I've had this blog a long time without really knowing what to do with it. The trouble is I write three columns a week for my newspaper and always have a book on the go as well. This leaves little spare time to write anything else about world events or the price of fish. Or anything that needs an extra creative urge. The latest book I'm writing is Pilgrim, which sort of involves time travel. Which made me think why not use time travel here? So I shall. I shall delve into the past and tell my life story. It's the sort of project I've often considered and then dismissed. But everyone is unique and everyone has a story to tell. So I shall tell mine, in bits and bats and as the mood takes me, and if anyone finds it interesting, I shall be pleased. If they don't, it doesn't matter, for it will serve as an extra wedge of information in my family tree and history. I may, of course, get bored with it and stop and do the honourable thing and fall upon my keyboard. Which is a lot less painful than a sword.
Are you ready? Then I'll begin.
I was born on May 8, 1941, in the front room of number 5 Cheapside in Wakefield. Actually it was the only ground floor room in a tall terraced house just off Westgate in the city centre. The house had no electricity, and only had gas light in that one room, which also contained sink and oven.
Candles were needed at night to go either into the cellar for coal or upstairs. The first floor had three bedrooms and a bathroom with a bath with a wooden lid. The house was rented by my grandmother and was home for her bachelor son Eric and her married son Austin and his wife Doris. During the war, while my father was in the RAF, my mother also lived there.
There was a third floor to which no one ever ascended. When I was about five I was told: 'Timmy died up there' and became convinced the third floor was haunted. Timmy, I later discovered, was a pet dog that died whilst having a fit. Maybe it was his feet I could hear at night. Maybe it was mice. Or rats. The building was old enough and could be described as Dickensian. Very picturesuqe unless you had to live there.
But for grandma it was step up. She had previously lived in nearby Scot's Yard, which the family had nicknamed Paradise Alley with a touch of irony. This was one of the city centre yards to which immigrant Irish families were drawn at the turn of the 20th century. It was poverty and survival. In fact, I come from a long line of poverty stretching back on both maternal and paternal sides. My ancestors escaped the famine in Galway to become coal miners in Yorkshire. Frying pan, fire comes to mind.
So I was Yorkshire-born in the middle of a city in the middle of the Second World War. Everyone had a gas mask. Babies were issued with full sized chambers into which they were supposed to be fastened during air raids. Mothers could view their infants through a small window. Few used them as they looked too much like coffins. Our family took refuge under the table whenever the sirens sounded.
My earliest memory is when I was four and I was carried on the shoulders of an uncle to the VE celebrations in the Bull Ring. It was my birthday, 1945. Crowds thronged the city centre. They drank, danced, laughed, cheered and burnt effigies of Hitler and his cronies on bonfires.
After the war, my father returned from the green fields of Lincolnshire where he had been ground crew for bomber command, and we moved to Leeds.
If I am ever in Wakefield, I always drive down Cheapside to look at the place where I was born. The street was appropriately named at the time of its construction. But in later years, after my grandmother moved out to the luxury of a council house in Lupset, I was pleased with what happened to the old place. That solitary front room became an Indian take away for a while. Later, it became the rear extension of a wine bar on Westgate. The very spot where I was born was now occupied by drinkers enjoying a tipple. Better than a blue plaque any day.
Tell the wife I feel lucky.
I have just had a Thermopylae day.
When I'm in writing mode, my target is 2,000 words a session. But today I only managed 300 before someone sneaked the Persian hordes in behind my back and annihilated my resolve.
Or maybe it was a combination of women's boxing at the Olympics and a new author I've discovered.
Have you read A L Berridge? Honour And The Sword and In The Name Of The King are novels of swashbuckling heroism set in 17th century France that are quite breathtaking in their scope and literary execution.
Women's boxing I didn't take seriously until I saw young Irish girl Katie Taylor knock seven bells out of her opponent to move into the semi finals. She is a four times world champion and there is nothing sissy about the way she slings her hook.
As for my writing, I'm in the last furlong of completing Redemption, the final part of my post-apocalyptic trilogy (see also Reaper and Angel elsewhere on this site). Only about six thousand words to go and I'm suffering battle fatigue for the final conflict; who goes where and does what, who dies and who survives.
I hold the power of life and death, of happiness and great sex, of prosperity and starvation. Maybe God is a novelist? In which case, he could have given me a better storyline, one where I win the Euro lottery when it reaches £150 million.
Still, mustn't grumble. No good if you do.
I doubt whether King Leonidas grumbled at the pass of Thermopylae when he was told a renegade had guided the Persians along a secret track so that he would soon be surrounded.
'Bugger,' he probably said. 'Looks like I won't be down the pub on Saturday night. Tell my wife I love her and kiss the kids for me. And tell her to buy a Lottery ticket this week – I'm feeling lucky.'
Then he mustered his 300 Spartans around him and they held the pass to give the armies of Greece time to gather and mount a proper defence against invasion.
Everybody knows this classic story of heroism, but I only just found out, courtesy of Wikipedia (where would we be without it?) that Leonidas also had 700 Thespians with him.
Nice place for a show.
Which evoked thoughts of Bombardier 'Gloria' Beaumont leading a concert party in Burma and the enthusiasm of Mickey Rooney saying: 'Let's put the show on right here.'
And they did.
In fact, the Spartans, Thespians, Gloria and Mickey Rooney all put on a better show than I did today. I retired early to watch girls bash each other. I'll be back to being God tomorrow.
I have a Buddhist philosophy when it comes to other creatures. I respect them all. A slug in the garden has nothing to fear from me. I will step over him. A frog can hop away into the long grass. He has his life and I have mine.
If a spider wanders into my domain, I endeavour to capture him painlessly in a glass and release him into the wild.
“Where am I?” he probably says, as he tries to get his bearings in the garden. “Will the wife and kids be able to cope without me?”
The wife and kids, of course, then come looking for him out of the plughole in the bath and I reunite them outside.
And I have a special affinity for the cow as I must, at my advanced age, have eaten a herd or two of steak with chips.
There are those Buddhists who believe that if you indulge in bad behaviour you will be reincarnated as an animal. Which might not be good if you come back as a dung beetle. Particularly if, just before you died, you stamped on a dung beetle.
“Oi. Aren’t you the bloke who killed my cousin?”
Could be nasty.
I am even a friend to flies, thinking, one day, that could be me. I particularly feel for them when they keep banging their heads against the window – which is almost an allegory of life – and have been known to open it wide, even on a cold night, to usher them from the bedroom and to the safety of the great outdoors.
Although I have to confess that this is not wholly altruistic as there is nothing so annoying as a dive-bombing fly in the dark when you are trying to get to sleep.
So point made. My feelings of goodwill to the animal kingdom are constant and not in question. Unless it involves my lunch.
There I was, the other day, preparing a delectable salad of sliced tomato, cucumber and onion, covered in my wife Maria’s home-made Italian dressing, a chunk of ciabatta bread ready to dip. All it needed was the addition of a small tin of tuna.
The tin was opened, the tuna deposited, I turned to get my fork and … buzz!
A very large fly came from on high with the determination of a kamikaze, hurtled past my ear with the velocity of a bullet, and slammed straight into the middle of the chunks of fish. He was making a right pig of himself.
My Buddhist principles were abandoned. I screamed a battle cry from a previous incarnation – possibly that of a berserker Viking – threw a tea towel over the plate to trap the beast and deposited the lot in the bin.
Death by tuna. For a fly, possibly, not a bad way to go. But that was my lunch gone, too, and I didn’t have the heart to prepare another. Not because I was already regretting killing a fellow creature, but because I was too angry.
For a while I stomped around the house, but other flies and spiders were in hiding from my wrath, the cat went to the loft and it was a while before the berserker eased back into the past.
And if, at some time in the future, I am reincarnated as a fly and a bluebottle approaches me and says: “Oi. Aren’t you the bloke who killed my cousin?”
I shall say: “That’s me,” thump him on the nose and give him a good kicking with all my six feet. Goodwill to all creatures has its limits
It's all right form him to laugh ... he has millions.
Lady Gaga - queen of the Twitteratti.
AMAZING. I have only five followers on Twitter and one of them is Death.
It is not often I get a notification to say I have a new follower. This is no surprise as I never Tweet. Well, once in a blue moon.
But the email that dropped into my box giving me the glad tidings that I had increased by 20 per cent those people waiting to read my every word, left me both pleased and uneasy. Because it was an organisation called Dying Matters.
Still, beggars can't be choosers, not if I want to rival the great and good of British Twitterdom, such as Stephen Fry, who has 4,598,156 followers (or thereabout), including me. Well, he is the funniest man in Britain.And yet
even he is way down the list of world popularity.
Chief Twit (if that is the correct term) is Lady Gaga who has 27,669,594 people around the globe gasping on her every thought and action. Which is terrifying when you think of it's marketing potential.
“Went to the shop. Bought a Mars Bar.”
And the shelves would be empty of the snack in an hour.Being followed by Death is quite appropriate as my latest book is called REAPER and is about a chap in post-apocalyptic Britain who goes around dealing out death. What do you mean you haven't read it?
Buy a copy immediately - it's available in paperback or ebook.
I actually know why Dying Matters has joined my small but happy throng and it's nothing to do with the book. It's because I wrote a piece about undertakers in my column in the Huddersfield Daily Examiner. I said they not only did a crucial job with great professionalism, but they also had a sense of humour.
Dying Matters is, and I quote: “A growing coalition that aims to change public knowledge, attitudes and behaviour towards death, dying and bereavement.” They obviously also have a sense of humour. Bereavement professionals will, in fact, be handing out their own Oscars at the first ever Good Funeral Guide Awards in Bournemouth in September
. Categories include Embalmer of the Year, Gravedigger of the Year and Best Alternative To A Hearse.
Charles Cowling, editor of the Good Funeral Guide, said the awards were for “unsung heroes of astonishing brilliance whom the public deserves to know about.”
The ceremony will be part of the Joy of Death Festival held in the seaside town, which could make an unusual weekend away with which to surprise the wife. Bournemouth, of course, is a also a retirement centre but, as yet, no one has reported what its elderly citizens think of the event."Shall we go to Benidorm this year? Or go choose a casket?"
There have, of course, been many famous gravediggers who went on to other careers – Rod Stewart, Joe Strummer from The Clash and Dave Vanian from The Damned.
I wonder if they could persuade Mr Stewart to present one of the awards?
Funeral directors I have known have generally been a warm and generous group with a pleasant sense of humour.
They tell tales to which I can testify. When my Uncle Frank died while on holiday his daughter viewed the body and commented: “Ooh, doesn’t he look well. He always did suit a tan.”
They acknowledge, of course, that things can go wrong on occasions. Like the stonemason who was engaged by a grieving widower in Bolton, Lancashire, to carve appropriate words upon the gravestone of his wife.
Alice was 94 when she died and had attended church every Sunday. Husband Joe instructed that the headstone should bear the message: “Lord, she was thine.”
But the stonemason made a mistake and wrote: “Lord, she was thin.”
Joe said: “You’ve missed off the e. You’ll have to do it again,” and the shamefaced stonemason set about his task.
Weeks later, Joe went to see the stone on the grave. It now read: “Ee Lord, she was thin.”
Read More http://www.examiner.co.uk/views-and-blogs/columnists/denis-kilcommons
Dying Matters can be found at ://www.dyingmatters.org
It's nice to get a stack of books with your name on. Even when it isn't your name. The other day I was asked, again, why did I use a pseudonym on Reaper. Actually, I didn't. My agent told me she had sold the book and added: By the way, you're Jon Grahame. The only problem is trying to market it and having to explain that I've had books published under my own name.
It was difficult, even in Huddersfield, where I'm known because I write three columns a week in the daily paper. At least Waterstone's made the effort, put a local author sign on it and told customers who I really was. Which is nice. At my advanced age, I sometimes don't know who I am, myself.
The second book in the trilogy was completed some time ago and I am stuttering through the third. This is because I lack a sense of urgency. It's all sorted out in my mind and only needs bashing out on a keyboard but the deadline is ages away and I work best against the clock. I have 60,000 words written, a vague plot outline for the rest and I guess it will turn out at about 90,000 words when complete. If the publisher said he needed it in a month's time, I would get beavering and it would be ready. Make that two weeks. No, I can do better than that, I could have it finished by a week on Friday. I just need the incentive of a deadline.
It's the same reason why I am so lax in keeping up to date with this blog. My chum Donkin has a brilliant blog that he maintains on a regular basis. He makes me want to spit. He is a writer, author, journalist, round the world yachtsman and angler. The last may seem a bit tame for someone with his attributes except that he usually goes fishing in Alaska or hunts sharks off the Florida keys. His pieces are superbly crafted and often deceptively simple. Click the link and try him.
I, on the other hand, have struggled because I think a blog needs a Big Topic and I have never gone fishing in Alaska and never will. For one, I hate the sea, for two, I hate the cold, and for three, the only fish I like comes with chips. But I have realised it doesn't have to be a Big Topic. A little topic will do. Such as me quite often forgetting who I am.
I was at a gathering the other day and was introduced to the sister of an old school friend. Remembering first names in busy circumstances can be difficult and, when the lady heard I had just had a book out, confusion set in. For me rather than her. She took a note of the title and author and from thenceforth called me Jon. After a while, I gave up trying to say who I was and responded to it.
Hah, she said. You're answering to it now.
So I really am Jon Grahame. I can only hope he'll be better at writing blogs than that bloke Kilcommons.
Nobel Prize Winner Joshua Lederberg said: “The single biggest threat to man’s continued dominance on the planet is the virus.”
The 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic killed 50 million people worldwide. The last swine flu H1N1 pandemic of 2009 caused panic but was contained. But what about the next one?
Overuse of antibiotics means there may be no cure for the next strain of deadly virus. Will mankind have a future when that strikes?
That's the theme of Reaper by Jon Grahame (published by Myrmidon Books), out now and available from Amazon and W H Smith websites in the UK, and as an ebook and on Amazon Kindle worldwide. It's the first in a trilogy and will be followed by Angel and Redemption. (Look elsewhere on this site at the Reaper Book page and read the first chapter).
I think it's a pretty good book, but then I'm biased because I wrote it. Jon Grahame is my latest pseudonym.
The problem is getting people to read what is a full blooded yarn, with a great hero and heroine, in an age when publishing is changing so fast.
I have had an agent for 25 years, am an award winning writer with 20 books published, but getting a manuscript accepted is more difficult than ever. Reaper is published by Newcastle based independent Myrmidon, which, despite being a small publishing house, has had one of its author's on the Booker long list and another on the short list for a major award at the Crime Writer's Association. However, major bookstores these days stock only what they believe are rock solid and safe: books by best selling authors or celebrity tomes, and these usually come from the major publishing houses with whom they do most of their business. W H Smith has taken a limited number of copies of Reaper but Waterstones, for instance, has declined. So how does an author get his book seen, noticed and read? Particularly when Amazon Kindle is flooded with self published books?
I've tried launching Twitters and Facebook entries hoping someone will make me a viral sensation but so far it hasn't happened. I'm open to suggestions on what else can be done.
Publishing is going through a revolution as dramatic as that launched by the Gutenberg printing press. Technology is changing the rules. It is the single biggest threat to the way we produce traditional literature. Printed novel sales in the UK fell by 25 per cent in the first two months of this year.
Apocalypse when for print books?
I have joined Published Authors Network and was reading a debate on the site about the necessity or relevance of literary agents in an ebook world. In the quest for a free plug for my upcoming book, plus the ones available at bargain prices on Kindle at Amazon, I added my experiences.
I got a London agent in 1987. She liked my first manuscript and told me to write another. The first book was never published but the second one, The Dark Apostle, an international thriller, was bought straight away by Bantam. I thought I was on my way. It won the John Creasey Award from the Crime Writers' Association of Great Britain, and sold around the world. I wrote three others in the same series and had a different publisher (Hodder) for a private eye series written under a pseudonym. My books have been translated into eight languages. I have also written commissioned work under pseudonyms. All told I have 20 published titles to my credit.
My agent still represents me, and is a firm friend, but I didn't get a book deal for a number of years. I noticed the way publishing was changing, first with self publishing with Lulu, and then with ebooks, Amazon and Kindle. Traditional publishing seems to have shrunk and, in so doing, the Big Five have chosen to back guilt edged winners rather than take a chance anymore: best-selling authors are assured of sales, and the celebrity book is king, even if it's crap.
My agent, however, two years ago got me a deal for a trilogy of near future thrillers with independent publisher Myrmidon. The first, REAPER, under the pseudonym Jon Grahame, should be out next month and is being published both as a traditional paperback and as an ebook; in fact it's available as an ebook already. The second in the series should be out late in the year and the third in 2013.
I am not and never have been a full time fiction writer as I was a columnist on a provincial daily newspaper until I semi-retired five years ago. I still contribute three columns a week.
When you think about it, the whole business of creation has changed. I wrote my first thriller a chapter at a time in longhand before typing the corrected pages on an Olivetti portable. Four or five drafts later, I had a manuscript. Thank God for the computer. It has made writing much easier and banished Tippex to the dustbin.
The future, it seems, has to be electronic and perhaps agents will eventually become redundant, along with traditional publishing houses. Amazon self publishing by ebook means anyone can now have their work published and put in the public domain. This is both liberating and confusing.
At the moment, agents act as a filtering system for publishers who only publish a book if they think they can make money from it. The days of publishing a work strictly on its literary merits are long gone if, in fact, they ever existed. As the rules change, and Amazon gets full of more and more self-published books, will we still need a filtering system? A way of judging quality and making recommendations? How will the next Elmore Leonard or Grahame Greene or Susanna Gregory make their mark and be noticed, have people buy their work and make money from their honourable profession?
In an electronic future, authors will be reliant on new techniques of gaining publicity and being noticed. Social networking? Spam email shots? Youtube promos?
Any advice on how to promote my work would be most gratefully received.
I WORK better to a deadline. It's probably because of the years I spent as a reporter when newspapers produced three or four editions a day. You couldn't sit around working out syntax and picking the right adjectives. In fact, you didn't use adjectives. You told the story as simply and directly as possible.
Producing hard news was always easier than producing a feature where you can, if you are not careful, follow your clever and artful prose up your own backside. Sometime, you just have too much time to think about what you write.
Many years ago, I worked for one editor who would give me precise dimensions of the story he wanted. No matter what the story was, it had to fit his layout.
“I want a 14 word intro followed by 12 pars,” he would say.
To be honest, I didn't think much of him as an editor but it focussed the mind wonderfully.
When I went into the Examiner office every day to write this column, I would arrive without a clue about subject matter. I just knew that by noon, I had to submit 1,000 words and I did.
Ask any journalist and I'll bet they tell you the same. Pressure produces good work. Most of the time.
Now I work from home. I try to keep to a routine of 2,000 words a day when writing a manuscript. But writing my newspaper column is different and its difficult to set deadlines when my office is down the corridor from my bedroom. It's not the same, but I still tend to leave it until the last minute before actually deciding what doing the work. And if I find myself short of subject matter and time is running out, I can always write about deadlines.
I LEARNT to type on a sit-up-and-beg Underwood typewriter that contained so much metal I was amazed it had survived the war years without being conscripted and turned into a tank.
As a junior reporter on a weekly newspaper back in the 1950s – which for younger readers is just after the invention of the wheel – I was required to practice typing such phrases as “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” and “now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party”.
The allusion to foxes I could understand, seeing as the newspaper covered a rural community, but, for the life of me, I never did discover why that particular time was so opportune, who the men were and why the party needed aid.
All the parties I went to when I was a teenager needed more girls, not blokes.
The typewriter was a beast and the phrases were supposed to help speed in typing. This did not allow for those occasions when you trapped a finger and the keys were so obtuse that amputation might have to be considered.
Accordingly, I learnt to type fast, safe and hard. I pounded the keys with two fingers and still do. I broke my first Olivetti portable because of my Underwood training. I still have my second Olivetti for reasons of nostalgia, but these days I use a keyboard, and therein lies my problem.
Modern keyboards are being made for a lighter touch, with the keys as close as Siamese twins. In fact, 26 Siamese twins. Last year, I changed my desk top computer and found the keyboard impossible to use.
What has happened to modern society? Doesn't anybody bang any more?
I eventually found what I was looking for at PC World – the cheapest keyboard they had. Big keys, widely spaced, ideal for pounding. It was probably a Neanderthal model left over from the last ice age. Which was last winter, if I remember.
This served me well until I could no longer read it: I had pounded so hard the letters disappeared.
But I was a war baby. I was resourceful. I had been brought up on powdered milk and Spam. I was not to be denied. Which is why I now have a keyboard with the letters painted on it in my wife's nail varnish.
Of course, after all this time, the letters are hardly needed. I can type the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog in my sleep.
Not that anyone cares any more.
I saw an interview on Sky News about a couple who were top of the best selling Kindle charts at Amazon. Nobody had ever heard of them and they were never going to rival J K Rowling for sales or wealth. They had never, in fact, had a book published properly, but had opted for self-publishing on the internet. They were pleasantly open about their joint venture - they co-write crime novels - but admitted that to attract sales and readers they had deliberately priced their two books extremely low at under £1 each.
This made me take a new hard look at Kindle and investigate the self-publishing aspect.
My daughters bought me a Kindle device for Christmas but I was initially unimpressed because I like the feel of a book. Besides, what else do you put on your bookshelves if your library is contained in an electronic machine?
I was also wary about writers being ripped off. Ebay had offers for 5,000 modern novels on a disc for a few pounds and I challenged one of the sellers, asking if he was breaking copyright laws, but he didn't bother to reply.
Amazon itself has a load of books that are available to download for free, but these are classics that are outside the copyright period which, in the UK, is 70 years after the death of the author. Charles Dickens and the Brontes are available for nothing.
Many books are now published in both paper and e-book formats as a matter of course, and a writer's royalties do not suffer. My next book, Reaper, whose publication from Myrmidon has been delayed until September, will be out in both.
What Amazon and Kindle have done is open up the market for writers who have never before been published, like the couple who write crime novels. They have made it easy to self-publish and also provide the market place at the Amazon sites, both here and in America. And it's free.Now I know how difficult it is to get published. I also know there are probably some very good writers who have never quite made it who now have the opportunity to at least offer their wares. Whether anyone buys them or not, is a different matter.
It also inevitably means that there will be a fair percentage of rubbish on offer. Many hopefuls have put their work out free of charge, although I cannot understand the reasoning. When I got my Kindle at Christmas, I checked out what was available at Amazon and, like everybody else, looked for a bargain rather than pay the average of about £5 for a popular paperback writer. I tried a couple that were free; I tried a couple that were about 50p. But sorry. They were poor. Of course, if they are free it doesn't matter. All you lose is the time it takes to realise they are not worth the effort. And there is always the chance you might find an undiscovered gem of a writer. Unlikely, but you never know.
Amazon already sell more Kindle editions on-line than do they do paperbacks so it obvious that e-books are here to stay. They will continue to increase in popularity and more and more people will buy Kindles. They are, after all, quite an amazing device for the money and easier to handle than a thousand page C J Sansom novel.
So I decided to see how easy it was to publish on Kindle.
I am technologically useless. Could I do it? Well, it took me a few hours to work it out but yes, it is simple. You just have to prepare your manuscript a different way to how you would send it to an agent or publisher. Basically you don't use margins, headers or footers (or page numbers), and you set it single space. Then save it as an html document. That's it. Log onto Kindle Publishing and follow the instructions.
The only other thing that needs a good bit of thought is the cover. You can't just Google a load of images and steal one: they have copyright, too. But you can use photographs you have taken and there are sites that offer royalty free pics. It can be a load of fun. And, as I said, the whole process is free.I have put three of my thrillers out on Kindle at a reasonable price, considering they range from 80,000 words to 100,000. Plus a historical novel, The Flood, in the bargain basement, as an experiment to see if cheap really does sell.