Monday, December 17, 2007

DODGY AMAZON REVIEWS

Since being published, I find myself checking in with my books on Amazon from time to time, and becoming quite familiar with the various abuses of the system that are going on.

For starters, you can spot the author-under-pseudonym reviews a mile off. Usually they award themselves 5 stars. The review is usually only a couple of paragraphs, presumably because they fear waxing on at too great a length, they might give themselves away. But the real give-away is when you go and check the reviewer's other reviews and find, surprise, surprise, there are none. It's as if said reviewer had winked into existence just to post the one (glowing) review, and then vanished into obscurity.

Poor thing.

I think of these as 'phantom reviewers'...and they usually puff into existence, as if by magic, after a particularly negative review has been posted. And they don't come in ones. Oh no....the phantoms miraculously appear in two and threes, post their gushing 5 star opinions, and then disappeared amidst a cloud of wishful thinking.

So hmmm...it does seem a lot of authors are out there playing a bit of a dodgy game. I do think it's damaging the value and integrity of Amazon's review system that there is so much of this going on. As well as an author I'm a big reader and trawling for something new to read, I rely very much on what other readers have said about a book.

So bad is the proliferation of author-authored reviews, that the only reviews I'm beginning to trust are the negative ones! Even then...I suspect some of the really bad 1 star reviews are either posted by rival authors in an attempt to spoil each other's potential sales, or acquaintences from an author's distant past - perhaps some old school bully who's stumbled via Friends Reunited or Facebook onto the fact their one time victim actually managed to achieve something...or an ex-partner looking to stick an anonymous boot in.

I'd like Amazon to tighten up this system somehow. I mean, it's so open to abuse, that bigger name authors now have Web Pr companies busily heaping praise on their books no doubt hiring an army of monkeys to cut and paste generic glowing-praise reviews for their clients.

*sigh*

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I'm Back!

Woah...it's been 3 months since I last posted. That's really lame. I should perhaps explain myself - work really. The last novel, AZRAELS WHISPER proved a real bugger to finish. Hardest thing I've written. Anyway, the good news is, having handed in a 1st draft to my editor some weeks ago, he came back yesterday loving the book. Yes, of course, there are some issues to tweak and retune, but most importantly it's not the disaster I thought it was.

Now, I've got to try and work out why I thought it was a disaster. That's the tricky bit. Well, I've done some thinking on it, and I suspect I was measuring the book against my previous one, LAST LIGHT, which was a work of passion. Nothing I write will compare to that I think, at a personal level...because I realise now how much of myself I put into it.

Anyway, point is AZRAEL is a wholly different book, and yes...I'm confident now that it's a good 'un. It'll be even better when I get in their and tune the engine after christmas. The only real bummer about the book - one that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later, is the title. My editor didn't like it, said it sounded to 'high fantasy'. And he's probably right there.

So, I need to get my cap on and start thinking about something else.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

X FACTOR: Campaign to De-rail the show

They did this in the States recently. Some enterprising young bloggers in the USA set up a campaign where they implored potential phone-in voters to deliberately vote for the worst performers of the night. After a few weeks the show became embarressingly unsustainable as the remaining acts got progressively painful to watch, and the programme was being shown up as the complete sham that it is.

Here's a link to an article about it.

I'd really love to see the same kind of campaign to derail the show, start up over here in the UK.

C'mon we know it isn't about musical talent. It certainly isn't about seeking original talent. Actually, it's about finding a squeeky-clean, saturday-night singing/dancing act that fits the bland 'Light entertainment' cookie-cutter.

Having watched this evening's boot camp show, I've finally had enough of seeing the more interesting, unique acts being filtered out in favour of the bland, plastic-looking, nasal-sounding R&B clones.

Sorry...I've reached the gag-response stage. I just can't take it any more.

What's more, I want to be part of some movement to show this country's lazy TV content makers that enough's enough. Television viewers in this country are just as bright and discerning as the TV viewers in the States, and we know the piss is being taken out of us by them. So, you know....sorry, but **** off. I can't stomach it any more.

I'm sure there are others out there who feel the same way. I'm sure there are other bloggers out there who've posted a similar call to arms. Hell...let's unite. If you're up for it, pass a link to this blog to anyone you know. Let's really screw over X Factor and the production company behind it (who, by the way, earn millions per show off the phone-in dividend). Because you see....if 6 weeks in, they're left with the worst six acts, they'll start losing viewers as people realise it's no longer a proper contest. With viewer ratings sliding, so will advertising revenue, and that's when the ITV content buyers will have to start to question whether the X Factor talent show formula has finally run out of steam.

Okay...roundabout this point, you're wondering about the ethics of this, right? The good acts I'm asking people to vote off, instead of the crap acts...? Well, look, the good acts, the guys/girls that really can sing and dance - know this....they're already signed up by talent agencies, and believe me, their careers stand a much better chance of longevity by going out early. Seriously. They will thank the day that they didn't burn out on too much Saturday night exposure early on. Trust me.

So, you up for it? Will you pass this blog on to someone else? Do you want to see Simon Cowell shake his head with bemusement and squirm with embaressment at the live show as it gradually gets worse and worse?

Come on...let's do it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

WIP UPDATE

Well, I passed the 100k mark on Monday, and I'm hoping to wrap this novel up on friday at roughly 110-115k words.

It's been a hard book to write, this my 4th novel, and I really can't fathom why that is. My best guess is that this one came after Last Light, which was a work of passion. This 4th novel I've always viewed as a very commercial book, very much in the same mould as A Thousand Suns, a commercial book, but not a work of passion.

I'm now approaching the climax...and climaxes are usually fun to write, from quite an early stage I tend to know how I want to end it...so this should all be straight forward. That said, there's a lot of story threads to tie up.

When I'm done, I'm taking a week off. Then I'll be back to edit it throughout October, then come November, I shall probably start work on a film script, whilst I farm this manuscript out to a handful of trusted beta readers.

Monday, August 27, 2007

XFACTOR : the abusive girl

I think her name was Rachel, wasn't it?

Whilst I have to agree with the judges that she didn't seem to have that great a singing voice, it certainly wasn't that bad, and better than one or two they've let through in the past.

However, what worked against her was of course the attitude. The judges clearly want pliable little starlets who will play the game, speak when spoken to, be all gushy and teary and endearingly grateful for the opportunity handed down to them from on high. Not someone who's going to give 'em a mouthful.

Rachel in actual fact, demonstrated the near sociopathic levels of self-belief and tenacity that most young musicians looking to break into showbiz actually need to get them there. It's that kind of ruthless arrogance that underpins - I suspect - most of the successful people we see on our TV sets. Let's be honest, it's that kind of self-serving nastiness that got Sharon Osbourne and Simon Cowell up the slippery pole of the music business. (not so sure about Loius...I think he's too much of a nice guy to have fought his way up).

What I suspect the judges didn't like was that Rachel was a mirror on their past lives, back when they were nobodies and had to be complete shites to get on, effortlessly stabbing rivals and competitors in the back to make their way up.

I personally would have said yes to Rachel, because I think she had enough of a voice to work on, the grim-faced tenacity to practice and practice and really transform herself...plus, she would have made for fantastic telly.

You can imagine it can't you? On the final 12 shows where the punters vote for 'em....the stream of beep-heavy invective at the general public for not appreciating her talent when it came her turn to be booted off.

Boy, they missed a trick there.

Ah yes...X factor, every year I get sucked in, every year I nearly choke on the rancid stink of hypocracy coming from the judges and the show's producers.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

GENDER REASSIGNMENT...

...I'm opting for it.

I'm fed up being a bloke, I really am. From now on I want to be known as Alice Scarrow. Don't get me wrong, I'm not confused about my sexuality. I definately do not find men attractive. And that's the point....

...I'm completely fed up with men.

I'm fed up with the inate aggression that bubbles just beneath the surface of many specimens of my gender. Listening to the radio this evening, I was appalled at the mindless, motiveless shooting of that poor boy, Rhy Jones, in Croxteth. I was sickened by a shooting in Hertford sparked off by one car, fender-bending another. I'm sickened by the appalling abuse of women and children going on in Sudan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and in the recent past in Bosnia. I'm sickened by the mysogenist (sp?) attitude be...ahem....certain faiths I dare not mention for fear of prosecution (under recent ill-concieved statutes) or worse....a revenge attack by some zealot.

Men.

It seems every act of mindless violence, every cruel act of torture, every bit of abuse, nastiness, every little bit of shitty attitude...comes from some testosterone-loaded member of my gender.

Of course there are exceptions. The few blokes I consider friends, seem to be very much the exception to the rule...gentle, considerate souls. But every pub, or bar I pass at night, seems to be full of red-faced, brutish bulldogs ready to mash a broken bottle into your face at the mention of the right trigger word.

And hey...I'm not directing my venom exclusively at British males. God no. In fact, I consider members of the male gender in this country to be comparatively less aggressive than quite a few other places in the world. No...there's no racial or nationalistic slant I want to put on this. I've just generally had enough with the male of our species.

So I think I'll opt out.

I'm not after having my manhood removed, and I'm quite happy with my goatee, and I really don't want to learn to talk with a higher pitched cadence....I just don't feel like being associated with the barbaric, cruel, simple-minded, aggressive, shaved apes that share this planet with the other, generally more pensive and placid half of the homosapien species.

Until I can be convinced that otherwise...I think I'd prefer to be considered not male. Hmmm, but maybe not Alice Scarrow...that's going a bit too far.

I think for now, I'd like to be considered an IT instead of a HE.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

MY JFK MOMENT

The weirdest thing happened to me in London on Friday. I was in central London, at a cafe/resaurant off Oxford street, sitting outside in the warm evening, under an awning enjoying dinner with my son, wife and niece.

We'd just coompleted our main course - pizzas and bread, and were moving on to ordering pudding. The waitress arrives at our table with a jug of water and four tumblers, places them down on the table, clears our plates away, takes our orders for pudding.

A few moments later pudding arrives, we just start tucking into them when....

....one of the tumblers exploded, shooting shards of glass across our table, one or two on neighboring tables, shards out on to the pavement. It exploded. It didn't crack as perhaps it might if the glass had just come out of a very hot dishwasher and then be chilled by an ice cube.

It exploded.

Ten seconds of astonished silence followed. Then for some reason, my mind concluded it could only be one thing. A sniper. Obviously now, I feel like a complete tit, but at that moment in time, processing the available data...in my mind, that's the only thing it could have been.

'Sniper!' I blurted. And dragged my family inside the restuarant. The momentary panic spread to a few other customers, who had seen the glass explode, or recieved glass fragments on their table.

And so we cowered inside the restaurant, looking on as pedestrians on the street carried on as normal, cars and mopeds passed....and nothing further happened.

Fifteen minutes later, we all realised there probably wasn't a mad sniper firing from some building nearby, and that perhaps I might have over-reacted. The waiters went outside to sweep up the glass, shaking their heads with bemusement....and I shuffled umcomfortably under the withering gaze of the other restaurant guests.

A somewhat embarressing moment.

Anyway, they knocked the price of desert off our bill, so that was nice.

Still, I really can't explain why that flipping glass tumbler exploded like it did. And at the back of my mind I'm still thinking it was a sniper...not neccessarily some high powered hunting rifle, but maybe a kid with an air rifle? There's really no other explanation I can think of.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

SCARROW vs JK ROWLING

Isn't it typical?

My big break-out novel LAST LIGHT... a thriller touching on a HUGE issue that affects everyone - an issue that literally is right round the corner from us...came out in the same bleedin' fortnight as Harry Potter. Not just any Potter book of course, but the last one, the one everyone will want to buy.

You go into any book shop now, and you'll find atleast 25% of the table space that would otherwise have been devoted to new books coming out, filled with Potter books. And of course, my book, the one that I had hoped would be the Big Issue novel of the summer, the one that would stimulate debate in every living room across the country, will quietly vanish to the anonymity of A-Z in bookstores around the country.

*sigh*

Sadly in this business you only really get one bite at the cherry; a window of about 12-16 weeks where the book gets a chance to sit up front in the store on one of those center tables and hopefully grab the attention of browsing customers with a wonderfully eye-catching cover.

Well, that window was lost to Harry Potter. Marvelous.

I never stood a chance.

Well, I'm not a quitter. LAST LIGHT will come out in paperback next year. I'm hoping it won't coincide with the paperback release of HP7...I really am. But, sheeesh, let's think positive. It won't coincide. And LAST LIGHT will have a chance - on those center tables - to attract the attention of tens of thousands of customers casually grazing for a summer read.

And then of course, whilst I may not have a marketing campaign, there's always word of mouth. I stumbled upon this page of reviews for LL the other day. None of these people are my mum. None of them my best mate. None of them are me reviewing under a pseudonym. These reviews have come from total strangers who picked the book up because something in the cover attracted their gaze.

Here....take a look for yourself: Waterstones Page

There's hope yet. Word-of-mouth....it really is the lifeblood of unknown authors. Without people prepared to take the time and stick a few words of review up on the net, newbie authors like me would be wholly screwed.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

HEROES - First impressions

Hmmm....the jury is out, as far as I'm concerned. I'll whittle this down into a list of Good and Bad.

The Good:

There were moments which were mesmeric and pleasant. For example the hallucinatory cut aways of the guy who thinks he can fly. Mainly it's the music and the musing voice-over...it's nice.

I liked Hiro, the Japanese guy who can teleport. I believe in that character, I believe there are plenty of nerds like him around the world, who look like him, sound like him and believe the same zany stuff as him.

I liked some of the no-holes-barred FX...the pokey-outy rib cage on the cheerleader, the sawn of skulls. Pretty grisly, but encouraging that this'll be a post 9pm watershed viewing experience.


The Bad:

Oh where do I start?...I know, the catwalk cast.

Why, oh why, oh why...do US tv shows feel the need to populate their shows with tall, athletic, impossibly glamorous characters with really cool hair, and marvelous bone structure? Every time I see a character like that I feel the urge to turn over and watch something else. Impossibly glamorous people like this don't live in the real world, they live in CelebrityLand...to me, they are not real people, therefore I simply do not care for them.

I mean take a look at the image above; the glamourous webcam hooker-mom, the glamorous brilliant Indian scientist, the glamorous flying doctor, the glamorous high school cheerleader....the glamorous artist guy, his glamorous girlfriend....I really couldn't give a toss about any of them.

On the other hand, the Japanese guy, and the tubby cop...now, I felt they looked more like real people, therefore I was instantly ready to empathise with them and their storylines. It's really not rocket science. Cast real people and you'll get the audience onboard much quicker.

There was some painfully in-yer-face expository dialog in the first few scenes. That's annoying perhaps to other writers who recognise when a conversation is taking place between two characters simply to get the viewing audience up to speed on the story. You know what I mean, the kind of dialog that goes:

Character A: 'But Bob, you know your father always hated you?'

Character B: 'Ah yes, he did, ever since I first discovered he was working on discovering XYZ. He had no time for a little kid like me.'

Character A: 'And that always affected you Bob, didn't it? That your father hated you? So you went to University to prove yourself to him?'

etc etc.

That kind of dialog usually comes in thick and fast near the beginning of a show/film as the writer desperately races to educate the viewer so he'd ready for the plot to begin. But, you know, a good writer does it subtly, a bad writer doesn't.

In Summary:

I'm going to stick with it for now. It is an interesting premise, and I like that most of the budget will end up on the screen and not in the back pockets of a recogniseable celebrity cast.

But...my biggest moan is the insecurity American Tv/film producers have, insisting on catwalk casts. Really, it's okay, the viewing audience can handle non-gorgeous characters. So pssssst...here's a quiet tip for you casting pro's guys:-

...ordinary tv-viewing people like us, actually prefer normal looking people, okay?

Monday, July 16, 2007

END OF CIVILIZATION...as we know it?

On a monday morning, about four years ago, I recieved a chain email. It was pretty short and went something along the lines of 'Peak Oil, have you heard of it yet?'...and then there was some plea tacked onto the end for me to forward the email to everyone in my contact book.
Well, of course I didn't. Not straight away at least. Curious, I googled 'Peak Oil'. And that was the moment my perception of the world changed. How I viewed pretty much everything in my life, around me, on TV, on every shelf in every shop in my town, county, country...the world, was changed by what I discovered throughout that monday morning as I followed a breadcrumb trail of websites and statistics that nearly turned my hair white. I discovered that there are hundreds of websites devoted to the subject, some sites screaming that the end of the world was nigh, others dispassionately discussing the idea. And thousands of people who are already 'in the know' and either panicking hysterically, or quietly preparing for the future.
So before I go any further, let me sum up what Peak Oil stands for.
It's the point at which the global apex of oil production has been reached, the point at which production begins to slide downhill - largely due to exhausted oil fields. Some say this apex or 'Peak' is still decades away. Some say we're passing the peak right now. Some believe we passed over the peak back in 2000-2001. If you take a position roughly halfway between the pessimists and optimists, then you're looking at a peak roughly about....now.
The ramifications of a rapidly diminishing supply of oil are actually quite horrendous. It's not just that you'll find it harder and harder to fill up your car. It's far, far worse than that. We're talking food production plummeting and bottoming out, power-outs, riots, anarchy. We're talking flashpoints between India, China, Russia and the USA over the final viable oilfields in central asia. It's not a pretty picture, and an argument can be made for this really being...the beginning of end of civilization as we know it.
Or put another way...the end of the oil age.
As a writer, this is the kind of stuff I'm always on the lookout for. Thrilling, frightening, sobering material. However, as a regular guy, a husband, a dad...it's depressing as hell. Knowing that there's nothing I can take for granted any more, really does suck the joy out of life. I knew, though, that I had to abandon the book I was planning to write and instead write a book about Peak Oil, and that I'd probably have to do it within the context of the classic thriller template:
  • A guy who knows what's coming and trying to tell the world.
  • Bad guys trying to stop him.
  • An exciting chase
  • ...and a thrilling climax, where the good guy wins.
But you know...I didn't want it to fully conform with that standard template. I didn't want it to end with the good guy thwarting the bad guys, the status quo restored, and everyone happily getting on with their lives. Instead, I wanted the end of this book to be chilling...not reassuring. I wanted it to end with everything falling apart, to be a crystal ball for what the future has in store for us, unless we seriously get our act together and start weaning ourselves off oil as soon as possible.

So...

The book comes out in the next couple of weeks, it's called LAST LIGHT. Of course I'm hoping for sales....a lot of sales. Partly, because for my own sanity I want to see Peak Oil becoming a phrase buzzing across news stations, headlining papers, being discussed in book clubs, in pubs and bars and to generally raise awareness of that ticking clock. But also, I want sales....a lot, because I need enough money to buy a remote island somewhere, build a bunker, stock it with food and bottled water, build a wind turbine or two and hunker down and wait for the end to come.
Right okay I'm joking there...or maybe not.


nb: I made a trailer for it. Which some people have found a little unsettling. And there's of course the obligatory Amazon link.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

LIVE EARTH:...oh come on

Anyone seeing the irony here? I'm watching Madonna right now, as I write this. Fantastic stage show, fantastic danceing, music, lights...I mean, the entire stage backdrop is a mosaic of powerful 1000watt coloured bulbs, simply mesmerising and beautiful.

She's standing on that stage, in front of let's conservatively say, a million watts of lighting, prattling on about global warming and carbon burn. And the entire audience is like 'yeah...burning energy is like really bad, dude.'

I'm rendered speechless by such a staggeringly blatant demonstration of hypocracy, which Madge isn't entirely to be blamed for...she's just cynically working on her celebrity profile. No, I blame the organisers for putting together a show that signals on so many levels the wrong message, whilst supposedly soap-boxing the right message.

And I blame the entire cigarette lighter-waving audience in the auditorium for bleating the green message along with Madge whilst contributing to the horrendous carbon burn of tonight's Live Earth orgy by making their various car/train/tube/bus/taxi journeys...to come along and support the good ol' green message.

Sheeeesh. If you want the cynical self-serving shits in power to take the global warming message seriously, this simply ISN'T the way to do it.

*sigh*

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

EXPRESS TICKET TO HEAVAN

The spate of failed bomb attempts in the last week, and rumours circling through the intelligence community of a 'hot summer' have put terrorism right in front of us on our breakfast tables again.

In amongst the same old talking heads, saying the same old things on Newsnight last night as they discussed exactly WHY suicide bombers are queueing up to be blown to shreds, I heard a very interesting comment from a Muslim spokesman, whose name I only heard once - Hassam Butt(sp?)...I really can't vouch for the spelling of his surname, as I only heard it once at the end.

Anyway, Hassam drew everyone's attention to the fact that, contrary to conventional wisdom, these 'home grown' bombers aren't going to their deaths with a grudge or as a protest. These are not disgruntled, 'disconnected' outcasts from the western world (in fact, the latest batch appear to have qualified doctors amongst their number) they are in fact very normal, largely content with their host nation and with no major axe to grind. One might even go as far as to say, they're not even particularly fussed over Palestine, nor any more anti-war than most other people in the UK, nor are they frothing at the mouth to convert us Infidels to Islam...

Nope...none of that....that's at best, incidental. The curious point Hassam made was that it's not anger, or conviction, or protest that's making them do this...it's sheer joy.

His point was (and to be fair to him, I'm not directly quoting), that at some level in the Islamic community, clerics are convincing young men that sacrificing your life this way will put you directly on the express elevator to Heavan. And I suspect, Heavan is pitched to these susceptible young men as sounding very much like some kind of Ultra-Exclusive, members-only Club 18-30 holiday resort.

These guys, Hassam said, aren't going to their deaths with a sombre face, and a parting tear-filled curse at this evil world, instead, they're grinning like cheshire cats, like over-sugared and over-excited kids clambering aboard Disneyland's Space Mountain...and eagerly awaiting for that rollercoaster ride to paradise to begin.

That, I find absolutely terrifying, because you just can't fix that. If it was a protest, then perhaps you could look at the grievance and in some way deal with it (if of course, as a society, you've decided to bow to this kind of protest)...but, like I say, if Hassam is right, these guys don't really care for anything...

...other than getting to this cool-sounding Heavan-place as quickly as possible, that is.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

BOOKS V2.0

This evening I went along to a panel discussion hosted in Norwich about the future of the book industry. There was a panel of industry bigwigs there, and between them, I think I got a pretty good glimpse of what this industry is going to look like within the next 1-5 years.

And let me just say, it's pretty much what I thought would look like. I wasn't so far off the truth when I posted this a while back.

I should mention the panelists, if not by name...by profession. There were three. One was the MD of a leading Literary agency, the other was the CEO of a major publisher, the third was a 'digital media guru'. I think it would have been interesting to have someone representing the retail end of the book business...say, from somewhere like...umm....oh yeah, Tescos.

Now before I go any further, let me just quickly explain what I mean by the term 'writer-to-reader chain'. It's the journey a book currently takes from the pen of a writer to getting into the paws of a reader.

Writer > agent > publisher > bookshop > reader.

Anyway it was interesting to hear all three of the panel discuss the issue from three different perspectives. The publisher guy and agent lady were pretty much saying the same thing, that retailers almost certainly will be squeezed out of this writer-to-reader chain. But ultimately, like a balloon that's still too heavy, someone else may have to jump. Because you see, in the near future the chain will look like this...

Writer > ???? > reader.

A writer's work will be downloaded by readers onto their groovy splash-proof, drop-proof, easy-on-the-eye eBook. There will be no need for printing presses, warehouses or bricks 'n' mortar retailers. All there will be is the literay equivalent of iTunes; some body who will gather up, organise, cross reference and host digital files.

I could imagine the top echeleon literary agencies banding together and forming some kind of premium quality literary brand, that filters the wheat from the chaff. After all, whilst having lots of choice is nice, no-one wants to have to wade through the written-word equivalent of YouTube. I mean how many badly written proto-Tolkien fantasy novels can one possibly digest?

No...there'll need to be some business whose job it is, is to filter out the less desirable stuff, and then nicely organise the good stuff into easy to navigate pigeonholes. And to some extent, isn't that what Lit agencies already do?

Arguably it might be a much-reduced-in-size publisher or two who'd fulfill that role. Perhaps it would be a very small hybrid of both types of business. But one thing's for sure....there's going to be a big commercial die-off, and surely it'll be the largest animals that will come a cropper first.

Anyway, bloody interesting panel that was.

Oh and yeah...you sceptics out there, yes you!....the one's that think eBooks will never happen. Think again. It's round the corner, it really is. It's just one sexy design curve away from taking off believe me.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

WIP UPDATE

So today I hit the 50k mark. Officially, I view this as the halfway mark since as far as I'm concerned, anything less than a 100,000 words is too short to think of as a proper novel.

But that's just me...I like a chunky book.

Anything over 100k is good...usually though, I tend to overrun by 20-30k.

I'll be honest. Over the last few weeks I've had writer's block. I really don't know what to put it down to. Whether it's 2nd book paranoia....but for some reason I'm experiencing it on my 3rd? It's been weird and somewhat deppressing. Writer's block is possibly the worst affliction a writer can face. The best way I can describe it for people who don't write is...

...it would be like getting up in the morning, taking the train to work, sitting down behind your desk and completely forgetting how to do your job....just as the phone starts to ring, and the first business meeting you're due to host is about to start. It's bloody unsettling feeling.

Anyway. I think I'm past it now. The words are routinely coming out again at the usual rate of approximately 1,500 a day. And events are moving forward, characters are dying and the blood's being splashed around.

Which is a good sign.

And I'm already seeing in my head, the trailer I plan to make. And that's a really good sign.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

APPRENTICE: Inspiration Vs Perspiration?

This week's task I found the most compelling. What a fantastic challenge. And, for the very first time, I was astounded at how well the apprentices performed, particularly the finalists and project managers Simon Ambrose and Kristina Grimes - to deliver presentations of that quality, and have produced building designs of such breathtaking beauty in such a short time?....I was dumbstruck. Does beg the question though...how come the 'professionals' out there, given months...years to plan and budgets of hundreds of millions to play around with ,produce so many ugly buildings that come in over budget and late?

Anyway, I digress...

...Tre provided some interesting screen time with his building-looking-like-a-boat idea. Which was roundly scoffed at by Rory (I AM your boss) Laing...but frankly is no worse an idea than many of the turgid eyes sores that have been green-lit in the capitol in recent years. It was fun watching Simon and Tre buddy-up again, that great double act tweedle-dum and tweddle dumber....however, it seems Simon saw sense towards the end, and cracked open the door for Rory to steal in and deliver an eleventh hour design that was absolutely Dubai-esque in its grandeur.

Kristina's team by comparison was a little dull. As usual she ran it with ruthless efficiency, her blood chilling cackle echoing from various meeting rooms.

But enough picking over the show's hilights...let's get to the important question. Did Alan pick the right one?

Well here's my final tuppence-worth on this year's show. Simon is creative, imaginative, inspirational, and scatterbrained. Katrina is a no-nonsense, arguably 'drop-dead' smart, workhorse.

If I were Sir Alan, and I was genuinely looking for a senior manager to leave my business affairs to so that I could begin to take it more easy and enjoy my retirement...then Kristina was the clear winner. I would consider her a VERY safe pair of hands.

But, we know that this isn't the case...

...the entire series is merely a very entertaining talent show. We know the boardroom isn't really Alan's boardroom...it's a studio set.That girl who sits outside isn't really his receptionist, she's an equity card-carrying actress. And...Alan really isn't going to trust a significant portion of his business empire to the winner of a gameshow.

For that reason...because in the end, it was only ever just about entertainment, not business, Simon had to win. Lovely bloke, charming, endearingly quirky, Simon was the clear winner.

And to round off....wanna prediction from me?

Okay, expect to see Simon parting company from Alan in about six months with some 'creative differences' being cited by Sir Alan's press officer. And then keep your eyes peeled for Mr Ambrose. I can gaurantee you'll see him again on TV, quite probably alongside Ben Fogle and presenting some Antique/Car Boot sale/Nature programme.

Meanwhile...discreetly, Kristina will land a role somewhere in Sugar's megalithic organization.

Monday, June 11, 2007

PONDERING POTTER

A recent article here LINK on how the last Harry Potter book is costing the industry shows how bleedin' ludicrous things have gotten in the world of publishing in the UK. With this last installment of HP, it should jolly well be feast time for booksellers - selling the book by the wheelbarrow for loads of loverly profit. Instead, everybody seems to be competing with each other to hand copies of it over to the public...at the cheapest price, and the greatest loss.

How did this industry allow itself to get so silly?

By comparison, lets take a look at how some other industries cope with a hot product that everyone wants.

Video games: The Wii, Nintendo's latest console is taking the world by storm; everyone wants to grab a Wii. But, do we see GAME giving the console away at a below-than-wholesale-price? Nope. Instead, they're making a nice healthy 50% margin there. And in fact, in Tokyo, where demand is ridiculously high, retailers are charging for well over the RRP for the console. LINK

Movies: the Lord of the Rings trilogy were the must-see movie three years in a row. Did cinemas suddenly decide to halve the price of entry to see the movies? Of course not.

Music: iPods....everyone wants one. Are they being given away at half price? Ahem...no.

So why is it booksellers are shooting themselves in the foot? Well...the loss leader theory is usually trotted out in answer. Which goes along the lines of...Joe Punter comes in to buy his Harry Potter book, and whilst he's there making his purchase, he's supposed to be seduced by all the other books lying on those central tables around him and spend loads of luverly dosh on a stack of novels he wouldn't otherwise have considered buying.

Hmmmm. Not sure that's actually happening.

Joe Punter isn't doing that. Joe Punter has come in specifically to get his fix of Potter, will grab it, pay for it and bolt back home to read it. In actual fact, he's not even likely to put a single solitary foot inside a book store to buy it anyway - preferring instead to grab it whilst shopping with mum at Tescos. Or he'll just order it online from Amazon.

So surely, the smart thing for a bricks-n-mortar bookseller to do, is to stock a few copies of the latest Potter, (after all, you can't not). Stock say...a dozen hardcover versions, sell them at the RRP and simply accept you aren't going to shift hundreds. Which is fine...let someone else lose money on two hundred units of product sold below cost, and have a little snigger at their expense...suckers. See, I'm really not convinced by the loss leader argument that booksellers are putting forward. I've got a deep suspicion that your average Potter fan is not that much of a book worm. Nor for that matter is your average Dan Brown fan. I suspect they're the one-book-a-year-beside-the-pool type of customer.

Now...why the hell is this trade bothering to chase people like that? Does one book a year from each member of this category of customer really amount to that much money in the coffers? Especially, I might add, when they're getting the book virtually given to them?

*sigh*

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

APPRENTICE: KATIE

Whoah. What a dramatic denouement to this week's show. Wow. For those of you who saw it, you know exactly what I'm talking about. For those of you who didn't...we'll come to bit that at the end shortly.

The interviewers then - the same three blokes I believe that were used last series. Old golfing buddies of Sugsy, no doubt. I do question their ability, their expertise to interview at this level. One of them, called Paul if I recall directly, I thought was blatantly inept at the job. I found him implausibly rude, and unprofessionally vulgar. He kept cutting over the answers the candidates were giving him. Hello? Earth to Paul...you're actually meant to be listening to what they're saying, not hogging airtime with your own pithy come-backs. Idiot.

And what of the apprentices? Who performed the best? Well, I'll be honest. I thought Lohit gave some of the smartest responses, seemed most at ease in the interview chair (from the footage shown, that is). A very cool customer. If I'd been one of the interviewers he would have been one of the two favoured candidates.

Tre was Mr Bull****. Sadly. Over the last eleven weeks I've really grown to like Tre. But unfortunately it seemed he was all hot air - working from his 15 different international bedrooms...sorry...offices.

Simon, I loved Simon...ohmyGod, he was like Dustin Hoffman in RAINMAN, rattling off those factlets about Sugar - a monotone stream-of-consciousness of jibber-jabbered facts, with an obessive-compulsive leg twitch that had him almost shuddering off the chair onto the floor.

Kristina, the tangerine-coloured Oirish feckin' bulldog. Yes, very reliable, and from the first few moments of tonight's show I was certain she'd get through. Oh yes. She's this year's Badger alright.

And then, there was Katie Hopkins. Yes. This takes me to tonight's startling ending. For those of you who missed it...here's what happened:

About halfway through the making-your-mind-up session in the boardroom, ol' Sugsy comes out and says, 'Katie, you're going to be one of my last two'. Katie rather oddly, doesn't leap into the air, doesn't even smile. She just flushes and looks down at her feet. Alan then goes onto to deal with the other candidates, and then after a while, realises she isn't behaving like someone who's won. He comes back to her and asks what's going on....at which point, she announces their might just be some personal issues with her relocating.

And here's what she does.

She falls on her sword. She announced that in all fairness, she couldn't rob the opportunity from the remaining two (Simon and Kristina) and offers her resignation.

Leaving, I thought, Alan looking a little bemused and off balance. How ironic, that Katie, the one candidate that everyone has been describing as brutally ruthless, without a moral center, was the one person in this entire series to to push her chair back and walk away from the table....to demonstrate at least an ounce of selflessness.

After the other two - Simon and Kristina - had left the boardroom as winners, Alan and his two cronies then discussed Katie, deciding I thought rather unkindly, that she was just 'playing her own little game'.

That's truly ironic really coming from them.

After all, the Apprentice ISN'T a job interview, not really....it's a game show. It's peepshow TV.

The job isn't for real. I don't think for one moment Alan spends any real time with the winner. He/She will basically get the £100k cheque, will go through the motions for a few months, and then we'll read about them in THE SUN parting company from Alan in about 6 months time.

Katie 'playing her own little game'? ... they're the ones 'playing a little game', I believe.

LAST LIGHT - early feedback


Okay at this stage, with the hardback due out in July, there will be a few hundred people who have in their hands what's known in the biz as the 'uncorrected proof' for LAST LIGHT. This is a limited run of the book, complete with typos and dodgy typographic layout and a cover that has yet to be finalized, that is sent out to reviewers and book dealers to generate some 'heat' in advance of the actual release date.

It's at this stage that as a writer you will start to get the 'uncontaminated' feedback...ie: feedback from people who don't know me, don't work for the publisher, haven't had anything to do with any earlier drafts. This is when you will begin to know for sure whether you've just written a complete turd...or not.

Needless to say...it's one of the more un-nerving stages in any book's life cycle.

So, it's with a gasp of relief, and the celebratory pop of me opening a can of Redbull that I'm going to sit back and savour this first little tidbit of feedback.

Linky

It's a crime/thriller news-n-review site authored by a guy called Ben Hunt, who used to write a column for the Financial Times and freelances now. And right now...is my bestest mate ever.

Okay, so...now I'm going to sit down for five minutes. Give myself a pat on the back, maybe tell myself how wonderful I am.

Then, go back to working on book 3...and all the self-doubt and self-loathing that comes with writing a new book.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

SUNS: A Heat Seeker!

A THOUSAND SUNS actually managed to climb to the top chart position in what is known in the book trade as the 'Heat Seeker' chart. This is basically a chart of the books that are moving up the national paperback chart...most quickly.

Typically, a new book by someone like Archer or Jilly Cooper might hit the number one spot momentarily because the first day of sales would transport them from off-chart to somewhere in the top ten. But then, obviously once in that top ten, their book has only nine more slots that it can possibly climb at best. Which means they'd disappear from the 'heat seeker' chart as quickly as they arrived. To be replaced by an unknown like, say...ahem...me....who manages to climb from position 80 to say 42.

So anyway...that's what happened a few days ago. My humble little debut novel had a bloody good 2nd week, climbed way up the national chart, and made a spectacular appearence as NUMBER ONE in this Heat Seeker list.

I'm gob-smacked. No...really. I'm stunned.

There's been no high profile marketing (as yet). However it appears WHSMITHS has got behind it, and I notice WATERSTONES and BORDERS are pushing it with '2 for 1' and '3 for 2' deals.

Anyway....jeeeez, I'd like to think this blip lasts through the summer. If it does...IF it does, I might just have a future in this precarious book business. I might just sell enough books (in between the usual glut of Celebrity Biogs that seem to gobble up most book sales, that is) to be able to keep tapping away on the typewriter.

Failing that. There's plan B. But, no....I'm not ready to even think about that, let alone talk about it.

*shudders at the thought*

Anyway, if you're vaguely interested as to what seems to have grabbed enough people's attention to propel me up to such giddy heights, here's a link to my book on AMAZON.

Linky

And gosh-darn if you want your interest piqued still further, you could have a look at this trailer I put together for it.

Linky-wink

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

APPRENTICE: NAOMI

Yup, given that it was her and tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum, it was obvious she was for the boot the moment the results of each team were read out.

I'll be honest, I've not been not a big fan of Naomi's. She seems sensible, smart, quite confident, articulate and so on. Very good suit fodder I imagine, but she makes for dull TV. Whilst Simon and Tre - tweedle-dumb and tweedle-dumber - on the other hand, are eminantly watchable buffoons.

Tonight's show, was undoubtedly Simon's show, once again. Selling a selection of products to a nation of QVC and auction channel addicts - "Mavis"s to use Katie's terminology. Well now, Simon's little task was to sell an exercise trampoline. I spurted my coffee over the desk when he was assembling that little trampoline, screwing the legs on...

(if you missed the show...he was screwing the legs on a small exercise trampoline. But the way he was holding the little legs in both hands, with the trampoline itself resting against his groin...well it looked very phallic)

...and the ill-conceived soundbites he was muttering as he worked at screwing on each stubby little leg, took on delightfully new meanings;

'...just grab the little thing in both hands...'
'...you'll get it off in a jiffy...'
'...now, kids and adults can do this together...'

Ahh, it was priceless comedy. And then to add a whole new level of visual mirth to the proceedings, he decided to demonstrate the product by climbing on and bouncing up and down on top of it doing mincey little star jumps. For some reason he reminded me of Mr Bean.

The other moment worth a quick mention was Kristina's excruciating spell in front of the camera, fumbling with a floor mop and cursing 'Grrrrr Jeezuss Mother o' God Grrrrrr'. There was a hint of Reverand Iain Paisley in that gravelly twenty-a-day voice of hers, as she throttled the mop whilst trying to attach that daft-looking doily - the purpose of which I never really understood - to the top of it.

'Grrrr-feckin-bleedin'-little-shite-grrrrrr' (okay she didn't say that...but I'm sure she was thinking it)

Anyway, an odd, but very enjoyable show tonight. From this point on though, it gets serious. And I fancy next week the show's number one comedy couple (the tweedle twits) will finally be parted from each other.

That'll be a shame when it happens.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

APPRENTICE: GAZALL

It was quite cringe-making this week watching both teams mess around with the dark art of harnassing and packaging urban 'cool'.

Well that's what I spent the first half of this week's show thinking. Then gradually during the second half it, after they'd had the Ad agency pros make their pronouncements, it occured to me that deciding whether someone has got a bit of branding right, depends a helluva lot on how confident we are in the person/people doing it.

With the apprentices, we know they're not Advertising Creatives, so we fully expect that what they'd churn out what would be - in Tre's parlance - BollocksShit. Whereas, in the hands of some hugely expensive agency, we assume what they churn out is doing the right job...even, and this is the important bit, even...if we don't get it.

It's something to do with that naieve trust we have in the expert.

So with that thought in mind, I thought they're JAM and STREET campaigns were actually not that bad, particularly given they only had 2 days in which to do it. I've got to ask myself what exactly have those hugely expensive agencies done for Reebok, Adidas, Nike? You know, other than hire in VERY expensive sports/pop icons (Beckham, Magic, Cent, Snoop etc etc) and film them with grainy film stock? Hmmm?

Anyway, back on topic. I think the right team won, and yes, I think Gazall was a weak team leader, and ripe to go.

Tonight though, for me, the star of the show, was Katie. (Yes Simon was an inspiration, and did indeed, to my utter surprise, sound very, very black) It does seem that everyone's out for Katie, calling her a snake in the grass et al....but sod it, she seems to be the only apprentice who can really give Sir Alan a run for his money in the boardroom. I'm going to stick my neck out now, and predict she will be a finalist.

That bee-atch Katie....the ho' got sole.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

APPRENTICE: How Low Can You Go?

Ooooh, it got very personal didn't it? Very nasty. And I think tonight I saw a tiny glimpse of something at work....the producer's hand, the power behind this show, a little bit of deus ex machina.

Let me explain.

It goes back to last week's episode. Katie (horsey-looking posh blonde) was having a bit of a thing with Paul 'I-can-cook-sausages' Callaghan, the guy that got booted out. In Katie's absence, Katrina (orange skinned, hard faced and Oirish) let it be known to Sir Alan that Paul and Katie were getting it on together, which was why Paul had elected not to drag Katie in, and dragged Katrina in to the boardroom instead.....personal reasons see. A big No No in Sir Alan's eyes.

Okay...back to this week.

Katie ends up in the boardroom, as does Adam. And Adam's main reason for dragging in Katie, is because 'her head was down over Paul leaving'. Actually, it wasn't. But that's irrelevant. Katie and Katrina, enemies last week, were decidedly cosy this week, and one could see they were going to present a united front in getting rid of Adam, come what may.

But oh no....a united front isn't that interesting, is it? Nope. Not exactly great TV.

So Sir Alan 'clumsily' lets slip that last week Katrina might have spilled the beans on the Paul-Katie thing going on. In other words, letting Katie know her new best friend, sitting right beside her, was busy stabbing away at her back last week.

Now, they were definately setting things up for an ugly cat-fight in the boardroom. That much was obvious. That's what they were really hoping for I suspect. The camera was zoomed in on those flushed cheeks. They'd lit the proverbial blue touch paper and retired....waiting for an explosion.

Didn't happen though did it?

The more this season runs, the less inclined I am to laugh at the all-too-human mistakes made by these all-too-human apprentices under pressure, and to cast a cynical eye in the direction of the Big Sugar and the invisible program makers themselves.

It's not the inmates I'm looking at now - not any more. Hell, we know how people are going to behave if you put them under intense pressure, play them off against each other, dangle a huge feckin' carrot in front of them, and ram a camera into their face 24/7.

What's more interesting is how low the producers will go to get a rise out of these people.

P.S. Whilst Im thinking about it, I reckon I'll just quickly mention 'nigella beans' here at the end. Because you can guarantee the world and his wife will be googling that tomorrow morning. Oh yes.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

SUGAR-COATED FORTUNE

You know, despite Alan Sugar adamantly claiming otherwise, I really don't think he could make his millions all over again if he started once more with just his transit van and a hundred quid. This is a claim he's made to his Apprentices several times now - that he could do it all again...no problem.

Hmmm. See, I have a strong suspicion that most self made multi-millionaires like Sir Alan made their fortunes NOT because of their business savvy or their communication skills, or being able to sniff out that 'golden opportunity'....and don't get me wrong, these are all important contributary traits....no, they made their fortunes simply because they were lucky to be in the right place, at the right time with a fistful of money to invest.

During the last twenty years, I have had the honour of working alongside a variety of energetic, 'drop dead shrewd' people who have worked their proverbial bollocks off, and yet achieved no notable success.

It really does p*** me off when the rich and successful grab full credit for their success, when in fact there are many other factors, beyond their control, that ultimately decided their (good) fortune. Sugar appears to be one of those people.

By contrast, take a look at Richard Branson, who concedes that his fortune was the result of luck falling his way on more than one occasion...most notably when his first significant business gamble involved betting everything on the success of Michael Oldfield's Tubular Bells. Richard Branson knows that luck is fickle, it will pick you out or pass you by.

And yes, Donald Trump has exactly the same exasperating air of arrogance about him.

In their defence, I'm sure either would come back with 'well, I've been bankrupted several times, each time bouncing back...makin' even more!'

Sure, but the point is, the first time they made it, they also made all their contacts, made friends on the golf course, forged strategic friendships with investors who would happily help them have another go. And that's not just for old times...there's that self-fulfilling belief that someone who's made a fortune once, can do it again.

Really...if I was surrounded by a pack of wealthy billionaire patrons who respected and believed in me, I reckon I'd have to be a bit of a dummy not to turn that goodwill into a small fortune.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

WIP UPDATE

I'm up to 17k.

So how's it going? Well, I'm beginning to like some of my cast of characters. I have two groups of characters, ones from the present day story line and ones from the past. The present day characters are a breeze to write, they're inspired by people I know. So I know how they talk, how they react to things - no brainer.

The characters from the past are a little more problematic. See, I don't want them sounding like people from the past. I want them to feel contemporary, thus allowing the reader to empathise more easily, to see themselves in this historic setting. But at the same time, making them sound contemporary, I can't have them using any phrases/words that are clearly of modern origin. It's a fiddly thing to balance, but so far, I feel happy that I've got it. I do like one particular character though, who feels like a backpacker, very modern - like a gap year med student, yet he's a traveller in the 1800s.

So far the story is being set up. But now I'm nearly at the stage where some big events happen that set all the really cool things in motion. So I've got some meaty chapters ahead to look forward to.

Friday, May 04, 2007

WHSMITHS PROMOTING MY BOOK

Yup, check it out if you happen to wonder into a WHSmiths this month. 'Best New Talent' promotion, on a rack (hopefully) near the front of the store. It's an interesting arrangement. There are three or four 'new talents' they are promoting, of which I'm one. Each promoted book is linked to two other books in such a way:

'if you like BOOK A and you like BOOK B...then you'll love THIS NEW BOOK'.

So, my two books that I'm being likened to are an interesting combination, one of which I'm flattered by, the other....hmmm. The two books they've used to promote mine are POMPEII by Robert Harris and POLAR SHIFT by Clive Cussler.

Also, of note. I believe A THOUSAND SUNS is in ASDA right now. Which is nice.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

APPRENTICE: Paul 'shambles' Callaghan

This week's boardroom showdown was butt-clenchingly painful to watch. It was probably the most uncomfortable to behold so far.

Paul 'silverspoon' Callaghan, frankly, was utterly mauled to death by Kristina. He was victim of a drive-by Kristina-ing. Not only did the tango terror lassoo then lacerate him with her caustic whip of a tongue, she then steamrolled over him, reversed, and did it all over again.

Normally, I'd side with the underdog going into the boardroom. I dunno...maybe it's because I squirm at watching such a fragile featherweight having an arm ripped from its socket by a big ol' bruiser (intellectually speaking). But tonight, such a brutal end was justified.

There were many f*** ups, but I think the one that felt most cringeworthy was Paul 'Army Boy' Callaghan's transparent attempt to look all Andy McNab-like with his improvised baked bean tin cooker. For some reason, it reminded me vaguely of Ross Kemp's cameo in EXTRAS - trying to convince Gervais's character, Andy Millman, that he can kill a man with just one hand.

As it happened, under fire from hostiles across the table (and enduring a hefty volley of blue-on-blue), Paul seemed to quickly fall apart, ending up stammering and punch-drunk; a casualty with flushed cheeks and plenty of egg on his chin.

I'd hate to go toe-to-toe with a ruthless killing machine like that Kristina. She may be bright orange, but I'd take her very seriously.

Anyway...this week, I think the correct bozo got the boot. A no-brainer (the decision, that is.)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A THOUSAND SUNS

Just in case you've stumbled across this blog for the very first time, I'll take this opportunity to draw your attention to this:

Linky

(Btw it is only 2mins long, not 5mins. Something went screwy uploading it)

Well, if that trailer intrigued you, you might like to know, the book has been shortlisted by the Thriller Writers Association in the US for Best Debut Novel. You might also like to know, it's coming out in paperback on May 3rd. You'll find it in your Waterstones/Borders/WHSmiths.
Or, I suppose, you can always cut out the middlemen and buy it direct from my shop:

Linky

Anyway, commercial over, back to slagging off Alan Sugar, and giggling over his latest inept gaggle of apprentices.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

APPRENTICE: Drop Dead Stupid

Natalie...nice Natalie went this evening.

Hmmmm, she was right though, it was hard to pick a candidate to scalp and eviscerate before the altar of the Big Sugar. Perhaps, this time, there really wasn't a candidate who deserved Sir Alan's boot up the botty. I thought, for the first time in this series, what a nice bunch of hardworking young wannabee-suits they were.

No hissy-fits, no back stabbing, no alpha-candidate chest beating...for once they all seemed to play nice. Sheeeesh, I even found myself warming to Tre, Hell, I actually found him utterly charming.

In fact, I think this is what The Big Sugar should have said:

'You know what? Nobody screwed up this week. The team that lost, did so simply because they had the misfortune of picking a pompous and talentless sloane.'

Yup, the utterly charmless Elizabeth Hoff, with her gaudy, over-priced-Athena-Cards...yes, those tacky photographs of lips.

Ugghh

So completely repulsive was she, that she actually managed to make this series' motley collection of Sir Alan Botty-lickers, look like a very respectable and humble ensemble of people. Bitching about the walls, the labels, the white wine...and then wheeling in her - obviously well connected - companion to tell 'em how to sell.

*sigh*

Actually, I think Adam, the used-car salesman, could probably teach Hoff and her manpanion a few things about selling, to be fair.

So, I'll round off this evening's rant with a few adjectives I picked a little earlier to describe the objectionable Ms Hoff:

Petulant, arrogant, pampered, talentless, privileged...and for good measure....greedy.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

WIP UPDATE

We're up to 7.5k

It would be more, but I'm actually in the process of moving house right now, which is getting in the way a little bit. But aside from the odd day of interruption, I'm trundling along at my usual 1500 words a day.

So how's it going?

Well, I'm the usual bag of nerves. Is what I'm writing actually interesting? Do these brand new characters who've suddenly winked into existence, feel like real people? Have I got an opening chapter that begs the reader to read on? It's bloody impossible to judge. At the moment I would say everything I've written so far is a load of pissing drivel. But then I felt that way when I started out writing A THOUSAND SUNS, ELLIE QUIN and LAST LIGHT.

I'll know when I pass it on to Frances (my wife) to get first read. But, yes, I'm confident for now. The concept is a strong one; it's an original treatment of a done-before idea.

Monday, April 23, 2007

THIS IS PRICELSSS

Link

Oh this is so funny. It's a physics based sumo game. Only in actual fact, it looks like two young bucks stepping out of the pub at closing time, and kicking off at each other.

I actually, nearly wet myself first time I tried it out.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

APPRENTICE: SOPHIE

Oh why didn't she just stick to her guns? She started by saying, 'look Alan, sorry...I'm not prepared to sell something I don't believe in.' And then ol' Sugar said something along the lines of 'we all have to sell utter crap to people, it's called business.'

Excuse me? Surely that ranks up there with Gerald Ratner's clumsy, and incredibly damaging quip 'our jewelry is total crap'. Surely to admit so publicly that his billion pound empire is built on the principle of selling crap to people...aka Business....was a bit of an own goal?

I think Sophie had a classic opportunity to really deck Sugar...I would have thought. But Hell, easy for me to say tucked up comfortably at home, not quite so easy sitting there at the table facing him, his two high priests and a film crew of about a dozen. Then of course, who knows, maybe she did manage to comeback with with something sharp? You do know that Sir Alan gets final say on how each show is edited? Of course you did. That's how he ends up looking incredibly cool, witty, incisesive etc etc.

He controls the edit.

Aaaarghhh, I hate this show!!!! And yet I bloody well tune in each week for more of it. I despise the manipulation, the exploitation of these poor suckers after the...ahem...'job'. (Yeah, funny how this 'job' so far seems to last for just about a year before the winning apprentice parts company with Sugar. Hmmmm.) I hate everything about it, the message it puts across (it's good to be a selfish sociopathic git) the sort of canidates the show attracts, the pointless unbusinesslike tasks they are set...

...and yet I torture myself each week, and sit down and watch this crap. Ridiculous isn't it?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

AND HE'S OFF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'm now off the starting line with my 3rd thriller. For obvious reasons I'm going to have to hold my cards close to my chest, but I can safely say:

-it's a contemporary thriller
-with a strong historical slant
-...and no, there's no Grails, Knights Templars
-....nor Catholic Conspiracy theories
-.....nor any holy relics, codes or scrolls.

It does have a working title, which I may change by the end, or keep. And the title is: AZRAEL'S WHISPER. (I may lose/change the second part....as I keep thinking of George Michael's Careless Whisper)

I shall endeavour to maintain regular WIP (work in progress) postings, complete with sexy progress graphics and a cummulative word count. And maybe...just maybe, I'll leak a bit more info on the tale as it progresses.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

CELEBRITY HOSTAGE

There you go...that will be next year's smash, RealityTV hit. Z list celebrities grabbing little motor dinghies and putting across into Iranian waters in order to get themselves abducted, paraded around on Iranian TV and handed back a fortnight later in a Primark suit.

Well, why not? Everyone's a winner. The Iranian's get to look really kind - by not beheading them, British diplomats get to strut around and announce how cleverly they've played the negotation game, and the hostages themselves gets lots of lovely publicity, a fortnight of free curries and a £100k book deal.

I heard about some sizeable payouts being offered on the radio this morning. And some guest columnist raised the valid point that families of soldiers killed and maimed in Iraq have to be satisfied with derisery payments of £5-10K, whilst these navy kids, get to walk away from their rub with the enemy like Celebrity Big Brother contestants. You can imagine there'll be a lot of bad feeling over this, festering among the armed forces, and their families. Not good.

The thing is, I don't know who you blame here. I don't blame those kids - the hostages. They're on pretty crap salaries in the Navy, and £100,000 is going to sound like an awful lot to a nineteen year old. I also don't blame them for not putting up a respectable fight, as some armchair Generals have been grumbling about. Think about it...there was nothing they could. They were sitting in a flimsy boat, packed in like sardines, surrounded by three or four boats with heavy machineguns mounted on them. There's no such thing as 'a respectable amount of resistence'. If just one bullet had been fired by the Brits, those machineguns would have churned them into a human soup. Different story entirely if they'd been on foot patrolling some suburb of Baghdad...there'd be hard cover to dive for, and the possibility of fighting back.

So anyway, I don't blame them for surrendering, and I don't blame them for taking the huge sums that have already been offered by newspapers, and even greater sums that will come from book publishers in the next few weeks. As somebody mentioned, what the Hell can you expect from a bunch of teenagers whose only understanding of the world is what they see on TV; money-grabbing celebrities behaving like pampered toddlers, desperate nobodies doing anything for 15minutes of fame and cash prize, and pernicious TV adverts cajoling them to 'go grab what's rightfully theirs...because they deserve it.'

It's just a symptom of the crappy society we've built for ourselves here in UK over the last twenty-thirty years.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

APPRENTICE - And the winner is...

Brand new season and a brand new collection of suckers prepared to demean and humiliate themselves for our viewing pleasure.

Okay, I know it's early days, but can you guess who's going to win yet? One candidate was obviously going to be for the chop early on, and that was Andy. But, what about the rest? Well, here's a handy tip when it comes to trying to predict who'll be amongst the last few candidates...

...you ready for my super-hot tip?

Check which few candidates are getting a suspiciously high proportion of screen time.

You see, this show isn't live, what you see each week, didn't happen last week...it happened months and months ago. Hell, I'm sure you knew that anyway. They shoot most of the series long before it airs, edit it, tart it up, add on all that spooky mood music. And all that of course takes time.

But, what it means is that the production team already know who has won, or atleast, which candidates are in the last couple of shows. And as they go through the hundreds of hours of footage and edit together each of the sixteen shows they'll edit-in a bias towards the final two or three candidates...almost implying to the unsuspecting viewer, that their wisdom is far-seeing, that they always had an inkling as to who was going to make it through to the end.

So watch for that. Keep your eyes peeled...who's getting the predominant share of screen time. So far, to my eyes it looks like the winner will be among these candidates:

Jadine: the men's boss this week
Tre: this season's 'Syed'
Gerry: this season's 'Ruth'

Obviously it's early days yet, but keep watching and I'm pretty sure by the end of next week's programme, the editor's I-know-who-wins bias will become more evident.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

BLOODY PEER FASCISM

This was once my problem, when I was a kid, a long time ago. I was never into the stuff all the other lads in my class were into, which was basically football back then...football was everything. I never had an interest in it, consequently I very quickly found myself alone at play times. I remember, as young as seven, being aware of the pressure being put on me by my class mates, to conform.

As it happened, eventually I did.

One Christmas I asked for a West Ham strip (since that was the it team back then) and a football, instead of what I actually wanted, which was an ActionMan and the ActionMan Scorpion Tank. I remember opening my presents on Christmas day feeling somewhat deflated...the football strip and the ball weren't the things I wanted, they didn't interest me in the least, and I remember really resenting missing out on my tank. But, this is what I had to do if I wanted any sort of company come play time.

Now I'm 40, and I have son who is nine. And I see him going through the same situation. He has no interest in football, or any sport. He doesn't get all his clothes bought from JJB Sports, he doesn't wear a burberry baseball cap perched back on a shaved coconut head. He doesn't have Wayne Rooney lunch box tucked under one arm.

And I think he's beginning to pay a heavy price for that.

He tells me the other boys in his class call him a girl, because he has longer hair than theirs. I've seen him emerge from school at the end of the day, alone, shoulders slumped and worn out from a day's worth of being isolated and ignored. And my heart aches for him. He asked to have his lovely blonde hair shaved off...to which I happily agreed - after all it's his hair. But then he said later on he didn't want to have it shaved off, but other boys in his class, were teasing him, telling him he should look like them.

It makes me feel so angry. My little lad is different. I'm not saying his special, or better, just different, that's all. And yet, the other little bullet-headed football clones out in the playground are crushing his individuality, crushing his spirit...coercing him to look like them, or face isolation, ridicule. As a kid, I just didn't have the strength of personality to fight back...I gave in and became a rubbish facsimile of them, going through the motions, pretending to be interested in West Ham, learning a few footballer names.

And it breaks my heart that he's having to deal with this same crap now. Only that pressure to conform is so much more intense now than when I was a kid. The whole sports label thing, the £45 football shirts, the £100 trainers. It's almost too much to bear...that soon, very soon, I'm going to have to part with lots of hard-earned money to dress my lad in labeled clothes that some unimaginative, slack-jawed football drone child, insists my lad must wear...before he'll accept him as a friend.

I hate that playground peer fascism thing...the way children can be to each other. And I pray that the sixteen year old lad that emerges out the other end of this deppressing, threatening, period of his life, otherwise known as his 'school days', will retain some of the individuality he went into it with.

Shit. If I ever, ever, earn enough as a writer...I'll pay for him to be home-schooled if that's what he wants.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

WE'RE FOUR MEALS FROM ANARCHY

Somebody sent me this link recently Linky

A fascinating article that discusses just how fragile our modern, centralized, societal system is. It's basically the root theme of my 2nd novel, LAST LIGHT - a novel that examines what would happen if oil production was shut down overnight.

Do you know, whilst I was writing this book, I kept asking myself how plausible it was:- I was describing a week, starting on a Monday when oil begins to dry up, ending on the Sunday with riots murder, anarchy turning the UK into something resembling a post-apocalyptic landscape.

I kept thinking...'nah, you're making things fall apart too quickly.' But I kept to that timescale of 1 week, because I felt it had the dramatic tension. I wish I'd stumbled upon that Times article above whilst I was in the process of writing the book though...it would've meant a lot less agonizing over the believability of the scenario.

Anyway, for any blog readers who have stumbled upon this blog for the first time, here's a link to the trailer for LAST LIGHT - it should give you a feel for the book.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

BYE BYE SKY

I was going to do a little piece to camera for this. See, like smoking, it took a couple of attempts to quit. The first two times I rang up SKY to tell them their services would no longer be required, the customer services operator (Indian) transferred me to her supervisor (Scottish) to...ahem...'confirm the details'.

On both occasions, this guy (and I'm sure it was the same guy) harangued me, haggled with me, berated me into staying with SKY, and finally, at the end of about twenty minutes of brow-beating offered me three months of the £45 package at about £10. I found myself saying 'yes', because he made me feel like I'd negotiated a fantastic bargain.

Hmmmm, very clever. The guy was a proffesional 'u-turner' - no doubt extensively trained at some secret SKY training camp, to turn customers around and keep them with SKY.

Anyway, three months elapsed recently. The only two programs we watch as a family now are BattleStar Galactica and Ugly Betty, and that really is it. So I figured, this time round, whatever happens I'm quitting for good. And, because I thought it would be fun, I recorded the phone call. See...last time, it was just unbelievable. The guy was telling me how SKY offered the best quality TV programming in the world, best priced, most variety....yadayada. It was like dealing with a bloody time-share salesman.

So I set up my video camera, eagerly looking forward to recording this telephone duel. I linked in the phone line to record the audio and started to record the call, knowing this was going to make for a very entertaining video for my blog.

*sigh*

It all went horribly wrong. The operator (Indian) took my details and then passed me on to this hardcore 'u-turner' (Scottish again)

SKY: I gather you wish to cancel Sky completely sir

ME: Yes. (Waiting eagerly for him to ask why so the fun could begin)

SKY: And...can I ask you...why?

ME: Ahhhh!!!!...I'm so glad you asked. I'm cancelling because it is shit.

A pause. (And I'm grinning like a Cheshire cat, waiting for him to start berating me. See, I've got all my smart-arse comebacks ready for this. This is going to make an excellent bit of video. I'm gonna look pretty cool, SKY will look crap...heheh, bring it on.)

SKY: Fair enough sir. It's not to everyone's taste is it? I'll arrange this immediately, sir. You have a good day now Mr Scarrow.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

IT'S FINALLY BROKEN....

...society, that is. We messed around with it, experimented with it, tweaked it, and, at some point over the last twenty-thirty years...we went and broke it.

I have to say I agree in part with Cameron, that it's the breakdown of family values that is partially to blame; Labour's insistence that single-mum families, 'blended' families are not only perfectly okay, but to be celebrated...has taken it's toll.

But the problem is way bigger than that - and Cameron's party are guilty too. Who remembers when Thatcher proudly announced, in the heigh-day of her years that 'there is no such thing as society any more'?. She championed the 'me first' attitude that served as rocket fuel for the consumer driven free market vision she had for Great Britain. We all went out and bought houses, filled them with stuff from IKEA, and stuck two fingers up at everyone else who wasn't immediate family or close friends, went inside, closed the door and double-locked it.

And now?...

...we're all stuck in our tastefully furnished little shoe-boxes watching SKY TV, or looking out through the windows at streets filled with roaming hoodies, some packing guns, most packing at least a knife and we're stuck inside bemoaning the fact that - you know what? - we miss being able to talk to our neighbors over the garden fence. We miss stumbling across an impromptu fathers-and-sons football game on the common, with jumpers marking goal posts. We miss being able to amble safely through the town park at dusk.

Society is dead. And some time over the last two decades, during four terms of Conservative rule, and three terms of New Labour, we let our governments kill it.

I miss it...I want it back.

Friday, February 23, 2007

BAZUKA THAT VERRUCA!

It's a con.

It's a fraud of mind-boggling proportions. Bazuka simply doesn't do what it says it does on the tube. My lad Jake had had veruccas for eighteen months - through which, day in and day out my wife and I have been diligently applying Bazuka cream. I can't begin to recall how many tubes we've been through.

Then one day somebody told us that the cream was virtually a placebo. That there was nothing in there that was going to sort out a verruca. She said, that verrucas have a lifespan and they will drop out of their own accord if you leave them alone. She even went on to say, the more you fart around with the cream, with zapping them with that painful acid stuff, the longer they last!

So we stopped messing around trying to get rid of it - actually 'them' by now. And about four or five weeks later, they all vanished overnight.

Now, I suspect that the entire verruca business, not just the people that make Bazuka, but all the other brands of ointments, acids, socks and creams surely know that none of their products actually work, and that these little buggers basically have a lifespan and will sod off when they're good and ready.

And of course there's all those other products out there, that don't actually work...at all. Or, if they do work, it's not because of the product itself, but some other coincidental affect. For example; rejuvenating face creams, anti-wrinkle creams. These sort of work after a fashion, but mainly as a result of the massaging action of applying the cream. The cream itself has no affect at all. But they're not going to tell you that, are they? Not at £30 a tube.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

UK'S KIDS THE MOST DEPPRESSED

In a survey of modern industrialised economies, it seems our kids are the least happy with life; despite living in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

That really comes as no surprise to me at all. I suspect though, if they widened the remit of the survey they'd also discover that most British people are generally unsatisfied with their lot.

But focusing on our kids...I've got a good idea why they're all surly and depressed. And it's got a lot to do with wealth. See, in the UK, we are mostly quite pampered. I think something like 90% of kids over the age of ten now have a mobile phone. I don't know how many have a TV, a DVD player and at least one console in their room, but I'm guessing the percentage is quite high.

Sadly though, our kids live in a country where either they're driven from friend's-playover to after-school-activity by terrified SUV-driving parents, whipped into a fever of peedo paranoia by the media, or...they're totally ignored and rejected by chav mums and dads who are way too busy watching trash TV.

They've got the latest mobiles and Sportswear accessories, but no freedom.

But worse still, our kids are being bombarded - like radiation - by subtle (and not so subtle) media messages specifically designed to make them feel crap about themselves (unless, of course, they go and buy product XYZ).

Seriously. I'd like to start a class action and sue the hell out of the media for making our kids despondent, depressed consumer clones, who, no matter how much they have in their bedroom, need only pass a street billboard, a TV set or recieve an unsolicited text to find out how little they have in comparison to 'all the other re-e-e-al co-o-o-o-o-l kids'.

If you've got a moment, why don't you take a look at the adverts on Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon? Or skim through a copy of some teeny mag next time you're in a newsagents? Or, if you want aspirational radiation therapy at it's worse - check out one of the music video channels.

I look at our kids and really worry. And you know, I'm not dissing them.

No.

The people I save my venom for are people my own age; the creative execs and degree-holding middle-class media muppets who are responsible for peddling this insipid me-me-me poison. You know, I once toyed with the idea of breaking into marketing/advertising, back when I was much younger.

I'm so glad now I have a kid of my own, that I didn't chose to go over to the dark side. Hell...maybe I should have, and tried to affect change from within.

Nah. I could see my 'Don't Buy Nike...they're over-priced and won't actually make you any happier' campaign not really going down too well with my hypothetical employer.