Jonny Nexus

Writing, life, politics

Page 3 of 27

The Gutter Prayer, by Gareth Hanrahan

I’ve just (belatedly!) ordered the signed, limited Goldsboro Books edition of the Gutter Prayer, the debut mainstream novel of my very good friend1 Gareth Hanrahan (actually Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, but that’s apparently too long a name to fit on a novel’s cover). Limited edition as it is, it costs £24.99, but I think that’s actually excellent value for money given that Gar’s first published work cost me €4002.

The paperback version isn’t being published until January, but ARCs are already getting some pretty stunning reviews, such as this short but sharp one on Goodreads:

“From carrion gods to alchemical warfare, this is genre-defying fantasy at its very best. An absolutely stunning debut. Insanely inventive and deeply twisted. I loved it! Highly recommended.” – Michael Fletcher

Alternatively, you can check out Gar’s own elevator pitch, or the series of blog posts he wrote about the story’s fantasy city setting. Either way, I’d recommend checking it out, and I’m not just saying that because he’s a mate.

1I mean this in the genuine non-Hollywoodian way, as in we attended each other’s weddings. At his, my wife and I stood on a County Kerry beach in glorious sunshine and watched a magical ceremony. At mine, he couldn’t go back to his hotel room, and I believe ended up part of a group who were locked out of the hotel – but in my defence I’d already departed on my honeymoon at that point, and so I’ll admit to no responsibility.

2This was at the 2003 (I think!) Gaelcon charity auction, back in the pre-Lehman days when Irish charity auctions were mad, bad, and dangerous to one’s wallet. If you don’t believe me, here’s a video of me paying for the lots I won, afterwards, although I should point that that about €300 of that was Evil G’s.

 

I Have A YouTube Channel

I’ve never really got into the vlogging area. Back when Game Night came out in 2008, Jules and I filmed three videos that I thought were actually quite funny, and which I uploaded to YouTube. But I didn’t really get any response from them, and I never followed it up. Of course, since then, YouTube had exploded, and I’ve found my own usage of its changing – especially having bought a smart TV. While I used to see it only as a place to watch occasional clips, I now find myself watching it as very much a form of TV – such as the brilliant WWI documentary series The Great War. Anyhow, I’m still not sure what I could or should be doing in this area, but I’ve created a channel, and uploaded an introduction.

44 Per Cent: A Party Game About Populist Politics

Type: Party Game

Players: 5 upwards (20 is ideal)

Duration: ~20 minutes

Equipment: Paper and pencils

Complexity: Simple

Risk of Conflict: High

44 Per Cent is a fun and educational party game that takes its name from the fact that in the 1933 German General Elections, Hiter’s Nazi party achieved a 44% share of the vote, on a highly populist platform that combined violence with the following broad themes:

  • An emphasis on rhetorical appeals to emotion over logical appeals to reason.
  • A rejection of conventional economic and political theories, and of the “experts” that expounded them.
  • A commitment to make Germany “great again”.
  • Assertions that Germany was the greatest country in the world.
  • A belief that Germany’s problems were not internal in nature, but instead had external causes:
    • Persons living in Germany who were deemed to not be German in culture and ethnicity (i.e. Jews) and who supposedly therefore did not have Germany’s interests at heart.
    •  Other countries (chiefly the United Kingdom and France) who were actively conspiring against German interests for their own advantage.
  • A belief that the rule of law and established political structures should be subordinate to anything that might be deemed “the will of the people”.
    • A belief that anyone (such judges or politicians) who attempted to block or defy measures that had the support of the people were “traitors”.
  • A belief that there existed an “establishment” which served to promote its own selfish interests at the expense of the people.
    • A belief that anyone who might be termed an intellectual or progressive, including artists and academics, was likely to be a member of that establishment.
    • Assertions that existing political parties and movements were part of the establishment, even those that purported to represent the working classes.

Participants

44 Per Cent is best played in a mixed group that contains participants from a range of political persuasions and demographics. Family gatherings are particularly ideal.

Setup

The setup of the game is simple:

  1. Count the number of players and calculate (rounded to the nearest whole number) what 44% of that number is. This is the Nazi Voter Number. For example, if you have 9 players, then the Nazi Voter Number is 4.
  2. Read the above description of the Nazi’s party’s 1933 populist platform to all participants.
  3. Two participants should be selected to serve as vote counters.

The Game

Each participant is given a piece of paper and a pencil. They must then write on that paper a list of other participants of a number equal to the Nazi Voter Number.  For example, if there are 9 players and the Nazi Voter Number if 4, then they must write the names of 4 of the other 8 players on their list.

The participants they select should be those who they feel would have been most likely, had they been living in Germany in 1933, to have voted for the Nazi Party’s populist platform. Participants should not write their own names on the lists (i.e. the lists should be anonymous).

If prepared in advance, pre-written lists can be made where participants merely have to put ticks against names.

Once all lists have been written, they will be folded and then gathered up (in a hat or other suitable container). The vote counters will then count the “votes” for each participants, then rank them in order, highest to lowest, and then select the Nazi Voter Number highest names. These names will then be revealed to the participants as the people who would have voted for the Nazi Party in 1933.

For example, in a game with 9 players, 4 players will be declared to be persons who would have voted for the Nazis.

New Look

Any of you who’ve previously visited might notice that my website now looks very different, as I’ve changed both the core theme (I’m now using Hemingway) and the header image. The old website was getting on four ten years old, I think, and its look and feel was starting to appear a little “fussy”. I think this is a sign of how trends have changed; think how “flat” the current version of iOS looks, for example, compared with its predecessor of ten years ago. Back then, we expected a website to look like a website. Now we expect it to look like a magazine, which is ironic that we don’t read magazine so much nowadays.

But actually, the main driver behind upgrading it was that my old theme didn’t support mobile devices. So if you navigated to one of my posts on your mobile, which – lets face it – is going to be the case in about 90% of occasions, you were greeted with a desktop website shoehorned onto your tiny screen. Yeah, you could read the article, if you turned your phone sideways and perhaps just zoomed in a bit. But it’s not the best introduction a visitor might have to one of my posts.

The new header image is probably temporary. I might replace it at some point with cover images of my novels. But for now, it’s my favourite selfie of me writing, in a 34th floor bar of a hotel in Istanbul, during some evening downtime while on trip for work.

Upabove: Sleeping Dragon’s Decaying Jewel

Sleeping Dragon’s origins lie more than ten years in my past, to a weekend break my wife and I took to Venice back in the autumn of 2007. This was just three months after our wedding, but full disclose compels me to admit that this was the result not of some romantic gesture by me, but of an impulsive purchase of bargain flights by my wife on some last-minute type site.

I arrived with in possession of a degree of scepticism, but that scepticism was blown away by the reality of Venice. I found it both beautiful and inspiring, though not perhaps in the way it is commonly portrayed.

To me, Venice appeared akin to the clichéd English stately home, once grand, but now crumbling, with its once wealthy owners living amidst the faded grandeur of what had once been – but with Venice, this was repeated a hundred-fold. To take a trip along the Grand Canal is to take a trip past crumbling palace after crumbling palace, the peeling paint on the epic visages revealing that this is a place that was fabulously wealthy once, but now isn’t.

Somewhere during that visit, the vague dust cloud of ideas that had been orbiting my brain’s creative centre for several weeks began to coalesce into a rounded planet of an actual idea, that idea being the “fast-forwarded fantasy world” of Sleeping Dragon. And orbiting that planet of an idea was a satellite moon of a plot-point location: a Venice-like city that sat not in the sea but instead floated in the clouds.

Upabove.

This is what I wrote about Upabove in Chapter Twenty-Five of Sleeping Dragon:

Upabove was an obsolete relic that shone with the light of ages past; a name that conjured up images of wealth, intrigue, and decadence. It had been founded a little over three hundred years ago by a group of refugees fleeing the carnage brought by the Empire’s Great Succession War. Desperate, they’d set out by carpet across the Middle Sea towards the independent lands beyond; a destination far beyond the range of that era’s early and crude flying vehicles. Reaching safety would require them to ditch in the sea while their vehicles’ mana stores recharged, in carpets not designed for ditching.

Many refugees undertook those sorts of desperate journeys, and many were never seen again. But fate, chance, and geography smiled upon this particular group, for at the halfway point of their journey they encountered a unique and hitherto unsuspected anomaly: an area a mile or so across, around five thousand feet above the surface of the sea, in which the background level of mana was more than five times the standard. The downward progress of the charge needles in their carpets, which had been moving relentlessly towards zero, halted, and then reversed. The needles began to rise, and within hours were sitting at the top, fully charged. The refugees realised they were sitting atop some kind of flaw in the world’s mana field that leaked mana like a volcano leaks magma.

People with lesser ambition, or who were less blessed in imagination, would have waited until their carpets were fully charged, and then resumed their journey, thanking the gods and fate for the good fortune that had spared them a risky and possibly terminal ditching. But these were not such people. Instead, they took the older and slower carpets and lashed them together, building a temporary shelter for the children, the old, and the sick. Then a group sped back to the Empire, returning with supplies, building materials, and people. From those ramshackle beginnings they built a floating city that they called Upabove.

Upabove grew fabulously wealthy in its first two centuries. Its skilled magical artisans were able to use its high background mana level to create items that were both better and cheaper than those produced elsewhere; its position at the centre of the Middle Sea allowed skyships and carpets to travel directly across the sea rather than around its periphery, stopping at Upabove to recharge.

Upabove was never technically an independent state; in fact it was never a state at all, consisting legally of nothing more than a collection of skyships, tethered together. But its inhabitants used their wealth and power to gain a de facto independence, registering their floating palaces under a succession of flags of convenience with border principalities on the fringes of the Empire. They called their state a republic, and themselves merchant princes. But then, some hundred or so years ago, a series of advances in magical technology rendered Upabove obsolete. Improvements in mana storage and more efficient motors meant that skyships and carpets could now fly not hundreds of miles on a single charge, but thousands. And new techniques for magical item production allowed finer items to be crafted using far less mana.

On Upabove, little appeared to change. The merchant princes continued to party as decadently as before, but now the money was flowing outward, not inward. It was said by some that it had taken the inhabitants of Upabove two centuries to earn their fortunes but less than one century to squander them. Others joked that while Upabove was now bankrupt, its inhabitants would notice this only when the drinks tab ran out. Like a neglected gemstone, Upabove started to tarnish. The magnificent palaces, now old and their maintenance neglected, showed signs of rust under layers of peeling paint. Meanwhile, Upabove’s hard-earned quasi-independence grew fragile, maintained only by the inability of surrounding governments to agree on what its new status should be. People whispered of mortgage defaults and hostile takeovers, and talked of an invasion by stealth.

But through all of this, the merchant princes partied on. Upabove might have been a relic, and a bankrupt one at that, but it was still Upabove.

And it was still magnificent.

A little late on, when Dani arrives, I’m able to give a description of Upabove itself, in an infodump made possible by virtue of a talkative cabbie:

Upabove was built like a spinning top, albeit one made from hundreds of separate pieces that merely floated in formation, connected by a spider’s web of walkways. The “disc” consisted of a ring nearly half a mile in diameter, with a rounded outer surface sculpted to deflect the strong winds that blew at this altitude; and an inner surface terraced into gardens, balconies, and public walkways. Floating inside the ring were hundreds of separate buildings, some squat, others shaped like long, thin cigars set on end with their tops and bottoms extending far above and below the ring’s protected inner space.

At the centre of the “disc” was a long, thin needle that extended both further above the ring and further below than every other part of Upabove. At its bottom were clusters of docking ports, connected to which were more than a dozen large skyships, including the one that Dani had just arrived on. At the needle’s top, a forest of communication dishes and antennas sprouted. And somewhere in between was the long narrow platform of the cab rank, upon which Dani now found herself.

A line of carpets painted in yellow and black checkers floated next to the platform. Dani stepped carefully into the first of the waiting vehicles, which was piloted by a slightly chubby man just this side of unkempt. “Far Clouds Hotel, please,” she told the cabbie. “But could you take the long way? This is my first visit here and I’d like to see a bit of the place.”

“No problem love,” the cabbie told her. “I’ll take a loop around the hoop.” The man smiled, clearly pleased with the rhyme.

The carpet glided away, passing over the floating buildings that made up Upabove’s “disc”. The cab pilot started pointing out various features. “That building there, the one that looks like it’s covered in gold – that’s the casino. And see that group over there that form a square? That’s Founders’ Place, where the Opera House is.”

Dani looked further down, at the docking platforms below. “A friend of mine said her skyship was docking at Platform Twenty-Seven. Do you know which one of them that is?”

“Ain’t any of them, love. Twenty-seven’s over there.” The cab pilot hooked his thumb back at somewhere the other side of the central needle. “It’s not down there on the hub. It’s a private platform attached to one of the buildings on the eastern side. Think your friend must have got her numbers mixed up.”

“Really? I was pretty sure she said twenty-seven.”

“Yeah? Tell you what, I’ll show it to you.”

So that’s Upabove, inspired by Venice, but subtly different: not merely a floating Venice but instead a product of the World of Sleeping Dragon’s culture and technology. I hope it sounds intriguing, and if it does, please considering pre-ordering the Sleeping Dragon at the links below.

* * * * *

Click here to read the other posts in the “Countdown to Sleeping Dragon” series.

* * * * *

The Sleeping Dragon is now available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle at an introductory price of 99p in the UK and 99c in the US (it’s also available in all the various international Amazons at the equivalent price in local currency). If you like what you’ve read here, then please consider pre-ordering it.

UK Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

US Link: https://www.amazon.com/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

The Sleeping Dragon will be published in February next year, in both Kindle and paperback formats.

* * * * *

The Cast of Sleeping Dragon: Dani

The cast of the Sleeping Dragon is an ensemble one, featuring five misfits bought together by circumstances beyond their understanding, who swiftly realise that only by working together can they work out just what the hell’s going on and, more importantly, just how the hell they can get out of it.

In this post we look at the woman who supplies the ensemble with a streetwise mix of skills and knowledge gained from a life lived in Empire City’s darker margins.

* * * * *

Dani fought her way out of a tough childhood spent in the care of the state after the death by overdose of her herb-addicted parents when she was still just a toddler. A loner, both by nature and circumstance, she now earns a living, albeit an illegal one, as a grifter. Not for her the cosh, or the rope and grapple: this is the Second Millennium of the Third Age and the tools she uses are somewhat more sophisticated.

Dani swung her pack off her shoulders and pulled a flat object out of one of its side pockets. It was a small, but highly powerful, portable oracle she’d got from Pete’s loaded up with a whole load of cutting edge software that she most definitely hadn’t got at Pete’s. She reached back into the pocket and pulled out an even smaller device that also hadn’t arrived on her person via any legitimate retail sales channel, plugged it into a port on the back of the oracle, then nodded at Blade.

Dani opened the oracle and ran up a general-purpose security-monitoring program available only to certified professionals in the security industry, and people like her. The screen, blank initially, gradually filled with a variety of icons of varied colours and shapes, each representing a particular device installed somewhere in the landscape before them.

“I’m guessing that means there’s stuff down there,” Blade whispered, nodding at the screen.

“Yeah.” Dani jabbed a finger from icon to icon, listing each type as she did so. “We’ve got line sensors here, forward looking motion detectors over there, a belt of general proximity stuff, and then some general comms gear. All pretty standard. Good quality. But standard.”

“Can you get us through it?”

Dani gave him a smile, then flexed her fingers. “Watch me.”

When we first meet Dani, she’s living a life she believes is the one she wanted.

The mark gave a smile and a wave as he caught sight of her. He stepped briskly up to the table and sat down, hand outstretched. “Ms Smidt,” he said to Dani, smiling. “Good to meet you in the flesh at last.”

Dani took the hand and gave it a good, firm shake. “Call me Johanna.” She tossed a twenty gold piece note onto the table and pointed towards the statue of Sir Ethelded. “How about we go and take a look at the goods?”

“You’re reading my mind,” said the mark, smiling. They walked across the paved expanse to the statue, stopping just in front of its polished marble plinth. Dani gave him some time to admire it. After a few seconds, the mark spoke. “It’s quite a sight, isn’t it?”

Dani nodded. “It is.” And to be fair, even covered in pigeon shit, it was.

“Hard to believe your bosses want to get rid of it.”

Dani leaned in, looking first left, and then right, as though checking that none of the sash-wearing old ladies could overhear. “Which is why the City Council is insisting on absolute discretion. There are still too many who don’t understand progress, who can’t see this statue for what it is: an obsolete symbol of a bygone age. They don’t see the shame in honouring a man who ethnically cleansed the East of orc, goblin, and beastman.”

The mark paused again, the expression of oily covetousness upon his face showing clearly that it was the vision of the statue set upon the front lawn of his new-money mansion that currently occupied his mind, and not the fate of any orc, goblin, or beastman. “Ms Smidt.”

“Please, call me Johanna.”

“Johanna. I want this statue. Now.”

Biting at the bait, thought Dani, time to start reeling him in. She waved a protesting hand. “This is a discreet process, not a secret one. There will be an auction. Sealed bids.”

The mark snorted. “Auctions can be talked about. Bids can be leaked. Do your bosses want this to happen or not?”

Reserved and suspicious as she is, Dani’s talents and strengths are not immediately obvious. But as time goes by, her companions comes to realise that she is someone they can rely on.

* * * * *

Just for fun, I created some mocked up RPG-style character sheets for Sleeping Dragon’s five protagonists. Here’s Dani’s:

* * * * *

Click here to read the other posts in the “Countdown to Sleeping Dragon” series.

* * * * *

The Sleeping Dragon is now available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle at an introductory price of 99p in the UK and 99c in the US (it’s also available in all the various international Amazons at the equivalent price in local currency). If you like what you’ve read here, then please consider pre-ordering it.

UK Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

US Link: https://www.amazon.com/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

The Sleeping Dragon will be published in February next year, in both Kindle and paperback formats.

* * * * *

Cover vs Cover: Fight!

Last weekend, during a browsing session in an Oxfam bookshop in Chester, I found an interesting pair of books on opposite shelves, which resulted in me making the following tweet shortly after:

Templar-Books

Now I should say at this point that referring to these two novels as “Dan Brown wannabes” is unfair. Shorn of the shackles imposed by the Twitter’s 140 character limit, I would probably have described them as books in the “religious-conspiracy-secret-history” genre created by Dan Brown’s hugely successful 2003 novel, The Da Vinci Code.

But what I find fascinating is that we have his two books, published at around the same time, that are not merely in the same genre, but on themes so similar that the designers of their covers were probably given near-identical instructions. Which means that just as identical twins are irresistibly fascinating to biologists, these two books allow us to see two forks in the wood, both of which were taken, and decide which fork we think was the most successful.

The Brief

Both books focus on the Knights Templar, a Catholic military order active between the years 1139 and 1312, and about whom much myth and legend has accrued in the years since their violent suppression by the French King Philip IV.

Both covers were produced with a quality finish with embossed text.

Potential Resources Available to the Designers

Templar knights wore distinctive white mantles with a red cross, and to this day, the red cross is associated with them. In addition, the order had a seal, which depicted two knights sharing a single horse. I found some examples of both:

TemplarCrossTemplarSeal

The Contenders

The Red Corner The Blue Corner
Title: The Last Templar Title: The Templar Legacy
Author: Raymond Khoury Author: Steve Berry
Nationality: British Nationality: American
Published: 2005 Published: 2006
LastTemplar-Front TemplarLegacy-Front
LastTemplar-Back TemplarLegacy-Back

(Click for higher resolution images).

Thoughts on the Designs

What I find fascinating is that both cover designers have gone with the same elements (the cross and the seal), but in very different ways.

The Last Templar uses the whole cross, and puts the seal at its centre. It then adds a background of a New York skyline inside the cross (click on the image to see this in more detail). It combines this with an “old, torn manuscript” backdrop.

The Templar Legacy by contract, is much more abstract. The cross is there, but in a blurred, partial form, and the seal is used only as a very muted backdrop to that cross (again, you might have to click on the image to see this). Combine that with the black background and you get a much darker image, which perhaps is not trying quite so hard to project the “religious-conspiracy-secret-history” angle.

Me? I think I prefer The Last Templar. Perhaps the cover isn’t quite so subtle, but I just like the aged manuscript theme. What about you? Please let me know in the comments.

* * * * *

P.S. I will be at Innominate (Eastercon 2017) in a few weeks selling Game Night and If Pigs Could Fly. I’m going to bring both of these books along and run a vote as to which one people like best. So if you’re at the con, and fancy examining the actual physical items, please drop by.

You Think 2016 Was Bad?

As a writer, I spend a lot of time thinking on plots of novels, and so it’s only natural that when I think about events occurring on our world, I try to imagine how they would develop were they events of fiction rather than reality.

People talk about 2016 as being the year from hell, but the thing is, most of the bad things about 2016 were the taken of decisions to do something bad, with the something bad itself having not yet occurred.

In other words, if 2016 were fiction, it wouldn’t be a stand-alone novel, but would instead be one of those slightly frustrating first books of a trilogy where lots of plot lines are initiated but nothing ever gets finished – and you then have to wait a year for the next book.

And that leads onto a second thought: if 2016 were merely the first book of a trilogy – what’s going to happen in the next two books.

Well with thanks to my friend Ian McDonald for the crucial plot development at the end, here goes…

2016: The Unfolding (Book I of the End Years Trilogy)

2016 begins in a world still struggling to extract itself from the Great Recession of 2008, and racked by wars triggered by climate change and ill-advised imperialist interventions.

In Europe, the European Union is under assault from the forces of left and right, while in the United States dark populist forces are gathering.

As mainland Europe struggles to cope with the refugees pouring out of a war-torn Middle East, the disastrous result of a recklessly called referendum plunges the United Kingdom into political and constitutional chaos. Meanwhile, the American presidential election produces a stunning shock of unprecedented proportions as a racist and misogynistic narcissist utterly unsuited to the role is elected on a tidal wave of neo-fascist populism.

2017: The Unravelling (Book II of the End Years Trilogy)

2017 begins with the results of the American election turning from tragedy to farce as the president-elect is revealed to be a Russian intelligence asset whose election was largely due to the Kremlin’s intervention. Meanwhile in Britain, the phony period of fudge and bluff comes to an end as the process to leave the European Union is begun.

As the world economy spirals further into the chaos triggered by Brexit and the nationalistic protectionism of the American president, Russian president Vladimir Putin invades the Baltic states. Shorn of effective leadership, and betrayed by the United States at the moment of invasion, NATO disintegrates.

Alongside this, and goaded by the United States’ ascendant right-wing, an increasingly belligerent Israel attempts to increase the pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran.

As the Western World attempts to celebrate an uneasy Christmas, a drunk American president engaged in a late night Twitter argument with the president of Iran orders a nuclear strike on Tehran. Following a rehearsed script written several months previously by Pentagon lawyers, and deploying pre-written letters signed by certain departmental heads, the Air Force officer carrying the “nuclear football” announces that by issuing such an order the president is clearly incapacitated as defined by the twenty-fifth amendment, and as such, presidential authority will now lie with the vice-president.

2018: The Unleashing (Book III of the End Years Trilogy)

2018 starts with the United States engulfed in a full blown constitutional crisis, with a still-tweeting president claiming to have been the victim of a military coup and the Joint Chiefs of Staff claiming to be following the now legitimate commander-in-chief, the former vice-president.

Both the military and civilian authorities are split as to the legality of the Joint Chiefs interpretation of the 25th amendment. A majority of state governors declare allegiance to the former president, with several calling up their state national guards. The regular military itself fractures into uselessness. Within weeks constitutional crisis has given way to a limited, but still bloody, civil war, with fire fights breaking out in Washington DC between different factions.

The American economy, paralysed, enters a death spiral; the world economy follows. Vladimir Putin meanwhile, follows his move into the Baltic states with an invasion of Poland and a declaration of a new Russian Empire, with himself as emperor.

With the world on the brink of an all out war, only one leader remains with the moral and political authority to hold the centre: German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Gathering together the remains of NATO, she forges a new alliance. While her forces meet and defeat the Russian invasion, triggering a democratic uprising in Moscow, a Canadian led force allied with the anti-Presidential forces occupies Washington DC in the last hours of 2018.

When the sun rises on New Year’s Day 2019, it is on a new world, in a new era.

My Top Ten Writing Haunts

haunt

h??nt/

noun

  1. a place frequented by a specified person.

“the bar was a favourite haunt of artists of the time”

synonyms

hang-out, stamping ground, meeting place, territory, domain, purlieu, resort, den, retreat, favourite spot;

For any author, finding somewhere to write can be of crucial importance, doubly so for authors such as myself for whom writing is something that sits half way between a hobby and a job, and which has to be squeezed into the cracks of a life otherwise occupied by a family and full-time, mortgage-paying employment.

It was Albert Einstein who first observed that space and time are interwoven into a single continuum known as space-time, and no-where is this more true than for a writer’s writing haunts. It’s true of course that you want the places you write in to inspire you, to provide the kindling to your creative fire – and if they can serve you a good coffee that’s an added bonus. But a haunt is as much about time as it is about space. It’s about a place that you can escape to, free of the calls of every day life. A place with no dishes waiting to be washed or laundry waiting to be hung up. A place that will give you not merely a space in which to write, but the time in which to do it.

Moving twice in the current year, first to Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, and then to Littleborough in Lancashire, has given me a renewed appreciation for the role that my various writing haunts have played in my writing “career” thus far. As Joni Mitchell sang, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. I’m on the lookout for new haunts now, but that search and the thoughts it’s aroused have inspired me to write this.

My top ten personal writing haunts.

#10 Paul Robeson Theatre Café Bar

Hounslow

paulrobesontheatreThe café of Hounslow’s Paul Robeson community theatre makes it into my top ten list not because it was one of my better writing haunts, but because it was my first. This was back in around 2003, when I got my first laptop, a cheap reconditioned Hewlet Packard which I used to supplement the Dell desktop that at the time was still my primary writing machine.

The café wasn’t a particularly great place to write at. And since this was before the widespread introduction of soya milk into UK coffee shops and the resultant availability of soya lattes (a development which has frankly played an embarrassingly large role in my development as a writer), I was restricted to black coffees. (I’m not any kind of coffee aficionados out there, but I do like my rocket fuel to have a little frothed milk to help it slip down).

This wasn’t where it started: I was already started, having been writing on and off since I was a child. But the Paul Robeson cafe bar helped me move to a productivity model where I could write on a continuously enough basis to actually start producing the novels I’d aspired to write. And for that reason it makes my list.

#9 Coffee Cali

Hebden Bridge

coffeecaliCoffee Cali’s a funny entry, one that’s almost snuck onto this list, because when I was thinking back on all the places that I’ve written in I realised that although I felt no huge emotional link to this place, I actually spent quite a lot of time over the last year writing in it.

It’s a curious place, which in some ways comes across as a small independent coffee shop trying to feel like a corporate chain, and which sometimes appears to be staffed entirely by look-a-likes (there’s a Tina from Coronation Street, and a rather good Rylan from X-Factor). But I like it because its reasonably large upstairs seating area offers me a secluded space to write where I don’t feel like I’m taking a table away from other, potential customers. And despite what I’ve said, it’s nice place, which offers a lovely view of the bridge that gives the town its name.

Now that I’ve moved away, and my Hebden writing is confined to the occasional Saturday excursion, it’s actually Coffee Cali that I most often end up in. So for that reason alone, it deserves a place on this list.

#8 Various Piccadilly Line Carriages

London

ontubeFrom the time I acquired my first laptop around 2002 until we moved to Brighton in 2009, the majority of my writing took place on my Piccadilly Line commute to and from work. It’s where I wrote most of my columns for Mongoose’s Signs and Portents gaming magazine. And it’s where most of my first novel Game Night was written. Along the way I replaced the Hewlet Packard with a G4 Macbook, and then replaced that with an Intel Macbook after one-too-many trips through the bumpy express section between Acton Town and Hammersmith destroyed its hinge.

The seats weren’t always comfortable and the view varied between mundane and literally non-existent. But it gave me a time and a space to write, and for that I will always be grateful.

#7 Villa Källhagen Lobby Bar

Stockholm

kallhagenThe Källhagen (which is actually pronounced something like “Shallhagen”) is where I always stay when I visit my company’s Stockholm office.

(With one exception when the Källhagen was booked out one July and I had to stay in a rather cheap and nasty place. Since then I always say, only half joking, that the worst jet lag I ever had was a week in Stockholm in July in a hotel with cheap, thin curtains. By the end of the week, having been woken up every night at about 2am by the light flooding into the room, I was so wrecked that I fell asleep sitting bolt upright while the plane home was making its final approach into Gatwick. This was during a period when I made three trips to Singapore in four months. As I spent that weekend walking around like a zombie, concerned friends were asking “Have you just come back from Singapore, again?” and then being a bit perplexed when I replied, anguished, “No! Stockholm!”)

The Källhagen has good curtains.

But more than that it has a lovely ambiance, especially in its lobby bar which with its log fire and restrained decor is far more cosy than any lobby bar has a right to be. It’s just a nice place to crack open your laptop on an evening and get a bit of writing done.

#6 Caffé Nero

Brighton

cafenerobrightonThere are actually three Caffé Neros in Brighton, all of which I’ve drank at. But the one that I spent quite a bit of time writing in was the one on the corner of Preston Street and Western Road, just a few minutes walk away from our house. (It was also where Violet and I would chill out over a soya latte and a soya babychino, but that’s another story).

It wasn’t particularly funky, and its parent chain are a tad Starbucksesque on the tax front, but the staff were always friendly and they were always kind to my dog.

#5 Verano Lounge

Brighton

veranoloungeOkay, here’s the thing. I don’t like pubs. Now maybe it was because I was raised a Methodist during an era when pubs were drinking places for adults rather than the pub-themed restaurants they’ve now mostly become. Or perhaps it’s a result of an incident during a sixth form pub crawl when I was seventeen where having randomly encountered my family’s milkman, he got it into his head that I was making fun of him, threatened to kill me, and then shoved me up against the glass frontage of the local Tesco and held a knife to my throat as a demonstration of his intent.

Or perhaps it’s just that not having any particular taste for alcohol, I usually end up drinking flat coke from the tap machine and cursing the non-availability of coffee. Whatever, the point is that I don’t like pubs. I don’t feel happy in them. I don’t feel comfortable in them. And I don’t feel particularly safe in them. If there’s a pub vibe, it’s one that entirely passes me by.

So for me, Verano Lounge was like a perfectly genetically engineered fusion of a bar and coffee shop, combining the opening hours of a bar with the relaxed chilled out vibe of a coffee shop.

Late in the evening, when all the coffee shops were all closed, I could get Violet to bed and then head on out to the Lounge, get out my laptop, and enjoy a nice soya latte, on my own, without feeling like an out-of-place, no mates, freak.

(It was also a good place to go to when my wife and I had managed to sneak out on a rare date and she wanted to go to a bar and I wanted to go to a coffee shop, but that’s also another story).

#4 Genoa Coffee Shop

Istanbul

genoacoffeeshopThe Genoa was not a good place. Hell, given that it was a mock American diner set a stone’s throw from the historic waterway of the Golden Horn, you could almost argue that it’s very existence was an affront to history, architecture, and plain damn common decency. And with soya milk a mere dream in most of Istanbul, I was back to the black coffees.

But it’s made it to number four on my list because it appeared at a point in my life where I’d found myself becalmed in a manner that was not so much writer’s block as life overload. I hadn’t written anything for months, and then I found myself spending a week in Istanbul, not in the out of town executive box that my later Istanbul visits for my day job took me to, but at a hotel right in the heart of the city just across the water from the old town.

istanbulgenoa-view3After a day spent conducting software training (professional pride and ex-programmer’s snobbery compel me to point out at this point that I’m actually a business analyst, but being rather multi-functional I dabble in training on the side) I’d grab something to eat and then wonder down to the Genoa, flip open my laptop, and enjoy a view across the Galata Bridge at the old town and the Yeni Cami (New) mosque.

To be in such a place was inspiring in a way that’s hard to describe. I spent five nights in Istanbul, soaking up the layers of history like a desert absorbing rain, and then poured that into the writing of a short story, Constantinople. (Which I might one day publish on Wattpad).

#3 Various Southern Railway / Thameslink Carriages

Brighton, London, and Points In-between

southernrail2From the summer of 2009 until early 2016, this was where most of my writing took place. From 2009 through to 2013, when I was commuting into Farringdon, I had an hour and a half each way, or up to fifteen hours a week of guilt-free writing time. Even after we’d moved offices and I was commuting into London Bridge, I still had a little over an hour each way.

I write two complete novels and most of a third on these trains: If Pigs Could Fly, an unpublished time travel novel, and the Sleeping Dragon, which will hopefully be published at some point this year.

My writing career went through some life-related ebbs and flows during this period, and there were plenty of false dawns, but as I said in the dedications of If Pigs Could Fly, the seats were usually comfortable and the views were often superb.

#2 Mooch

Hebden Bridge

moochMooch was basically my favourite hangout in the world, ever, and it’s perhaps unfair that it hasn’t made it to the number one spot on this list. Located just a stone’s throw away from our temporary rented house in Hebden, and opening until seven or eight most evenings, I could squeeze in a quick hour or so after finishing work and still make it home in time to put Violet to bed.

Like the Verano Lounge, Mooch occupies that space some way between a bar and a coffee shop, but where the now-closed Lounge was part of a chain and just a little bit corporate, Mooch has the wonderfully funky, independent vibe that you’d expect from a place situated in a town, Hebden Bridge, that is itself sometimes described as the “fourth funkiest place on the planet.”

I’d settle down with a soya latte and a toasted tea cake, listen to whatever record was playing on the bar counter’s slightly retro record player, soak up the vibe, and write.

I miss Mooch.

#1 Le Méridien Etiler Rooftop Bar

Istanbul

istanbulmeridian-intAnd so we come to the number one, which makes it in not for quality of the coffee, nor for any regular repartee I had with the staff, nor necessarily for the vibe. This wasn’t a quirky out of the way place in the historic centre of Istanbul, but the lounge bar of the thirty-four story executive box to which all my later work-related trips to Istanbul have taken me.

No, what pushes this bar to my number one spot is one thing. That view. When we Western Europeans think of Istanbul we think of the old city, of ancient Constantinople and Byzantium. But this is the modern twenty-first century Istanbul, the largest city in Europe. Home to more than fourteen million people, a population that has expanded ten fold in just sixty years. From the Le Méridien’s thirty-fourth floor I could gaze over an urban landscape so vast, and so plain damn cyberpunky that it damn near took my breath away.

istanbulmeridian-viewIt was the sort of vista that makes you want to write the next Neuromancer, but as it was, a week of post-work evening writing sessions at that penthouse bar back in early 2015 got me through a particularly difficult period of structural edits on If Pigs Could Fly.

It’s no secret that Turkey’s going through a tough time right now, both in terms of its domestic discord and the regular terrorist attacks. When my colleagues and I now travel to Istanbul our company’s security procedures (sensibly) prohibit us from travelling outside of either the hotel or the client’s site. For most of my colleagues this is an irksome restriction.

But not for me. Because after a day’s work on-site all I want to do is get a bite to eat, grab my laptop, and head to the thirty-fourth floor.

And write.

* * * * *

I’m going to share this post on twitter with the hashtag #writinghaunts. If any of you writers out there feel like sharing some of your writing places, I’d love you to do so under this hashtag.

Film Review: Suicide Squad

IMG_1357.PNGDirector: David Ayer
Writer: David Ayer
Stars: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie

Shit, epically so.

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