Banker and the Tramp

If you bought £1000 of shares from Northern Rock in 2007, one year later it would have been worth £4.95. If, however, you bought £1000 of Tenants lager, drank it all, and then took the empty cans to the aluminium recycling plant, you would have got £214.

Moral: Drinking is financially more productive than banking. Tonight I am going for a pint.

Bird (Short Story of the Weird Variety)

When I started writing me and a friend, Danny, used to text each other three words and then we would have to write a short story about those things. For instance, one text said, “Goat, money, burgers.” Another one said, “My son, a sausage, 99 encyclopaedias.” We would have one day to write each story and would generally spend about an hour writing them. The above suggestions became a story about a giant magic goat that loved burgers and had the ability to travel in time, and the other was about a baby detective investigating a sausage related murder, the solving of which hung on a single misspelling in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

They were funny, short, ridiculous stories that were never meant to be read by anyone except for us. They are kept in a secret file called, “Do Not Share”. They were writing exercises, and that was all.

However, seeing as I am beyond shame, I have decided to share one of these stories with you. Sadly, I can’t remember what the three words were (we wrote these stories several years ago). I came across it by accident recently and it made me laugh. The story is called…


‘Hey, man, you sure these are safe?’ Smirf held the bag up to eye level, ‘They look kinda wild. Know what I mean? Buzz? Buzz!? You know what I mean?’

Smirf looked over at Buzz.  They were sitting opposite each other outside a café. Buzz’s eyes had gone red and his skin looked greyer than normal. A stalk was hanging out of his mouth. He blinked slowly and opened his mouth, ‘Muh.’

Smirf turned his attention back to the bag of mushrooms, ‘Where did you say you got these?’

Buzz opened his mouth again, ‘Summ uh.’

One of Buzz’s eyes closed and the other widened and a weird little grin crept over his face.  Smirf stared at him for a while.

‘If you got these from Spaceman Dave I’m going to kill you.’

Buzz sagged in his chair and his head fell forward and landed on the table. He laughed lazily at himself. Smirf opened the bag and took out a mushroom. He squashed it up in his hand and stirred it into his coffee.

‘When will I learn?’ he said, and looked over at Buzz again who twitched and chuckled to himself. Smirf sighed and drank his coffee.

Inanimate objects began to pop and change colour around him. A waitress turned into a fish and swam into the sky humming a beautiful tune. He looked at Buzz. Bubbles were rising from his body. The table blew away like a handkerchief and the ground turned purple. He looked at his arms and they stretched out in front of him like oil on water. Everything drifted away and went dark. Smirf sank backwards and fell gently into a dark abyss. He looked down at his body. His legs slowly faded away followed by his arms and then his torso. Finally his head faded and all that was left was his consciousness falling silently through the soft darkness.

He landed hard on a large cylindrical slab of stone.

‘Owe! What the fuck!’ he said.

Buzz was standing over him, ‘Hey man,’ said Buzz, ‘What’s going on?’

Smirf rubbed his head and stood up. He looked around him. It was just them; Smirf and Buzz standing on a circular concrete slab in the middle of an endless void of darkness.

‘How the hell should I know!’ said Smirf.

‘Weird huh?’

‘Yes, Buzz, it’s weird. Of course it’s weird! It’s always weird when I’m with you!’


Smirf looked around, ‘It’s just darkness. Everywhere. Darkness.’

‘Not everywhere,’ said Buzz.

‘Where isn’t it dark?’

Buzz pointed upwards and Smirf looked. High above them was a bird the size of a planet. Its eyes were as big as continents and as deep as oceans. Its wings stretched across space and vanished into the distance. The tip of its mountain-sized beak hung just a few hundred yards above them. The giant bird tilted its head and looked at the two men.

‘Right,’ said Smirf, ‘I didn’t notice that.’

‘Big isn’t it,’ observed Buzz.

Smirf looked at Buzz who was craning his neck up at the bird with his hands on his hips.

‘Yes, it’s quite big.’

Smirf and Buzz stared at the bird for a while and the giant bird stared back.

‘What do you think we should do?’ said Buzz.

‘Not sure, our options are fairly slim aren’t they.’

‘We could jump off,’ suggested Buzz.


‘I think we’re bird food,’ said Buzz.

The giant bird lowered its head so the top of its beak was level with Smirf and Buzz. It then continued to observe them.

‘Hmm,’ said Smirf.

‘I dare you to jump on to its beak,’ said Buzz.

‘No,’ said Smirf, ignoring him, ‘Hello Bird!’ he shouted.

The bird looked surprised and seemed to think for a moment. It opened its mouth a bit, as if it was about to say something, thought against it, and then closed it again. Buzz and Smirf looked at each other.

‘I think he can understand us,’ said Smirf.

‘Hello bird!!’ shouted Buzz.

This time the bird pulled its head back and looked dumbstruck. Slowly the bird got its nerves back and lowered its head to peer at the two men again.

‘Hello?’ said the bird, hesitantly.

‘Hello!’ shouted Smirf and Buzz simultaneously.

The bird panicked and ducked its head bellow the concrete pillar in an extraordinary attempt to hide itself.

‘I think it’s scared of us,’ said Smirf.

The bird slowly edged its head back up and looked at the two men. It felt quite out of sorts. He’d never seen, well, anything before. Just him, the darkness, and the cement pillar.

‘Hello,’ whispered the bird, and then moved its head away in case anything strange happened.

‘Hello,’ said Smirf, politely.

‘You speak bird,’ said the bird.

‘No,’ said Smirf, ‘you speak English.’

‘Right,’ said the bird, and then thought for a bit, ‘I’ve gone mad haven’t I?’

‘Not really sure,’ said Smirf, ‘Possibly.’

‘Are you going to eat me?’ asked the bird.

‘No,’ said Smirf, ‘You’re the size of a planet.’

‘Am I? What’s a planet?’ asked the bird.

‘It’s a big round thing,’ said Buzz.

‘Oh,’ said the bird, ‘But I’m bird shaped.’ The bird’s deep but kind voice surrounded them with its volume.

‘Indeed you are,’ said Smirf, ‘Listen, we’re a bit confused. You’re a massive talking bird and we’re not used to that kind of thing.’

‘And you are a small terrifying pink thing with no wings. And you can speak! Don’t you find that strange?’ asked the bird.

‘It’s never really occurred to me,’ said Smirf.

‘Birds don’t talk where we come from. Just people,’ said Buzz.

‘I see,’ said the bird, ‘And where do you come from?’

‘A planet called Earth,’ said Smirf.

‘Oh. And how did you get here?’ asked the bird.

‘I’m afraid I don’t know. We ate some mushrooms and now we’re here. This doesn’t normally happen but I’m afraid, the fact that this is happening while we are under the influence of mushrooms, may mean that you don’t actually exist,’ said Smirf.

The bird contemplated the ramifications of this idea and then said, ‘Mushrooms you say?’

‘Yes,’ said Buzz.

‘Sounds unlikely.’ said the bird, ‘so you’re trying to tell me that you live on a large round thing, you ate some mushrooms, and now you are here and you can talk?’

‘Yes,’ said Smirf.

‘Tell me,’ said the bird, ‘Are their many types of bird where you come from?’

‘Yes, hundreds,’ said Smirf.

‘Just as I thought. And how many long talking pink things are there?’

‘Just us,’ said Smirf, suddenly unsure of himself.

The bird seemed to have been expecting this answer. ‘I think I have some bad news,’ said the bird.

‘What’s that?’ said Smirf.

‘I think I have gone mad.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ said Smirf.

‘I suspect you are, it does after all mean that you aren’t real,’ said the bird.

‘I think I need to sit down,’ said Buzz, sitting down.

‘Ok,’ said the bird.

Smirf thought for a moment, ‘No, I think we’re real. It’s definitely you who is not.’

‘No,’ said the bird, ‘I remember being here before you got here. I’ve been around forever.’

‘But I also remember being around before I got here,’ said Smirf.

‘How long?’ asked the bird.

‘How long what?’ asked Smirf.

‘How long have you been around?’

‘20 years,’ said Smirf.

‘Pah! That’s nothing,’ said the bird, ‘I am infinite in time. I have always been around.’

‘Well, we’re definitely real,’ said Smirf.

‘What if we aren’t?’ said Buzz, who was now lying down.

‘If I have gone mad,’ began the bird, ‘It is very possible that I invented a whole reality for you. My subconscious has had billions of years to construct a million different realities. I don’t know whether it has. It makes sense that it must have being doing something with its time. All I’ve been doing is looking out at everything.’

Smirf thought about this while Buzz put his fingers in his ears and started humming. ‘How about last week when I found a piece of paper on the floor thinking it was money only to find out when I got home that it was just a used piece of toilet paper. Did your subconscious invent that?’ asked Smirf.

‘That depends,’ said the bird, ‘If you are a figment of my imagination then yes. If you are not, then no.’

Buzz started to hum louder.

‘How can we find out? And if it turns out we are a figment of your imagination what does that mean for us?’ asked Smirf.

‘Give me a minute,’ said the bird, and then the bird looked away. Its eyes dimmed and the bird became vacantly still.

Buzz took his fingers out of his ears and stopped humming, ‘Have you killed him?’ he asked.

‘No, I think he’s gone off to talk to his subconscious,’ said Smirf.

The enormity of the bird hung above them. Its size incomprehensible; each feather the size of a yacht, and talons so big they could easily hook around The Moon. It was a hell of a hallucination if it was one.

‘Right!’ said the bird, suddenly alive again, ‘I have some good news and I have some bad news.’ Buzz and Smirf stood next to each other looking up at the monstrous bird like two children in front of a judge. ‘The good news is that you are real.’

Smirf and Buzz cheered. And then stopped, ‘So what’s the bad news?’ asked Buzz.

‘You are a figment of my imagination,’ said the bird.

‘That doesn’t make sense,’ said Smirf.

‘No, not at first,’ said the bird.

They waited for a moment.

‘It still doesn’t make sense. Will you elaborate?’ asked Smirf.

The bird lowered its head apologetically, ‘Ok, but promise you won’t be mad at me,’ said the bird, ‘I didn’t know what my subconscious was up to.’

‘Ok. I promise I won’t be mad,’ said Smirf.

The bird looked at Buzz.

‘Oh, I promise too,’ said Buzz.

The enormous bird took a breath and then tried to explain, ‘My subconscious has been getting bored recently. Well, I say recently, it’s been the last couple of billion years. Playing little pranks on me here and there, silly stuff, you know; making me bite my tongue when I’m sleeping, that kind of thing; creating a star and making it supernova in front of me. That made me jump! You know, silly stuff like that.’

Smirf and Buzz looked at each other, ‘created a star,’ mouthed Buzz.

The bird continued, ‘He’s been quiet for a few millennia now. I knew he was plotting something.’

‘So what’s he been plotting?’ asked Buzz, with a tinge of worry in his voice.

‘He decided to make me think I’d gone mad,’ said the bird.

‘What did he do?’ asked Smirf.

If the bird had cheeks he would have blushed, ‘He created an entire universe, with planets and stars and allsorts. And, err, talking pink things with fingers.’

Buzz looked at his hands.

‘The problem was, you existed in a different reality so he brought you two here partly to prove to himself that he had done it, and partly to freak me out. We just had a chat about it and he said he was going to keep you here and never tell me what you were so I really would think I’m mad, but then he said he was so proud of what he had created he decided he’d rather boast about it instead. I’ve never invented anything,’ said the bird glumly.

‘You and your subconscious are one and the same,’ Smirf pointed out, quite profoundly.

‘Not in a head this big,’ chuckled the bird.

Buzz nodded like he knew what the bird meant.

‘So now what do we do?’ asked Smirf.

The bird thought for a moment, ‘I suppose you can go home if you like?’

‘We can! I thought we were stuck here!’ shouted Buzz excitedly.

‘No, you can go, but please do come back, I get terribly bored,’ said the bird, with its deep voice falling around them.

‘Ok. How?’ asked Buzz.

‘Oh, good question, hold on.’

The bird went vacant for a moment and then came back, ‘Take this,’ it said plucking a small feather from its chest using its beak. It dropped the slightly larger than average feather at their feet and Smirf and Buzz picked it up, ‘just use it to stir your tea and have a sip. You’ll be back here in a jiffy,’ said the bird.

‘Cool,’ said Buzz, examining the feather. It was the size of a lance and they struggled to hold it. He wondered how easy it would be to stir tea with it.

‘Cheerio then,’ said the bird, ‘Sorry you’re not real.’

‘That’s ok,’ said Smirf.

‘No worries,’ said Buzz.

The giant bird ruffled its feathers and the two men vanished. The platform and the bird were alone again.

‘I miss them already,’ said the bird.

Smirf and Buzz suddenly woke up. It was getting dark but they were still sitting at the café table. A waitress was clearing up around them.

‘Oh good, you’re awake,’ she said, ‘I’ve been trying to wake you for ages. We’re closing now.’

Smirf looked around slightly confused, ‘Ok,’ he said, ‘Buzz, wake up.’

Buzz stirred, ‘Hmm?’

‘Come on, let’s go,’ said Smirf, struggling to stand up, ‘How long have we been asleep?’

‘About six hours,’ said the waitress, ‘Like I said, I couldn’t wake you.’

Buzz managed to get to his feet and started walking off.

‘Hold on!’ shouted Smirf, and caught up with him.

‘Weird trip dude,’ said Buzz.

‘Me too, man.’

‘Damn bird,’ said Buzz.

‘Yeah. What? A bird?’ said Smirf, stopping in the street.

Buzz stopped as well, ‘Yeah, there was a massive fucking bird.’ Smirf stared at him. ‘Are you ok?’ asked Buzz.

‘Did the bird say that we weren’t real?’ asked Smirf.

Buzz looked blank for a while, ‘Yeah.’

‘Was he the size of a planet?’


‘Did you sit down and stick your fingers in your ears and hum so you didn’t have to hear what he was saying?’

Buzz’s mouth lulled, ‘Uh huh.’

‘Oh,’ said Smirf.

They stared at each other for a bit and then started searching frantically for the feather. They couldn’t find it. They looked back at the table they were sat at, and there, under the table, was a slightly larger than average, feather.

The End

Entertaining the Devil

It’s midnight. The record player is stuck in a loop. Muddy Waters is singing, “I’ve got my mojo work- I’ve got my mojo work- I’ve got my mojo work-“. My head nods in front of the monitor of my laptop. I pick up my whisky glass and twirl it. The ice clatters around the Grouse and water. I look up at the monitor. Late drunkenness brings on the writer’s madness. An old and dangerous fictional character is trying to break free. He wants to live again. Tripping the Night Fantastic is begging for a sequel.

I reach for my packet and remove a cigarette. I am about to head outside and smoke to clear my hazy mind but I’m caught by something on the screen.

Charlie Deavon is staring at me through the monitor. I can see his face in remarkable detail; every hair and every crease and line. He isn’t scowling but the thought is there.

He leans closer and head-butts the screen. My laptop rocks forward and I stop it with my hand. I put my cigarette down and open a word file.

The curser blinks for a moment. I have a sip of whisky. ‘So, what do you want to do, Charlie?’

He smiles, and from that moment I can no longer control his actions.


That is how the second book in the Tripping series came into this world. That was its birth. A moment of madness caught in a whisky haze and captured forever in a blog. It will be called Tripping the Urban Guerrilla. It will write itself in a way, just as the last one did. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, just as the last one was not. In the telling of its unusual tale it will capture that feeling of not being sure of your own reality. The kind of book that leaves you with the urge to have a drink and a cigarette. To be less in control of your inhibitions, and to enjoy it. A lesson for actively making your life worse, while simultaneously bringing a satisfying sense of mischief to it.

It won’t be my second book, that one has already been written. A stately manor based comedy called A Scoundrel for Love. But that won’t be released independently until it has been turned down by at least 5 agents. I’ve never sent a book to an agent before so maybe it will be picked up. Who knows?

The Tripping series will always be independent. They are too experimental (not in a hard to read kind of way, there is just a freedom to where the story goes and how it is told that might not suit a traditional publisher). As a writer I think you need the freedom with at least one project to write something that is completely unaffected. Something a bit unhinged. Something you will laugh at personally. A self-indulgent kind of writing. Somewhere to dump all your lunacy so when you come to write the good stuff it is easier to handle.

When I am bored, or in need of a fix of insanity, I turn to Charlie (not a pun) and entertain myself for a while.

The first trip:

Catching the Inky Flu

Writing. Norman Mailer called it the spooky art. I remember when I first got the bug to actually put pen to paper. For some reason, at the age of 20, I decided to read a kids book. I had spent much of my time up until that point ignoring books and dedicating my time to drinking and socialising. There was barely a moment when I was without company. All of life was about getting together with people and living our lives to the sound of grunge and rock to the accompaniment of alcohol. That’s all we did. For many years. None of us read much between the ages of 15 to about 20. It just wasn’t the thing to do. No, the thing to do was party. Constantly.

I had read a few books in those years, American Psycho, The Time Waster Diaries, Some Terry Pratchett, but they were few and far between and I would take months to read them and didn’t really engage. Then I fell in love. And the woman I loved, loved to read. Well, I could hardly sit there in silence while she read could I? So, I went with her to the book shop and picked a book with a monster on the front cover. I didn’t actually realise I had picked a kids book until I got home and started to read it. Sure, I was embarrassed that I must have seemed like an illiterate idiot but, mostly out of stubbornness, I read the whole thing. It was Cirque Du Freak by Darren Shan.

Maybe not my proudest literary moment, but nonetheless it was the book that kick started my obsession with reading. Within a few years I was reading between 50 and 70 books a year (no more kids books though, at least not until I had my own kid to read to). I had to catch up. How could I have overlooked this wealth of knowledge and entertainment?

The writerly thought struck me first with Darren Shan, and did with every book I read after that for a long time, and that thought was this: “How is this possible? I have just read several pages of text but I have no memory of observing the words.” A movie was playing in my mind. I could see the characters as clear as day. I would get to the end of a chapter having watched the story unfold like a film.

I wanted to know how the trick was done. How can a writer put words on a page in such an order that you stop seeing the words entirely and just let your imagination cast a cinematic veil between your eyes and the page. I had to try it. I had to find out how it was done.

And so I did. I should admit that before this time I had written comedy sketches, and, when I was much younger, wrote many comics with a friend. I had also tried to write a TV show at some point, and tried to right a stand-up act. The urge to create stories was always there, it had just never occurred to me to try and write a novel. Or even a short story.

I spent the next five years writing lots and lots of things that will never be read by another living soul (except for my old friend Danny, who’s been forced to endure my wordy ramblings for too long). But, gradually, I picked up a few of the tricks. The first year consisted of a series of non-starters. By the middle of the second year I had written my first long story. It was a 20,000 word novella called The Journals of Mr. Cabbles. It was an awful, but quite funny, science-fiction diary about a time traveling monkey dressed as a cat. Nothing more will be said about it…

I’m getting away from the point. As I said, Norman Mailer called it the spooky art. I think he was referring more to the way the stories come to you, and how things seem to fall in to place as the novel progresses, even though you, the writer, didn’t really know where it was all heading.

The spooky thing for me, or the magic thing maybe, was the way you could create an image with words. Eventually you find out how it’s all done. If you read enough, you’re bound to.

The thing is, once you know how it’s done, a bit of that magic disappears. It’s kind of like, once you know the rabbit is up the magician’s sleeve, the hat is kind of boring.

Luckily though, that’s not quite true. For me, when I read something great now, I’m just more blown away by it than ever. I still go into the cinema of the mind as a reader and watch the words turn into images. The only difference is, now I take notes. For every book I read a small lesson about writing is added to my overall sense of the craft.

It is very early in my writing career, in fact, as yet I don’t really have one. But one day I hope someone reads something I’ve written, and thinks, “How did he do that?” and maybe it will inspire him, or her, to write too.

Six Easy Steps to Proving Your Own Stupidity

Sep one: Agree to go to the pub with David Chapman (my Brother) for a quick beer.
Step two: Order a hot dog, during which you have two pints, and in doing so acquire the taste for more beer.
Step three: Let a stranger talk you into doing a quiz.
Step four: Cheat at quiz using Wikipedia.
Step five: Having cheated for pretty much the entire quiz, and getting told off for it, still manage to come last and then become convinced by the winners at the table next to you that the loser wins a pot of Jelly beans.
Step six: Ask barman for said Jelly Beans.

Paradise Lost, Hobby Gained

In a Ford dealership in Bournemouth a metallic helium balloon, shaped like a cloud, pronounces the slogan; “Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining”. I wonder, as I dip my mop in its bucket, if they know they are quoting John Milton.

As a cleaner in this dealership I run my mop up and down the showroom floor. I look blank. It’s a job that requires no thought but also a job that gives you the freedom to think. I ring out my mop and look momentarily back up at the balloon.

As I trudge my way through this bleak room of cars, at prices my salary barely mirrors, I can’t help but look at the grinning salesman, holding his surreal balloon, and wondering if he knows it was born in the annals of literary greatness. I am a cleaner in this place, and nothing more, but John Milton is only a balloon.

John Milton was born in 1608 and died 65 years later in 1674. In that 65 years he made a massive contribution to the English language. He invented so many phrases and words that most people quote Milton daily without even knowing it.

We couldn’t disregard Milton’s impact on the English language simply because the word disregard wouldn’t exist without him. We certainly couldn’t criticise him or be dismissive of his impact, but instead, the more words I discover are coined by him the more awe-struck I become. It is simply stunning.

Seeing that balloon in the Ford dealership got me thinking about what else might be quoting him without really realising it. The idea was in me now and I had become, in that moment, a nerdy Milton spotter. Like a strange literary bird watcher. A new hobby was born. I would collect words coined by John Milton.

The salesman, and the sold-to, had finished for the day and the showroom was void of life. I put my mop away in the cleaning cupboard, turned off the lights in the building, and set the alarm. It was late, the moon was already high in the sky, the pubs were already full, but no sooner had I sat in my car and got out my note pad – quick to write about the balloon lest I forget – had I realised I was in the act of a Milton-ism now.  Or was I? I wasn’t sure. I had read about John Milton only a few days before seeing the balloon and I remembered that he coined the word moonstruck. The moon was up, and I felt struck by something, a love of words maybe, it was good enough. I put it in the notebook.

I started the engine and the CD player turned on. The Best of Procol Harum was in the CD player. The first track began to play and I drove out of the car park. The song was A Whiter Shade of Pale (this sounds so unconvincing I half wish I was making it up, embellishing the truth as it were, but these coincidences are genuine), the song began, “He tripped the light fandango, turned cartwheels across the floor”. I pulled over and opened my notepad.

John Milton’s very first poem to appear in print bore the particular seeds of influence that inspired the lyrics of the above song. The poem was called L’Allegro and it contained the following lines: “Com, and trip it as ye go / On the light fantastick toe”. Because of that we can all trip the light fantastic. Or dance, to put it simply. And, more importantly, Procol Harum can sing about it and I can add it to my quickly growing list.

I got home, pleased with my new hobby (not an exhilarating hobby but a hobby nonetheless), and began searching online for a list of words and phrases coined by John Milton to aid me in my quest.

John Milton studied at Christ’s College in Cambridge. The accompanying portrait of Milton on the Christ’s College’s website depicts a feminine looking man with long flowing blond hair and puckered lips. His eyes look sideways and down slightly, almost seductively. He has a dimple in his chin and his purple jacket is finished with a white lavish collar. It’s no surprise, looking at his portrait, that he was known at college as The Lady of Christ’s.

John Milton
John Milton

On the same website I found a list of words coined by him. Wikipedia lent more examples, and a book called the Etymologicon (the word etymologicon itself was coined by Milton), which is where I first read of Milton’s influence, offered a few more. I sit here now at my laptop with my printouts and shuffle them into a neat pile.

I had neglected to turn on the light in the room when I got home, in the rush to Google him, and time had dragged itself away and made the night darker. The laptop screen cast a looming shadow against the wall behind me. Suddenly, noticing the black figure, with all its vacant doom, I turned to look at it but relaxed when I realised it was just my shadow and reality and time came back all at once. This suddenly felt like a very solitary and unadventurous hobby to add to my list of other solitary hobbies, like writing and reading. However, the knowledge that one of the first places I found a Miltonism was in a rock song reassured me.

When Milton was 30 he travelled around Europe for a year where he met many great intellectuals and influential people, Galileo, for example. I am also about to undertake a grand trip, although not one as ground braking as Milton’s; I am off to Pontins for the weekend. My note pad is coming with me.

I only discovered one Miltonism while away at Pontins and it came from my six year old daughter. She told me off for trying to dry her with a slightly moist towel.

‘Dad!’ she shouted, shivering in her swimming costume, ‘that towel is damp!’

‘That may be so,’ I said, ‘let me grab my notepad and all will be fine.’

Looking through my gathered list of Miltonism’s I have just realised another few words that could be attributed to the holiday. The restaurant food was terrible and so we mostly did all our own cooking¸ not that my cooking is any less unhealthy. The children’s adulation of the Campsite Characters (Captain Crocodile, Suzie Zebra, Meth the drug addled Monkey etc) could be described as Idol-worship. And my sister had a flutter on the Grand National but unfortunately any dreams of extravagance were shattered by a slow-moving horse.

The pandemonium of the holiday has passed now. My daughter has gone home to her mothers. Bags have been unpacked, photographs uploaded to Facebook, clothes chucked in the washing machine. I am sat in my lounge. Only the lights of the bookshelf are on and I am wearing socks and pyjamas. The TV is off but soon it will be flashing its dramatic wares at me and I will catch up on the missed TV of the weekend. But for now the whisky in my glass is fresh and my bones finally get the stretch they’ve been waiting for.

Before I turn on the TV I let myself wallow in the momentary peace that exists, so fleetingly, between a holiday and real life.

I pick up my notepad from beside me and open it to my list. There they are, 19 of them so far. I smile to myself and toss the notepad back to its comfortable seat beside me. Nobody seems to know the exact number of words that John Milton invented but the general consensus is that it’s more than 600. I have a long way to go.

Before I turn on the television I look over to my desk and the un-shuffled array of papers on it. All those lists and histories of John Milton. So many words. I pick up the remote and turn on the TV. I pick up my glass of whisky and have a sip. The erratic life from the TV lights upon me and I see myself for a moment, mured by the flickering light and the monotone nattering of the news reporter, alone in this room, not thinking it but feeling that my daughter is getting ready for bed in a far away house. I look down at my glass of whisky and then my notepad and wonder if this hobby will be devoured and forgotten as suddenly as it began; just another hobby to add to the list of bygone hobbies of my past; merely a passing interest to steal away the time, a hobby to create a bridge between loneliness and boredom. I search through the SKY Planner for the shows I have recorded and find the hours viewing that will accompany my drink. And, although I don’t know what the news story was, just before I press play, I hear the news reporter say;

‘…airborne attacks…’

I reach for my notepad

The Manuscript Thief

So there I was. It was Christmas Eve. Two days earlier I had finally finished my second book. The first draft had been printed off. The plan was to leave it, to forget about, to not even look at it, for a few months. Then, on one lonesome evening, I would pick up the manuscript and go through it with a red pen. But something dreadful would happen before I got the chance.

It is important that no one sees a freshly finished novel, you see, you get so close to the material that after a while all the mistakes become invisible to you. You know the story so well that it doesn’t matter how much you concentrate your mind fills in the blanks. If I write probable instead of probably I won’t notice it. My brain knows what word to expect and my eyes will pass over it without seeing the mistake. This is why you need a few months after finishing the book before you start proof reading it. And that was my intention with A Scoundrel for Love (the first in a series of humorous books based at the stately Rochdale Manor).

As I was saying, it was Christmas Eve. Some of my parent’s friends were round for drinks. One of them, a man named Steve, asked me how my writing was going.

“It’s going well,” I said, “In fact I’ve just finished a novel.”

“Oh, I would love to have a look at it.”

“Sure, why not.” I said, and scurried off to fetch it. That was my mistake. I blame the booze.

He read the first paragraph aloud (at least this much was error free);

“It’s strange being killed. I never thought I’d say it but it is. It’s annoying. Especially when you have no idea why you are being killed. Here I am, standing at the toilet with my pyjamas around my ankles and in walks a man with the intent to do harm. Perhaps I’m somehow to blame? Who knows? Either way, whether I am to be blamed or not, adjustments to my situation must clearly be made. Being drowned in a toilet is not something I take pleasure in. And it is certainly not the way I wish to uncoil my mortal spring, as they say. In the throes of death the automatic instincts of self-preservation set forth a plan of retaliation. My limbs reacted accordingly on my behalf.”

Everyone chuckled. There were positive murmurs.

“Oh, hold on, there’s a disclaimer before the first chapter,” he said, and then read on;

As a result of lazy research the descriptions of the Whyte and Mackay distillery are entirely made up and so any attempt to carry out the heist described in these pages would be completely idiotic and utterly fruitless.”

More laughs. Things were going well.

Steve put the manuscript down and said he would have a proper look later. After all, the night was early and this was a Christmas gathering not a reading circle. I snuck away and left them to it.

When I went back to my parents lounge a few hours later (having spent some quality time being drunk with my brother) I discover my parents sitting alone watching TV.

“Have they gone?” I said.

“Yes, they left about ten minutes ago.”

“Oh, is my book in here somewhere?”

They frowned. “No, Steve took it with him to read on the train.”



“It hasn’t been edited. He’s going to think I’m an illiterate idiot!”

I rushed off and switched on my laptop just to read the first few chapters. And there they were, the glaringly obvious mistakes you become blind to. The word Authorities where it should have said authoritative. And for some reason (unfathomably! A relic from an early change perhaps) the word bucket instead of cave (how can that even be!). I had also written the word to instead of the. And, oh no, at some point, when I was just getting started with this book one of the characters was called Uncle Henry. It soon changed to Uncle Harry. But it looks like I missed a mention of him early on and within a few pages his name suddenly changes from Harry, to Henry, and back again!

For New Year’s Eve my parents met Steve and his wife for dinner. He mentioned it. He asked my dad if he thought I would mind if he went through it with a red pen and pick out the mistakes.

And actually I don’t mind that. I did have a friend of mine who teaches English to proof read it for me anyway. At least now when I do send it to him he will think I’m capable of producing a far more polished piece of writing than I actually am.

Still, it is a lesson learned. And if Steve turns out to be a good proof reader at least I might be able to rely on him for that in the future. All published authors have an editor and a proof reader. It must be accepted that a writer can’t write tens of thousands of words without the occasional error (there may be one or two exceptions out of the millions of published authors but they will be an extreme minority).

I’m glad in a way that my unfinished manuscript was accidently stolen from me. It will mean that when I send it out to agents and publishers it will be the best it can be.

I’ll let you know when I get the manuscript back exactly how bad the damage is.