As you may have gathered I'm getting increasingly revved up for the summer. As well as my fitness plans, I'm heading out to Seville for a long weekend in early June and I'm already planning a massive blitz on writing. I've certainly got a lot to do; I want to make major inroads into writing new stories for The State of the Nation (I'm thinking particularly of ‘The Staggering Adventures of Bulldog Carruthers’, the ‘Nanny Knows Best’ top and tail stories, ‘They Came from IKEA’ and the new, as yet untitled, Elvis story) but I also want to polish up ‘Shooting Stars’ and ‘Dawn Of the Brain Dead’ and rewrite/polish ‘Keeping up with the Kingstons’.
I also want to start getting things in circulation again re: submitting to magazines and anthologies, particularly ‘Shooting Stars’ and ‘Dawn Of the Brain Dead’ as well as a number of short flash fiction pieces/sketches which are going to be interspersed between the stories in a Little Britain-style "roving eye across Britain" manner, so that one story ends then leads into a sketch which then leads into another story. I've got ideas for three, possibly four, of these; I just need to write them. I'm hoping that as they are all only around 500 words or so it shouldn't take too long to write these and get them into circulation amongst the flash fiction markets. The only thing which concerns me a little about these is that the ideas and tone of these are quite reminiscent of some of Chris Morris' Jam sketches (although that's probably not a bad thing) so I have to be careful that they are original pieces which fit into the whole, rather than leaving myself open to accusations of being a copyist (although I'll be avoiding expressions like, "Quadraspazzed on a life glug," so that should help.....).
On top of all that, I also want to polish and submit the radio play, First Love, Last Love, and if I have time, adapt the script into prose, nominally for the third collection which I'm currently calling Odds and Sods (although this is just a working title, as yet).
So all in all, a hell of a lot to do, even in a four-month break. However, I haven't been this excited about writing for a long time so I really hope I can make some progress here.
Sunday, 15 May 2011
Sunday, 17 April 2011
BobandJane - A Fable in Two Indistinct Parts
Originally Published in Raw Edge 4, Spring/Summer 1997, ed. Dave Reeves
Well, as promised, here is the first entry of the Ugly Stories notes. Initially, I was unsure of where to start as some of the stories do have quite a lot of back story to them whilst others do not. However, for the sake of convenience, I've decided to, in the best storytelling traditions, start at the beginning.
It's hard to remember exact dates but I think “BobandJane” was written in the late spring/early summer of 1996. I'd returned from Barcelona in the February of 1996 in a pretty bad way. For reasons that should be apparent to anyone who's read the Ugly Stories I'd pretty much had a nervous breakdown in the November/December of 1995. I'd soldiered on for a few months, trying to make the best of a bad situation and ignore what was happening; I'd continued to go to work teaching ESOL to Barcelonese businessmen; I'd tried to lose weight by walking to all my appointments, sometimes walking up to four hours a day; and I'd started writing again, rather than simply developing plot outlines or noting down new ideas (something I had been doing for the previous 12 months because basically, I was too fucked to do anything else).
One of the standout stories of that period was “Fragments of a Schizoid Dream” (more on that later). However, in late February 1996 I returned to the UK and, incapable of looking after myself, I moved back in with my parents. The rest of that year was a strange blur. I really can't remember much of anything that happened at that time. However, strangely, it was a very productive time. With the distant hope of becoming a Lecturer in English literature I had enrolled with the Open University to study for a second degree in English Lit (my first was in Psychology), taking half a degree per year. In that brief 12 month period, I also wrote over half of the Ugly Stories for Beautiful People and, as I was unable to sit still without my thoughts becoming overwhelming, I continued to walk for several hours a day around the local countryside and canals getting into possibly the best shape of my life. Oh yes, and somehow I also managed to work full-time in a local petrol station (the only work I could even consider doing at the time, although this too was important for a number of later stories - again, more on that later).
In some ways “BobandJane” is a classic example of how my mind works when it comes to the process of developing stories. It started with a simple observation that, in my previous relationship, several people had said we were (unfairly, I thought) "joined at the hip." Quite simply, I'd just extrapolated this everyday phrase into the literal; what if a couple was so in love that they literally were joined at the hip? At the same time, however, I also noticed that many of the couples I knew had just disappeared from my social scene; it's that old cliché of people disappearing until they split up again. I also remembered how annoyed I was at receiving Christmas cards addressed, not to me, but to me and my girlfriend. It was as if we had become one person, one blob..... and so “BobandJane” was born.
“BobandJane” was also a strange story in that I usually outline and develop stories in great detail before finally writing them in over a period of a week to a month, usually writing 1000 to 2000 words a day. “BobandJane” was different in that once I had had the initial idea and had thought of a number of key lines and scenes, I wrote it in one sitting and the first draft was essentially the finished draft. I usually spend a long time editing, revising and even sometimes rewriting stories. With “BobandJane” I simply polished it a little and cut out some of the flab; it was virtually 90% finished once I had finished writing the first draft.
“BobandJane” was also the first story I had published. Prior to that I'd had a few haikus published in small press magazines and some embarrassingly Baudelairean prose poems published in tiny literary magazines. However, Raw Edge magazine published “BobandJane” in their fourth issue and it appeared in the spring/summer of 1997. Raw Edge, like many magazines, is no longer with us but it was a great showcase for new writing talent and was subsidised by the British Arts Council. As such, it was distributed to local libraries and had a circulation of over 16,000. It also had great production values with thick paper and glossy covers. In some ways, my writing career came full circle with Raw Edge; “BobandJane” was published near the beginning of its life and a review of Ugly Stories for Beautiful People appeared in its very last issue.
So, “BobandJane” was one of the first stories I wrote (probably the sixth in total, but only the second or third once I had discovered my voice in Barcelona), was the first story I had published, was the first in a series of "body horror" stories (the others being “It”, “The Byronic Man,” “Foetal Attractions” and an unpublished prose poem called "If Janus Had Two Faces, Then Why Can't I?"), and was probably the first story I realised I could use to integrate and interlink a number of the Ugly Stories, something I wanted to do from the beginning. As such, it seemed right that it should be the first story in the collection. Once I had realised this, I knew I wanted a "top and tail" story as I had been a fan of this way of opening and closing collections since I had read Clive Barker's Books of Blood and Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man in the early 90s. (Although bear in mind only around 10% of the collection had been written at this point, although I had a full listing of the stories I wanted to include in it at this point). Thus, the “BobandJane” postscript was written quite soon after the original “BobandJane” story, although I cannot remember exactly when; however, I suspect it was written after “BobandJane” had been published in Raw Edge so it was probably sometime in 1997.
“BobandJane” also gave me my brief first taste of "fame." I remember ringing West Midlands Arts to enquire about jobs in arts promotion and, when I gave my name to the guy on the other end of the phone, he said, "Oh, you're the “BobandJane” guy." Not exactly like being asked for an autograph in the street, but to a virtually unpublished writer such a small scrap of recognition goes a long way.
“BobandJane” is also the only Ugly Story I have ever performed live. The video can be found here. And while the print version of Raw Edge is long gone, the website still has a copy of it here. Hope you enjoy it.
One other strange thing I've noticed about “BobandJane” is that everyone who knows me and is part of a couple (and I mean everyone!) seems to think it is about them. I don't know why; it really was a reflection on my own experiences of being in a relationship at the time and wasn't based on anyone else. In some ways it's flattering that it seems to resonate with people. In other ways it's incredibly sad that people can, or would even want to, identify with them. Now I personally identify more with Kokoschka in the story and in some ways it was a pleasure to liberate Jane and open her eyes in the Post-Script, as Will in “The Dada Relationship Police” was very much based on me at the time. It was undoubtedly satisfying to be the one who handed Jane the Dada Relationship Police card, saying “Your relationship is over!”.
Monday, 28 March 2011
Just a "treading water" post, really. As the Summer gets nearer and the prospect of no longer doing 14 hour days but instead having 3 months to do nothing but write gets closer, I've been thinking more about the "State of The Nation" stories. Most, if not all, of them are satirical pieces and, as with most speculative fiction, they involve taking something in the present (usually something that annoys me) and then exaggerating them to the point where you can get a story out of them to highlight the stupidity and mendacity of what is going on. Indeed, many of the stories (concerning as they do, the loss of civil liberties, the Nanny State, Political Correctness, celebrity culture etc) don't even need exaggerating! As a result I was going to put in footnotes and references to every example used in the stories just to show that the examples were real - yes, they are happening now, and here is the report that proves it! However, I soon realised this would probably jar and ultimately interfere with the flow of the stories. They could also probably irritate some people who would rather pretend that they were "way out there" satire rather than events that are happening now.
So, when I finally get the stories together (which may be a while - I seem to work at a glacial pace...) I'll be uploading the relevant references and annotations here, so if people want to see them they can. However, that made me think about the "Ugly Stories" and about how much I loved one thing about the mid 90s UK reprints of PKD's collected stories. At the back of each of the five volumes were a few pages of notes by the Great Man himself - excerpts from interviews where he talked about the story and how it got published, or notes culled from earlier collections where he wrote about what inspired him to write the story, how it was received, what was going on at the time he wrote them. I loved these notes (an early version of the Director's DVD Commentary, I suppose) as they let me know more about PKD in those days before Lawrence Sutin's definitive biography came out. From these notes I found out about how one morning he woke up to find twentysomething rejected manuscripts on his front porch. I learned about those apocryphal tales of Berkely living in the 60s, of the dark-haired girls he invariably fell in love with again and again and again, of how he was so poor at one point he and his wife were reduced to eating dog food.
So, in the same vein, in the next week or two I hope to do a similar thing here. Go through each story in the collection giving a bit of background info to what inspired it, who published it, the reception it received. How I felt about it at the time and how it shaped me as a struggling writer. I don't want to put such things in the book itself (no matter how much I loved the notes in the PKD collections) but if people want to learn more about the stories then they will be here to look at. I hope to put the first few notes up this week, workload permitting....
Tuesday, 1 March 2011
Don't want to keep focussing on PKD (Blessed be his name!) but here is something I'd never read before although I'd seen the odd panel. Robert Crumb's 8 page telling of PKD's transcendental experience/breakdown(* delete as applicable) in 1974, something which Dick himself dealt with (in depth!) in his "Exegesis" as well as in his later novels starting with the brilliant "Valis."
Read it here.
Saturday, 19 February 2011
I've always dug the fact that Dick's transcendental 2-3-74 experience covered my 3rd birthday. In fact, booksfactory.com actually names my birthday as a specific date in this pivotal period - "On March 22, 1974, he had a transcendental mystical experience, which he described as "an invasion of my mind by a transcendentally rational mind." This experience caused Philip K. Dick to begin recording his thoughts and experiences into a journal, which he referred to as the Exegesis. The Exegesis contained a phenomenal amount of Gnostic religious thought and philosophy. The majority of his experiences and philosophies formed during this period can be found in the VALIS trilogy", which includes VALIS, The Divine Invasion, and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. An alternate accounting of the events of Philip K. Dick's VALIS encounter can be found in more accessible form in the novel Radio Free Albemuth, which was discovered among Dick's notes after his death, and in which the main characters have reason to believe that their everyday reality is actually the Ancient Roman Empire during the persecution of the early Christians."
Okay, pathetic I know, but some people play Dungeons and Dragons, others like Rugby or memorise their favourite football teams. I take pleasure from having my 3rd birthday be a pivotal point in the great mind of PKD.
Anyway, let's put my eccentricities to one side as I present a few rare gems. Dick didn't do a lot of TV, so enjoy!
Okay, pathetic I know, but some people play Dungeons and Dragons, others like Rugby or memorise their favourite football teams. I take pleasure from having my 3rd birthday be a pivotal point in the great mind of PKD.
Anyway, let's put my eccentricities to one side as I present a few rare gems. Dick didn't do a lot of TV, so enjoy!
A first draft, so I know it's a bit ropey in places. Still, it's got some nice images in it and an ending that doesn't involve madness or death, so something of a first. Although it does involve a relationship breakdown, so perhaps not too much of a departure from the norm. Anyway, this was written around the same sort of time as the "Ugly Stories" but I felt it didn't fit in with that collection which focussed mainly on love, reality and how love can alter reality. However, it does fit in with the underlying theme of "State of the Nation" so, almost ten years on (and after being accepted for publication by the long-gone mag "Sierra Heaven", although they went to the mag graveyard in the sky before actually publishing it) it's now nominally part of that collection. Surprised it was accepted though to be honest. It's definitely a first draft and needs radical revision, if not wholesale rewriting. Then again, I suppose given my current work schedule that's what the Summer is for.
It's also strange to see how things change, even over ten years. For example, I described the "Colour Cube" as being "as big as a TV set." Yet now all TVs are flatscreens that piece of description is pretty much irrelevant. Inaccurate anyway, given that it's a Cube. He also reviews the "Kingstons" show on video tape. This is a bit trickier now we all have Hard Drives and Plus Boxes, expecially given what he does with the video tapes at the end of the story... not exactly possible with an mp4 file. Still, it's an old show - I can always say he started his Kingstons collection on video. And in some ways, given that the whole point of the story is his adopting a non-conformist, non-materialist, "anti-consumer" lifestyle, I suppose his preference for outdated technology because, "Hey, it still works so why throw it out!" does actually make sense, in a way. In some ways that can even be an advantageous thing; something that adds to his characterisation.
Anyway, a few extracts from "Keeping Up With The Kingstons." It might be fun to see how this changes and develops as time goes by.
"I had been a fan of "The Kingstons" in its early "wobbly walls" period, but what with everything that had happened over the past few years I'd lost interest. It had started as just another slightly kitsch family melodrama until the Late Noughties when Sir Harvey Williamson was appointed as Executive Producer and storyline consultant. An MP who had made his money in Marketing and the Media, Williamson was a powerful force behind the show, and the ratings skyrocketed almost overnight. Children watched it in their school lunch-hours, workers rushed home in time to see it, and the BBC even changed its third weekly broadcast from Friday to Thursday night after the Breweries complained that people refused to go out until after it had finished. And so the phenomenon known as "The Kingstons", the most popular TV programme in British viewing history, reached its fifteenth birthday.
However, as I looked at the bare plan, I started to seriously wonder if I could really write 8000 words on the thing. I'd easily written a similar article for the "Eastenders" thirtieth Anniversary the year before, despite hardly ever watching the show. The drug abuse, incest, arson, unwanted pregnancies and so on, easily lent themselves to an interesting article. But "The Kingstons"? In fifteen years of occasional viewing I couldn't really recall anything of interest that had actually happened.
I heard a knock at the front door, and looking at my watch realised that it was another of Sophie's deliveries.
I opened the door, the unshaven man thrusting a bitten pen and a clipboard at me to sign. Resignedly, I wrote my name, and the man grunted and walked away down the path past the weeds and empty crisp packets, casually discarding a cigarette in the garden as he left.
In front of me were two brown cardboard boxes, one small and relatively flat, the other as large as a T.V. set. I knelt down and picked them up, the large box surprisingly light. I kicked the door shut with my heel, and carried them through to the kitchen, where I carefully slid them onto the table. The small box was indeed a new video, and, as I'd thought, it was exactly the same as the previous one except this was a TX100 j, the "j" obviously making all the difference.
However, on opening the larger box, I was amazed to find a large plastic cube. It was hollow, and its upper surface could be removed, but as far as I could tell it had no function. I looked at the invoice to see if that could tell me what it was, but it simply said "Colour Cube tm".
And then I saw the price.
At £995 (not including VAT), it couldn't simply be a red plastic box. But, that was all it seemed to be. There were no wires, cables, or electrical components, and its box didn't contain a manual.
I lit another Marly, and sat down staring at it, as I pondered what it could possibly be."
"Nothing you see on television is actually there.
All those blue-rinsed old biddies who worry about all the sex and violence, the bad language and lewd behaviour, they all miss the point.
It's not really there.
It's just thousands of dots; blue, green, red dots all blazing away, a new pointillist work created every microsecond, an abstract image forming again and again and again.
And that's why you had to admire "The Kingstons". Because, despite its crassness, its one dimensional storylines and cardboard characters, it somehow managed to create out of this swirling mass of technicolour a world that was almost obscenely black and white. Wealth is good, poverty is bad. Beauty is good, ugliness bad, and so on and so forth. The possibilities dormant within the maelstrom of colour, the beauties that could be shown, seemed to be ignored in the chrome-and-money world of "The Kingstons".
But then again, it's not really there so why worry?
And as I argued with Sophie, for the second time that day, I had a disturbing glimpse of the world in which she lived. I was poor, weak, and holding her back from the materialistic joys and excesses which she could see just lurking over the horizon of her future. In Kingstons-speak, I was poor, I was weak..... I was bad.
And as I sat watching the T.V. after Sophie had stormed out, I thought about how I viewed our life, our relationship.
And it was then that I realised that I wasn't going to worry about it anymore, I was going to stop losing sleep over how I could get her to love me again, or how we could be happy with each other again.
Because our past love, our happiness, our whole relationship was much like the flat fictitious images on the T.V. screen.
It wasn't really there.
And it never had been."
"Oh, you're still doing that", said Sophie, putting her head round the doorway as I lay on the floor typing. "I hope you videoed "The Kingstons".
"God, that's all you say to me now. I've met pigs who are more articulate than you."
"I didn't know "Harvey Nichols" sold livestock nowadays", I replied.
She curled her lips in disgust, and noisily dropped her briefcase in the doorway. I felt myself relax as she left the room and heard her lifting the cardboard boxes from the corner where I had left them.
I stopped typing for a moment, knowing what to expect.
An excited squeal came from the kitchen.
"What is it?", I shouted through to her.
"A new Colour Cube".
"Yes, I know, but what is it? What does it do?"
I heard her leave the kitchen before seeing her head around the door.
"It doesn't do anything. It's ornamental."
I sat up, perplexed. "Ornamental? A metre wide plastic cube? It's not even smooth. You can see where it's been moulded."
"Well, what does that ugly thing do", she said, pointing at my lamp.
I examined it exaggeratedly.
"I think", I said, "it gives out light. That's probably why it's got a light bulb stuck on top of it."
Her lips curled up again. "Don't be sarcastic. It doesn't suit you." She picked up her briefcase and stomped upstairs. I heard the bedroom door slam, and took a deep breath before returning to work.
Realising that most viewers probably had as much difficulty in remembering the early episodes as I did, I had decided to focus on the more recent ones.
However, as I fast forwarded over a six month-old confrontation between Crispin Kingston and his sister Sophie, something caught my eye. I stopped the tape, rewound it slightly and then played it.
It was on the screen so fleetingly that I had to rewind the tape again in order to pause it, but, there! Just as Sophie was harassing Crispin to leave University and get a proper job, I saw something sitting on the polished oak floor of their living room.
A bright red, shiny Colour Cube."
"I sat at the table, drinking another glass of red wine. Josh and Sophie's other friends were all pretty much as I'd imagined them, flash, pretentious and snobbish, and they sat around talking about "Sales gradients", and "ABC1 Purchasing Curves" for much of the evening.
My few attempts at humour were largely ignored, and after a while I actually found myself being patronised by them, feeling like Nora in "The Doll's House" (although I realised that they wouldn't be able to understand the analogy). I made a joke about seeing an advert for a miraculous new vacuum cleaner from the States called an "Ibsen", and chuckled to myself when all-mighty Josh said that he was currently trying to "work the UK end of their marketing network".
The others nodded wisely and wished him luck.
Indeed, in the three hours I'd been sat at the Hell-table, the only time their talk veered away from work was when they talked about their (expensive) holidays in Rio, Tokyo or Buenos Aires, and when Sophie announced, as if I'd been building a paper-plane, that I was writing an article on "The Kingstons". At this, all heads turned, and I admitted that I was but was unable to continue much further due to the crumbs from a particularly flaky vol-au-vent falling from the edges of my mouth. Their attention thus lost they soon started to discuss their Pension Plans, and I was again ignored.
I looked around the room seeking a quick escape route, and unsuccessfully stifled a yawn. It was decorated in the popular retro Eighties-style popularised by "The Kingstons" - black furniture, bare polished floorboards, silvery-grey rugs and plenty of chrome. Through the conspicuously open double-doors I could see into the living room, or "lounge" as Josh referred to it. It was small, but decorated in the same way. I could see the TV set and video (a TX 100j), the frosted glass door of the video cabinet obviously left open "accidentally", and the various Waldo-like lamps designed by "Aldi of Paris", nestling next to "Ceero" ("Of Barcelona, incidentally") sofas and chairs.
I turned to Sophie who was also looking around the room like a vulture hovering over its prey, obviously comparing their possessions with our own, and, judging by the barely disguised look of annoyance on her face finding ours lacking.
Readying myself for another rash of indiscriminate shopping, I asked where the toilet was, to be told that the "loo" was upstairs, and so flashing a cursory grin at the company (which was ignored) I stood up and left the table.
As I closed the door behind me, I took a deep breath and willed myself to relax. I climbed the stairs, fashionably polished with a thin strip of thick ethnic-style carpet running up the centre, and went to the toilet. I decided to wait in the toilet for a while, to give myself time to "gird my loins" for my next confrontation with them.
As I sat on the toilet-seat, surrounded by a confusing mix of "English Country Cottage", "New York Minimalist", and "Amazonian Ethnic" ornaments and hangings, all fashionable but tastelessly thrown together, I thought about them all chattering downstairs. I'd always hated that sort of person, and until recently so had Sophie, and that was what I found so hard to understand. If anything, it was Sophie's contempt that had rubbed off on me, yet here she was smiling, giggling and flirting like a sixteen year-old. It was understandable why everyone seemed to like her so much, but I just wished they could catch her unawares at home and see what I had to put up with.
The lack of overall design in the room, a hotch-potch of designer items, clashing and contrasting with each other, reminded me of people who dressed in mink-coats and Armani jeans, thinking that the "label" somehow compensated for the appalling overall look.
I could see from the minimalist black-and-white wall-clock - was it normal for me to know the prices of almost everything I could see? - that it was time for me to rejoin the others. I flushed "the loo" and walked back out onto the corridor.
However, as I closed the door, another slightly open door at the end of the corridor caught my attention, and before I was fully aware of what I was doing I was standing outside it. It was painted gold with the familiar "Ikea" May range of Aztec symbols stencilled on it, but it was what lay behind the door, almost hidden in the darkness that caught my attention.
Stealthily, and checking that no-one was leaving the dining room, I opened it and turned on the light.
The bare bulb lit everything with a harsh glare. Although perhaps everything was too strong a word, for the room, while large, was almost completely empty. The floor was uncarpeted, and covered in a thin layer of saw-dust, and a large crumpled mattress lay by the far wall. The walls too, were bare, the mucky plaster adding more to the Aztec motif than I was sure Josh and Charlotte intended. Next to the bed were three large cardboard boxes, full of crumpled designer-clothes, Armani, Gasper and McQueen, and yet that was all. No trendy objet d'art here.
The only part of the room which was in keeping with the dining room, living room and toilet were the drawn curtains, which were the latest designs from "Romanoff's".
Smirking, I discounted moving something so that Josh and Charlotte would see that I knew their secret, and left the room. I opened the door to the other bedroom that was at the top of the stairs, this room too being utterly bare and undecorated. There wasn't even a mattress. Then again, I thought, any guests they may have could be easily put-up on the latest futons they had littered around downstairs.
Downstairs in the rooms where we had been carefully shepherded.
I opened the living room door, and noticed that everyone had finished their Brandys, and were milling around the rooms, admiring Josh's taste in furnishings. As Josh proudly announced that he was having a conservatory built, I found Sophie examining the underside of their Colour-Cube, this one blue, in the living room, hidden from my previous vantage-point by the sofa. She turned to me.
"1003 B", she said.
"1003 B", she repeated. "Ours is 1059 R. Theirs is newer than ours. We'll have to get another one before we invite them to ours."
And so saying, she delicately placed the Colour Cube into its previous position, and, broad smile fixed on her face, went over to talk to Josh about the merits of conservatories in inner-city "living spaces".
Friday, 18 February 2011
" They say we’re living in an age of Celebrity. Celebrity with a capital “C”, because it’s important, not just “celebrity” as in “being known”, but “Celebrity”, because that’s really the thing to strive for. Who cares about the chap who cures cancer or feeds Africa or brings peace to the Middle East? All that matters now is getting your smug face on the telly, filling up the column inches with your non-activities and non-achievements.
And I suppose in a way I’ve colluded with this, writing about the celebrities when they’re dead and buried, outlining the travails of their lives, their highs, their lows.
It used to be that I’d write obituaries about real people; people who deserved to have their lives celebrated. The kind of chap who at 21 had already earned a Victoria Cross for single-handedly storming a Nazi gun emplacement, before rowing the Atlantic at 23, becoming CEO of ICI by 25, then raising a handful of children and acting as a senior consultant to the likes of Wilson and Nixon in his twilight years. Yes, in those days “Celebrity” didn’t really exist. There were stars of course, but they had real glamour, and were few and far between - Monroe, Garbo, Bogie. Yes, those were the days. I remember as a younger man, reading about Buddy Holly’s dying. Ten lines it got. Ten lines. On page seven.
Now, the fact that Jodie Marsh can get out of a taxi without any knickers on is front page news.
Still, who can blame all the youngsters and slack-jaws for worshipping Celebrity. It pays, after all, and pays well.
Look at Dale Winton’s townhouse, for example. Three stories of marble, polished oak and Feng-Shuied designer interiors in the centre of Belgravia, and this the fruits of the labours of a man with no discernible talent, save that of looking uncomfortable on millions of television screens.
And of course, he let me straight in. I looked the part, blue overalls, a blue baseball cap with “Sunbeds of Knightsbridge” embroidered on it. And of course, despite decades of writing incisive summations of people’s lives and work for The Telegraph, he didn’t recognise me. After all, I’m not a Celebrity. I’m not on the telly.
So he let me in, and left me to my own devices. I had worried that I’d have to be particularly stealthy, but he just showed me the room and left me to it. I couldn’t believe how easy he was to fool; he swallowed my story of his sunbed needing a service hook line and sinker. After all, what does he know about real things, important things? What does he need to know? Probably too consumed with discussions with his PR people, his agents and the latest viewing figures.
So I went to work, and took my time about it. The latex gloves made it a bit more difficult, but it didn’t take long for me to remove the plastic base, and get to the workings of the sunbed itself. You see, all sunbeds have a timer mechanism on them. Normally around twenty minutes, but Winton had one of the new super-powerful ones with a six minute timer. All it took was a quick snip snip, and half the job was done. Once turned on, the sunbed could only be turned off by pulling the plug out of the socket, something which was impossible from the bed itself. Which brought me onto the second part of the operation, and the most problematic. I’d toyed with the idea of bunging up the hinges with plastic padding or silicon, but he would’ve noticed that as soon as he tried to shut it. Finally I settled on taking the hood off the bed, then filing two slots into both of the hinges. He’d be able to close the lid okay, but once it was fully closed the two bits of filed metal would catch on each other and the hinges would be locked, and he’d be stuck there, slowly frying under the never-ending UV light.
I suppose these deaths are a bit melodramatic, but perhaps that’s just the writer in me coming out.
But whatever, in thirty minutes I was done, the idiot paid me, and I was on the coach to Brighton within the hour, his obituary already half-written in my head.
Winton kicked the bucket that night, by which time I’d been booked into my hotel room for several hours. The obituary was already on my laptop, and by the time Marcus had tracked me down to commission it, I had the, “My God, that’s awful. Who could do such a thing?” act down pat.
But that’s one of the sad truths about celebrity. I was making more money writing about these microcephalic nobodies than I was writing about true heroes, people who made a difference, who actually did something. Because there wasn’t just the obituary itself. Oh no, for some reason these people merited multi-page feature pull-out sections, with colour photos. So I did those too, and was now making a pretty penny.
More than enough to buy a new car, anyway, although I had been waiting until I could sell my old one before I did that, something I couldn’t do until the heat had died down. I’d cleaned the blood and bits of torn cloth and tissue from the radiator and bumper, but what with everything they can do with forensic science nowadays, I didn’t want to take the risk of taking it to a garage.
And I suppose in some ways I’d formed a sentimental attachment to the thing. After all, it marked the beginning in my change of luck; it was responsible for the upswing in my mood and fortunes."
" Yet despite the successes of my new hobby, the iniquities of the world continued. A writer of my genius can write a novel in only a matter of weeks, yet my latest opus was rejected by every publisher I submitted it to. One even had a brief letter attached, a first for me. Hoping that it offered constructive criticism, I read it quickly and was disgusted to find that the talentless illiterate who had written it had had the temerity to tell me to stop submitting my “rubbish” to them. Once my rage had subsided I re-read the manuscript for the first time since I had finished writing it, and was amazed that it wasn’t really up to my usual standard.
I had to conclude that my true talent was for killing, and that my writing was actually interfering with this vocation. So then, I put all my creative juices into my new occupation and my reign of terror hit a Golden Age, as the number of immolations, explosions, vomit-chokings and anorexia-related deaths boomed across the Capital.
But now, as I sit here, I can see where I went wrong. With my full creative genius focused upon this one end, my assassinations had become increasingly complex, if not downright preposterous, and that was to prove to be my downfall.
I had managed to wangle a ticket to the launch party of Jordan’s new book, from one of the sniffing, red-eyed hacks who worked on the paper’s Showbiz pages. It was held at some outrageously overpriced watering-hole in the West End, and despite wearing my best suit from Saville Row and waving my VIP ticket at the gorillas on the door, they deliberately barred my entrance to the club for almost an hour. Meanwhile so-called celebrity chefs, ex-Big Brother contestants and a stream of mediocrities from the nation’s soap operas streamed past. Finally, they deigned to let me in, as they had had their power game and the importance of my ticket could be ignored no longer. However, as you can imagine my blood was boiling at this point, and every smug fake-tanned face that walked past me was like something from those old cartoons where the starving character would see their friend as a walking hot dog or chicken leg. One had a noose wrapped tightly around his neck: another a drugged orange shoved into her ever-yapping maw. One had overdosed on pharmaceutical grade Viagra, his tool tent-poling out of his trousers like an angry purple truncheon, and another had died from fright after an overdose of LSD and Angel Dust meant that the very sight of the public that they had spent so many years blindly courting led to an intense bout of paranoia and a fatal anxiety attack.
But then I was roused from my reverie by the sight of my target. Jordan was sitting at a table surrounded by an entourage of sycophants, while beyond this circle a large group of stupid-looking young men ogled her ridiculously inflated breasts and nudged their friends with stupid leers spread across their faces.
I fingered the metal pineapple in my pocket, an item of military hardware which had proven ridiculously easy to obtain, once you know which Eastend boozers to go to, and which Paddy’s throat to lubricate.
I moved behind Jordan’s table, and even I was impressed by the voluminous size of her jugs. Yet they made my job easier. Inside my pocket I eased the pin from the grenade.
Yes, soon she would get her wish. Soon her tits would get so big they would literally explode across the room. And her complaint of everyone wanting a piece of her would prove to be painfully true.
I moved closer to her, eyeing the bosom that would envelop my gift to her, and then suddenly, swiftly, I lobbed the grenade down her cleavage, then pushed my way through the throng towards the exit. But one of her companions, probably some media-whore who wanted to prove himself to her, came after me and rugby tackled me to the ground. I fought back desperately, still only a few yards away from her. I could see her groping around her cleavage where the grenade had slipped down.
But as I kicked and screamed and struggled to shift her idiot friend off me, I slowly realised that it was taking its sweet old time to go off. The seconds stretched on and on and painfully on, and it was then that I realised that I’d been ripped off.
Of course, as it transpired I hadn’t been. The Police would have let me off, if that was the case. Just some harmless old eccentric lobbing toys around. No, that bastard bog-trotter hadn’t ripped me off. It was a grenade alright. Just a dud one.
And because of that the Police had gotten me, bang to rights.
And I confess, as I waited to stand trial, I did rue my own ingeniousness. Why hadn’t I just gone around shooting them? A bullet in the back of the head would have been so swift, so final. Why did I have to act like some kind of Bond villain? I mean, a grenade in her cleavage? What was I thinking?"
A scene from the latest (as yet untitled) story from "State of the Nation"?
Yep, possibly. Let's just say that, like the rest of the collection, it's a satire on life in the UK today. There is a "concensus" on what constitutes true Elvisness, and woe-betide anyone who would postion themself as a "Vegas-denier."
Hopefully, I'll get the first draft of this done before Easter.