Back from the future – what I did with my gap year

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“Testing.” “Testing.”

Jeez, let me blow the dust off this thing.

Pffffffff.

Right! Stop the clock. I’m back. My self-imposed digital gap year (only it wasn’t a year, and I was still on Twitter, but hey) is over. And a lot has happened whilst I’ve been in digital exile I can tell you, and indeed will tell you, should you read on and not get distracted by a cat meme email recently arrived in your inbox.

First, let’s recap. Where have I been? And where did I go?

I walked away from this blog last July, somewhat mentally burnout. The plot of my latest novel had become more improbable and unfathomable than an MC Escher drawing, and the thought of blogging for the sake of blogging left me feeling underwhelmed – I refused to be a polluter, putting up posts with clickbait titles just for the hell of it. Nope, I was going to be shut up digital shop until there was something actual worth saying.

I figured it would only take a month for the mental clouds to clear and all to be sunny. I was wrong. It took 331 days for me to walk round the cranial snooker table, weigh up all the angles, chalk the cerebral cue and draw out an overblown snooker metaphor to play the next shot.

However, the time spent away has been helpful, and even productive. And I return here refreshed with mind abuzz and all creative cylinders doing whatever it is cylinders are supposed to do. So, here’s a brief update on what’s been happening, in order of magnitude.

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1. I launched a business.

In February 2016 I launched Wigwam eBooks – an epublishing business that helps authors get their books onto Amazon by formatting their Word docs into ebooks.

I’d wanted to set up a company like this for a few years – ever since I’d published ‘The Pirates of Maryland Point‘  and had friends and writing chums ask how I did it. I’d happily tell them but, halfway through most of these conversations, my audience would glaze over as the details started to get technical.

It took a while to design and build,  but chuffed to get it up online as it was starting to be one of those ‘if you don’t do it now, you never will’ ventures.

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2. I grew a beard

In May I decided it was time to take my writing seriously and so took to growing a beard. The results have been incredible. Seriously. Writing productivity is through the clichéd roof and with every stroke of my hairy chin, I solve plot holes and conjur up a cavalcade of characters and scenes. This is how Neo felt in the Matrix. Had he had a beard he would’ve been even more awesome, no doubt. I intend to harness this Samson like power for as long as I can, or as long as my wife can tolerate it.

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Yup, that’s Freddie Mercury on Darth Vader’s shoulders. 

3. I solved all my plot hole problems and had a writing bonanza.

I’d been working on a Freddie Mercury crime comedy that I felt was rather good, the problem was I just couldn’t get it to work. I’d written a killer scene that was, in my opinion, some of the best stuff I’ve done, BUT…it didn’t fit. And I obstinately refused to ‘let it go’, as Adele Dazeem might say.

I drew a line under the project. Even put a blog post up (my last one) saying the book was a dead duck. And that’s how it should have stayed.

But my brain wouldn’t sleep. It kept picking the idea up. The number of mental hours I’ve put into solving the plot is scary. I’d think about it every night as I went to bed (worryingly it sent me straight to sleep – interpret that how you will). I’d find myself scribbling notes on scraps of paper, chewing pens deep in thought, and running multiple what-if scenarios in my head, arriving at alternate realities and plot arcs. All of it, for nothing. I had to drop the ‘killer’ scene – I was just too stubborn to do it.

But then, an epiphany!

Where it came from I have no idea. There was no falling off the toilet and cracking my head on the porcelain to see the flux capacitor in all its fluxing capacitoring glory. The idea simply appeared. The missing link. Grand Unified Theory. The puzzle piece to rule them all. I finally had the plot solved!

Off to the writing desk I went, and accompanied by the music from Murder She Wrote, I typed like a hurricane and before I knew it I had novels sprouting left, right and centre.

There are 3 main novels I’m working on at the moment.

Freddie Mercury comedy – 47,000 words

Retrogaming thriller – 25,000 words

Time-travel thriller – 14,000 words

There is some old adage about only ever writing what you love, and I believe in it absolutely. If the heart of an author isn’t in it, the reader can get very little out of it. So, whilst thrillers are a bit of a departure for me, they are stories I really want to read and I’m enjoying doing them. Will they suck? Who knows. I’m happy to try and find out.

An average novel weighs in at about 80,000 words, so I’ve still some way to go, but I’ve made some nice long strides. I can’t say when I’ll finish any of them, but I really hope to close off Freddie Mercury by Christmas. There, I’ve jinxed it.

And that’s it. That’s a year in review. Thank you for coming back to the blog. I hope to be more regular in posting now, so look out for some future pieces on great discoveries at libraries, writing with and without alcohol, dealing with bad reviews, and more.

 

 

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NEW GUMBI BOOK CANCELLED – FREDDIE MERCURY COMEDY BITES THE DUST

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“Don’t give up” sang Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel, well they, my friends, were not three years into a novel that had stalled at 40,000 words. Alas, the big news on planet Gumbi this week is that after many painstakingly unproductive writing sessions I have decided that enough is enough and have shelved my latest opus. So, welcome to a blog piece of introspection as I kick the corpse of my novel and wonder if I can learn anything (or at least salvage one joke).

Let us start at the beginning…

For three years I’ve been thinking about Freddie Mercury. Or to be more precise, a Freddie Mercury impersonator who gets framed for a robbery he didn’t commit and so goes on to clear his name with police chases, roof-top fights, double-crosses and some hilarious dialogue, plus plenty of thrusting his arm in the air and singing ‘Waaaaaaaaaay-ooooo’

Yup, my new novel was shaping up to be a corker.

The problem was the plot became…well…over-plotted. Farcically over-plotted. I spent a year or more hovering around 40,000 words unable to go any further because nothing made sense. On the surface it looked great, lots of gags and some scenes I was really proud of, but underneath, it just didn’t work. The characters had no real goals, and when I gave them some, they were just too complicated to be understood by anyone other than Stephen Hawking, or that guy on Eggheads who always looks moody but knows everything about everything.

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So, stuck at 40,000 words, and with the dreaded phrase ‘writer’s block’ circling me like a vulture, I decided to seek help. I spoke with friends and fellow writers. Told them I was 40,000 words in but had hit a wall. Nothing made sense. What should I do? Most people suggested carrying on. Finish the first draft and then edit it. I wanted to agree with them, but my problem was, that if I was beginning to resent the novel it would surely show in my writing, meaning no amount of re-drafting sparkle and glitter would save it. The bottom line is, I write for fun, I answer to nobody (apart from you, whoever and wherever you are, hello). If writing something is no longer fun – why continue?

For me, good writing has always been about being accessible fun. You should be able to feel the author’s sense of enjoyment shining off the page. If an author can’t put that fun into their work, what hope do they have of a reader getting fun out of it? (And I use the term ‘fun’ loosely. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing about serial killers or a comedy about a lethario beach-ball – your enjoyment in writing it should come through. Look at musicians for example. Take a look at the late BB King, or some classical performer at the Proms pulling the strange faces when they play – that’s the enjoyment right there. And that’s what I always want to get into my book).

It’s not as if I didn’t know the subject matter either. I grew up listening to Queen (it was one of the few bands both my parents liked) and I recall as a kid being given a badminton racket and jumping around my bedroom pretending I was Brian May, playing the solo to ‘I want it all’.

Despite writing ‘comedy’ – I took the subject matter seriously. I read lots of biographies on Freddie Mercury, listened to everything Queen and Freddie ever released (and I mean everything), and watched countless documentaries on his life as well as rewatching their concerts. Live Aid, Budapest, Wembley 86. I can’t say the research was hard work, but I wanted to make sure nobody could accuse me of writing about I subject I knew nothing about. And in the process I discovered a deeper appreciation for Queen / Freddie Mercury as I unearthed some of their lesser known tracks that are absolute belters (more on this another time).

And there you have it. 3 years of work, consigned to the digital dustbin. What this means next for me, I don’t know. Despite having nobody to answer to I hoped to be able to put out at least one book a year. A tall order as I work 55+ hours a week (including my commute). I have no shortage of ideas but it’s knowing which one to start on next. At the moment it’s looking likely I’ll start of a book that has something to do with Sega…and…wait for it…it might not be a comedy. I know, shock horror, right? It’s still too early to say. I’m going to take a month off (from writing) and come back and start again. The desire to write is still there, I just need to get the right project moving.

All the best.

Dot Gumbi.

CREATIVE WRITING IN ESSEX: SPOTLIGHT ON CHELMSFORD WRITERS’ GROUP

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Greetings one and all, and apologies for having spent the last however-many-weeks living like a digital hermit. I could attempt to explain but it might take too long, so instead let’s get to the Quorn mince.

I’ve been tinkering with creative writing for over ten years now. I came out of university full of Blackadder-like pomposity, believing I was going to write the genre-bending, mind-melding, magnum opus of our times. I spent a long time chewing pencils and staring whimsically out of windows, writing the odd ‘oh so witty’ sentence and feeling smug about it.

The problem was, it was crap.

And not even passable crap at that. It was the sort of stuff that even a phalanx of plumbers with Mario mustaches would struggle to push through the literary U-bend. No, it was no good. I told myself that if I wanted to improve as a writer, aside from reading more books, I’d have to stare out of fewer windows and meet more people in the same boat as me – fellow writers – and see if they had any ideas I could steal…erm…I mean, skills I could acquire.

So, I went looking for some.

Thanks to the interweb, finding a creative writing group is relatively easy, there’s hundreds of them, up and down the country, meeting in pubs, in village halls,  in people’s houses, in libraries. Some set exercises, some let you read your own stuff. If you’re tinkering with writing and have never been to one of these meetings – I urge you to go. They are both fascinating and inspiring in equal measure. Nobody will expect you to read on your first visit, so you can sit back and listen with immunity. And I reckon you’ll be surprised by what you hear.

The first writing group meet up I ever went to was in Stratford, held in a cellar beneath a church. I was fairly nervous about going, knowing that people were going to judge each others work. What if they didn’t like me? It was an impossibility, obviously, as I was writing a tour-de-force about some stoners in Southend at the time. How could any right thinking person not see that as something that would resonate through the annals of history? As I took my seat I cast a gaze around the room. Twenty or so people, all very friendly, they said hellos and how do you do’s and all that. They were mostly aged 50+, which made me think my stoner story was going to be too edgy for them. It had swearing. Drug references. Even some bad sexual puns. I was worried if I read it to them, I’d cause offence. So I was caught quite by surprise when the meeting was opened by a woman reading from her gay roman hardcore sorcery slash fiction thriller with the line: “I pressed my throbbing member against his virgin arsehole.”

Yeah, how’s that for a first line to hear in a room full of strangers? I looked up expecting the rest of the group, particularly the pensioners, to be shocked. Instead they nodded sagely, with a few making notes on a piece of paper. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that if you’re thinking of going to a creative writing group, leave any assumptions you have at home.

I went to the pub with the group afterwards and found them to be comprised of a fantastic bunch of people. Some were serious/professional writers with book deals and others hobbyists who just liked stories and had no literary pretensions at all. Over the course of a year I heard amazing poems, bizarre Dali-esque sci-fi, war stories, young adult novels of quests and kings and many others. It was great, and everyone had comments and useful feedback about what was working and what was not.

I couldn’t stay living in Stratford forever (see my book The Pirates of Maryland Point for an idea of what the area was like) and moved out to the murky suburbs of Essex. I worried that being outside of London I would struggle to find a group with the same depth of talent.

WRONG!

For the last five years or so I’ve been a regular member of The Chelmsford Writers’ Group and been left gobsmacked by the quality of the work people bring each month. There’s been ghost stories, post-apocalyptic fiction, superheroes, twists on Greek myths, alien invasions, hapless housewives, troublesome teenagers, reinterpretations of the nativity and even retro-gaming journalism. The collective enthusiasm and endless creativity of the group inspires me every time we meet and whether someone is a professional or amateur writer, everybody treats each other’s work seriously and with respect.  For me the support of the group has, more than once, been the thing that has reminded me that I love to write.

June has been a bit of a bumper month for the group. Several people have seen their books go into print and I’m pleased as punch for them. Have a nose and feel inspired.

JERRY

Third Circle by Jerry Beckett

Jerry’s been a member of the Chelmsford Writers’ Group since the late 1980s. He has written four novels and has another on the way. He writes mostly fantasy, some of it comical. Third Circle is aimed at the 10-14 age group, which means I should be twenty years too old for it, but that’s not going to stop me grabbing a copy this week. He’s been drip feeding the group chapters over the last year or so, leaving us on cliffhangers each month, in fact it’s taken everything not to slap him and steal his laptop and read the ending. Thankfully I don’t have to do that now. I can read the whole thing in comfort.

Here’s the blurb…

A spirit of immense power is seeking to destroy our world. Our last defence lies in the weathered stone circles of Cornwall, but their resilience is failing as they crumble away. Karin and Denzil draw on the strength of their ancient blood to shore up the defences. Denzil is possessed by the spirit, and must fight against his sister as she strives to hold the weakest point – the Third Circle.

Jerry’s blog: http://www.gripinggriffin.com/


Maggie

The Clock-Mender by Maggie Freeman

Maggie is a long-standing member of the group and when not penning her own stuff, she’s encouraging others by teaching creative writing. She writes widely, for adults and children, poems, short stories, and novels. The Clock-Mender is her third novel.

According to Maggie, The Clock-Mender is:

…a tale of love, crime and bloodshed in a small rural community in Sweden between the 30s and 50s. A clock-mender’s partner has a light-hearted affair with his best friend. But terrible consequences ensue.

And…it’s free this week on Amazon…so get downloading. A few moments ago it was as high as #496 in the Amazon Kindle chart.

Maggie’s blog: http://maggiefreeman.info/index.htm


MOLLY

ZA by Molly Looby

Molly types at 3,000 words per minute. I haven’t seen it with my own eyes, but judging by the number of books she’s written (and the number of times she’s taken on NaNoWriMo and won) I doubt she knows how to type any slower. Quantity doesn’t come at a cost to quality either. Molly is a natural storyteller with an easy flowing style and she was recently shortlisted for the Wicked Young Writers’ Award.

Here’s the blurb for her novel ZA:

The Zombie Armageddon . . . yeah I know.

How unlikely is it, right?

“There are no such things as zombies.”

I’ve heard it all before, but I’ll never hear it again.

There are a few simple rules: Get supplies. Stay hidden. If they come, run. Fast.

After all, this wasn’t a video game and we only had one life each.

Molly’s blog: http://fangsclawsandwings.blogspot.co.uk/


There you go, folks. Creative writing groups – bursting with talent and ideas. Here’s some useful links if you’re looking to join one:

List of writing groups in the UK –http://www.ukwriterscollege.co.uk/Writing+Resources/UK+Writers+College++Writing+Circles.html

Search engine for finding writing groups and book groups – https://www.writers-online.co.uk/Writers-Groups/Search/kw=/581/53/pg1/

GOOD BOOKMARKS

Now, there’s a blog title that will blow your trousers off. Bookmarks, eh? But let’s be honest, if you love reading, chances are you love your bookmarks. 

I’ve never been a corner turner, in fact it drives me mad. I need a card, a slip of paper, something to mark a page. As a kid I remember a ‘cool’ bookmark was almost more important than the book itself. As such I reckon my school bookshop sold more bookmarks than it ever did books, which is a tragedy, but perhaps not surprising, as it’s akin to a wannabe gym bunny buying all the gear only for it to sit in their garage – you buy it as a sign of intent.

During my recent move I rediscovered a lot of my old bookmarks hidden away in books I’d forgotten about. Here’s some of the things I found…

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Exhibit A: The Raiders of the Lost Ark Trading Card
Found in: Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

This is my current bookmark, and it’s a beauty. I like using trading cards for bookmarks as they are sturdy and a good size. I bought a dozen or so of these Indiana Jones cards from a guy at a bootsale a few years ago. Sadly he didn’t have the whole set or I would’ve snapped them up in a pinch.

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Exhibit B: The bizarre receipt
Found in: Pirates! in an Adventure with Romantics by Gideon Defoe

I think I kept this receipt out of pride. Penguin editions of The Kama Sutra, Aesop’s Fables and Around the World in 80 days. Plus, American Psycho? All sold together (to a scruffy unshaven student) on November 27th, 2002. Man, I must have been high or drunk that day in the book shop. And it was a really good bookshop too (Methven’s, Canterbury) sadly now long gone. Like Ozymandias, only this receipt remains.

20150411_134303Exhibit C: Simpsons Trading Card
Found in: HP Lovecraft Omnibus Volume 3 by HP Lovecraft

I was about eight years old when these cards came out in the early 1990s. They did a good trade on the playground, and despite never buying a packet, I ended up with quite a few cards. I guess kids gave away their doubles or whatever. I’ve been using them as bookmarks since my teens. I rediscovered this rather cool Bart Simpson chilling in amongst the monsters of an HP Lovecraft omnibus, of all places.

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Exhibit D: Monkey World bookmark
Found in:
Not yet used

Odd one this. My girlfriend bought me this bookmark after our trip to Monkey World in Dorset. It was a really touching gesture, but I’ve since had to explain to her that I doubt I’ll be able to use it as something happened at Monkey World that will probably haunt me for life.

It all started at the Orangutang house.

As I drew up for a look a female orangutang noticed me. Her large round eyes met mine through the glass and she held my gaze. It was odd, but I felt a flicker of understanding between us, intelligence, perhaps, I don’t know. Whatever it was, it was a touching moment David Attenborough would’ve been proud of. However, this moment was ruined when her ‘bloke’ suddenly appeared, parted her legs, and then set about giving her oral pleasure. Worst of all, she kept looking at me whilst this was happening. I walked away feeling dirty, like I’d just been in some sort of simian three way. As such every time I look at this bookmark I’m taken back to that awkward moment.

My girlfriend didn’t know this, or else she wouldn’t have bought me the bookmark. Or a mug with the orangutang’s face on it. Nor the coasters that go with it.

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Exhibit E: ‘Mojo Bag’ X-Files game card
Found in: Deutsche Erzahlunge / German Stories – A Bilinguial Anthology

During my teens I really got into the X-files (for the first three seasons at least), and used to spend my pocket money on all sorts of trading cards from the local comic shop. This ‘Mojo Bag’ is a card from the X-Files collectable card game – a game I never played as the rules seemed too complicated.

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Exhibit F: ‘Ellie Sattler’ Jurassic Park Trading Card
Found in: 
The Great Shark Hunt by Hunter S. Thompson

Now we are talking! I missed the Jurassic Park trading cards when they first came out, but I couldn’t hand over my cash quick enough when I saw a stack of them at a bootsale. I’m prepared to say, that with no scientific evidence whatsoever, a Jurassic Park bookmark improves my enjoyment of the book I’m reading by 10%. And that’s a fact.

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Exhibit G: Van Gogh Museum ticket stub
Found in: Just My Type: A book about fonts by Simon Garfield

Sometimes I’ll use ticket stubs for bookmarks. This one is from an ill-fated trip to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. The reason I say ‘ill-fated’ is because I was accompanied by a man who was exceedingly high on magic mushrooms. It is perhaps not unusual to stand and stare at the paintings for a considerable amount of time, but when someone does it whilst drooling and trying to turn their head and see them upside down, then, perhaps, your cover is blown.

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Exhibit H: The Palm Reader’s Business Card
Found in: Etiquette for men: A book of Modern Manners by G.R.M Devereux

Not really sure how I ended up with this business card. Or why it is in this book.

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Exhibit I: Train Ticket
Found in: 
Hamlet, Penguin book of Quotations, Dictionaries…lots of books

Fifteen years or commuting, plus several years of not owning a car, means I’ve been on a helluva lot of trains, which means I’ve owned a helluva lot of train tickets. When a bookmark isn’t to hand I usually fish an old train ticket out of my wallet. However, I’ve recently found this can be depressing, as when you find these ‘bookmarks’ years later, you lament how much train fares have gone up. Stratford to Chelmsford = £8.70 in 2005. £15.30 in 2015. Ouch.

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Exhibit J: Panini Sega Super Play Trading Card
Found in:
 Random ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books

I’ve stopped using these as bookmarks as I’ve since managed to collect the whole set, but during my early teens I’d leave them scattered in Choose Your Own Adventure books.

And there you have it. The wonderful world of bookmarks. 

10 HOLIDAYS ON FILM THAT WENT WRONG. VERY WRONG.

Holidays. We take them to get away from our troubles, perhaps see something new and expand our minds, but in the land of the silver screen holidays often tend to go wrong. Horribly wrong. In celebration of my new book Gumbi vs The World (in which I go on holiday twice, visit hospital twice, and find the world’s biggest ball of twine once) – here’s ten films that show a holiday isn’t always a relaxing affair.

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1. Withnail & I
‘We’ve come on holiday by mistake,’ says Withnail, and he’s right as a ‘delightful weekend in the country’ ends up a cold, rain-sodden, near buggering, mess. Depressed by London (and their living situation) two poor aspiring thespians decide some country air will turn their fortunes around, and so make their way to the lake district to ‘rejuvenate’. And they do…sort of…that is If rejuvenation is being charged by a bull, getting arrested for drink-driving, being thrown out of a tea-room, falling foul of a local poacher and being hit on by camp and crazy uncle. Even though Marwood gets home to find his fortune has changed, it has nothing to do with the holiday. All parties would probably agree they should’ve stayed at home.

Body count: 1 chicken.

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2. Jurassic Park
‘Come away for a weekend’ Hammond said. ‘See a park that will blow your minds’ Hammond said. ‘Recreated prehistoric carnivorous beasts and underpaid staff looking after them,’ Hammond said. ‘What could possibly go wrong?’ Quite a lot, as it goes. When millionaire Colonel Sanders lookalike John Hammond invites the finest dinosaur minds (that is, human minds that know a lot about dinosaurs, not dinosaurs vying for a place on University Challenge) to come and see his new fangled state of the art dinosaur park, he expects them to enjoy a weekend of wonderment. What ensues is the dictionary definition of carnage. There are crashes. There are bangs. There are wallops. And there’s blood thirsty dinosaurs aplenty. Having said that, everyone does get plenty of fresh air and exercise, so perhaps it’s not all bad, but I can’t imagine the Trip Advisor reviews would be up to much.

Body count: 4

total-recall-3 3. Total Recall
Doug Quaid (or is it Howser?) wants to have a little break on Mars. And it’s not just any break, he’s not hoping for a weekend of Amsterdam style madness, no, he wants some quality time with his wife, y’know, taking long romantic walks along the red Martian hills, watching moonrises and all that. What he gets is a near planet meltdown and massacre of scores of innocent civilians, mutants and soldiers. Yeah, that’s a real case of ‘the holiday looked different in the brochure.’

Body count: 77 (it feels like a helluva lot more)

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4. Hook
Life would’ve been fine for Peter Banning (see what they did there?) had he not been forced to take a holiday in merry olde England, thus reawakening his painful childhood. What should’ve been a nice Christmas break in London town descends into bloodshed, murder, kidnap and worst of all, an acting turn by Phil Collins (He plays a cockney copper, gawd-bless him, lovely-ol-job). However, all this senseless tights wearing violence does help Banning form a better relationship with his kids – so that’s nice.

Body count: 4 that I can think of (but could be more)

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5. Home Alone
For the elder McCallisters their trip to Paris, France, is a disaster. They aren’t even across the Atlantic when the wheels come off their vacation. Cue panicked parents, annoyed siblings and everybody having their precious Christmas break ruined by a feckless child who couldn’t even wake up in time for his own holiday. Kids these days.  Still young Kevin did have a nice time indoors by himself, so that’s something. However, he should probably face assault charges and a psychiatric review given the sadistic pounding he game to the Wet Bandits – that they are alive at the end of the film is a medical marvel.

Body count: 0 (This is despite a paint-pot to the face, blow torch to the head, nail through the foot, falling down icy stairs, burning hand on red-hot door handle etc. etc.)

593806-battle_2 6. Battle Royale
A school holiday, is there anything more exciting? The promise of some time away from parents, hanging with friends, and getting up to mischief. The worst thing you might imagine happening is that you forget your lunch money, or your lucky teddy. What you don’t imagine is that the school bus will be gassed and every student on board will wake up with an explosive collar round their neck and be told they are now in a fight to the death and must butcher their classmates until only one survives. Imagine writing that postcard home… ‘Dear Mum, school trip not going too well, Weather’s ok though.’

Body count: 42+

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7. My Cousin Vinny
Ah, the fabled road trip across America. A journey of discovery…finding out exactly how you react when you’re wrongfully arrested for murder and end up in court merely a hop, skip and jump away from the death penalty. The two ‘yoots’ accused of murder spend a sleepless stomach-knotting week behind bars as they watch a lawyer, with no previous courtroom experience and a sharp mouth, crash and burn as he tries to get the charges dropped. I think that’s what you’d call ‘extreme tourism’. Something the two ‘yoots’ are never likely to want to experience again.

Body count: 1

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8. Westworld
This poster says it all. Nothing can go wrong, eh? You mean robots won’t overrun the park and massacre everyone? You’re sure about that? But that’s exactly what happens when two friends take a break at the world’s most advanced amusement park. Their plan to enjoy pretending to be cowboys in a recreation of the Wild West soon goes belly-up. There’s gunfights, jail-breaks, bar-room brawls aplenty – but that’s ok, it’s part of the experience, that is until the robots start fighting back. Quicker than you can say ‘Michael Crichton loves a theme park going wrong’ there’s wall to wall carnage. Definitely a holiday where you should’ve ticked the box for travel insurance.

Body count: high, a theme park full of people get wiped out.

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9. Carry on Camping
It’s the sixties, your girlfriend won’t have sex with you – what’s a fella to do? You could respect her decision and show that she’s your true love by waiting until she is ready. Or you could dupe her and a friend into coming on holiday to a nudist camp in the hope that all the nakedness would some how make them both more ‘up for it’.
Pffff.
The plan doesn’t work. In fact it backfires. The nudist camp turns out to be a regular camp. The girls refuse to share tents with the boys. And the boys (I’m saying boys, but Sid James was 56 at the time of filming) soon turn their attentions elsewhere, to the young ladies of Chayste Place finishing school. Any hope of anyone on the campsite getting any rest is ruined when a bunch of hippies turn up in the next field and start having a rave. It’s enough to put you off camping for life.

Body count: 0 (but don’t let that fool you)

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10. Titanic
They say half the joy of a holiday is getting there. Tell that to the passengers on board HMS Titanic. A promise of a trip on the most extravagant sea-going vessel of all time turns into a watery nightmare that remains one of the worst maritime disasters in history. Young DiCaprio could probably have survived it if Kate Winslet hadn’t hogged the bloody bit of driftwood. There was enough room for two! We all know it!

Body count: 1,517


Gumbi vs The World – a tale of two holidays gone bad – is available now from Amazon and Smashwords (free of a limited time).

TWITTER, LITERARY AGENTS, ‘SHIT-FACED CLOWNS’ & A TAXI DRIVER IN FINLAND

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Walked into some choppy Twitter waters the other night, quite by accident. I can’t call it a spat, or a skirmish, or a fracas, more a pie of misunderstanding, which happens a lot when you’re limited to just a pithy 147 characters. What kicked it all off was this post by Carole Blake (Literary Agent at Blake Friedmann) about this self-published book – The Diary of a Taxi Driver in Finland.

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It is bad form to approach a literary agent on Twitter, apparently. If you want to even stand a chance of getting lost in the slush pile, you have to do things properly, namely following the submission guidelines. If you don’t follow the guidelines, prepare to feel their wrath. And nothing says wrath more than a blind tweet to an agent, hoping they’ll show interest in your book. I know this, because I learnt the hard way.

When I first joined Twitter I was like a pig who had just found out LUSH sold fecal bath bombs. There were agents…everywhere. And it took a few misplaced tweets before I learnt that you don’t tweet literary agents about your book. They don’t like it. Like, really don’t like it.

So, it’s no surprise Carole Blake, somewhat curtly, declined the offer of reading this tome. After all, she’s author of this piece: 29 ways NOT to submit to an agent

What amused me though was that she had wittingly, or unwittingly, just brought this self-published book to the attention of 15,000 followers. That’s 15,000 people who didn’t know about the book previously. Not a bad return that for one misplaced tweet. If I was the author I’d be over the moon. After all, here I am, typing about his book, and here you are, reading about it…it might not lead to a large number of sales but all publicity is good publicity, right?

I will even admit to wondering whether that was the author’s plan all along. Carole Blake has been in the business 50 years, and in 2013 won an award for a ‘significant and sustained contribution to the publishing industry’. So, she’s not just a big cheese in publishing circles, she’s the whole brie wheel. Perhaps the author foresaw that brazenly tweeting such a literary agent would only rankle them into a fury so great they would be forced to retweet with rage, thus gaining sizable exposure?

But hey, maybe even Derren Brown couldn’t predict behavior that far in advance.

The next gem was discovering what was written on the book cover. Too many books these days use jaded buzz words such as ‘hilarious’, ‘funny’ and ‘genius’ – these words are trotted out so often as to be meaningless marketing speak. Every time I see them on a book I assume they are meant ironically – hence the air quotes they are framed in. It takes something new and brazen to grab my attention these days and this cover didn’t disappoint with a boast of ‘SHIT-FACED CLOWNS!’.

You now have my full attention.

I tweeted my followers (all 183 of them, and hopefully with a similar sense of humour) and shared the treat that was The Diary of the Taxi Driver in Finland

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And that was that…or so I thought. I woke this next morning to find a message from Carole Blake, literary agent (black belt, 7th dan) saying:

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Now, it’s not clear whom she was addressing, but as she hadn’t singled either of us out, I took it to mean she was telling me to grow up, which at 6.33am, the time at which I read her reply, confused me greatly. ‘What gives?’, I thought. ‘And why the rudeness?’ I was making a joke, that’s all. ‘Chill out,’ as the kids say.

Maybe as an agent you can become jaded. You see so many manuscripts come your way that promises of ‘SHIT-FACED CLOWNS’ must be ten-a-bit-coin. But for me, and my sheltered life, this was the first time I’d seen that on a book. Although, I should like to point out, I have actually seen a ‘shit-faced clown’ in real life. It was at a beer festival in Downham, Essex circa 2004, but that is another story that I don’t really want to repeat having told it once already in court.

Anyway, I wanted to reply to the agent and explain she’d missed the point, as well as everything in this blog post so far, but it’s hard to cram all that into the 147 characters, plus when you have to explain a joke, it just isn’t funny any more. So I just thought I’d settle on some politeness.

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And that I thought was that.

But then, the taxi driver gets involved:

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Again, the curse of Twitter: I can’t tell his tone. Is it jocular. Is it accusatory? Why doesn’t he get that I’m on his side? After all, only last week I published a book about travelling – I completely get how hard it is to sell travel writing when you’re so completely unknown even junk mail gets addressed to you incorrectly. It’s a slog pushing your book, and writers need all the luck they can find to try and get their memoir read by anyone who isn’t related to them.

Anyway…I replied

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Yeah, I know, there’s a typo. Yet another curse of Twitter having no edit button. And, reading it back, my message could be misconstrued as being pompous – I didn’t mean as a result of university I was educated enough to understand the meaning of the words ‘shit-faced’ – I meant that having gone to university and spent three years being a student, which equates to three years in a pub – my grasp on ‘shit-faced’ ran the gamut.

And lo, that’s where it ended. And kids the moral of the story is…don’t use Twitter. Oh, and don’t pitch your book on Twitter. And don’t be rude on Twitter. Don’t use Twitter basically, you get the picture. But do use new an inventive words and phrases to sell your book. And don’t give up.

GUMBI VS THE WORLD – AMERICAN FILM LOCATIONS

My new novel of travel misadventures, Gumbi vs The World, is out now and FREE for one week only on Smashwords. So, to celebrate (or shamelessly self-promote using articles on vaguely related topics) I’ve compiled a list of film locations I sought out whilst I was in America. To be honest, most of my travelling in America was done based on movies I’d watched and liked. I didn’t look at the Lonely Planet once.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The main reason, above all others, for going to Milwaukee was American Movie. If you’ve not seen it, it’s a documentary film about a filmmaker and his friend trying to make the great American Movie. In this case a horror movie called Coven (pronounced Coe-van – the pronunciation is important).

I fell in love with that documentary in a big way, and as I mention in the book, I was lucky enough to get to meet one of its stars, Mike Schank. Not only that, I got to play tennis with him. Yup, tennis. I know, far-fetched, right? If you think that’s a stretch of the imagination you should read how the meeting came about. Just saying. [PLUG FOR NEW BOOK GOES HERE]

Aside from American Movie I’d grown up wanting to see Milwaukee because of Alice Cooper’s appearance in Wayne’s World. I’ve mentioned before on this blog what an influence Wayne’s World is to me, and so it seemed right to visit the place in homage. Did you know Milwaukee is the only capital city to elect three socialist mayors? [Fact correct as of 1991]

Las Vegas, Nevada

Despite America’s size, films tend to be set in only three main places: New York, LA, Vegas. Yes San Francisco and Chicago get used a lot, but I bet there are more films with Las Vegas in the title than the rest combined.

Of the many Las Vegas films the one I’ve watched the most (and read most often) is Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. A madcap drug addled misadventure with no discernible plot. It shuns the glitz and glam given to the city by other films by holding up a sort of circus mirror the place, showing it in an ugly distorted form. Just like Hunter S Thompson, I stuck it to the man whilst I was there – I wore a Haiwaiian shirt. Ooooh, rebellious. I would’ve done more rebellious stuff, obviously, but hey I’d just had my appendix out. You believe me, right?

One of the best things about Vegas though was seeing the Biffco building from Back to the Future 2. It actually exists. Hey, McFly!

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Los Angeles

Like Las Vegas, there are many many movies set in Los Angeles. I absolutely love the way a sunset looks on film set in LA, especially at the credits of a film when the hero walks off into the sunset with the deep orange wash mixing with hot red and gold as the guitar starts wailing.

My personal fave films in LA are those set in one day, so you can see the movement of the sun and see the lengthening shadows as the day progresses, and top of this rather niche list of requirements is Falling Down – a two finger salute to the world of an unhinged man who has had enough. Michael Douglas crosses LA, moving through some pretty rough looking areas, so I decided to check out Venice Pier, the scene of the final shoot out. And you know what, I didn’t shoot anybody. Who says films have an undue influence on people?

Chicago

There’s just one film I think of when it comes to Chicago…and that’s the The Blues Brothers. I first watched it when I was about fourteen, and didn’t really get it, but it very quickly became a favourite film and soundtrack. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen it since then but I know it word for word. It’s a personal regret that I didn’t walk around wearing a black suit – but then perhaps if I did that I’d have the entire Chicago police force chasing me around. And given everything else that happened on the trip, I could live without that. Hit it!

Download Gumbi vs The World free this week on Smashwords. Oh, I mentioned that already, didn’t I?