Friday, 29 July 2011


I have a new story available to download FREE. It's a strange one. Very short though. I'd love to know what you think of it...

The title is Moon-Girl and you can download it here for FREE. There are Mobi files for your Kindle or Mobi reader. E-pub files if you prefer. Or you can read it in Word. As well as writing the story I have formatted it all myself. They don't call it self-publishing for nothing...

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Back On My Bike

Glorious cycle down the coast from Whitstable to Reculver this morning to re-gain mental balance. After work last night I was down the garden grappling with a backed up drain 'till bad light stopped play. I had another go this morning before seeking professional help.

"Let's just say you loosened it for us shall we?" said the smiling drain man.

More money I don't have down the toilet. (Sorry!)

Yeah, so it was great to escape on my bike for a while. I was feeling a bit rusty when I heard the click-click of someone changing gear to overtake. Immediately I used more muscle power and hovered around 20ft behind. I knew there was a big hill coming. Let's see how hard you really are I thought, hoping I could stand the climb myself after a month or so off. To my great satisfaction I motored past as the hill got steeper. A bloke and his girlfriend stalled half way up went silent as I passed, standing but making good speed.

Part-timers! The elation was ridiculous...

I may be crap at DIY and drains but I'm one bad mutha on a bike.
Sent from my BlackBerry smartphone from Virgin Media

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Making Jam With Sam

Mostly this will be a post about making jam but, in homage to the several small caterpillars that I noticed in amongst the blackberries when it was rather too late to do anything about it, I'm going to slip some Samuel Palmer in too.

A railway line called the Crab and Winkle used to run along behind our back garden. There haven't been trains along since the fifties and the line is completely overgrown and abandoned. This is a source of great frustration to some people, the kind of folk who like things to be neat and tidy. Their latest plan was to put this, in their view, useless strip of land to good use as a cycle path. I am a cyclist myself and often use the Crab and Winkle cycle path to ride to Canterbury. But it gets you from A - B already and whilst the plan to run it along behind our back gardens into the harbour was logical in many ways it would have involved the inevitable destruction - yes destruction - of a valuable local resource. You see the great thing about the Crab and Winkle at this point is that it has been left alone by people for years. Even a nicely landscaped path with new planting would have upset the balance. Some people will never get it but in many ways nature is best when people just keep the fu*k out of the way! Stag Beetles thrive. We have had loads in the garden this year. There are huge numbers of small birds. The ground is strewn with snail shells that the local thrushes have smashed. The blackthorn and wild roses are stunning in spring creating mists of blossom and bright flowers. And best of all there are the blackberries...

I went picking with my son yesterday and within 15 minutes we had collected these.

 We have lived in Whitstable for two years now but I am still in that wide-eyed state of amazement the city boys get when then shift to the country. I love the idea we can just walk out the back gate, pick some blackberries and be home in 15 mins. That stash there would have cost at least a fiver on Lower Marsh market. Samuel Palmer shared the same enthusiasm for the bountiful countryside. He was a fan of food and in Rachel Campbell-Johnston's book Mysterious Wisdom she describes Palmer's wife laughing at him as he tries to stuff three onions into a duck. Palmer seems to have had a particular love for greasy fowl - on another occasion he is described with goose fat dripping off his chin. He also loved nuts and would walk around with his pockets stuffed full of them. When in Shoreham with his group of like minded friends The Ancients they would often go for long walks and keep themselves going by eating blackberries and other foraged foods. The cider the locals made from their garden apples was so good Palmer would often send bottles of it to friends in London, almost as though it were a kind of country tonic.

Well within minutes of picking the blackberries were in the pot with a load of jam sugar.

Get them boiling nicely.

Then after about 15 mins boiling you can shove it into jars like this.
Hey presto! A huge Helmann's Mayonnaise jar full of Crab & Winkle blackberry jam.
I've been eating it spread on a croissant whilst writing this post. Yum.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Getting Digital

Well I've re-done my website to make it clearer and ensured that it works better on a mobile. I've re-formatted my e-book to make it display better. I still have a rubbish cover but design has never been my strong point. I have engaged the services of a professional editor and yesterday I had more hits on this blog than ever before.

I also feel inspired and energised - like I want to spend every spare moment writing.

All of this I lay at the feet of Dave's excellent new book Let's Get Digital. (See posts below for details on how to get a hold of it!)

Thanks mate for the inspiration - the rest is down to me...
Sent from my BlackBerry smartphone from Virgin Media

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Shadows, Echoes and Reflections - A Series of Brief Encounters With Mysterious Wisdom - The Life and Work of Samuel Palmer by Rachel Campbell-Johnston Part 2

This section of our tour through Mysterious Wisdom by Rachel Campbell-Johnston is going to be fast. Imagine you're on the back of a motorbike driving through the Lake District or something - "Oh look at tha..." and it's gone.

Samuel Palmer met William Blake and was greatly impressed. Blake's imagination was extraordinarily powerful and stunned the young Palmer. The conviction to see and to see through the world into an imaginative realm beyond was just the tonic Palmer needed. He produced some of his best work under the influence of Blake though in many respects they were very different.

Both men loved children and were loved by them. Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience are childlike in many respects superficially but grapple with universal themes that provide a lifetime of exploration for an adult reader/viewer. What Blake wanted was to see through the world that could be scientifically verified to a more real world that included a spiritual dimension. To do this required confidence and strength of vision.  He was so out of step with society he would be reduced to decorating crockery for Wedgewood. These woodcuts produced to illustrate Virgil were also primarily produced to earn money.
I detect the influence of such works on Palmer's Oxford Sepias, some of my personal favourite Palmer images. 

In Early Morning (above) the rays of the rising sun creep into the world. Tiny details are picked out by the new light, as though revealing them for the first time. Palmer clearly loved nature though Blake, a true Londoner, saw the natural world as a distraction from the symbolism and drama of the struggles of mankind. A similar divergence occurred when it came to politics. 

Blake was a radical and a working man. Palmer was from a different social strata. Where Blake heard the cries of the chimney sweeps, Palmer sought refuge in the village of Shoreham. He encountered the countryside as an outsider. 

His beautiful images of rural scenes suggest that Heaven can be found on earth, something Blake would have agreed with. But his dreaming shepherd boys and rustic gardens were painted at a time of great stress for the rural poor. 

Blake railed against the "Dark satanic mills" of the industrial revolution but Palmer's relatives had made good money from the recent corn laws. In fact whilst Palmer was in Shoreham delighting in the countryside trouble was brewing. 
The Swing Riots of 1830 started in Kent and expressed the frustrations of the rural poor. Enclosure had robbed many of the right to graze a cow or sheep on the village common. As small plots were amalgamated into ever larger farms new methods of threshing (see above) removed a good source of winter work from the rural economy. Palmer was horrified by events. As a land owner (he had several houses in Shoreham by this time) he got to vote. He simply could not appreciate how hard the lives of the folk he placed in his paintings really were. Meanwhile the name of Captain Swing was chalked all along the road from London to Canterbury. 

Palmer was not just conservative politically but in his religious beliefs. He saw the Anglican Church as being a kind of guardian of the soul of England where Blake hated organised religion and saw tradition as manacles. 

In the image above the Anglican Church is seen at the centre of rural life. The ivy-clad church seems to become a part of nature and the folk walking home are similarly part of the harmonious whole. 

As a Londoner now living in Kent I too have a tendency to see the rural through tinted specs. One of the reasons I responded so strongly to Palmer's work when I first encountered it was that I was perhaps looking for a way to engage imaginatively with the countryside around me. That he was a friend of Blake, that they walked together up Haverestock Hill (where I used to work at Daunt Books - also where the story In A Drawer from my collection Washed Up is set!)  just adds to my belief that I chose well. 

Last night I went for an evening cycle. When the sun burst through the clouds and the sea blazed I thought of Blake. I can imagine him and Palmer exulting in such a scene...

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Let's Get Digital

I am reading a new book called Let's Get Digital by David Gaughran. I am finding it a truly liberating experience in that I feel my entire adult life has been skewed by the thorny issue of how to get published. For years I have written away and shoved it in a drawer. Working as a bookseller brings you face to face with the harsh facts of the industry, or rather the facts as they were. What seems increasingly clear is that things are changing at speed.

Ok, so not everything is perfect. I have discovered something that bores my wife even faster than early 90s techno from Detroit. E-book formatting!

But listen, remember how hard it used to be to set your video? Remember when you needed an IT professional in every office? Then they invented the Mac, computers for idiots. The World caught up. Now everything is easy and anyone can do it. This is the new PUNK.

Let's get digital peeps, you know it makes sense...

PS If you are still having problems with your electronic equipment can I recommend sitting in a dark room with the above track playing at massive volume? It will alter your brainwaves with high and low frequencies and afterwards you might even find you can dock your I-Pod by sticking it up your

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Shadows, Echoes and Reflections - A Series of Brief Encounters With Mysterious Wisdom - The Life and Work of Samuel Palmer by Rachel Campbell-Johnston

Book reviews. I have written so many in my time and do you know what? I am bored bored bored of book reviews. There's a great restaurant near us, overlooking the sea, named JoJo's. The food is superb but I also love the whole atmosphere of the place. Forget about starter, main course, dessert with a gap in between each course for conversation. At JoJo's you choose what you'd like to eat and they bring it when it's ready. You are never quite sure what's coming next or in what order. You still have a great meal but that stultifying structure of a restaurant meal is broken making the experience far more like a slightly chaotic picnic among friends. Well I'm going to try and review Rachel Campbell-Johnston's new biography of Samuel Palmer in a similar fashion. Rather than a standard review I'm going to respond to the book, in a clearly personal way, in the hope that you might want to go away and read it for yourself. Here goes...

Before moving to Whitstable, Kent, I lived in Camberwell, South East London. Samuel Palmer was born in Surrey Square, Camberwell in 1805, 201 years before my own son was born in Kings College Hospital, perhaps a mile away on Denmark Hill.

As a Londoner I loved to drift through the city streets in a kind of semi-conscious derive, letting my feet take me into parts of the city I had never encountered before. In this way I discovered places I came to love and revisit many times.

I knew Blake had seen a vision of angels on Peckham Rye but not that Samuel Palmer had loved to stroll along the ridge of Herne Hill to Dulwich, Dilwihs or Dylways - “The damp meadow where Dill grows”. As the quick-brick buildings exploded South across the market gardens, a speculative contagion that transformed the landscape within a couple of decades, such rural idylls were built over and around. Small rivers, such as the Effra, were corrupted into sewers. But every urban street addict knows such things can be buried but their essence lingers - echoes of the past remained to guide my dreaming feet. On one occasion I picked up a paperback book, a 1971 Penguin Poets William Blake, from a box left outside someone’s house and then later sat reading it alongside Kathleen Raine’s Blake and Antiquity (Routledge) in Dulwich Park - often the lunchtime destination of my circular perambulations and a great place to read whilst propped against a shady tree. Raine argued persuasively that Blake was not a madman but that his visions were firmly rooted in an esoteric artistic and spiritual tradition - Palmer recognised this and I felt it too.

Reading further I was thrilled to discover Samuel Palmer was - along with Henry Purcell, Thomas Gainsborough and doubtless many thousands of others - a lover of the view Turner painted in his 1819 masterpiece Richmond Hill on the Prince Regent’s Birthday.
Rachel Campbell-Johnston describes this “impressive view, its vistas stretching away down lush green slopes across the ancient Petersham meadows and beyond to the broad curve of the Thames” and I know the spot well. My first encounter with this enchanted scene struck with great force. How was it possible for a place of such beauty to exist in the shadow of Heathrow airport? I returned again and again over the years and still think of this location as representing the true Edge of the city.

When I used to live in Acton I would walk down, through Chiswick Park to the river and then on to Richmond. My journey often ended with a trip to the Roebuck on Richmond Hill and in contemplation of the very same landscape view. From this spot we watched the final flight of Concorde and invented “the mobile phone game”. (Chuck your phone into the long grass then get someone else to ring it. First one to find the ringing mobile in the grass wins. This game flowered briefly on a summers evening only to die once more when the battery fell out, leading to a lengthy and increasingly fractious search!) The visionary qualities of this place were perhaps enhanced by the fungal bounty of the nearby park and the haunting sound of rutting stags. On one memorable occasion Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing In America led to me missing my stop and ending up in Roehampton when I had agreed to meet friends for dinner in Richmond. I crossed the park at night whilst the stags were rutting and will never forget the unearthly moaning they made as I stumbled across the moonlit tussocks, Brautigan’s free spirit flowing through my trembling veins...

(To Be Continued)

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Off to Newmarket

Age 17 I made this journey so many times - Queens Park - Paddington - Hammersmith and city then down by the river. Now Toby's getting married and we're having a day at the races.
Sent from my BlackBerry smartphone from Virgin Media

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Nineteen Seventy Four

I had a brief conversation with a friend in the shop the other day. We both confessed to a recent penchant for listening to music created in the years of our birth. In my case that's 1974 - a vintage year I feel. I don't know where this has come from or why it should appear to be a contagious infection. Early onset dementia? The debilitating effect of small children and extreme quantites of daylight on our sleep patterns? Maybe evrybody does it? I don't know.

Whatever. Here is my 1974 track for today - You by Bill Withers.

I have to thank Justin Chodzko for bringing the track to my attention. I worked with him at Daunt Books (clears throat and spits) in Haverstock Hill. I hope you enjoy it...

Saturday, 2 July 2011

On The Beach

I nicked the title for one of the six stories I published recently from a Neil Young album title and song - On The Beach. It's a great song on a great album - the sound of Hippy dreams crashing into the dust. (One of my favourite sounds!) My story uses key lines from the lyrics as structural bones. For example the song opens with the line "The world is turning, I hope it don't turn away" and goes on "all my pictures are falling, from the wall where I placed them yesterday". In the story Daniel, the main character, wakes up when a picture falls off the wall in his hotel room.

He woke slick with sweat. A picture from the hotel room wall had fallen to the floor. The space in his head stretched eight miles wide. Honey slides. Gradually the evening came back to him. Suzy smiling until he realised she wasn't Laura.

"You're half way round the world, move on Daniel."

You see what I did there? Sweet huh?

I'll leave you to finish the detective work if you have the time or inclination...

I felt it was an interesting way to write a story. The tone of the song is really down-beat but there is a kind of hope in there too. I tried to get that into the story. Maybe you don't know the song? Here is an acoustic version from 1974. You can hear people chatting and bottles clinking in the background. What was I doing in 1974? Being born man, being born...


My friend and colleague at Harbour Books is part of a mini-festival tingy in Whitstable today.

Un-Whitstable is based around improvised music from the likes of Evan Parker. There will also be some video art from Neil Henderson and Vicky will have some of her graceful ceramics on show. Various other things are happening too so if you're in town today why not wander over and check it out!