Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Draft script


CHARLES, white-haired, 60s, defeated look, sits at the dining room table amid the remains of breakfast.  He’s still in dressing gown.  On the table is a newspaper and opened letters, mostly junk mail. He sips coffee, hears footsteps.

Jean, love?

JEAN, also 60s, small and sharp, walks down the hallway.  She sets her face for his usual tedious and helpless questioning.


She pauses at the mirror to check her hair.  She’s not to be hurried.  She goes to the door, opens it, and enters the dining room.

Not dressed yet then.  I want to be at the doctor’s by 10 so you better put a shift on.

She glances at the letters on the table.

More of the usual?

CHARLES holds up a letter.

Mostly, but, there’s this.  It’s from the solicitor.  Needs to see me.  Something about the Trust.

What a bore! I’m sure they only write letters to rack up their fees.

Not this time.  An heir’s come forward, disputing the settlement.

There goes the cruise then.  I never really thought we’d be rich.

It might just take a while to sort out.

And we have all the time in the world, don’t we?

JEAN storms out and slams door.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Blog Tour -writing

Thanks to Sue Moules for tagging me with some questions about my writing.

What am I working on?

Too many things!  I am currently promoting my latest poetry collection, The Thought of Fresh Rain.  I am really pleased with the poesm in it and as an object.  I am also trying to find opportuinities to read poetry in public- this is something I have only been doing for a couple of years and I want to improve.  I've written a few poems that will be going in my next collection.  And I keep thinking about a short novel about lost love which I want to write.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?

A lot of poetry is about creating stories using techniques to add drama and interest to the sound of the words.  I don't really do this - to me, poetry is a kind of speaking thoughts out loud, and I like to try to capture that single moment of insight, using a few simple words.

Why do I write?

I'm not driven to write, but on the other hand, it's not hard.  I find that I can move quickly from having a thought, recognising that it is interesting, and then putting it on paper.  I suppose my mission is to show that even a quiet and gentle life can produce work which speaks to others.

Writing prose, I do find tough.  I like outlining but hate the filling in.

How does my writing process work?

I'm opne tpo ideas at any time.  I find driving and walking to be activities with the right combination of new things to see and lack of dictarions to set me thinking, and every now and then I encounter something that strikes me as interesting or profound.  I write quickly into a notebook, not worrying about the words, just trying to get the thought down; often I have no clear idea of how the poem will develop or end.  Then once it's finished, I set to work on editing it down to the pure essence, chopping out unnecessary words and lines, and trying to make the phrases sing.  Rewriting is quite brutal - a 10-line poem I wrote in January is now down to a haiku.


Fallow days
between years

time to pause

I'm passing on this Blog Tour to Caroline Gill  and Madeleine Sara Maddocks.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Every band I've seen live #2 Iron Maiden, Bath Pavilion, 27/6/1980

So if Wishbone Ash could prove astonishingly good, my expectations were high for Iron Maiden, at the time the figurehead of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal that had emerged as a sort of parallel to punk from the industrial towns of northern England.   They were much-lauded by the press and with the release of their first album and singles had broken through to the charts.

The set list was probably:

The Ides of March
Remember Tomorrow
Running Free
Another Life
Strange World
Charlotte the Harlot
Phantom of the Opera
 Iron Maiden
I've Got the Fire

Probably is the word, alas.  As someone commented on the recent documentary on Iron Maiden on tour: great logistics, rubbish songs.  It is significant that, unlike Wishbone Ash, I was left with no desire to go out and buy the records afterwards.    The Gothick mythology conjured an air of evil that verged on self-parody (it is no coincidence that Spinal Tap used very similar stage sets); the unreality of the image was emphasised by the audience, a good half of which were 14-year-old girls wearing new Iron Maiden T shirts.  There's nothing so likely to lead you to question your taste than the knowledge that it is shared by trendy tots.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The ebook revolution and its real effect on authors

Douglas Adams once wrote about the way we feel about technology: the technology that existed when we were young was old, traditional, tried and tested, and dull; the technology that appears in our teens, twenties and thirties, is marvellous, exciting, and easy to use, while technology that appears in our forties and after is unnecessary, dangerous and a threat to humanity.  Whether this is universally true in its details, in general its contains the truth that there comes a time when an invention that promises a brand new tomorrow meets the dour response 'not another one'. There are many writers who see the adoption of the ebook by readers as the chance for the publishing industry dinosaurs to finally lose their dominant role as gatekeepers who decide what can and what cannot be published.

I'm not so sure.  This rhetoric of freedom and unmediated contact between audience and creator has been heard before: it was what was said about MySpace for the music industry.  It was no longer possible for the big record companies to dole out their selected new artists and force them on the public - anyone could upload their music and anyone could find it.  Strangely enough, this didn't really happen much - the fact that the high points of  MySpace discoveries are Lily Allen and Sean Kingston merely confirms the evidence of the charts (then and now) that music remains dominated by the industrial and corporate.  (And it's not just me as a grumpy old man who thinks this, so do The Kids).  The trouble with the MySpace model was one of exposure - audiences are good at sharing links to the music they like, but very bad at searching for new music, and end up relying on established channels of advertising and news.

Which brings us to print on demand technology which also offered a revolution through self publishing   Again, theoretically authors can create, publish, market and distribute their own books without involving a publisher. No more cliques and cartels, Old Boys Networks and trend-hounds.  This revolution, too, stalled, because people looking for books didn't think to trawl personal websites for books.

Now though, things might change, because the distribution and search  of ebooks genuinely exposes them to book-buyers.  Certainly the news that Amazon now sells more ebooks than paper books suggests that the tipping point has been reached.

Part of being a writer is calling yourself a writer.  For some that is as easy as adopting a new self-image, before or even without writing anything.  Others see it is something you have to earn.

But another part of being a writer is writing stuff and finishing stuff.  Having a book that is done and out there in the wild is something we need.  My friend Madeleine Sara has been working at writing for years and has now reached this point thanks to ebooks with the publication of the romance Ultimate Sacrifice..

I have learned that successful people never give up on themselves, so I decided to give ePublishing a go. I found supportive friends who cheer me on. Feedback from other bloggers plus some mini successes has helped give me a clearer picture of my work; improved my work and given me more confidence. I’ve been learning the craft and the more I share my work, the more it matures. Sometimes my goals and aspirations seem rather idealistic and then I can metaphorically fall on my face with a bump! Especially when I compare my work with that of my idols. I have to remind myself that like everyone else, my writing style will be unique. I am guilty of not always writing every day and this is something I need to address, as the more I write the better I write and then I enjoy it so much more. Thanks for promoting my eBook. Madeleine 

‘Facing a moral choice is perhaps one of the most powerful conflicts any novel can present. ... For example, what if giving up on reaching a goal would not just be easy but would be rewarded? Worse, what if saving the day means sacrificing something of one's self? Worse still, what if that part of one's self up for offering has been hard won and is of high importance?’ Donald Maas (Writing the Breakout Novel, p. 238)

Get Ultimate Sacrifice at   Amazon. UK  Amazon FR     Amazon de

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Every band I've ever seen #1: Wishbone Ash, Bath Pavilion, 6/6/1980

In the late 1970s there was a clear distinction between the two mainstream music weeklies.  I know: I read them both.  They were fat tabloids, and reading them thoroughly could fill the week until the next issues.  The NME luxuriated in the afterglow of punk, and championed miserablist, politicised, electronic music play by monochrome men with sunken cheeks in long coats: their poster boys were Joy Division.  Sounds wasn't like that: it had instead focused on the emerging New Wave of British Heavy Metal whose stars (Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, Saxon) would rule over the genre for the next two decades.  NWOBHM, as the awkward acronym had it, traced its heritage back beyond punk's Year Zero into the early 70s, and as a result I absorbed by some process of osmosis an interest in folk metal bands like Hawkwind and Wishbone Ash, without ever hearing their music.  When I saw that Wishbone Ash (too uncool to ever get an abbreviation) were playing Bath, I was sufficiently intrigued to buy my first concert ticket.

The venue was unimpressive: the Pavilion was a pavilion, a shed in the park.  The interior was like an enlarged church hall, with a simple stage at the far end.  The audience stood and waited, watched the support band   (a generic and lowly heavy metal band which never made the cut) and cheered the main act when they rushed on stage.  Although their lighting rig was minimal, they exploited it to the full, changing moos and tempo, and with the addition of dry ice at judicious intervals created a thrilling spectacle.  The concert mixed recent and classic tracks, all new to me of course.

  • Doctor
  • Lady Whiskey
  • Helpless
  • I Need People
  • The Pilgrim
  • Lookin’ For a Reason
  • Runaway
  • Living Proof
  • The King Will Come
  • Phoenix
  • Blowin’ Free
  • Jailbait
  • Bad Weather Blues
  • Too Much Monkey Business
The slow and stately Pilgrim and Phoenix made the biggest impression, but all of it seemed brilliant.  I was surprised when I talked to a friend who had snuck in through the open doors in the latter stages that he had left unimpressed.   The next day I rushed to the record shop to buy the tour's single; the shop assistant nodded in approval "yeah I better buy that soon".

Over the next few years I gradually amassed a near-complete collection of their studio and live albums, in search of the magical precision and excitement I had experienced, blind to the anti-climax that followed - only on Live Dates (Vol 1), Argus and Pilgrimage did the vinyl version approach the reality, and I am left to wonder how much of the quality of the concert was created by the wafts of marajuana smoke and the strange new experience of loud live music.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Rescued from Twitter-blivion

I like Twitter as a way of pasting ephemeral jokes and comments, but the timeline having writ moves on and nobody ever sees them again, limiting the audience to those awke at the time.

So here's some old tweets:

  • English cricketers deny match-throwing allegations. "We really were that crap, honest" said the team spokesman.
  • Old HTML / coders never die: they just / degrade gracefully
  • Bob Dylan to publish second volume of autobiography as e-book: fans brand him Judas
  • every arts centre is the same arts centre
  • every local newspaper is the same local newspaper
  • The first rule of Mime Club is you don't talk
  • I'm trying to finish my study of the Moebius strip but it's never-ending.
  • PENSIONS MINISTER make the Pensions Time Bomb more interesting by calling it the pensions timey-wimey ball
  • My wardrobe is full of clothes waiting for them to get back in fashion and me to get back in shape. Not happening.
  • The emergence of evolutionary psychology as a specialism shows that at some point in the past making lazy generalisations was selected for.
  • Although olive oil spread brand-name Bertolli sounds Italian, it's actually named after the inventors, Bert and Ollie Baxter of Accrington.
  • I have to keep re-watching Memento because I can't remember how it ends.
  • Whoever decided to call a metal hair attachment a 'fascinator' must have a very low boredom threshold.
More at @mlocock

Thursday, October 14, 2010


"I don't hear you," she said, her American syntax making it sound like a habit or policy.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The curious mathematics of professional poker and its application to poetry competitions

The poker boom of the last couple of decades has led to the re-emergence of the stock Western character of the professional poker player, but this time relying on skill and mathematics rather than cheating.  Thousands of pounds is won by the stars of the circuit.  What is odd is that these players, who, by definition, are statistically expert, have not noticed the key point: that poker is a zero sum game.   On balance, those involved in the circuit will break even, less their expenses - there is no extra money coming in.  At best, then, this can only work as a system if money flows from the mediocre players (paying into the pot but not winning) to the better players.  They may as well run it as a raffle.  Still, it keeps them happy.

The business model has another application: that of the modern poetry competition, following the model of the Arvon competition.  Typically, entrants are charged a modest fee (£5 or £10) with the prospect of a large prize, and perhaps more importantly fame, for the winner.  Again, if those involved are happy this seems a reasonable scheme.  However, this has become in many cases a money-making scheme (as with Arvon), where thousands of hopefuls submit their work.  And like the poker games, this means that mediocre poets are effectively subsidising the good poets* and the host organisations.  I believe it would be much healthier if competitions intended to broaden participation and raise awareness were run for free (or at least at cost), and those who wish to support poets and organisations should be encouraged to buy and subscribe to poetry publications.

That's just me, of course.  But would-be competitors should ask themselves seriously whether they have heard of any past winners, if they are likely to come anywhere near winning, and whether there are better ways of spending their money.   Good poems are published by publishers who pay their poets.

 *Poets who write the sort of poems judges like, that is. See an interesting discussion of this here.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

My Top 10 Best Novels

This is an idea that caught my fancy - mainly because the revelation of the lists seem to expose aspects of reader's histories and tastes that are surprising.

1. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

I often re-read this in times of stress - I remember the eve of one final exam at univeristy where I was unable to sleep  and started to read it to calm me down.  Unfortunately this led me to saty up until dawn racing the the end.  When discussiing Lizzie witha froiend at teh time she said 'You sound half in love with yourself'.  Being young and stupid, or younger and stupider, I deined this vehemently, rather than accpet this as simple fact.

2. Scoop, Evelyn Waugh

Henry Boot is an Everyman, plucked from a comfortable home life into unwanted adventure.

3. The Old Devils, Kingsley Amis

Almost any of his books would count, but this captures the trials of age and tricks of memory in a positive light.

4.  Feet of Clay, Terry Pratchett

The start of the run of good form in the series, moving and profound as well as funny.

5. Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Douglas Adams

A complex time travel plot, and more heart that the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (including a heartbreaking scene on Mauretania seeing the last dodo).

6. Towards the End of the Morning, Michael Frayn

Everday life in a newspaper office, standing for the world of pointless wok.

7. Fatherland, Robert Harris

Alternate history in which the Nazis are victorious and a detective uncovers eveidence of the Final Solution.

8. The Warden, Anthony Trollope

The first and best of the Barchester Chronicles - real people in moral dilemmas.

9. So Much Blood, Simon Brett

A Charles Paris murder mystery set in teh theatrical world.

10. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick

Another alternate history about the Second World War, Dick's most coherent novel.

Nearly made the cut: Martin Amis, David Lodge, Philip Roth, Joseph Heller, Barbara Pym

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Six steps to surviving a bad review

Everbody's a critic, but nobody like to be criticised.  That's true of everyone - it's not surprising that the occasions people find most stressful and uncomfortable involve exposure to the judgement of others - job interviews and appraisals, marriage proposals, acting auditions. It's not something we get much better at over time  - most of what we might consider to be maturity and contentment lies in gathering around ourselves sympathetic family and friends and avoiding challenges to our self-image and self-worth.

But with some activities, this exposure comes with the terrtitory -  publishing creative work is one of them: there will be reviews and comments, and these will be hard to deal with, since they may attack your core identity and beliefs.  So what can you do?

1 Don't react

It is natural to feel hurt.  And natural to want to retaliate. Literary history is strewn with the dead and wounded from intemperate responses to criticisms. Although theoretically there may come a time when you might be able to calmly and rationally debate the merits of the review with its author, that time is not now. Leave it.

2 Use the buzz

The emotional impact of being criticised can be devastating.  The urge to react arises from the complex mixture of energy, defensiveness and aggression - you want to prove them wrong. This is an opportunity, used well- an opportunity to get on with doing something else, something you had put to one side when you were feeling complacent.  Success (at something else) is the best revenge.

3 Own the pain

Writers are often advised to ignore bad reviews. It's hard to do. There is no way to avoid the loss you have incurred - the fantasy that your work will be universally praised and admired has been brutally falsified. That's gotta hurt. Don't be surprised when it does.  The pain will fade (the scars remain).

4 Respect the critic

Back at Stage 1, a typical response is to say that the reviewer knows nothing of your work, or the genre, or writing in general. How many books have they written?  (annoyingly, the answer is usually 'several').  A test for whether you are ready to move on is to think about your critic. Is their judgement usually sound?  If so, is it just because it affects you that you are discounting it? If you would have been glad to get their praise, you must credit them with some powers of discrimination.   So you should be open to the idea that they have a point. 

5 Find the positives

We do not read carefully when we are reading reviews. The criticisms leap out of the page at us, while praise goes unnoticed or unremembered. Once you are ready to accept the critic's opinion, re-read the review.  It may well be less damning than you had thought - it may even be, on balance, positive.  In which case you should be glad you hadn't given in to the idea of sending them a death threat when you first read it.

6 Grow from the negatives

Praise tells us to keep on doing what we're doing. You can argue that it is therefore unnecessary - we would probably carry on anyway.  What is hard is to be self-aware enough to recognise the need for change.  Luckily, other people will tell us to change. Not in so many words, and not nicely. And maybe their advice is wrong - they may not know enough about you to devise a programme of improvement.  But one thing is clear - negative criticism is a good cure for complacency. And pretty soon we'll be thinking about new stuff, the next book, rather than living off the glow from the last one.

And that's all there is to it.  It may still sound a bit negative, but I hoep it is more useful than the conventional mantra of 'what do they know?', 'genius is never recognised', 'I'm in the wrong gang' with which writers seek to comfort themselves.

Martin Locock


You're probably wondering. Yes, I had a bad review. It told me I needed to check and edit my work properly. I knew that already, but had forgotten.

Friday, May 14, 2010

TV Review - Watchdog (BBC1)

The consumer journalism genre is a weird hybrid of camp, post-modern irony and quasi-legal case-studies.  That's Life set the template and it has survived almost unchanged- and Watchdog's latest iteration breaks no new ground.  Tortuous links to pop culture, bad puns, chummy presenters?  Check.  Disatisfied customers filmed in their own homes recounting their experiences at great length?  Check.  Attempt to use the BBC's authority to force a response from the company?  Check. 

Not that this makes it bad, necessarily.  But certainly stretched over an hour it seemed, well, stretched, jumping from story to story, delaying resolution of the individual strands as if forever fearful that once we'd seen the auctioneers emabnarssed we'd switch channel.   The lame humour is an overlay to conceal the fundamentally dull subject matter of customers not getting quite what they wanted.

But there are problems with this format. Companies are media savvy.  They know that giving an interview is risky and a prepared statement is not, so there are few Frost/Nixon moments when the  Midland Widgets spokesperson admits red-faced to extracting salt from the tears of orphans for use in the staff canteen. 

Equally, the days when consumer were powerless innocents at the mercy of big corporations have gone.  Anyone can email the company, chatter in forums, set up a 'sucks' website, stalk wikipedia.  In many cases the 'victim' is shown to have actually entered willingly into a contract which they now find uncongenial - and to expect the law to support them in their wish to escape is to undermine the entire principle of commerce.   And of course there was a time when 'real people' would be invisible on screen - so  That's Life tapped into the seam that later grew into docusoap and reality TV  - unmediated (or apparently unmediated) platforms  for the  excluded eccentrics, gurners, talking dogs and all-round characters.  People Like Us are now only kept off screen because they're boring or mad. 

Consumers have rights.  The 'name and shame on TV' route is not, as it effectively once was, the only recourse for those without legal backing - now it is a bizarre nuclear option that may or may not actually improve things.

There is no space in the gladiatorial arena for nuance - epitomised last night at the end of an item of supermarket pricing (supermarkets change their prices, you know, not always downwards)  - the supermarket explained  that 'the cost of some items had been affected by changes in the £/euro  exchange rate'.  Rather than check to see whether this was a fair point, Anne Robinson (who was a career journalist until a decade ago) sneered and said 'whatever that means!' and the other journalist shrugged.  Yes, because how could TWO JOURNALISTS working on a BBC FACTUAL PROGRAMME cope with a concept so arcane that everybody who has ever been abroad would  have encountered?  And even if it were obscure, perhaps it would have been interesting and actually, you know, helpful, to explore the issue, talk to an expert, leave the viewers a little better informed, rather than just basking in the rosy glow of comnfort having seen the BBC tell off those naughty capitalists. 

It is possible that this genre has run its course - improved consumer protection and greater knowledge have removed the need for media champions.  Here's hoping.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Poetry reading: Angela Gardner and Keri Finlayson, 10/11/09, National Library of Wales

Keri Finlayson and Angela Gardner's poetry reading was held under the title 'Other places'. 

Keri read poems from her collection Rooms, exploring an incident  in her grandmother's past in which she had fallen in love with one of a visiting cinema crew.  The poems are rooted firmly in the place and landscape of a Cornish fishing village, while playing with concepts of freedom, art and reality.  The between poem narrative was  simpler and clearer than the poems, which at times became exercises in polysyllabic reference.

Angela drew her poems from Views of the Hudson, and art gallery notes (from  Foame ) and new poems from a recent stay in Ireland.  Lacking the strong narrative of Keri's work, these proved more diffuse in effect although more perceptive and analytical.  Her re-told fairy tales from Perrault are deeply troubling - a Freudian nightmare.

Poetry reading: Patrick Jones, 4/2/2010

Patrick Jones is not T S Eliot, nor was meant to be.  His forebears are the punk poets and ranters of the early 80s, bringing a passion a political agenda to their poetry, more suited, as Patrick said, to the pub than the National Library of Wales.  There is little room for nuance in his work: his views are clear on his ex-partner (bad), current partner (good), religion (bad), tolerance (good)  and Tony Blair (bad).  One of the problems with this black-and-white approach is that if you don't agree with his stance there is little to enjoy in his words.  Technically, he relies mainly on repetition and alliteration to elevate his words above prose.  He has a tendency to use out-dated rhetoric - when he argues that we close hospitals but pay for wars, he echoes the Thatcherite era of major cuts in public services.  Whatever New Labour has been guilty of (discuss), it must be admitted that the only reason it has closed hospitals is to open new PFI-financed ones down the road, and while this may not have been perfect it is not the attack on people's welfare he implies.  His best poem by far was a simple, quiet poem about his father's shed, that managed to illuminate the man and the poet's relationship to him, in a moving way.  As he rightly says, we modern fathers have done lots of things better than our elders, but we haven't got sheds.

His poetry collection Darkness Is Where the Stars Are  achieved notoriety on publication as a result of extreme Christians (an oxymoron, as Patrick said) protesting against blasphemy.  He noted the thorny question about freedom of speech; to me the best position is that people can say what they like, as long as their audience can say what they like too.  The audience at the Library reading was good-natured and mainly positive, responding with greater warmth to the personal poems and story-telling than to the polemic.  Poetry with strong politics is hard to get right, and it may be that his views (however strongly expressed) are no more coherent than mine, or anyone's.  If he wants to say that Wales has a moral duty to welcome and care for refugees from torture and repression in their homeland, which needs little argument, does that not also imply endorsement of intervention in their homelands to protect the whole population?  In which case shouldn't he be supporting action in Afghanistan?  I don't have any simple answers, but then I don't make my political musings the core of my poetry.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

How to name a poetry collection

I've been thinking about marketing and poetry books, and was interested in monitoring my reaction recently browsing in a bookshop about what led me to pick one up and what didn't.

Vague names are useless

Titles like 'Poems' aren't helpful.  This isn't really surprising - otherwise there would be a lot of novels called 'novel', 'story', or '50,000 words'.   (examples: Dylan Thomas Six Poems, Philip Larkin XX Poems, T S Eliot Four Quartets)

Poem names may not help

Wendy Cope's collections 'If I don't know' and 'Serious concerns' are named after good poems which feature in them, but as something on the spine of the book they sound unappealing. (examples: Philip Larkin High Windows, The Whitsun Weddings

Startling phrases are best

An unknown poet needs to demonstrate that they have some facility with words, so ideally you should choose a characteristic example.  (examples:  W H Auden Look, Stranger!   Wendy Cope Making cocoa for Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin The Less Deceived).  if the collction really doesn't contain one phrase which arouses curiosity, maybe there's something wrong.

Incidentally, price and cover art didn't figure as relevant - the one I bought was the one whose words seemed worth exploring.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Behind the scenes at the ad agency: the DVD piracy campaign

"Okay, here's the idea--   [deep voice]   You wouldn't lie on your tax return... "
"Sorry mate, I don't think that's going to work.  What else could we say?"
"How about: You wouldn't take office stationery home for personal use"
"But they would, wouldn't they?  Any more?"
"You wouldn't - um - you wouldn't take illegal drugs for recreational purposes?"
"Not every day, at least. "
"We could turn it around, though: You would bend the law and commit minor infringements when you can't be bothered about morality, but don't do that with DVDs, ok?"