Category Archives: Blog

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FROM THE NOTEBOOK: The same old tragedy

As I write things are getting more and more out of hand in Gaza. The priority must be some kind of ceasefire, but despite international condemnation we fear that more civilians in Gaza will be needlessly massacred before we get to that point.

When I last posted the world was hoping for calm after the devastating news that the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers had been murdered. I could just about focus on normal business then but today it feels odd for me to update a largely apolitical blog about reading and writing without at least acknowledging our same old tragedy, intensifying right now.

Especially as I’ve been leafing through my notebook and found something relevant to share.    

La Paz, 22 August 2011

The conversation in Cusco with the Israeli guy with the fast heart rate made me a little bit more sympathetic to those among them who travel. He spoke about how he could not fully trust Arab Israelis even though they were his friends. He was reasonable and spoke with fairness.

Looking back on that I am reminded of a scene from ‘Waltz with Bashir’. And furthermore a line from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which I am currently reading, rings true:

“Atrocities are sometimes nothing less than the vengeance of the tormented.”

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In writing ‘A Missing MC’ I answered The Big Question

I introduce myself as ‘the proud author of A Missing MC’; not just because of the story I created but more because I answered ‘yes’ to a big, burning question, arguably the biggest of all; ‘can I write a book?’

I soon discovered that wrapped up within this were many more, smaller questions. Would my plot work? Could my world be plausible and enjoyed? Would I be as interested when I resumed draft one in Manchester, a full eight months after the speedy, zealous way in which I researched, planned and drafted the first three chapters in Newcastle? Would I be able to retrieve the style in which I was writing? Would I give my narrator the clear voice he deserved?

Would it all turn out the way I’d pictured it?

The answer to all these questions, while varied, all combined to give me a positive answer I could live with. That is why I am so proud today.

But my fulfilment is really down to one thing; the hardest of hard work at the very beginning. That early period in Newcastle laid solid foundations for the years that followed. The detailed research and most comprehensive planning of that early period made everything else, more or less, fall into place.

Today, the answer to the Big Question also leads me to a statement; I wrote one book, so I can write another. Proud I may be, but there’s much more for me to explore in life after Chris Ready; countries, cultures, adventures, hatred, love.

I can hardly wait, but first I must roll my sleeves up again.

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EXTRACT: from A Missing MC

I’ll share snippets from my novel here from time to time. Here’s a passage from a semi-romantic scene, which took me a few attempts to get right…. 

I looked away and laughed to myself, taking another sip. Was that what I thought it was? I was fully aware that tonight had not been my night so far, and the Shakesy incident was probably still affecting my judgement. Misreading her signs would have been a dangerous thing to happen right now. Nor could I, or would I, just lunge in. Whether for a small-time magazine or for Private Eye, Naomi was a journalist, and she clearly knew people I knew. For all that she was saying the right things, I couldn’t trust her.

But more mild flirtation wouldn’t do any harm. I moved my hand behind her back, placed it carefully just above her backside, enjoyed the soft fabric of her dress, and gently pulled her in so her ear could be close to me. I then asked, ‘Did you always want to be a prying journalist?’

She giggled some more but used the question as an opportunity to pull away again and straighten her stance. When she started speaking she appeared serious, almost formal. Between talking about how she always watched MTV News when she was a teenager, and how she managed to get her first taste of work experience, I struggled to concentrate fully on what she was saying. As she chatted on, I had an opportunity to take a proper look at her. She must have charmed a fair few singers and actors in her time, but there was something genuine about her too, something suggesting she was not a roadie or some dizzy little girl in it for the laughs and the sex and the drugs. Fair enough, I spent as much time making out the upper form of her full-looking breasts as I did judging her virtues as a writer on cultural matters, but this was no Jade. Whether I was going to get lucky tonight or not, I wanted to see her again.

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Inspiration, literally from above the clouds

We’ve just come back from a few relaxing days in Tenerife. How liberating it is to not only get away but go somewhere new. The joy always surprises me, as do the ideas I get.

For example: the other day we drove inland, up a large mountain. Exhausted after an hour of negotiating the tight, winding roads, we stopped at a tiny village called Vilaflor for coffee. From the terrace we looked down and saw that the clouds were underneath us.

But it wasn’t the setting which inspired me. The young man who took our orders, albeit fashionably dressed and good-looking, was noticeably nervous and low on confidence. He walked away before I could say ‘per favor’ and couldn’t look me in the eye when he returned with our coffees.

A few minutes later, I noticed him get into the car parked next to us; a white Mitsubishi Colt with black alloy wheels and red trim along the body and tyres. Inside, the steering wheel had been replaced by a rally version. The young man looked far more comfortable revving the roaring engine than he did doing his job.

He sped away only to return five minutes later. Clearly, he had run a simple errand. Any excuse.

I asked him with my pigeon Spanish how long he had owned the car. Two years, he told me. And how old was it? Twenty-three years; probably older than him.

He looked pleased I had asked him about his car. But the pleasure was all mine; this experience has breathed new life into an idea I have been developing for nearly nine months…

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EXTRACT: From my short story Men Like Khalil

A few days ago I announced I have written a short story following the murder of Lee Rigby last year in Woolwich. In that post (below) I explained that my story is less about the savage event itself and more about the fallout.

As we have this week remembered a time when our well-integrated, diverse society was met with a great challenge, here’s an extract from the story I aim to publish in autumn…

‘There’s lots of Muslims tweeting now,’ said Javed, leafing again through the columns on his touchscreen. ‘They’re saying this is all wrong. But there are tweets from the EDL too. They’re gathering in Woolwich, tonight.’

Khalil walked to the window and looked out to the empty car park. His Mercedes would soon fade in the dusk. He was here, perhaps where he was always meant to be. This still night, with the first glimpses of summer balm, had the taste of something familiar. An incident which makes an entire nation stop and drop its mouth; the subtle positioning of each player feeling the breeze, a government mishandling the whole thing. Whether it was a matter of hours or days, this mosque could not go unnoticed and would need to be protected for however long it took.

See the post below for further information about Men Like Khalil.

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NEWS: Short story set on day of Woolwich murder due out in autumn

Today I’ve posted the front cover of my latest piece of work, a short story called Men Like Khalil, which I have just finished writing.

menlikekhalilFINAL

Set on the day of the shocking murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich last year, Men Like Khalil is about community and fear, about anxieties on British streets when they become a theatre for the world’s troubles.

My main character, Khalil, is a taxi-driver by trade but operates as his mosque’s makeshift security guard. He’s called into action as news of the incident trickles then explodes into the public domain, with seemingly little left to the imagination.

Many of us feared the worst that day as emotions ran high throughout our communities. I wrote this story in an effort to recreate and make sense of that tension. This story is therefore less about the savage event itself and more about the fallout.

It should be available to download as an ebook for FREE later this year, probably November.

I’ve turned to the same people who did a great job during my self-publication of A Missing MC; while Jan Disley is currently busy going through my 5,000 word manuscript, Tim Slater has once again done a terrific job with the cover.

I’d also like to pay tribute to the friends, family and colleagues of Lee Rigby, particularly as we approach the anniversary of his death. While their world was shattered very publicly, they kept themselves away from the aftermath.

I was privileged to stand alongside other members of the public who lined the streets of Bury for Lee’s two-day funeral with military honours. It was an event I am sure all concerned were very proud of.

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FROM THE NOTEBOOK: A thought on being in your twenties

I will sometimes use this blog to share entries I made into my notebook (click here to find out why the notebook is so vital to my writing). Here, I am reflecting on what it can mean to be in your twenties, at a time when A Missing MC was still being structured. What I wrote down that day significantly shaped the novel as you see it today….

Manchester, 7 October 2008

I’m learning that during my twenties, the lessons I have learnt have not been linear. Not like when you go to school, then college, then you get a job or go to University etc. It’s as if sometimes something very basic has eluded me while on the other hand I’ve been dealing with some complex things.

Is it like that for everyone? I can’t remember what my friends said. Need to ask them.

For example.. what about this for not learning in a linear way.. when travelling, I think it’s the first impression that sticks.. the Amsterdam, Paris, Prague (!) when you first come across it.

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…because everything changed when I read Fever Pitch

The website of this week’s World Book Night is flanked by the words ‘because everything changes when we read’ (see more in my post below). Having decided to donate Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch as a Community Book Giver, the strap line resonated when I made my choice. More on that idea shortly, but what happened when I tried to donate a brand-new book to a total stranger?

As Fever Pitch is about football, I went to the Trafford ‘Soccerdome’, where I play five-a-side with mates every week, to find someone who had lost the habit of reading and was willing to briefly hear me out. Nearly twenty people said sorry, they had plans, and I suppose all World Book Night volunteers had to take account of everyone’s busy lives.

Alastair with his new book

Alastair with his new book

But after half an hour, someone who was early for his game gave me the benefit of the doubt. Alastair told me that apart from a handful of autobiographies last touched some time ago, reading was not on his radar. A 27-year-old builder surveyor, he said that whenever he did kick back, distractions on his iPad would take over; a familiar story, I suspect.

At first Alastair couldn’t understand why I was just giving him a book, but he seemed genuine when he said he would give it a go. I told him I hoped Fever Pitch is a memoir he would relate to.

Published in 1992, its timing was impeccable, evaluating the state of the game just as it was about to reinvent itself into the polished product it is today. Some even go as far as saying Fever Pitch set the scene, became the self-fulfilling prophecy.

I’m not so sure about that, but this is a book about our national game and our national fabric, our history and our future, and I think it should be treasured.

For me, the best of all was that Fever Pitch and its engaging style inspired me to read fiction, including some of Hornby’s novels, and I have never looked back. It could take Alastair’s reading in one of several directions. I wish him all the best.

Click here for some coverage of World Book Night, which took place on Wednesday, and here to find out how you could get involved next year.

I intend to blog every other Friday. If there’s anything you want me to discuss in future posts feel free to get in touch. 

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Why I’m supporting World Book Night

World Book Night 2014 takes place a week on Wednesday (23 April). While World Book Day is a better known cause to promote a love of books from childhood, the nocturnal version is trying to introduce adults to reading or rekindle the flame for those who have lost the habit.

But it’s trying to overturn a worrying trend; reading among adults is on the decline. Ruth Rendell recently described it as a ‘specialist activity’. According to the organisers themselves, 35% of people in the UK don’t regularly read.

Perhaps other ways to relax, like instant videos at your fingertips, can feel more appealing. But I’m not convinced a third of our adult population would automatically shun the idea of enjoying a good book.

Maybe they just need to be gently reminded of that simple act of pressing pause from their busy lives, cup of tea in hand, and turning the page.

To say a book requires more effort than a TV programme on your tablet is an unnecessary and confusing message. I’m currently reading The Humans, one of the books selected to help the World Book Night effort, and it is enjoyable from page one.

I’m supporting this event because after graduation, my own reading took a nosedive. I was living in a lads’ house and before I knew it more than a year went by of playing Pro Evolution Soccer in my spare time!

It was only until a difficult first few months in Paris, exhausted from being immersed in another language, that reading made a comeback. One of the books from this late-night revival will be given to someone on World Book Night; my contribution as a ‘Community Book Giver’.

I’ll discuss the book that got me reading again, and the experience of passing it on, in my next post.

World Book Night 2014 takes place on Wednesday 23 April. Click here for more details and how to get involved.

I intend to blog every other Friday. If there’s anything you want me to talk about in future posts feel free to get in touch. 

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Buy it. Read it. Review it. Please!

A Missing MC took me six years. To put it another way; one day I gathered my collection of hand-scribbled notes, took them outside for a quiet word and ended up kicking and punching them into shape; six years later an ebook was published.

I was just about to turn 26, so there were plenty of distractions. Over the following six years I was lucky enough to carry out a job I enjoyed, go to some amazing places, buy a nice soundsystem and get married. But Chris Ready remained close to me throughout, as did my quiet determination to finish his story.

I almost enjoyed keeping that private world all to myself; the ailing DJ, a group of old university friends, the plight of the mysterious former MC and everything in between. Periods away from the project allowed it to breathe and develop in my mind, gently weaving this way or that as I went for a run or drove to work. While I believe that regularly taking a step back ultimately improved the book, it’s now time for me to let go and allow the real authority, you, decide whether it was worth the digital paper it was printed on.

To think you can see something that took me six years for the price of a cup of coffee is not a bad deal. But if you enjoy my book and think it deserves a wider audience, there’s something else you can do; review it, on Goodreads or whichever ebook service you use.

To go over that again; buy it, read it, review it, please!

I intend to blog every other Friday. If there’s anything you want me to talk about in future posts feel free to get in touch.