Category Archives: Literature

The night I met Danny

I met Danny last night. This was unexpected because in all the years since I wrote the book I have never met him. I’ve always thought it was odd. He was in my head so much, for so many years, why had I never actually met him? I’d met John, even talked to him once or twice, but Danny was a cipher, as big a mystery as he was when I first set pen to paper.

My very first thought on meeting him was one of pleasant startlement. I even thought the words, “Oh, he’s actually real.” It was more elated than that banality would suggest: a piquant mix of surprise, sadness and delight. I did a double-take, unintentionally alerting him to my presence, the way you do when you see someone you know, or you are attracted to a stranger across a room. You don’t want to stare, or be caught gazing for more than three seconds, or whatever it is, in case you reveal too much of yourself, but your brain has to catch up, yell at you loud enough, rummage through a mental filing cabinet trying to save you from yourself and get you moving again before you blurt out something inappropriate.

Not in this case. I knew him instantly, even although he didn’t look exactly like I expected him to. But then they never do.

We were in an old disused shop in West Cumbria. That’s West, the industrial side, not the pretty side that everyone knows. DANNY is set in the forgotten side, the abandoned side, the side of old open-topped mines and abandoned industrial ports and agri-farms that aren’t big enough to cut it in the EEC. Only right we should all have been bundled into an old disused laundrette or dry-cleaners.

We’d all been in the same night club, and there had been a drugs raid and the police had simply rounded everybody up and shoved them in this shop until they could sort out who’d seen what and been where. It had soiled maroon carpeting and all the counters had been ripped up, with dangerous holes in the concrete floor and odd circles cut out the black-stained nylon where God-knows-what had passed through them.

Danny was sitting against one wall on a grey plastic stacking chair. Him and four other boys, and the first thing that struck me about him was “God, his hair really is that colour”. Let me tell you, that boy’s hair is dark. I am not at all surprised that people (annoyingly) always think it looks dyed when they meet him. To be honest, I always thought they were all suffering some kind of mass delusion brought on by lust and erotomania, but it’s a real genuine ruby red. It would be rich chestnut if there was enough brown in it, but there isn’t. The red on the book jackets isn’t right at all, but there, book covers never do live up to your idea of someone.

Secondly, his hair is softer, the ‘curls’ more like ringlets/waves. I always thought his hair would be tightly curled, if chaotic, but it’s not. If I had to pick any ‘jacket boy’, I’d say his hair looked most like the boy on the Hope House cover, although not in colour. We definitely got the colour wrong.

On the tail of that realisation, I thought, “He looks so young“. I hadn’t expected that, that he’d be so young, so not quite formed. He was more narrow-shouldered than I expected, although still as lean, slightly hollow. He was dressed in a black shirt and dark blue trousers. If I was forced to describe them, I’d call them midnight blue jeans – not denim, just cotton – kind of soft, brushed-looking and a brown leather belt.

He was sitting forward, hands dangling between his legs – with the other boys, but not of them. He looked like he’d been rounded up with strangers, like he’d been there on his own, like the proverbial lone wolf wandering about in the club, lonely or predatory. I’m not sure which.

To be honest, he didn’t look like he could, or ever would, be with anyone. He sat back and looked up, caught me entranced, like a rabbit in headlights. His eyes narrowed, focussed, as if to say “Do I know you?” As if he was reaching far into his memory, trying to dig for someone he knew years ago. Trying to catch some tenuous connection that I was unwittingly handing out to him.

But I saw a glimpse, perhaps under it, perhaps running ahead of it, perhaps there all along – just disguised because it was the politic thing to do; I saw that inch of calculation – although that isn’t fair; maybe resignation is a better word – that look of ‘What does she want of me?’ But by then I’d moved away, been shepherded into a back room where there was a perfectly round, deep, drilled hole in the floor filled with a mess of mixed coins. Drug money? Bloody strange drug money, but not for a hole in the wall town like this, I suppose. Kids buying ecstasy tablets with loose change. That was Maryport, at least at two in the morning in this surreal dream world.

I was half-interested in the weird hole in the floor, but more drawn to what was behind me. Danny, actually sitting there, like a real live person.

I turned round, saw him in profile, still sitting there on the end. He didn’t look at me until he stood up some minutes later, being herded out again: the police were done with them, or they were being taken somewhere else. Who knows?

He looked up, as his body was turning away, looked directly at me, as if he’d known I was there all along and had merely wanted an excuse to look back, as if he was grabbing at a last chance. He looked as if he was in handcuffs – why, for God’s sake?

He raised his head; that little upward tilt that men do with their chins. It’s almost peculiarly Northern, working class, something of strong, silent types. It’s a sort of “Ayup” of recognition, done without words. A thing that men generally do in salute to other men. It’s an acknowledgment.

He’d acknowledged me. He knew who I was.

We couldn’t speak, we couldn’t talk. We’d never be allowed to actually meet, have any kind of remotely meaningful connection. We were ships passing in the night. Two people who had come so close, who knew of each other, but not each other. He was saying “I see you, I know who you are. You are not my enemy.” No-one would ever be his friend. He was beyond that. Locked out forever. But I’d got close enough. I’d met Danny, in the flesh.

And the thing I felt about him most? The single strongest thing that struck me about him? It wasn’t his beauty, or his allure or his captivating perfection. Sitting in that chair, resigned, separated somehow from everyone around him, the one thing that struck me above all else, when I got past him actually being there at all, was how very sad he was. Sadder than sad. Beyond all sad.

And I realise I never did him justice. I don’t think I ever really captured him at all. And I’m more sorry than he’ll ever know.

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It was August…

Yes, DANNY 3, the final (complete) volume is coming to you at the end of August 2012 – hopefully. God willing.

What will you all (i.e. me) do without it? Sigh………

My terror of the unknown aside – HOORAY, freedommmmmmmmmmmmmm! – to quote the evil Jew-hating, misogynistic, wife-beating, drunken, really, REALLY evil – did I already say he was EVIL? – Mel Gibson.

I will pass the halfway mark of the first major edit this evening. Those of you who have been with me from the start will know this is the nasty edit, the one that is covered in more bruises than one of Mel Gibson’s wives (bear with me, I’m jumping on a bandwagon here). It is covered in virtual highlighter, sneering remarks, weary Essays to Myself and, finally, in desperation, notes that just read “NO!!!”

But the second edit is always easier, and kinder. Then you start to see it shape up, and the worst excesses, repetitions and good old-fashioned I-must-keep-writing-no-matter-how-bad-it-is passages all start to melt away and the gold starts glimmering through.

What can I tell you about Volume 3?

Well, it’s name would be good, but unfortunately, I don’t know that yet. It’s a toss-up between The Changeling and ‘Tis Pity He’s a Whore. But The Changeling is winning currently. Feel free to bombard me with comments if you have a preference. Which I will ignore.

It used to be working titled The Serpent’s Tail and/or The End of the Beginning. This is because the book is cyclical; it stops where it begins, as it were. (Volume One’s very first title was The Beginning of the End, which I’ve always liked – still do.) You could, technically – and I’ve always imagined this to be true – finish reading Volume 3 and go straight to read Volume 1 and suddenly it all would be perfectly understandable. All those people who found DANNY 1 unbearably baffling would now be filled with enlightenment.

However, I have never put this to the test. Ever. And I’m scared to. So if anyone takes on the experiment after reading 3 please do put me out my misery and tell me if it works.

Or don’t. If it doesn’t. I’d rather keep my (delusions) illusions.

The book is being externally proofread, the pedants and Grammar Queens among you will be glad to know. One of its fans, Angelika, herself a writer, is proofreading the volume for me (see her masterwork here: Angelika Ranger – Hallowmere Fantasy Series, so hopefully she’ll pick up what I miss, and there will be a drastic reduction in floating “, missing ,,,,,,, and totally absent ……..

Not to mention hilariously awful errors such as the doozy from Road Movie: “knocked the sir out of him.” (It should have been air, in case that’s still baffling you. Little helpful note – if you can’t fathom what some fuck-up is supposed to be, just look at a keyboard. S sits right next to A, for example. Yes, Spike Milligna and I owe a lot of our success as comedians to the keyboard.)

So, volume 3. Well, let’s just tell you one thing about it and we’ll leave the rest of it for you to discover yourself.

When I was writing it, I intended it to finally tell the truth. Not so much to reveal the family’s true history (which you never discover – sorry), but to let you witness all the events that are related second-hand in all the other books. However (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?) I found that although I set out with the best of intentions, the boys had other ideas, and they insisted on telling me different stories, dragging me off to scenes I hadn’t witnessed, made me voyeur to things I had no idea had occurred. This gave me terrible bother.

Terrible, terrible bother. For a start, there was a constant worry of ‘How does this mesh with the facts?’, then there was the anxiety of timelines – did they match? Hell, no. Then there was the fretting about not covering things that needed to be covered, and events that were memorable, and that people would expect to read about, simply not being there. Then I just got tired of the bitching moaning and said, “Oh, fucking shut up and let me have peace to write.” And so I just told the story. In other words, I obeyed the writer’s first law, I got out my own way.

Afterwards, I had to go through it all again, amplified by being able to see concretely in front of me the ‘shortcomings’ of it as a comparative document. It just didn’t match.

It’s taken me many years since then, and many soul-searching hours in the dead of night wondering if I needed to rewrite it, to realise it’s deliberate, and exactly what should have happened. In the first volume they tell you DANNY – as umbrella for the Jackson Moore Story – as they want themselves to be. In the second volume, they confess DANNY as they know it sometimes was, but more often as their hearts nostalgically remember, and, finally, in the shape of Ian, and through Ian’s memory, they let all of that go and let their hidden voices rise to the surface. It may still be lies, but they are heartfelt lies.

But in Volume 3 you see it as it was. No, not the same events perhaps, but the events that actually mattered, the events wherein the truth was shaped, before it was hidden by lies and deceit and manipulative shenanigans. In fact, even their manipulative shenanigans (and that’s very much ‘their’, not ‘Ian’s’) are shown for what they really are – as often as not, lonely, sad, hurt, angry and just trying to survive.

Yes, it is finally August…….


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The Book of Your Enemy Has Been Compacted

Oh mine enemies, here is your moment of sublime schadenfreude: this morning at exactly 10.15 a.m. I was awoken by the sound of a large truck rolling up at my house.

The Moment of Death had arrived.

I pulled the duvet over my head and tried not to listen, but it was no good. I could hear the hearty comedians of waste disposal hefting the trembling volumes. I could hear the giant engine of Armageddon munching my words. Yes, my books were fed into a compactor. Yes I could hear Danny’s screams as he was crushed in iron jaws. All 1,290 of him (we kept two boxes).

Oh the tragedy, oh the pain.

We tried everything in the months beforehand to avoid this waste, but after many disappointments (at one time Healthy Planet was going to take them and give them away in shopping malls throughout Britain; oh joyous escape, that was, sadly, dashed), we had to admit defeat and arrange for them to be pulped.

To add further indignity to this miserable story of dashed hopes and broken dreams, we had to PAY £75 to the council for said comedians to destroy my work, figuratively, right in front of my face. Or at least within my hearing.

I am going to sit here and lick my wounds, but to all my enemies who have worked their damndest to get DANNY, and me, banned in as many places as possible, I dedicate this poem. My (books’) fate may have been worse than that of Clive James’ enemy, but the sentiments remain the same.


By Clive James

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am pleased.
In vast quantities it has been remaindered.
Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized
And sits in piles in a police warehouse,
My enemy’s much-praised effort sits in piles
In the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs.
Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aisles
One passes down reflecting on life’s vanities,
Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviews
Lavished to no avail upon one’s enemy’s book—
For behold, here is that book
Among these ranks and the banks of duds,
These ponderous and seemingly irreducible cairns
Of complete stiffs.

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I rejoice.
It has gone with bowed head like a defeated legion
Beneath the yoke.
What avail him now his awards and prizes,
The praise expended upon his meticulous technique,
His individual new voice?
Knocked into the middle of next week
His brainchild now consorts with the bad buys,
The sinkers, clinkers, dogs and dregs,
The Edsels of the world of movable type,
The bummers that no amount of hype could shift,
The unbudgeable turkeys.

Yea, his slim volume with its understated wrapper
Bathes in the glare of the brightly jacketed Hitler’s War Machine,
His unmistakably individual new voice
Shares the same scrapyard with a forlorn skyscraper
Of The Kung-Fu Cookbook,
His honesty, proclaimed by himself and believed in by others,
His renowned abhorrence of all posturing and pretence,
Is there with Pertwee’s Promenades and Pierrots—
One Hundred Years of Seaside Entertainment,
And (oh, this above all) his sensibility,
His sensibility and its hair-like filaments,
His delicate, quivering sensibility is now as one
With Barbara Windsor’s Book of Boobs,
A volume graced by the descriptive rubric
‘My boobs will give everyone hours of fun’.

Soon now a book of mine could be remaindered also,
Though not to the monumental extent
In which the chastisement of remaindering has been meted out
To the book of my enemy,
Since in the case of my own book it will be due
To a miscalculated print run, a marketing error—
Nothing to do with merit.
But just supposing that such an event should hold
Some slight element of sadness, it will be offset
By the memory of this sweet moment.
Chill the champagne and polish the crystal goblets!
The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am glad.

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FREE NOVEL! (Sort of…)

You lot never get to see the magazines and promos that we use on genre sites to sell Poison Pixie’s books. Max has been beating me about the head with a broom and insisting I give him all/any of my unfinished pieces so that he can use them as ‘free reads’ in our promotional giveaways. He’s just run Hansard and Greta; the starts of a novel I never finished, but always kind of liked.

I realised some of you hardcore I-only-read-DANNY-in-print fans would probably enjoy it too. So here is a link to the latest free sampler magazine so you can go and read it.


HOT SUMMER READS! (God, genre marketing is naff…)

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I finally actually DO quit

I have given up writing.

Just writing those words is fear inspiring. It’s like announcing I have decided to cut off my legs. On a whim. For no reason at all. Hell, legs nothing; like I’m giving up my personality to become a ghost. A non-person.

I have not rushed to share this news on here (I gave up about two months ago), wanting to be sure it was not some fit of pique, a bout of depression, a withholding due to injured pride. But it’s not. I still have no desire to write. I feel no overwhelming rush to dash back into the fold. I am out in the cold and soldiering grimly on, as directionless as a rudderless boat, but decidedly more banal and less romantic.

It has not felt the way I expected. There have been no tears, but no joy either. My expected feelings of loss or liberation failed to materialise, although I suspect that’s because I am doing this piecemeal. By necessity.

Do you know the experience of deciding to do something that isn’t possible in one stroke? Say, moving house. You can say the words, ‘I’ve decided to move house’, but it takes a while to do, and it involves many stages, some of them with stages all unto themselves. But the key to long haul decisions is there is always a point where you actually decide, where you let go of the old and climb onto the new. Well, that’s where I am, which is why I suspect the expected feelings have been muted and uncertain. I haven’t yet tilted into the full-time commitment of being a quitter.

Books on finding your calling, doing what you love so the money will follow, following your passion and finding your North star, are always big on trusting your gut, reading your feelings. If you decide to do something and you feel a sinking feeling, it must be wrong, do something else. Well, I can tell you, in the real world, these just don’t work. You may feel a thrill of excitement at the idea of being a professional hanglider, but your heart sinks when you think of telling your wife and kids, or of finding the money for a spanky new hanglider. So, is your heart telling you hangliding is the way to go, or are your doubts proving the idea is a disaster waiting to happen?

Sometimes the cleft stick is right up your arse.

I have been writing for a long time, just short of 30 years. I have virtually nothing to show for it. Four books in print (five if you count Delaney, which I don’t). But no career, no fame, no reputation and no money. It’s been a long, long time since I last enjoyed it, in an abstract sense, although I can still enjoy the act of writing when I’m actually doing it. As a concept though, no. Just the thought makes me feel tired and defeated. I am the Vincent van Gogh of writing, but I am embracing quitting rather than absinthe and ear-lopping.

But there is more to my dissatisfaction than sheer materialism, or an absence of professional (or public) regard. I have never felt like a ‘writer’, for example. By which I mean I have no idea how to go onto a web forum or into a writer’s group and mingle. I have nothing in common with other writers, and can, indeed, only find points of reference between me and – usually – dead geniuses. Does this mean I am a genius then rather than ‘a writer’? Well, normally I would say yes, because I like to keep up my reputation as a brittle and annoying narcissist, but this time, for the sake of truth and beauty, I will say, does it matter?

If being a genius is as relevant to publication as being Swiss, who cares? How does it, or would it, help me to know I was a genius? Can I put it on letter headings? Sell it on eBay? Demand attention from your dog? Of what practical use is it in a writing career to be a genius? Let’s stick to the real world.

I have no peers. And I’m far too old for a mentor. I can’t use my forum friends and writing buddies to get a step up the ladder, find contacts, feel loved. I’m assuming feeling loved is part of this, otherwise it makes no sense. I don’t feel loved when I’m with other writers, just irritated by their stupidity, slug-like devotion to genre and their endless rounds of amateurish back-patting. Instead of feeling loved I feel alienated and freakish, a constant outsider toiling up the mountain of publication like the world’s smallest ant rolling the biggest ball of dung.

DANNY may be a lot of things, but it isn’t dung. I need to quit, before I start thinking of it that way. I don’t want to hate it as much as everyone else does.

Constantly inserting yourself into a hole that you don’t fit is bound to lead to literary cystitis eventually, where you avoid the pain of intercourse because engaging no longer feels pleasurable. In fact, you wonder how anyone ever wants to do it in the first place. Meet my life.

What this means, practically, to you, is I will no longer be publishing the remaining volumes of DANNY, at least for now. In 2012 I will look at my situation again and see how I feel. Maybe time will have soothed my pains, and brightened my spirits – or at least revived my enthusiasm – or maybe I will have moved on entirely and left it – hoorah! – well behind, like the ghost of Christmas past. Only time will tell.

I will no longer be publishing Delaney on here, but I am still uncertain as to whether to start running DANNY Volume 1. At the moment it seems pointless, counter-productive, and I really don’t want to do it. I know it will ruin my hard-earned blog audience – and, peculiarly, and sadly, that’s the thing that frightens me most – but you can’t quit by halves, you know. I’ve tried.

But I may change my mind; one quit at a time. I’m feeling my way here. If you care enough, you can buy Delaney to see how it ‘ends’. It will stay in print with the rest of my work. Other than the original Volume 1, which I am intending to withdraw/remainder, I have no intentions of removing any of my work from publication.

I did actually try, and did start, a new novel. When I finished work on Delaney, I swore that was my last project for Poison Pixie, and I was firmly determined to get in on some mainstream action; enough of doing what you love. But I found it wouldn’t come. Well, it would, but it was like I’d wound the clock back to 1984: I was manufacturing writing; I wasn’t writing. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s what 99% of writers do, but I don’t enjoy it. I’ve tasted the intoxicating joy of writing something that matters and I’m not going back to that meagre regurgitation known as storytelling. There are so many people who do that and love it with a passion. The world doesn’t need my half-hearted efforts at vampire detectives who save the world.

I don’t know what, if anything, will be running on this blog, so I can’t reassure you. Max will probably still use it for his books and so forth, and it will still be used for Poison Pixie news, but after that I can’t say for certain. Feel free to call back or not as you see fit. It will remain here because, like I say, I’m feeling my way here. I may take a mad turn and become a full-time blogger. But I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one.

I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember, from when I first thought of a ‘serious’ career (i.e. one that didn’t involve dancing or travelling the world), but I’ve never been certain whether I ever actually picked it. I always thought I had. After all, I had fought against academia and law to get it, sacrificed many things for it, wasted a horrendous amount of time learning it, perfecting it, and worrying about it. But maybe it was always my mother’s ambition, not mine. Well, the time has come to find out who I really am without it. Hey, maybe there’s no-one there. That would be the final irony, a writer of fiction who was a fiction herself.

Wish me luck………..

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Talent will out…

Many people lie about the realities of being a writer. One of the biggest lies is that ‘talent will out’. In other words, if you’ve got it, someone somewhere will recognize it. It is about as credible as publishers “wanting fresh voices”.

Here is a sample of the critical reaction Henrik Ibsen’s play Ghosts received when it was first produced in Britain. I rest my case:

Ibsen’s positively abominable play entitled Ghosts….An open drain: a loathsome sore unbandaged; a dirty act done publicly….Gross, almost putrid indecorum….Literary carrion…. Crapulous stuff” – Daily Telegraph

Revoltingly suggestive and blasphemous ….Characters either contradictory in themselves, uninteresting or abhorrent.” – Daily Chronicle

Morbid, unhealthy and disgusting story….A piece to bring the stage into disrepute and dishonour with every right-thinking man and woman.” – Lloyd’s

Lugubrious diagnosis of sordid impropriety….Characters are prigs, pedants and profligates….Morbid caricatures…. Maunderings of nookshotten Norwegians” – Black and White

As foul and filthy a concoction as has ever been allowed to disgrace the boards of an English theatre….dull and disgusting….Nastiness and malodorousness laid on thickly as with a trowel.” – Era

Ninety-seven percent of the people who go to see Ghosts are nasty-minded people who find the discussion of nasty subjects to their taste, in exact proportion to their nastiness” – Sporting and Dramatic News

Ugly, nasty, discordant, and downright dull…. A gloomy sort of ghoul, bent on groping for horrors by night, and blinking like a stupid old owl when the warm sunlight of the best of life dances into his wrinkled eyes” – Gentlewoman

The socialistic and the sexless….The unwomanly women, the unsexed females, the whole army of unprepossessing cranks in petticoats….Educated and muck-ferreting dogs…. Effeminate men and male women….. They all of them–men and women alike–know that they are doing not only a nasty but an illegal thing…. The Lord Chamberlain [the censor] left them alone to wallow in Ghosts…. Outside a silly clique, there is not the slightest interest in the Scandinavian humbug or all his works…. A wave of human folly” – Truth

P.S. My thanks go to John Bergstrom of New York for collating, and sending, the quotes in this post.