Thursday, 28 October 2010

Miguelanxo Prado's Adult Spanish Comic Première

I throw myself into the Instituto Cervantes, the institute for all things Spanish, on Deansgate. I’m a few minutes late, due to the shite-ness of First Buses- they left me stranded at Oldham Mumps bus depot where the drivers change over, and I sat on the bus for 15 fucking minutes just waiting for the second driver to turn up.


When I get in, a woman gives me a set of headphones attached to a CB radio, and I can already hear a Spanish-tinted voice, in English, translating the man speaking. I presume- correctly- that the bearded man in the mismatched suit is Miguelanxo Prado, the Spanish comic book artist who is here to discuss his work for the Manchester Literature Festival. Behind me, in a small room, is a man translating Mr. Prado over the airwaves.

“I consider myself to be a creator of the twenty-first century,” Prado says. “It’s very difficult to justify the figure of ‘the artist’.”

The translation is interesting- it isn’t always clear, as you can tell from the above statement, what he's saying or implying. Prado’s messages come through most powerfully, however, through his visuals. On his whiteboard, he draws a simple line image of a horse. He describes how the first creatures to draw on walls- our ape ancestors- recognised each other’s images. Still today, no other animals will recognise, he explains, the image of a creature as representing the creature itself.

Prado, who learned to draw in his twenties by “reading like mad”, released his first book in 1982. George Orwell’s work, he says, inspired the SF comic. Through the projector, he shows us a scene of a man being attacked by a dog… interesting. A Clockwork Orange inspired the story, the visuals- featuring dark, strange buildings- nodding to Cubism.

He shows us a plethora of images on the screen behind him- large, vibrant scenes, void of text captions. (There are “American English” translations for a small amount of his work, Prado says, but not these pieces.) There’s a comic version of Peter and the Wolf. Here’s a story about a giant squid. Following this is a scene of Hitler using hypnotism to turn people Nazi. For some reason… this makes me think of sausages.

The images he shows us are caption-less- the Spanish text removed, presumably to avoid distraction. Prado has, however, created comics with no words, allowing purely the visuals to tell the story.

We are the first people, Prado says, to see his new images. His work-in-progress is a story set in a mountain village, in which no-one has any memory of anything. “Without memory,” says the artist, “our characters would change. We couldn’t look back to compare, or evaluate. We’d be stuck in a vicious circle.”

It’s then that I realise I can smell sausages cooking somewhere in a nearby room of the building. God-damn, I’m hungry.

Prado says he likes to “test the limits of what can and can’t be done” in the field of comics. This testing has landed him with a few lawsuits over some of his satirical strips, which has only helped to further his career. “Chroniques Absurdes”, his subsequent comic, could be described as the only available courtroom-based comic book. Describing it as “psychotherapy” and “a chance to get rid of all the ghosts”, the book featured doctors, lawyers and “perverse happenings and the absurd” to allow us to laugh at ourselves.

Prado goes on to tell us that in Spain, girls “have a name for not being very good drivers”, getting disapproving murmurs from the female members of the audience, and that he flattened all four tyres of a woman’s car after she took his parking space. He also admits to coercing a shop attendant into selling him some reserved vegetables out of spite, after seeing a pretentious-looking woman order the “grillos” moments before.

“In Manchester, you won’t know this type of woman,” he says. “Fairly elegant, overdoing… giving too much importance to one’s appearance.”

They do exist here, mate, I write in my notebook.

Prado sketches a rich-looking woman who resembles Cruella DeVille from 101 Dalmatians.

Over the microphone there’s a rustling sound as Prado doodles, as if the translator has a pencil and is having a go himself.

“As you can see, she has hair like Margaret Thatcher,” Prado says. “Effectively elegant, perhaps.” Hmm. Never thought of Thatcher as “elegant”, personally, but he makes sense when he's drawing. Coupled with his images, the narration is surprisingly descriptive.

In the closing Q+A session, when the Cervantes employee jogs between audience members with a microphone, Prado answers agrees that even though we are more likely to imagine that kids are the consumer group reading comics, they are actually the ones missing out. The best artwork, he says, is in the comics for adults.

I suspect that UK adults will take a long time to come around to the medium of comics. There’s a bit of a stigma around the medium- Particularly in Britain- people generally assume that comics are for kids or geeks. But you never know. If people realise the breadth of graphic novels, and start to take a shine to them, the name Miguelanxo Prado might start to ring a few bells.

The official website is in Spanish, so I’ve had to resort to the Wikipedia page for reference:

Here’s blogger Alex Herod’s enthusiastic write-up for the Manchester Literature Festival official blog:

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Meeting Iain M Banks

IanMBanksspeaksreallyreallyquickly. Here he is, in Manchester’s Waterstones, all wavy grey hair and stubble, introducing his new Science Fiction novel Surface Detail.

“You’ve no whisky, but there’s plenty of water,” says the Scotsman, pouring a glass from the jug behind the lectern.

He stops and starts with his intro- he’s going to start reading this segment soon.

“I always think these lecterns are like spit guards for the front row,” he says, gesticulating to the audience with one hand, book in the other.

He reads the first line. Breaks off.

“Oh, just so you know,” he says, and updates us on the plot for our understanding, talking at about ten words per second, and then the reading begins- at a more comfortable pace. A war breaking out in outer space is a heavily-trodden SF scenario, but Banks has written it well.

“So as you can see,” he says after the reading, “it’s a kitchen-sink drama of the surrealist style…” This gets a laugh. Banks is, from the moment he appears in front of us, an extravagant, zany, and hilarious man. He gesticulates a lot, waving his arms around. His Fife accent is strong and he swears a fuckin’ loat, but he’s great to listen to. He explains, “I make a fool of myself so you don’t feel intimidated.” Then he pretends to jump out of the 1st story Deansgate window.

Banks’s own presentation, coupled with the Q&A session, weaves through a galaxy of strange topics. He has his own IPhone app. The M in his name, he says, stands for “marketing.” A major film studio is considering his novel Consider Phlebas. His “wee Banky eyes” prevent contact use, so the glasses-wearing Banks isn’t too keen on 3D. Hence, you probably won’t see any of his novels made into 3D movies. His eyesight also hindered him, he tells us, when he went to a nudist beach with a friend. His friend could see the goods- Banks couldn’t. Gutted. On the issue of nudity, he says he has a drawer at home stocked with unpublished story drafts. “It’s absolutely full of sex and violence,” he says, “none of which I have any experience of.”

One of his unpublished works, a collection of short SF stories titled TTR, is chock-full of puns. According to Banks, it has a pun-to-word ratio of 1-10. In a moment of bizarre anti-promotion, he says “If someone ever brings them out, don’t buy them ‘cause they’re shite.”

He goes on to mention how the bad guys in his stories aren’t always brought to justice. This isn’t a hint at an impending sequel, he says, but he points out that in real life, this happens. And cites Tony Blair. I can’t argue with that.

“I’ve just noticed there are children in here,” he says, embarrassed after using the F-word maybe 70 times. “Flippin’ heck!”

In case you didn’t know, Iain Banks and Iain M Banks are two writers, amalgamated in the same human body. The former of the two writes contemporary fiction. The latter pens SF. The two writers sit at the same desk, juggling projects inside their one impressive brain. Banks says that writing as both is “like spinning plates.” He juggles projects as he has two markets to keep his place in. It looks like he's doing well in SF- The Guardian has called him "the standard by which the rest of SF is judged".

It’s his choice which name gets printed on the book, which genre he writes in. “I could be Iain X Banks,” he says, “writing pornography!” Well. Let’s see if that happens. It could be good.

There is one other Banks project in the pipeline. He tells us of a phone call he recently received from his editor. Miming the phone in his hand, he says, “What’s that? A book? On whisky? You want someone to tour Scotland? Tasting sessions?... I’m your boy!”

That would be awesome, I think. I wonder, while we get our picture taken, if he knows how hard it is to write drunk. I suspect he does.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Bugged Launch

“On a single summer's day, writers from all over the UK took part in a mass eavesdropping experiment. They snooped on unsuspecting people in coffee shops, on trains, in the hairdresser's salon... and turned their over-heard snippets into new writing. Bugged brings together award-winning writers including Stuart Maconie (Pies and Prejudice), Mil Millington (Things My Girlfriend Have Argued About) and Jenn Ashworth (A Kind of Intimacy), with a host of new voices. Pay close attention to their words. After all- they may have been listening to you.”

-Blurb for Bugged

The Bugged book launch took place on the 14th of this month. The launch was the first official event of the festival. I was there, along with Joely Black, who wrote the official writeup. Check her account out here:

On 1st July, a group of Manchester writers were given a secret mission: to eavesdrop on the public... To “bug” them. They went on trains, to weddings, into maternity wards, to places and events all over the UK. The Bugged organisers wanted sharp flash fiction and poetry based on what they heard.

Within four months, Bugged the book was in paperback- a remarkable turnaround. Now at the launch, the contributors are ready to tell us more on the project and read sections of their stories.

“Pay attention to what they say,” says compare Jo Bell, “because they might have been bugging you.”

Contributor Cathy Bryant, who is also launching her own collection of stories soon, read an excerpt of her story. “Usually if I'm in a room this posh,” she said, “it's because one of my friends is being sentenced.”

Other readers included Dorothy Burgess, who “bugged” her sister-in-law to create the story “Let Go”, and Emma Morgan, who Jo assured us “knows how to skin a rabbit”, reading her tale “Honey”. Balancing the gender issue was life writer Ian Marchant, whose story “Rumours” featured a man dealing with Fleetwood Mac records being pumped through the walls on full blast at midnight... by his 23-year-old neighbour. Valerie O'Leary's “Magic Mirror” featured a woman being tricked into using urine as a beauty product. Phil Williams- who sounded just like the lead singer of Goldie Looking Chain, although in his suit looked nothing like them, read out his piece. “You aren't going to fucking do that, are you?”- the name of the poem- ends on a tense note. Phil claimed he's “a casualty of the cuts and will read for pints.”

Here's GLC, for those who don't know:

And here's the Bugged site

I'm planning on trying something of this nature- using real conversations to make new literature- so I gave the organisers my email. And of course, bought the book. Even though some of the contributors are new writers, the overall level of writing talent in the book is high. Check it out.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Why Do We Still Have Glass Glasses?

A few months ago, I was drinking in a charming little shithole pub called The Britannia, a Tudor-style watering hole near the edge of Oldham centre. It was fairly traditional- no doormen, no dress code, but rammed on this particular Saturday night.

The moment you walk in, you know what’s going to happen. If someone looks like a chav, and acts like a chav, they probably are a chav. And when a tiny pub is full, and 90% of the customers fit that bill, it isn’t going to stay peaceful. It couldn’t not kick off. It’s an inevitability within the circumstances.

Bar fights follow a certain pattern. You’d imagine they'd be noisy affairs, but there’s a crescendo of sound just before the actual fight. In a busy bar, you’ll see virtually nothing on your average kick-off- unless you’re stood right next to it. The people closest to the fight- but who aren’t involved- they all step back onto the toes of the people behind them. The bar’s hubbub increases with a few “woah”s before all casual conversation is cut off. The brawlers have everyone’s attention; they are fighting in near silence.

In this instance, a tall guy in a United shirt was launching himself at another ruffian, who had fallen back onto his arse. Ruffian, soaked in beer after losing his pint at the start of the fight, curled up. United threw a few kicks at his opponent, who. He was then punching down, hard, onto his opponent’s head, throwing a kick to the body for good measure.

Ruffian was lying in the broken glass of his own pint, strangely expressionless, when a third aggressor stepped in with his own half-full pint. He slammed it lengthways over United’s head.

United stood very still for a second, looking more confused than anything. Then blood began to piss down his face, running quickly through the beer.

I left by the front door before the police barged in.

I think this shows that certain people will be dickheads through and through- you’ll never stop them from fighting. But over the last few months, I’ve become more and more amazed that glass hasn’t been completely replaced by plastic across bars nationwide.

Think of the benefits. The situation at the Britannia would still have been violent. At least two people would have needed stitches that night. How many would if the pint pots had been plastic?

A few months ago, somewhere else in the country, an argument had brewed in another boozer. The doormen booted out the offending toerag, who was still pint-in-hand. He launched the glass pot back through the doorway out of spite. It smashed into the bar, a shard landing in the neck of a by-standing drinker. The bystander bled to death before the ambulance got to the scene. The man who threw the pint was behind bars within a few weeks. Suffice to say, if all the glasses had been plastic, that man would still be alive.

Aside from how comparatively lethal glass is, a plastic alternative would be a benefit to both sides of the bar. A pint of beer gets warm and flat because glass is a conductor. Plastic is not. With plastic, you can enjoy your drink for longer.

Behind every bar, there’s a glasswash machine. These give you shiny, clean pint glasses in a matter of seconds- using scalding hot water. Bar staff have to wait for glasses to cool down before they using them again- firstly because of handling, and secondly because a warm glass makes a flat pint. On a busy Saturday night, remember, time is of the essence.
Plastic would speed up this process.

Plastic is also lighter. Glass collectors will benefit here, as they are the ones hauling these- in their hundreds- from the main bar back to the glass wash room.

Everyone makes mistakes, especially when drunk. People drop pints, miss tables, bump into people, kick empties off podiums and step on wine glasses with high heels. These broken glasses need sweeping up fast, for safety reasons. The chances of you falling over and cutting yourself on broken plastic… well, it’s possible, but not likely.

It’s such an obviously good idea to switch to plastic, nationally. Yet the only places I’ve seen doing this were Manchester student bars, years ago. Ironically, it never kicked off in these places.

I think some managers have a “glass is class” mentality, and that by switching to plastic their punters would think the bar is cheap or tacky, or that they aren’t trusted not to smash glasses over each other’s heads. Which might be the case.

That’s why it’s down to the government to enforce a rule to keep glass out of bars. The bars won’t do it themselves. The country spends £100 million a year on glass-related violence, says the BBC. There have been “fresh calls” recently to make the change to plastic, but nothing is going through parliament. Why not?

Someone should start a Facebook group. Let’s once again remind the government what they need to do here. If we can get a decent number of people involved, we can perhaps get an MP on the case. Then we can get the problem swept up.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

I am a Lighthouse.

I'm very proud to present my first guest writer, Oldham poet Lynn Myint-Maung. During a recent poetry workshop, I wrote Doctor Atomic (see previous post). This was in response to the interview I did with Lynn. Lynn then interviewed me about my writing crusade, and from her investigations she produced this fine poem.

Poem for Matt

Like a beacon at sea,
flash, off; flash, off;
Distant and small
But brave and enduring
Big battery, no place for failing
But lonely and yearning.

Then response.

Winking gleam
And another and another
Then a sea full of lights
Gay and triumphant
Flash, off; flash, off.
You believed and kept the faith
Gained joy from an act of will
Caused community from darkness 

Monday, 18 October 2010

Doctor Atomic

On Wednesday 13th October, poet Dominic Berry held a poetry workshop in Oldham Library. Our exercise was to pair up, interview each other on life experiences and write a poem based on what your partner tells you. The timed interviews and writing exercises, I think, helped to bring the best out of us all. Lynn Myint-Maung told me of a stunning orchestral performance she'd been to see the night before. So Lynn, this one's for you.

Doctor Atomic

“Doctor Atomic”, the guide-book says.
The Houston Symphonic sit in tuxedoes,
a well-structured flock of armed penguins,
wielding powerful instruments.
The music blasts and blows,
slamming into the walls
of Manchester's Bridgewater Hall.
The orchestra, planet-large,
performs worldwide,
dropping audio bombs on shell-shocked, dazzled punters.
The piece ends sudden, like the lifting of a record player's needle
like life after the bomb hits the ground.

Life re-emerges in the second half.
“Planet Suite” expands through the auditorium,
the musicians a silhouetted army,
standing guard before a giant projection.
An orange haze, swirling textures.
Zoom out: the planet's curved edges appear
we're staring at Jupiter's storm,
a colossal blemish.
A hundred classical fans convert
they are new-found astronomers now,
voyaging to Jupiter itself.

So what did Lynn write about me? Stay tuned...

Sunday, 17 October 2010

In Conversation: Martin Amis and Andrew Davies

On Monday 11th October, novelist Martin Amis sat on the stage of the Martin Harris theatre with Andrew Davies, who is known for his screenplay adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and Emma. Amis, also a University of Manchester lecturer, is best known for his novels Money and Night Train.

There's little point in me harping on about every detail of the night. So instead, check out blogger Alex Herod's fine account of the Manchester Literature Festival event here:

Aside these descriptions, Andrew Davies- who could pass as the love-child of Bill Murray and Anthony Hopkins- also recited many more tales, one of which featured Brian DePalma's immense beer gut.

He also mentioned the shooting of the movie Saturn Three. During this shoot Kirk Douglas had a hard time working with a female lead, who's stubborn assurance that she wouldn't disrobe for the camera led to Douglas threatening to “rip her fucking clothes off.” Davies tells us Saturn co-star Harvey Keitel “had a thing about nudity too,” and when Davies went to his house, a few weeks before the shoot, Keitel opened the door in the buff. I've not seen Saturn Three, but apparently there's a fight scene between Keitel and Douglas. Douglas wasn't too happy about this- not just because he loses but because Keitel is so much bigger than him. Eventually Douglas agreed to lose if it's an unfair fight. So that's why, if you've seen the film, Keitel sneaks up on him (predictably naked) and whacks him with a tyre iron.

Later, Davies mentions that Director Robert Altman (M*A*S*H, The Player, Short Cuts, Pret-a-Porter), although being “an absolute joy to work with”, had an attention span of maybe four to five minutes. This made filming somewhat drawn out.

Although Hollywood has treated Davies well, he's critical that the industry butchered so many of his scripts. Of the six that made it to the cinema screen, he says Circle of Friends was the only one not “hi-jacked” by America. From reading IMDB, I'd say it sounds like the Irish 1950's Rules of Attraction.

During the Q+A, I asked about feedback for budding screenwriters. I mentioned how advice on stories and poems were always readily available online, but screenplays... nobody seems to know much about them.

“This is the question that every writer really dreads...” said Davies. “Show them to your friends first, then professionals. Most of us can tell the difference between a bad script and a good one. Well, in fact,” he says, waving his palms into himself, “send them to me, darling!”

Stay tuned, Mr. Davies.

He also mentioned this site:

The Script Factory describes itself as “one of Europe’s leading film-makers’ organisations finding and developing new screenwriting talent; supporting the people who work with screenwriters and screenplay material; and presenting unique and unmissable live filmmaking events with some of cinema’s top creative talent.”

I bought a copy of Amis' yuppie-lifestyle novel, Money, which Amis himself signed before a handshake.

Friday, 8 October 2010

New Jersey Poet CK Williams

“I’ve been writing a lot of sexy poems recently”, says CK Williams, leaning into the microphone. “I’m not sure how much you can bear.”

It's 3rd October. I’m the theatre of the Martin Harris Centre in The University of Manchester. The poet is here, as part of Manchester Literature Festival, to read from his new anthology Wait.

Williams reads out various pieces of his, including “Wood”, a surreal tale about a girl who’s stomach turned into timber, and “The Dance”, in which Williams is watching a stranger singing as he walks down the road, oblivious. “This Happened” was a tragedy, featuring a beautiful 18-year-old girl falling out of a window, and “Light” shed new, um, light, on cave bats. Continuing the animal theme, “Apes” described how violent these creatures are, and hence how alike they are to us. The events described in “Bianca Burning” take place in the UK, Williams assures us. In it he tells of circus performer Bianca, and of her vagina. Can’t say I know her.

In most of his poems, Williams repeats certain phrases for impact.

For impact.

Like that.

In the Q+A session Williams, who is a Princeton University Lecturer, advises reading aloud as you write. That way if you read it out to others, you don’t have to think about the delivery- it should come naturally. He also claims that writing poetry can clear the mind. “The meaning of the poem,” he says, “resolves what the poem is about.”

The event was a little short on book copies, so when I got to the front I shook the man's hand and gave the last copy of Wait to the girl behind me. There. I'm not a total bastard after all!

Suffix: I walked out with the complimentary glass of wine and sipped it all the way back to Oldham Street, where a random Scottish pisshead stood in the middle of the road, performing a terrible a capella rendition of Kiss the Rain.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Meeting Jonathan Franzen

When I finally gave up any hope of doing anything representative of the American family, I actually seemed to have tapped into other people's weirdness in that way.
-Jonathan Franzen

A striking leaf-design green wallpaper completely covers the main hall of Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery. Easy listening music thrums out of the speakers, all tunes referenced in the novels of Jonathan Franzen. Tonight Franzen himself will be talking about his new novel, Freedom, and he'll be signing copies.

Host and novelist Dave Haslam introduces the night, standing in with his back to the floor-to-ceiling windows as the sun goes down behind the park. He says there are 18 limited-edition copies of a Freedom publicity poster up for grabs. After telling us a little about the U.S. novelist, he invites Jonathan Franzen onto the main stage.

Franzen, his slightly crazy grey hair askew, picks up the wooden lectern and hauls it from the floor up to the stage. “This is the weirdest lectern I’ve ever seen,” he says. “It’s like a sermon box.” He turns it around, and we can see a strange slot in the wood, like he’s supposed to post something into it when he’s finished presenting.

He then dives into a segment of Freedom, a funny scene featuring a college freshman on the phone to the MILF mother of the girlfriend he’s ignoring.

After this, an Art Gallery representative tells Franzen that the “lectern” is actually a comment box for gallery visitors to post their thoughts on the exhibitions. She then asks the author about the title of the book.

Franzen mentions he felt like “an adolescent” up to the age of 49. “I wanted to write a book that would free me in some way,” says the 51-year-old. I guess we’ll have to read the book to properly get the title, to see whether it's just about feeling your age, or whether it's more than that.

Perhaps it was getting his face on the cover of Time Magazine that kicked him into accepting adulthood. Perhaps it was how his 2001 novel The Corrections made it into Time's All-Time 100 Novels. Regardless of this, Franzen is modest. “It's just a novel,” he says. “Don't take it too seriously.”

During the questions (when he describes straight-faced heavyweight writer Don DeLillo as “amusing”) a fan asks about how he’s been reported as being quite a nice guy. How much of that does he put on?

“I wouldn’t fake it,” he says. And he knows the importance of good behaviour in his position. “If a writer snaps a little bit,” he says, “you can see it going straight into a blog.” Indeed.

A punter asks whether he would persuade or dissuade people from becoming novelists, and whether others should encourage people to enter that competitive line of work.

“If an English teacher spots the kid is good,” Franzen says, “why not? We’ll still be reading fiction of some form (in the future). Besides, it’s good for the soul to write fiction.”

The guy’s getting old, as are many prolific authors, and despite hammering out good writing, his age is showing when a fan throws technology into the discussion. Currently 25% of his book sales are e-books. “I don’t like that,” he says. “Occasionally people stick a kindle in my face, and ask me, ‘can you sign my kindle?’ I think books are nice objects.” I agree. Kindles, it seems, don’t do it for him.

Signing time. My phone is now ancient and having a picture with him takes a few attempts as the shutter is slowing by the day. But of course, he doesn’t snap.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Poetry Drop-in with John Siddique

“I'll touch things, and I'll know what the story is,” Says John Siddique, author of ‘Recital – An Almanac’ and numerous other poetry books. It's Saturday 2nd October. Today he's at The Manchester Museum with a group of writers, delivering a poetry advice session.

He describes how ideas for poetry can frequently be very strange, and when we discuss them with others we might feel weird about it. “We are all mad,” he says. “We don't need to apologise.”

I'm relieved by that. It's a good opportunity for me to get my head around poetry, as I don't really understand the genre. John suggests being nosey, to ask questions, and to think “what if” to make writing. To wonder what's in clear sight that we're not allowed to see. As we're in a museum, there's plenty for inspiration- group members worked with the Burmese Buddha (which is a slim male, as is tradition- not like other fat Buddha images), a preserved Giant Spider Crab and a fire exit.

After finishing the poem most of us- me included- aren't bowled over by what we've done, but we read it anyway. John advises us never to condescend your own work. Instead, encourage yourself like you'd encourage others.

“You wouldn't smack a child if they couldn't walk,” he says. “Everything we do, we're a baby.”

So be positive about your own writing. Don't slag it off!

Monday, 4 October 2010

Manchester Reads the Sixties

"There was a man. . .a writer of subversive literature."
-Minister of the Interior, A Clockwork Orange

A little celebration of the literature of the 1960's took place on the first of the month at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester. The building, from what I can gather, is a cross between a coffee shop, a bookshop, a museum and a literary research facility- bare brick walls, Burgess novels for sale. Burgess himself lived just down the road in Withington, with his piano-player father and singer / dancer mother. It's fitting that there's a venue in the city recognising his achievements. I was one of the youngest people there- most of the audience had about 20 years on me, and the panel had maybe 30.

So who were the panel? Editorial Director of Penguin Books, Tony Lacey; biographer and writer of The Real Life of Anthony Burgess, Andrew Biswell; author of 60's novel The Millstone, Margaret Drabble (who was “impersonating Lynn Barber”, an author/journalist who couldn't make it), and Ian Haywood (Professor of English at the University of Surrey Roehampton and author of Working-Class Fiction: from Chartism to Trainspotting).

Margaret Drabble's third son is Gardener's World's Joe Swift. Small world.

Books mentioned: Kes, A Clockwork Orange, The Millstone, Upstairs Downstairs. Mr. Biswell describes how the working class was first brought to the public eye in popular literature during this time, particularly with the above examples. He reads out the cinema scene in Kes. He discusses Nadsat, the dialect used by Alex and his “droogs” in A Clockwork Orange. He discusses what Kubrick left out of the film- the drugs, the child's skull in Alex's wardrobe, the child rape scene that was filmed as adult consensual sex (and edited into fast forward against the William Tell Overture). See here:

Apparently, the original script- with some of this still included- is in the basement of the Anthony Burgess Foundation.

While I was there I bought Biswell's book along with Don't Look Now and Other Stories by Daphne DuMaurier. Nicholas Roeg's 1973 adaptation is possibly the scariest film ever made, so hopefully the book won't disappoint.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

September Blur

Desk Sergeant: Turn that thing off.
[points at the guy's radio]

Guy with radio: [without pausing] I'm listening to the weather report - why haven't you found my dog - he's vital to my income - he paints such marvellous pictures with he's paws!

- Bizarre line from Death Wish, starring Charles Bronson.

Bit of a rushed month, and October will be more so, so let's make this snappy.

1) Harry Brown
Ages ago, I saw the trailer for Harry Brown. Awesome, I thought. Caine is back on-form being a hard bastard again a la Get Carter. Revenge movie, huh? Vigilante story, right? Well, Caine wouldn't get himself involved in another Death Wish clone. Would he?...

Shit. He did. He's the only decent thing in the movie- playing Brown, the ex-SAS serviceman pensioner who is a surprisingly good shot, even though he appears to have arthritis in his old age. And hasn't held a gun for decades. And that's the ONLY surprising aspect of the fim. Spoiler alert, not that you should be arsed. You know he's going to live. You know the police are going to let him off and cover up his killings. (Charles Bronson's Paul Kersey got the same treatment in Death Wish.) You know the disbelieving male cop will die. You know the fragile, unconvincingly vulnerable female cop will live. You know he's going to kill the people who sold him the gun, burn down their weed factory, and self-righteously drop the overdosing girl off at the hospital. The only reasons people liked it was because a) Caine was back to playing his hard-bastard archetype characters, which he has always done well and still does, and b) so they could say, “Yeah, I see shit like that happen every day. If only Harry Brown would emerge in my neighbourhood, knock off a few scrotes and make it a better place.” But the film doesn't actually expand on our knowledge of the world. It doesn't enlighten us or say anything new about the situations most of us face in society.

Harry Brown is also very similar to Without Remorse, a Tom Clancy novel about a Navy SEAL who seeks revenge after the gangsters/pimps who employed his ex-hooker girlfriend abduct her and murder her. Both of these stories include a torture-a-sub-character-to get-answers scene.

Thinly plotted and predictable. Opportunities to say something profound about our time were drastically overlooked. Without Caine the film is nothing.

2) UCC 3: 'Night Breed'
Friday, 17th September. Syndicate nightclub, Blackpool. The rotating dance floor is not switched on, but placed on top of it is a full-sized Mixed Martial Arts cage. Tonight, Quannum MMA's Danny Cullen will be competing in his début fight against Tommy Hall. Not only is it Cullen's first fight, it's also the first fight of the night. From the opening bell, Cullen comes out firing. He dominates Hall with kicks and punches, getting caught only once or twice. At the start of the second round, Cullen goes for a takedown and, after a grapple, floors Hall. Cullen fires a few shots off on the floor and takes the back, finishing Hall with a Rear Naked Choke. Awesome.
After this, we go out on the lash around Blackpool. At the end of the night I sneak into Danny's BnB, sleep on the floor for a good 2 hours, then hide behind the door in the morning when the manager comes in. I dart out of the front door once she's gone, and run all the way back to Syndicate where I left the car.

Hunter S Thompson once said, “And there was a certain bent appeal in the notion of running a savage burn on one Las Vegas hotel, and then just wheeling across town and checking into another.”

Well. Not entirely relevant, but it was for some reason in my mind as I darted down the main strip back to the club in an attempt to track down my car.

Anyone with Youtube videos or other points to add in, feel free to comment.

There's only one Danny Cullen. Team Quannum all the way.

3) The Hot-tub
I made a splash this month at Wahoo bar in Oldham. Literally. I couldn't resist the hot-tub party. I also couldn't resist stripping down to the boxers and diving in with DJ Katie. The tub was on stage at the back of the bar, for all the voyeurs out there. And why not? There were two ridiculously good-looking people in it...

4) Rififi's Dancers are SHITE

Here, I mentioned that, at local nightclub Rififi, I was offered a job as a dancer:

I then mentioned that nobody got back to me about the position:

Well, recently I was in Rififi and two girls had been hired as dancers. And guess what? They couldn't dance for shit. Your loss, Rififi. And sorry, but I'm moving to the far side of Oldham soon, so Stalyvegas will be out of my reach. You shoulda called...

5) Manchester Literature Festival
Ending on a high note, Manchester will be deluged in the written word and all things pertaining to it over the next few weeks. The Manchester Literature festival includes book signings, discussions, fiction, poetry, amateur creative writing, blogging and much more. I've been given the nod as an official event blogger, and my account of the “Carbon Diaries” event will be shown on the website.
Keep your eyes peeled! I'll also be writing up a few of the events for my own blog right here.

I hope my paws have painted enough of a picture for you...

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Manchester Blog Meet

“Blogging is best learned by blogging...and by reading other bloggers.”
-George Siemens, theorist

Thursday, 30 September. Umbro's design studio is filling up fast. Aside from the sports brand's cardboard cut-out cartoon characters, there are also actual human beings populating the building- specifically bloggers. We're here basically to try to get more readers.

Blogger Fat Roland welcomes us and introduces the night. Here's his electronica-based blog:

He hands over to Aaron, an Umbro representative who gives us the low-down on the location. The venue is a cross between a design studio and a shop, and has very recently opened. Umbro itself has spent 85 years operating in Manchester, but now with the arrival of the new studio there will be a new slant: You'll soon be able to walk into the store and design your own football shirt... and then buy it! Hurrah.

Every year, Umbro give £60,000 to fund public events. They recently held a giant tea party in London. Got an idea that could bring people together? You might £10k to fund it if your idea's good enough. This ain't on the website yet, so there's some insider gossip for you.

I was firing blog cards with the enthusiasm of a 1980's Manhattan yuppie. Other people were shouting about their writing, and I promised I'd shout them out too.
This bizarre but interesting collection- appropriately football-themed- is “a collection of work about Roy Keane, luck, and scarves.” They're open to submissions... NOW!
In the site's words: “The concept behind 330 Words is simple. Take a photograph and let it inspire you towards a piece of fiction. Let your photograph form the foundation of your story. Choose your own genre and style. Keep the entire thing under 330 words.” I promised the editor I'd have a go. Stay tuned, my friend.

Lee Moore's movie blog. Go Lee. He pointed out- accurately- that his blog is the top Google search result if you were to query “penguin abuse”. Hmm.

Dave Hartley's blog “Do a Barrel Roll” was a winner at last year's Manchester Blog Awards. The theme? Film reviews and rabbits. Find good writing on both of these topics, here.

Here's another thing I learned on the night. Want more info on your blog readers? Apparently this site works:
It's handy to know how many readers you have, obviously. It also tells you which web page they had been on before clicking to your site. A kind-of “where they found you” device. I'll throw it on my site soon.

The night's highlight- bumping into someone I gave a blog card to about 18 months ago, who still reads my work. Miracles happen. Keep reading!