Sunday, 11 November 2012

Caught In A Mosh

I went to my first rock concert when I was 14 years old. I saw Motorhead at Newcastle City Hall. A few months back, I noticed they were not only still touring, but coming back to the City Hall, so I decided to look for tickets. The only seat available was the exact one I had 28 years ago, up on the balcony - D13. Too weird - I had to buy it!

But it gets better. The support act were going to be mega-thrash gods, Anthrax. A band I used to be crazy about in my teens. Oh, and it gets even betterer - the original singer, Joey Belladonna, is back with the band and they've got a new album out. So I went out and bought me first CD for god-knows how many years. Worship Music is just incredible. I've listened to it pretty much non-stop.

As for the gig itself, it was full of ageing rockers, but there were a few young faces there, and a handful of kids too, which was great to see. The biggest difference was the atmosphere. When I last saw Anthrax, we were all going mental, jumping and moshing all over the place. But this time, that was pretty much the first two rows only. Everyone else was standing in their correct place, holding up iPhones.

Anthrax were the better band. Joey still sounds amazing, but Motorhead were beyond loud and into the category of sheer pain. Very laid back and cool, no matter how fast they played. Here's a few pics.
Anthrax
Scott Ian - Anthrax
Lemmy - Motorhead
Motorhead
Phil Campbell - Motorhead
Lemmy - Motorhead

Sunday, 30 September 2012

A Blog About Matthew

At the back of Arabesque, there’s a brief mention of Matthew and the amount of care he needs. I’d thought I’d do a quick blog about our life at the moment, not just for a whine and a moan, but because a blog is something to look back on. A good example is my post from 2009: Fun With a Wheelbarrow which is such a silly memory of carting Matthew round the streets in a wheelbarrow and it always makes me laugh. It was a fun day, and something to look back on with nostalgia. But sometimes it's important to look back on the bad times too, which is the real reason I'm writing this entry.

Me and Matthew, at Wookey Hole during the summer.
Things are particularly tough at the moment, for Matthew in particular, and then the rest of us. Three weeks ago, Matthew had major surgery: a femoral osteotomy in both legs, which involved the bones of both legs being cut, rotated and re-fixed. It was a five hour op, and luckily, both legs were done in the same op so he doesn't need to go back.

bed-time meds
He had a week’s recovery in hospital, and then he came home on six weeks bed rest. We’ve got his bed in our front room because it just wouldn’t be fair to confine him to his bedroom – apart from the fact that he doesn’t fully understand what’s going on. As far as he's concerned, he went to sleep in hospital, and woke up with lots of discomfort and pain. We've got to keep on top of this as best we can because Matthew can't tell us what he needs. As you can see in the photo, his night-time meds are a bit daunting. There's actually one missing.

Day to day, he needs lots of moving and cleaning and changing, and all of that causes him pain and discomfort. But nights are something else. We have medicines that help him relax and sleep, but for some reason, they aren’t doing their usual job. Perhaps it's the pain he's in, perhaps it's stress and having had such a big change to his usual routine. 

Matthew and brother, Jack
Usually, on an evening, Matthew sits next to Paula, getting a cuddle while we watch TV. He can't have that at the moment and we can see how much this distresses him. But whatever the reason, we’ve had nights when he’s been awake, moaning and unhappy, all night long. And we've had nights where he's settled and slept until 2am, then woken up and moaned from then on.

So me and my wife are pretty zonked at the moment. It's also affecting his brothers, because if we're tired, they feel it, and sometimes when we're up through the night, they get disturbed too. 

During the week, I go out to work and Paula is confined to home. When I get home, I try to help out with Matthew. So ultimately, there's not a lot of writing getting done just now. But that's okay, because in a few weeks things will be back to normal. And when that happens, and I'm sat at this laptop wondering whether to waste time on Facebook, I can read back through this blog and get back on track, in the hope that one day, I’ll make enough money to be able to write full time...

... in a massive bungalow, with a boiler that works, a hydro-therapy pool for Matthew and a kitchen so big, you can park a car in it.


Thursday, 30 August 2012

So proud...

... of our Cameron. He was quoting big chunks of The Young Ones to keep Matthew happy on our way to the hospital this morning (for an op pre-assessment). He knows most of Bambi - the episode where they go on University Challenge. One of the best.

And it's got Motorhead in, so even better!

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

My Big Day Out

I was invited down to London for two small events organised by Bounce. The first was an informal lunch with a few (very important) booksellers. The second was an event at Foyles, a fantastic book heaven on Charing Cross Road, where I met reviewers and key bloggers.

Me, holding an invisible balloon.
This was very relaxed and chatty, and I tried as well as I could not to go off on tangents - every now and again getting a subtle cough from Non, and then a clear, 'Colin! Tangent!' I managed to get back to Arabesque and answer a few questions.

The main ones were to do with strong language in teen fiction and the way I chose to end Arabesque. I'm not going to give any spoilers about that, but to give a taste of what I said at Foyles, the end is not meant to be a cliffhanger (I'm not planning a sequel, at least, not at the mo), but reflect the book's opening. However, I also felt it important to add that the YA books I enjoy the most don't tie up all of their loose threads. Life isn't like that, and as I like to write about teens being thrust into a cruel and violent adult world, it wouldn't be fair to have a lovely, happy ending where everything turns out just dandy. To illustrate this, I told a personal story of my uncle's tool shed, and what I found in his vice after he died.

Life can be shit, and death sucks too. I guess we're stuck with both.

Book Signing - this one was an
Arabesque poster for Sister Spooky
As for the strong language - I could blog all day about this, but I want to save as much as I can for Litpopia After Dark on the 16th. I'll post a link for anyone who misses that, and do a full blog on strong language shortly after.

At the end, I got a chance to ask questions of our bloggers, and how valued they feel - if they do at all. I hope they do, because usually, even when I find a book that I want to buy, I tend to hang fire and check reviews first, and I find myself going back to the same bloggers. So keep at it! Bloggers are mint!

Between the two events, I managed to do a quick run, around London, snapping as many photos as I could.

Meeting local celebs
At the Tate Modern
Cool phone box near Foyles
Chinatown at night

When we left Foyles, I went with Non, Matt and Caroline (two mega-librarians) for my first experience of a Japanese restaurant.

And this morning, on my way home, I used all of the photos I took to make a Powerpoint of my Big Day Out for my youngest. So much more fun that just telling him.

On the train, making my Powerpoint for Cameron

All in all - a mighty fine visit. Thanks to everyone involved in organising the day, and everyone who came along. It was a blast.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Event: Colin and Non at Foyles

Several events coming up. The first is Foyles in London. I'll be there with my editor, (and YA author too!!) Non Pratt, talking about YA authory stuff. - okay, that's not selling it very well...  (coughs) I'll be telling horrible stories, juggling knives and trying not to make the audience sick (like I did at Shiney Row library :o))

Click here for the FB page. 
ARABESQUE event at FOYLES

So er... come along. It'll be brilliant!!!

ADDED: Erm.. well I tried a quick juggling practice in the garden. Might not be the best idea.


Thursday, 19 July 2012

Advance Copy Arrives

This probably seems a strange thing to do, but for anyone who dreams of being published, this is one of those key moments when the dream becomes a reality.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury died last week, on the 5th June, age 91. The news knocked me because Fahrenheit 451 is one of those books I've picked up so many times, meaning to buy, but has always remained on my "to read" pile. So the news caused me to get it and finally read it.

Fahrenheit 451 is the story of Guy Montag, a fireman. But in this world, a fireman's job is to locate and burn books, which usually means burning the entire house - even the owner.

The language is a bit of a hurdle. It is so colourful and loaded with metaphors that, at times, it strangles the story, and I had to struggle to get back on track. But I persevered and the story opened up. It's not the best novel I've ever read, but it certainly made me think, and that is the reason for this post.

More than anything, Bradbury's view of the future made me think about Facebook and Twitter and the way they can soak up huge amounts of time. In the story, books have been outlawed, but only because society has naturally moved away from them, wanting more immediate entertainment and boiled down versions of stories. Most people have huge, wall sized TVs, some have all four walls converted, but the only programmes are endless feeds of chatter of family and friends - and none of it having any real substance. The result is that they have no time for independent thought. They don't think; they don't question. All they care about is that they are entertained and kept happy. They have no idea they are being controlled, don't realise how doped up they are, don't even realised that other nations hate this future America and there is a war going on right above their own heads.

But Montage begins to question. Montag wants to know why he has to burn books. He realises that there is something wrong about subduing an entire nation like this, turning everyone into mindless zombies.


But what are the Facebook and Twitter addicts? There are too many times I've got up on a morning to write, only to waste all of that time reading feeds of people I don't know talk about stuff I don't care about. I've even found myself responding, laughing and nodding when people post anti-Facebook/Twitter messages, or merging the names as a parody of what an utter waste of time it is... and yet the first thing I did this morning was check for notifications and any new posts.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Prometheus - short review, no spoilers

Back in 1979, Ridley Scott shocked the world with Alien, a film that burst science fiction out of its shell and splattered horror all over the sci-fi genre. The movie remains a classic, and although the sequels were box office successes, they never managed to capture the disturbing atmosphere of brooding horror that Ridley Scott gave us. And so, with Prometheus promising to be a prequel, and directed by Ridley Scott himself, it poses the question if he work the magic himself.

Short answer: yes he can.

I'm not going to give an outline of the story because I went into the cinema knowing this was a prequel to Alien and nothing more. It started slowly, with breathtaking scenery and shots that give a fantastic sense of scale. Unlike the splatterfest action sequels to Alien, Prometheus offers a gradual, cumulative and atmospheric horror on a sci-fi canvas. There are moments that are genuinely creepy and scary rather than holding out for shocks and jumps (although there are a couple of these, delivered very well).

The casting isn't fantastic, and I totally disagree with other reviewers who say that Michael Fassbenger, who plays an android, steals the show. I thought he was overly robotic - especially when you compare him to the creepier, much more lifelike android, Ash, played by Ian Holm in the original Alien. And while I understand that the point of Ash being humanlike was the shock revelation, Fassbenger was so OTT that he might as well have a flashing light, arms held out straight while he repeats, "I AM A RO-BOT"

Noomi Repace, however, plays a belter as Dr Elizabeth Shaw. I'm dying to give examples and talk about scenes but daren't. Just go see it. Wooden android aside, Prometheus was otherwise brilliant. A fantastic prelude, but it also stands on it's own merit as a damn fine sci-fi thriller.


Sunday, 15 April 2012

Walking with a Kindle

There's a big country park near me. My son was over there at the skate park and wanted to show me some new trick on his scooter - "dropping the extension," as he put it. So I had a walk over. Usually when I go for walks I take an MP3 player, which kind of ruins the tranquility of the moment. You can't really appreciate birdsong and the "baaas" of newborn lambs with Slayer blasting in your lugs.

So I left it behind. Instead, I picked up my Kindle. I don't even know why, because the idea of walking and reading seems stupid, not only for the opportunity of comedy accidents (walking into lampposts, falling down open manhole covers, etc) but it can't be exactly easy, can it?

Surprisingly, it was. Once I was over there, the obstacles and danger from the nearby road had gone, so I got through pages and pages as I made my way to the skate park, and more on the way back.

So after dinner I tried the same trick again. This time, my walk was to go up to Penshaw Monument the back way. There's an old country track up there, used by dog walkers and horse riders. (see below).This time, success was mixed. I didn't bump into trees or lampposts and I didn't fall down any open manhole covers...

but after a splodge through the biggest mound of horseshit, it's going to take a while to clean my trainers.

:o)

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Penshaw Bowl

We have our own way of celebrating Easter up here. We all climb up Penshaw Hill and roll eggs down for the Penshaw Bowl competition. The event is run by Sun FM. They section off an area on the hill and get the kids to line up and roll their eggs in age groups. It used to take place at the top of the hill, but due to erosion, it's now about halway up. Still a climb though - especially if you're in a wheelchair.

We tried to push our Matthew up there two years back, but the hill was too steep, so he couldn't take part. This year I tried the back way, which is a slightly easier incline along a bumpy country trail. We got there, but then had to slide his wheelchair down a ridiculously steep slope to get to the Bowl area.

We made it! And once the younger ages had had their go, Matthew got his. His egg did really well. It just kept rolling and rolling. This is Matthew with his prize. And me, knackered!

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Eggcellent!

I've been meaning to do a parent entry to our school's Easter Egg competition for years. I work there as a TA and I still have a son there. This year I went for it. Didn't win. But got a creme egg for entering.
Cameron didn't win either. He's been studying blood, bones and body bits at school (Y4) so he did the heart and brain (with blood!)

Mind you, there were hundreds to judge and some were incredible.

I might start planning for next year.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Swearing in YA fiction

Does strong language have an impact on the commercial success of a book?
There is a big difference between dialogue and transcribed speech. When people talk, in the right environment, every other word can be expletive and no one cares. Usually, this is because the swearing in speech is often used as a wild-card adjective to save having to think of anything more suitable. With teens, there is the added whammy that bad language can define independence. It becomes such a prominent part of their language that some kids can speak in nothing other than swear words and still get their point across.
In a book, that would be awkward to read and ultimately dull. Some writers of adult fiction suffer from this; their novels are so peppered with profanity that you end up having to skim through repetitive crap to get to the story. That bugs the hell out of me and usually puts me off.
So when is it appropriate?
A carefully placed f-bomb can have real impact in certain situations. Rather than just anger, attitude or strength, they can define a specific turning point for a character, their failure, or sudden confidence. There are only a few instances in Clash, and I battled with each one, deciding whether they were justified. If not, they went.
The alternative use of bad language is to show realism - because in the real world, villains tend to swear. The problem with this is that if you have villains in several scenes, you need to be consistent in their language. The single f-bomb no longer works, because that first instance wasn't a revelation; it wasn't a surprise. So if your baddy swears in chapter two, you need to follow through wherever else they appear. If you do that, the f-count rockets up and you end up wondering if this is going to cause a problem. Book sellers can refuse to stock it if they don't consider it suitable for teens, as can libraries and schools, parents...
But can you have a strong, violent thriller without bad language?
Two writers come immediately to mind. Suzanne Collins and Lee Child.
Suzanne Collins wrote The Hunger Games, a book that’s chock-a-block with childhood violence and murder, but has no bad language. Is that because it’s a children’s novel? Maybe, but it doesn’t stop it selling to adults. The three books in the trilogy top the ebook charts as well as paperback sales. Does a lack of bad language hamper the story? Well... in places I can’t help thinking Katniss would react a bit more strongly.
But Lee Child is something else. Lee Child writes commercial thrillers for adults. His books are violent, include murder, imprisonment, brutality, violence, rape and paedophilia with a main character who is strong, moody, and at times explosive. But no bad language. Nothing. I actually reached the end of the first novel (actually, I read #11 first) before realising. So in that case, it worked perfectly well.
But why? Do these authors feel like I do, that too much bad language is repetitive and boring, or that too little makes it obvious that it has been toned down? Or is it a commercial strategy? It might not make a difference with adult thrillers, but I can't help wondering if the Hunger Games was splattered with swear words, would it still be the massive success it is?
I don’t know. All I do know is that Arabesque goes to proof in a couple of weeks... and I need to decide if the strong language I've got so far is essential to plot, or a bullet in the foot.
What do you think? Should YA novels have strong language, or can you maintain the illusion without?

Thursday, 16 February 2012

BOOOOOM!!!

I feel like my head's exploded. I've just completed a mega turbo ninja edit of ARABESQUE.

I posted a blog at the start of this edit when I first went over the document. It can be difficult for a writer to see all those red lines and comments, but ultimately, it's the sign of a good editor. Of course, the other sign is the editor who insists that all those marks are suggestions, and not orders.

In the case of Arabesque, I think I agreed with about 95%. Copy edits are a doddle - you just decide whether the gramatical changes suit. The suggested changes are the tough ones, but the most satisfying - that's the fun stuff.

So there you go. Writing a novel takes a bit more work than just churning out the words. And just because you've been through the process once, doesn't make your writing flawless the next time round. You'll still need an editor, but the process of editing become easier. It's also good to look back on old attempts and see how far you've come. You realise that what you once thought was brilliant, is actually crap. But more importantly, you'll realise why!

Right... off to find something else to do.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Kyle's Drawing from CLASH

Okay, Kyle is fictional, so no, this isn't really his drawing, but it is the image that inspired a certain scene.



In Clash, Kyle is at a loss what to do when his mother is in the maternity ward and her baby (Kyle's brother) is in an incubator in Special Care. He ends up doing a drawing so his mother can have an image of her baby by her bed - all because the other mothers in the ward have their actual babies in cots by their beds.

This scene was taken from real life.

When my wife had our first boy, he was in an incubator in the Special Care Baby Unit, and she was up in a ward where other mothers had their babies in cots - a bit cruel, but there you go. A decent ward might have put her in a side room.

For some reason I thought you weren't allowed to use cameras in the special care unit (there were some very premature babies in there under special lighting). So I nipped home, grabbed a drawing pad, pencils and set to work. I went back up to the ward and pinned the picture to the wall.

However, there is a spooky side to this story. When we lived in Washington, loads of strange things happened when Matthew came home. His mobile would spin on its own, the cat would go nuts for no reason... there were other weird things too, but the strangest was the morning when this drawing (in its frame) fell off the wall for no reason. This happened at 6am while we were still in bed. The bang woke us up, and I came downstairs to find the frame behind the TV. Rather than refix it there and then, I put in on the bookcase and went back to bed...

...That evening, we had a flood and every picture that was still hanging in our front room was ruined as water streamed down the walls.

Whoooooooooooo.