Gutted

Checked my coat pocket this evening for my USB drive and realised that I’ve fucking lost it, along with the last version of my second novel. 6,000 fucking words gone – one and a half chapters.

I feel like I’ve had my fucking guts ripped out through my throat.

Advertisements

The Short Goodbye – a short story

Eleanor folded their mother’s clothes neatly before packing them into the careworn brown leather suitcase that lay open upon the hospital bed.

Simon watched her. She looked frail and older than her years. Eleanor heard his heavy wheezing. She looked up, observed him with a cold gaze and resumed the folding and packing. “You’re late!”

“I’m sorry.”

“She asked for you.”

“I said I was sorry.”

“She asked for you!” Eleanor snarled.

“Let’s leave me and you outside,” Simon pleaded.

Eleanor stopped and locked her icy blue gaze upon him. “This isn’t about you and me. She asked for you, at the end, and you weren’t there.”

“I was busy. I’m sorry!”

“I wonder if you’ll be saying that when they read out the will.”

Simon felt the blow from that; it struck him hard, and he reeled from its impact. “This isn’t the first time she’s asked for me. We’ve been at this point before.”

“We’ve never been at this point!” Eleanor said, shaking her head with a look of disgust.

Simon winced inwardly at his inappropriate choice of phrase. “You know what I mean.”

Eleanor stepped away from the bed, towards him, her movements stiff, her face drawn tight. “You were never here.”

“Rubbish!”

Eleanor pointed an accusing finger at him. “You were never here for her!” Simon noticed her hand was shaking, he wasn’t sure if it was anger or grief.

“Jesus, Eleanor!”

Eleanor turned her back on him. “Is your time so precious that you couldn’t spare half an hour for your own mother?”

Simon shook his head. His family and his business were young; he had demands on his time that Eleanor, as their mother’s full-time carer, could never comprehend. “You wouldn’t understand,” he said.

“Really? Try me.”

“My family is young.”

“Mine’s dead,” his sister responded.

Simon winced. “My career is just taking off.”

“And mine’s just ended,” she countered.

Simon moved towards Eleanor; his attempt at breaking the ice between them. Eleanor heard his footsteps upon the vinyl flooring but didn’t turn around. She resumed her packing as calmly and methodically as it had begun. “You want to talk about time? The fruits of my time are in the mortuary,” she said coolly.

“Eleanor!”

“Keep it. Whatever it is you have to say just keep it to yourself. I don’t want to hear it.”

Simon backed away and turned towards the open doorway and the bustle of the ward outside. “When’s the funeral?”

“Well, if you can make the time, it’ll be this Friday,” Eleanor said. She had a slight smile and a vicious glint in her eyes.

He was supposed to meet his biggest client that day for a deal worth thousands of pounds. Of course, Eleanor knew this. She knew this because she had been there when he phoned their mother with the good news.

He shivered before chuckling softly.

The last words he ever said to his sister were, “I’ll have to check my diary, but I think I can make it.”

Faux Pas – a short story

Kevin was standing at the counter, beside the the kettle, waiting for it to boil, when his new director walked into the kitchen. She took a cup out of the cupboard and waited in silence. Nervous, Kevin tried making conversation. A few polite but stilted pleasantries were exchanged before they struck upon a topic that interested them both – the director’s upcoming wedding anniversary, which was a big one.

Kevin thought about his parents’ anniversary, which was within a few days of the director’s. “So, it’s your fortieth then?”

The director – a neatly presented woman in her early fifties – looked at him in disgust and said: “Actually, it’s our thirtieth.”

Embarrassed, Kevin realised his mistake. This woman held the key to any future raises he might receive. He needed to dig his way out of this hole as quickly as possible. He attempted to explain himself. “Sorry. What I meant to say is my parents are having their fortieth. That’s what I meant, you know, to say.”

The director looked down her nose at him. “Fine,” she said, although he could see it wasn’t. “Not to worry.”

Kevin still felt ice in the air, so he tried to break it. “I mean, they’re getting on as well. You know, my parents.”

The director narrowed her eyes at him. “As well?”

Kevin realised that he needed to stop speaking and leave immediately. “No. What I meant is that they’re getting on. My parents, that is. Not you.”

The kettle – furred up with limescale – was taking its time about boiling. Kevin felt cold sweat form upon his back. The director’s gaze was upon him, her eyes cold and sharp, regarding him in silence. What the hell was taking the kettle so long?

“They’re in their seventies now,” he said, offering further explanation.

“That’s nice,” replied his director coolly.

“It must be nice to be that age and still in love,” he said nervously. “I mean, you must be very happy.”

“I’m not seventy,” she hissed.

“No. No. No, I meant you must be happy,” said Kevin, swallowing audibly and glancing at the kettle. “To have, you know, reached thirty years. Of marriage, I mean.”

He looked at the kettle. The button was depressed, so why the hell wasn’t it boiling? He shook the kettle, spilling water all over the counter. His director looked at him, shook her head and then nodded at the wall. “Might help if you turn the plug on.”

Kevin looked at the plug – the button was off. He turned it on and put his cup – with a heaped spoon of coffee in it – back in the cupboard and said, looking at his watch. “I should, you know, be making my way back. You know, it’s not even my coffee. It’s my boss’ drink.”

He walked off and only looked round when he reached his cubicle.

Even from the safety of his cubicle he could feel her gaze. She was still shaking her head at him, her top lip curled with disgust.

Technology and reading

For weeks, people have told me that I really must produce a Kindle version of The Gamblers, that they will buy it if a suitable eBook edition comes along. Adverts for Kindle have been everywhere, reminding me about what I have to get round to doing as soon as possible. And 2010-2011 genuinely feels like a tipping point for the publishing industry.

The Kindle and the iPad seem to be fighting for dominance as the reader of choice for electronic editions of novels. Both bits of technology seem to be really making their presence felt in a way that suggests they could change publishing forever. And then I thought longer and harder about it and thought, Hmmm, I’m not so sure.

The notion of having unlimited choice doesn’t seem to me that conducive to reading. The concept of having 3,500 books in one handy format would leave me gnashing at my fingernails, wondering what I would want to read this week. Books aren’t the same as music and movies, which are ideal for the electronic format, because they are consumed in an entirely different way. Songs are done and dusted in minutes; even most albums are consumed in minutes rather than hours. Most movies are done and dusted in a couple of hours. And in both cases, there is little more involvement from the consumer than sitting and letting the experience wash over you.

Books are different. You engage with them in a different way. You pick them up, you turn the page, you read the words, you form mental pictures, you’re forced to concentrate for hours at a time. Even a short two hundred page novel can take days to read, depending on the amount of time you spend with it each day. You can’t just let things wash over you, that’s not how a book works.

I can understand why many magazine publishers are terrified and pleased about the arrival of the iPad. The format is perfect for reading magazines, which again form a different reading experience to a novel. Magazines are designed for bite-sized reading. Most articles can be read in minutes and the majority have a 50-50 balance of images to words (alternating to 60-40, either way, depending on the length of the article or importance of the images). On the iPad, magazines are beautifully immersive; videos, links to separate text, alternative photos, and other interactive content. After reading magazines or coffee table books in this format, the old-fashioned printed versions seem, well, how can I say it, er, somewhat old fashioned! But then again, having viewed normal books on an iPad, they just don’t quite work. The printed versions somehow read better than their electronic counterparts and the notion of having links to content within a novel would knock the reader out of the moment.

The Kindle fares better in this respect – having been designed specifically to mimic the printed page – but still, having viewed one on several occasions, I just don’t think I will personally rush out and buy one any time soon.

Still, that doesn’t mean I won’t move with the times and ignore that ePub format book, it’ll be done as soon as I can manage it, but it does mean that at the moment I prefer to do my reading in a handy portable, paper format. Frankly, the old fashioned way of reading is more than immersive enough for me.

Advertisements for myself

Advert for The Gamblers

A couple of examples of posters that will be seen around London pubs and cafes during the end of 2010/beginning of 2011.

I’ve also slipped a few into The Metro and Evening Standard when I’ve been on the tube mornings and evening

They use pithy snippets of dialogue from the novel, to give a flavour of its essentially hardboiled noir nature. Basically, if you like the dialogue then chances are you’ll like the novel too.

Interesting article on Guardian website

http://preview.tinyurl.com/2cypfdn

That old chestnut about whether literary fiction is better than genre fiction has raised its ugly head again.

There’s good writing and bad writing and in some ways that’s all there is to say about it. If anybody is foolish enough to roll out that old chestnut that the best prose writers are all literary, then that person has never reader any Raymond Chandler. Chandler turned out some of the most beautifully honed sentences in English in the 20th century, and his facility with metaphor is almost without equal. Dashiell Hammett’s output was as influential on modern prose as the output of Hemingway – both men seemed to throw off the shackles of 19th century prose at almost the same time. And Graham Greene and Joseph Conrad worked within genre, but nobody would say they were constrained by their ‘limitations’. And in France, try telling anybody that George’s Simenon’s ‘Maigret’ books aren’t literature and they will probably laugh in your face.

Using Larsson and Brown as a point-of-reference for the basis of an article is almost pointless. Everybody knows that Brown can’t write a decent sentence, and it’s fairly common knowledge that the Millennium translations aren’t very good. The fact that nobody picks on Walter Mosley or John Le Carre and tries to suggest that their work is inferior to literary fiction, just shows that the genre’s best and brightest are a match for anybody on their day and that any argument like Docx’s can be blown out of the water.

Anyway, I’m glad to live in a world where I can read Don Delillo’s ‘Libra’ one day and James Ellroy’s ‘American Tabloid’ the next, where John Updike and James Crumley share shelf space, where John Hawkes and John Le Carre are just as likely to be picked up and read.