Do We Ever Know What’s Going On In Someone’s Head?

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I would say it has been a strange few weeks, but frankly these days it often feels like the whole world has gone mad, yet alone my little corner of it. I can’t tell you all that is going on because some of it is not my story to tell, but the ripples are spreading and it seems pertinent to the event I attended all the way back on the first of July.

I like many people have picked up different groups and pages in my Facebook and there was a message that you dread to see announcing that someone had died. It wasn’t someone I knew but a couple of my people were close to them and are hurting pretty bad right now. It feels like we’re not great at dealing with death at the best of times but in this age of fragmented local communities, overlapping digital spaces, and all the rest of modern life it is hard to manage that grieving process in a unified way to find some sense of closure.

The reason I’m writing about this is because on the first of July there were IMAX screenings around the world of the film Soundgarden: Live from the Artist Den.

I would say that I am a Soundgarden fan, but I am not the Soundgarden fan in my household as they are one my of partner’s favourite bands and she loves all things Chris Cornell so we were both incredibly upset when he died by suicide in 2017.

In fact we still are and so the start of this film was really jarring given that it opens with Cornell giving an introduction to the gig that we were about to watch. There he was in front of us, quite literally larger than life on an IMAX screen talking from beyond the grave about a preference for playing in intimate venues where you can look the audience in the eye.

We had been in such audiences on more than one occasion. Standing in theatres in the UK we had seen him sing with both Audioslave and Soundgarden when they reformed.

One of the impressive things about the reformed Soundgarden was that they didn’t just go out and play greatest hits sets, though they could have. No, they wrote an album called King Animal that is as good as anything they had previously put out, toured it, and were working on a new album. My partner and I were looking forward to new music; ready to go see the band again when they came back to the UK. That won’t happen now.

The Live from the Artist Den film is not the first thing of Cornell’s to be released after his death. However, the show that was shot back in 2013 at the end of the King Animal tour is legendary amongst Soundgarden fans even though they hadn’t seen the film and only a few had attended the show. The film was finally shown as part of the recent Cornell memorial concert and ahead of it being released at the end of the month; fans were given a chance to get the full viewing experience for one night only in various IMAX cinemas around the world.

And what a show. The band were on great form that night, playing songs from across their career including some they rarely played and one that had never been played lie before. I have always made sure that I was a drummer who didn’t just listen to drummers and Soundgarden really are a musician’s band. They play with song structure and time signatures without making a thing of it and have always been sonically interesting. I have always loved Kim Thyall’s guitar tone. The benefit of this being an intimate show is that we have close up views of the band without camera men being right up in the band’s face and you could get a real look at everyone playing. I absolutely looked up Thyall’s gigging rig on the way home having seen his use of a Mesa/Boogie combo amp, with a head stacked on top flanked by two cabs.

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I am a drummer though, and watching Matt Cameron is always fun as he’s a really good player, who doesn’t dominate but enables Soundgarden to explore however they want. He, like a lot of the drummers that I am drawn to, has an interest in jazz and manages to play complex patterns and songs whilst singing backing vocals. Oh, and in case that wasn’t enough he also plays for Pearl Jam.

What I had forgotten was what a compelling, almost belligerent at times stage presence Ben Sheppard can be. Soundgarden were not a flashy band full of stage choreography but Sheppherd was the wildcard to Cornells centre stage charisma, stalking the stage with his bass as he provided so much more than the low end of the band.

The two obvious things with Chris Cornell are the voice and the song writing. So many good songs and yes the high vocal in Jesus Christ Pose is not the same, but once the band was going he carried them all night. However, sat watching this time capsule of a performance was so uncanny at times. After the jarring opening we have a straight ahead concert but it was a different viewing experience seeing it on the big screen with the cinema sound system.

It’s a beautiful performance, but whilst all shows are unique in their time and place – there can’t be another one with Chris and that is sad. It’s another reminder that he’s gone and as much as we wanted more music, there are friends and family who miss him.

Children who no longer have a father.

A hole in the world where a person should be.

Grief is a funny thing. I’m not sure it fades with time so much as lurks for the next reminder and maybe those get spaced out more but they still sneak up on you and hit you with the same power.

There’s a Toby Jug of the cricketer commentator Brian Johnston that I inherited from my gran as cricket was one of the interests we shared. It’s not a pretty thing (sorry Gran) but I love it a lot and it brings me happiness. When England recently won the cricket World Cup recently I shed tears several times in the aftermath, and partly that was the release of tension from following the tense conclusion of the game but also that my gran never got to see the turnaround of the one day team and this win that seemed so impossible only a few years ago. I think she would have enjoyed it despite her preference for test cricket (I confess I could be projecting my own feelings there).

There’s something about what the trigger is that affects how the latest wave of sadness hits. I’ve shed plenty of tears putting this post together, but I can listen to Soundgarden again. I can hear, ‘Nobody sings like you anymore’ and hold it together but then remembering this picture sets me off every time:

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That picture was shared Tom Morello shortly after Cornell’s death and it gets me every time as they just look so damn happy.

That was the theme that kept cropping up in the aftermath of Cornell’s death. He was in a good place, he had plans, he was the last person you’d expect it from.

But the signs aren’t always that obvious. And sometimes it doesn’t take that much for someone to be gone.

I’m not sure we ever know what is going on in someone’s head.

I know people who are still with us despite past attempts and who are grateful they are. I know too many people hurt or wrestling with their own brains.

There are posts that I see on social media encouraging people to ask for help or check in on each other. Check in on the strong ones. The ones you might not expect as depression is too often hidden, skulking in the shadows and avoiding the follow up question we might never ask.

We should do all this.

I read a fascinating article in the New Statesman about how mindfulness has privatised a social problem. I believe it raises some really interesting wider questions, but sometimes we need to survive the environment we’re in. Given the news these days a change in social approach could be a ways off.

So whilst we be the change we want to see. We also have to stay afloat and look after ourselves as well. They are turning self-care into an industry just like mindfulness but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to take moments for ourselves so be a little kinder to each other. Check in on your friends as it is not always easy to reach out for help. They might feel like a burden even when they’re not and sitting with someone is more useful than trying to fix them.

Despite what some might tell you, humans are social creatures. We might need different sized clans around us but very few can survive alone. If you think that no one will miss you, it’s not true.

The ripples are out there.

The dance of life, death and taxes.

It’s the bits in between that are important.

Those infinitely varying links.

We can’t know what’s going on in somebody else’s head.

That’s why we have to ask.

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or emailjo@samaritans.org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

The Best Kind of Questions

One of the things that is a definite balm to the soul of a writer of children’s books is those moments where you get feedback that lets you know that you have reached a child’s imagination.

I was lucky enough to be approached by a teacher friend who has some students reading my first book, A Ghost Called Dog and they had some questions about the backstory of the dog prior to his becoming deceased.

I was more than happy to answer them and I am sharing them here in case you enjoy the answers too as children ask the best questions.

I should warn you that there are some spoilers here so you may want to read the book first if you want to get the story completely unprepared but otherwise I hope you enjoy.

 

To Mrs Allen’s students,

I was very happy to receive your questions that Mrs Allen passed on, and I will do my best to answer them shortly, but if you would allow me the time I would like to spend a moment preparing you for the answers.

I suspect that humans have been telling stories since there have been humans.  Since the days we first huddled round fires in the dark and started to talk to each other. Stories are one of the ways we make sense of the world around us and they have a special kind of magic of their own. A good story will fire your imaginations but in the retelling it takes on a life of its own. Whether by accident or design a story will always change in the telling, even the book you have read is different to how the story first appeared in my head.

I tell you this not to say my book is good or special, but to say that I am truly grateful that you cared enough to ask these questions. I will do my best to answer them from the world which I have created but please remember that if you don’t like my answers, you can always make up your own.

Keep doing that and maybe you’ll write you own books one day.

Why aren’t there more ghost dogs?

There are very few ghosts in the world at all and even fewer ghost animals. Usually, something bad has to happen to someone to make their spirit need to linger with the living. For animals this is rare because animals are consumed with animal things like food, and head scratches but not so much with complex human things like mathematics or history. However, there is a sacred tree in Abby and Chris’s garden which is a link to the Land of Fairy and powerful magic. When Abby and Chris awaken a spirit by playing in the sacred tree, magic seeps back into the world and calls the spirits of animals that were buried nearby into the world. The ghosts in this book are unique as far as I know.

How did the dog die? Did it get hurt?

These are really good questions. This is a writer’s way of stalling for time, but the honest answer is that I don’t know but there is a reason for this. Even if Chris had asked Dog how he died (and I don’t know why he didn’t), I’m not sure woof would explain the answer. However, we do know that there were a series of pets buried in the garden that came back as ghosts thanks to magic, and I like to think they were all much loved family pets who reached a good age and then died of natural causes. Why else would they be buried in the garden?

Why doesn’t the dog have a ghost collar? Why isn’t the dog with its ghost owner?

As I said, I don’t know for certain what happened to Dog but I believe his owner is still alive as dogs live much shorter lives on average than humans, and Dog was only brought back by the stray powerful magic that seeped into the garden. A collar is a human thing to denote ownership of a pet, but you can’t own the spirit of something and so when the magic brought back the spirit of Dog, his ghost came back as an animal without a collar.

I hope this answers your questions, or at least gives you something to think about.
Gavin

 

Let The Story Find You

The start of the year can be difficult for some. Not everyone enjoys the holiday season and once January rolls into view we still have a couple of months of cold weather (in the northern hemisphere anyway), dark nights and according to the now annual news story the supposed saddest day of the year.

However, as someone who blogs about the NFL I get the excitement of the playoffs to carry me through January and into the NFL off-season that started in February. I am intending to write a few more off-season NFL posts this year, but I don’t cover the league in detail during this time so my schedule is undeniably easier. This enables me to get various bits of writing admin done and I can also pick up the pace on whatever book I’m currently working on.

I have been dutifully working my way through the first draft of the next book in my current series all through the NFL season (a savvy marketer might have a title for said series by book two…) and it is feeling good so far, but that’s likely because I haven’t got to the serious part of editing yet.

There are a couple of things that I have picked up from other writers over the years that I want to quickly run through before I steer this post to some kind of conclusion, or at least write enough for the title to make some sense.

Firstly, I’m a big believer in the first draft’s job being to exist, all it needs to do is get you from beginning to end. Then the serious work of redrafts, polishing and improving the story until it actually works can begin.

The second things is that I also like the idea of classifying writers into gardeners and architects, which I picked up from George R R Martin. A writer who is an architect plans out everything before they write while the gardeners discover things as their writing grows. One of the reasons that I like it is whilst the idea feels true, there is some give in the analogy as thanks to time spent in my own garden and years of watching Grand Designs I’m very much aware that not all architects have everything as planned out before building begins as you might think and you definitely need some kind of plan if you hope to not have an overgrown mess for a garden. I think my partner and I have just about managed that in our garden, but I think there are probably elements of both in most writer’s approaches, it is a matter of which approach they favour.

Personally, I think of myself as a semi-organised gardener when it comes to writing. My book ideas usually has an overall arc or theme, some key moments I want to hit and perhaps  a plot plan that I base on something John Truby called The Seven Key Steps of Story Structure in his book The Anatomy of Story which is something I use to help me work through a problem if I have lost my thread or if I need to tighten the focus of part of the thing I am writing.

However, how I really find my way is to write. I’ve become more comfortable with this as I’ve finished more books, both thanks to repetition but also as I refine my process. I now have a better idea of when I need to stop editing digitally and read on paper (the change in format really helps your brain see the words you have written anew), how long I need leave a draft before I go back to it, and increasingly the timing of talking to my editor versus setting the ball rolling for production. I’m still working on judging the occasions where I have written a full explanation of how something works so that I am happy it makes sense, but knowing when I need to remove it from the actual book as it doesn’t truly serve the story to make a reader go through every single step with me.

These past two months since the new year has been spent still trying to get from beginning to end of a first draft. I restarted my novel after a bit of a break over Christmas, and the little and often approach has allowed me time to realise that part of the overall plot actually belongs in the next book rather than in the one I’m currently writing, balancing out the two books that I have planned to finish the series. At least that is what I am thinking at the moment, but as you might have picked up from this post, plans can very easily change through the process of writing and while for some writers this discovery might be made over pages of notes or a complex web of cards, I realised the big move of plot whilst cleaning out my rabbits. Repetitive manual tasks are great for this kind of clear your head and the answer will come moments. Running is another favourite time for my mind to roam and come up with suggestions because I find that a lot of the inspiration part of the creative process occurs away from the keyboard. It is still important not to wait for inspiration to strike before you start to write. For me writing is a craft that benefits tremendously from regular practise. There is always work you can be doing to hone your craft, just make sure that when the flash of inspiration strikes you make a note of what it is there and then.

This is what I mean by let the story find you.

If for instance, you are working on a book and find yourself say over a dozen chapters in and beginning to worry about how big this first draft might get. Well that is going to float round in your brain whether you want it to or not but if you leave it floating round rather than chasing a solution, then inspiration might just strike when you least expect it. Of course, the important thing with writing is the work, but I do think there is an important balance to be struck between creative problem solving, honing your craft through regular writing, repeated drafts, and finally constructive feedback from people you trust.

So if you are stuck, keep writing your words as you don’t want to get out the habit of writing, but don’t worry too much about what you put on the page initially as it can always be fixed later and make sure you give yourself plenty of time in the kind of states where ideas come to you. Be it in the shower, running, or doing household chores. It doesn’t matter what works for you just as long as it does. You might be surprised what you can achieve if you let the story come to you.

Why do you write like you’re running out of time?

Here was are in 2019 and I was supposed to have a summary of 2018 already posted for you, but life got in the way so I’m going try to fold that into my first post of the new year as I talk about what it was like to be in the room where it happened. Now, that’s a second Hamilton reference in this post already so no prizes for guessing what I saw last week. Now, I won’t win any prizes for originality or foresight if I tell you that Hamilton is brilliant so rather than rehashing what others have written I’ll talk you through my thoughts as I look back on the last year, including some bits of pieces that hit me at the show and after.

So, where to begin? Always an important question for a writer to answer. When you last heard from this plucky scribe you either were reading about my Halloween trip to see The Dresden Dolls, or you got an insight to how December was treating me and some thoughts on books that I’d been reading from my newsletter.

What’s that you say? You didn’t know I had newsletter? Well indeed I do. It comes out roughly once a month, covering what I’ve been up to, thoughts on mostly books but films and other things get in as well and that’s where you’ll get early warning of things I’m scheming up. You can sign-up at https://tinyletter.com/Gavin_Writes and I’d love to hear from you or for you to share it with the writer or reader in your life.

So looking back it’s been an up and down year, much like most of life. The stories that I could spin you about health, love, death and illness, but they’re not all mine to tell. Some of them might creep into something because a as writer life’s events have a habit of slipping into stories one way or another, but if I’m doing it right it will be in ways that services the story and won’t be recognisable. The early advice to a writer is always to write what you know, but I don’t believe that should be the limit and as long as you do your research and start with good intentions then I don’t think you can too far wrong.

It has been a good year for seeing and doing though.

I managed to complete my fourth year of blogging about the NFL and have completed the regular season on my fifth.

I published my second book, a sequel to A Ghost Called Dog, entitled The Price of Magic, that picks up four years later from the original events in Ghost and carries on the story arc. I have also made a good start on the third book, but there’s a long way to go before I start to think about publishing it. There’s plenty more to do with the first two in terms of sales before I know how to publish the third, but I’m thinking about it. Right now I’m making lists and jotting down ideas, but you’ll be hearing from me.

I’ve kept this blog ticking over with posts about the second book and a couple of events I have been to. I plan on doing the same next year as it’s nice to keep the writing hand in when book research takes over, plus it’s always handy to try new things. I managed to see two bands I never thought I’d see last year, writing up my experience of both The Dresden Dolls and The Gaslight Anthem.

I perhaps should have written up my experiences with the band I’m in, called Diceratops, who got through to the finals of the Metal 2 the Masses Leicester competition and so although I didn’t get to play Bloodstock, we got to play at the De Montford Hall in Leicester, and network with some very cool musicians. I got a new phone last year that seems to help no end taking decent pictures (so much its even helping me learn what I need to work on with my digital SLR) so here are a few of my favourite photos from the competition. We are entering again this year, and perhaps it will be third year lucky to get to the festival.

I’m not good enough at lists to be able to say with absolute certainty what my favourite things were of last year other than book, which was undoubtedly Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers who is rapidly becoming one of my favourite authors. I wrote about it in a newsletters so feel free to follow the link there to take a look.

I also got to see a few shows in 2018, including Matilda and Agatha Christie’s Love from a Stranger at The Curve in Leicester, and both parts of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child where I was suitably nerdy.

I also got to start the year seeing Hamilton as I previously said. My partner and I really wanted to see it, even before various family members saw it (some of them multiple times) and so off we went last week. I had become pretty obsessed by the soundtrack in the last couple of months. I’m still not good at learning whole songs, but various lines and bits jump out to me. Whilst I don’t exactly relate to all the experiences of the ten-dollar Founding Father without a farther, but the title of this post comes from Non-Stop and I certainly know why I write like I’m running out of time. Mostly because I am, which is probably the kind of thing a therapist would want to interrogate me about. It certainly might explain me trying to do all the things I can, but back to the musical. I might actually just be belatedly falling in love with Lin-Manuel Miranda having discovered his previous musical In The Heights through getting the digital copy of Hamilton:The Revolution. I’ll be getting the full book from my friendly local book shop as I didn’t fancy hauling it back on the tube and nursing it under my seat at the show.

‘I will send a fully armed battalion
To remind you of my love!’

I’m pretty familiar with the soundtrack, but it was great to see Hamilton performed so you can correct all the lines you’ve wrongly attributed by voice and it’s pretty amazing to see how it is staged. I’ve always had a soft spot for King George in the play and he was suitably fantastic, but then so was everyone. I missed the doubling up of parts before reading the programme, but the nearest thing the whole show has to a misstep is having to suspend disbelief for an adult playing a nine-year-old son. However, I was taken away by the story and had new record set for number of times the second half made me cry. I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but let’s just say the senselessness of duelling over honour is really jarring to a modern ear.

‘Look around, look around, at how
lucky we are to be alive right now.’

Stepping back out into the world was also a jar but I’ll take a lot of memories with me, including the cheers at:

‘Immigrants: We get the job done.’

It feels like we are living in tumultuous times right now. A cursory glance at the news will generate a litany of things to sap the mind and spirit, so it’s been nice to take stock and remind myself of what I achieved and the things that lift the spirit. Art should challenge and throw a mirror to the world, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be entertained and cheered by it at the same time. There is space for different types and I hope to produce more in the coming years, including some more things for this site ahead of the next book.

So, as ever, to all the things!

A Halloween Night Out

‘There’s no end to the love you can give
When you change your point of view to underfoot’

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I have had a good year for gigs. My band played De Montford hall as part of the Metal 2 the Masses competition, I got to see The Gaslight Anthem earlier this year for the tenth anniversary of The ’59 Sound and on Halloween I got to see The Dresden Dolls for the first time on their 18th bandiversary as Brian and Amanda met at a Halloween party. The warm up show and the two nights at the Troxy were the first time they played in London since 2006 so I had hardly been negligent but I’m so glad I got a chance to see them.

I met up with some friends before the show, but once we got there we all ended up going our separate ways but I had a brilliant time. There were plenty of people enthusiastically embracing both the Halloween and punk cabaret aesthetic but for me, I was happy with seeing the show from a distance and taking everything in. I don’t have the kind of brain that gives itself over wholly to anything, plus I am too old and fragile of head for moshing these days. I will sing lines and bits of songs but as much as anything I watched the night unfold over a couple of hours quietly taking away different memories and thoughts.

There is something glorious about the way Amanda and Brian interact whilst playing. As someone who has been playing music and been in bands for closer to twenty-five years that I’d care to admit, the simple and not so simple interaction of two people playing off each other is a joy to behold. I’ve played in various bands over the years and there has always been a sacrifice to the collective but watching this duo there was a playful push and pull that interwove throughout the songs. I’m lucky in that I’m usually not the kind of drummer who sits and only focuses on the drummer at a show, I generally listen to the entire sound but with this duo I could afford to focus more on Brian as he played on his kit, rims and even hardware. I’m not sure I have ever had quite that level of musical freedom when playing on stage. Someone has to be the bedrock a band can build on and whilst in the groups I play with that is more often the bass that is usual, Brian was playing the kind of tricks that for me remain firmly stuck in the rehearsal space.

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What I also enjoyed was Brian talking about the importance of being open to possibility and creativity, which are the kind of words that are easy to make sound earnest and worthy but in this gig space felt warm and truthful as he discussed their first rehearsal.

A mention should also go to the theatricality of Dolls. There’s a reason they term it punk cabaret and not just because Amanda took the opportunity to sing Amsterdam from the staircase of the Troxy, which is a pretty amazing venue, although I’m a sucker for Art Deco, and is definitely sympathetic to the Dolls style.

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Then there are the songs. I’m a serial lover of moments and snatches of lyrics. I have loved the start of Delilah since I first heard it, and as much as I enjoyed the whole set, it’s those moments where I feel literal goosebumps that stick with me.

I found Amanda Palmer through Neil Gaiman and so it was a nicely circular moment when his choice of song for the band to play turned out to yield a personal highlight of the night. The way Amanda introduced the song Boston, the situation it was written in, and the way they performed it was damn near perfect. It’s not that I stood there relating to the lyrics personally, but the writer bits of my brain that wander round the world putting me in other people’s shoes and asking questions shut up and latched on to the story being told. I may not have shed the tears Amanda mentioned in the intro but I really wasn’t far away.

The Halloween spirit of trickery wandered onto the stage as ‘Oasis’ reformed with Andrew O’Neill retaking the stage to provide lead work and a certain writer, who had come to the gig as himself playing bass to boot.

Finally, after an evening of coming together and reminders of the importance of voting in the upcoming American elections the band finished up with Sing, bringing the whole venue together in song along with various guests lined up across the stage. A great couple of hours to celebrate with Amanda and Brian the eighteen years from when they first met.

A New Book & a New Season

I sign off to all the things a lot because by my nature I want to do all the things.

I’m currently listening to the Revolutions podcast cover the French revolution and you best believe that I want to read more about it and a tiny part of me thinks hey, learning French to read original sources would be cool.

What I am actually doing is working on a new book and blogging for another NFL season. The NFL blog started as a step towards becoming a more serious writer. It gave me somewhere to practice that had scheduled content that would ensure I have to kept at it and establish a writing routine. Over the years it has helped me by making me write a lot of words, learn more about American Football, think about coaching and leadership, get comfortable talking on a podcast, build and improve websites via Wordpres.com – the list goes on.

So whilst I have started my fifth year writing the blog and still I haven’t been hired by the NFL, ESPN, or The Ringer, it is still teaching me things. The custom menu bar I’ve just put up on thewrongfootball.com will enable me to sort out some navigation bits for my writer’s site shortly and I literally figured that out last week now that my friend is writing posts rather than producing podcasts and I wanted to tidy up the blog streams.

What does this mean for writing? Well it is true my fiction writing slows down a little for the following four months, but it also gives a flow to the year that keeps both things fresh. I would have liked to have got a bit more writing done this summer, both fiction and for the NFL blog but publishing a book takes up a lot of time and the more you want to do with a book, the more it appears I need to research. That’s not because I didn’t know where things are going with the series of books I am writing, I have the outlines blocked out and various key plot points setup, but when you start to fill them in by writing the actual words you need the detail.

‘But don’t you make them up, out of your head? I thought you just asked what happened next.’ I don’t hear you ask.

I’m pretending one of you asked this question to get to the point I want to make, and feel free to read my guest blog here if you want to get the background on the above quote, because what I said was true. However, even if I have asked the question and know what is going to happen next – that doesn’t mean I know the how of it and one of things that I have to do is work out the mechanics of everything that is happening in my books for it to make sense to me. I am slowly getting better at learning what I need to cut from my early drafts so I can better judge what to show and what to hide, which is required to stop a living story becoming a dry list of details. Yet as someone who always wants to know how things work, I need to have as many details tied up as I can so that the story works as there is nothing as jarring in a book than when the story doesn’t hold true to its own internal logic.

As someone who writes the kind of story that frequently has magic or other worldly elements, these have to stay contained within a coherent structure that does more than simply resolve plot points for me. You can’t just produce a magic object to solve a problem you have written yourself into or rely on plot armour for your characters to remain unharmed. If you establish trust an audience will go with you, but only so far and even when you are making up entirely new things they feel more real if you can structure them in something analogous.  Or perhaps you’re trying to talk about something without just saying, here comes the bit on equality or how you should live your life.

As a writer I like to have a certain amount of research done, and I have gone back and done some more for this book having made a false start of the early chapters but I’m now at a point where I’m happy to keep working through the first draft, even if I have already found a topic that I need to investigate even more deeply. Yeah, it’s a tough job for a bibliophile, needing to read books to help further your craft or to fine tune a plot point, character trait, or if you want to write something based in psychological truth.

I’m trying to balance this against the NFL blog and researching marketing to try to get my books into more people’s hands. As someone who works full time, I cannot devote the time that some self-published authors do to events so whilst I’m not trying to sneak shortcuts, and I’m not afraid of hard work, I am trying to learn more to keep things rolling and to find new readers.

Still, it’s a part of modern publishing so I’ll keep plugging away and hope you hang in with me. I have so many more stories to tell and hopefully with your help I can find enough people to keep telling them to. If you’ve enjoyed either of the books give them a review or buy a copy as a present or recommend them to a librarian if you know one.

As for me, it’s back to the never ending job list that is life.

What’s next?

With This Pen…

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Just over a week ago I was at the Hammersmith Apollo watching The Gaslight Anthem (a band I never thought I’d get to see) and so taking inspiration from a friend of mine’s frequent music missives on Facebook I thought I would be a bit of music nerd and write about it. I hope you’ll indulge this writer a little.

So how did I find myself in London stood with my partner having made the pilgrimage down to London, bouncing up and down on my heals clutching my new band t-shirt?

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Well let’s start nine years ago with a different artist. In case you weren’t aware I am something of an American Football fan and in 2009 Bruce Springsteen played the half time show of the Super Bowl. Now Springsteen had basically passed me by at this point. I knew a couple of the famous songs and there was the obligatory copy of Born In The USA floating round my parents kitchen but I didn’t know him. The reason a band plays the Super Bowl is exposure (and occasionally because they’re football fans) and thanks to the fact that I was signed up to a music service not everyone had heard of in 2009 called Spotify, I was able to deep dive into his back catalogue and discover the artist completely separate from the bombastic Born in the USA arrangement and actually learn what that particular song is about.

Later that same year Springsteen played a headline set at Galstonbury and thanks to the BBC’s coverage I caught one of those moments that happen at festivals, when Springsteen joined a band called The Gaslight Anthem to play the title track from their current album The ’59 Sound.

Did you hear the ‘59 sound coming through on grandmother’s radio?
Did you hear the rattling chains in the hospital walls?
Did you hear the old gospel choir when they came to carry you over?
Did you hear your favourite song one last time?

The ’59 Sound

I wish it was a cooler story, but sales of the album basically doubled after that moment and I was one of those people having been listening to it a lot on Spotify.

I love the band and listened to their albums a lot. The ’59 Sound and its sequel American Slang still remind me of lifting weights in the garage of my old flat in Leicester and walking to work. However, I am not always great at converting loving a band to seeing them live and I never spotted the opportunity and after 2014’s Get Hurt that band went on hiatus and that was it.

The ’59 Sound is probably the defining album of The Gaslight Anthem and there’s a great oral history of the album and that Glastonbury moment here on The Ringer. I really enjoyed it and dug out my playlists and started listening and that might have been it had serendipity in the form of my friend Nat hadn’t stepped in.

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We then get chatting and then she mentions that they’re playing a show in London because as usual I’d missed the news that a band was touring, in this case to celebrate a decade since the release of The ’59 Sound. It’s one of those general bits of advice that float around these days that you won’t regret the money you spend on experiences and so having embraced this in recent years, particularly with music having had Chris Cornell pass away and feeling so lucky to see him a couple of times I got tickets.

And with this pen, I thee wed
From my heart to your distress”

Handwritten

So there I am bouncing up and down ready for the band and they open up with Handwritten. I’m not great at learning song lyrics. Hell it’s not exactly unusual for me to swap lines round when singing backup in my own band and I generally only have a few lines to learn per song. I have always grabbed snippets that speak to me and carry those fragments rattling round in my head. I’ve always loved the refrain at the end of Handwritten and although goosebumps rose almost as soon as the band starts playing, with the crowd singing along including me during the bits I could drag from my memory but when that refrain starts… it’s damn near perfect. That’s the joy of music to me, those brief glimpses of something other shared between bandmates, friends, and strangers forming a temporary community.

I understand the comparisons to Springsteen that get made, but for me it is to do with coming from a similar place and writing stories about people, but it’s different because how could it not be? There’s a propulsion to the majority of The Gaslight Anthem’s songs born of their punk influences but they have the secret weapon of Alex Rosamilia’s lead guitar work. Stood stage right and bent over his guitar he adds the lift of near continuous hooks as Brian sings his songs. That night Alex Levine casts a literal shadow on the venue’s wall as he steps up to sing backup while playing bass. I’m not one to obsess over drums parts when listening to albums so it’s not until I see the guys live that I gain a new respect for Benny Horowitz’s kinetic drumming that brings more subtlety than I had recognised as the band motor through their set. Apart from a few extended chats they rattle through the songs, including a straight play through of The ’59 Sound which doesn’t drag thanks to the quality of the album, an album that was apparently conceived with the songs in that order before they had even recorded the album.

I can’t reproduce the night for you, those moments live on in the memory of those of us who were there, but I can share a Spotiy playlist of the set list, which for me has a layer of memories created that night that I’ll be holding on to as long as I can.

If I close my eyes I could still be there.

“Mary, this station is playing every sad song
I remember like we were alive
I heard it Sunday morn’ from inside of these walls
In a prison cell, where we spent those nights

And they burned up the diner where I always used to find her
Licking young boys’ blood from her claws
And I learned about the blues from this kitten I knew
Her hair was raven and her heart was like a tomb

My heart’s like a wound”

Great Expectations