GOING GLOBAL

LONDON       PARIS      SAN FRANCISCO.

The Invisible Hand is now being stocked in bookshops around the world, including the National Theatre in London, Shakespeare & Company in Paris and Christopher´s Books in San Francisco.

In the UK it´s at Heffers in Cambridge, Blackwell´s in Oxford, Mrs B´s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath, the Totnes Bookshop in Totnes and the Edinburgh Bookshop in Edinburgh.

You can read 3 free chapters at Instafreebie or

Join the Good Reads Giveaway or

Pre-Order the book from Amazon UK here or

Amazon US here

If you are a bookseller, please get in touch about ordering for your store. The book is available through Gardners and all the major distributors.

Mrs B´s Emporium of Reading Delights, Bath

THE INVISIBLE HAND – Giveaways, Freebies, Goodies

Very atmospheric, very readable, and in the best sense very educational.  Charles Nicholl, author of The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street

THE INVISIBLE HAND, the exciting first part of a new Young Adult series about children who get involved in the plots of Shakespeare´s plays, is released in a month. Find out what happens when Sam, a pupil at St Francis´ School, travels back to medieval Scotland and gets wrapped up in the plot of William Shakespeare´s Macbeth.

Get a FREE copy by entering the Good Reads giveaway here.

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Some reviews:

“Time travel, Scotland and Macbeth? Oooh…yes please!!! I love all three to tiny pieces and was totally interested when I started reading this book. The story takes place at a boarding school in Britain where the main character, Sam, has basically been dumped as his parents are either too busy working or too ill to look after him. One night, Sam awakes to find himself in another person’s body and in the middle of a Scottish battlefield. Is it a dream? Will what happens in the past affect the future? I really liked Sam! The poor thing…I just really wanted to give him a million hugs throughout the story, especially as more was revealed about his family. He was shy, adorable and quite brave considering the circumstances that he constantly found himself in. There’s a scene where he finally makes a connection between his own time traveling and the events in Macbeth that made me smile. He shouts out about how he was there and everyone thought he was absolutely crazy. And why wouldn’t they? But that just endeared him to me even more. Super cute! I am interested in seeing how the author will mix in the other plays. I also just realized there’s a prequel set at the school during World War II called Heart of Winter. Gothic tale about the macabre? OK! Let’s do this…” ~ Jacquie Atamanuk, Rattle The Stars

“This first in the new series Shakespeare’s Moon looks to be a great way to get younger teens enthralled by Shakespeare as they’ve never been before. The fast-paced first installment The Invisible Hand follows a boy called Sam as he finds his rather monotonous life at boarding school suddenly interspersed with vivid dreams set in medieval Scotland, and he can’t stop thinking about these flashes of colour dragging him from his grey life in England. When Sam’s class start studying Macbeth and a new girl arrives at school who he recognises, he realises that there’s more to his dreams than he thought. The parallels between his dream travels to Scotland and Macbeth are too strong to ignore, and he soon becomes entangled in a gripping plot that not only brings Shakespeare’s play to life but also teach him about his family’s past. The gloomy feel of medieval Scotland and a dreary English boarding school were perfect for reading during December, when the weather where I live was taking a step toward a true wintery cold snap. Seeing Sam go on a personal journey rather than just living out the events of Macbeth really helped to bring this book to life, and I think will certainly engage younger readers. An interview with the author that I read recently mentions his love for stories within stories, and I have to say it shows in this book, with the way that events are retold, and all of the characters have a link back to either Macbeth or some other literary origin. I’m certainly interested to see what the rest of Shakespeare’s Moon will be like, as each one is apparently set in the same boarding school as Sam’s, but based upon different Shakespeare plays.” ~ Lucy Russell , Parasol Pirate

“In my opinion,  as a classroom text the book would be most suited to Key Stage 3 children (11 to 13).  Whilst there are lots of twists and turns that require the ability to follow a complex plot, the language is accessible and there is an old-school charm and innocence to it.  The boarding school setting would appeal to those who already enjoy Harry Potter stories. I also think that it could be used as an extension text for Key Stage 4 students to read in their own time and support their understanding of the play.

I really enjoyed how you have captured the sense of place and enjoyed spotting references.   You have created an original narrative whilst embedding elements of the play’s narrative throughout.  I worried that the two would clash or that, knowing the play as well as I do having taught it so many times, there would be little room for inventiveness with your plot but I am pleased to report that wasn’t the case.  There was still room for mystery and ambiguity e.g. Leana as Lady Macbeth’s daughter.  I also think that both Sam and Leana are strong characters who would appeal to both boys and girls.”

Katharine Bryson, Head of English, Box Hill School, Surrey, England.

Eve´s Christmas FREE for 5 days on Kindle

Eve´s Christmas is a new, bittersweet short story about a young girl at a magical boarding school who finds out she´s not a real person but a character in a story.

It forms a prelude to the Shakespeare´s Moon series of books which will begin in February with The Invisible Hand.

For the next 4 days Eve´s Christmas is FREE on Kindle – click here to get your copy now. It´s perfect for Christmas. If you would like to read the beginning of the story, read on…

It´s Christmas at St Francis´s School…

I was alone one day at the furthest end of the empty, frosty playing fields when a hole in the ground opened before me. A strange man who would later identify himself as Master Maia appeared from the frosty hatch and beckoned me over. I glanced back at the fogged-over fields and the ghostly image of the school and walked across to where the Master was clapping his gloved hands together.

“Quick as you like, my dear,” he was saying, his breath rising in a cloud.

Below the playing fields, at the foot of the ladder, was a cavernous tunnel warmed by glowing electric railings. The Master pointed out a small wooden table and asked me to sit on the stool tucked beneath it. When I´d done so, he passed me a piece of paper. On this I read:

She is lonely and weird. No-one likes her. She prefers characters in books to real people. She prefers being alone to being in the world. She

The piece of paper was smaller than my hand and torn at one diagonal edge. There were some faint blue lines beneath the text which I recognised as those in the notebooks we used at school. “I´m sorry, I don´t understand what you want me to do,” was the only thing I could think of saying.

“That note was written this morning,” the Master told me.

“But what does it have to do with me?”

“It is you,” he replied. The Master was a strange man, calm but nervy; young and old at the same time. He looked familiar but, as I examined him closely, became a total stranger. I realised that his face was constantly, subtly, changing. This was odd but not frightening. Up above him I saw hundreds of worm tails wriggling from the tunnel ceiling.

“Me?” I looked down at the scrap of paper again.

“There´s no more to the note, only what you have in your hand,” the Master told me. He leaned across to pick a magnifying glass off a shelf suspended by chains from the clay wall. “That scrap was thrown into a rubbish bin. We retrieved it, identified you and brought you here.”

“So…what? You´re saying I´m invented?” I laughed. “I´m not real?”

The Master nodded. “That´s right. But don´t be alarmed. I´m not real either.” He swept a hand around behind his head. “Rest assured, my dear: you´re among friends here.”

The Guru and The Kid

ben-autumn

The Guru is standing with his arms crossed, watching the sparring. The gym is dingy, lit by artificial light. Outside it´s autumn, upstate New York. Downstairs is the town police station. In comes The Kid, led by a huge Irish man with a broken nose held together by a thin white plaster.

The Kid is a bundle of darkness. He´s small and thick with a lisp, thirteen years old, a petty thief, sociopath, damaged goods. He´s got pigeons and hasn´t been to school, except to eat, in years. Last few months he´s been boxing with the Irishman. It was he who broke the big man´s nose. He´s come here to spar.

The Guru can´t believe The Kid is thirteen. He has a weird tingling somewhere in his soul. Could this be the one? He´s been waiting too long. He gets a momentary taste of what it must be like to lose the bitterness he´s been feeling for the last thousand years. He watches his trainer lace up The Kid´s gloves. The Kid´s short but stocky. Hole eyes.

Over the sound of ropes whipping the boards and heavy bags clanking, the bell rings and The Kid and Irishman go at it. They´ve been working together in The Kid´s last-chance correctional facility for a while. The Irishman was cynical at first but he´s never been hit by such power. The Kid is full of rage and evil heart. They exchange blows and The Kid´s face gets cut up and The Guru calls time but The Kid begs to finish the three rounds. They do.

At the end of it, the room stinking with rising, visible sweat, The Guru says to the Irishman: “This is the next heavyweight champion of the world”.

 

The Kid moves to upstate New York to live in a house with The Guru and his wife, an old Ukrainian woman who cooks well and calms The Guru down when he shouts at the TV. The Guru gets straight to work on The Kid, telling him, “I hope you know your mind is not your friend”. The Guru´s from the streets, too. He´s taken punches. He has enemies, internal and external.

The Kid continues to rob, drink and smoke, sometimes from his new friends, but he also gets addicted to the fight game. He trains hard. He studies the greats. He starts to build a persona for himself, stand outside himself and see himself, see how he wants to be when he´s remembered, when his name will echo down through time.

He wants to be immortal. He wants to be feared and loathed. He wants to strike terror into the hearts of his opponents.

Every time he steps into the ring he´s the little kid with the lisp who got bullied and humiliated. That anger, born of total humiliation, will never go away and he clasps it to his soul like fire and makes his fists burn with it. Like a Pitbull he comes out of the corner at the bell flying, swarming, blasting punches into the body and face of his opponent. After his first fight he stands on the prone body of the fallen boxer and salutes the crowd.

The Guru is always watching. He wants no show of emotion. Destroying other fighters is what should happen. The Kid should not be surprised when his supreme skills and ferocious force fell the weaklings put in his path to global renown. This is what should and must happen. This is not to be celebrated, this is simply to be achieved. This is what we know happens. What is going to happen. What has to happen.

“You´re keeping me alive,” The Guru tells The Kid one day. “I never thought I´d get second chance like this. I´d be dead now if it wasn´t for you. Watching you do this is keeping me alive. You´re what I´m living for.”

One day, The Guru tells The Kid, he´d been in a mean fight and had come close to getting destroyed. First few rounds he´d been down and out but his trainer had lifted him off the stool and pushed him out onto the canvas. Something had happened in the third round. Suddenly he´d been up above the ring, looking down, watching the fight. He´d sensed the punches, watching them as if in slow motion. He´d separated his mind from his body; become a machine.

“That is what I want from you,” he told The Kid. “Keep working on it. Automatic. Keep talking to yourself. Telling yourself the things we´ve been saying. You´re gonna have crowds cheering your name. Royalty is gonna want to meet with you. People will fight with each other to carry your mother´s shopping bags. Your name will be known across the globe. You will go down as the greatest fighter who ever lived!”

The Guru, only human, dies with the finish line in sight. His lungs throw in the towel.

The Kid is a fierce mix of grief, determination, momentum and rage. There is no way he will be stopped. He becomes the youngest heavyweight champion of the world but his Guru is not there.

The Kid stands on the top of the world but it´s cold. The view is great but it´s lonely. There´s no-one up there with him. Nowhere to go. Nothing to do.

He stays for a bit, shadow boxes a while, hopes his Guru can see him – although now the clouds are below him, not above – and starts down.

tyson-autumn

 

tyson-autumn2

 

The Shakespeare Wars: 150 years of vicious conflict

My experiences in the Stratfordian-Oxfordian conflict, including a meeting with infamous Oxfordian rebel Alan Tarica.

shakespeare-war

BACKGROUND

A few days past I received an unsolicited email with the subject line “Writers Fun”. It was from someone called Alan Tarica. “I thought you might enjoy know about my Shakespeare Sonnets exegesis/adaptation,” it read. There were links to various webpages, one of which looked like a heavily annotated version of Shakespeare´s Sonnets.

I wrote back: “Thanks. Who are you and how did you get my email address?”

The reply came swiftly, that same day.

Mr Tarica thanked me for my appreciation – I had said his theory looked interesting – but added, “in truth, I already can´t remember how I came across you”.

Alarm bells ringing, I Googled Tarica and up came a list of derogatory comments and references to his ´theory´ dating back to 2013. I sent off some messages and emails to friends, colleagues and trusted strangers, asking for further clarification on who this man was, and went to bed thinking him a strange crank or internet troll.

I should declare at this point that I have a novel for teenagers coming out early next year. The book is about children at a school who become involved in the plot of Shakespeare´s Macbeth. Self-promotion and an interest in all things Shakespearean mean I have of late been connecting with various people across the usual social networks. This is, I supposed, how Mr Tarica had got hold of my name and email address.

The next morning brought a flood of information from various sources.

Tarica was infamous, it seemed, in academic circles. He was a “megalomaniac”, a “sexist” and “deluded”. From what I could glean, Mr Tarica was an amateur Shakespearean scholar who had formulated a theory describing how, by reading the Sonnets from the end to the beginning, the last poem first and the first poem last, certain truths were revealed, one of which was that the Earl of Oxford, not Shakespeare, was the true author of the bard´s cannon.

On another forum, where I had posted a thread asking for help, I was advised to speak only in private messages as “he might be watching”, he being the all-powerful Tarica.

Once hidden from this sinister, omnipotent figure, I learned that Mr Tarica was an Oxfordian, a label unfamiliar to me. Another academic wrote to tell me I was simply the latest in a long line of people Mr Tarica had bothered and that “he was just an internet ghost” who enjoyed abusing scholars via anonymity. “Welcome to an extremely large and pissed off club,” my informant added.

Far from being put off by all this, I became even more interested in the mysterious Mr Tarica. I wrote to him and asked him if he would like to do an interview for me. I had a look at his Twitter account, an odd, masked photo accompanying various shouted exhortations about the truth of what he had uncovered. Where any academic had dared to respond to Mr Tarica, insults had flown. I stroked my chin and said, “Hmm…”

He agreed to talk and I sent him a list of questions.

 

THE WAR

Unbeknown to me I had stumbled across the SACT War, which has been raging for over a hundred and fifty years. SACT stands for Shakespeare Authorship Conspiracy Theories.

War was declared in 1857 when Delia Bacon wrote a book suggesting that Shakespeare´s plays might have been written by a group of people, rather than one, the famous Will of Stratford-Upon-Avon. The attack might be visualised as a noble’s revolt against the King, in a country which had hitherto been at peace for almost two hundred years.

It was not until the Looney Uprising of 1920 that a schism truly developed. Looney´s Shakespeare Identified in Edward de Vere, 6th Earl of Derby enshrined the basic philosophy of those who would become Oxfordians: that Shakespeare was too unworldly and uneducated to have written the plays; that there were examples in the extant handwriting samples that the plays were written in Oxford´s hand and that a close reading of the plays linked phrases and actions with Oxford´s own life, thoughts and political condition.

This anti-orthodox approach quickly gained popularity and became an uprising against “entrenched authority” whom, its followers claimed, seeked to silence their views and protect vested interests. As the war heated up, the Oxfordians – some under the banner of Marlowe, some Raleigh, many under Oxford´s colours – became entrenched in their position and began to make ground.

Among the ranks of the “doubters” marched famous names such Sigmund Freud, Orson Welles, John Gielgud, Charlie Chaplin and Charles Dickens. More recently, the first artistic director of the Globe Theatre, Mark Rylance, and the actor Derek Jacobi, have stood up and been counted.

Faced with this mounting barrage, cracks have appeared in the previously pristine façade of the Stratfordian citadel. The Oxford University Press recently named Christopher Marlowe as co-author of two of Shakespeare´s history plays and over the last thirty years there has been an acceptance that parts of other Shakespeare plays may have been co-authored and speeches scratched out by quills other than Shakespeare´s own.

 

THE FOOT SOLDIER

Mr Alan Tarica is a fifty-year old married computer software engineer from Maryland in the United States. He gained a Master´s degree in Management Information Systems from the John Hopkins University and lives quietly with his wife in a nice neighbourhood of Bethesda. But he is also an Oxfordian foot-soldier, firing off internet broadsides and regularly engaging in viscous tweet skirmishes with an enemy he accuses of dirty tricks and “a real and demonstrable lack of ethical behaviour”.

What could possibly have radicalised this otherwise ordinary, American male?

Mr Tarica says he had an uneventful childhood and is grateful for his father, who promoted critical thinking and wasn´t afraid to question orthodoxy. “That led me to a fascination with paradigm shifts,” he says, “and the people who were responsible, like Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin and those responsible for Quantum Mechanics.”

He says writers like Asimov and Stephen J Gould helped form his “foundations for thinking and questioning.”

Tarica´s personal theory links the Earl of Oxford with a conspiracy of silence reaching right up to the velvet hems of the British royal family. He says that a close reading of the Sonnets reveals that the Earl of Oxford, the real author of the poems and plays in his eyes, was begging, publicly, the then Queen of England to acknowledge their illegitimate son Henry as the rightful heir to the Tudor throne. Oxford had maintained an illicit affair with his Queen.

When King James I took the throne, beginning the Stuart line, it follows that it was in the crown´s interest to hush up Henry´s existence and so a certain William Shakespeare, bit part actor and owner of a useful surname, was coerced into becoming a “front” for Oxford, keeping the troublesome Lord out of the picture. Thus was one of the greatest acts of dissemination of false information in history perpetrated.

But why is the world, particularly the academic world, so unwilling to even listen such views?

“Because,” Mr Tarica answers, having Shakespeare as the author of the plays, “is so ingrained in our social consciousness and has become such a tenet of so many people´s views with respect to meritocratic and democratic views.” He likens people who question Shakespeare´s authorship of the plays, in the eyes of the orthodox, to people who, in his eyes, question the shape of the world.

“I would suggest that my efforts at promulgation and dissemination have resulted in very few people that are even willing to acknowledge my work. And I would further suggest that this is both revealing and there is likely collusion in this regard.”

And his online persona and behaviour? His chosen guerrilla tactics, lobbing emails onto unsuspecting bystanders in Shakespeareland? His vitriolic tweets?

“My outrageous behaviour always had the intention of revealing that the scholarly establishment is familiar with me.  I would suggest it is far more familiar with me than you are likely aware.  But only time will likely reveal that…”

 

THE OLD GUARD

Up in the old citadel on the hill, deep in the remains of the once-impregnable fortress, the Stratfordians regroup and sigh wearily, drawing close to each other for comfort. The war has been long and hard and there looks to be no end to it. It is a war against intelligence, they believe: an assault on knowledge.

What doubt can there be about Shakespeare being the author of the plays? Is not the man´s name written on the title pages of many originals? Are there not countless contemporary testimonies? Is there not the evidence of those who knew him?

But how to fight on a field which is constantly changing? Where the enemy is seventy-headed, constantly changing, whose only aim is to do away with history and truth? Why, the Oxfordians are even setting up their faith schools, running expensive degrees, courses and seminars, encroaching on the Stratfordians own turf. They will not listen to reason! They are not interested in conciliation!

Yea, think upon those weary guardians of true history as a minstrel´s tune from the marketplace drifts up over the ramparts and echoes through the hallowed yet peeling English Department-like halls of the beleaguered scholars.

Christopher Marlowe or Francis Bacon, the Coward sings,

The author of Lear remains unshaken.

Willie Herbert or Mary Fitton,

What does it matter?

The Sonnets were written

 

TRUCE?

After I´d written the above, in the interests of balance and not wanting to kick a man when he was down, I contacted Mr Tarica and sent him a copy of the text, asking him to consider it and tell me if there were any inconsistencies or points he would like to clarify. His answer, in full, is quoted below:

James I think you were a bit selective but probably better than can be expected from someone whose view apparently reflected in characterizing myself and others motivation (assuming yours) as “whose only aim is to do away with history and truth?”.  

 Perhaps one day you’ll learn only mythology remains constant and unchanging and that actual knowledge is provisional and subject to evidence.

 At least happy to have learned of how much I’ve pissed off the intellectually cowardly simpletons whose aim appears to be a vast conspiracy to ultimately make me look brilliant.

 Best,

Alan

 

I hereby declare myself a Stratfordian.

 

 

What´s your favourite film about writers?

There are plenty of good movies about writers. Adaptation, Sunset Boulevard, Barton Fink, the Before movies – Ethan Hawke´s character is a writer – Before Night Falls, The Shining and The Hours are all up there for me, but none quite capture the awkwardness and sensitivity of the wannabe writer better than Sideways.

Paul Giamatti´s Miles is made to suffer. Not only has he poured his heart and soul into a novel which it looks like no-one wants but he has to suffer the daily torment of being asked about it and suffering the sympathetic reactions of those who hear his answer. Then, during his week-long piss-up with Jack things get worse: he´s made to lie about being an author, about his book being published, and has to accept congratulations and toasts for something which he knows is untrue.

Worse: publication is his dream – the one thing that, Miles thinks, will validate his life, bring him recognition and get him started on the path of what he thinks is his true vocation; being an artist: a real writer.

The pain continues as Miles´ drinking is barely kept in check. Writers and booze are interlinked: mind-altering substances used alternatively for conjuring up and silencing the voices in their heads. When Miles finds out his book has been rejected again he goes mental at a wine-tasting, finishing up glugging the contents of a spit bucket. But who cares? The world has rejected him and he´s angry with the world.

Perfect scene: after an awkward late-night semi-romantic encounter with a girl he knows called Maya, they stop at a crossroads to say goodbye, each in their own car. Maya offers to read Miles´ manuscript and Miles, uttering the time-honoured phrases about honest opinions and not minding if she doesn´t like it, or finish reading it, reaches back to get the prized work. Up comes a box – size of a shoe box – which he hands over to Maya. As she takes it and prepares to leave he says, “wait!”, reaches back and lifts up another shoe-box: Volume II.

For me the movie captures the loneliness and desperation of the unpublished or unloved writer. One respected and admired by the outside world but also constantly punished and made to suffer by that same world. It is the torture of a writer seeking an audience, seeking a breakthrough which they must continue convincing themselves will come but which seems always just out of reach.

To go on with the punishment? To continue with the torture? To reach for the bottle? To keep going, trying to find that one reader? That one connection?

scene-from-sideways

 

 

And what about you? Which do you think is the best film about writers, and why?

DEATH TO THE PIXIES

pixies-1

New short, Pixes short story here

Start with Surfer Rosa and turn it up loud. Released in March 1988, Surfer Rosa – like “the purple tape” and Come on, Pilgrim which preceded it – introduced the world to four disparate personalities which fused to make music which stopped people in their tracks.

Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV was born in Boston but moved to LA as a child, where he, his mother and stepfather got involved with the Assemblies of God. Charles´ first guitar hero was Larry Norman, whose catchphrase, Come on Pilgrim! he appropriated. While at U Mass, majoring in anthropology, he met a Filipino-American called Joey Santiago who started jamming with him in the dorm-room.

Charles went off on a student exchange program, to San Juan, Puerto Rico, but after sixth months he wrote a letter to Joey from the island. “We gotta do it,” he wrote. “Now is the time, Joe, we gotta chase our dreams”. Santiago replied, “Yes, now’s the time.”

Back in Boston they worked day jobs and rehearsed at night, recruiting secretary Kim Deal, who was the only one to respond to their ad. Kim was a twin from Dayton, Ohio, and had been building instruments and singing in a group with her sister for years. She was married and had moved to Boston to be with her new husband, John Murphy, and it was her who suggested David Lovering to the group: David was a Rush-loving practical joker who´d been at Kim and John´s wedding.

Called Pixies after a trawl through the dictionary, the group rehearsed solidly and built up a strong live following. The songs were Charles´s, sometimes about incest, sometimes screamed in Spanglish, sometimes cooed. Kim, often in her work clothes and pumps, grinned,  chatted and smoked through the live shows while Joey, lurking in the shadows, came to the fore to scratch his guitar with bottles and wires and shake his amps. Behind them all, powerful and insistent, a sweaty, head-down Lovering thrashed out the beat.

The Purple Tape and Come on Pilgrim, consisting of songs Charles, now calling himself Black Francis, had written in Puerto Rico, got the word around and they recorded Surfer Rosa for 4AD in 1988. Charles´ innate love of surrealism and David Lynch informed the music, Albini´s production gave the album a thrillingly up-close sound while Lovering´s drumming and Kim´s bass and background vocals played games with the listener’s head. Joey, so mild mannered and shy, howled.

Britain, and London in particular, went crazy for the Pixes. They went over supporting friends the Throwing Muses but finished up tour headliners. There was no way to follow them. Doolittle, recorded by scouser Gil Norton, joyfully confirmed their arrival but right at the top, even if US success was eluding them, cracks began to appear. The fun started to drain away.

Bossanova was a chilled-out, space-surfey delight but by Trompe Le Monde in 1991 the band was on the rocks. Lovering made them pull out of a tour with fans Nirvana as support fearing the same fate would befall them as befell the Muses back in England. Instead they played enormodromes and stadiums opening for U2: a soul-destroying experience.

Charles broke up the band, hardly bothering to tell the others.

Kim, always a bandleader, but side-lined in the Pixies, got The Breeders up and running and hit gold with Cannonball and its parent album. Charles – now calling himself Frank Black – made a solid debut and followed it up with a cracking second, Teenager of the Year, but interest was waning. Joey made film soundtracks and formed a band with his wife. David became a stage magician. The world moved on.

Gradually America came to realise the importance of the Pixies but by then the members were in a kind of limbo. Charles had formed a garage band, Frank Black and the Catholics, and started a family. Kim was battling with personal issues. In 2003 David was walking to the bank thinking about how terrible his life was when he got a call from Joey Santiago. “Guess what?” the guitarist asked him.

The Pixies reformed – “last time it was for the art; this time it´s for the money” Charles said – and as of 2016 they´re still motoring. Not the same, sure. Older. Calmer. Kim´s gone; the music´s not so vital anymore – could it ever be? – but this year´s Head Carrier has all the usual themes in place.

Like The Beatles, all Pixies fans know every word of every song. They call the band by first names and they feel they know them because they love them. Pixies are a band to love. And as with any band anyone has ever loved, nothing can repeat that first sensation, that first introduction, that first kiss of sound. The snap of the drum. The bass. The guitar. The howl. Bone Machine.

This is a sooooong for Carol!

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Read my short story about Pixies here. Can you see Pixies?

Bewitched by Macbeth

Teaching Shakespeare to GCSE or High School students can be a daunting prospect but it doesn´t have to be the end of the world. I´m very proud to have been published by the General Teaching Council for Scotland on this theme. You can read the article here:

http://www.gtcs.org.uk/News/teaching-scotland/exclusive-bewitched-by-macbeth.aspx

I lived in Scotland for about two years, not far from Stonehaven (see pic below) and couldn´t help but be influenced by the wonderful scenery and history all around me. That whole experience bled into Heart of Winter and The Invisible Hand.

stonehaven-castle

NYC, 1974

“I´m sweatin´ cobs, ´ere!”

Doctor Winston O´Boogie was kneeling nude on the apartment floor, his Mother-validated lover changing the hexagrams he´d cast. His old yins became young yangs in the time it took to wipe his glasses on the batik throw. Down below, outside the wide-open window, New York City hummed and horned in the humid August night.

The apartment smelled of scrambled eggs, cigarettes and incense. The good Doctor lit his ninth Winston of the day.

“Get the fan, baby,” asked his lover from behind dark curtains of hair. She was wearing a robe, tied loose, with nothing underneath but the truth. One hand was correcting the hexagram, the other holding open the i-ching.

The good Doctor stood, hands on his narrow hips. “I mean,” he began, continuing the conversation they´d been having, “I´ve always known I´m weird. I´ve always been weird. I´m always gonna be weird. That´s just me, right. I know what I am. I´m a freak. I know that. But am I? Am I really? Or are they the freaks?”

“This looks kinda neat. Interesting.”

“I mean, when I was five, mum told me happiness was the key to life. Then, when I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment. I told them they didn’t understand life. You see? I knew then it was a waste of time being there. I should´ve listened to meself.”

“Ah, school is just a sausage factory that prepares you for work.”

“Right. That´s it. Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives, isn´t it? We’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that, if I say that on telly or in the papers. That’s what’s so insane about it.”

“Why are you letting it bother you now, my love?” She reached up for his hand but he pulled it away.

“Just give me a minute. I´m collecting me thoughts, here. Or trying to.”

The Doctor had woken up in a strange mood.

For the past few days he´d felt flat. Listless. Booze hadn´t worked. Drugs and music neither. He´d felt tired, weary and spent. Old. Worn out.

He was sick of feeling hungover. Sick of worrying about Mother. Sick of missing her, thinking about her. She lived behind his eyelids, had become the voice in his mind.

He was sick of talking to deadbeats. Sick of feeling guilty about things he could remember – things that stopped him in his tracks, took him right back. Sick of his old life. His old gone life. Sick of thinking up answers he´d never given. Sick of people and – for damn sure – sick to the back teeth of himself.

Sometimes this type of mood lasted a day or two, sometimes longer, but this time it had been a week, maybe more. Felt like forever. Felt like calling up The Man. Getting some rest. Some sleep. Some peace.

 

Major and Minor were scratching at the toilet door but O´Boogie ignored them. He was staring at the broken bottles in the bath-tub. When had that happened last night? Brown glass, no blood, strong smell of beer.

As the toilet flushed he folded up the News and let the cats in. They danced on his toes, straightened their tails and begged, mewling and pleading.

“I´m going out on the deck,” the Doc told his lover as he walked back through to the main room. She was on the floor with the hexagrams, smoking.

“I´m almost through here, baby. Really interesting.”

“Cool. Tell me when you´re done. I need some air. It´s like the black hole of Calcutta in here.”

Minor skittered around the Doctor´s ankles as he stepped up through the window and contorted his body through the gap. Down, far below, someone screamed and the sound of garbage cans clattering and an angry male voice echoed up.

The thing is, the Doc was telling himself, it got to a point where I suddenly found myself surrounded by all the types of people I used to hate when I was twelve. All the people I´d always hated. And there I was, dancing and prancing around for them. What´s someone supposed to think of themselves when that happens? What happens to your soul if you carry on with that palava?

And there she is, ladies and gennlemen: Noo Yark City.

O´Boogie stared down at the standing stones of Manhattan: somewhere down there was a bar stool in front of a drink that had his name on. A brandy Alexander, please, sir. Thanguverymush.

No, give over. Have one night off. Get your ´ead straight.

Arrow through the heart: somewhere out there was Mother.

“What are you trying to do? Kill me?”

O´Boogie patted his naked skin for his cigarettes: of course he had none. Hey people, it was hot out here. And almost dead still. Perhaps he´d left a roach by the plant pot he used as an ashtray? Maybe he should stick to ciggies but who was keeping count? There were no rules anyway, were there?

Who´d said that? Zimmy on the Isle of Wight when they´d played tennis?

Walking around the edge of the roof the Doctor made the welcome acquaintance of a dirty breeze coming up from the East River. At the same time, he saw it. Saw it just hanging in the air not far from him. It was so close he could have thrown a brick at it and hit the mother.

The Doc swore. The UFO hung in the air. It looked just like something from a late-night film. It had lights flashing on and off right along the bottom.

It´s real.

The Doctor called out to his lover. Quietly first, but then, moving quickly back to the kitchen window, he screamed like he was back on Janov´s floor.

 

“Oh, my God, what is that thing?”

“What is it? It´s a UFO, that´s what it is. What do you think it is?” O´Boogie danced a little jig of delight. “I can´t believe I´m seeing this! This is great! A real UFO. Amazing. You can see it, right?”

“I can see it!”

“There you go!”

“That´s so cool.”

“What time is it? We have to remember this. Be scientific, like.”

“Nine. Just after nine.”

“Nine.” O´Boogie nodded, a toothy smile breaking out under his bony nose. “Of course it is.” Nine. Nine. Nine. Born on Wednesday 9 October. Lived at number 9. Meets Mother 9 November. Sees UFO at nine o´clock at night. “This is a blast, eh?”

And as his lover watched, the Doctor began to gesticulate and shout at the UFO. “Take me with you!” he screamed. “Hey! Hey! Come down here and take me with you, la! Come and get me! I´m ready! Come and pick me up!” As his lover watched he seemed to talk in tongues, a strange, crazed, skinny white man shouting on the roof of a skyscraper: “You with me take! I want to come with you! There´s nothing here for me, they´re all crazy!”

The craft, instead of obeying the naked man, drifted very slowly away, lights flashing all the while, gliding towards the East River and onwards, gradually slipping out of sight, subsiding into the inky ooze of night.

 

“Bob?”

“Hey man, what´s up?”

“I just saw a UFO!”

“Cool.”

“No. No, really, brother. I´m not messin´. I´m straight, man. No booze, no drugs. Seriously. We just saw a freakin´ UFO, right on the roof.”

“We did, Bob,” shouted O´Boogie´s lover, cradling a cat.

“Well, uh…” The photographer friend of O´Boogie´s, rubbed his eyes and turned down the volume on the television. “I mean, what do you guys wanna do? I mean, what did it look like?”

“It looked exactly like they do in the films, man. It was just floating, silent. Magical. Majestic, man.”

“Far out.”

“It was like a flattened cone, Bob,” added the Doc´s lover, stroking Major, leaning over the coiled white wire.

“Yeah, you´re right. It was like a flattened cone, with a big red light on top.”

“Flashing?” asked the photographer.

“No, no. I know what you´re thinking. When they come into Newark they´re always flashing.  Ours wasn´t. This wasn´t. It was dead still, on all the time. And it had loads of little white lights around the bottom of it.”

“I think I just blew my mind,” sighed O´Boogie´s lover. She was leaning against the counter where the cats were eating. “Oh my God. I just saw a UFO. That´s so nuts!”

“It was crazy, man,” laughed the Doc, coiling his naked body in the phone wire. He puffed blue smoke. “I lost it, brother. Blew my mind, man.”

“Holy crap,” the journalist said. “How big was this thing?”

“I dunno. Like a Lear jet? Big enough, you know. Big but not crazy big. Round, kinda. A ship, you know. A real ship. Flying and hovering.”

“Well, guys, I don´t know. Maybe you could, like, call the cops? Ring it in?”

“Bob? Are you serious? Hi, it´s Doctor Winston O´Boogie here and I´d like to report a UFO sighting. I can imagine what they´d think. What everyone would think. They all think I´m a whacko anyway, without this.”

“Well, I dunno, brother. That´s what I´d do.”

O´Boogie accepted a cigarette. “I got the telescope out and had a look at it, later, you know. Because it was just hanging over the river.”

“And?”

“It was so bright you couldn´t see anything. No details.”

“Wow.”

“You don´t know how much I wanted to go with them, man.” The Doctor had a sad flash of precognition (not the first time this had happened). He saw – felt – a grim premonition. A dark cloud on his horizon. He knew then the problem: that most of his life he´d spent waiting for the next bad thing to happen. That he knew bad things happened. That more bad things were going to happen. Something very bad was going to happen. “I might´ve escaped my, you know, destiny, man,” he trailed off weakly. He stared at his lover, embarrassed, but she was looking at the cats.

“We need you here on Earth, buddy.”

“Thanks, Bob.” O´Boogie exhaled. “I really saw it, Bob. I know what you´re thinking but I really saw it.”

“I believe you, buddy. Hell, I don´t know. Maybe get some sleep or something? Have a brew. Watch some TV. Get some rest.”

“Get some rest? Hell, Bob: I feel like I just woke up!”

 

 

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John Lennon´s drawing of the UFO he saw, NYC, 1974.

When you´ve seen one inspirational quote too many…

Anyone who´s on any social media platform these days knows the feeling of being bombarded with inspirational quotes. The silhouette of the yoga practioner. The waves. The beach. The setting sun.

Some of them are great the first five hundred times. A few offer genuine words of encouragement. The odd person is always worth listening to, or reading, or hearing from again. But it´s Friday and I´ve just seen one too many motivational, inspirational quotes this week and so, in order to restore some kind of balance to things, I present you with a few Friday laughs culled from our friends on the internet.

Be good to be people…

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