Oh no, I did a Torres!

Torres doing his favourite Chesney Hawke impression

Be warned: this is a football-related blog! But please don’t click away if you don’t love the beautiful game, for this post is about much more than just football, and I have a feeling most people will be able to relate to it. Trust me: you’re reading the words of someone who couldn’t talk to other men about football for a full and debilitating 30 years, so there’s no way I’d make this post too inaccessible.

When I first started learning about football around a year ago for this blog (my distinctly optimistic quest was to see if I could understand why people so loved football, and if I could go against everything I had done up until that point and somehow develop a genuine passion so that, when football came on the TV, I could jump up with my fellow countrymen and shout “FOOTBALL!” in that signature manly roar) Chelsea striker and blonde-haired, non-goal-scoring-sensation Fernando Torres was someone my feeble lack of knowledge latched onto in a big way: I admired how he could never-ever score a goal just like me down the park (when he was actually on the pitch, that was) and how his spectacular ability to be tackled by more or less anyone with legs would make him a popular target in parks all over the country, should he make the very un-wise decision of venturing outside his football ground and into the realm of small, angry children with a passion for kicking people’s shins and heads in (“For a millionaire you get A MILLION POINTS!”).

Oh, poor legend-of-extortionately-over-priced-Torres…there were days when he really felt my intellectual wrath; because as the goals didn’t come in and didn’t come in, his face of thunder growing darkly as he sat there earning hundreds-of-thousands-of-pounds on the bench, his name became synonymous with not only career failure, but failure of any kind:

I’d be walking with friends and see a stranger trip up over that dodgy piece of pavement which had nearly killed a pensioner just the week before: “Did you see that?” I’d say, “what a Torres!”

“Shutup, Chris,” they’d say, but I couldn’t help it, I was putting everything I had into learning how to do football, and this annoying symptom of sheer enthusiasm was the price.

I’d walk into the horrifically designed mirrored toilets at Cambridge Train Station and see a big yellow mess on the floor that really shouldn’t have been there considering how much bloody money we all pay National Rail every day. “Someone’s done a serious Torres,” I’d say, ignoring the other more disturbing Torres in the cubicle next door — brown and frightening, Chris, DO-NOT-LOOK! — and this would usually be as I realised I was stood in the first aforementioned yellow Torres (although technically this is inaccurate, as Torres’s reputation at the time was not one of missing them, as in missing the bowl, but for not even creating them to begin with. Although this analogy does work brilliantly for the brown Torres I described before…someone had definitely created that and it was literally as criminal as the wages professional footballers earn…).

And so it was that Torres quickly became associated, in my mind, with the failure of humanity in every single way you can possibly imagine. Until my friends got sick of me making this comparison, at which point I stopped (although it was too late for them, by then, as they were also saying it and it had got well and truly inside their heads!).

Then, one day recently, it all started to change…

OK, so Torres’s legs still predictably went to jelly whenever an attacker approached him (for those unaware of the man’s failings, the best I can liken his wobbly-legged manuevers to is the way in which, in The Birds, people get all panicked at the merest sight of a blackbird and start flailing around all over the place) but, every so often, when he was actually invited onto the pitch and had postponed his face-of-millionaire’s-doom for half an hour so, he was scoring goals. Not mega goals, usually, and not goals which will be remembered throughout history, but goals nonetheless. It seemed Torres’s career as a blonde-haired-laughing-stock was coming to an end…

…and this weekend, as Chelsea faced QPR, it finally happened: an event so unlikely that, when the wind was in the right direction, you could almost hear hundreds of thousands of very unlucky bookies complaining and muttering and complaining and handing over money. Not that you should feel sorry for these people, of course.

Yes, for on this particularly unfortunate occasion, QPR — home to professional thug and Twitter-addict Joey Barton — were set to be pounded in no small way by Torres’s legs, which had somehow done an Iron Man and turned from jelly to metal over-night! One goal? Oh, no, not today. Instead, Torres was to deliver a hat-trick (that’s 3 goals to those not in the know like I used to be) and it was about time. We’d all been waiting for what seemed like years!

The reason for this unbelievable change of fortune? The most likely theory, I think, is that Mrs Torres (Muma Torres, that is, with her legs made of thunder — I know, lots of thunder in this blog post, but that’s the only word to use — and her face made of scorn) sat Fernando down on her knee and gave him a very stern talking-to the night before the game, promising that if he didn’t deliver, she would no longer feel able to deliver the kind of professionally-dyed-hair that Torres had become so known for.

Here’s to Torres scoring more and actually doing his job. Yes, it means that I will have to find a new football player to ridicule, but at least it also means a few more exciting games for Chelsea! If it continues…

Novel writing: when deciding what novel to write feels TOTALLY impossible

Sometimes, when I just can’t decide on what to write, I paint

For anyone out there who is right at the beginning of their career as a novelist — so early in their career, in fact, that at this point in time, calling it something so defined and formal as a career seems distinctly optimistic and in no small way stupid — deciding which kind of novel to write is quite possibly the biggest dilemma of them all. In my experience, those unfamiliar with this spectacle of hard-working bum-numbing slavery — those who, through no fault of their own, can only speculate on what writing a novel must be like — think that the physical act of writing is the hardest part, and that the decision to write the novel in question is formed somewhat easily from some grand idea which has been long in the making; an idea which just seems right somehow…in the same way that we all pick up a good book and find outselves entirely immersed, as if this novel could only have been written in this very specific way by this one author. (Ahhh, the romance of it all.) Yet the late nights, the early mornings, the totally all-encompassing nature of it all and the way it takes over every single aspect of your life, including sleep, are, for me, nothing in comparison to the gut-wrenchingly difficult process of choosing one novel idea over another. It’s a cruel and necessary game that plays out for all of us writers, and the simple fact is that it doesn’t ever get any easier, because the rules are always changing and we’re always looking to create something better. The problem, I suppose, is that while you are writing one novel — that book which to begin with seemed so right, so your own making — your mind is also, by turns, working in another direction towards a different novel idea that very badly wants to make itself known. And this is where the danger comes in. For what it is worth, here are my tips for sticking and deciding upon one idea and all other related matters.

1) Can’t decide which idea you want to write about? In the past, when I have been in this situation and forced it — become so fed-up with the procrastination of it all that I have found myself frantically writing a novel, any novel, just so it could be done and I could move on — the result has been at times OK, at times awful. A forced novel — that is to say, a novel which is born of desperation to put words on paper and fulfill the outline of an idea which is more mechanics than emotion — is a bad novel which will likely go nowhere. Whatever you want to write, a burning ambition to complete the project is the only common thread that links us all. Write that novel because you simply must do it. Write it because whenever you should be doing something else, the idea plays on your mind and just won’t leave you the hell alone.

2) A novel is not a loose outline of events without an ending, or a concept floating loosely between copycatting someone else’s work and two forged ideas. Never forge ideas together — what do I mean? I mean don’t take two or more novel ideas you have had and chuck them together as one, pretending that this might somehow work. Just because there is a beginning, middle and an end, does not mean that those ends go well in company of one another. Keep on point and you’ll be right.

3) Stop worrying about how people will react to the idea of your novel, and don’t be alarmed if you don’t see that idea already in print somewhere on Amazon. While it’s always good to know that there is a similar work of fiction out there — something of familiarity is welcome in such a lonely pursuit as this one — the fact that there isn’t can be a special, magical thing. It could mean you have stumbled across a concept which is unlike most and therefore impressive! Always remember that at some point in history, an idea was revolutionary and new and that author — think Nabokov’s masterpiece Lolita — was condemned for creating what is now considered a masterpiece. Bravery does pay, so forget what others are saying and doing, because that’s a waste of time. If you believe in your concept and believe you can make it reality, then you can. There is no doubt about that. Words are oganic, and it can be done.

Nabokov

4) What are your strengths? I love reading thrillers. The Bourne Identity by the now deceased Robert Ludlum is a classic in my opinion. Yet, much as I adore reading this book and others like it — I just finished Drive by James Sallis which was different but similarly fascinating in form — I know that my strengths do not lie in the thriller-writing field. What a pain, would be so much easier if they did. The reason why: I find it difficult to be serious for that long, and my job as a freelance writer already commands enough of my time to be spent seriously. The up-shot of this is that after work I am glad to write in a way which feels completely unshackled. So, if you enjoy writing humourism, write comedy, or something with a comedic thread. If you enjoy writing romance and you are a man, do not be put off. If I were you, I’d just write whatever you enjoy doing and say bollocks to everyone else. You’re going to be spending one hell of a lot of time doing this, remember, so you want that raw enthusiasm to be present always. More importantly, if you ever expect a reader to pay for your work and spend many hours voraciously consuming it, you have a moral and intellectual obligation to them to produce work which is a direct representation of your most natural abilities.

5) Be careful about inserting religion, your own moral values and ideas into your novel: for me, this is a critical point. As far as I am concerned, it doesn’t matter if you are religious or not, what you believe or don’t believe, or what you think is great about the world. Just remember that your characters should — I think — begin life as people in their own right. This is not a crusade. They should develop their own voice, their own moral out-look in life and be capable of being in direct disagreement with everything you stand for. If you only ever write characters which feel like you and act like you do, how do you expect them to outgrow your own limitations and expand into something big, scary and influential to the reader? If writing about characters who are so different from you feels wrong or immoral, then perhaps this is the wrong genre to be writing in?

If you do have a cause to further, though — you want to write about something to further awareness, rather than to ram your ideas down the reader’s throat — go ahead. Write about what matters to you. I know I did with my debut novel, and it was the best decision I have ever made.

6) This could go on all day, but I will end here on this important point: sometimes, just sometimes, you will be in a strange mental place where 3 or 4 or 5 ideas all seem like the right novels to write at this very moment. This is, quite possibly, the cruelest game for the intellectual spirit to play, and it may just mean that yes…you are cursed: you must write all these novels one after another. Bummer. Bigggggg bummer. But, oh well, things could be worse. At least you have ideas. Right?

Things which make me happy (and which might make you happy, too)

1) On the train to London Liverpool Street: someone has tucked their newspaper — The Evening Standard — behind the vertical red hand-rail next to the carriage doors. Makes me happy to discover it waiting for me there, as though it was left there just for me (it’s always amazing when you find something free on an English train which has been ripping you off for many years). There are a hundred other free newspapers scattered around this carriage and this one shouldn’t be special, really, but for some reason there’s nothing like finding one of these anomalies. The person who left it there has even folded it neatly in half — no edge is creased — which leads me to believe that this may, in fact, be an elaborate ploy by the printers of The Evening Standard to appeal to the genteel side of the more discerning man (or woman) on the street.

2) Sitting around the dinner table with family, two conversations going on — Grandad and dad, my nan and my mum, football versus how to cook beef — and it sounds like a mess (I am involved in neither conversation, really), but amongst it all is a kind of tranquility which I know I am lucky to be a part of. Many people don’t have the luxury of a family, love, unconditional support and the presence of a person in another room when that’s all an individual needs. Actually, come to think of it, many people don’t have the luxury of a roof capable of keeping out the elements, let alone a dinner table. All of us with these things, we are all so very lucky.

A squirrely shows off its enormous bushy tail and distressing demon hands

3) A total stranger running up behind me in the street — for a moment I think I might be about to be mugged or something weird is about to happen, then I remember that this is Cambridge UK (home of the middle-class non-criminal) and it is the day-time, so both these scenarios are quite unlikely — but, no, it’s fine; this guy, he just wants to hand me the receipt I dropped on the floor, just in case I needed it. Yes, just in case I needed it. I almost feel like dropping it again just to test the theiry. This ain’t New York or Boston. The receipt is useless of course — I have already eaten my Double Decker and it was a fine and perfect combination of nougat and chocolate on top, no reason to take it back — but it makes me smile. The goodness of people can turn your day around.

4) I’m heading into town. When I left the house it looked fine, but half-way to the station it’s starting to rain — those fast-moving clouds on an endless blanket of grey that promises so much more to come. Then comes that instant, colossal, all-consuming barrage of water that seeps into everything and turns the pavement from silvery-grey to the mirrored reflection of a lake in just a few seconds. I get soaked through and when I arrive at the station and take pointless cover under the shelter — with all the other wet people who look like a Lama just spat in their face — I feel freezing, but it doesn’t matter. Feels like being alive. Autumn finally has smells and a personality and once again I smile. I am happy!

“Hi, I’m Dusty, and yes, this is how long my neck is supposed to be so please leave it out with the neck-based comments.”

5) Making things out of clay, paper, wood — whatever. I have no idea where to put them — I already have too many and I wouldn’t ask a friend if they wanted a giraffe painted as a zebra, not after last time… — but that is beside the point! The creation of material things may seem, to some, like it’s contributing to all the crap on Earth, but I disagree. Creation in all forms is vital. Without it everything stays inside, and we already have enough inside, don’t you think?

Even if you consider yourself HOPELESS with creative things, you should try and make your face out of clay. If it goes wrong and it looks sinister, you can always give it to your enemy, can’t you?

6) A surprise postcard from a friend. The fact I can barely make sense of the words is irelevant.

7) Making sleepy mistakes, then putting them right when wide-awake.

8) Almost falling out of bed: makes you feel alive!

9) The pan is over-flowing….but I get there just in time!

10) Tax rebates. I think that’s all I need to say.

11) A squirrel on a fence: we make eye-contact for just a second. As he scurries away, I wonder if he’s a male and we just communicated something vitally important and about what it means to be a male in this day and age. Or it may be my imagination: how do you tell the sex of a squirrel, actually?

12) Finding and reading other people’s blogs, websites and cool Tumblr sites by pure chance.

13) Charity-shop books with mysterious notes written on the pages…

We don’t ALWAYS know

Image courtesy of Stella Marr's blog/site -- click the photo and go to it now

A stranger walks past, head low, face seemingly indifferent as you pass by — actually, the expression on their face will depend on how much coffee you have consumed, how you feel about the current economic climate, where you grew-up, your blood-pressure and genetic make-up, who you hang around with, and a million other variables of this gigantic science-experiment we like to call life — and you think What the hell’s wrong with them? You’re feeling happy for whatever reason — or maybe not happy, maybe just content, that feeling where there is no wind or heat, where you’re gliding along in neutral — and, much as you know how it feels to be having a bad day, right now everything seems good. Nothing can touch you, and even if it could, you wouldn’t really care. Things just seem to be going right for you. In this moment you’re in your own little world and that stranger? he just seems to be making such a big deal out of things. Come on, you think, it really isn’t that bad.

Or it’s a businessman on his phone, or an angry man in a wheelchair who has a grudge against pedestrians and seems to hate anyone with legs. We’re all doing it, and, I suppose on some deep subconscious level, it’s essential to our survival in the way we view the world and our place in it, a cruel game of me versus you versus us: passing judgement on others every single day of our lives, and thinking that we know something about what they’re going through from the very little that we see.

But we don’t, and sometimes it’s good to be reminded of that fact.

Our closest friends have secrets, lies, things they’d rather not discuss with anyone else, things which don’t make sense to them — let alone that they could make sense for anyone else — and every person you walk past in the street, any street, is a mass of new experiences you could never hope to truly understand. From the second they were born they were on a different path, with a different family, with a different way of dealing with things, and a different reaction to the decisions of others that caused a series of life events that nobody else could really appreciate but them. But you. It’s not about religion, and it isn’t about how much you smile or don’t smile or changing your ways and trying harder. Even if they sat down with you every week for a year and told you about the hurt, the raging hot emotion of it all, the suffering and the good times, the rights and the wrongs, you’d never really know what they had been through – you’d never know, even, what was fact and what was fiction, as every word out of our mouths is, whether we want to believe it or not, I think, pre-edited to fit our version of events and the way we feel about it all. Our own personal truths. None of us know how we would react if we were put into the same situation as another person; we think we do, we imagine we might be able to and we compare what has happened with us to what has happened to others, but those are only opinions based on a quick,  rough sketch – if you think you can imagine what someone else has gone through and really feel that pain, you are simply wrong. Because even if you’ve lived an experience that seems similar on the surface, beneath that is a wealth of information and light and dark that couldn’t be more different. Despite the closeness of shared experiences, even if you both get each other, you may as well be on separate planets.

Drugs, bad childhoods, good childhoods, addiction to life and love and everything in-between: so many variables.

Image Copyright The New York Times -- click the photo to go there now

And we forget all this sometimes, I think. We simplify things so we can make sense of stuff that we either don’t want to delve completely into, or would rather inspect on face-value from a comfortable distance. We see a guy or girl selling a Big Issue and we think we have the slightest idea of how they ended up that way; we chat amongst ourselves, ruminating pointlessly on how things should have been different and would have been if they’d made certain choices, or did something for themselves. Better families, better morals, better ethics. They seem so weak, don’t they? standing there begging for our money, yet I once bumped into a man who had been mugged of all his daily takings and who was carrying on not giving up. This man, he displayed a kind of will and testament to his right to be here that went well beyond just needing to do it; this was his basic human right he was fighting for. He was just trying to sell a few magazines on Christmas Eve and he was mugged, dragged into an alleyway and beaten unconscious for £35. People saw it happen, a bus-full of commuters, and nobody did a thing, all turned the other way. After speaking with him, I started to shiver. The gravity of what he had told me made me feel sick. The wealth of cruelty in the world seemed to surround me as I walked away that day, and it followed me home that night. Seemed to be in the eyes of every person, the towering buildings and the cars, so eager to get wherever they were going; the importance of society over everything else. I saw a child holding hands with his mother and felt sorry for him. So innocent, but one day soon these things would creep up on him and there is no escape, for nobody, nowhere.

It was a single 1 in the top right of my WordPress Dashboard that triggered the post you are reading now. I clicked on it this morning, saw it was a Like from a fellow blogger and clicked again to see the blogger’s profile – a smiling face, blonde hair, happy-looking; these were my simple first impressions. A minute later I was reading a post which gripped me completely on a blog which is nothing less than fascinating and what I consider very much essential reading. This is Stella’s blog and I do not use the word essential loosely. Stella’s writings are frank, straight from the heart and 100% educational on so many levels — words that have helped many and will continue to do so, that much is clear. A call-girl and hooker for 10 years who turned her life around with the help of some valuable friends, I can’t remember the last time I read writing of such heartfelt honesty. Thanks for dropping by and hitting Like on my blog, Stella, and wishing you all the best: you’re a role-model to anyone out there who has ever fought against something massive and enormous.

Because it’s about education and enlightenment, people. We need this, and without it ignorance gets to claw its way into every aspect of our lives. Stella Marr founded Survivors Connect to help others who have been the victim of trafficking and prostitution.

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My novel, The Number 3 Mystery Book (click the title for a review) is available through Amazon US and Amazon UK, as well as in paperback here.

Chris, you’re such a mantraitor!

Woes of an old-fashioned mantraitor

It’s happened a few times over the years: I’ve started out innocently making a point about something completely fair and normal — usually after being set-upon by my male friends and backed into a corner and forced to swear my way out — and ended up being called a traitor to the entire male race; just because I said women were better at some things than men. A mantraitor, if you like. A penis-hating, woman-loving-mantraitor! (And before anyone goes and takes that sentence out of context, I love my own penis, and women — and not at all in that weird way that some men seem to be both gay and man-hating but yet also man-loving, if you get what I mean. My God this has got so confusing…I am now feeling paranoid and sure I’ve made a technical mistake somewhere…I just re-read these last few lines and am almost certain that one of my male friends is going to turn it around, mention this post and make me look and feel ridiculous in a crowded public place.) And I suppose you can’t blame my male friends for saying this. I do very often find myself defending the sensibilities of women in a way which may come across as if I am possessed by the spirit of an early, adamant hardcore burn-the-bra feminist (even though I’ve never read Jane Austen or read anything much by Germaine Greer, and once, as a twelve-year-old who was just discovering that girls  were really quite attractive, rudely slammed a door in front of an approaching pram-wielding mother and didn’t even look back or anything, so there). Why do I defend women like this? You shouldn’t need to ask why. Women are, quite simply, generally better at doing a number of things, such as:

1) Listening and offering constructive advice. I mean really listening to you. Even if what they say after this advice — the advice usually being words of wisdom with meaning and truth so deep that you feel all naked as if your emotions have been spilling out of you for the last several days — hurts like a harpoon straight through the heart. But the pain doesn’t last for long, of course, because many millions of women have the naturally fantastic ability to follow this up with a beautiful smile that makes it all seem alright. Some of these smiles have even been known to make me a) eat food I usually detest and would never normally consider consuming or buying and b) buy and wear daft-looking clothes which I later regret (but cannot take back to the shop because the woman in question has cunningly kept the receipt…oh, they play their games).

Germaine Greer demonstrates what so many men have wanted to do but failed to achieve over the years

Germaine, just hanging out

2) Wearing skirts, dresses and things. They’re amazing at doing this and I don’t see any man arguing with me here. And don’t question this point: I do not and have never spent any amount of time looking at men wearing these garments. Sorry, wearing these garments!

3) Lending you money if you really need it: ever needed five pounds really badly? Or twenty-five pounds? Maybe the desire to have a cheeseburger has overwhelmed you, or you’ve left your wallet at home and your Taxi driver is staring at you with big Eastern European — or any other country’s, it’s not as if I’m generalizing here after watching Hostel parts 1 and 2… — eyes that say, quite clearly, it’s the money or your fucking legs. In either situation, you do NOT want to be surrounded by shrugging selfish male friends who have absolutely zero sympathy and a sudden and total lack of funds. I wonder how many men would have diedcrawled home had not a woman been around to save the day. Who knows, you might not have even been reading this blog!

4) Being realistic, but in a way which doesn’t make you hate the world and everyone in it: OK, so as with all these things there are exceptions to the rule, but the fact is that most of my male friends are realistic in a bitterly crushing way. If I ever want to be told something with truth and honesty, I usually put this to a female friend. Not burdened with a penis that bashes around in their pants and causes them discomfort and makes for angry-man-syndrome — I know I’ve had this, we’ve all had this — they are able to deliver their opinion in a much nice way. Unless they are on their period, in which case it can be devastating. But they always say sorry after so it’s OK.

5) Watching horror films. A lot of women will claim they’re scared of horror films yet there you can sit, quietly watching Eden Lake and being comforted by your female friend that everything will be alright in the end (it won’t. It genuinely, really, won‘t. In fact, I strongly suggest you do not watch Eden Lake if you’re scared easily. And that’s another great thing about women right there. A woman might read this and take it for what it’s worth, accepting that my knowledge of horror films is enough to be a stern warning, whereas many men might read this and say “Bollocks! I ain’t scared!” and then go and watch Eden Lake and give themselves nightmares for the next 3 months).

6) Hording receipts and paper files which, if you don’t keep them safe, will one day soon come and bite you right in the arse and make you wish you hadn’t lived (hello there Inland Revenue!): hording, as you probably already know — we all know thick people are largely allergic to this blog — is a very strange and unsettling condition where you keep literally everything you come into contact with. Even oxygen. You keep oxygen in tanks and stare at it all day. Not really. And back to hording. A good demonstration of this was the Channel 4 documentary which featured a man who lived in a house made only of tunnels between stuff he had horded for many, many years. Most women aren’t anywhere near this bad, of course — not that I have been in most women’s houses…this is just an educated guess — but they are absolutely bloody brilliant with paper-work and receipts for the most part (or maybe they’re just quite good and it’s the contrast between us hopeless men that makes them look so good. Either way, they win small hands down). This is great when you are a man who is utterly hopeless, such as myself. Not a fine combination when you run a business where recording everything you do is the best way to go…

7) Planning more or less anything.

8) A million other things. Please leave a comment if you feel so inclined.