The smell of freedom

Patchouli used to be the smell of the tribe. It’s a dark, earthy smell that’s hard to describe because it meant so many things. There’s a coldness to it too, along with the warm, fuzzy buzz it puts in your head, the feeling it puts in your heart that for once, just this once, we could have a revolution without blood on the streets.

Well we had a revolution. It was called Thatcherism. It wasn’t much to do with patchouli and there was blood.

I tried to get some patchouli in Bath two weekends ago, to fly the flag when I went to a university reunion. Bath didn’t have any which was odd where they may as well have crop-dusted the whole city with the stuff once upon a time. I got some patchouli massage oil in Body Shop a few years ago but that’s another story. It’s not the same.

That smell was how you recognised the tribe, a not-very-secret code. The police and Drugs Squad and Customs officers always assumed it meant you were in possession of a controlled substance. I got made to turn my bag and pockets out on the street in Bath when I was stopped by two plain clothes officers whose hep-to-the-jive antennae told them ‘if you’ve got patchouli then you’ve got dope,’ as Poppy said in Not Your Heart Away. Like any assumption, a lot of the time it was wrong. They’d have been better-off targeting people who drank milk. Some did, some didn’t. In itself, patchouli was nothing to do with it.


Head Shops

After ten days of being more oddly disturbed than usual after that weekend, remembering someone’s incredulity when I said I’d only used two aftershaves in the past ten years, I decided to fly the flag again. I went to buy some patchouli.

There aren’t those little head shops where I live in rural Suffolk, nowhere the whole shop stinks of the goatskin-soled knitted slippers that might keep your feet alternatively warm or might equally give you anthrax. Nowhere with brass bells on strings and a wall full of dried beans and joss sticks and Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comics and tiny Chinese porcelain bowls. There probably aren’t any shops like that anywhere now. I remember when there were.

One of the all-time great albums. Click it and see.

There was a gallery and gift shop in Woodbridge that had a suspicious number of dangly things that might be mistaken for mobiles hanging from the ceiling when I went in yesterday. The blond woman who ran the shop was about my age. I hung back a bit while she was trying to sell some tourists a painting of the quay. After they’d decided they were really nice pictures but not quite nice enough today I asked if she might know anywhere that sold patchouli, for the first time in decades. She was out around the counter in seconds, eyes darting from side to side. Old habits. I might as well have asked if she had any king-size strawberry Rizlas and a lighter.

What seems to be the problem, officer?

“This shop used to be a chemist. People sometimes think – But no. We have some joss sticks. I might have some patchouli ones. Cinnamon. Amber.  No. No patchouli. Nobody’s asked for that for years. That used to be how you knew, when I was a teenager!’

It was. What it was we knew we didn’t really know. But we knew. We didn’t know where to find any, either of us. Maybe The Purple Shop in Ipswich, she said, but it sounded exactly like the mythical Purple Shop in both our heads, too good to be true and guaranteed if it actually did exist to be closed when you got there. Not worth the drive to find out. It won’t be there anyway. Maybe it’s our age.

You can still get that smell, now and then, if you try. It’s called an essential oil now, but it always was. I eventually got some in Holland & Barrett’s aromatherapy section. They said it would help me relax. When I got home I unscrewed the top and held it under my nose and was about as relaxed as if I was caught in an avalanche that hurled me straight back to the Walcot Nation in my mind, before the picture framers and bathroom galleries moved in. Somewhere very precious where we can all go only for a little while, with the right kind of nose and one sniff of patchouli.



Share Button

How Do You Write It?

I see this topic a lot on writing forums (fora? forii??) and I’ve been asked it a few times too. And I don’t know. I tried to write Not Your Heart Away a lot, but I didn’t know that was what I was trying to write. It wasn’t ready.

I wrote a shadow of it when I was eighteen, just after I finished A Levels and couldn’t stop working. If I’d started working earlier it might have helped. It took about a month and it was just under 50,000 words. It’s on Amazon as A Day For Pyjamas and one of these days I have to get down to doing something with it.

For an eighteen year old it was ok. I tried to get it published but I hadn’t a clue where to start. I walked up and down the Grays Inn Road with it one day knocking on doors and entirely surprisingly to me, got nowhere at all. I went to Smiths and got another publisher’s address out of the first book I saw. Pan liked it, took it home and read it one weekend or so they said, but pointed out quite reasonably that they were actually more into publishing stuff other publishers had already published, so they knew there was a market for them. This was also the time it might have become obvious to anyone a bit more self-aware that one of the steps in my cognitive process wasn’t fixed that securely. A Day For Pyjamas was a love story about a teenage boy who can’t steel himself to get the girl of his dreams, for reasons he can’t work out. From here, I can – I think he wanted to play safe and did it the worst way possible, because your heart doesn’t know what it means. But not the point. This is the book I took the publisher’s name from, in WH Smiths in Trowbridge, a long time ago, when I was looking for someone to help me bring this tender, angsty, teenage love story to paper:



There’s something not right in that thinking, isn’t there? So hard at the time to see quite what, though. Oddly, Pan thought it wasn’t quite their thing, not without more Panzerfaust rocket launchers in the text than I thought the sensitive, calf-eyed poet narrator could reasonably carry to school. Back in Walcot Nation, Bath Arts Workshop had a look at it and decided they’d publish it. Then their funding was axed. Then their building burned down when someone decided to get really into his roots and light a cooking fire. On a 250 year-old hardwood Georgian floor. No, not in the same room as. On.

After that I took it as a sign that A Day For Pyjamas was supposed to do what it did, go back in the drawer for years to be taken out and shown to a select audience as conclusive proof that I really was sensitive and artistic and you know, if they turned the lights down and sat on the sofa, no, over here with me, we could maybe read it together. That didn’t work out most of the time either. But the story was still smouldering at the back of my head. I’d get glimpses of it, the same kind of feeling you have when you go into a room looking for something and as soon as you’re there you can’t remember what it was you were looking for.

I could never put my finger on what it was the story was looking for. Maybe love. Or the past, but really none of those and more than them, both. Certainly both of those things got it written. Last August I drove down to see an old friend, someone I knew from the days the book was set. We sat up nearly all night, far too old to do this, far too old not to now, talking about old times and  all the “whatever happened to” stories. When I came home I stopped outside the house of someone I used to know. It’s in the book. It felt like thirty years before, even though I couldn’t get into the grounds and had forgotten or never really knew that this house actually had grounds. No-one ever talked about it. Not the girl who used to live there, certainly. I stood in the lane and a wave of I don’t know what seemed to flow down the lane towards me. Warmth. Happiness. Nervousness. The other word Ben in the book couldn’t bring himself to use, the one he couldn’t trust himself with. I spoke someone’s name from long ago.

I got in my car and drove away. When I sat down to write that week it didn’t stop. 111,000 words later it became Not Your Heart Away. It’s a memorial to the times when there was something you were just about to find, before you never quite found it, before it slipped out of your fingers into the shadows again.

So that’s how I wrote it. You have to feel it. But more than that, you have to sit down and do it. And the sitting down, facing up to having to do it, that’s the really hard part. Write the story in your heart. Everyone’s got one. All you have to do is listen to it.



Share Button

Golden Cap

I wrote this as one of many false starts that went before Not Your Heart Away last year. Not wanting to waste it I put this in for the Flash Fiction competition in the Bridport Literary Festival. I thought flash fiction was 500 words. That was tight. Once I’d written it I found out they only wanted 250. I’ll try a haiku next time.


golden cap


Golden Cap

‘I was not acting alone and I’m not being scapegoated,’ she said firmly into her iPhone.

‘It’s the wind. No, I can’t hear you properly either. Dorset. Satnav. A35 and turn left. No. I’m not there. Don’t know. Is this some sort of interrogation, Gideon? Because so far as I’m aware I’m not actually employed by you, am I?’

On this beach against this grey sliver of tarmac the low car was next to invisible this late in the day. The driver’s door opened like lips parting and she got out and stretched the road out of her long legs.

Four o’clock this afternoon and the pub at the end of this track looked as if it would never open again. She could hear the wind humming against the flanks of the car as she stood looking back along the beach towards Weymouth.

‘Next to a big yellow cliff, a stream and a pub. Yes. Like every other bloody thing right now it’s closed for business. Oh funny. Yes. Ha ha. Well take that as a definite, so far as you’re concerned. No sweeting. I don’t ever threaten. I do. As you know. It’s quicker.’
A long line of grey cloud coming in from the sea brought the taste of salt cold on her lips as the late winter sun caught the top of the sandy cliff.

‘So to cut through all your crap, despite my being the most productive dealer on what you choose to call your trading floor, one little sniff of how our syndicate shorted sterling in the paper your Mummy reads and my secure door pass doesn’t work any more. And I haven’t got a desk as of now. Really.’

She slowly recognised this place. Grandpy fished off the beach here. Dad left here. She knew just a few bucket and spade and ice-lolly summers here but here after all she was, like a bad penny and just four hundred thousand good pounds in the account and this ludicrously beautiful car that would attract every screwdriver-blade and sharp object within a half-mile. The car would have to go. Along with everything else.

‘No, really that is too kind, Gideon.’ She bit the words out of the air as she walked along the track away from the car and the main road.

The last of the sun flared along the cliff like bullion, once, twice and then the cloud came.

‘That’s my own Dorset Golden Cap, is it? Too funny. One point two million. And you’re asking me if that’s ok?’

She stood still and took the mobile from her ear. Folded her arms around her in the sudden deeper chill. She began to walk again down the little road, out across the grey sand towards the flat sea.

‘No.’ She spoke the word out loud. ‘No. It isn’t my golden cap. And it isn’t ok. It never, never was.’

Share Button

Askimet Spam

Woke up early today and got the hammock out, slung between two apple trees in my sunny part of Suffolk while the hens pretended they weren’t interested in what I was doing. They’re wild, living in a tree and while you can’t touch them or pick them up without a net and preferably a supply of hard-to-come-by tranquiliser darts, they want to know what’s going on. Thinking about it, that’s probably how all wild animals survive.

I came back inside for a cup of tea at ten o’clock because I’m English and my tea levels were dropping perilously low. As any anthropologist knows, if an Englishman doesn’t maintain his tea balance then he’s in grave danger of becoming European, or worse. It isn’t a risk I can face lightly. Certainly not without tea.

Naturally, depressingly obviously, I checked my email and Facebook and this weeny website to see who thought my life would be better if I carried their advertising for red shoes and fake handbags free of charge. The good news – no comments to ‘moderate.’ The bad – the biggest haul of spam ever. 57 fake messages after installing Askimet compared to about sic per day beforehand. It can’t be anything to do with Askimet and I haven’t installed anything else, so obviously I’ve got onto some spam list somewhere.

But where? And still, as always, why? Does anyone ever respond to this badly spelled Russian translated through the Senegalese into school English? Ever?

Still, at least I don’t have to look at it. I’m reading a book John Fowles compared to HG Wells’s writing, A Dream Of Wessex. The first couple of pages didn’t engage me at all but I carried on because, well because that’s where I almost grew up and its a special place. John Fowles wrote The Collector, his breakthrough book about a man too sanctimoniously horrible to even think about. He’d probably be a UKIP candidate today. It’s about a government research facility where scientists dream themselves into a parallel West Country, a little like the way Claire tried to chant herself into a better place by reciting AE Houseman in Not Your Heart Away. It didn’t work for her, or only for a little while. I’ve yet to see whether the scientists are going to have better luck.

So I think I’ll go back to reading my book now. With tea.

Share Button


spotify logo


I just discovered Spotify. OK, maybe I’m not the first to discover it but I thought I’d like to share, because that’s what I’m like.

I put together a playlist, just in case Not Your Heart Away gets on screen, or if you’d just like to listen to the music in the book while you read it. There’s some later stuff too, Kate Bush’s “And So Is Love” and some new David Bowie tracks which just seemed to fit the mood. Click on the link, kick back and enjoy. And remember, if you’re singing along with headphones on it sounds absolutely awful, whoever you are.

Click here.

Share Button

More spam!?!?!

I wasted some time putting a little note up yesterday, saying that hey spammers, I check the comments before they’re posted up. Did it make any difference? No.

More spam today. How many cheap bags from China can there be? Or Michael Kors stuff. Whoever he is, he’s got a lot of it.

Some of the spam is pathetic, badly spelled, bad English, bad everything about it. The ones that intrigue me most almost but not quite look like they were written by a human.

“Could you improve your writing?”

Well yes, in theory, with time and practice. But should I, when you just want to put red bottom shoes on my website?

“On a clear day you can smell forever.” I liked that one. Still spam though, when I looked at the address. But who sends this stuff out? Most of the addresses are obvious fakes, spoofed computers enslaved by remote bots or whatever theft enabled by IT is called now. It was all made illegal, at least in the US, years and years ago. Ever hear of anyone going to jail? Being prosecuted, even? I never have. And it’s not that it can’t be done. When someone threatened the US President via email his door was hoofed off its hinges within 48 hours. Like anything governments say can’t be done, it can be and is done whenever they feel like it.

Share Button

Spammers. What is WRONG with these people?

Does this ever work?

Youre so cool! I dont suppose Ive read anything like this ahead of. So nice to obtain somebody with some original thoughts on this subject. realy thank you for beginning this up. this site is something that is required on the internet, somebody with a small originality. beneficial job for bringing some thing new to the world wide web!


Youre is not a word in English. Neither is Ive. It might be in Russian or wherever Spam City is these days, but not here.

Is it a translation of something, via Hungarian from the original Spack, presumably?

And more to the point,does anyone, ANYONE ever get one of these and think yeah, that’s me alright, I’ll post that up on my website, with the link to the knock-off shoes or bags. Why is it always shoes or bags? Does this look like the kind of website people who want cheap shoes or bags would do to. Well does it? Do you feel lucky, punk?

Spammers obviously do.


Share Button

Another lovely Amazon Review of Not Your Heart Away

Whenever I get a nice review  on Amazon I post it up. Because I love sharing so much.

4.0 out of 5 stars NYHA, 18 April 2013
Sergio Andrade (Porto, PORTUGAL) – See all my reviews
Amazon Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Not Your Heart Away (Paperback)

As we live and grow older, we cross several turning points, several junctions of existence.
Those “pit stops” of life, made up of Time and Space and desire and fear and hope and places and faces and people. People you used to know, people you used to be.
And sometimes, you just can’t help it but stop, turn around and look back into that specific point in your life, growing smaller and smaller in the horizon, and ponder on how things turned out for you and wonder how things might have been different.
“Not your heart away” is a book about that. It’s a book WITH teenagers, but I wouldn’t recommend it TO teenagers. Sure, it can be read by teenagers, and the brightest ones amongst them will even understand it; perhaps some will even relate it to some events in their lives. But I wouldn’t recommend it…it presents too much spoilers on life and the passing of time.
It is better meant for those of life who can and will look back…those who know the longing for the unreachable days of blue and golden youth…and ideal that crosses the boundaries of when and where.
NYHA has its centre in a specific time period, a specific place. Being a teen in England in the 1970s. But, relevant as those characteristics are, they do not close themselves from other times, other spaces, other lives. Its specificities can be blood-linked to anywhere, any when, any who.
Fiction as it is, you can sense the writer has poured out a lot of his soul on this book, this simple yet beautifully written little gem, poetical at times, with extra bonus references to paranormal (or metaphorical!?) entities, UFOs, and local folklore.
The greatest magic, however, is the way it sparks in each reader his/her personal memories and the way they can be related to the narrative, regardless of its time and space. And magic is real, just so long as you believe…



Call me vain, but I don’t have an agent so I have to do my own marketing and PR. Unless of course, you’d like to be my agent. If you want to talk about that, let’s do lunch, baby!

Call me. Laters….



Share Button

On a clear day you can smell forever

It’s a late Spring, the same sort of weather as the time Not Your Heart Away was set. The sky is grey but the birds are singing. And just as then a cold Spring that combined light evenings with chilled hands, a time someone recalled as one of country pubs, cold girls and warm cars. It’s odd remembering that as I’m trying to work against the clock trying to get the book turned into a film script for Monday.

It’s going well but I just don’t know if I’ve got enough time. Bolstered though by a rather lovely email I got today from the lady who runs the Suffolk Arts Club.


PS  Have read the last section of your book, excellent.  Have now lent it to Elaine who was here when you came last Saturday

Caroline Wiseman

Caroline Wiseman Modern and Contemporary

The Aldeburgh Beach Lookout and The Art House


I think I’ve found some new energy, after that. I know this: that I’ve never done anything better or more worthwhile than writing this book and this script, now. Wish me luck.


Share Button

Cow Town, Pig Town

I heard the trailer for Shane on BBC Radio 4 most of this week. I’ve never read it or heard the play, but I heard the Kenneth Williams spoofs on Around The Horne years ago. Where did he come from, that magnificent silent homme?

I’ve had the phrase Cow Town going through my head all day. I lived in Aspen once, but that was a Sheep Town, it being sheep that cropped the range in those parts back when silver was the only other crop there. The town I grew up in, Trowbridge, that used to be Pig Town. It was where Bowyers, the pork pie factory was, where we heard the pigs squealing for hours on pie day, then the silence, then the smell as the carcasses were flensed. Happy days, unless, obviously, you were a pig.

I don’t know anywhere like that these days. Just outside Bury St Edmunds there’s the huge British Sugar boiling plant, where they boil up sugar beet to make white sugar crystals; the Cloud Factory, a friend of mine used to call it, because of the steam that comes out of the place every day of the year and it being East Anglia, merging into the cloudbase not very high above most days.

Sugar Town, perhaps, although Bury St Edmunds doesn’t look as it it has much to do with In Watermelon Sugar, nor, to be fair, with iDeath.

I’m looking for a title, you see. Once you’ve got the title the rest of it will flow. Bound to, isn’t it? That’s my excuse for not writing today, anyway. I can’t think of the title. Nor the ending. I’ve got some of the plot.

Share Button