Friday, 8 April 2016

What sort of day have you had?

Mr Jolly (collectively) is anything but jolly; he’s a murdering, sarcastic, stalking, marshmallow fetish, monkey/fish obsessed scarecrow that likes to get naked. Except he’s not is he? It’s not even about Mr Jolly. He doesn’t exist.  It’s about loneliness, madness, rejection, transformation, confused lovers, compliance, yearning, farewells and everything that’s normal day that we tread water through. And personal truth. That theme winds its way through all the stories. As does mob mentality, be it bald men or monkeys, could be zombies as far as I’m concerned, at the base of these stories is fear in this ‘spinning ball of sin and dust’.

This collection of short stories could give you a hangover of the human condition. Do you want that? Undress your mind now and open this book then. It's like Stewart ate all the new age books of positivity, then vomited reality checks over it all as a wake up call to sort your shit out. There's no time to even contemplate getting trapped in a corridor with his words as you race through these uncomfortably engaging stories. 

Ever sat on a bus not sure where you’re going or where you came from? This Is Where You Get Off won’t make you feel better about that, but it will make you think about the best stop to get off at next. Or help you avoid ending up where you started, repeating the same emotional journey over and over. Good luck finding the right stop. It’s actually called, in a later story, ‘You’ve got a fucking cheek, haven’t you…’ in big neon lights that say ‘you did alright’. At the end your heart swells a bit about living. Thank God if it's too late. 

Making Contact combines the naked fear you feel as a new parent and strips it down to fucking off in a fight or flight situation.  You feel out of place. You have an identity meltdown, who can you blame? An alien. You could just drive yourself into a truck, sweating in a traffic jam, looking at yourself,  at time and freaking out, as in Mann.  Or get it on with The Man in The White Coat, start putting a TV on your front lawn playing your unravelling mind. How about revisit a childhood haunt, cry about your absent parent, or how you have become one as in You Are Going Back.  Third Person takes yearning to new levels, the last two paragraphs are a killer. It is soaked in the pain of delusional obsession or maybe just bad timing.  There are too many threads to untangle, to "draw you into my web which stretches across space, across time, which I have spun in my mind in order to stop you falling into darkness."

Story Without Meaning would have been my choice for the finale. You can have a pop at God, just don't be left in a limbo of personal untruths.  I loved The Black Man and The White Man but I did think Mr Jolly’s penultimate story engaged the trappings of all the themes more. This collection of stories isn’t a ‘lifter', it’s a headfuck. What sort of day have you had? You know you won’t say.  I loved it for that naked truth.  

This is a book review of Mr Jolly by Michael Stewart. Amazon if you have no conscious or it turns out all the book shops near you only stock the shit you don't want.  xxx

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Gorged on Light: P A Morbid (Red Squirrel Press)

As promised in my last post, I said I would share some great poetry with you. I've been sitting on this for months because I can't bear to rush a poetry review knowing the effort and tears that go into putting a pamphlet together. This collection is like a journey through someone's most painful memories, juxtaposed in apparently no order, the dating and timing of the poems showing how our triggered minds work. One minute we are sitting in 2007, the next 2013, and both will have some relevance to each other, fluidity in relationships that become timeless yet need marking.

The collection starts with 'Comfort':

"Comfort comes from hidden sources
such as light in a window at night,
the soft blur of the curtain's colour
soothing something in you
you weren't aware was hurting."

Monday 23rd of July 2012

This collection of memories, anniversaries, good and difficult, weave together an intensity of feeling that I'm sure must sit close to the poet's heart. It never feels he is writing from outside of himself, maybe I'm wrong, and it's all fictions, in which case how very clever when it feels so raw.

I was captured by the dating of the poems. Anything to do with memories and dates will always do that. Just one page in, there's an untitled poem, a poem of such longing, maybe no title would do it justice, yet still there's a date, "warm and asleep in bed, your naked body a world away from mine."

It is followed by 'Summer 1984':

"Two am and the allotments slumber
under a sweaty summer overcast

the bonfires smouldering long into the night
producing a smoke that is more taste than smell"

Saturday 15 of October 2011

More 'untitled' poems hint at what's to come. An insomniac level of numbing, tired loneliness put into words of mixed, terrifying emotion.

"More tired than when I went to sleep last night'. the 'empty silence' of a day left speechless 'in a town I no longer recognize' leads heart heavily on to a poem called 'Emptiness'. The pain of this depression almost impressed by a time 18:46 

You think the times are recorded in some kind of homage to the difficult years of 2007/9 and then one is noted in 'Downer' much later:

"On Sunderland RD, just past the library,
a young boy and girl, both on the brink of their teenage
kick high on the swings of the rundown playground.

The sight of them fills me with sadness."

13:10 Thursday 17th of April 2014

It was here I realised I'd been distracted by the times and dates and re-read the words without trying to put a structure on it, thinking more how memories meander back and forth on a chaotic timeline with varying sharpness depending on your happiness, frustration, misery, excitement and the way words form around that elegant disorder in your mind.

'Pre-Coital' and 'Wedding Poem' see a shift to a political yet still personal:

"And I must thank this
shallow and evil government
we've been saddled with
for waking me from my isolation
and giving me
a sense of my position in the world" to

"That we were joined together
not as an office worker
or self-employed man.
But as an Artist and a Poet.
That this is a small victory
no one can ever take away from us."

'The Cold Outer Edge of the Day' through to 'Timeless' are my favourites in this collection. The longing to be with someone, the torture you put yourself through, the fragility of seeing that person and your 'want' in the every day, the "steam rising from the coffee by my side" to the "uncertain blue of the sky":

"As slow and as painful as this crush I'm enduring" (here) to the

"the thud of feet past my door that are never yours". (silence)

It's with a relief that you read (from one breath to the next)

"It's never easy to fall out of love with someone,
but I've fallen out of love with you"  the sheer breath of freedom as you wake and have no hunger to see or think of that person again.

The collection ends on the title poem 'Gorged On Light':

"...words rush like a river from his pen, filling the page" which feels like a completion on so many levels with this work. I highly recommend it you like to read about the tormented human condition; Morbid's words are dark, haunting and poignant.

Buy from Red Squirrel Press: £6.00

Jump here for The Black Light Engine Room, P A Morbid's literary events and magazine Facebook page.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The Devil’s Tattoo: Brett Evans (Indigo Dreams Publishing)

The Devil’s Tattoo stirs with the torment of addiction, drips with the love of a bar stool, the admiration for a good barmaid and the way music can make you feel like you can create your own heaven. A self portrait of a wicked sense of humour coupled with a passion for the arts drummed out with fingers and feet.

The poetry conveys short stories of loneliness, frustration, repeated patterns and the dry times where you tread water, watching the clock for the acceptable time to let your hair down and lose yourself, outlining the humiliation of getting the wrong house, the having to get out of a bath for a piss, of ‘a grown man hell-bent on having fun?’ You can read this collection in one sitting, preferably with a bit of Meschiya Lake playing.

As is always difficult with collections, which poems do you focus on? I’m going to start with Teaching Jesus to Dance and its devilish portrayal of addiction. This poem and Positions in Bed for me imply martyrdom with the mention of Jesus and the crucifix in the latter. The crossover with this beast inside and outside reveals a distorted worship of the drink;

“It’s hard, you said, when the Devil’s on your back;
 you climb up his gnarled sequoia spine
 vertebrae by vertebrae,
your glass steady; do not spill a drop.”

Interestingly the Devil is not within as he climbs his spine, balancing the beloved drink, bites and drags him on to the dance floor. Who is the monster here? The addict, the drink, the beast as the addict ‘howls’ in another dawn during the supernatural battle to either keep dry or convince yourself of a guilt free indulgence.

Positions in Bed again reveals the pain and sacrifice of a dry day; lying in bed;

“My right cheekbone rests on a crucifix
Or forearms, one calf tucked
Across the back of a knew; some unconscious
Attempt at achieving symmetry.”

It captures the loneliness as he imagines a lover and dreams of wild nights and pubs;

“dreams once savoured, loves
Imagined, and if crucifixion

did not mean vocation;
some days on the cross, some off.”

The vulnerability captured in In Bed with Ma Rainey starts with an almost self loathing;

“both of us being fat and ugly, glutted
from hedonism, we seemed the perfect pair.”

Yet as it goes on becomes a romance of deep soul mate connection;

“and she knew she was the most beautiful of ugly things.
Midas would have traded everything to be her,
I swear it was her voice that turned her teeth to gold.”

Stepping Stone is towards the end of the collection but really stands out as the embodiment of the rest of the poems for me. It seems a plea to the ‘weekenders’ to try and understand the isolation, the struggle and the fragility of every small step taken each day to remain dry. The last verse is heartbreakingly touching and shows a combination of strength and frailty in the constant contention with dry days.

“Once both feet are on the stone,
before taking another step,
look down. Look long and hard
at your reflection on the water,
then deeper to name
the fish that ripples through your core,
to spy what lies
half-buried in the shale.
And through all this, clenched in the fist
like a fretting butterfly, the desire
to be dry.”

Stepping Out for a Cigarette is simple yet powerful, the final lines as the smoker reflects on the revellers inside;

“would be unnerved to see me looming,
so dark – like a shadow on the lung.”

Triolet to a Barmaid is on the face of it an ode to barmaids, I’m sure a drunk’s best friend, imagined lover and life coach. This poem for me, again, is a bit deeper than just that, showing the repetition of a day to day seeking happiness and contentment outside of a bottle. The pattern and the frustration of it seeps from the simple words of Song for Swinging Drunkard too.

Scarecrow outlines the beginnings of the person in boyhood,

“he wears his unkempt crown; king
of the hand-me-down. Dressed
forever in the same tattered rags”

He already struggles to find a voice, to yawp, the dent in the personality of someone vulnerable to addictions already made. Of course it might not be this at all but this is the beauty of reading a collection that jumps around with surprisingly layered meanings that draw you in.

Portrait of the Piss Artist as a Young Boy ends with;

“Was it just the prospect, at that young age,
Of a grown man hell-bent on having fun?” 

This I think is the crux of the problem, the bars, the drinking, the endless pattern of dry and wet days, of feeling crucified, discontent, fragile, determined and lonely; it is a very basic need to want to have fun, to find happiness and very little to do with wanting to be humiliated or shamed as a drunk. The happiness sits in the bottle like a trickster, not unlike the devil to some.

The Devil’s Tattoo is a brilliant debut and I'm looking forward to more poetry from Brett Evans. 

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Morrissey: Barclaycard Arena 27 March 2015

Ten days later and I think I’m ready to write about this without tears, without singing Kiss Me A Lot, without chuffing on and on about FINALLY seeing him. I was first time lucky because he’s famous for being an international cancellation boy.

He didn’t do a London date, how very dare he miss out the capital, but as it happens, it was nice to get out and go to the Midlands, I haven’t been back since I briefly lived there as a child. Driving back through Warwickshire, seeing signs for where I went to school put me well back into a self indulgent mood for the lovely Morrissey, the ‘I’m going to over think everything for the rest of my life’ and then say something offensive but kind of understandable. Yes I’ve just dipped into Moz land.

I’d forgive him most things (even his friendship with Russell Brand), even cancelling that night stood in the Arena. But he didn’t! He was an absolute love, despite his weirdly chewing gum packet-like shirt when he’s usually so dapper, he covered everything you could expect; voting, the royal family, murderous meat eaters and the United King-Dumb around a backdrop of Kate and William.  The thing with Morrissey, (just adjusted my imaginary expert spectacles), is that for all the nonsense there is written about him, and all the nonsense he sometimes appears to spout in the odd interview, there are many layers of meaning, hurt and pain and a massive dose of humour (that gets misunderstood) and it’s these layers that have reached out to an audience, a very loyal audience for over 30 years; the abused, the bitter, the poor, the paranoid, the angry, the vain, the desperate, confused, the creative, those that go inward and then come back and see things form so many different angles…you get my point. And then there are the others that go, ‘oh shut up you misery guts’. Their voices are so much quieter than his ability to entertain a crowd after being a pretty much pain in the arse entertainer for thirty odd years, that and his love of animals over humans, being his famous consistency.

The pre show film was a lot of music and poetry, I confess I got a bit overwhelmed at some of the poetry, piss takers of the world unite, but I just did. Anyway, back to the show and the music. It started with The Queen is Dead, he must be wondering why it’s taken her so long to fulfil that one? But still in 2015, this song is as uncomfortable and melodic as it was always was, because we still have a monarchy that people still love. It was a very fitting start to the show.

Suedehead delighted the be-quiffed audience and then he launched into a few tracks from his new album, Staircase at the University, World Peace is None of Your Business, Istanbul, Neal Cassidy Drops Dead,  Kiss Me A Lot; all being sang along to perfectly demonstrating that he still hasn’t lost it. I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris led soon onto Speedway and a brief tease of English Blood, Irish Heart, mostly sung by the crowd. Speedway sounded bloody phenomenal! I got prickly eyes.

And now what everyone wants to know, what Smiths tracks did he do? Well, the opener obviously and  Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before (apparently sung the night before by Johnny Marr up North, I have been informed, kind of funny, their heads need banging together)  Boom! Meat is Murder followed shortly after another off the new album The Bullfighter Dies and with a backdrop of pretty horrendous farming footage that left the crowd still in a stunned kind of human slaughterhouse way.  Good.

What She Said followed and made the crowd bouncy again. And then the finale Every Day is Like Sunday, another favourite of mine, prickly eyes again. He took off his shirt in Moz tradition, though I noticed he put a new one shortly before, so polite, or did he just love the chewing gum one too much to throw it into the crowd? I kind of thought he just didn’t want to chuck a shirt that sweaty into the crowd. Anyway, overthinking as usual. Every Day is Like Sunday…it will be when that old bugger is gone if you ask me.

Thank fuck I saw him! He left on the words ‘All I ask is that you remember me, but forget my fate’. The drama queen. I love him. 

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Caboodle: Poetry by Karina Vidler, Gill McEvoy, Russell Jones, Kate Garrett, Angela Croft and Rafael Miguel Montes (published by Prole Books)

As Angela Readman starts in her foreword for this collective of poets, "It can be difficult to discover poetry sometimes, finding voices out side of our reading habits can be daunting. It can also be a struggle to be heard if you are a poet." Indeed, and there's no bigger distraction than the internet, however, what this cyber world has provided is a vehicle for writers and indie publishers to get their words heard, online and in print. Caboodle, published by Prole Books is dedicated to bringing together the works of the established and the up and coming poets, giving a platform to talent in a squeezed down mainstream publishing world that may not have been read for all sort of modern world publishing politics.

Here we have the collections of six poets, carefully selected and put together in one volume, Prole's main aim being to bring accessible poetry out into the wider world. It starts with Karina Vidler and Facing. Facing change, ageing, and family, noticing repetitive patterns, the joys and mistakes of being human and worrying and wondering at the future ahead. She brings together sadness at the loss of youth with humour, there's a lot of 'sagging' and 'drooping' in the lines, of fantasising about living that youth again, in almost a 'confessional' of the unspeakable. May I have an Arctic Monkey, please? With, "compass stuck at a juicy twenty-two", she ends with the line "Oh come here Alex Turner, want to learn a thing or two?' Mid-Life Folly she laughs at the crisis antics of those desperately clinging to younger people then with a self critical bump reveals,

"And then there's me, so seriously being creative,
looking the part in black patterned tights,
squeezing out poems like there's no tomorrow,
up my own arse about the need to write"

There's the fun and then there's the revelation that "-this human clawing for air and noise and light" manifests in different ways for different mid life follies. Invasion talks of the sudden transformation of a boy into a teenager, "so thin he had to eat the boy who used to live here" and Polite Notice shows how the patterns emerge as the words reveal a cautionary tale of a daughter's new boyfriend, "you've fetched up through our shared poor taste in men". There's a loneliness and wisdom in the poems, Sue's Boys talks of 'invisible woman' in a second marriage, all rather de Maurier's Rebecca. There's the laughs of an almost 'confessions of a cougar' to the tragedy of the title poem Facing, the facing up is to cancer as she tells of the crying being about pain, not death,

"You needed to tell me this. And we both
needed me to pretend to believe you".

Gill McEvoy contrasts with her collection Paw Prints of Light, a study of nature, life, fantastical possibilities and art with titles such as Klimt As A Tree, A Memory of Snakes, Dance of the Cranes and January Blues. 

There are universal themes, every day routine woven into verse of unexpected observation, Morning Routine starts with,

"Sun fractures the morning mist
with one sharp blow."

That tranquil awakening is shattered by life, by magpies, sirens and the frustration as an alarm clock rings on and what seems a vexation of lying next to someone who hits the 'snooze' button and lives eternally in the eleventh hour,

"When it stops he'll sink back
into sheet and pillow,
oversleep again.

It's almost like the routine courts a stagnancy and repetitive patterns until the next poem that goes into fairytale land with Souvenir and lines like,

"He did not bring her silly slippers made of glass,
he brought the latest painting he had done-" a merging of life, passion and fantasy worlds.

One of my favourites in this collection is Breakfast With Malice, most probably because I am a seasoned professional at bleary eyed bitter mornings. and After Sight Loss charts long ago memories of vision, remembering nature and oneself,

"You will
chart my body to me,
brighten the darkness
that I live in now."

Russell Jones with Our Terraced Hum is a much shorter contribution to the collection but fits so brilliantly contrasting with the rural images of the previous poets, bringing in the hum of urban life. I loved the nightlife of these poems, again because I am so nocturnal. The first two poems caught me instantly, Studio, 4 a.m,

"...Our terraced hum is an echo.
heard vicariously through the shadows."

The Flat Opposite reveals the futility of a husband gazing at a television as the woman sets up tea light candles, and reveals herself the goddess in her own bathroom to whoever may be onlooking,

"...She strips,
the small lights dancing on her skin, a blur
of dreams as she arches, lowers her hips,
breasts, her neck beneath the surface."


"He flicks through channels as though
he's never seen the goddess through my window."

There's a beauty, sadness and longing in this poem which is reflected in a later poem The Call, where emotional starvation simmers seductively yet the everyday just carries on around the pain.

Kate Garrett's The Names of Things Unseen seduced me instantly, there's a shadowy look upon relationships in this collection that reveals an uneasy darkness at the conventional things in life.  Dare I drop the 'f-bomb' but whether intentionally or not, there seems a feminist seasoning on these writings. Housesitting deals with belonging, guilt, intuition, wondering at intentions and the ghosts of the past. The root of  the word 'decadent' is 'decay' has a heavy loneliness, a need to hide but blocking out the gossiping walls, the tainted dent in the bed that holds memories of those before. I love the finality of the last verse, the dead end,

"My heart's heavy
thud presses my lips
shut; my eyes close
under the weight
of a dead response."

As with the word 'decadent' there's an examination of language and image that creates pictures and impressions of the human condition throughout Kate's poetry,  Changeling looks at meaning and weaves a tale of how to love even if you don't like, Echo House shows the nesting of a pregnant woman who is struggling to feather for her new born in the emptiness of her resounding home.

Portraiture critiques standard beauty norms, the model's disconnection of her true self from the viewfinder as the knots, the angles, the hardened desire of untruths of real beauty and art in the body leaves her, "downcast eyes drawn thick with black lines" and

"in a white face, a slash of scarlet lips
through wisps of hair; a strong
chin points to bound breasts. This image
isn't me. This woman is just a suggestion."

There's an imprisonment, a fakeness coupled with the viewfinders shallow need for suggestion; it reminded me in some ways of the famous quote for Hedy Lamarr  'Any girl can look glamorous, just stand still and look stupid' in that the woman is questioning the futile superficiality of it all. The collection spans parenthood, coupledom, the supernatural of girlhood in  Once more with feeling to the becoming of Earth in the Planning the crone that welcomes Death.

Angela's Croft's  Dancing with Chagall plays with language and vision appearing less stormy initially in comparison to the previous poets. As you are pulled in through her global shimmy, the themes of vulnerability, belonging and jealousy raise their heads above the parapet, teasing at a nights out with Bucks Fizz, unplanned pregnancy in Girl Running and my favourite Hanging Fire with it's insecurity, admiration, green eyed mimicry and despondency,

"I'd try it on every so often
to see if I could achieve the same allure
decided it looked better on the hanger
and leapt back into my jeans
when a guy from work phoned
to ask me round to supper."

It ends so well in a date where you want to cheer for her and her hanging fire,

"Didn't that girl who works with you
look frightful in that tawdry red dress?"

The colour red crops up time and again in her poetry, a warning of course that the calm waters are simmering with danger, 'the red wax' in Afternoon Post and more obviously in Red Tops that,

"Show the marks round your throat
tell them how he left you
beat you black and blue
flung the baby against the wall
nearly let you drown"

Angela's poems do leap from continent to continent and personally I gravitate to London ones, particularly Big Issue and Angel. 

Rafael Miguel Montes with Menu and as the title says, this collection talks of a menu of wanting to feed oneself, to comfort, to self loathe, to fill a hole, to go over a repeated pattern from childhood of 'starving' for something. Anatomical Boundaries documents the obsession and pain society has with weight, a baby's weight "a ten pound weight nay mother'd be happy to expel" to childhood where,

"My parents have kept souvenirs of my obesity,
a history of my fat.
Polaroids of me in my Batman underoos
open-mouthed snoring-
a forearm dug deep into a box of Count Chocula."

Gathering Crumbs The Next Morning shows the pain and power of Rafael's words in the first verse alone,

"The 2-minute video on WebMD
can't change the fact that this is fucked.
People aren't supposed to sleepwalk
night after night,
pulling packages from he pantry
and cramming cupcakes down their throat."

There's humour in these poems which cushion a serious issue of 'need' to fulfil oneself, so often morally judged as gluttony. The words weave together the complexities and addictions of vulnerability and how it so often was borne from childhood, the physical linking up with the mental and holistically impacting every waking moment, as 42 starts heartbreakingly,

"This Saturday my age matched my waistline, 42
my wife had a meltdown." as does Gymnauseum.

The emptiness each poem reveals is prevailing, Envelopes takes another angle on the wanting to 'feed' your emotional well being with ink,

"All that tat money.
All those empties.
All that searching for some permanent mark;
some powerful story to silently tell.

And on the table by the fridge.
All those unopened envelopes."

The poems cross over addiction and control and in a sometimes uncomfortable way reveal vulnerability and emptiness in whatever your particular addiction may be. It could be drink, sex, buying shoes or eating cake, but we all at times need to feed this emptiness and too often judged, it becomes out of control.

Caboodle is a collection of poets for everybody, it can be read cover to cover or dipped in and out of at will and as Angela Readman says in her foreword. "Dip into a smorgasbord of poetry". It is accessible and gives you a hunger to read more poetry...  very unlike my own English teacher who put it on a pedestal of unattainable and for only a few. I'm still annoyed with her about that. I wasted a lot of my younger years not reading or attempting to write poetry because of her words.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Café Assassin: An Interview with Michael Stewart (Bluemoose Books)

Bradford based writer, Michael Stewart, has just launched his third book Café Assassin and it’s a goody; a dark tale of intense friendship outlining betrayal and jealousy. Multi award winning stage play, fiction and poetry writer, it’s no surprise that this is a tightly pulled together tale of unrepentant revenge for a man that still feels lost and alone while morphing into a determination to get the life he thinks is his ‘right’.

Bought up by an alcoholic father who was basically shit as any sort of father figure, he grows up with an obsession with his friend Andrew. It manifests in an adoption fantasy that many children develop, the grass is always greener they say and in this case it is …until many years later. It’s a tale of miscarried justice, the laws of ‘an eye for an eye’, like an old spaghetti Western but without a hero, or maybe one with a fatal Byronic flaw.

The real hero in this is of course the dog, Reynard or Ray, untainted and faithful. But the skill of this book is that you feel sympathy for Nick who does unspeakable things, an anti hero, nobody is saved, the ending is questioningly ‘happily ever bitterness’ yet the fragility of the protagonist Nick Smith, even his name is boring, is engaging and the build up to his ultimate goal, without giving too much away, is staggeringly manipulative, unforgiving and bitter, yet sympathetic when you see the back story of betrayals.

The obsessive love interest for Nick in this novel is Andrew and a need for a family and security; the magazine life. The weapon is Liv, a girl, isn’t it always. Followed by money. Followed by humiliation and a rewriting of history.  Traditionally, women are seen as the ones to have the intense and embittered jealous relationships whereas men just nod and drink and get over everything quickly. Café Assassin does the complexities of male friendship a justice and demonstrates the old adage ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman spurned’ as just as applicable to men.

It also reveals the complexities of entrapment, of being imprisoned or creating your own prison, the need for an open door and then wanting to keep it locked. It feels like nobody in this story is actually liberated, just moves on to another locked cell, whether it’s domesticity, career, untruths, guilt, lust, what might have been, putting right a wrong or an entrapment with rewriting a lost history, nobody in this story escapes. I love that it ends with all the superficial achievement of embittered happiness, yet the damage is still lurking beneath the surface. Below is my interview with Michael Stewart.

Café Assassin is an intense novel about betrayal, neglect and jealousy. You have two characters, the maligned and the blessed in Nick and Andrew. Is this drawn from personal experience in part, if not, what inspired you to write about what seems a two sided coin perspective on male friendship? Is it in part auto biographical? Or are you just an expert on walking in other people’s shoes and getting into minds. Of course however you answer, you will be either Andrew or Nick and most probably both.

I’m really not sure where the book came from. I have a friend, who I’ve not seen for a while, also called Nick. At the time the story was forming in my head, I was seeing quite a bit of him. At that time he was seething with pathological anger and the energy of his hate had a kind of purity that I found attractive on one level and I started to think about writing about a character whose primary motivation was hate. It all came out of that, I think.

Keyop. Can you explain the intensity of that relationship, and without giving too much away, the end result of that? Was it quite simply a need for Nick to replace Andrew or more complicated than that? The chain of events as a result of that ‘friendship’ has dire machinations in the latter half of the novel.

My mum phoned me the other day to settle an argument. She’d been arguing with my dad. He said that Nick and Keyop had a physical relationship but my mum insisted that it was purely platonic. I refused to clarify where I stood – I think that’s for the reader to interpret. Of course this infuriated her even more. I think on one level, Keyop does act as a substitute Andrew. On another level, he is any port in a storm. Nick doesn’t handle prison well. Keyop appears to be tougher than Nick – although this is a veneer. Nick’s wounds take a long time to heal. He doesn’t seem to have the necessary amount of proteins in his blood.

I took it as a physical relationship…but not until much later in the book.

Liv. Do you think or did you want to portray Nick as really loving her? I wasn’t convinced, there were hints she was just an instrument of his embittered plot to destroy Andrew despite some scenes of highly charged sexual tension, long hugs, lingering looks, it did feel quite teenage and as though they had both got stuck in nostalgia. Broken up with anger at her not visiting him inside, “the fucking bitch”.

This changed a lot in the re-writing. In early drafts of the story, I tried to show Nick as more ‘human’ but it just didn’t work. I think Nick wants to treat Liv as an instrument of his vengeance, but underneath he has feelings for her. I think he is in denial about those feelings. To allow them to surface might weaken his strategy. Of course, there is unfinished business there. Nick is still eighteen in his head. He hasn’t had a relationship with a woman for twenty-two years. If I was his therapist, I would tell him to ‘move on’. But that’s the one thing he just can’t do.

Her character is kind of one dimensional for me, she doesn’t grow. We know she’s beautiful, bright, likes The Cramps, has two kids, resents her husband…but we never really get into her head. At the revelation of the original crime, she goes quiet. I think the ending confirms her as just a plot support, (not quite as a vacuous as a manic pixie dream girl) but nevertheless, we don’t see much in the narrative that hints at her POV outside of these two men. She’s vital to the story, as the prize and the punishment. She never seemed freed . Yet at the same time, I like that nobody escapes their prisons. Thoughts?

I guess that is one of the flaws of first person viewpoint. We never leave Nick’s head. I suppose it is also the power of that viewpoint too. We are seeing Liv through Nick’s myopic vision. I don’t agree that she is one dimensional though. There are plenty of paradoxes. And she does change. When they first meet she is suspicious of Nick and very cynical about his proposed business ventures. You say she is ‘beautiful’ but that’s just Nick’s opinion. It doesn’t mean anything. For what it is worth, I think Nick is wrong about lots of things. He has a very twisted view of the world and of humans.

Yes good point. It is a flaw and strength of the first person viewpoint. I wanted to know about Steve too and that indicates good storytelling that even the extras are curious characters.  I think Liv started to change in her role opening the club but there’s a sense later in the book that she remains a puppet. I can’t be specific without spoiling so read it people.

The adoption fantasy for children. Did you have one growing up in Salford? Obviously Nick’s childhood is fraught with abandonment that carries on into his adult life even within prison walls…but the adoption fantasy is a thing that children of all walks of life have. 

Like lots of kids, I dreamed of escape. I didn’t really like being a child. I fantasised about being an adult. Now I spend a lot of my time wishing I could be a child again.

Yes. As children we crave freedom and think adults have it, then as adults we reminisce and think children have it. 

Café Assassin sounds like super cool venture. Art décor, music and poetry, membership only, safety in numbers. Is that something you’ve wanted to do, or just want to in your local town, or is it based on a real place you frequented in the past or present?

It is based on a real venture I was involved with in the early nineties. A friend and I rented some premises on Oldham Street in Manchester. My friend went to prison and before the cafe/club opened I was approached by some dark characters who threatened me and wanted money off me. There were a lot of shootings at that time in Manchester. The Hacienda was riddled with gun toting gangsters. I bottled it and never opened. 

Sounds very intimidating.  And what a shame, though you may not have written your books if it had worked out.

I never quite got the strange noise the parka crazy ‘Madman Marz’ made, the ‘Keek brrrmf’. I guess he symbolised the bogey man or the scratching of the monster in your closet or under your bed. But what is that noise?

Again, this is based on real life. That camping story is lifted from my childhood. Madman Marz was a real crazy character we used to see regularly. He terrified us. That’s the noise he made – or the closest I could render phonetically.

Would you consider writing a follow up to Café Assassin? There’s plenty there to work with. Nick and Liv’s life after, Andrew’s imprisonment, what happens to Steve, I shouldn’t care but you managed to make him kind of weirdly likeable too? Bring back Ramona just to stir stuff up a bit? We didn’t really get much on Andrew’s motives other than guess work from Nick. I’m grabbing at the obvious, this is your story.

I don’t know about that. I got asked this a lot about King Crow. For me the story ends where it ends. I like to think that the story goes on though in the mind of the reader. In an earlier draft Ramona was a prominent character. There was a love story between Nick and Ramona, but it humanised him too much and it had to go. I was very fond of Ramona, and sad to see her leave. Maybe I’ll go back to her and write something for her.

I’m not sure I can ask much more on the book without this being spoiler central so…writing. This took four years to write? Was it started after King Crow? I start stories at the same time (and sadly finish few), it feels to me that Café Assassin is more a debut novel than King Crow, being a little more accessible, the themes universal everyone has intense friendships,  experience of jealousy and betrayal on some level. King Crow felt a little more niche, I could imagine some picking it up and a getting a bit ‘birds, birds and more birds’ with it. I didn’t, it actually gave me a greater appreciation for them. So tell us about the jump/transition of debut novel to second novel.

I’d written a novel in the nineties that wasn’t very good. It got skipped. There were three more attempts to write novels. They all got skipped too. Or burned. I can’t remember. I thought I’d given up attempting to write novels, once the scriptwriting took off, but I was wrong. King Crow started off as a script idea but mutated into a novel. Café Assassin was always a novel. It took me four months to write and four years to re-write. That was just me trying to get it right. Or just less shit. I had some major problems with the story that were tricky to resolve.

Any plans for more poetry? I loved Couples. It was a collection of observations of quite dysfunctional relationships. What other tricks have you up your sleeve to surprise your readers with?

I write poetry all the time, and love poetry, but I’m very bad at it. For every ten poems I write, one might have something in it that I can develop, the rest are execrable. I’d love to do another poetry book, but Couples took me ten years – embarrassingly – so god knows. I’ve got a short fiction collection out in November called Mr Jolly. I’ve also finished a first draft of a new novel. I’m also hoping to secure another commission for Radio 4 – I love writing radio plays.

Mr Jolly? That’s a great title. So it’s all busy busy.

Any tips for keeping focus on writing? And that battle of promoting your writing balanced with social media bollocks. Do you give yourself rules about how much you promote and how personal it gets? I’ve noticed you seem to say something controversial then appear to put your feet up and put the kettle on while everyone has a scrap.

Walking. And reading. Those are the two anchors for me. I read for an hour or two every day. I walk for two hours every day. A lot of my writing I do when I’m walking. Computers are terrible for me. I’m so easily distracted. Facebook, and all that. I’m a complete addict. I’ve gone back to the pencil. I’ve got a shed in the garden. I’m thinking about getting a manual typewriter like the one I started on back in 1992 when I wrote my first novel. I’m worried about running out of ribbons though, they are hard to get hold of now.

Both of your novels have been from a male POV. Would you consider writing from a woman’s or child’s? Or writing in different forms, e.g. letters, diary ect? I know in a subtle sense Café Assassin is a letter to Andrew. I sense a fascination with prisons that could work well with. A prisoner’s wife or child. You’ve done the prisoner.

My new book is told from the POV of Joanne. She’s a dog. A Manchester terrier. She’s a lesbian (people will think I am making this up, but I’m not). The book after that, if I have the balls to write it, is also from a female perspective. I’ve written quite a lot from a female POV. Quite a few stories in my new book are from a female perspective. A lot of the stories I have pitched to the BBC have been from a female POV, but they never get commissioned. I really like writing women. The future is female.

Any plans for a book trailer for Café Assassin? I think it would work well with the jumping back and forth from 1989 to 2011, just for the fashion and music alone.

The trailer for King Crow was my publisher’s idea. It was fun to do. I don’t think they have any plans to do one for Café Assassin. Would love it if they did though.

Can we have a teaser for your next novel please? 

It’s about dogs.

Great. I look forward to hearing Joanne the terrier's story. Best of luck with Mr Jolly, your new novel and of course the Radio 4 commission. 

Café Assassin is out now. Buy it here, it’s good..and while you're at it, get King Crow and Couples too.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Nan Hardwicke Turns into a Hare: Wendy Pratt (published by Prole Books)

Nan Hardwicke Turns into a Hare is an unsettling yet powerful set of poems that embrace nature, fertility, femininity, the mundane, the bags of lives; what carries us, heals us and makes us wake up and run away or look within. It's all the coping mechanisms rolled into fourteen poems of loss. How to Find Spaces to Lose Things in starts the collection and hints at how we can deal with these things with magic and nature,

"Breathe in the sky and you notice you are not broken".

For me it feels generational and completely female. Who is Nan Hardwicke? The only clear identity in these poems is 'M', the baby that dances with a suggestion of 'remember me', the heartbreaking line in In the Bathroom, "She was always too tiny and too slow".

The collection of poems feels like the womb, the embodiment of safety, of sexuality, of looking to the wise for help...and to feeling hunted down and punished. For me, Nan is the crone, the poet is the mother and the maiden is the lost daughter, all embodied in words to immortalise them all.

The title poem is my favourite, the shape-shifting into a hare, running away to breathe and cope before you shift back to daily life and carry on as normal;

"I tensed her legs with my arms, pushed my rhythm
down the stepping stones of the spine..."

Find your backbone to strength in this poem, it may feel tight, claustrophobic; you will want to run "and fly across the heath, the heather".

Wendy Pratt's words embrace everything from the mundane of a bag, losing things in sought out places to overwhelming heart wrenching human loss, her skill being in weaving all these things together;

"...but bag I love you.
Don't spurn me now for a few weightless seconds"

These lines resonate with an emptiness, a feeling that a full belly left your arms empty. "Don't leave me now, for the imaginings of flight". Almost as if there's an internal battle of fight and flight that embodies the imaginings of transformation in Nan Hardwicke.

 Behind the Velvet Rope is the reminder of the circle of life and death starts with sex;

"...holding back the lips of an ancient tapestry,
displaying the soft pink majesty of a brocade
which concealed a discreet indecency"

It ends with the line "I'd fallen in love with someone dead by 1752".  It captures longing and a need to embrace memories, museums of our minds and longing in times of emotional hardship and the other saviour, a sense of humour.

There are recurring themes in these poems, "the bones of trees", "the stepping stones of spine" everything that holds us together and makes us magnificent,  the nature, the escape and history to a pagan past of Scrying, the grounding of Funeral and the pain of a lost item or a drive away from A Week On Friday. Funeral in particular reminded me of Seamus Heaney's 'Mid-Term Break. 

This is a collection that I read hurried, eager to link the poems, and have gone back to again and again to retrieve more wisdom at keeping going, carrying on. Hanging on tightly to my own carpet bag of tricks.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Pride: written by Stephen Beresford and directed by Matthew Warchus

This week I've overdosed on 'identity' in various forms and this blog felt like it needed a spring clean and a new title. It took a while to think of as so many are taken, especially if you reference music or literature. Anyway, for now this space is 'Black Hearted Love', a PJ Harvey song of course. I've also put my full name on Facebook and changed my twitter handle so feeling a little over exposed right now...links to the right if you want to befriend or follow.

Film recommendation this week is 'Pride', based on a  true story of the struggles of the LGBT community and the Miners in 1984. This seemingly unlikely union is powerful and touching. Both groups were being battered by Thatcher's administration, the police and the tabloid media with the black cloud of Aids adding fuel to the fire of ground level prejudice.

Set on the road between London and Wales, it starts and ends at a Pride March, led by activist Mark Ashton. A story of common interest and fighting a common enemy:

Socialism, humour and heartbreaking losses, all to a soundtrack that includes Bronski Beat, Yazoo, King, Dead or Alive, with all the campery and fun, the women were pretty fab and integral in this film too;  no manic pixie dreams girls to be seen here. 'Pride'  is a feel good film, but also deadly serious portrayal of the collective power that a Tory government seek to fracture. To quash any hint of a labour movement. And though this all sounds so serious, the film is made by a script written with a humour that could draw in those that might usually turn away.

A movement written out of history, this film repairs some of the damage done by the 2011's 'The Iron Lady' where not a miner was mentioned, very conveniently.  'Pride' reminds us that activism is worthy, that 'Pits and Perverts' gave strength despite the miners being defeated and those communities still suffering today. I'm not sure if that passion or that labour movement still exists today to the same extent... but the film gives hope in a political climate where unions struggle to have any power and don't exist in the privatisation of just about everything. Watch it and work out who the real enemy is, it's certainly not  'the gays', the vulnerable who need help, or working people.

The film ends with The Communards track 'For A Friend' written for Mark Ashton who died in 1987 from an Aids related illness. A tragic loss on so many personal and political levels.

Related Links:

Pride IMDb

The British tradition that Thatcher could not destroy.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

PJ Harvey: Recording In Progress 3/02/2015

Confession time; when I first read about ‘Recording in Progress’, I did think it sounded a bit woolly, but probably because I hadn’t bagged a ticket so was being a bit of a grumpster about it. Low and behold, via Twitter, I read that more tickets were being released due to demand and after a little excited squeal and ‘everyone stand by your laptops and watch that button until it goes from ‘sold out’ to ‘buy tickets’ and then boom’. By the end of the day, there was a green light to go.

Presented by Artangel and Somerset House, this was a date with Polly, her musicians and producers Flood and John Parish. Of course a 45 minute slot does make you wonder if you’re going to walk in on tea break or a fight of unimaginable creative tension…but if you’ve ever seen PJ Harvey interviewed she is the charm, wit and beauty of West Country otherworldliness that could only run a very tight ship of efficiency. 

I avoided reading anything written about it and really didn’t know what to expect. On arrival to the very beautiful Somerset House, sitting aside the Thames on a freezing day, the atmosphere felt like a school trip. Don’t be late, line up, hand over your phones, hang up your coat and keep up. And finally, stick together. Oh okay, don’t mind if I do as Jarvis Cocker is stood behind me and though I’m pretending I haven’t noticed, I’m listening to every lovely deep voiced thing he’s saying and wishing I could remember the name of his 6 Music show.

So having speed read the programme and Polly’s ‘In Conversation with Michael Morris’; recording spaces are a big deal. As a writer, I can get that, I’ve tried to carry the notepad and write on the move but so far, I need a zone, quiet, or music and get into a resonant space that allows all that creativity (or desperation) to flow.  Polly recorded ‘Let England Shake’ in a church and the “building graced every note”.

What interested me about this ‘vitrine’ idea was that Polly is a multi faceted artist, a singer/song writer and visual performer who likes to feel scared and do something she’s not done before, and I wanted to see, read and hear her working with regard to recent news that she has this album coming out and a poetry anthology ‘The Hollow of Your Hand’ later in the year.

My love affair with Polly began for me at around 17/18 years old listening to 'Dry', I seem to recall Courtney Love calling it ‘angry vagina’ music, not sure I agree with that, but Polly's music has remained passionate, personal, political and drenched in history and art. It is no wonder that there was so much interest in this project. Her career has evolved and been consistently innovative with her pick of collaborators over the years *and* her achievement as first solo artist to win the Mercury prize twice.  From 'Sheela-na-gig' to 'Down By The Water', to  'The Words that Maketh Murder', my love of music first off, and later on writing, seems to have been encapsulated by this super ethereal like creature from another dimension.

The progression of writing has accumulated for her, in her own words "I work the words on the page first". And she differentiates between writing words on a page and how it comes to be a song. Very different things, but she’s way ahead of me on this one as I only started writing poetry recently after realising that lyrics are perhaps the simpler versions of poetry, so bring those two loves of my own together. How often have I wished I could write and sing as it just makes your words so much more accessible.  Unfortunately I’m working with the page alone having no power in my voice at all. Anyway back to PJ Harvey and watching the creative process, the hard work and repetitiveness of the whole process was fascinating.  The attention, the care and the labour…

We listened to them tuning up saxophones (three of them) and I noted a certain Pulp front man yawned at this point, then Polly saying ‘Shall I sing this one and just play guitar?’ Yes, yes, yes, pleeeeeease. And she did, three times in different keys while giving Mike Harvey (a bad seed) a bit of a look about his drumming that had gone a bit awry. 

In truth, I think what this ‘Recording in Progress’ did reveal was the patience needed to flow creatively and how it’s not just about bringing the perfect finished product to your audience but revealing the flaws and mundane to the table (or glass box) and seeing musicians recording songs with a maze of cables around them like our own mess behind our televisions and computers. Seeing your favourite writers in piles of paper, surrounded by empty cups and glasses and furious at the wifi going off at a crucial moment would be similar.

Is the process more alive than the polished product? It was fun watching the producers faces go from slightly irritable to head nodding glee, hearing the difference between the same track played in major then minor keys… and the difference was startling. Surrounded by speakers, distortions and scribbled lyric sheets in view of a white board of crossing outs. I’ve seen PJ Harvey perform live so this was a behind the scenes that I personally enjoyed being part of, despite feeling a bit odd looking through one way glass. 

Tuesday, 20 January 2015


The magic ingredients of iamamiwhoami are mystery, innocence, nature, nakedness, hooks, familiarity and indecipherable melody. There’s nothing so clever about iamamiwhoami that it cannot be called mere escapism. In Bounty, we saw Jonna Lee lying on toilet rolls looking like she’s having a shag (while singing), hanging out her washing naked, (obviously left it a bit late to put that wash on), coming out of yoni shaped hole in a tree, and then in Kin, dancing with yeti in a car park or dressed as clown dancing in a box.

This is all wrapped in the gift paper of ‘project’ or ‘episodes’. It’s good music to listen to if you want a bit of a break from reality. This album has M83 haunting it in places, like a little mischief.  There’s an iamamiwhoami army of devotion wanting to decipher every video and track, and a bunch of electronic nerds trying to pause from wanking to break down the synth arpeggios.

It’s simple and basic, a naked collision of nostalgia from what they’ve already done ‘Tap Your Glass’ to  staring at the sky, the sea,  forests…but eventually it’s programmed music and performance to pull you in. There’s nothing natural or lacking in self consciousness going on here, it’s all carefully constructed performance and the only experiment is who and how the attention is held. I love it. It’s escapist pop music with the visual stimulation tricks that are used on toddlers to keep them watching Cbeebies; beautiful, simple and stimulating with lots of repetition. 

If you want to really see iamamwhoami, go see them performing live. I love 'Chasing Kites', it reminds me of Mary Poppins and I love the typewriter tapping out the beat.

I think my favourite is Shadowshow, its formulaic seduction with a glitter body suit, the demons/aliens/mythical creatures of the forest, and Jonna on a rock about to drown them all. The idiots.  On a backdrop of a good tune.

There’s super limited editions of this with carefully thought out ‘clump’ or you could just buy it the regular way. However you do, this is the way it’s going for music. And Jonna Lee realised this before many others had when she did ‘Bounty’. That is the clever part of all this.