Sunday, 28 October 2012

Blog North Awards 2012

At this year's Blog North Awards (previously known as the Manchester Blog Awards), whilst in fact downing a fair quantity of Canadian Club whisky and Wild Turkey bourbon, I learned a new synonym for “arse”. Today I would not know the phrase “jelly pack at the back” had the awards not been rebranded to allow the nomination of northern blogs from outside of Manchester.

This knowledge was bestowed to me on Wednesday 17th October in Manchester's Deaf Institute when the Liverpudlian Amy Roberts- reading from her blog I Never KnewYou Were Such a Monster- told a vivid story of a clothes store assistant trying to get her mysogynistic boss to throw out a teenage boy who slapped her backside.

Following this, Kevin Boniface takes the stage. “I'm a postman from Huddersfield,” he says, “and this is me blog.” And so he gives us an engaging tale of dysfunction, whereby he makes his home town feel like a very small one. Find it for yourself on The MostDifficult Thing Ever.

Another highlight of the evening was a presentation from blogger Len Grant, whose blog Her First Year followed a young family- father Hassan and mother Frances- as they raise their baby, Mia, in Manchester's Moss Side. Len met the family through the Reclaim project,  “about helping young people build self confidence and reliance on their own inherent talents that even they may not have realised.” The four were part of a fascinating discussion, gurgles from Mia included.

A presentation with a cute baby is a tough act to follow, but Sci Fi novelist Adam Christopher managed just that by discussing his newest book, the intriguing Empire State. He also discussed how he had to stop blogging altogether to get his novels finished (“You need to do it if you're going to do it”, he said). His next novel, Hangwire, lands in 2015.

One criticism I have of the awards is this: although Adam's work was really interesting, this is still the BLOG North awards, about blogging. I like fiction personally, but not everyone who has an interest in blogging necessarily does. It's a totally different form of writing, so is it relevant? Especially seeing as Adam admitted that blogging got in the way of his novel's completion? Isn't there enough content on the actual blogs to be read out?

Anyway. After a break (where I buy more liquor and my handwriting diminishes further) the awards are read out. Each winner gets £50 and hosting from professional web hosts 34SP.

Best Arts and Culture Blog
The winner: A Negative Narrative

Best City or Neighbourhood Blog
The winner: Sevenstreets (This blog received 5 cease and desist letters!)
The runner up: Unicycle Emptiness

Best Food and Drink Blog
The runner up: Squidbeak

Best Personal Blog
The winner: Her First Year
The runner up: A Different View

Best Specialist Blog
The runner up: Fontilan

Best Writing

Best Young Blogger
The winner: A tie between Considerate Trespassing and Every Second Song
The runner up: Celluloid Wickerman

Speaking to 2010 winner and 2011 panel judge Fat Roland, we agreed that it was good to see a lot of fresh faces at the event. Not only were the blogs different to those nominated in the previous years, but the attendees of the event were relative newbies- these blogging events tend to attract their regulars like Roland and myself. Most people I didn't know, and both Roland and I felt a breath of life had been blown into the Awards event.

For more details, check out Laura Maley's fine writeup on the Manchester Literature Festival blog.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012


Sentry lasers fire
rock and ice dot the blazed sky
Incoming comet!

Monday, 22 October 2012

Believe in the Product

Not long after I graduated in 2005, I blagged myself a job in media sales, flogging- or attempting to flog- advertising space on a trade newspaper. In my first week, the sales manager- a tough, stern Sooth Ifrican- gave a training seminar whereby he dispensed advice on the art of selling. He covered a number of elements of the telesales role- how to open, to engage, and to close a client, complete with his own bizarre sales-themed anecdotes.

Oi went to this one guy’s house and knocked on his door. ‘Nah, Oi’m not interested’, he said. ‘What are you not interested in?’ Oi said. ‘Oi heven’t even teld you woy I’m calling.’ He slemmed the door in moy face, sah oi went rand to his beck door and knocked on again. ‘Yew again?’ he said. ‘Yeah, me again.’ Anyway, he ended up boying from me.”

How he managed to sell to this presumably intimidated man, the manager didn’t explain, but it had something to do with this further nugget of advice he offered:

Believe in the product.”

Sooth Ifrican suggested that if you believe they will buy from you, and you can genuinely see the value in the product, you can sell it.

In that job, I was selling advertising space to wholesalers in a newspaper for market traders. The national market trading marketplace was coming apart at the seams in the mid-naughties, loads of traders were hanging up their gloves, internet shopping was growing in popularity and the only times the markets were busy was Christmas. (I worked at this company in July/August only.)

Sales isn’t for everyone, and it definitely wasn’t for me. I left within a month. But I had a penny-drop moment only a few months or so ago when I realised perhaps why I never managed to sell, and, coincidentally, why I was single.

I expected to be turned down.

I expected people not to buy from me because I didn’t feel like I knew what other salespeople knew. Similarly, I expected women not to like me because I thought other men knew something about women that I didn’t. I expected to be turned down in these situations too. I expected people not to like me, and when they did like me I was frequently surprised and confused. The occasional times when I wasn’t so surprised- I must have been feeling optimistic- were times when things went right with women. These instances felt right. They felt natural. The times when things didn’t work out were times when I felt lucky, or I felt that I’d somehow duped the girl into kissing me. On occasion, I’d be thinking, how the fuck have I managed to pull a girl this fit?

I may not be a salesman, but the only “product” I’d ever want to “sell” is myself. And I am a fucking good bargain. I’ve mentioned a few times that your attitude towards a task can directly affect the task’s outcome, whether it’s selling advertising or it’s attracting women. If you believe people will want to spend their time with you, as friends or otherwise, then they're much more likely to than if you believe they might not.

This incident at the newspaper was a warning, a warning I’d failed to heed: that you can make others believe in something if you believe in it yourself. That you can chat someone up or sell someone a product. That there is something other than technical ability at play. That warning reads: your belief that they will want to do what you want them to do- that belief is the paramount factor in the transaction.

Now- how does this apply to me? Well, I spend my life writing because I’m good at it. I go to house music clubs because I’m an awesome dancer and I love the music. I no longer go to bars in Oldham or in the Gay Village, and that’s purely because I don’t like it in either of those places. If people judge me for not going when I’m invited, that’s their problem. Essentially, I do the things that make me happy, and not the things that don’t. Now that I stick by this rule, I like myself and I believe in myself. I don't need to worry about other people' opinions.

Thousands of other people have told this story, in one guise or another. Thousands have wanted to spread this message, and I’ve read it thousands of times in various guises as I’m sure you have. But it isn’t until the penny drops for you personally that you start to believe that message- and then to believe in your own abilities.

Sunday, 21 October 2012


Colossus bursts up
fast through the ecliptic plane
Milky Way below

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Revolucion De Cuba Opens

I went to the launch of Revolucion De Cuba, a new bar, on Peter St on Friday 12th. I wasn’t bowled over.

The night started with promoters dressed in white suits, posing by a white Cadillac parked up outside the venue, formerly Squares. I tried to film it but my shitty HTC Wildfire wouldn’t focus. The flyer I had offered me a free drink on entry, but the door staff took the flyer off me at the door. The queues for drinks were long. The first drink I got I didn’t have to pay for, but I found myself thinking- how did the barman know that the drink he served me was my free first drink? I could have gone ‘round to the other side of the oval-shaped bar and got my “first drink” again off another member of staff if I’d been the type. Having said that, as the barman took neither the money nor the flyer off me I was left feeling like I’d ripped the bar off. Strange. 

The bar is unrecogniseable from it's old guise- Squares had a gaping hole in the middle of the floor which allowed customers to peer down from the quadrangeld balcony to a lower-level dancefloor. This has been totally filled in, with a small underground area allowed for toilets. 

The music was chart pop with a Latin twist, which isn’t my taste- all your Pitbulls and J-Los were on rotation. Eventually they were replaced by a live Latin band, which spiced things up momentarily. The atmosphere on the whole, though, was dull and samey, but at least it was busy, unlike most of the city.

And so, the rumoured revival of Peter St continues, but perhaps not for my generation this time…

Monday, 15 October 2012

Sunday, 14 October 2012

The Pros And Cons Of NaNoWriMo

Pic Courtesy mpclemens, Flickr
The following is a guest post from Evelyn Robinson, a writer who approached me through my email-
A mighty fine creative-writing post it is too. Check it out.

The world seems to love a special week or a month, during which time they’ll go ape-crap about a particular theme or topic. Did you know that this week, for instance it’s National Chocolate Week? A period of seven days which basically gives everyone carte blanche to pretend that just like the Ambassador, they are really spoiling themselves by diving head first into three hundred weight of Ferrero Rocher. Co-incidentally, it’s also “Stoptober” for the whole of this month, in which anyone who dallies with Lady Nicotine and her sisters Tar and Low Tar is encouraged to give up. Presumably in this instance they’re just going to end up replacing it with chocolate…
Once we get October out of the way it's November. November means one thing: NaNoWriMo.  For those of us who speak English, it stands for National Novel Writing Month and it encourages anyone with a smidgen of talent to try and write the first draft of a fifty thousand word novel in thirty days.
Anyone who loves creative writing will probably hold the ambition of one day actually being able to complete a novel. Preferably one that sells well, so that all the late nights, the crying and staring wistfully out of the window and suffering for their art is a little more worth it. Therefore, is asking someone to try and complete a lifelong ambition in thirty days just a little too much? Here are the pros and cons. 
The pros of NaNoWriMo
Firstly and most obviously, it does encourage you to write, which is no bad thing. Anyone who wants to be creative, to become a wordsmith needs to hone their craft and write as much as they can. This is one way of doing it and maybe trying to explore that idea you think just might work. It’s a way of finding out whether characters and plots you’ve thought up have somewhere to go and can be formed into a coherent story.
It gives you a sense of what it is like to write to a deadline. Alright, you’re not getting paid for it, it’s not really for real and no-one’s life depends on it, but it’s a good challenge to see if you can actually push yourself to create something to a deadline that’s put in front of you. All writers will have to do this at some time or other during their career, so it makes sense to have a go to see if you can do it.
You can find other like minded writers online who are doing the same thing and discuss your experiences. Many people will be talking about it on the usual social network mediums of Twitter and Facebook. The NaNoWriMo website has its own forum for chatting too. Even if you don’t finish what you’re writing, you might end up becoming friends with other creatives who can make you feel like you’re not ploughing your furrow alone.
The cons of NaNoWriMo
This is where the cynical hat goes on. If you want to look at it in its simplest terms, it’s almost like a literary version of some sort of reality TV programme, The X Factor, Strictly et al. OK, you’re not on TV, but you are, in a sense, going on that over-used phrase beloved of all weeping contestants, “a journey”. Granted it’s a gentler one. You haven’t got Simon Cowell the other end telling you chapter twelve stinks, and the hero of your story would look better in high-waisted trousers, but you are putting yourself open to rejection from the NaNoWriMo judges too. You could put all the effort in during that concentrated period and find it was all for nothing, even worse, it could be the one idea you had.
In a lot of ways, the whole concept goes against everything the craft of writing stands for. Unlike those who choose writing as a way to pay off the mortgage and live in permanent financial happiness before becoming quickly educated in reality, someone who was really going to make a serious attempt at writing a novel for the love of writing would take their time over it. They would draft, re-draft and continuously rewrite until they had something that was truly worthy of a book deal with a major publisher. This does not encourage that. It encourages you to submit something you might not ordinarily be terribly pleased with, but was all you could manage in the tight time frame.
Putting a maths hat on, you have thirty days to write fifty thousand words. That’s about one thousand six hundred and sixty six words a day, if you were being exact and wanting to space it out evenly and know where you were up to. In all honesty, our lives are so busy we might not be able to spend time every day writing. Some days might be more pressured than others; ergo you might end up having to write in huge chunks just to get it finished. That just ends up demoralising and turns it into the university essay you just have to get done, rather than a pleasurable project that you can work on at your own pace and in your own time.
To go for it or not to go for it, that is the question
Writing is such a personal thing that the decision should be entirely based on how you feel about your ability and what you can cope with. In short, consider whether the time pressure and word limit is right for you before you think about committing to it. Honing your skills can be done in many other ways, such as taking part in proper creative writing courses or classes that encourage talent naturally rather than forcing it out in one thirty day chunk. Conversely, NaNoWriMo could be just the push you need to get motivated and get started. You might finish it in time, you might not, but you will have made a start and that’s got to be worth something.

Thursday, 11 October 2012


Living the high life
on floor nine hundred and twelve
not seen ground for weeks

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Published: CODOR

The Urban Dictionary, the leading website for slang definitions, has just accepted my entry, CODOR.

I admit- I didn't come up with this one. I saw it in an edition of Total Film about ten years ago. Before you click, can you guess what this acronym means?

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Friday, 5 October 2012

Inspiring Mozilla

Here's the logo for Mozilla's Firefox web browser.

And here's the Armadillo girdled lizard, a native of the desert areas of southern Africa.


Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Monday, 1 October 2012

Getting the 6-Pack Back

There's me, third along, bottom row, in a “Hunks In Trunks” competition in Walkabout in 2007. Despite visibly having a better stomach than ANY of them, I didn't even make third place.

One month. A month to get my abs back to this level of definition. When I was 18 I got an absolutely rock-solid six pack through Muay Thai. Unfortunately I gave it up because- even though it made me extremely physically fit- the actual tuition was crap. We were being taught everything wrong, and those who competed in inter club fights mostly got beaten. There were those reasons, and the time when I saw the instructor kick a 16-year-old girl in the stomach, leaving her crying on the side bench.

It was around that time that I started to focus on weight training. That way I didn’t have to get beaten up, I could see myself steadily improve and I wasn’t smashing my hands to pieces twice a week. (Even with 14oz gloves, enough sparring and pad work left me feeling like I was developing arthritis at 25.)

The biggest benefit to Muay Thai was the abdominal workout I got. The classes ran like clockwork: skipping with heavy-duty plastic “ropes” to warm up, followed by straight punches for three minutes. After this, we were given a “rest”, where we were told to lie on our backs. Of course, it was only called a “rest” to trick newcomers. The moment we were all lying down we had to lift our feet off the floor, keeping our legs straight. The next two minutes were abdominal agony. The instructor occasionally slammed a Thai kick pad into our stomachs. Sometimes he’d drop a medicine ball on our abs. Usually, the instructor’s 12-year-old daughter would use our stomachs as stepping stones.

I remember dropping the class to go to uni for two years. On returning, I absolutely collapsed when that kick pad hit me. Within a month of twice-a-week training, my stomach was granite again.

I want that stomach back, but I’m not going back to Muay Thai. So here’s the plan.

A month of abdominal workouts, using the following:

Abs machine

Pulley pray

And to keep the rest of the body alive… here’s the warmup.

I’m planning on 6 45-minute sessions per week, for a month, using only these machines. Also, my local gym runs an “abs blast” class, a 30-minute abdominal workout, that- depending on which instructor is taking the class- is pretty goddamn hard. I’ll attend these on top of the planned workout.

Let’s see how close I get to that physique by the end of the month.