Thursday, 18 October 2018

Bury My Heart



I did my words for the day, and then we went out and sat in a cafe in Bury, had coffee and cake - and I filled pages of my journal with the usual stuff.





Earlier in the day I formulated my thoughts about Dr Who at the moment...

A few thoughts on the new series of Dr Who so far.
1.) If Missy was in it she'd make mincemeat of the lot of them.
2.) Episode One was like a glitzy reboot of 'Juliet Bravo.'
3.) It isn't as imaginative as it could be.
4.) Quite like it but I'm not crackers about it yet.
5.) I don't want to talk about it endlessly, or much at all.
6.) Gender's irrelevant.




Wednesday, 17 October 2018

How It All Fits Together



It's a kind of map of everything I've published, and showing how some of the characters leap from book to book in unexpected ways...


Tuesday, 9 October 2018

A Year of the Goblin King


It's a year since I published this piece on my blog - and over two hundred thousand people read it - and then I developed it into a short story called, 'Stardust and Snow' - which I hope will see the light of day some day soon.


‘Fancy Believing in the Goblin King’

My friend told me a story he hadn’t told anyone for years. When he used to tell it years ago people would laugh and say, ‘Who’d believe that? How can that be true? That’s daft.’ So he didn’t tell it again for ages. But for some reason, last night, he knew it would be just the kind of story I would love.

When he was a kid, he said, they didn’t use the word autism, they just said ‘shy’, or ‘isn’t very good at being around strangers or lots of people.’ But that’s what he was, and is, and he doesn’t mind telling anyone. It’s just a matter of fact with him, and sometimes it makes him sound a little and act different, but that’s okay.

Anyway, when he was a kid it was the middle of the 1980s and they were still saying ‘shy’ or ‘withdrawn’ rather than ‘autistic’. He went to London with his mother to see a special screening of a new film he really loved. He must have won a competition or something, I think. Some of the details he can’t quite remember, but he thinks it must have been London they went to, and the film…! Well, the film is one of my all-time favourites, too. It’s a dark, mysterious fantasy movie. Every single frame is crammed with puppets and goblins. There are silly songs and a goblin king who wears clingy silver tights and who kidnaps a baby and this is what kickstarts the whole adventure.

It was ‘Labyrinth’, of course, and the star was David Bowie, and he was there to meet the children who had come to see this special screening.

‘I met David Bowie once,’ was the thing that my friend said, that caught my attention.

‘You did? When was this?’ I was amazed, and surprised, too, at the casual way he brought this revelation out. Almost anyone else I know would have told the tale a million times already.

He seemed surprised I would want to know, and he told me the whole thing, all out of order, and I eked the details out of him.

He told the story as if it was he’d been on an adventure back then, and he wasn’t quite allowed to tell the story. Like there was a pact, or a magic spell surrounding it. As if something profound and peculiar would occur if he broke the confidence.

It was thirty years ago and all us kids who’d loved Labyrinth then, and who still love it now, are all middle-aged. Saddest of all, the Goblin King is dead. Does the magic still exist?

I asked him what happened on his adventure.

‘I was withdrawn, more withdrawn than the other kids. We all got a signed poster. Because I was so shy, they put me in a separate room, to one side, and so I got to meet him alone. He’d heard I was shy and it was his idea. He spent thirty minutes with me.

‘He gave me this mask. This one. Look.

‘He said: ‘This is an invisible mask, you see?

‘He took it off his own face and looked around like he was scared and uncomfortable all of a sudden. He passed me his invisible mask. ‘Put it on,’ he told me. ‘It’s magic.’

‘And so I did.

‘Then he told me, ‘I always feel afraid, just the same as you. But I wear this mask every single day. And it doesn’t take the fear away, but it makes it feel a bit better. I feel brave enough then to face the whole world and all the people. And now you will, too.

‘I sat there in his magic mask, looking through the eyes at David Bowie and it was true, I did feel better.

‘Then I watched as he made another magic mask. He spun it out of thin air, out of nothing at all. He finished it and smiled and then he put it on. And he looked so relieved and pleased. He smiled at me.

‘’Now we’ve both got invisible masks. We can both see through them perfectly well and no one would know we’re even wearing them,’ he said.

‘So, I felt incredibly comfortable. It was the first time I felt safe in my whole life.

‘It was magic. He was a wizard. He was a goblin king, grinning at me.

‘I still keep the mask, of course. This is it, now. Look.’

I kept asking my friend questions, amazed by his story. I loved it and wanted all the details. How many other kids? Did they have puppets from the film there, as well? What was David Bowie wearing? I imagined him in his lilac suit from Live Aid. Or maybe he was dressed as the Goblin King in lacy ruffles and cobwebs and glitter.

What was the last thing he said to you, when you had to say goodbye?

‘David Bowie said, ‘I’m always afraid as well. But this is how you can feel brave in the world.’ And then it was over. I’ve never forgotten it. And years later I cried when I heard he had passed.’

My friend was surprised I was delighted by this tale.

‘The normal reaction is: that’s just a stupid story. Fancy believing in an invisible mask.’

But I do. I really believe in it.

And it’s the best story I’ve heard all year.







Pictures for a Winter Story




I've been working on what might be illustrations for a story i wrote this time last year...


Thursday, 4 October 2018

Icons of Dr Who

Prompted by a request for a drawing for a charity fanzine this week, I've ended up painting a whole series of little pictures of Dr Who Icons...









Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Nine Things at the Whitworth Gallery




Thickheaded in the morning – I’m still getting over last week’s germs. I have the most vivid dreams that I don’t remember at all. I was asleep when Jeremy and Bernard Socks came to bed last night. I left them watching the rest of Dr Strange. How luxurious it feels to fall asleep halfway through a film.
            The wind is blowing rowdily through Levy. Banners and broken bits of cloud go by and I feel the need to get out for a walk. To blow some of the sticky cobwebs out of my head.
            The only problem with reading great big Blockbuster novels for this project of yours is that when you buy them in hardback you can’t go carting them around with you.
            Remember: this is the time you’ve bought for yourself. To organize and fill up and to create stuff in. You bought it by being poor.

*

Taken you forty-five minutes to walk to the Whitworth Gallery. It’s proper autumn now. The yellow tree at the end of our street was completely bare. I missed its couple of days of being bright citrus yellow. Last year I dashed outside and painted it, splashily, just in time.
            You’re slightly trembly from walking three miles. That’s from not enough exercise. That needs tackling. You need to be out in the world, so here you are. You’re in the gallery with the pale wooden floor, where you came a few times for poetry readings.
            Walking across town, you gave yourself a firm talking to. You need to stop churning all the time with endless, misplaced dissatisfaction. Wishing you had achieved more. Wishing you were bigger, better, more secure. Wishing that the gigs you get asked to do were better ones and that they sold huge great quantities of your books afterwards. All these things you wish, of course.
            But if they weren’t to be, it wouldn’t be the end of the world, would it?
            Part of you always dreaded the shame of not achieving your dreams. Like there was a whole bunch of people waiting to laugh and jeer, and glad to be proved right about you. Who are these people and why should you care? Really, no one cares that much. Even if there are those who are waiting for you to fail, it doesn’t matter.                        
All I need to listen to is me, telling myself: ‘It’s all right to fail. Just do what you can.’
            Sure, it would be nice to be chased after, to be in demand. But I’m sure I’d find that annoying in the end, just as annoying as being neglected.
            As it is, your time is your own. You can fill up pages, sitting in public places. Pages and pages with nonsense like this.
            Ah, but this is Number One on your list of Nine Lovely Things, isn’t it?
            What are the Nine Things, you ask..?
            They are the Nine Things you fill your journals with.

1.    Burn off steam. Write down whatever comes into your head for at least ten minutes.
2.    A memory surfaces and you write it down.
3.    An idea comes out of nowhere.
4.    A bit of overheard dialogue.
5.    A drawing.
6.    Reading some of your current Beach House Book.
7.    Writing about your recent reading.
8.    Take a photo.
9.    Write a postcard or a letter. Probably forget to post it for a day or two.

These are the nine lovely things you do when you sit down somewhere with coffee. You’re probably alone. You can happily fill hours doing the Nine Things. They will lead off in lovely directions. It’s quite nice if you can make all nine things the letter that you then send to a friend, but you might need to take copies of some parts.


*

I wonder if I could just set myself up as the writer and artist in residence in any number of places without even telling them? I wonder if I could just declare myself thus and carry on, by virtue of sitting down and doing it in situ? I could be In Residence in this very gallery. Or Gemini Café up the road. Or the Museum room where Maude the Tigon is on display. Or Artist in Res at the Eye Museum, or the bit where they store the Women’s Own back issues in binders at Central Library. If you just said that’s what you were, would they check up? Could they even stop you?
            (I’m thinking about the Tate Liverpool where they did, in fact, stop you painting in a gallery, back in August.)
            The thing is, everywhere is so keen on their branding. They probably don’t want you tarnishing it by pitching up with your ragbag of notebooks and bits of paper. They’d probably want to advertise for such a thing. They’d want people tendering and pitching and making approaches. They’d want to make it more professional.
            Maybe you could be the Writer in Residence or the Artist in Residence for silly places? Frivolous places. Obscure places. Places that no one wants to hear about. The Barnados shop round the corner from us, for example. Venus Foods Turkish Supermarket. Or the yellow tree at the end of our street. But then, I suppose everywhere is owned by someone these days. Everything has a set of stakeholders or people who care about what happens there. You couldn’t simply adopt, a park, say, or a street corner and say: this is my bit to be In Residence at. Not unless someone gives you permission.
           
*

A friend of mine and Jeremy’s was on Facebook was saying that a female drag queen didn’t get a job as a drag queen and that the person who got the job was a male drag queen and that’s discriminatory. I’m still trying to get my head round that.
            On the way into the Whitworth Gallery there’s a poster advertising their big exhibition, and how it’s apparently about deconstructing racial stereotypes in the history of wallpaper. I think I got that right.
            Sometimes I’m not sure I get it anymore. Female drag queens up in arms. Racist wallpaper getting re-evaluated. And what was it they were making as a show-stopper on the Great British Bake-Off last week? Spiced biscuit chandeliers.
            Sometimes I think someone has put all the words and phrases I know into a large box and given it a bloody good shaking. All the words and ideas have recombined in peculiar ways and what we’re left with is often gibberish.
           
*

The racist wallpaper exhibition was as daft as it sounds. However, there’s a room of sumptuous, colossal tapestries created by Alice Kettle. They’re about migrants: one about land, one sea, one air. It’s apparent exactly what they’re about as soon as you study them. Tiny bodies of people, beasts and birds, drawn in collaboration with all kinds of migrants: stitched into these vast, glittering, quilted friezes.
There are a few cushiony bean bag things strewn about, too. One woman asks the guard (Curator? Warden? The woman with the walkie-talkie) ‘Excuse me, can we sit on these?’
‘No! They are structures.’
The same guard / curator / warden was telling people off for standing too close to the fragile fabrics while they were taking selfies with the art as a backdrop. The wardens with their squawking machines and their clipping up and down are quite a distraction. It feels like the whole place belongs to them, and we’re here sneaking around, hoping not to get caught out.
But that shimmering water – miles of it – rendered in stitches and tatters of cloth – it’s worth coming to see… despite the usual colossal faff on of doing art in public.


*

Gemini Café with frothy white coffee. It’s sunny and almost empty, as everyone strides by on the Oxford Road.
            So, I’ve had my gallery experience, which was mostly just me sitting and writing in my journal. Trying not to notice everyone going by. Towards the end there, when you were looking at the racist wallpaper and the refugee structures the whole place was suddenly swamped by elderly people. There were three coaches parked outside when you left.
            I’m drawing the old ladies sitting outside Gemini Café. They’re smoking their heads off.
            Two fellas sitting next to me are saying there’s not so much space round these tables and chairs. ‘Our Elsie would struggle in here, with her leg. Her game leg. Well, at least she’s got one. She’s almost addicted to morphine. They told her: you must be one of the bravest women alive. No, she wouldn’t like it in here, at all.’
            With that snatch of overheard dialogue, and nothing to read with me, I’ve covered almost all of the Nine Things. And I guess typing it up and posting this here – it’s almost like sending a letter.



*


Monday, 1 October 2018

Sunday and Reading




Sunday and Reading

Apart from putting dinner on
You don’t need to do anything
You’re content with your book
Nothing can bring you out of it

Feeling guilty and delicious
Imagine a whole life like that
And not giving a bugger for anything
But the book you’re with

Rarer than you want to be
Occasional as real Sunday lunch
With perfect Yorkshire puddings

The book must be good and big
It’s got to be trustworthy and fat
That’s the Blockbuster business

Like the meat and potatoes of a
Sunday roast and knowing
You don’t need to go anywhere
Just deeper into pages

When the book stops being there
And it’s just

A cloud of happening