Saturday, 29 December 2012

Hibernation and teenage makeovers


The SP and I have hibernated.  We have been going to bed earlier and earlier each night and getting up later and later.  We lie, side by side, like medieval effigies, under two duvets, and occasionally an extra blanket.  Outside the rain falls steadily and inside, well, the rain falls steadily too.  What do we do, the SP and I?  Well, I can’t speak for the SP but I just lie there, not exactly thinking.  Not exactly meditating. Sort of freeform musing really.  Vagueing.  Suspended animation.  I’m not depressed; not sad even. Just… hibernating.  On ice. 

Eventually, of course, I have to get up and do what needs to be done.  And then, when that's sorted, the SP and I snuggle up on the sofa in my office, swathed in blankets, with the possible addition of a hot water bottle. Occasionally (see pic) Asbo joins us. I try to write but it’s kinda tough when there’s a small pseudo beagle on one’s lap.  And then, as soon as it can be justified, I light a fire in the Oak Room and we transfer operations to there. I’ve pulled the armchair that usually sits in the window to the fire (my arse was getting numb on the stone bench in the inglenook).  And the SP looks expectantly and, as soon as I’m ensconced, he jumps on my lap and we settle down to watch the flames.  At some point James will wander in and then we’ll all curl up on the sofa instead, under a blanket, and watch crap movies.  Or, occasionally, a good movie. 

Am I reading? Not much. Am I listening to music? Not much.  There’s just the soundtrack of my head and the soft whup whup of the flames. 

But it will have to end.  Much as one may think nothing changes, it does, drip by drip.  And I will have to wake up and rejoin the world.  And then I suppose I really ought to get my act together and try to make myself look vaguely presentable.  At some point over Christmas we went over to see my friend Rachel and her family for lunch.  It was lovely; it always is.  My godson was his usual edible self and his sisters begged me to be their quasi godmother and I said I’d think about it, because being a godmother is an expensive business (cash-wise, not soul-wise). And they made me laugh a lot and I admired their hair and nails and stuff, the way you do, and they said, ‘Hey, we could do your hair and nails.’ And their mother looked slightly alarmed but I said, ‘Cool.’ 
‘We could give you blue streaks,’ said R (15).
‘No,’ said Rachel. 
‘Maroon?’ said R.
'We're good at dipping,' said H (13).
'What about ombre?' I said. 
I think they have this in mind. :-)
'Oh God,' said Rachel.
'We haven't done ombre before,' said R.
‘Whatever,’ I said.  ‘I’ve got to go to London soon for some filming thing – you could give me a makeover. I’m in your hands.’
Rachel’s mouth formed a perfect O of horror.

‘Maroon then, and copper, and maybe a bit of blue and…oooh, and crackle glaze for the nails.  And we could do a face pack – those 99p chocolate ones.’
Rachel shook her head violently from side to side, mouthing urgently at me..
H picked up a clump of my hair (now cascading alarmingly down past my shoulders).  ‘It could do with a cut.’
‘Go for it,’ I said.

Rachel quietly and repeatedly banged her head on the table. 


Monday, 24 December 2012

If Christmas suddenly blindsides you...


Funny how one thing can set up a chain reaction of emotions, eh?  This afternoon I was looking through old photos, trying to find the worst of the worst for the post before.  And I kept stumbling over the past, tripping over memories, falling headlong into old emotions and thoughts.  Christmasses past.  People no longer here. 

And then I was talking to someone who is spending Christmas in hospital, with his mother who is dying.  And it got me thinking back to four Christmasses ago, when my own mum was dying in hospital.  And then James yelled at me that The Snowman and the Snowdog was coming on TV any minute.  And so I went through and I said to him, ‘Is this really a wise idea?  Let’s face it; I cried my eyes out when we watched the trailer.’  And he said, ‘It’ll be fine, Mum.’
But pretty much two seconds into it, I started crying and, let’s be very honest here, I haven’t stopped since.  Which is ridiculous, cos I always thought the original was well schmaltzy. 

But hey...I guess I was looking for an excuse cos crying is a release, isn’t it?  Like laughing.  And I’ve been grinning so damn hard lately that my jaw is seriously aching from the effort. 

So. There you go.  And really, it’s fine.  Of course it’s fine.  It’s just life.  Sometimes you stop pushing everything away and…wallow.  Just for a bit.

And I guess I’m saying that it’s very easy to watch everyone having a fantastic time, or what you perceive to be a fantastic time, and somehow feel a bit…rubbish…if you’re not all Deck the Halls and Fa-la-la-la-la.
But it’s okay.  It’s okay to feel a bit rubbish at Christmas.  Nobody can tell you how to feel.  Not nobody.  J

Just…if you’re moaning about family or obligations or whatever…just maybe…you know?  Or not.  J

Me?  I’m fine.  How could I not be?   I’m going to finish off the bottle of Cointreau and take myself off to Midnight Mass.  Alone?  Sure.  My family don’t go in for that kind of malarkey.  And that’s equally cool.

So. My love and blessings to all of you, readers dear…at this strange and special time.  Whatever your belief, or lack of belief…  

Just…all my love.  xxx


NOTE
PS - if you're not fine...and, who knows, some person reading this might not be remotely fine... my online pal, Kellie (@BigFashionista) asked people to post up her list of helpline numbers.  So...here it is. Just in case. 

MIND
www.mind.org.uk
0300 123 3393

Samaritans
www.samaritans.org
08457 90 90 90

Alcoholics Anonymous
www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/newcomers
0845 769 7555

Stonewall
www.stonewall.org.uk
Info line 08000 50 20 20 

London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard
0207 837 7324

SANELine
www.sane.org.uk
0845 767 8000

Preventing young suicide
www.papyrus-uk.org 

For people in Northern Ireland
www.lifeline.info
0808 808 8000

Childline
www.childline.org.uk 
0800 1111

Depressionalliance
www.depressionalliance.org

Refuge
www.refuge.org.uk
0808 2000 247

Eating Disorders Association
www.edauk.com 
0845 634 1414

Shelter
www.shelter.org.uk
0808 800 4444

NHS Direct
www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk 
0845 4647

No Panic
www.no-panic.co.uk
0808 808 0545

Cruse Bereavement Care
www.crusebereavementcare.org.uk

What's the worst picture anyone has ever taken of you ever?


Anyhow.  I took a look at Facebook yesterday and saw someone had posted a pic of a pal of mine.  ‘Shit,’ I thought. ‘That’s a rotten picture. She never looks that mank.  Not in real life.’
And, within a pulse-beat, said friend posted. ‘REMOVE.’
And the poster did that really annoying thing of…’Oh, sorry. I would.  I will.  Oooh, I can’t work my phone…blether blether blether.’
Which actually was quite funny as it was a bit of a case of the biter bit…
‘REMOVE IT NOW.’
Ouch. I felt her pain.  I mean nobody likes having unflattering pictures plastered over the Internet, do they?  As I think I’ve said before, you kinda get used to it as a journalist cos picture editors delight in picking The Very Worst pic they can of the manky writers (why? Basically it’s an old war – picture eds never get taken out to lunch). 

But anyhow.  I figured, as it’s Christmas, I would give you a laugh by posting up the worst picture of me ever taken by anyone anywhere anyhow.  As far as I know.  

Actually I originally posted a Top Ten but then decided that, really, I didn't want to put your off your mince pies and, anyhow...less is more, right? 

So here you go.  The picture that makes me laugh like a drain every time I see it.  From my trip to Walt Disney World with Linda, Becky (yeah, that's the jammy bitch next to me looking cool as a cucumber and bloody gorgeous), Alice, Lulu, Erica, Laura and Mary Poppins.  And I have been promising them for the longest time that I'd post it - but I couldn't find it. Honestly!  But then I did.  



Now. Honestly.  Can you top that?  Cos frankly I doubt it.  But if you think you can, I double dare you to post on your blog and link back to me so I can have a snigger.  

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Dulverton becomes an island

Pic: Gina McIntyre

Last night Dulverton became an island.  The rivers burst their banks; the bridges couldn’t cope.  It didn’t surprise me somehow – I could feel it coming as I drove back over the moor.  A restlessness in the river. 
I came through a deep flood on my way into town, thankful I’d followed my instinct to drive straight back from Braunton. I got through fine with the Toyota’s high wheel base but I figured it wouldn’t be long before the road was impassable. 

When the main flood came, it came quickly.  ‘We watched the water rise up against the bridge,’ said Kenny, the landlord of the Bridge Inn. ‘And we cleared everyone out of the pub and put up defences as best we could.  Then, it crested the wall and just swept over in a tsunami of water.’ 

People here were their usual stoical, sensible selves.  Vulnerable people were checked; offers of help abounded.  But rumours spread, the way they will.  Someone had heard there was fire; other people were concerned about relatives they couldn’t reach.  There were reports of cars being swept under bridges, of people stuck in cars.  Social media is great in emergencies, but it can also breed panic.  So we went out to check up on a few things, hopefully to separate fact from fiction, to report back and reassure if we could. 

Adrian patrolled the pubs, of course.  I turned away from the town centre and walked up Northmoor Road to check on a property up there, where the owners are away. 

The river roared alongside me – just a few inches of wall separating us.  It crashed and smashed over the weirs, a maddened beast flinging itself against rock and tree.  The ferocity took my breath away – it was majestic, a barely caged lion and I felt like the stupid child, standing at the bars, almost tempted to poke its finger in. 
The street lights flickered out and I walked on in darkness.  Just me and the river.  Until I came to the place where the road ended in black water.  And found the fire brigade.
‘Are you all right?’ one asked me.
I explained I was there to check on a house and we tried to see the names by torchlight.  Then I stood and stared at the water.
‘You’re not thinking of going across, are you?’
I smiled.  ‘Of course not.’
He gave me a beady look.‘That’s good.’ 

And I bid them farewell and walked slowly back to town, resisting the urge to wander up into the woods, having to stick my fingers in my ears to avoid the siren call of wind and water and darkness and feeling more than a bit guilty for loving the wildness so much, when it causes such destruction and such misery for so many people. 



PLEASE NOTE:  Dulverton is no longer cut off.  Please do continue to support our pubs, shops, cafes and restaurants over the Christmas period.  The Bridge Inn hopes to re-open as soon as possible.  Probably Boxing Day.

The bridge last night (pic The Bridge Inn)

The bridge normally (yes, that's me on the bench!)
The Anchor - pic by Alice Hounslow

Exebridge the following day. Pic by Sam Gardiner

Exebridge following day by Sandy Takel


Saturday, 22 December 2012

Greek restaurants, delinquent Christmas trees and floating in Braunton

I missed my vocation, huh?

Anyhow, we had a good lunch yesterday with the in-laws at Zeus, the Greek restaurant, having not been Raptured on the motorway on the way down to Plymouth.
Ron ordered surf ‘n’ turf and Sheila had steak and chips. Both of them went for rare and the waitress nodded approvingly.   Adrian ordered moussaka (the waitress looked faintly surprised), James went for a kebab (a slight raise of the eyebrow) and I ordered the vegetarian kebab.
‘I beg your pardon?’ she said.
‘The vegetarian kebab.’
‘The what?’
I pointed.
‘Ah.’
Was my diction that bad?  Then I glanced around.  Pretty much everyone was eating roast turkey or steak.  Crackers and party hats and all.  Really, it was totally ace. 

Anyhow, it was a very fine kebab indeed.  In fact the whole meal was splendid – despite having to race out for Panadol half way through and despite Adrian gurning at his father at every available opportunity. 

We diverted via Buckfast Abbey because Adrian needed to stock up on more Christmas beers.  And I popped into the loo and this woman went into the cubicle next to me and let off the loudest volley of farts I've ever heard and cheerily shouted out, 'Pardon me!' which I thought was pretty cool of her.

And when we got back, I did a couple of hours of meditation and then got the fire going and struck up the Solstice incense.  And I was just sitting, musing on things, as you do, thinking about Solstice, about Mayans, about changes, about signs and signals and what have you – watching the flames, watching the smoke from the incense burner wander around and find its way to the chimney and then – Kaboom! – the Christmas tree decided for absolutely no reason whatsoever to hurl itself out of its bucket, throwing water and decorations and stones (from the bucket) absolutely everywhere. 

And I thought, that's it.  All the old decorations, the ones James made, and the ones he and I chose (we used to have a ritual of buying a new one each year) would be smashed.  But, miraculously, no.  Just one bauble – a very old one that we'd had back at the Old Rectory – had lost its green glister, the paint just slid away to reveal the plain silver beneath.  And when I picked up the angel (another Rectory relic), it had lost its halo. 

And I wondered, is it a really really bad omen for one’s Christmas tree to implode on Solstice night? 

Anyhow.  This morning I was due to go to Hands On in Braunton for my alignment float.  Those who don’t go for my hippy dippy stuff can skate over this bit but let’s just say that these three days (December 21st -December 23rd) see the precession of the equinoxes go in a complete circle – apparently it happens only once every 26,000 years.  Spiritual evolution taking a little leapfrog.   And I decided that, sod it, I’d go and get my body vibrating to Solfeggio frequencies while floating.  My solstice treat to myself.

Except…when I got up this morning, North Devon appeared to be flooded. 
‘It’s not looking too good,’ I said to Adrian. I'm pretty gung-ho but hey...
‘It’ll be fine,’ he said.
I looked again.  
‘Er, Braunton’s cut off.’
‘Just take it easy.’
‘There’s five feet of water.’
‘You’ll be fine.’
And at first I thought, hmm, just a tiny smidgeon of concern might have been nice.  But then I thought, sod it, he’s right.  I’m being a wuss.  So I got in the car and bunged on Eddie Vedder's soundtrack for Into the Wild (probably not the best choice in the circumstances) and made my way over the moor to the coast, basically following the sound of police helicopters and driving along roads turned into rivers.
And lo, the roads were indeed all blocked.  But Phil talked me down a tiny tunnel into town – and the joy of having a car which looks like this...
...is that when you're stuck in a jam down a tiny lane, people take one look at your car and start reversing fast.  But actually it was funny cos, had this been in a city, it would have been all shouting and swearing and road rage but, cos it was Braunton it was all sort of 'yeah' and 'ah well' and smiles and shrugs and whatevers. 
And I pulled up right by the point where the road ended and the (new) river began.  
Pic posted by Phil on Twitter
And I floated. In the floatation tank, not the delinquent river (or I'd  be floating out somewhere in the Bristol Channel by now).  And it was fab.  And at one point I felt a vertebra in my neck pop back into place, and every so often a muscle would twitch or jerk violently.  And then, bizarrely, my stomach started to make the most wild noises (a sort of belated counterpoint to the Buckfast woman's concerto).  And I saw the most incredible patterns forming in front of my retinas – so intricate, so so involved, like some kind of circuitry or map, and every so often a tiny pathway marked out in electric blue.
And Phil was well chuffed when I told him.  ‘Stomach noises are the body releasing old emotions,’ he said firmly.
‘My stomach never makes noises,’ I said.  'Apart from today.'  
And it dawned on me I was hungry.  Not for food.  Just for…change. 

Thursday, 20 December 2012

My Christmas diet

Ooops. Wrong search. :-)

I’m on a diet.  Well, not a real ‘diet’ diet cos I don’t do those, but really I’ve been getting a bit lardy lately and something had to be done. You know, this food stuff catches up on you.  You go to a party and are loafing around by some occasional table with a huge bowl of stuffed sweet chilli peppers and you pop one in your mouth because they’re there and you think, mmm, that was nice, in fact that was damn nice and so you have another one and another one and then you start looking round in case people notice you’re being a greedy little cow.  And then, before you know it, the bowl is looking suspiciously empty and so you shift the few remaining around so the plague of locusts doesn't look quite so obvious, move on and stand by another table and lo, that one has crisps or peanuts or what have you and lo, the same thing happens.


Yup, that's probably him. 
So. It’s fine stuffing your face if you also exercise like a crazy loon.  I have tested this theory and it works – but it takes SERIOUS exercise.  And, to my huge sadness, my exercise quotient has dropped.  First to go was my yoga class.  Now I LOVED my yoga class so so so much.  Really it was 90 minutes of pure joy.  But then my yoga teacher announces he’s up and awaying to India, to work in the slums of Mumbai.  I mean – what can you say?  It would be beyond inappropriate to bleat that actually any old sod could do that but not anybody could unravel Dulverton’s collective knots and kinks. Charity begins at home?  Sigh. 

And then my lovely Zumba teacher announced that she was going to stop Wednesday Zumba because she was overdoing it.  That she needed to get some balance in her life.  And I get that.  She really does have to eat mountains to keep up with the calories she expends doing gazillions of classes a week as well as running.   And her classes aren’t like normal classes – forget all that nice stuff you see on YouTube – she would go mental and have us flinging around monstrous heavy weights while dancing like nutters. And yes, someone really did break her wrist doing MoshZumba to Black Sabbath.  So that just leaves Kettlebells (twice a week, once in church; once by the river) and Power Pilates (yeah, with heavy weights).  But that ain’t enough.  And, anyhow, now ALL the teachers have decided to stop for Christmas and eat mince pies instead.

Not the cream ones - they're mank.
Yes, I could do it for myself.  And, to be fair, I do walk the SP a lot, and I bounce on my rebounder, and do crunches by the fire, and so on.  And I must, must MUST get back to doing my Tibetans.  But, frankly, right now it’s easier just to…not eat so much. 

It’s not a hardship actually. I don’t really like most of the traditional Christmas nosh.  Mince pies and Christmas cake leave me cold.  I don’t eat meat and try to steer clear of dairy and wheat too (my body really doesn't enjoy them) so that cuts out a large swathe of the rest of the festive fare.   So.  I started off with a couple of days fasting and now I’m on the next phase of the tofu, red wine and Quality Street diet.  Anyone wanna join me?  J

PS. What will I eat for Christmas lunch?  Roast vegetables.  Followed by Turkish Delight.
PPS.  Off to the inlaws tomorrow.  They’re taking us to eat at Zeus, a Greek restaurant in Plymouth.  Apparently the steaks are good. I shall probably have chips.  J
PPPS.  To amuse you, I have posted this picture of me last night, after two hours of exercise – hot, sweaty, not a scrap of makeup.  And yeah, that's an England rugby T-shirt.  And yeah, those are reindeer antlers. What of it?  

Monday, 10 December 2012

Why I haven't blogged


“You don’t blog anymore.” 
“When are you going to blog again?” 
People (okay, two of them) keep asking me this and, really, the answer is very simple.  I really don’t have anything much to say.  Seriously, my life is so boring, reading about it would be the literary equivalent of watching the proverbial paint dry.

See, right now I’m sitting at my desk, writing my agony aunt column for Natural Health magazine. It’s so cold that I am wearing the following: thermal vest, jumper, fleece, James’ old body warmer/gilet thing; jeans; knee-high boots; James’ bobble hat; fingerless mittens (thanks Zoe!); fleece dressing gown (over legs); plus (obviously) bra, pants, socks (two pairs).  I bear a rather unfortunate resemblance to a Womble or a Victorian invalid swaddled up in a bath chair. 

‘You need a pipe,’ said String on Twitter. 
‘I need a heated keyboard and mouse,’ said I.  And actually, wouldn’t that be wondrous? 
‘You need a small modern house with good insulation,’ said the uber practical Em.

But really, the house can be warm as toast. Yesterday I threw caution to the wind (and probably a shedload of money out through the gaps) and had the heating on. It was bliss. Total, utter bliss.  So blissful in fact that I clean forgot I don’t drink alcohol and downed a bottle of wine out of sheer joie de vivre and warm fuzzy thoughts, stumbled around a bit and promptly fell asleep at 9pm or thereabouts. 

But that was Sunday, oh feckless reckless weekend feeling. Today was back to austerity.  Getting up at 6.30am in the cold and dark possessed its usual lustre of…er…beige.  Usually it takes me about half an hour to summon up the wherewithal.  Today the SP rather helped matters by making retching noises from the bed so I literally hurtled him downstairs and outside before even realizing I was standing stark naked and freezing cold at the door. 

And then we took James in to see the doctor cos he’s got yet another problem. This time apparently it’s Osgood-Schlatter disease (aka tibial tubercle apophyseal traction injury or epephysitis of the tibular tubercle) (yeah, I know...apparently they used to call it simply growing pains). And then Adrian said he’d treat me to a coffee and an almond croissant at Costa Coffee and so we sat there and stared gloomily across the table.  And the croissants were stale and the coffee (decaf capucchino) was kinda luke-warm but neither of us could be arsed to complain. And by then the health shop over the road had opened so I went over and bought a packet of tofu (basil flavoured), a packet of spelt flatbreads and some agave syrup (nice on porridge).  And then we drove back (in the caved in car) and then I piled on the layers and got to work. 

And there you are. And there you have it. A snapshot of my life. 

And that’s why I haven't blogged. :-) 

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Pssst....

Wanna buy this?  :-)


The link is fine, btw. You can click with impunity.  I'm all for imp unity.  :-)

Thursday, 8 November 2012

One part Silence of the Lambs, two parts Natural Born Killers, and one part Wizard of Oz.


I met Mr Gerald D. Johnston on the HarperCollins website Authonomy.  I read the opening of his book, Dropcloth Angels and absolutely hated his guts.  Cos the guy can write so bloody well, it’s criminal.  In fact, I commented on his book saying, ‘Tell me you’re agented or that you have them clubbing one another with thick mallets to get their paws on this.’
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book on Authonomy so lauded – even people who baulked at the subject matter (it is dark, very dark) couldn’t fault the writing.  Yet HarperCollins didn’t seem to *get* it. Certainly they didn’t snap it up. And that, more than almost anything, makes me wonder about the state of publishing.  It’s not a comfortable read but then, should all books be comfortable reads? 
Anyhow, Gerry made the decision to self-publish Dropcloth Angels and it’s out now.  I asked him if he wanted to write a guest post to coincide with publication and he said, ‘Why not interview me?’ And I said, ‘Sure.’  So, here you go.  In my mind’s eye we’re sitting in some roadside diner by the side of some nameless road.  Yes, it’s long. What can I say?  He talks a lot.  But it's all good.  

So, tell me about Dropcloth Angels. Where on earth did you come up with the idea for it? 
I remember the moment of conception very well. My daughter, Katie, and I were watching an episode of Hannah Montana on the Disney Network. During a commercial break, an ad for a cereal – Cinnamon Toast Crunch if memory serves – came on the television. There were two pieces of cereal in a bowl. One took a bite out of the other and then sheepishly looked away, like it had nothing to do with the attack. Then, when his friend let his guard down again, he took a larger bite. I thought to myself, ‘That’s cannibalism! On the Disney Network, no less!’
From there it took root and grew. The original idea (the cereal in the bowl) became a short story, called The Saviour. In it, the killer (who actually had no name but used ‘Thomas’ for the sake of the AA meeting he’d gone to in search of a victim) stood at a podium before twenty or so members. His serial killer shtick was that he believed himself to be a saviour, and that his victims needed him to set them free. During the course of his rehearsed “testimony”, he remembered back to a girl he’d killed a year before. He’d been thinking of her quite a bit lately. The reason for this was because the girl’s sister presently stalked him, and was sneaking into his home to drug his food, or leave items that would make him remember her sister, etc. (This was Zoe’s character, though she was never really given a name in the short story.) He suffered from syphilis, and was presently in the tertiary stage (stage 3 if memory serves), and going quite insane from the constant battle with what he believed to be a demon living in his head.


And, for those who won’t know, what is a dropcloth?
Simply put, a drop cloth is what painters use to keep the splats and dribbles from staining the floor beneath a painting, ceiling or a wall. The reason Zane uses a drop cloth for his blood paintings is because blood will ‘set up’ differently on treated (white-washed) canvas. I found this out firsthand back in high school. I was stretching a canvas over a frame in art class and cut myself on an exposed nail. The blood was easily wiped from the treated face of the canvas, but sank in and stained the reverse side.
You didn’t ask, but the reason he called the victims his ‘angels’ and took their heads is revealed in detail during the sequel. It dates back to his childhood, in New Orleans, and is a direct result of how his mother treated him and where he’d go to hide from her and whichever lover it was she was with that day.
What ‘Dropcloth Angels’ (plural) are is a cry for help from a tormented youth – hunkered down and shivering against the cold night air, at the base of weatherworn statue in an ancient cemetery near his home in New Orleans, with nothing but his pencils and sketch pad for company.

How would you sell the book to people?
When I began writing, I started off with the naïve notion that the writing would sell itself. I no longer suffer from this delusion. The machine wants what the machine wants, and grinds it out to the masses like mystery meat at the local mission. I sent out three query letters and garnered two full read requests, as well as one ‘Dear John’ letter.
As much as I know that querying is a large part of an author’s ‘job’, I couldn’t seem to get it right – at least in my own head – so I kinda gave up before really giving it a real go. I’m not a defeatist by nature, but with so much out there for publishers to choose from that falls within their cookie cutter formula, why would they bother with a 137k genre-buster like DcA, written by Joe Nobody from Canada?

Give us your elevator pitch.
I don’t have an elevator pitch – or at least a good one.
My usual response to someone who asks what it’s about is this: DcA is one part Silence of the Lambs, two parts Natural Born Killers, and one part Wizard of Oz.

I’ve met you, Gerry, and you seem like a regular nice guy. What makes a nice guy write about serial killers, torture and madness?
Before beginning my research on the novel, I was clueless about it all. There are some very sick people out there, and the atrocities perpetrated by real life bogeymen are far worse than any limp-wristed Freddie Krueger killing. That’s because it’s real. Every day, all over the world, regular people (people not much different than you & I) inwardly dance along the ever-shifting line that separates melancholy and madness. I’m not one of them (I think), but I am very good at playing the ‘what-if’ game in my own head. I already explained the ‘serial killer’ thing in a previous answer (the cereal). For the sake of clarity, there’s one torture scene in the novel, and that’s only in there so people will ‘see’ for themselves, rather than taking my word for it that Zane is a bad ass motherfucker. As for madness, well, that’s all part of what a serial killer is all about. Imagine how scary it would be to meet one who was sane. Now that would be scary. In all honesty, I could write a terrifying non-fiction book based on things I uncovered during the course of my research. As much as DcA is mainly a horror noir/dark satire – a scathing look at the sensationalism that shrouds such killings – there are some sick puppies out there.

You write from the perspective of Zane, the killer. How did it feel going inside his head? Is there a Zane, in some small way, inside Gerry Johnston?
I write from many perspectives. With Zane, because it was his point of view, whether we think it right or wrong, he was the hero for that section. That’s because all that we see is filtered through his character on the way to us. Know what I mean? With the exception of his love for froot loops, his character has nothing of me in it. Consider him a mixture of Albert Fish (the man Hannibal Lecter was modeled after), Gacy, Dahmer, Gein, and a large dollop of Ted Bundy. All very bad men, right? Now, imagine what would happen if they’d been funded by a man with the means to aid them, shelter them, and teach them how to cover their tracks in such a way that they seemed no more than ghosts. Yes, Zane is bad, but he’s not the evil wizard at the controls.

Syphilis in the USA
Zane has syphilis. What made you decide to make that the cause of his insanity?
The syphilis wasn’t the cause of his insanity – insanity was a gift from his dear dead mum – but the disease sure didn’t help his situation. J He contracted syphilis from a man he ingested a few years before. Where I got the idea to do this was by equating promiscuous people and the diseases they might pick up through ‘unsafe’ casual encounters with many sexual partners.

Zoe is a great character – tell us about her, where she sprang from in your mind. And her monkey, of course.
I think the only part of the original character of Zoe (from the short) that remains is the determination to get revenge upon the monster responsible for her sister’s death. The rest of what makes her her was a gradual build up of life experiences. Early in the novel I go into some of the issues she had with her mother, Jeanne’s battle with cancer, and the bond shared between her and her sister. Drugs take her to a place where needs and desires pay for each other in a symbiotic relationship presided over by her pimp, Cherry, or her drug dealer, P.K.
Like Zane, Zoe is also nothing like me, except for her thoughts on sticking up for the little guy; I do that shit all the time. My own home life growing up was fine, and my mother is a saint who loves me dearly. I gave Zoe a way of thinking, a way of speaking her mind, and she took it from there. At all times while writing I keep a clear image in my head of all the characters, and run through scenes in my head before committing them to ‘paper’ – dialogue, motivation, blocking, etc, are a snap and take no time whatsoever.
Purple Monkey is easy. Purple Monkey is me. Of course I’m much taller and my eyes match, but we’re both frayed at the seams.

How do you write? Do you plot or do you ‘pants’ ? In other words, did you know where DcA was going, or was it a voyage of discovery, to coin a corny phrase?
I plot some, and write some of it freestyle as I go. However I do it, I keep a list of events that need to happen/things needing to be said, and tic each one off as they’re taken care of. I block each chapter out with a few lines, then build the story – sometimes organically, sometimes from front to back. There’s more to it, but I won’t bore you with the details, or which writing program I use. (ywriter5, btw). It’s free.

Your book is pretty raw and brutal. Do you think books should have certificates, like movies? I mean, how old is old enough for people to read your book? When would you let your children read it?
Brutal? I’ve had this statement made before, and I’ll tell you the same thing I told them. There’s more violence mentioned in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow than Dropcloth Angels. What I’ve done was, instead of leaving the narration to a ‘good’ guy, I’ve given it to ‘who needed to be the pov character at that time’. Zane’s opening scene seems brutal simply because of his warped logic, cold detachment, and his total lack of anything resembling humanity. The scene itself was written as passively as I could manage without leaving Annie’s death scene out entirely. The ‘rawness’ and ‘brutality’ are a creation within the mind of the reader. This was my intention all along. I needed the reader to believe in him so I didn’t need to ‘go there’ anymore with his character – and I never had to. From that point on if he made a threat, the reader would fully believe in his desire to not only follow through on it, but that he’d gleefully do it naked. You know…‘show, don’t tell’ and all that.

Your next book is called Loser. Tell me about that. Anywhere people can read a bit of it?
Loser is mostly done, but it’s not my second novel. My second is called ‘Shakespeare’s Dead: A Tragedy in III Acts’, (action/comedy) and will be available this coming summer. In it, a murdered police detective named Shakespeare Poole must navigate Dante’s path back from Heaven, past Purgatory, and on through Hell, in order to save the world – the Universe – from a cult which has uncovered the means to call forth a new God. There are three or four teaser chapters of it in the back of Dropcloth Angels.
Loser likely won’t see the light of day until after:
Shakespeare’s Dead – editing in progress – publication scheduled for this coming July
Season of the Dead (book one) to be published by Spore Press this coming Spring.
The sequel to DcA (untitled as yet, but I like ‘The Saviour’) partially written, plot blocked out all the way through to the final chapter (which was the second chapter written). I gotta say, I love some of the new characters I’ve added for the sequel. No spoilers.
Season of the Dead II – writing in progress
Then Loser. So yeah, it may be a while for that one. But, who knows? Maybe I’ll get the urge to finish it next month.

And you’ve collaborated on a zombie apocalypse book too, right? What’s the story there?
There are four of us who crossed the finish line with this story: Lucia Adams, Paul Freeman, Sharon Van Orman, and yours truly. All three very wonderful writers, and I’m lucky to find myself among them for this project. I don’t pay very much attention to details, so I could be wrong, but I think we’ve been picked up for three books by Spore Press (the zombie ones anyway). I don’t have the contract handy, but I think that’s about right.
The story itself is written first person, with each of us writing our own scenes involving our trials and woes, until we meet. Once that happens, we split the chapters up and write ourselves as well as the other characters for that chapter or scene.

Why are people so obsessed with zombies? I guess I just don’t get the whole ZA thing.
I may be totally off base, but the idea of a global pandemic, whether some slow-moving zombie or super-flu, scares the shit out of everyone. That’s because it (the flu, not the zombies) could actually happen. Just think: one day some horny guy in the darkest jungle in Asia plants his seed in a marsupial that was too slow to get away, and – boom – the next week you have an airborne strain of squirrelfuckusitis, and it is running rampant through every city and every nation. And who says the infected lie down and go gently into the night? Say their pain receptors, their rage inhibitors, go on the blink and they become some raving beasts with a need to gnash their teeth and toss poo at you. You never know…

Okay, so tell me a bit about you? Where you live, what you do as a day job? What does your family think about your writing?
I live in Ontario, Canada, and work mostly with the mentally challenged*. My family (at least those who’ve read my stuff) likes it just fine.

What are your favourite books? Best all-time movies?
5 books (or series), 5 movies:
The Wheel of Time (series) – Jordan/Sanderson
Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk
Villa Incogito – Tom Robbins
Still life with Woodpecker – Tom Robbins
Hocus Pocus – Kurt Vonnegut
Movies:
Resident Evil (franchise)
Tombstone (I could go line-for-line and not miss much)
Mamma Mia (because my daughter loves it so much, and sings along with the tv)
Schindler’s List (sad, brutal)
Saving Private Ryan (the opening scene on the beach scared me more than any horror story ever could) 

Desert island dinner party – who’d you invite (alive or dead) and what would you eat?
Kurt Vonnegut, Albert Einstein, Eminem, Izzy whats-his-name, Shaq O’Neil, Bruce Lee, Leonard Cohen, Adam West, Mel Blanc, Jim Morrison, Milla Jovovich, Olga Kurylenko, Big Bird, the freaky bald guy who was groovin’ out the side-stage during Joe Cocker’s Woodstock performance of the Beatles ‘With a Little Help From my Friends’, and a mime.

We’d eat Big Bird and then play charades. The mime would be on my team.

Let’s say Dropcloth Angels gets made into a movie (I could see it, quite easily). Who would direct? Who would play the leads?
Rodriguez or Tarantino to direct, for sure.  [I thought Tarantino]
Zoe: Amanda Seyfried
Zane: Charlie Hunnam (‘Jax’ Teller from Sons Of Anarchy)  [Oh yeah!]
Gideon: Donald Sutherland
Purple Monkey: Danny DeVito (the poor guy hasn’t worked in, like, forever – plus, he’d totally fit into the costume)

What’s next for Mr Johnston?
I dunno. The wind blows me in a direction and that’s where I head ‘til it sends me somewhere else.

* In my opinion ;) 

[JA back again]. So there you have it. I don't interrupt much, do I? He came, he sawed, he ate.  Now go buy the book (available on Amazon in print or ebook format) cos, seriously, this guy is the real deal.  

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The List of Banned Words

The NY Times has a shorter list. 

So, I was sitting in Adrian’s office waiting to talk to BBC Hereford & Worcester about letter-writing.  Why wasn’t I in my own office? Cos I don’t have a phone in mine – well I do, but it doesn’t work – it sounds like someone sunk it in a bucket of water. So, even though he’d just come back from London, I turfed the poor guy out and was sitting there waiting for the radio people to call when I saw this piece of paper stuck to the side of his desk.  And laughed out loud cos it was something I’d sent him months back.  See, he does a lot of travel writing and usually asks me to cast an eye over it, to edit, before it gets sent off. 

And he’s wise to do that cos, IMO, every writer (no matter how good, no matter how brilliant even) should get edited.  And I’d told him that he got a bit clichéd from time to time and had sent him a list of banned words and phrases (which, to be fair, I’d cribbed from a travel editor of my own).  But it made me laugh, as it always does, cos really – you see these clunkers again and again. 
So, for any wannabe travel writers or bloggers out there – here you go…the ones to miss.

Banned words
A city of contrasts
Stylish accommodation
Chilling
Stunning
Nightmare
Dream
Footprints
Hubby
Kids
Brits
Whilst
Amidst
Winding cobbled streets  
Cobbled streets in general, not just the winding variety
Picturesque
Breathtaking
Chilled out
Chilling
Jaw dropping
Eyewatering
Romantic
Pampering
Blighty
18-30 Crowd
Airport hell
To-die-for
Summer’s lease
Delicacies
Vibrant
Vivid hotpotch of colours, smells and sounds
Teeming
Laid-back
Laid-back lifestyle
Tolkeinesque (as applied to any vaguely medieval defensive architecture)
Innate sense of rhythm
Choc-a-bloc
Azure
Crystal clear - as in water
The Bounty Ad
Sights-and-smells
Hearty
Rustic
Traditional
Authentic
En famille
No-frills
Under the stars
Al-fresco dining
Spa heaven
Traditional hearty cuisine
Whistlestop tour
Fed and watered
Magical Mystery Tour
Barefoot luxury
Luxury
Luxurious
Lux
Five-star luxury
Eco-friendly or anything friendly for that matter
Holistic
Back-to-nature
Time immemorial
Timeless
Time-warp
Yesteryear
Bygone age
Priceless treasures
Steamy
Subtropical (unless you actually mean subtropical, which invariably you do not)
Exuberant vegetation
Ooh-la-la!
Je ne sais quoi
Par excellence
Nothing but the sound of waves
Leaving the modern world behind
My own/your own/our own slice of paradise
Any reference to ‘attentive yet unobtrusive’ staff, butlers, waiters etc
Untrammelled
Family in-tow
Tranquility
Heaven
Paradise
Hell
Nestled
Nestling
As far as the eye can see
Powder white sand
Lapping waves
Dazzling
Quintessential
Rich and famous as in ‘attracting the rich and famous’

Ah, those cobbled streets...
And so I did the interview, resisting the urge to see how many of these I could drop into the conversation and then, as I put down the phone, my eyes fixed on a huge great paperweight thing in the shape of a celestial mountain. Ah yes. He’d been in London to attend the Czech Republic’s tourism awards and had won a gong.  ‘What’s the prize?’ I’d said, hoping he’d say a few grand.
‘A trip for two to Prague,’ he’d said. ‘I can show you the city.’
Ah yes, the picturesque winding cobbled streets.  The Tolkienesque architecture. The traditional hearty cuisine. The city of contrast with its priceless treasures.  Except...
‘You mean drink beer,’ I’d said.
‘No,’ he’d said. ‘Well, not just drink beer. There are…’
‘Bars?’
His brow had furrowed. 
‘Wouldn’t you rather take Keith?’ I’d said.  And watched the thought flicker over his forehead.

‘So,’ I said (back in the near past now, back in the office, just after the interview). ‘What happened about the trip? You've gone quiet on it. What’s the hotel like?’  Five-star luxury? Attentive yet unobtrusive staff, butlers, waiters etc.?
 His brow furrowed so hard it folded over.  ‘Ah yes, the hotel.’
‘Huh? Oh don’t tell me. It’s the beer hotel par excellence. Or right next to the best timewarp bar or something. Or there’s an obligatory quintessential brewery tour each day?’
‘Er, no,’ he said. ‘Actually, it’s not even in Prague.’ 
‘So where is it?’
‘About thirty miles out,’ he said and then added with a look of woebegone misery. ‘And, er…it’s a spa.’

Oh my! Spa heaven. Or rather, my pampering paradise; hubby's untrammelled nightmare.