Tuesday, 23 August 2011

DEXYS: New Album

After exchanging e-mails with Jamming! fanzine’s Tony Fletcher last week and possibly timed to coincide with a final disappearance into an early 80s vortex, I learned this week, somewhat behind the news, that Dexy’s Midnight Runners are back in the studio. The band, under the moniker Dexys, confirmed on Twitter.com/dexysofficial that they’re rehearsing and recording a new album – their first since 1985’s Don’t Stand Me Down.

The band posted a message which said: ‘Dexys new album. Can't really say why, because it's hard to put down to any one thing, but it's working – it's early days, but so far so good.’ They hope to have the album ready for release in 2012.
A snippet – the first minute of a sweet piece of Celtic soul titled ‘Now’ has recently been posted on youtube.
The current line-up includes singer Kevin Rowland and original bassist Pete Williams along with former Merton Parkas and Style Council keyboardist Mick Talbot and guitarist Neil Hubbard. Merton Mick is also co-producing and according to Kevin Rowland: ‘…working thru all the fine details, making sure the vision is realized’.
For some, Dexys Midnight Runners came and went with the two singles that topped the UK charts – Geno in 1980 and Come On Eileen in 1982. But for those of us of a certain vintage, the first Dexy’s album Searching For The Young Soul Rebels stood out as a rallying call. It still does. At the time it did for soul music what Two-Tone did for ska. An injection of punk energy and soul power. An entry into the world of Stax, raw soul and beyond.
And as if you needed a reminder.
And for the record, yes we did: donkey jackets, DMs and woolly hats. The works.

Sunday, 21 August 2011


Back in the day when I was editing Article Magazine, we used to run Top 5s as a useful back page filler. As time went on, mainly we invited guest interviewees to contribute, and it's an impossible ask, but here's one I dropped in early on, Top 5 basslines:

1.       Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick – Ian Dury & The Blockheads (Norman Watt-Roy) like a bubbling bass fountain of bassiness.

 2.      Guns of Brixton – The Clash (Paul Simonon) much sampled, nicked and Simmo gets to sing it too.

3.       I’ll Take You There – The Staple Singers (David Hood) Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, tight as it gets.

4.       Ceremony – New Order (Peter Hook) from the ashes of Joy Division, etc, etc…but what a way to announce your entrance.

5.       Babylon’s Burning – The Ruts (John ‘Segs’ Jennings) a bassline so urgent it makes your teeth ache.

Of course, you may feel differently...

Sunday, 14 August 2011


Alec Guinness as Le Carre's Smiley

There comes a point in the fiction writing process when, if you’re on the right track, your characters begin to take on their own lives. It is as if they demand a hand in their own destiny. Of course you can’t just leave them to it – there’s a God complex to satisfy for one thing, to say nothing of a slavish devotion to the twists and turns of the plot you’ve sweated over. But whose plot is it anyway, yours or theirs? The deeper your understanding of key characters, and the further into their lives and motivations you immerse yourself, the more likely the plot will develop to accommodate them, and be more convincing as a result.

As we meet John Le Carr√©’s  cerebral, yet unassuming spymaster George Smiley, the physical description hints at a far deeper representation of character.   

“His overcoat, which had a hint of widowhood about it, was of that black, loose weave which is designed to retain moisture. Either the sleeves were too long or his arms too short for, as with Roach, when he wore his mackintosh, the cuffs all but concealed his fingers.”

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy РJohn Le Carré

So here’s a few suggestions – no more than starters – which I’ve used (and use) in writing workshops and in my own writing to begin the process of drawing characters off the page. 

1.           The searching interview
Try interviewing your characters – interrogate them if needs be. This isn’t a Friday Night chat show love-in. What wouldn’t your character want to answer? What would give you a deeper insight to their world, their motivations? Think about their answers, what would they hide? Put them under pressure – it can also help as a tool to find the character’s voice.

For any interview it makes sense to do your research, if your character isn’t yet developed to the extent where this is useful. Try the following exercise.

2.           Empty your pockets please…
The character Jacqui first appeared in The Debt, an unpublished short story, but the work that went into her creation paid dividends when she dropped into my novel Frank’s Wild Years. By then I knew her well enough for her to walk easily into the story and once there, she began to develop as one of the novel’s prime movers. In short, she became the catalyst for the main storyline.

I made a list of items Jacqui carried with her. In the initial exercise I counted 10. Here are three to give the gist.

A pen: what type of pen? A 50p biro with a bitten lid; something a little more upmarket perhaps, a corporate freebie, a stubby blue betting shop job, a souvenir from a seaside town. A high-end personalised Parker or a Mont Blanc fountain pen makes a difference. For the record, Jacqui’s pen’s a freebie from the local Chinese takeaway.  

A purse/wallet: a classic crime fiction device, every author from Conan-Doyle to Dexter has taken apart the contents of a wallet to let the audience in on a few well-chosen secrets and develop the resulting plotlines.  How much cash is there? A train ticket to where…? Who’s in the photo? An unclaimed betting slip – for a race run yesterday.

Keys: how many? What are they for? Are there car keys? What does she drive? It’s a bunch – maybe with some kind of fob, a lucky charm? Who gave her the lucky charm?

In Jacqui’s development, I gave a fair amount of thought to the conflict between the public and the private person. So much of this is unseen for most of the novel, but I’d planted a couple of character traits that I fully intended to deliver on as the story progressed. The reader might not know the motivation for her actions, but I always did.

3.           Character Sketch
Once you’ve got to know the character, it’s worth writing a paragraph that sums up their backstory and motivations. Keep it tight and be disciplined.

Jacqui is a woman in her mid-fifties. She has owned and run a launderette in a run-down part of South London since 1966, lives in a flat over the shop. She borrowed half the money to start the launderette from a small time local villain Dave Price…

And so on.

In the world of genre fiction, a protagonist, sidekick, antagonist, victim, witness who read as though they’ve shipped in from central casting can stifle even the most well-crafted of plots. Of course, there are some characters who seem to come fully formed, complete, but preparing the ground is never wasted.

Frank's Wild Years is published by Caffeine Nights - Autumn 2011. 


Friday, 5 August 2011


Linda turns both plates a few degrees clockwise for one final inspection before serving: prime Scottish beef at two o’clock, seared, slow roasted to perfection, still pink and melt in the mouth tender; twelve freshly minted garden peas arranged like tiny green apostles; opposite these, buttered baby carrots, pan-fried and fanned; a light and golden Yorkshire pudding; four crisp roast potatoes; a swirl of rich, dark jus. ‘Oh Heston,’ she whispers and steadies herself against the worktop.

‘You gonna be much bloody longer?’

For a moment, she had forgotten. ‘Just a sec, Phil.’

Linda wipes a jus smear from the plate’s border, carries it to the table and places it in front of him. She sits, closes her eyes and says a private grace. Oh Lord, for what he is about to receive, make Phil truly thankful. Let him like the food, let him appreciate my work, let him… She opens her eyes and is chilled to the marrow.

Ketchup, HP sauce, English mustard, whole grain mustard, horseradish. The plate is a Pollock’s palette with condiments spooned thickly around its border. As he reaches for the salt, she catches him by the wrist. ‘Phil, really, it doesn’t need salt.’

Phil’s jaw tightens, his nostrils flare. ‘If I want salt…’ He yanks his arm free.
Linda does not watch.

Two minutes and thirty-seven seconds it takes. She counts each second as the chewing noises grow more frantic; his jaw clicks like a Geiger counter. The grunts and sucks and slurps build to a climax until finally the troughing is complete. The cutlery clatters on the plate.

Linda breathes.

‘Any more out there, Lind?’

She smiles and, without a word, moves through to the kitchen.

He calls out. ‘Bit more gravy this time, and cut us a slice of bread for moppin’ up.’

Linda cleans the blade on the electric carver, makes a rough calculation and plugs in the extension lead. She re-connects. Pausing for a moment, she sighs wistfully. What happens to these men she marries? Always at the start so attentive, thoughtful, generous. Ready with their flowers and compliments.

The carver buzzes like a baby chainsaw in her hand. It had been a gift – from her first husband. She grips tightly; there is no need for further reflection. On the carver a name is writ, and it is called Heston. And this will be His work.