Tuesday, September 30, 2003


In my 2001 novel Festival one of the main characters is a Liverpudlian singer/songwriter called Jake. When he gets into the Glastonbury festival, the second act he sees is a young Welsh singer who's doing a lot better than him: Matthew Jay. Jake stands at the front, watching enviously as Jay is ogled by several teenage girls.

I watched Jay's set at Glasto, partly because I'd bought his first EP and liked it, mainly because I thought he'd fit in the book. He was good, just as I described him. At the time, he seemed to be destined for big things. There was a new acoustic boom. His first album was about to come out. I couldn't for a moment have imagined that he'd be dead 39 months later, at the age of twenty-four.

What little I know about Jay's death can be found at NME.com. It's impossible to know whether he jumped or fell. According to his record company His act would appear to have been an impulsive gesture following a professionally difficult year and perhaps, a difficult day. This uncertainty about his death is sadly reminiscent of the death of singer/songwriter Nick Drake, who I also wrote about in Festival.

This last month, one of my favourite artists, Warren Zevon, died after a long illness. So did the great Johnny Cash. I haven't felt the need to write about either of them here. Musically, Matthew Jay may not have been in the same league as them. But I'm writing about Jay because he was a talented young man in the age group where men are most likely to kill themselves because of depression. I spent more than a few late teenage nights in the company of Nick Drake's Pink Moon contemplating a bottle full of sleeping pills and the futility of human existence. My life got better, as most people's do, if they have a little luck and give it time. There's nothing romantic about suicide or the pain it causes to those left behind. It's desperately sad.

Condolences to Matthew's family, friends and fans.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

In The Attic 

I visited the house of a book reviewer the other night. He and his wife have bookshelves all over the place, on every spare bit of wall. They have a large upstairs toilet and four of us spent quite some time in there, looking at and discussing the novels in the L to P section (two walls). I borrowed two new books from the early alphabet in the bedroom (the latest by J M Coetzee and Robert Edric). But the scariest books, from a writer's point of view, were in the spare bedroom. They weren't on the shelves, but in two large piles, mostly paperback, from which Sue and I were invited to take our pick. That's right, every reader's dream. Anything you fancy, have it. Second hand bookshops won't buy them. I'll get round to taking them to Oxfam one day, but they won't miss a few.

What's scary about that? You may well ask. The frightening thing was that, in these two, metre high piles of unsolicited books from reputable publishers (several who've published me, several I'd love to be published by), there wasn't a single book that either of us wanted to read. There wasn't even a single book by anyone we'd heard of. These were novels, mostly, and it was pretty easy to see what kind of genre most of them fitted into, which best seller they were trying to imitate (or, to be fair to the authors, which best seller market the publicity department and/or cover designer were trying to tap into). But the vast majority of them were destined to disappear without trace. And for someone entering his fourteenth year making a precarious living as a novelist, that's a pretty worrying sight.

These friends had one room without any book shelves - the same room as in our house, where the only books allowed are the ones currently being read. Their living room, like ours, was dominated by music. However we have a problem: our living room has way too much music. I have a vast collection of recordings. Most of the LPs live in the hall, and my 2,000 7" singles are behind me, in the study where I'm typing this, where I have a (second) old record player. But all of the CDs are in the living room. And, since I have a CD recorder, and an ever growing collection of 'field recordings' or 'boots', traded with fans all over the world, the damn things keep proliferating.

Sue has finally put her foot down. This weekend, the little boxes and small piles of CDs in paper and plastic sleeves (the cases take up too much space) have to find a new home. But where? I need instant access to them. I might need to play one, or copy one for somebody, at any moment. They can't go up in the attic, with all of the junk and the bits of the comic collection I never look at, the academic books we might just need one day and the pictures we no longer want on the wall but paid to have framed and can't bring ourselves to give away. So something has to go up there to make space for the ever increasing hoard of CDs.

Bye bye, video tape library. Most of the prerecorded tapes are already up there and we haven't missed them. Next go the two hundred, carefully indexed, home recorded VHS tapes of movies and TV shows - including several series of Hill St. Blues, the complete Sopranos, loads of Dennis Potter plays, nearly every Woody Allen movie, most of Hitchcock, Brian De Palma, Powell and Pressburger and Orson Welles. I've pulled out a handful of things I really do mean to watch soon. They can join the thirty or so tapes above the widescreen telly that make up our current 'one day we'll get round to this' pile. But the rest will go into 'just in case' boxes, where they'll stay until the technology becomes obsolete (like my Video 2000 collection). They're there if I really need them, but, with hundreds of satellite channels to choose from, and much better quality available on dvd (with all those extras), I know that their day is done. Videos are for timeshifting, not collecting. (I'm keeping the eighty or so videotapes containing over 20 years of music broadcasts downstairs though. Some things are sacrosanct... for now).

PS The latest Coetzee is really disappointing. Unless you're a major fan, I wouldn't bother.

Saturday, September 06, 2003


I've been busy (re)writing lately and haven't had the time to write anything new here for nearly a fortnight. So, to make up for that, and to thank readers for coming back, here are a few other sites that might repay a visit.

I went to see The Rolling Stones at Wembley Arena last week and had a remarkably good time. My old friend Mike wrote the review above and I agree with most of what he said.

Nottingham writer Stephan Collishaw has a great first novel out, called 'The Last Girl' and a neat web-site (it describes me as a great writer, so I guess he's prone to exaggeration).

Another Nottingham writer with a nifty new web-site is Martin Stannard. Check out some of his poems. (That's him sitting in our back garden on the home page).

If you like blogs about music, Fluxblog is by an American guy called Matthew who seems to have similar obsessions to my own and offers some terrific MP3s.

Finally, by far the best Children's books site around is Achuka and it's just had a revamp (the book reviews seem to have gone astray, but I gather they'll be back soon). It's independent and well worth a read. Enjoy.

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