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.

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I saw an advert for a writing magazine today, explaining why writers used to use double-spacing on the page.

Maybe I should explain the concept, as it’s so obviously now not what people do, yes dear reader, even me.

It used to mean leaving a blank line between each line you type. In those impossibly far-off days when I learned on my bright orange portable Smith-Corona at the South Glamorgan Institute of Higher Education I wanted to be a journalist. Sort-of wanted to, anyway. We had to learn how to type and take shorthand, or at least T-line shorthand. The idea was you typed your stuff out and then somebody else sub-edited it, checking it for spelling, typos, grammer and style. I know, ludicrous over-manning, isn’t it? You can get a machine to do that. Well, you can now. You couldn’t then.

Given that the copy was on bits of paper – and yes, I am aware how much this is coming to resemble something Howard Carter (not to be confused with Howard Jones, which is all too easy to do for someone of my generation) might have deduced in the tomb of Tutankhamun, however it’s said now – someone actually had to take a biro, preferably red, and mark-up the errors in a code of notches and marks that even then went back years. If an extra word was needed say, or the sub thought these three words could be two and needed to be moved the other end of the sentence anyway, he’d – no, wait, honestly – write the words on the paper and maybe draw an arrow to show where they should go. The blank line between the lines gave him somewhere to do it. And yes, subs were almost always men in those days. Crazy times, hey?

After that we all trapped a bison in a pit and went down the pub.

But there was always a double-meaning to writing between the lines. Roy Harper even had an album called In Between Every Line. There was a romance to it, often one you’d sadly read into letters from your old girlfriend at school telling you about a trip to York at the weekend or somewhere equally implausible when you lived in Wiltshire, the reasons for which you didn’t really need invisible ink to work out. There was the spice and danger of No Man’s Land about the between the lines concept too, the haunted place that Biggles and Drummond and countless others found themselves pitched into by accident, stuck between the Hun’s front lines and our own, in the mythical 1916 that clearly still tormented some of the most elderly teachers at school. Some of ours were certainly old enough to have shouldered a Lee-Enfield.

So it was odd, anyway, to see double-space typing being reinvented the same day as the news the Telegraph is to merge with the Sunday Telegraph broke. I don’t really care what happens to the Sunday Telegraph but I do care about the inability of the BBC to report a story without non-sequiturs, or to ask questions that mean anything when they’re clearly being fed nonsense. Perhaps they think it’s impolite these days.

The man from the Telegraph explained it. Or maybe he was a Professor of Journalism, which would make it even more tragic. The two papers are going digital, he said. The Telegraph was one of the first papers to do this, even before the millenium. Ex-pats in Spanish marinas could happily fulminate about Engerlund goindahnvatube without even needing to go and talk to people with dark skins at the newspaper stall.

The Telegraph had found it was stuck with all this expensive kit for printing ink onto paper, presses that cost millions and had a re-sale value of pennies if you could find anybody who wanted one in the first place and had the cranes and lorries and the skills to get it out of the building and re-assembled without reducing it to scrap. So the obvious thing to do is sack some of the editorial staff. Obviously. The people who do the things that the readers actually chose the product for. It’s not that the Telegraph isn’t making a profit. Just not enough profit for the people who own it, so they’re going to get rid of the people who make the customers come and buy it. Sometimes I really wish I’d been to business school, so I could understand this stuff.

The Telegraph will turn into Yahoo! News, a home for the useless, reduced to re-packaging Sky News and anything somebody else did to achieve a homogenised product that will investigate precisely nothing at all but will let you know when Kim Kardashian’s silicon enhancement check-up is due. And it’ll have even more errors, real, basic type-errors, because for some reason it’s almost impossible to check things on screen.

I typed 110,000 words for Not Your Heart Away. I checked it again and again and again. Someone else edited it as well. I ordered some proof copies because I wanted it out as a paperback as well. And that was when I saw the mistakes.

I couldn’t believe it. In some parts of the book there was a mistake on every page. Other places it was fine for ten pages or so, but then the most basic typos would be there again. Two words the same. A word that obviously hadn’t been deleted when two sentences were cut and spliced together.  It re-convinced me that you can’t edit well on screen, however many times you go over it. I think I’ve got them all now. I hope so anyway.

Odd that now everyone uses a keyboard absolutely no-one is taught how to type as part of their elementary education let alone higher studies but as Molesworth used to say, let it pass.


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On Kindle Now!

Finally, Not Your Heart Away has gone live on Kindle. I’m still waiting for the proofs for the paper edition, which should be with me tomorrow, March 1st, but until then you’ll just have to be digital like Max Headroom for those old enough to remember him. That’s everyone who might or might not recognise an echo of themselves in the book, of course.

So please, if you don’t want to read something by a ghost-writer, if you do want something which isn’t about Agas, failed marriages, the USA or London, you might give this a go.

Half in love with his girlfriend, wholly besotted with someone who isn’t, half obsessional and wholly out of his depth, Ben’s standing on the edge of a cliff he doesn’t even realise is there. But then, so was Claire. The only difference was, she knew it. Click on the picture to get your copy today.

Cafe bar window




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Self-Publishing, Vanity Publishing, Agents and the Press

Last week all of Facebook was treated to the earth-shattering news that Fleet Street Fox had gone to her own book launch and lots of whisky was drunk. Fleet Street Fox, for those who don’t know, is a woman who has a column in the Daily Mirror, who writes occasionally thought-provoking pieces on who said what and what they might have thought about it and whose latter media career is based on a lie. The central conceit is that She Cannot Be Named because she Knows Too Much.

As any good spy knows, the way to maintain anonymity is to publicise your own press launch and make sure your full-face photos go all over the internet. There isn’t even an attempt to say ‘ok, I had to be anonymous before the book came out’. It was just made-up.

The same week I approached a literary agent, one who specialised in fiction. Not ‘my identity has to be kept secret until it doesn’t’ fiction, but literary fiction, a book that didn’t involve me saying how for example, Fleet Street Fox’s ex went off with someone else and how she dealt with it all, with hilarious consequences, but an actual work of fiction, 110,000 words that comprisse Not Your Heart Away.


It’s not in the same league as Jordan’s new work of fiction, obviously, the central fiction there being that Jordan/Katie Price had anything at all to do with writing it. As she said, she doesn’t even read them, let alone hammer the keyboard herself. No, much like AA Gill, who used to claim to be dyslexic, everything said to be written by Katie Price isn’t written by Katie Price. Obviously, post-Blair and the White Queen’s mantra that words mean anything you want them to mean, not actually writing anything doesn’t mean she isn’t an author and shouldn’t be described as one by her agents, publishers and publicists.

The agent I contacted helped explain why traditional print media is dying without mentioning blow-up dolls pretending to write books even once. Have you approached any other agents? Well, you better not have, because we don’t want to waste our time. We want a clear eight weeks to read your stuff. We won’t acknowledge getting your email, because that’s how busy and important we are. In fact, most of our readers are so busy that they aren’t reading anything this year, presumably while they’re finding someone to write Jordan’s stuff for her. If we don’t take your stuff on, we won’t tell you. If we don’t talk to you it means we’re not going to be talking to you.

So let me see if I’ve understood this. I send them my stuff. They don’t say if they’ve got it. If I’ve sent it to anyone else they don’t want to know. If they don’t want to do anything with it they won’t tell me and it’ll be two months before they tell me if they do.

The single word response ‘bollocks’ must spring to many people’s lips. It does beg the question, what are agents for?

The answer isn’t to publish your stuff, because CreateSpace and Kindle and a load of others will do that for you, along with a proper real grown-up ISBN code and a paper proof copy.

There seem to be two Big Questions any aspiring author needs to ask themselves:

Q1) Am I Jordan?

Q2) Have I been on TV lately?

If the answer to both questions is no, don’t bother agents. Meanwhile, does anyone have any ideas why book publishing is suffering? Anyone?


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Not Your Heart Away On Kindle

Just starting to finish editing the Not Your Heart Away MS for Kindle. It’s taking a lot longer than I thought it would. I can’t quite believe I typed that badly. But I also can’t believe Microsoft Word is such a pile of crap that it leaves in things that simply aren’t there on screen. Quite where it gets its ideas about English is something else again.

So what’s it about?

Ben met Claire in the late 1970s, the summer before everyone left for university. And in many ways, that was it. After a magical trip to the theatre Ben discovers she’s about to leave for America, starting a summer job that might just last a lifetime.

After a bohemian week of drifting about London and with the sense of the ice cracking under their feet, Ben comes to realise how much she means to him. And then she disappears.

More than twenty years later Ben thinks he’s found her again, thanks to an old school-friend and a little help from Facebook. But the course of true obsession rarely runs smoothly. Neither does friendship, cars, history, wife-swapping or love. Especially not love.

Haunted by the spires and farms of that summer and the blue remembered hills of Claire’s jeans Ben keeps asking himself the question Bob Marley sang at every party back then. Is this love? Is this love that he’s feeling? He wants to know now. Before it’s too late.


Meanwhile, back to putting in the hyperlinks on the Contents page. Is there any coffee going?

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Stuff to do

Busy day today. Dogs and SO and her daughter all cavorting around the flat at 06:00 in various states of undress. Dogs then decide they need a wee so a quick pyjama clad trip to the back garden, slinging Barbour over tracky bottoms and sliding feet into brown Lobbs as first available footwear.

Have to Kindle Not Your Heart Away and get it out there, coming to think more and more that agents and publishers are soon going to be pretty much the same as chain-mail manufacturers, really skiled craftsmen that nobody really needs any more. Maybe a few beery blokes doing historical re-enactments will be into them.

I don’t like the idea of Googleopoly but like everything else, that’s what people want. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t buy it so apart from getting on the Richard & Judy show I can’t see what agents are now for. All it takes is a phone call and you either believe in it or there’s not much point churning it out.

Talking of which also working on TV version of Not Your Heart Away, which appeals to me greatly. There are some hugely visual elements of it, the UFO, the shipwreck, the car crashes, all of which would make a brilliant film or TV play.

I’ve re-installed my key customer-interfacing first cross-platform social media node, or Tweetdeck as we call it. Take the dogs out, go to Poundshop to buy them a towel because we’re having a big muddy walk later on, get some script down and Kindle publish the finished book MS.

I think it’s as ready as it’s going to be. This time my cross-platformness needs to be more interfacey.


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Total Horsemeat

For the past three weeks the government has, as usual, asked the companies who contribute to the government’s funding if they wouldn’t mind awfully doing something about the fact that ‘value’ food isn’t what people thought it was. Specifically, it was bits of old horses instead of cows. So if the supermarkets and supply chains could possibly get around to doing something about not breaking the law any more, not advertising falsely and not selling meat that was unfit for human consumption that would be much appreciated. No rush, obviously and equally obviously no hint of anyone being prosecuted for breaking the law, unless they were dreadful foreign types in faraway countries.

Our brave supermarketeers were portrayed as victims, this time of the dastardly Eastern Europeans. Sinister crime rings were dumping horses into the food chewed by plucky Brits. Nothing to do with the fact that the supermarkets didn’t know what was in their food and were breaking the law at all.

What happened was this. Tesco, Findus and other major food producers and retailers were caught red-handed with horse-meat in their burgers. First it was supposed to be ‘trace elements’ of DNA in the burgers, the kind of contamination you might get from picking up a pork chop with bare hands. Next it was 29% horse. Now Findus lasagne has been found to be 100% pure horse meat. Last week the head of the Food Standards Agency decided to lie about it on Radio 4. He said that nobody knew how the horse meat had got into the food chain and there was no danger.

Obviously if he didn’t know how the meat got into the food chain he could not know whether it was fit to eat or not. No-body challenged him that I’ve heard. Because fundamentally, we really don’t care.

We want it cheap. Cheap is good. More is better. We want to watch more and more cookery programmes and eat more and more processed meals. Read any Mintel report you like to check the truth of that. I’ve asked in five-star hotels if the eggs were free range and got asked what that meant and then what difference did it make?

When it comes to food, people want to say they care. But as Tesco almost say every day, very little helps.


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The Cult of Cheap

This morning I saw an advert for some writing that needed doing.

“I need six articles for my website.”

Ok, what about?

“Six different medical topics about how nutrition can prevent these six things.”

Go on.

“You’ll need to do the research yourself.’


“In a week. For $20.”

I saw another ad, for help wanted to do a market research survey. I’ve done these for 20 years. I’ve worked on them all around the world. I sort of know what I’m talking about on this topic, on a good day. But not in web world I don’t.

Someone wanted to survey IT workers. Actually, they didn’t. they wanted to say they had done it. They wanted to survey one company and extrapolate the results for the entire industry. By email, obviously, as that sounds nice and cheap. Yes, I’d have to find 100 people’s email adresses. Didn’t we mention that? Well, that’s officially not a problem and if it is then you’re being negative.

The normal email response rate is well below 3%. To get 100 people that means the company would have to have at least 3000 IT workers. Given that a company is likely to have other workers as well that means the entire ‘survey’ would be skewed towards just the very biggest companies.

Then they wanted ‘inferences’ drawn from the quantitative research. Let’s think about this a minute. We’re measuring how many and using results that say things like 59% t ‘infer’ what people mean. That is what qualitative research is for.

I estimated if this job was done properly it would cost between £5,000 and £10,000, depending how much ‘inference’ you preferred to actually knowing what was going on. But most of all I recommended not even starting it this way, because this excuse for research was just going to produce nonsense. Give me a call, I said. I’ll talk you through it.

Difficult to work with, obviously. They didn’t call. They put the job out to someone else. For £158. Nice and cheap. And a total waste of every one of those pounds.

It is endemic. It is not about the recession. It is about a fundamental attitude shift commoditising life, where cost has to be inversely, perversely correlated with value; the message that cheap is good and more is better.  You cannot get something for nothing. Ask the Daily Mail, or any of the other market champions who use half their space to condemn ‘scroungers’ who want to ‘get something for nothing’ and the other half telling people that’s exactly what they can buy.

And maybe that’s the key word: buy. Better value equals lower price. And anyone who says otherwise is a cheat. Welcome to the brave new world.



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Total Horse Burgers

Once again the food chain has been shown to be essentially lies. The supermarkets don’t know where their food comes from, nor do the wholesalers. The people who eat it mostly don’t care.

The issue isn’t that the meat isn’t what it says it is. That’s bad enough. The real issue is the barrage of insulting lies the government, every government, feels obliged to trot out to protect contributors to Party funds.

“We don’t know what’s in the food chain,’ said the head of the Food Standards Agency. ‘There is no danger.’

If a corner-shop had been caught selling meat that was unfit for human consumption – all horsemeat in the UK, by definition – they would be shut, immediately.

Have you seen any supermarkets closing?

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Strange Brew

I’ve just finished a manuscript. Someone said ‘oh, its a bit autobiographical, is it?’

I prefer the phrase roman a clef, moi meme. But maybe. A bit. It worked for Charles Dickins and Will Self, after all.

Very strange things are happening with this MS. A friend suggested a better ending. Re-wrote. Then discovered new Facebook pictures that seemed to substantiate the fiction as if in a mirror.

As the man said, strange brew, look what’s inside of you.

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