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.

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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.

 

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Meaning and memory

The curse of Not Your Heart Away has claimed another victim. So far I’ve had three ‘but that was my life’ comments,  one utterly heart-broken female version of Ben mourning a 30-year spiritual tryst, two people in tears, one who won’t talk to me at all, four ‘I know who this is’ comments and one some of the above so won’t review it publicly.

I wrote the book to begin with as something of an orgy of nostalgia. I’d gone down to Dorset to see my oldest friend and we sat up until silly o’clock drinking and talking until eventually, as these things do, the talk got around to whatever happened to whoever.

We ran through the catalogue of shipping container entrepreneurs, fatal motorcycle and combine harvester crash victims (we’re both from the West Country and it is not funny), eye-wateringly successful lawyers, the happy, the sad and the dead. On the way home, just like Ben I stopped the car and got out to have a look at a huge house where someone I used to know lived. When I got back all the stories from those times poured out. I’d tried to write something for decades but it just didn’t come out right. Not this time. This time it was like a dam breaking.

But I do need to clarify some things, I think. Ben and Poppy and Liz and Claire are all fictional characters. They were based on real people. The way Liz speaks is exactly the way my friend in Dorset speaks, but Liz is a made-up character. I’ve never pressed knees with my friend on a sofa in Finsbury Park and I doubt she’d want to, apart from anything else.

Poppy was based on a happy, lovely, artistic girl I knew when I was 18 and 19, who was hugely, madly, deeply into Art and Drama and Life. Just thinking about all of her hope still makes me smile. We went to the cinema together but that was as close to real life as Poppy got. The rest of her was totally made-up. She smiled a lot as I remember and although when Poppy spoke I remembered someone else’s voice I thought of that smile and Poppy’s words came out slightly differently.

Claire, ah. Well, Claire. There was this girl I couldn’t talk to. We actually did go to the theatre once, and a picnic, but she had a boyfriend and I had a girlfriend and there were exams and and and. Never happened. But all I had to do to write Claire was think of the memory of a voice and the character was there, complete, right down to the skin-tight Levi’s.

Am I Ben? No. I heard Ben’s voice when I was writing him. Like any first-person narrator he was a version of me, but a fictional version. I was just as stumbling and idiotic and unable to listen to what people told me. I thought I was just as poetic as Ben and probably more so.

Just for the record, to clarify, all of the things that happened in the book happened to someone, at some time. They aren’t very extraordinary things, after all. But all of those things did not happen to the four people those characters were based on, or within that time-span. Some of the things in the book happened to totally different people. Some happened years later. Some of the incidents in the story I most enjoyed writing never happened at all.

So apologies, everyone who’s said ‘I know who this is about.’ You don’t. It’s about a ghost, many ghosts in fact. The ghosts of youth and hope, the ghost of tomorrow, a ghost that like Joseph of Aramathea’s staff in Ben’s hands, never quite flourished and grew. Because it couldn’t. Because as Ben said, they’re denied the wholeness of the living. Because we all grow up. The lucky ones, anyway. And maybe Ben was right after all. Maybe it doesn’t matter if it’s true, so long as you believe it is.

 

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Self-publishing

A lot of people are moaning about literary agents, their attitude, their fixed idea that they’re essential,  the apparent lack of much to justify this view and the seeming rise of self-publishing. But it’s nothing new at all. I just found the most delicious thing I’ve seen for a long time.

Lots of people have heard of AE Housman. If you haven’t you probably know the phrase ‘blue remembered hills,’ taken from his epic poem A Shropshire Lad, even if that’s all of the poem you know. Dennis Potter wrote a play about it. It’s epic in the sense that it’s passed into the emotional landscape.

And every publisher turned it down.

Housman had to self-publish it, way back in 1896. According to Wikipedia (so it must be true) even Housman was surprised how big it got with its deep pessimism and obsession, proving that there are more people in England about like that than was ever officially acknowledged, although as a national characteristic it seems to fit quite well.

So the good news is you don’t need an agent, or nowadays, even a publisher. The bad news seems to be for the established book trade. When you think you’re a gatekeeper it helps if you can keep the gate closed or if you can’t do that you need to be doing something positive. Otherwise there’s not much point to you at all.

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Blue remembered hills

I wasn’t going to call it Not Your Heart Away. It started out being called No Returns but that looked much too much like something Bruce Willis would be happy to get his vest on for, one more time. Claire’s mum would have been impeccably icily polite, I think.

But then I remembered Housman’s poem, the same way Claire did. Unhappily I wasn’t sitting at a sunny dream-filled evening table outside the Red Lion, with the oak trees throwing their shadows over an Aston-Martin, but it doesn’t happen a lot, as Ben was to find out. I’d always wondered where the lines about blue remembered hills came from:

Into my heart an air that chills from yon far country blows

What are those blue remembered hill?

What spires? What farms are those?

That is the land of lost content. I see it shining plain.

The happy highways where I went 

And cannot come again.

It’s one of those comforting, unsettling lines that keeps on rattling around my head, filling it with the longing, the discontent and the flat, dead sense of loss. It was from A Shropshire Lad, which much as I’d hate to contradict the heroine of the book wasn’t written in Shropshire at all. Earlier in the poem the narrator gives advice to a young man, urging him not to give his heart away too soon, nor to fall in love at twenty, marry and find yourself out of love and in those days pretty much irrevocably married at twenty-one.

So really the title should have been But Not Your Heart Away. But that would have looked artificial, too long, nonsensical as a title and much too late for Ben anyway. Someone should have told him. Except Liz did.

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Spotify

I only recently discovered Spotify. I used to use Napster, until the music industry wanted to pretend it was Napster killing music sales, not Simon Cowell and totally manufactured bands whose careers are micro-managed to the extent they have their favourite colours chosen for them when they’re interviewed in Jackie magazine. Assuming there still is a Jackie magazine, obviously.

So I put together a Not Your Heart Away playlist. It’s all the songs mentioned in the book plus a couple more that just fit. If it ever gets made into a film this will be the the soundtrack. Until then, just enjoy it while you read.

 

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He shall return no more to his house

 

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Out walking this morning I cut through the short-cut by the graveyard on Tunstall Common. You didn’t know there was one? Townies. Well there is. Anyway.

The stone nearest the path was dated 1832, erected to the memory of William and Hannah Smith of Potash, Tunstall and now I’ll have to find out where Potash is or was. It was part of fertiliser, if it helps. It begged the question what memory is, something I’ve been thinking a lot about after writing Not Your Heart Away and more particularly the  film-script. The film ending is different and begs the question whether anything at all is real and true.

The more I think about it, the more Claire’s question to Ben, ‘Is it true? Do you think it’s true’ and Ben’s reply: ‘Maybe it doesn’t matter if it’s true, so long as you believe it is,’ seems to sum-up every question and answer I’ve ever heard.

Are Hannah and William remembered because I know their names, or are they really only remembered if I could say what colour her hair was, or whether he preferred beer or cider? Either way, they had a rather nice inscription on their tombstone:

‘He shall return no more to his house, neither shall his place know him any more.’

I don’t know the Bible but apparently it’s from the Book of Job. Hunter Thompson used to use a lot of biblical quotes if you remember. He said it was because it was the one book handy in every hotel he ever stayed in when he was stuck for a quote, or just someone else’s stuff to read.

It made me think of the sequel to Ben and Claire’s story and just as I did a Spitfire seemed to lace through the still bare fingers of the trees and the sound of all the lives that were never lived rumbled through the clouds. It was Caroline Grace flying her plane from her workshops at Rendlesham two miles away.  Nothing supernatural at all. Not really.

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And another fantastic review for Not Your Heart Away

Certainly solicited, I know the person who wrote this and I’m somewhat disconcerted to see that it is the most critical of all the reviews so far. But if this is as damning as it gets then Not Your Heart Away is on the right track.

For those men of a certain age, who grew up in an era of patchouli oil, smoky pubs and vinyl records, Not Your Heart Away is a sort of emotional time machine which instantly, effortlessly and somewhat disturbingly transports the reader back to their adolescence. It would be cliched – and untrue – to refer to this as an age of innocence. Carl Bennett’s nineteen year old protagonist Ben has mostly one thing on his mind and it certainly isn’t innocent. But there is a strange naivete about a pre-satnav and iPod world where driving any distance involved maps and cassette players, and a Zippo lighter, twenty Marlboros and a pint of cider was about as good as it got.

But Bennett’s second novel – which picks up where last year’s debut A Day For Pyjamas left off – is much, much more than a nostalgia trip for middle-aged men the wrong side of 50. Themes of loss – loss of love, loss of innocence, loss of friends – are interwoven with asides and observations on such diverse subjects as UFOs, rolling the perfect joint and the legend of the Glastonbury Thorn. Not many authors could juxtapose Bob Marley and AE Houseman, Patti Smith and Shakespeare, and get away with it, but these characters make it sound perfectly natural. There is a dreamlike, sun-tinted quality to Bennett’s prose which derives in part from his ability to evoke the wide open spaces of Salisbury Plain, the delicious (and never to be repeated) laziness of post-A level summer holidays and the sheer joy of a road trip with friends in a car borrowed from your parents.

And throughout, the aching, the sweating nervousness, the misunderstandings and the real fear of first love. On one level it would be easy to dismiss Not Your Heart Away as a familiar tale of teen angst and unrequited love. Ben’s stumbling, fumbling and ultimately humiliating pursuit of Claire will strike a chord with many of us. But it is Bennett’s gut-wrenching, relentless, visceral ability to put the reader in that place, at that time, with that girl – to enable us to say, “that’s me, that was my story” – which puts the novel in a class of its own.

Not Your Heart Away is not without flaws. Whether deliberately or not, the narrative bewildering switches from past to present tense and back again – sometimes within the same sentence. Ben’s best friend Peter, a key character in the first half of the story, disappears without trace in the second and is never heard of again. Theresa, Ben’s unimaginative and undemanding girlfriend, suffers a similar fate and somewhat conveniently fades into the background. At times, the verbal jousting between characters is confusing and repetitive. The lack of resolution or denouement is strangely unsatisfying and there is no doubt that when, in the closing stages, the story catches up with the present and we encounter the middle-aged Ben, the writing lacks the insight and depth of earlier chapters. Perhaps this feeling of loose ends still unravelled, and fates not yet determined, is deliberate. After all, life rarely has neat conclusions, and more rarely still is there a “happy ending”. Maybe it’s just a ploy to get us to buy the third and final part of Ben’s story.

But these are minor complaints. Not Your Heart Away is, by any standards, a remarkable story. It takes you back to a time and place – not just a memory but a palpable, tangible time and place – just as surely as a whiff of dope or a snatch of Roy Harper. It is both unsettling and comforting, dream and reality, fact and fiction. If you left school in the late 1970s, it is not just Ben and Claire’s story, it’s yours. As Ben himself says, “It’s soul, it’s heartland. It’s where I’m from.”

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Pitching it right

Last week I went to London and walked around Broadwick Street for a while, looking for Cascade’s offices. I thought I knew Broadwick Street; I worked in Kingly Street about a hundred years ago. An office that used to be run mainly on lager and cocaine has now become a Fitness First gym and I’m still not sure whether or not that’s an improvement. Anyone working there back then would have assumed you were already out of it if you’d told them that’s what was going to be built there.

Anyway, I’d submitted my 10 pages and mine, along with not many others out of the 150 that came in was judged good enough to pitch, which is why I was there. It was my first filmscript and my first pitch, so I felt about as confident as a kitten in a dog shelter.

It went ok. But they didn’t buy it. They want to see some more of mine, hampered only by the fact I haven’t got another one ready, but I will have. Today I had three ideas for doctoring the script of Not Your Heart Away to make a more obvious transition from the middle to the end, which I’d thought was so screamingly obvious that it didn’t need saying. Apparently it did and if I had they might have optioned it. They had a copy of the book, so I hope that next weekend someone is sitting in their chair saying ‘do you think it’s too late to change our minds about this?’

So we’ll see next time. Now all I have to do is write it again.

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The word on the street

martinNYHAAnother happy reader. That could be the beer though.

Word seems to be getting round at last and sales are picking up. Not Your Heart Away is getting some lovely reviews and the huge compliment of being invited to pitch to turn it into a full-length feature film by Cascade, this coming Thursday. If you haven’t got your copy yet you can buy it here on Amazon.

So far, fingers crossed, not a single negative review, apart from one person who has un-liked me and the book on Facebook and refused to talk to me since she read it. It’s fiction, for heaven’s sake. It can’t be that bad, surely?

And another sale today. It seems to be going down well despite being set firmly in a blurry late 1970s- mid-1980s timeframe. I was worried this would limit the audience a bit so I checked with the Office for National Statistics. These are the figures the government uses. Quite interesting stuff, especially useful for defeating pub bores talking about immigration, but that’s another story.

People aged between 40 and 65 amount to one in three of the UK population. 15 to 30s are just one in five people in the UK. So much for teens being the only market. My generation are the majority. And we can remember this stuff…..

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