In writing a novel, it is not just your protagonist that embarks on a journey but you, walking alongside your fictional companion like a medieval hero and his chronicler. This is a long road so imagine it as you like; perhaps carrying a shield upon your back and a sword in your hand, hiking in the woods with your best friend, or maybe doggedly pushing a shopping cart with your kid through an apocalyptic wasteland armed only with a revolver and two shells.
This is another fragment found amongst the Jack Vincent Papers, the first volume of which I edited and published last year. Like the story of the murderer George Slaughter, this curious little anecdote was not part of the packet containing the second memoir, and I confess that I am not entirely sure where it belongs. I’ve decided to share it here because it confirms my theory that Jack Vincent and the author and traveller George Borrow knew each other, while also providing an interesting portrait of my hometown, Norwich, in the early-1850s…
I was having had a spot of bother with a rich man’s wife. She was older than me but I didn’t care. I just wanted her, like some strange and terrible drug. It was the usual story. She’d married young, enticed by the charm of a mature and successful man, and the stability that comes of secure investments. The age gap had not seemed so much when she was twenty and he was fit and fifty.
The current fashion for talking to the dead started about four years ago. While Europe was in revolt and the Chartists were falling apart, across the Atlantic the veil was lifting. It began in a desolate farmhouse in the Hudson Valley, where the Fox Sisters, Kate and Maggie, struck up a dialogue with an entity that had been nightly tormenting the family by banging on walls, doors and windows. They asked the presence questions which it affirmed or denied by rapping, clearly indicating some sort of intelligence. The girls called it ‘Mr. Splitfoot.’ They said it was the ghost of a murdered peddler.
There were at least five ways home from The Saracen’s Head, and Stan couldn’t think of any of them. He adjusted to the sharp shock of the winter darkness instead, lit a fag, and smoked it savagely as if it had in some way done him greatly wrong. Behind himself, the lights of the pub shut off one by one. Loneliness bit down. Stan Metcalf stoically lit another off the butt of the first. It was late, he was in trouble. Ruby would be waiting.
My dear friend, Colin Phillips, Marxist, Existentialist, cyclist and the last of the ‘Soho Poets,’ died earlier today after a long battle with cancer. This is something like an obituary, although my chronology might be slightly out, so I’ll apologies to friends and family in advance. Anyway, Colin was a proper Cockney, born in Brick Lane to a Quaker family at the start of World War Two; his father was a cabbie and his mother stayed at home.
The was something I did for the Unthank School blog last Christmas that I’d forgotten about until I spotted Ashley’s list while browsing his blog just now. The idea was for Unthank staff to briefly list and discuss five books that we had read in 2015, regardless of publishing date or genre. This was mine…
I think it's time we explored self-publishing on this blog. I've helped enough people through it professionally, and for the first time in my writing life I've eschewed traditional publication to put a book out myself, Shark Alley. This was a project I wanted total control over, from content, structure and visual style all the way down to final word count. I also wanted to release it as a free online serial, which I was never going to get a publisher to sign off on. Also, to be honest, self-publication is presently the most realistic option for most new novelists out there. It was never easy to get traditionally published at the best of times and, believe me, these are the worse. So, if you're going to go DIY, just remember: Do it Big, Do it Right, and Do it with Style..
We were approaching the islands of Madeira, about midway in our journey, the day we lost a man and a horse. The animal belonged to Sheldon-Bond, and he was considerably more put out by its passing than he was that of the human being that accompanied it into the void. The young subaltern remained in a foul humour for the rest of that miserable and ill-omened day, his unfortunate man, Private Dodd, getting the worst of it. I tried to avoid him, as there was already bad blood between us, but this was difficult given the confines of the ship. As he stormed around the deck like a vengeful wraith in a graveyard, I could read the message in his eyes when they connected with my own quite clearly.
Last week, I brought another USW ‘How to Write a Novel’ course to an end, after three very pleasant and enjoyable months of writing and sharing. It was more a case of ‘Au Revoir’ than a fond farewell though; as always happens, friendships were forged and now we’re all linked up on Facebook, an informal writer’s group that expands with every course. Some students, meanwhile, are staying with us at the school and moving on to Ashley Stokes’ Online Workshop to develop the manuscripts they’ve been writing on my course. This happen a lot, because once people find their way to us – the friendly alternative to all those institutional and corporate creative writing programmes – they tend to stay. There’s a definite sense of family. And don’t get me wrong, we have all the knowledge and expertise of the professors, in fact some of us are professors, we just prefer to be a bit more practical and down to earth about the whole business of, you know, actually writing, rather than just talking about it.