Tag Archive: novel


Yesterday, 25th May, was International Towel Day.

I’ve been harping on about this on Facebook for a couple of weeks and I’m quite sure no-one knows what the hell is wrong with me anymore, but that’s because many of them have yet to have their minds and hearts delightfully corrupted by the wondrous “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” series of books, by the late great Douglas Adams.

~                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~

7556-hitchhikers-guide-to-the-galaxy-movie

~                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~

For other like-minded ladies and gentlemen, here is a profound explanation of the importance of towels, as found in Chapter 3 of Adams’ work The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

“A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost.” What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)”

~                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~

There are five books in Adam’s original Hitchhiker’s series, and a sixth novel written by Artemis Fowl author Eoin Colfer, which I haven’t read and probably never will.  No disrespect to Colfer, but I have such a close relationship with the original books that any semi-official additions seem distinctly sacriligious.

I’m not the only person who feels this way.  These short, humourous science-fiction novels have brought so much joy to readers that they hold them close to their hearts in the way that only a genuinely funny, insightful author could achieve.  The bittersweet tone of the last two books in particular establishes Adams as a writer with great heart.

So what the hell is this Towel Day all about?

It’s a simple commemoration of the author, who was not only a great writer, but a proponent of environmental protection, technological innovation, as well as a respectful (and erudite) atheist.  Adams died suddenly twelve years ago to widespread grief.   The simple towel, as described above, is as good a mascot as any for his commemoration – not to mention that Adams would no doubt love the silliness of knowing that thousands, maybe millions of people around the world are all walking around with towels…

The dedication is huge.  The official Facebook page has some great stories and photos of people across the globe who are celebrating Adam’s life and work in this uniquely peculiar way:

~                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~

chile

~                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~

scrabble

Thumbing for spacecraft (https://www.facebook.com/towelday)

 

~                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~

kurdistan iraq

Wearing your towel for protection against solar radiation, in Kurdistan, Iraq (https://www.facebook.com/towelday)

 

~                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~

texas 2

Texas – With these towels they do wed! (www.facebook.com/towelday)

~                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~

This hoopy frood from Texas already has a ride (www.facebook.com/towelday)

~                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~

israel

The answer to Life, the Universe and Everything, from Israel (www.facebook.com/towelday)

~                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~

This couple has found the Answer (www.facebook.com/towelday)

~                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~

star wars

May 25th is also a Star Wars anniversary, so there are plenty of weird franchise-mixes going on … Stormtroopers celebrate (www.facebook.com/towelday)

~                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~

argentina

Group celebrations in Argentina (www.facebook.com/towelday)

~                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~

6WiQp6T

A towel as a cape in India (http://imgur.com/6WiQp6T)

~                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~

astronauts

Get this – astronauts on the International Space Station know where their towels are! (twitter.com/AstroSamantha)

~                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~

Most of these amazing photos are pilfered from the Facebook page, which I expect will keep running each year.  You can also read about the massive support worldwide at the official site.

There are also numerous shots of pets with their towels, so it’s great to see our quadrupedal planetary co-inhabitants joining in the fun (no dolphins yet though).

I also happened to come across this restaurant whilst taking a walk in Leeds yesterday, so I just had to take a photo:

~                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~

The 42 restaurant and bar in Leeds, England

A restaurant and bar, prominent at no.42 on a street in Leeds, England

~                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~

 

Why do I care about all this?

Not because I have an interest in towels, or even for the basic pleasures of supporting a much-admired writer and activist.

It’s partly because Adams suffered from crippling low confidence (not to mention writer’s block), as many of us do, but mainly because his books have always managed to make me laught out loud, even on my darkest days.

No other writer else has been able to do that before or since.

—db

Thinkin’ Wild

About three years ago I suddenly found myself single and living alone, but for two cats.  It was a quiet, lonesome period, a new age, and I now had more time to kill than I knew what to do with.

Getting home after work was a short routine: feed the two felines, perform some basic chores, maybe read for an hour.  I’d spend the last hours of the evening with a simple meal and a whiskey digestif in front of a film.  All the films I never had the chance to watch with my girlfriend at the time.

These were the usual boys-only affairs.  Bond films.  Tense thrillers.  Science fiction.  Old classics.  Old classic science fiction.  And Westerns.

I spent more time with Clint Eastwood in those first few months than I did with anyone else I knew.  They’re perfect “alone” films, enhanced by awe-inspiring scenery, blue skies drowning the horizon, the lone gunslinger tiny against a backdrop of wind and whirling dust.  It takes a place like Monument Valley to make a man feel small, or isolated.  And they’re often films about a singular man surviving all odds.

I had the mad idea to write a Western one day.

Clint in "For a Few Dollars More"

Clint in “For a Few Dollars More”

~          ~          ~          ~          ~          ~

Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman in "Unforgiven"

Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman in “Unforgiven”

Early ideas were derivative spaghetti nonsense involving violent unjustified bloodletting.  Anyone can spin out a yarn of bounty hunters, a savage vengeance run, or the coming a shadowy stranger to free an ailing boom town from packs of outlaws.

I shelved the notion in favour of other projects.  And eventually I wasn’t alone anymore.

Still, the idea persisted.   Every piece of cookie-cutter High Noon trash gave me another idea that I tried to turn on its head and make original (people following my comments on Wattpad forums will know that originality is what I call the holy grail of writing).  I kept finding myself reading Robert E. Howard and wondering whether Zane Grey was really outdated.

There’ve been a few modern Westerns released in cinemas in the last few years.  I remember watching “Tombstone” on TV when I was in college.  And around that time, “Unforgiven” taught us that you didn’t need dull metal implements to scare someone stiff.  There was that cookie John Carpenter film.   Another by Tarantino that also ended up being something other than it started out, in ’96.  Personal favourites in recent years include “3:10 to Yuma”, “Seraphim Falls” and “True Grit” – all remakes of classics I never saw the first time around.

Tarantino hasn’t been able to stay away, actually.  “From Dusk Till Dawn” was a supernatural macguffin, and the director revisited his penchant for Sergio Leone-style Westerns in “Kill Bill”.  This year saw the controversial “Django Unchained” in cinemas to critical acclaim.

Christian Bale promises to have outlaw Russell Crowe aboard the "3:10 to Yuma"

Christian Bale promises to have outlaw Russell Crowe aboard the “3:10 to Yuma”

~          ~          ~          ~          ~          ~

White and black hats in a tale of vengeance: "Seraphim Falls" with Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson

White and black hats in a tale of vengeance: “Seraphim Falls” with Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson

It keeps the Wild West in one’s consciousness, even though many critics agree that there are no new stories to be told, and that these tales are outdated (despite timeless themes such as vengeance).

I suppose that now might be as good a time as any to brush off my muse’s old shooting irons and see if I can’t make a Stetson out of my thinking cap.  A certain publisher is looking for short, pulpy Western novels and I’m already putting my brand in the fire.

I’ll keep you all posted on how it goes, if it goes at all.

—db

Thirsty

I’ve explained in an earlier post about the chronic spates of creative thirst I suffer from. Non-work (“work” being creative stuff I do at home, rather than the template-driven box-ticking administration of work in the office) is just a period where you don’t realise you haven’t had a glass of water for a fortnight until you’re pretty much dead – and then there is, to destroy the analogy, the sudden desire to write something, immediately and excessively, almost to the extent of recording the minutae of a character’s actions, of his or her thoughts and feelings, of his outward appearance and expressions, that take place in a single minute of his life; and then his interactions with the hundred other characters that must be included, who all inhabit a world with its own minutae to document, fervently.

Clearly I’m saturated by this weird neurosis as I write this (not something I suffered from until maybe three years ago, already in my twenties, and for no apparent reason), being at my wordiest and thoughtlessly speediest – so forgive the redundancies, or denseness, or typing errors, or absurdity of the lot.

But at the edge of the desert where you see the buildings glinting, all you can imagine is the silver plumbing inside and the water it must be full of. You imagine yourself swimming in it and gulping it down. In my desert, this ceaseless focusing on the desired future comes in the form of planning, planning for the next thing to be written, almost always a novel (in the desert, you don’t imagine only an eggcup of water), and all the intricate note-taking and research and frantic scribblings this requires. Sometimes the ideas come so fast your handwriting turns to indecypherable Arabic, and knowing this you draw a picture instead (“X = 1k wds”) because you’ll be damned if you’re going to lose the five other ideas you need to write down just because you were thinking of how best to describe that one cinematic moment you imagined.

I had a similar outbreak, let’s call it, a month ago, inspired by my completion of a dreadful book called “Sandworms of Dune“, being one of two sequels to the great Dune science-fiction series by Frank Herbert. His death left the incredible series apparently unfinished, and his son, being one of those Christopher Tolkein-esque relatives who can’t damn-well resist, ressurected the franchise to write the two ‘finale’ books that have corrupted a near-perfect literary vision.

So disgusted was I by the dilution and contamination of the senior Herbert’s creation, and so badly written it was too, that I acted upon one of my “fuck me if I can’t do a thousand times better than that” moments and decided to end the series myself. Having recently re-read the six originals, I could remember very well the characters and themes and significant events that drove the series. With this bigger picture in mind, I felt that I could faithfully see where Herbert was going and constructed a breakdown of my own version of “Sandworms of Dune”. But it is only when you realise that you’ve scribbed twenty pages of dense notes, reminders and tiny images, all at your desk at work, that you’re suddenly aware of how noticable your fervour must have been to those sitting around you, and, oops, how valuable your job is.

I suppose we should be supremely grateful for these creative trances (“we” being the half of you who, I realise, are also creative types of your own kinds, and hopefully can relate), because they are the combusting coals that we need to then slow-burn our way through that 100,000 word novel, or 30 hour painting, or endless nights of programming. But damn if they aren’t an inconvenience, like an erection on a bus, being probably extremely useful in another time and place, but otherwise utterly inappropriate.

–db              

City of Steel

People ask me whether I write about Sheffield much.  I live in Sheffield.  I wouldn’t say I know it inside and out, but I know it pretty well.

I suppose I do kind of love this town.  It’s a love derived from familiarity. But being familiar with it, very familiar, I take it for granted.

One day I’ll probably leave Sheffield for another, more exciting town.

What a dick

Because of this, stories set in Sheffield don’t appeal to me.  They aren’t as interesting as tales built around bustling London, which I’ve visited but never lived in; or exotic South America; breathtaking Japan; or the rugged, mist-drowned mountain ranges of Tibet.

It would be like taking photographs of your own kitchen cupboards. You just don’t do it.

To see the world in a grain of sand, or an apartment in a mirror.

This is Sheffield for me:

— Magpies picking at bread in the early morning after a rainstorm.

— Overweight mothers in sweatsuits screeching at their bored, insolent toddlers.

— A fifth-floor view over old redbrick buildings, brown rooftops, decrepit industrial sites reduced to hollows, smokestacks and steeples.

— The old Stan Lee lookalike on the shopping promenade who wears a yellow safety jacket and waves a placard quoting the Bible.  I call him the Placard Hell man.

— Eva, the Evangelical.  Don’t know her real name.  She’s an ebony herald of the Lord who can often be seen outside the Boots, wandering by the bus stops around Chapel Square or riding the bus itself.  She preaches like a lunatic.  She sings like Whoopie Goldburg.  Can I get a ‘Hail Mary’?  She makes me alternately joyful and supremely irritated.

— Most recently, the monstrous ferris wheel that hunkers at the confluence of thoroughfares in the city centre, lurching to the tune of £6.50 a pop with – currently – 42 empty capsules swinging like bloated bluebottles on a knackered pinwheel.

How'd you like to be a big wheel?

42

— If one were to bore through the Earth, suck out the air, and jump through, it would take you only 42 minutes to reach the other side.

— There are 42 gods and goddesses of Egypt.

— It is the number with which the Hebrew God created the universe.

— Rule no. 42: “All person more than a mile high to leave the court!”

Don't Panic!

There’s not much rhyme or reason to Sheffield.  The roads are one-way and criss-cross, intersect or loop around one another.  The bus routes zig-zag wastefully from one side of the city to the other.  Even the buskers loiter uncertainly, trying to pinpoint a place where the pedestrian traffic flows with any kind of consistency.

In Sheffield I have heard:

— Accoustic guitars

— Electric guitars

— Eucalales

— Banjos

— Harmonicas

— Accordians

— Bass drums

— Bongo drums

— Tin drums

— Tin whistles

— Oboes and bassanellis

— Saxophones

— Bagpipes, panpipes and boatswains pipes

Most of these people could play.

Not many of them could sing.

It’s a funny town.  I wrote about it in a story called “Hidden Homeless”, currently being considered by the BBC as part of a radio drama ‘competition’.  The homeless are everywhere in Sheffield. You see the obvious ones walking about like drunkards.  Actually most have perforated eardrums.  You would be forgiven for thinking the former.

One – I called him Geoffrey – constantly flicks his fingers beside his ear and smacks his gums together.  I realised, after many times of seeing him walk past the grotty cafeteria where I eat a greasy English breakfast before work, that he is mimicking the people he sees around him – talking on mobile phones.

He is observant, our Geoffrey.

There is Gilmli.  He’s a short fellow, rotund, bald on top like a stouter Clive Anderson, with long thin locks of hair hanging flaccidly from the back of his head. He is the dwarf and the wizard and the sneak all in one.  He wears a stripy sweater and never carries less than four plastic carrier bags full of who-knows-what.

There is Howzah.  I met her selling Big Issues one week, then bumming change off me the next.  I never asked what happened to the Big Issue work.  She asks me for forty pence for a cup of tea on the Monday and stops me again on the Thursday, never remembering me.  As far as I can tell.

She must drink a lot of tea.

She looks like a heroin addict and has dark rings under her eyes.  One week I chatted to her outside the Mediterranian-looking stand by the Monstrous Wheel that sells good cheese-and-tomato paninis.

Incidentally, the plural of panini is panini.

The singular of panini is panino.

You ask this guy for a panino he’s gonna look at you like you’re fucking cracked.

Yummy

This week I ordered a cheese-and-tomato panini.  Howzah seemed to know one of the guys.  One of her black rings seemed to have swollen around her eye, down her cheek, as far around as her ear and as low as the corner of her mouth.

Howzah always looks fucking miserable.

I lend her forty pence for a cup of tea often.

These are obviously homeless.  But there are hidden homeless.  You wouldn’t know it to look at them.

The story is at the short-list stage.  If it fails to impress the BBC further, I will post it for free at Spinninglizard.co.uk.

I wrote about Sheffield in a novel of mine. “Spinning Lizard” would be the fifth of my published novels, should the ones in between ever see the light of day.  I describe Sheffield as faintly grotty, largely empty, alienating, confusing, arousing, invigorating.  There is a night-life and it usually entails getting the shit beaten out of you.

I have a nugget of hard flesh in my right ear from a dizzying punch. The swollen cartilage never went away.

In “Spinning Lizard”, the brother of Nicola Sorensen has been missing for some time.  Nicola gets a letter from the South Yorkshire Police, who have given up the search.

I retyped the letter, in full, from one that I received following the nugget experience.

I do write about Sheffield, sometimes.

Half Discovered Wings” has scenes of racial intolerance, of class prejudice, of an endless cemetary in the desert, of a claustrophobic network of stale values and smouldering underground hatred.  The sun shines on Sheffield too, sometimes – usually through a layer of white cloud, I must admit.  There are brighter days and intermittent festivals, fairs and markets.  I’ve lived her for most of twenty-five years, and I still live here.

The pudding itself is proof!

— db

—————————————————–

EDIT: A few people have asked for photographs of Placard Hell, the Stan Lee lookalike, and of Gimli, Geoffrey and Howzah.  I’ll do my best to take a few sneaky snapshots next time I see them!  If only I could get an audio clip of Eva …