, think of it this way – if the book is any good (and with your help it could be) then by following these posts and generally pitching in then you’ll be in on the ground floor of this literary endeavour, how exciting! You might even make it to the heady heights of the Dedications page (you almost certainly won’t).

Or, the whole project could turn into a burning Nissan Qashqai on the motorway hard shoulder watched at a distance by an ashen-faced knot of people. You could be those people!  

So, hop on board! Add your email/allow notifications and you’ll be informed of every post on this here blog as I write the book. To insanity!