Be Bold, Part 9: Courtney Love

“Courtney, what advice would you give to a young girl moving to Hollywood?”
“If Harvey Weinstein invites you to a private party at the Four Seasons, don’t go.”
And with that comment in 2005, Courtney Love busted open the rotten heart of Tinseltown and exposed Weinstein for the monster he was.
I’m joking, of course. Everyone ignored her. “Crazy old Courtney, talking trash again. She must be high.”
And nothing changed.
For almost 15 years.
Weinstein was the King of Hollywood, Courtney was just the Queen of Not Giving A Fuck.  Everyone else played good little actors and actresses, not wanting to bite the grabby sausage-hand that fed them. The casting couch continued to be a corny joke, a throwback to the good old days, not a place of frozen horror, fear, confusion and shame. Golden Globe nominated actress Courtney Love has not had a leading role, or pretty much any role, in Hollywood since.
And no-one cared.
Everyone assumed crazy old Courtney had fucked up her chances at a serious acting career by being too drunk, too high, too trashy, too loud, too Courtney.
But Courtney knew. And Courtney used her voice, the voice she had been honing for years on the road as the front woman of Hole. She yelled, she screamed, she howled as if her very existence depended on it. She wanted “every girl in the world to pick up a guitar and start screaming.”
“Just you try to hold me down,
Come on try to shut me up.”
Hole – Gutless
I finally watched Nick Broomfield’s Kurt and Courtney documentary, 25 years after he tried to convince the world that Courtney’s heroin-addicted, chronically ill, depressed and fame-haunted husband didn’t commit suicide. It struck me as a parade of junkies, nobodies and wannabes, using any tenuous link to Cobain to score 15 minutes of fame and some drug money along the way, taking the naïve Broomfield along for the ride. No wonder Courtney did everything she could to shut the film down. Much like Meghan Markle, Love’s own father (Bio Dad, as she calls him) even cashed in on her name and accused her of everything under the sun, including having Kurt murdered. Just as Nancy Spungeon was described by her mother as a screaming baby who never stopped crying, could never be soothed, could never be pacified, could never be controlled or understood, Courtney was seen as a problem child, eventually sent away by her parents to a school for delinquent girls.

When I was a teenage whore
The rain came down like it never did before
I paid good money not to be ignored
Then why am I a teenage whore?

I’ve seen your repulsion and it looks real good on you
Denying what, what you put me through

Hole – Teenage Whore

 

She never felt welcome in her family home again, and after being bounced around various parents and step-parents, she finally left to  make her way in the world, experiencing everything on offer. She wanted to taste it all, whether she was table dancing in Guam or being a Liverpool goth.

I’ve got a blister from touching everything I see

Hole – Softer Softest

Courtney, always an obsessive journal keeper and poetry writer, began studying the craft of “being a rock star” with the level of detail and dedication of a medical school student, but Love was at the University of life, majoring in rock and roll. She wrote in one diary how she wanted to record an album and “become friends with Michael Stipe”. And she achieved everything she set out to do, which is more than can be said of many of the people she learned from along the way, some who now feel she used them, took what she wanted and moved on. Ex-boyfriends, ex-band members, ex-mentors, few have nice words to say about Courtney. She has even said of herself “I am just the classic person who wants to learn stuff. I want good tutors”. She saw what the world had to offer her, and she took it, and became a star, much to the chagrin of those she passed on the way up.
When her husband, the love of her life and the father of her child, took his own life, Courtney didn’t lay down and die, play the good widow, she carried on doing what she does best – being a rock star. Live Through This, not simply one of the greatest albums of the 90s but one of the greatest of all time, was released a week after Kurt’s death. While some could not believe Love had penned the album herself, without the aid of her husband, others blamed her for Kurt’s death and the end of Nirvana. Everything was her fault, yet she was not allowed to take the credit for her own success. Love had placed herself firmly in the lineage of “women who ruined everything”, from Anne Boleyn to Yoko Oko.
She spent twenty years in the Dakota
Every single day it was black in the Dakota
Riot grrrls think you can stop me
And you’re forever in her debt
Well I know you haven’t sent me
And you haven’t sent her yet
She spent twenty years like a virus
They want to burn the witches inside us
Well you, you don’t fuck with the fabulous four
Or you spend the rest of your life
Picking things up off the floor”

Hole – 20 Years In The Dakota

After the tragic hounding of Caroline Flack by the British gutter press, after Meghan Markle was forced to leave the country for her own sanity, after the lonely death of Amy Winehouse finally gave her release from the cameras that followed her every move, after the death of Princess Diana in a Parisian tunnel after a paparazzi pursuit, after all the hollow #BeKind posts, Courtney Love’s appearance at the 50th Brit Awards this year still drew howls of derision, abuse and vitriol. One of the greatest living rock stars, she literally did live through it all, but she committed the crime of being a woman who wouldn’t play by the rules.
“Courtney Love made her way to the Brits after party looking a right state”
“Why haven’t we cancelled Courtney Love?”
“Congratulations on The Brits for finding the corpse of Courtney Love”
Twitter
Despite everything, it appears bold women like Courtney will continue to be dissected, unpicked, cut open, reduced to no more than the sum of their parts.
And bold women like Courtney will continue to not give a fuck.

Music Review: 100% Full Fat Noise by Modern Day Dukes

I’m a sucker for the 90s. It was the decade of my teens (I turned 20 in the millennium) and I always have a soft spot for anything 90s related. 90s fashions have all come round again, and the yoof go to 90s themed nightclubs in the same way that I went to 70s nights back in the day. I even find myself mellowing, in my old age, towards the things I found cheesy or (to use a phrase that wasn’t even in existence in the 90s) basic, such as Britney or the Spice Girls. But in my opinion, the 90s gave us some of the greatest UK rock groups OF ALL TIME (I’m talking Skunk Anansie, I’m talking The Wildhearts, I’m talking Baby Chaos, to name but a few). But then, I would say that, wouldn’t I? Blinded as I am by my misty eyed 90s nostalgia. But… I have to admit that my concept of British rock music does tail off after 2000. And so, it is armed with very little knowledge of the current British rock (and by rock, I mean ROCK, not metal, not punk, not hardcore, not psychedelia, but good old rock and roll) that I embark on this review of the new album by Yorkshire rock band Modern Day Dukes, titled 100% Full Fat Noise.

The first track is Company Anthem, a starry-eyed, futuristic opener. It is like the national anthem for an exploratory space mission, sent to colonise new planets and look damn good while they are doing it.  Liability Friend follows, with a heavier, more industrial sound, like Endless Nameless-era Wildhearts, complete with Danny McCormack-esque bass riffs. But it has an overall positive, hopeful feel to it. Next up is Go! Exclamation points seem to sum up this band nicely. I love the swooshy fader sound to this one, it has a 90s glam feel, but does get slightly repetitive. The “Left/Right” hook line is cool though, and would go down well live.

Track four is Film Noir. Ooh! A piano! If there is one thing I love more than the 90s, it is a piano. Chuck in the chunky guitar and bass, and you get a song that would be lots of fun live. I imagine a sweaty club with sticky floors, lots of guy-liner, spangly jackets and leather trousers. Next up is Tourist, which reminds me a bit of Scottish band Baby Chaos, especially the interplay of bass and guitar. I can envision a crowd of not entirely ironic mullets moshing away to this.

Track six is called Spent, and has a lovely swirly, left/right fade. I love the drums in this track, and it reminds me of Wargasm by L7 (one of my favourite bands of all time). The next track, Brand Loyalty, has a jaunty riff and puts me in mind of Formaldehyde-era Terrorvision (way before all the Tequila and Whales and Dolphins). The second half of this track slows the tempo, but I think that Modern Day Dukes work better with the speed turned up a bit; bouncing rather than plodding.

Okhrana is Modern Day Dukes most political sounding song, with Russian Revolution inspired lyrics, but still with a sense of fun. Less Rage Against The Machine, more Groove Against The Man. Low Calorie Groove comes next, and it definitely is a groove. The lyrics to this one really stood out for me too.

“I feed my ego ‘til I’m sick… don’t you know that karma is a dick.”

This track is like a less cheesy Livin’ On A Prayer. In a good way.

The final song is Blum. It opens with an evil laugh, and appears at first to be the most claustrophobic and menacing track on what has been, overall a very upbeat album. But the longer I listen, the more I realise that the Blum of the title is Jeff Goldblum. And this pleases me. Life does, indeed, find a way.

Post-modern theory states there can be nothing new. And while Modern Day Dukes aren’t breaking any ground with 100% Full Fat Noise, who cares? This is a fun, British rock album. Not camp enough to be full-on glam rock, but it definitely comes with a sprinkle of glitter. Not po-faced enough to be industrial, but still packs some solid riffage. Not futuristic enough to be space-metal, but they still have their heads in the stars. If you like big guitars, fat bass, positive grooves and Jeff Goldblum, then check it out.

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100% Full Fat Noise is available now on Spotify

Review: Anti-Therapy EP by Concrete Armbands

I love eating out at new restaurants. Sampling different cuisines is one of life’s greatest pleasures. A recent visit to a Peruvian place was a chance to discover some unique flavours. A light, complex starter with multiple layers of taste and texture. A tasty, filling and wholesome, if somewhat heavy, main course. A delicious dessert platter loaded with a bit of everything.

And now, on a not completely unrelated note, here is my review of Sheffield band Concrete Armband’s Anti-Therapy EP.

Track 1: Satellites

My first thought on listening to this track was that it could be by Amanda Palmer, and I mean that to be taken as a definite compliment.  It is at once theatrical, tender, grand and emotional. Opening with an echoing piano, moving into an angelic, uplifting middle, with a heavenly music-box waltz and into a crescendo finale. The drums kick in, accompanied by a swirl of spacey sound effects, church organ, strings and ambient noise. You name it, Concrete Armbands chuck it at this song, but it works. Like something out of a rock opera, but in a good way. Despite the band citing Biffy Clyro and Muse among their inspirations, there is a Kate Bush influence to Satellites that I loved.

Track 2: …Like Russian Dolls

The sound is totally switched up for Track 2, with an 808 drum beat and guitar harmonics. Like vintage U2  disco dancing with The Cure.  It is colder and more distant than Satellites, which given the subject matter, makes total sense. This is a song about alienation and the modern condition, very much like its TV show namesake. When the guitar refrain kicks in, it is like watching a sunset over a post-apocalyptic techno-dystopia. This is more Depeche Mode or Kraftwerk than straightforward “rock”.

Technology is our anti-therapy

Because we talk better face to face

The raucous metal guitar riffs kick in at the end, putting me in mind of industrial electro-rock outfit Celldweller. I could imagine this song in a film score, it is very cinematic.

Track 3: Bud

The mood shifts again on Bud, with its jangly guitars almost sounding country. It is homely and comforting, which again reflects the subject matter. The singer is lamenting the awkwardness of reuniting with a childhood friend when your lives have taken divergent paths. It is an ode to nostalgia and innocence lost.

Look what this decade has done

Our lives are the same but without the fun

The thing is, I’ve heard this refrain and structure a million times. Half The World Away by Oasis instantly springs to mind. It is a sweet, touching, relatable song, but not one that will set the world on fire.

Track 4: The Brink

Back to the industrial rock sound for Track 4, with the buzzy, Muse-style bass and metal riffage. This is my least favourite track on the EP, but only because this genre is not my thing at all. It is very slick sounding, and the production values on the whole EP are high, but I would have preferred a more raw, aggressive sound. I feel like Concrete Armbands are angry, but they’re not quite sure what they are angry at. This is probably better experienced live.

Track 5: God Complex

The final track comes in four movements (I. Serenity Station, II. The Universal It, III. And the Music Gets Louder, IV. Ego Death). I listened in anticipation of a pretentious prog-rock extravaganza, but I was pleasantly surprised.

God Complex opens gently (serenity station indeed), but you can tell something is building. The nice little production touches throughout the EP; ambient noise, whispered voices, outer space squiggles and squelches, are all used to great effect in this track.

Once it kicks in, God Complex is Bowie-esque, albeit with an unfortunately cheap sounding synth. Then, at 3.27, here it comes. The heavy metal scream, the throbbing bass, the pounding drums. This is most definitely the “and the music gets louder” section. The track ends with a smooth, rolling guitar solo. Clocking in at an epic 8 minutes long, it doesn’t drag at all. God Complex is a suitably anthemic tune to end the EP, and, I would imagine, a great live set closer.

Overall, I did enjoy the Anti-Therapy EP. Not necessarily all to my own personal taste, but an exciting experience with some touches of the sublime.

Much like Peruvian food.

 

The Anti-Therapy EP is out on the 19th July and will be available on Spotify

You can find out more about Concrete Armbands here:

Facebook

Instagram

YouTube

 

Review: Bedtime Stories EP by Green Dolphin

I’m bored with bands.

No, that’s not true. I’m bored with boring bands.

You know the type: four white dudes, two guitars, a bass and some drums. Mediocracy and musical dreariness are no obstacle for them, they somehow find success in spite of, or perhaps because of, their blandness.

So imagine my trepidation when I was asked by a very nice young man (via an Idles Facebook group, see I don’t hate all four-man-bands) to review an EP by his four-man-band Green Dolphin.

What if I hated it?

Even worse, what if I had no opinion at all? What if I found it beige?

The good news is… I enjoyed it! Even found my jaded old toe tapping to certain songs. So, here it is: my review of Bedtime Stories EP by Green Dolphin.

Track 1: Can’t Put My Finger On It

This track has a great summery sound, as does the whole EP. I think Green Dolphin would be a perfect festival band. I could happily kick back in a field with a sunburnt nose, a pint of cider and this tune. In terms of comparisons, Can’t Put My Finger on it has a lilting Vampire Weekend meets Pigeon Detectives feel.

Track 2: No More Matchstick Eyes

Less bouncy than Track 1, this has a nostalgic vibe that only the young can capture. A teenage summer daydream in the vein of Ash, with an opening refrain that reminds me of Slight Return by The Bluetones. You can tell how old I am by all the 90s band references, but this track in particular had me catching some serious “where did my youth go” feels. In a good way.

Track 3: The Narcissist

This one starts in a very similar way to Track 2, and I started thinking “oh dear, are they just a one-trick 90s nostalgia pony”, but the second half of this song blew my concerns out of the water. As the tempo picks up and the frantic guitar starts wailing over the incessant drum beat, and the singer Sam starts to spit his lyrics out in a Frank Black staccato, I wanted to chuck on my DMs and go crowd surfing.

Track 4: Underdamping

This is my favourite track on the EP. It has echoes of The Vaccines and The Strokes, and I like the cracking voice of the singer in this one (a long day recording perhaps?). Then it takes a Middle Eastern disco twist in the final third and I love it even more. The meandering melody over the thumping beat makes me want dance.

Track 5: Swallowtail

From my favourite track to my least favourite. A bit pedestrian and ploddy for my liking, however it is saved by a fantastic string arrangement. The EP doesn’t end with a bang, but not with a whimper either. I would say it ends with a gentle, heartfelt hug.

So, my overall verdict on Bedtime Stories by Green Dolphin? Yes, they are a band that wear their influences on their sleeve, but not in a derivative way. They would be huge fun to see live, particularly at a summer festival. I think Green Dolphin have almost found their own sound, and when they do, they will be a band to watch out for.

Below is the Soundcloud link where you can hear the EP for yourself in full, also the links to the Green Dolphin socials.

The EP be available on Spotify from 31st March.

SOUNDCLOUD

FACEBOOK

INSTAGRAM

 

 

 

Be Bold, Part 8: Janelle

It never ceases to amaze me that Janelle Monae isn’t an all-conquering global mega-star by now. Since her 2010 breakout album The ArchAndroid, her profile has bubbled just outside the surface of wide-spread popular consciousness. When I recently told some friends how excited I was that I had booked tickets to her London show, they didn’t even know who I was talking about. Why isn’t she as ubiquitous as Bruno Mars? As Rihanna? I have to wonder if it would be different if she flashed more flesh, rather than wearing her trademark tuxedos.

Remember when they used to say I look too mannish

Black girl magic, y’all can’t stand it

Janelle Monae refuses to compromise. Women in the music industry are expected to look a certain way, sound a certain way, sing about certain things. Look at the change in Lady Gaga’s aesthetics as she has gained more autonomy as an artist. Think back to the lyrics of Pink’s Don’t Let Me Get Me: “LA told me, you’ll be a pop star, all you have to change is everything you are”. But maybe it is our concept of what a pop-star is, especially a female pop-star, that needs to change.

Monae is making the slickest, the realest (so good, so good, so fucking real, as she would say) pop music around, and on her own terms. Who else out there would create a seven suite afro-futurist opus complete with accompanying “emotion picture”? Sonically The ArchAndroid, and her 2018 album Dirty Computer, put me in mind of a more cerebral Midnite Vultures era Beck; a bricolage mish-mash of different genres and styles, an electro-hip-hop-soul-groove-funk-rock-dream-folk masterpiece. But Beck never built a whole dystopian world for his musical creations to inhabit. From the outset, Monae worked with laser-like focus on her vision for a post-modern Metropolis musical mythology. Neither has Beck been in two Oscar nominated films, for not only can Monae sing, dance, write, perform, play and compose, she can also act, as her turns in Moonlight and Hidden Figures show. Her choice of roles is not taken lightly. Both are films about black identities that do not conform to stereotypes.

Already got a Oscar for the casa

Runnin’ down Grammys with the family

Prolly give a Tony to the homies

Prolly get a Emmy dedicated to the

Highly melanated, ArchAndroid orchestrated

Monae has cited Dorothy Gale from The Wizard of Oz as a musical influence. There are a lot of similarities between The ArchAndroid and St Vincent’s album Actor, which was directly inspired by Disney films and The Wizard of Oz. Both artists speak in a cinematic musical language. Both have been accused of being arch, aloof story tellers. Female artists are pigeon-holed as weird and non-mainstream if they refuse to sing (supposedly) auto-biographical songs about boys. While her earlier works may have featured a rather chaste human/android love story, between Monae’s robot alter-ego Cindi Mayweather and her flesh and blood lover Anthony Greendown, there is no doubt that Dirty Computer is a sexual album.

See, everything is sex

Except sex, which is power

You know power is just sex

You screw me and I’ll screw you too

Everything is sex

Except sex, which is power

You know power is just sex

Now ask yourself who’s screwing you

It drips with sexuality but a non-heteronormative sexuality; a sexuality that cannot be packaged and paraded for the male-gaze. It is autonomous, it is joyous, it is inclusive. Just watch Janelle and her dancers wearing those beautiful pink vulva-pants in the video for her song Pynk, and realise this is a celebration of all women, even women who do not have vaginas.

When introducing Kesha at the 2018 Grammy Awards, Janelle gave a moving speech that focused on the Time’s Up movement. “We come in peace,” she said, “but we mean business.” Janelle and Beyonce and Solange and Gaga, with their emotion pictures and mind-blowing stage shows, are taking the helm from James Brown and Prince and David Bowie, because what male stars are worthy of stepping into their shoes? Drake? Kanye? Ed Sheeran? They are the hardest working women in showbiz, pushing creative boundaries, re-writing the definition of the female singer/songwriter. They mean business. At a time when black male icons are crumbling, as Janelle would say:

Hit the mute button

Let the vagina have a monologue

Be Bold, Part Seven: Amanda

Everyone hates Amanda Palmer.

boob

boob 2

amanda

Even Amanda’s fans hate Amanda Palmer.

afp fan_LI

But…everyone loves Amanda Palmer. Especially her fans.

When still signed to record label Roadrunner, and the sight of her slightly rounded belly in a music video led to the label wanting certain scenes cut, her army of devotees called for a ‘rebellyon’ and bombarded Roadrunner’s social media with pictures of their own squishy, and perfectly normal, tummies.

She one of the biggest artists on Patreon, a ground breaking new method of art patronage, and receives a donation of anything from $1 to $1000 from each of the 11’000 fans who have signed up to support her every time she releases a new ‘thing’ (be it song, album or performance art film).

Palmer is divisive in a way like no other artist. You may not have even heard of her. If you have, it may be for her TED Talk on The Art of Giving (if you have 13 minutes to spare, I highly recommend it, it’s a great watch), or it may be as “Neil Gaiman’s wife”. In some circles, the very fact that a weirdo American art-punk chick with hairy armpits had the audacity to marry handsome British million-selling author Gaiman was enough to draw vicious internet ire. To be fair, Gaiman is himself a black-wearing weirdo gothy-punk writer (with, I imagine, hairy armpits also). But men are allowed to be weird. Women are just supposed to be pretty, right?

Is she simply misunderstood, or an attention seeking narcissist? Or both?

Amanda Fucking Palmer, as she is affectionately known, former member of punk-cabaret duo The Dresden Dolls, now solo singer/songwriter and one woman Twitter storm, is a true social media pioneer. From her early DIY days, hand-pressing CDs and updating mailing lists by email and message boards, she has always been directly accessible to her fanbase. She was the first artist to break the $1 million barrier on crowdfunding website Kickstarter, and then drew widespread condemnation in the music industry for putting out a call for musicians to play on her tour for “beer and hugs”. There is no barrier, no security, no filter. She tweets back, she follows conversations in her fan groups on Facebook, she organises ‘ninja’ gigs on street corners, she takes the time to sign, hug and take selfies with the long queue of devoted fans after every live show. To celebrate her Kickstarter record, she even stood naked and let fans sign her body. Her body is something that bothers a lot of people. Her proud nakedness, her body hair (letting it grow under her armpits or shaving it off of her eyebrows), dyeing her hair whilst breastfeeding her son, Palmer has taken criticism for all of these and more. And, in typical post-modern, self-referencing style, she wrote a song about it.

I say grow that shit like a jungle

Give ’em something strong to hold onto

Let it fly in the open wind

If it get too bushy you can trim

They don’t play the song on the radio

They don’t show the tits in the video

They don’t know that we are the media

They don’t know that we start the mania

We Are The media has become a battle cry for Amanda Palmer fans (myself included). Palmer has shown that you don’t need to be part of the music machine to make music. She got her record label to drop her mid-contract, and now releases what she wants, when she wants, direct to the people who want it. Social media, crowdfunding, genuine contact with fans, these are things that she tried telling the record execs were vital to her success, but back in the early Noughties they didn’t want to listen. Website? Who needs a website?

Art is great that way, you can do anything

You can make pop music

You can paint ducks

But if you’re a pop star and you’re a woman

Then it’s much more likely that

People will say your art sucks

There is no denying that her body of work is, at times, problematic. Her “Poem For Dzhokar”, written hastily in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, was both badly-timed and ill-conceived. Her Evelyn Evelyn collaboration with Jason Webley drew condemnation from disability groups for their stereotypical circus freak show performance as conjoined twins. Often criticised for being a privileged white woman who likes to shoot her mouth off, even though plenty of white male rock stars shoot their mouths off in equal measure without drawing half the vitriol.

Prolific and ever changing, like a Madonna for the Buzzfeed generation, Palmer keeps coming back, ignoring the critics, using the media obsession with her body to nourish her art (see her supposedly NSFW video for the beautiful Pink Floyd cover ‘Mother’ where she breast feeds a Trump lookalike), refusing to conform to the traditional role of wife and mother (though she is both). Amanda Palmer is a true autonomous artist.

Her music.

Her body.

Her art.

Her way.

OUT NOW!!!

It’s been three years in the making, but I’m proud to announce the release of my debut short fiction collection Food Of The Gods.

If you like your short stories dark, bloody and tasting of chocolate, this is the book for you. Inspired by such legends of fantasy and horror as Neil Gaiman, Bram Stoker, Poppy Z. Brite and H.P. Lovecraft, my writing has been described as “disturbing”, “haunting” and “thought provoking”.

Available now in paperback and for Kindle at Amazon. Click here to buy.

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That was the year that was…

As another year hurtles towards its close, I started writing one of those end of year round-ups filled with all the fucking miserable, kick-in-the-snatch, blazing landfill things that have happened in 2017. But we all know the awful stuff going on in the world, and if you don’t know by now, mate, I’m not the one to tell you.

But, despite the creeping feeling that the universe slipped into a black star the day David Bowie died, popping out into a parallel dimension made of dog-shit and racism, the world is still full of amazing, wonderful things to explore and enjoy.

Exhibit a) Music

Music is a huge passion of mine, always has been, and not only is there new music being made EVERY SINGLE DAY, there is a gargantuan back catalogue of every type of music to discover. It is impossible to have heard all the music in the world. But it is fun trying. Listen to something you never thought you would listen to. Jazz, death metal, chamber music, dancehall, Russian folk ballads. Who knows, you might find your new obsession.

Exhibit b) Taking the plunge

This time last year, I had just had my first piece of writing published. My work, my poem, my words, being picked by a total stranger and put into a real book? I was elated. I hoped it was the start of something, after many rejections, and it most certainly was. What a difference a year makes. That stranger took me on as editor (thank you Matty-Bob) and we have since released three more charity anthologies as Burdizzo Books, each one better than the last, and raising money for some well deserved causes. I have had a real book launch for one of these anthologies, where I read my work aloud to human beings for the first time. I have performed at a spoken word night, and to date I have six books on my shelf bearing my name or containing my stories. The next step is to have my own novel published, and I’m working very hard to make this happen. I attended my first Horror Convention, and met some of the loveliest and funniest people in the flesh that I had only had the pleasure of ‘speaking’ to via the interwebs. I have made true friendships through the electronic beeps and boops of social media. And all because I did the thing, took the plunge, and put myself (and my words) out there.

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Exhibit c) Helping

I try and do what I can, however small, by giving to charities such as Medecins Sans Frontiers and The Friends of Grenfell, and by giving all proceeds from our books to small independent charities such as NAPAC (supporting survivors of child abuse) and Resources for Autism. I also try and raise awareness of political issues via the Ungagged podcast, who took me on as regular contributor this year. It gives me an outlet for the frustration I feel as I watch the world around me. You can help in so many ways at this time of year: give to food banks, wrap presents for children in refuges, donate clothes and blankets to the homeless. You could just try and be friendly to someone you don’t know. It might make all the difference. This is the hardest season for so many people, and just letting a friend know you are there for them is a much better gift than book tokens (although, don’t get me wrong, book tokens are fucking awesome).

Exhibit d) Family

Family doesn’t have to be “family”. It can be friends. It can be neighbours. It can be work colleagues. It can be people you have never actually met who live 3000 miles away but have been there for you at 2am when you are having a crisis. They say “Hell is other people” but I’ve always believed the meaning of life is other people. I don’t mean other people are the only thing that can give your life meaning, but imagine how bleak life would be if you had no-one. Ever. Yes, solitude is nice, but learning about other people, how they think, what makes them tick, recommending things you like, taking recommendations from them, hearing their stories for the first time, creating in-jokes and shared histories. It’s what everything is about, for me.

So, yes, for a multitude of reasons, 2017 can drink my bin-juice. But there are still so many things to be positive about. If you find the world overwhelming, keep it small, keep it personal, and look for the good people in your life that keep you smiling. Your kids, your budgie, your mate down the road, your mate on another continent, whoever it is, and cherish them.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas wherever you are, and a hope for a Happy and Peaceful New Year xxx

 

I Found This

Looking through some old folders recently, I came across the opening of a YA novel that I started and abandoned. This used to be quite a common thing for me, starting a novel or short story, writing two chapters and then giving up. It’s only been in the last 2 years that I have actually finished what I started, and lo and behold, I started to get things published!

So this is the prologue and first chapter of ‘Sadie Poole’. This was the only title I gave it at the time. Looking back on it now, it’s not terrible, and who knows, I may even finish it one day.

Sadie Poole by Em Dehaney

 

The First

The girl is running as fast as she can, running for more than just her life. All she can feel is the dirt and leaves beneath her bare feet, and the branches scratching her face raw. Her arms, wrapped tight around the tiny bundle of rags, are thin and pale. The veins on her breasts are blue, in stark contrast to the blood running down her neck. Her lungs are exploding with pain and she is starting to see stars, as she struggles to breathe. Her fear is a solid mass in her chest.

The hounds are foaming at her scent; fear, blood, milk. She can hear they are closing in on her, she will soon be surrounded. Shouts echo through the wood. The men can smell her too, although they don’t know it, and it is sending them into a frenzy equal to that of their dogs.

Find her. Grab her. Take her. Hurt her.

So she runs on through the trees, under the cover of the dark green forest light, not knowing where she is going, just away. Away from the men and the dogs. Away from the village. Her long skirt catches on a thorn bush and rips, leaving a piece of sky blue cloth hanging. She looks back in a panic, knowing they will find it, showing them which way she has gone. The hounds will take huge lungfuls of her scent again and howl in anticipation of catching her. For a second she imagines herself hiding the bundle safe inside the roots of a tree, and turning to run back towards the men. She sees her flesh being ripped by the dogs, her dress being ripped by the men. She can almost hear the howls of the dogs being drowned by her howls of pain.

But then what would become of her precious bundle? Her unnamed treasure, hidden among the damp and cold roots. All alone. The only way she can guarantee its safety is to keep it close to her heart, where it belongs. Where she belongs. Her daughter, no more than a week old. So small and helpless. Innocent, shining and pure.

Suddenly she is blinded by brilliant sunlight, and falls to her knees in the forest clearing. A small flock of birds rises from the trees, disturbed by the noise of the men hacking their way through the wood, so close now. The cold wet grass of the clearing soaks her knees through her blue skirts and rough  white apron, and she looks down at the long eyelashes and translucent eyelids of her sleeping infant, the only parts visible through her swaddling. The one thing, the only thing she knows to be true is that she could never leave her, never lose her, and never stop loving her.

The sunlight streaming into the clearing glints off the surface of a pond, piercing the girl’s eye.  The water is so still, the overhanging trees and the birds flying above are reflected in such perfection that it looks like there is another sky underneath the water; a whole other world in reverse.

Time slows. The birds on the wing appear to hang mid-air. She walks to the edge of the pond and stares into the water, clinging to her beautiful bundle. Her reflection does not stare back. She knows what to do.

                                                ~~~

They have been chasing her through the forest in the direction of the clearing, knowing she will be trapped by the hounds on two sides, and the huge pond on the other. Stupid girl, stupid dirty whore, she played right into our hands. It will soon be time to teach her a lesson.

 With a crash the men descend upon the clearing. The dogs let out a cry in unison. They wanted blood. They have been denied their prize.

No girl. No baby.

Just a pond. Perfectly still.

 

 

 Chapter One

Sadie Poole stared out of the window of her hotel room. She was on the 20th floor of the Burj al Arab, the most luxurious hotel in the world. Below her lay the lurid waters of the Arabian Gulf and as far the eye could see were hundreds of hotels, shopping malls and sky scrapers of ever increasing size and elaborate design. Beyond this, she knew, was sand. Not that she had seen any of this from the other side of the glass. Sadie Poole was 14 years old, and had travelled the world. She had been to Kinshasa, Hong Kong, Vienna, Istanbul, Mumbai, Cairo, San Francisco, Mexico City, Bangkok, Barcelona and Moscow.  She had flown First Class, Club Class, World Class and Business Class. She had seen the air conditioned leather interiors of a thousand chauffeur driven limos, and stayed in 5, 6, 7 star hotels on every continent. And in every country it was the same, no matter the time zone, temperature or political climate. She stayed within the confines of her hotel room, behind the glass, sterile. The smells, sounds and tastes of these exotic and majestic cities remained a mystery to Sadie. She lived on room service and World Service. The reason for both her extensive travels, and her incarceration on these travels, was her father.

Christopher Poole was an antique dealer, and so the historical cities of the world were his office. He had taken Sadie on his travels with him ever since she could remember. They always booked into the best hotels, where your every whim and desire would be catered for by 24 hour butlers, catering and concierge. But Sadie stayed without her father. He would go “on business” and return after a few days, at which time they would check out of the hotel and return home to London. Christopher Poole never spent one night in any of the luxurious queen sized beds, never washed in the gold plated spa baths, never watched the 50 inch flat screen televisions that rose out of the end of the bed at the touch of a button and never ate the breakfast platters laden with tropical fruit and pastries. Yet he always specified one thing, and if the hotel could not fulfil his request, then they would not stay.

There were to be no full length mirrors anywhere in their rooms.

This eccentricity was happily indulged by the most prestigious hotels around the world, because Christopher Poole paid well and never caused the hotel staff any trouble. Because Christopher Poole, of course, was never there.

Sadie had never seen herself in a full length mirror; her father had enforced this rule so strictly throughout her whole life. “Vanity will be the down fall of man”, was what her father would say. No full length mirrors, and only washing in running water. These were the two iron rods which set the guide for her very existence. They were the only rules enforced by Christopher Poole, either at home or away. Those, and when back at home in London, Sadie was to NEVER enter the basement. This was where her father kept his priceless antiques. What they were exactly, Sadie had no idea. Large wooden  crates and boxes would be delivered at all times of day or night. Sometimes on the back of rusty pick-up trucks driven by Travellers with Brylcreamed hair wearing their uniform of white vests in the summer and Barbour jackets in winter. Sometimes the crates would arrive in the back of huge lorries, that could barely fit down the street that Sadie lived on, driven by faceless men in immaculate cabs with blacked out windows and no writing on the sides of the taught silver sides of their trailers. Sometimes they would turn up jammed into the back of a black cab, and the driver of the taxi would need Sadie’s father to help him to carry the awkward, and clearly very heavy parcel down to the basement, after which Christopher Poole would tip him generously and send him on his way. Once, a strange old man even arrived with a great, thin, flat package wrapped in brown paper tied on the back of his pedal cycle with threadbare bungee cords. Sadie saw him come wobbling and weaving down the street one afternoon, wondering how far across London he had rode with his precarious parcel. He wore no cycle helmet, and had the most impressive moustache Sadie had ever seen – thick, black and glossy, and in such complete contrast with the man’s frazzled white hair, Sadie was sure he had to dye the hairs under his nose, or perhaps paint them with some kind of dark oil. She imagined it would smell like chocolate and sweat.

Sadie longed to leave the confines of her hotel room, as sumptuous as it was. It was so comfortable, so luxurious, so extravagant it made her feel sick and set her teeth on edge, like eating a whole pack of chocolate peanut butter cups in one go. Everything here in Dubai was fake, even the air in the hotel room. Sadie imagined her father out in a souk market, amongst the smoke and the spices, listening to deals shouted in strange tongues.  Sadie often argued with her father about these trips.

“Why do you even bother to take me along with you?”, Sadie would shout. “You never spend any time with me, we never do anything fun, I never see you!”. Christopher Poole would look his daughter in the eye (for they were almost the same height)and say the same thing everytime she questioned these trips; “It’s only because I love you so much that I can’t leave you at home when I’m not there.”

 

The Hidden Pod…

I’m on the latest Ungagged podcast talking about the previously hidden hatreds seeping out in a post-Brexit, post-Trump world. Plus loads of other left views and excellent independent music.

I’ve been a regular contributor on Ungagged for a while now, and only just getting used to the sound of my own voice!

Source: The Hidden Pod…