23C1C236-0B83-43C0-9F5C-18AC08E83906Some big news that I haven’t shared on the blog as part of this campaign of neglect, but in the last couple of days, my debut novel, The Scottish Book of the Dead, has been released. You can find it on Amazon as a paperback and an eBook.

It’s published through Island City Publishing, a small indie press from my area of Michigan. Given that the story is set (mostly) in Scotland and has sprinklings of Scottish dialect throughout and is probably a tougher sell to a Mid Western population than some of the other titles in their stable, it speaks volumes and I’m hugely grateful that they’ve taken a punt on me. Celeste Bennett has been great to work with on this.

Back in 2010, I became interested in The Egyptian Book of the Dead and The Tibetan Book of the Dead. I did some reading on them, learning that they were a collection of stories to guide a departed soul to the afterlife. I wondered what a Scottish version would look like. Turns out, there’s lots of swearing in it.

Initially, this existed as a short story, dealing with a man struggling to come to terms with the fact that he’s dead and his unscrupulous brother-in-law’s intent to steal a silver photo frame. It was written entirely in Scots dialect and was published on the McStoryteller’s website and eventually featured on the Edinburgh eBook Festival.

I was driving home one from work one night with my then wife and I remember we were just coming into Alloa when I wondered aloud if I could stretch the idea out into a novel. Given that the Egyptian Book of the Dead was split into four sections, the idea of four intertwined novellas quickly developed. I wrote quite extensive notes, mapped the whole thing out, and basically wrote the 70,000 word story in seven weeks over the summer. It’s pretty much all I did that summer.

It wasn’t until the next year, through the help of a counselor, I realized how much of this story was me dealing with the death of my grandfather in 1990 and my dad in 1998. Looking back, it’s pretty obvious but at the time this came as a bit of a shock.

After one encouraging rejection from Canongate, every other publisher and agent had a problem with the dialect. Deciding that I’d rather be understood and the story was more than the dialect, I’ve toned it down quite a bit but hopefully left enough to give it that Scottish feel.

So there we have it. The book’s eight year journey to publication is over and now it’s a thing that exists in the world, on people’s Kindles and will be on people’s bedside tables, and that’s a pretty cool feeling. I’m a novelist. Wow.

Oh. Please buy my book.

Do you watch the UK soap opera, Coronation Street? Do you have any interest in the cultural and linguistic differences between the UK and US?

Even if the answer to both of these questions is no, you may be interested to know that my wife, Helen, and I are producing a couple of podcasts related to the above.

The Talk of the Street is a weekly catch-up review of the recent happenings on the famous cobbles. We walk-through the episodes of that week, go over the main talking points, and cover the errors we’ve made in previous episodes.

Common Language questions the quote attributed to George Bernard Shaw that the US and the UK are two nations separated by a common language. Recent episodes have investigated soccer vs football, interstate vs motorway, and immigration processes.

Please check them out and if you feel so inclined, a cheeky wee like and subscribe would be very much appreciated.

To the person who came to the blog after searching for “How long to drive from Alloa to Cowdenbeath” … it can be done in about 35 to 40 minutes, traffic dependent, if you take the Trans Fife Expressway (A92).

You’re welcome.

I don’t spend an awful lot of my time looking at the reasons why people end up on these pages. As far as I can tell, most of the traffic I get is from searches for various movie posters. However, every so often something jumps out at me.

Today, someone ended up at my blog after doing a search on أماندا هولدن and not only do I not know what that means, I’m not even sure what language it is.

Whatever the answer is, welcome. I hope you found what you were looking for.

… or Since I’ve Been Gone. Whichever works.

I’ve been neglecting the blog of late. Here are my top three reasons why:

  • There have been no movies worth going to see, never mind review. Actually, there have been a few but both my local multiplexes are more concerned about filling their 12 screens with whatever rank 3D fayre is on offer than, say, allow one measly screen to show the new Michael Winterbottom film.
  • My workplace has removed all stupid signage, I hope in response to my posts here.
  • Facebook.

None of this should leave you with the impression that nothing much has been going on. Lordy, no. Here’s just a sample of some of the shit that’s been going down chez moi. I guess that means more bullets:

  • On Monday, one of my stories — Beekeeper’s Blues — came 1st out of 518 entries and won $100 in Reading Writers’ Once Upon A Day competition. This is officially sweet. I’m not saying much about it, not because I’m not hugely chuffed, but because it still hasn’t really sunk in. 518. Jeez.
  • Every Day Poets took my Edgar Allan Poe inspired poem, Nevermore, and it’ll appear in a future edition. I always feel a bit of a fraud when one of my poems is picked up somewhere and this was no exception. Still, the poem’s a bit of fun and EDP agreed.
  • Meanwhile, another story — The Boy and the Broken Bird — was published on Every Day Fiction on 5 June and received some great feedback. Not that any one opinion is better than the other, but I was chuffed to attract a comment from xTx, whose work I really, really like.
  • Back in May, I attended my first writers’ conference. Falkirk Writers hold an annual tryst / seminar at the Town Hall and they have a number of competitions. I got a commendation for Postcards from the Departure Lounge and a lovely certificate to prove it. I spent most of the day enjoying the company of two members of Angus Writers Group, who’d travelled down from, erm, Angus, and between them, they picked up three 1sts, a 2nd, a 3rd and a commendation so it was worth their trip.
  • I’m very excited to announce that this week saw the launch of my attempt to enter the literary e-zine business. Waterhouse Review will debut on 1 October 2010 but before then, I need some top notch content. Writers can submit by clicking here and work that features in the zine will be rewarded to the tune of £2. Tiny acorns and all that, but I’ve long been of the opinion that writers deserve to be paid, even if it is just a token amount. Expect more news of this over the coming weeks.

So, anyway, that’s enough about me. How’ve you been?

One of the perks of being nominated for storySouth’s Million Writers Award and making it to the Notable Story stage was that I ended up becoming a frequent visitor to the blog of its organiser, Jason Sanford.

Jason’s post today will be of particular interest to any writer who has submitted their work and been burned. I don’t mean burned in a simple rejection way, but burned in a deeper, more affecting, live long in the darkest pit of the soul type way.

Like the new magazine that takes your story and then folds before the first issue sees the light of day but doesn’t take the five minutes necessary to let you know it didn’t work out. Or like the magazine that buys and prints a story but then takes forever to send payment until you chase it a million times over the course of a year until the editor finally sends you your five bucks and calls you a cheap bastard in the covering email.

Or, in Jason’s case, the journal that held on to his story for six years … six … years … before replying with a standard, mass-produced, form rejection …  form … rejection.

Today, Jason presents an open response to that rejection; a rejection of the rejection, but what I can’t figure out is why, after some 72 months, four-and-a-half thousand days, did the editor even bother to reply? Why didn’t he just shred the story and go about his day? Did he somehow imagine Jason holding vigil at his mailbox each morning, like the little doggie guarding his master’s grave?

More importantly, though, what the hell does a six-year slush pile look like, anyway?

Part of Alloa Writers’ calendar is a twice-yearly open mike night we call Hear, Here. I may have the order of the hears the wrong way round.

The latest such performance night was tonight and it’s now, in the middle of this sentence, that I realise I should’ve done a better job advertising it. Anyway, tonight was a bit different from others because we had a guest poet visit us.

Billy Letford doesn’t have a website. He doesn’t have any collections available to buy. I’m not even sure if he has any of his poems written down. He is, however, utterly amazing. I’ve never been so moved or entertained by poetry as I was by Billy’s work. That’s not to say I’ve never been moved or entertained and we had some great poets perform tonight, but Billy held the audience’s heart in the palm of his hand and he did whatever he pleased with it. Amazing talent. And talking to him after the show, he’s a lovely guy to boot.

Anyway, I’ve come across a video of his more comedic performance at DiScOmBoBUlate 08. It’s not the best recording but if you can make out his words — and I urge you to do your best to do so — hopefully you’ll get the idea.

I’m not a handy person. Come the armageddon, I’ll be next to useless in whatever society crawls from the wreckage. Plumbing? Nope. Carpentry? Forget it. Mechanics? That’s what oily men are for. I can, however, build you a kick ass spreadsheet and I can even get it to talk nicely to a database backend. Come the armageddon, I don’t expect to be called into action immediately.

But, every dog has its day. When we got a cat, nearly seven years ago now, I successfully cut a hole into our kitchen door and filled that hole with a catflap. Not just any old catflap, you understand, but a magnetic catflap. For those not familiar with such things, this is a catflap that remains locked until a magnet comes into close proximity and then it unlocks. Affix magnet to cat’s collar and you’d think it would be plain sailing after that.

Not for our cat. She wasn’t used to having to press her head against a plastic flap to come and go. She much preferred to walk in and out of an open kitchen door and that’s what we humans were for. I tried to introduce her gently to the idea, then I tried a more direct approach. She protested vocally and violently. I eventually let her be and she wandered over to her food bowls to have a snack and forget about the whole nasty business. The food bowls were metal. She had a magnet round her neck. Once she was within six inches of her dinner, the bowl lept from the floor, clattered into her chin and sent her scampering for cover with a large metal medallion hanging from her collar. She’s only now getting over the experience. For fear of coming home one day and finding her clamped over a Chinese take away menu on our fridge door, we removed the magnet and “switched off” the catflap to freely allow comings and goings, Magnet Not Required. The cat, eventually, got used to the arrangement, but why the maker’s decided to use a NASA standard magnet in their product is anyone’s guess.

And all was well until recently, a fat moggy moved into the street. Fat moggy has no issue with using our catflap or eating our cat’s food or generally just bullying our cat. She’s a fragile wee thing, our cat, and we love her. So we — me and my missus, not me and the cat — decided to give this secure catflap business another go. Technology in the world of catflaps has come on leaps and bounds in the last seven years and you can now get one that’s driven by an infra-red beam … or frikkin lasers, as I like to think of it.

It’s the same size as the existing flap so I didn’t need to chance my arm with a jigsaw again. A little bead is attached to the cat’s collar to trigger a sensor on the catflap and at no point will this cause her any surprise when she feels peckish and, all going well, it will keep nasty fat moggy out of our house.

But … it’s noisy. When the cat moves within range, there’s a CLUNK! as it unlocks and a CLUNK! when she moves out of range and it locks again. Problem is, when she moves out of range and it CLUNKS!, she must think nasty fat moggy is trying to get in. So she moves back into range and CLUNK! it unlocks again. She has a little sniff around the plastic door and once she’s satisfied there’s no funny business, she wanders away … CLUNK! and like a shot, she’s back within range again to investigate the noise. And when she sits on her mat at the door, as she’s likely to do, it basically CLUNKS! on and off constantly. This carries on long into the night. I’m starting to think the manufacturer’s hate cats and their owners. I suspect the handiwork of one Jerry Mouse.

So far, though, there’s been no sign of fat moggy, but short of giving our cat her own set of keys, I’d be interested to know of any alternate ways to keep local strays out of our house and let our cat come and go as she pleases while keeping our sanity. Answers on a postcard, please.


Full of good intentions, I had planned to make some predictions for the 2010 BAFTAs that were announced last night. Unfortunately, I’m also full of the cold so I went to bed instead.

I’m pleased to say, though, that I’ve woken up to see some very sensible results.

The number of nominations thrown at Avatar and, to a lesser extent, Up in the Air baffled me. Neither were Best Film material and neither, as it turned out, won. Instead it was The Hurt Locker’s night — a far more deserving destination.

Avatar excelled in two fields and it was those two fields in which it found some success: special effects and production design. Up in the Air got best adapted screenplay and that’s probably deserving too … the script was pretty good.

Christoph Waltz was a shoe-in for Best Supporting Actor, Up was hugely deserving of Best Animation and Best Music and it would’ve been a travesty if my favourite film of 2009, Moon, had gone home empty-handed.

Biggest surprise and disappointment of the night — perhaps the only surprise and disappointment — was Let The Right One In didn’t get Best Film in a Foreign Language. It’s hard to imagine a better foreign film than the Scandinavian vampire tale and I haven’t yet seen the winner, A Prophet, so it’s unfair to manufacture true outrage. I can’t help thinking maybe there’s been too much buzz around vampires recently and that’s done it a disservice.

Now it just remains to be seen how or if these results translate into Oscars in a couple of weeks. Head says Avatar may do a little better across the pond; heart likes the believe that Up might bag Best Picture.

Finally, I’ll be particualrly interested to see if James Horner can pick up a gong for Best Original Score for Avatar, especially as the man and that same Original Score already won it in 1997. Something about a big boat …

Every time I tell myself that I’m finished with posting about odd signs and notices, I’m guaranteed to see another one that I simply can’t ignore.

Continuing with this tradition, then, on my travels early this morning through Bainsford near Falkirk, I spotted this:

OPTICIANS, it announces proudly. But then, it panics, becomes concerned that there’s just not enough information here … something’s missing … but what else can you say about a simple opticians? Not to worry, the clever signmaker is at hand to clarify. Added at the bottom in a subtitular masterstroke, we find: For Eyes.

Which is handy for those potential customers looking for an optician to sort out their ingrowing toenail.

Apart from the sign, though, it has to be the most depressing shopfront I’ve ever come across. But I suppose if your eyesight has deteriorated to a point where you need an Optician (For Eyes), you’re unlikely to notice.

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