Me and a mate chatting – some people think it’s a bit funny – it’s a lot more than that . . . . .
Last Saturday, December 8th 2018, along with Dafydd Wyn Roberts, I held an event at the Apothecary in Cardiff. They have a lovely little caff at the back of their shop.
Dafydd played 4 songs accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar, and I read three excerpts from my novels.
It went like this – Song-Reading-Song-Reading-Song-Reading-Song or something like that.
Before, during, and at the end of the song-reading cycle we chatted to each other and to the audience.
It was a great night and everyone who was there loved it. Dafydd’s act was excellent, good songs well sung and played. We may do it again – watch this space (well not this space, but some other space)
here’s the poster for the event again
(This is a personal note to myself – please ignore.)
I’m a writer. There’s no doubt about that, as you would see if you bothered to explore my website. It’s mostly about writing and most of it has been written – by me of course. Problem is ‘writer’ is too wide a term to be meaningful to anyone who doesn’t identify as a ‘writer’. I mean, what am I? I write blog posts like this, and . . . well . . . here’s a list of the other things I write:
Plays for the theatre
But if I was forced to define more finely what it is that makes me a writer then I would say: “Call me a novelist”. I would say this even though I have not published a new novel for three years because there is something divine about writing a novel, something that takes a direct line to the absolute essence of my being – it is an experience, or a conglomeration of experiences, that means everything, forever.
So yeah – get on with it.
Extract from Work in Progress novel – The Flying Boy
You. You.You. It’s all about you isn’t it? Yes of course, you think. Who else is it going to be about? There is only you, in your life anyway. Is that sociopathic? Or some kind of pathic? You only know about yourself. You can’t know about anyone else – only what you are allowed to know by whatever this universe is. Ah – there it is, it’s about a u-niverse, so, yes, it is all about you.
But you still have to breathe air, share, and even you admit you don’t know everything. In fact you know hardly anything, possibly nothing. For example you tell people you are writing meta fiction but you don’t even know what meta fiction is until you look it up in the great big dictionary in the sky, just to check that you aren’t talking crap and could be called out by a first year literature student. But you are talking crap aren’t you? You are talking crap because for one thing the great dictionary told you that what you think is meta fiction probably isn’t – for one thing it seems to be spelled metafiction as one word, and the rest of it, well, there’s too many subtleties in the definitions of the word and not many come close to the sort of thing you’re writing. So yeah, you are writing something that is probably not metafiction, but you’re not sure – maybe it’s meta fiction or even meta-fiction.
So what. You’re not writing according to some spurious literary rule. You are writing the truth. You don’t know who Jill is. This is important. Because Jill is . . . Jill is what? Hmm. You can’t deal with all this now. You have bigger fish to fry, or maybe you would if you fried fish. But you don’t fry fish; you don’t do anything with or to fish except look at them now and again in a friend’s pond or dead on the slabs of a fishmonger in the market.
There was that time, maybe thirty years ago, when you were involved with fish more than you wanted to be, more than you should have been. It was an actual fishing competition organised by your brother. He was a fisherman. Not a professional fisherman. He didn’t sell them or anything, though he no doubt traded the odd fish for some other advantage because that’s the sort of person he was, but he had a boat and loads of tackle, and he organised a sea fishing competition. You helped him by creating and managing a little computer database to record the details of the fish the competitors brought back to the weigh-in.
Stop! Pardon. Pause at least. OK.
When you’re writing like this it’s like applying the first daubs/splodges/lines of paint of an abstract painting on a canvas. You step back to look and at first it’s just random marks, random colours, random shapes and textures. Then you catch a hint of form. It starts to mean something and you start to realise that that meaning was there all along, it possessed your hands, your eyes, your brain. It used you to express itself. This is a divine thing – its form and its meaning will reveal themselves.
(Martin Amis is your inspiration. Is he? Yes. Every time you read something about him or by him or see his name on a book cover you find yourself writing seconds later. Is that true? You’re doing it now. Ah! OK.)
Now really restart, resume maybe.
So helping your brother out at the fishing competition means sitting in a damp portakabin behind a makeshift desk, typing bits of information into a computer database. Things like contestant name and number, boat name, time of weigh, species of fish weighed, weight of fish.
Each species of fish has a specimen weight attached to it. So, a sardine say, has a specimen weight of a few grams, while a great white shark has a specimen weight of almost two tonnes or whatever. Not that you weigh any sardines or great white sharks, though there is a shark the size of a spaniel dog and some kind of flatfish with the circumference of a saucer.
At the end of the day there is a winner, the person whose fish is bigger than its species’ specimen weight by the largest factor. The spaniel-sized shark doesn’t win but the saucer sized flatfish might do. You can’t remember. You don’t want to remember.
All that must have been around the same time , late 80s, early 90s, that you read the book London Fields by Martin Amis, coincidentally, you’ve just read an interview with him in the Guardian (online) about the film that has just been released based on that book – London Fields (the film is rubbish apparently). Maybe that’s the reason you’re thinking about your brother’s fishing competition, some feint connection from three decades ago.
So yeah, maybe you have to admit that Martin Amis is your inspiration, your muse perhaps? I wonder what he would think about that? Being a muse for an also-ran novelist. You know what he is. He’s not a muse, he’s the sort of arrogant male artist who employs muses, uses them at least. He’s as much a muse as a jockey is a horse or a fish is bait.
But there you are, there he is, each in your respective universes, and there you will remain. Though Mr Amis does remind you of a dope-smoking friend you had for a while as a dope-smoking teenager. That friend was called Martin as well. He was not a tall person and used to walk around in a thick woollen coat that was too big for him.
Your Martin used to knock around with Jill. Hold on. You’d better stop there to think about it. Jill? Even that far back? Half a century? Is that possible? Are your memories real?
The thing about Jill is . . . .
What is the thing about Jill?
Let’s get the fucking paper the right way round. Let’s get the correct pen. Let’s get the fag rolled, the ashtray emptied, the fag lit and then let us begin. This is an exercise in creative writing, no, that’s Creative Writing, with two great big fucking capital letters, one at the beginning of each word to signify they represent more than the expression they convey. This is an exercise in Creative Writing.
The first rule of Creative Writing, they say, is to write about what you know, your own reality (ies?). So then it’s not exactly Fiction (another word with a capital first letter, watch out for these, and italics, and underlined, and bold – they mean that you’re not being creative enough), but it’s not exactly fact either (should Fact be capitalised?). You’ve heard of poetic (or artistic) license? Well that’s the third rule, (I forgot the second rule is not to use words with Initial Capital Letters unless they’re proper ones and not to use things like italics, underlining, bold etc. (or things like etc. come to that) Are there any more rules? Not really. In fact, the first three rules aren’t that important, in fact, fuck the rules, all of them.
There are no rules in this game boy.
That’s when I usually wake up, but get this, sometimes when I wake up it’s only into another dream, but it takes a few seconds to realise that, sometimes longer, and then, after squeezing my eyes tight shut before opening them again and finding myself in another place that could be a dream, and it is, and I’m getting suspicious by now and wondering if I’ll ever get back to fully conscious reality, so I settle for this.
But it’s been a long time now, in this reality, so I guess it must be the real one, at least it will have to do for the time being because I’m too tired to fight it any more and here I am, here is where I’ve made my home.
So, in this reality, there are things I have to deal with, things besides the essentials, like sleeping and eating and earning a living. Things like Ken and Lucy and Her (capital allowed), because that’s all that’s left now. These are the only things I have to deal with now, so what’s stopping me? Maybe I’ve just run out of steam, maybe there’s no oomph left in me, I’ll just have to accept all these unresolved things that are bugging me.
But then again, maybe not.
OK, Ken. Here I come.
I’m going to sort you out at last.
Ken will be in the club, he’s bound to be, it’s like his domain, his kingdom, and he likes to sit on his throne in the bar, his fat gut pressed against the dark wood table, the cheeks of his fat arse hanging out the sides of the chair. He’ll be drinking as usual, smoking dope, nipping off to the toilet or his office now and again to stick some cocaine up his ugly nose (although he pretends to have a weak bladder), that’s the one thing he seems to be ashamed of – his weakness.
Problem is, I can’t be seen in the club, can’t be seen by anyone tonight, got to avoid the CCTV cameras and the nosy cops – got to get through the network of Ken spies like Gollum – got to kill the bastard. That’s the only way it will end unless I just disappear, vanish into that land of bumness where nobody knows and nobody cares. But I’m not going to do that, because I’ve got pride, and besides I wouldn’t leave the rest of them in the shit like that, because there’s bound to be some repercussions (not all of them bad I’m sure but I can’t take the risk).
So it’s got to be Ken.
He’s got to have it.
He’s got to go.
Cannabis is so much stronger than it was in the sixties?
Short answer is: No, cannabis is not so much stronger than it was in the sixties.
How do I know? Easy, I was there then and I’m here now. I started smoking cannabis on April 20th 1968 when I was sixteen. They say that if you remember the sixties then you weren’t there, so how come I can remember the exact date on which I smoked my first joint?
Easy – there was a gig starring Geno Washington and the Ram Jam band in the Glen Ballroom in Llanelli then – I found the exact date on the Internet. That’s the night I inhaled for the first time. It was a tiny bit of hash I bought for a few shillings and it had no effect whatsoever on me,
The next day I went for a walk in the countryside near my home and smoked the other half of my stash. Minutes later I was dancing through the damp fields like a demented hippy, smiling and laughing at the beautiful planet I was privileged enough to live on.
Over the next three and a half years I smoked a lot more dope and had my share of most of the other drugs that were available, and there were a lot, even in our town in the sticks. For a few months during that period I shared a flat in London with a bunch of blokes, mostly from Llanelli. Early December 1969, we bought a large bag of what we were told was Mexican Grass.
There followed three weeks of mayhem, when I often forgot who I was, where I was and even what I was. Time chopped itself into short sequences and rearranged itself so that the thing I’ll be doing 5 minutes ago came after the thing that I was doing in half an hour’s time. I was reduced to my essential essence of being a consciousness floating in the continuum of space-time loosely connected to a seventeen year old boy from Wales.
This hallucinatory surreal journey continued until Christmas Eve when most of the Llanelli contingent hopped into a hired transit and belted off down the M4 to reconnect with our roots and reassemble our splintered brains. As it turned out I didn’t go back to London after that. When the transit came to pick me up the day after Boxing Day I was too exhausted after the grass and a bit ill after Christmas over-consumption. Just over two years later I was married with a child.
I stopped taking any kind of drug, even laid off alcohol for a few years and didn’t have another spliff for more than a quarter of a century. By then the good quality hash and grass of the late sixties had turned into impure and probably toxic ‘soap’ and ‘slate’ – concoctions of cannabis resin and god knows what bulking agents,
Gradually better quality weed came on the market – mostly strains of skunk grown in someone’s attic in small batches. The quality of the drug continued to improve and become more pure. I continued to smoke, and later vape, on and off, until quite recently, and I can vouch that nothing comes close to the strength and effects of that innocent sounding Mexican Grass that altered the course of my life in 1969.
How do you choose which bits of your life to focus on when you write or attempt to write some kind of autobiography like this? What are the criteria? Hmm. I suppose it depends on who you are writing to – yes – because when you write, or at least when I write, I have a ‘reader’ in mind, even if that reader is just an abstract notion of myself – my future self. Like a diary I suppose.
But so much happens in just one day, one hour, one second even, if you drill down into the depths of your psyche and think out to the expanse of the universe(s). Continue reading
There seems to be nothing there, but there are the uncountable billions of past experiences in this or other lives. Then there are the uncountable possibilities of future experiences plus of course the endless experiences occurring now.
And out of this nothing something new has to emerge . . .
Some Work in Progress
There’s always a story.
I was sitting in the studio staring at the walls, feeling despondent. There was nothing there. No inspiration – no focus – no purpose. The universe was empty. All I had was some dregs of acrylic paint and 5 or 6 old failed canvases that had been painted in some form of pseudo-abstract meaningless squiggles and splodges.
In desperation I squeezed random bits of paint on the canvases and pushed them about with a brush until they each one was completely painted over in whatever colour emerged from the random scraps.
I left the studio for a couple of hours and distracted myself by eating, feeling even more miserable, and trying to catch up on some sleep. When I returned I picked up the same brush and the same dregs of paint and looked for some form. I chose one of the blanked out canvases and traced the shape of a head on the ridges of dried acrylic and found its features.
Thus Dani Girl emerged and the universe wasn’t empty any more.
Update: the next day
Here’s the other 4 canvases
Writing this blog is very much like writing in a private diary and then putting it back into a drawer.
Anyway – here’s another painting that I dug up from the shed and revived
Not sure why or what but here it is
Not sure of the size – around 12″ wide?
The first painting finished(?) in the new studio – actually painted over a painting done last year that never really worked – see below. I’ll get a better pic at some point – the colours on the actual painting are much more subtle than this photo suggests.
As you can see “What have I become” still has the DNA of “The Estuary” but I think it says much more.
Whodunnit? You just might find out over the next two days.
Tomorrow and Saturday, June 1st & 2nd, Cardiff Central Library is the location for the Crime and Coffee festival, a very special gathering to celebrate Crime Writing.
Meet some award winning crime writers and find out what makes them tick, how they approach their work and where they get their inspiration from.
Full details here: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/cdfcrimefest
Details of the panel discussion here: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/event/FHFHEJ
Come along and discover the gems that this unique collection of talent has to offer