Free Nelson Mandela

Another snapshot from Edina Street, the ongoing sequel to Countries of the World. The central characters Donnie and Lexo (aka The Claw) ponder the release of Nelson Mandela…

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“Is that him now, Mandela?”

“Aye. Looks a bit wobbly on his feet.”

“So would you like, after twenty one years in captivity.”

“It’s longer than that.”

“I’m referring to the Special AKA, Donnie son. Free Nelson Mandela and all that, ken?”

“I know. That song wasn’t out last week though, was it? Try twenty seven.”

“Aye, you’ll be right enough.”

“All those bands who played Sun City must be feeling like right numpties now, eh?”

“What do you mean, like?”

“Queen. Status Quo. Rod Stewart… Playing in South Africa to white only audiences a few years back.”

“Oh?”

“Paul Simon too. Mind o Graceland?”

“Is that no where Elvis lived?”

“It was, aye. But Paul Simon went to South Africa to make his Graceland record. Got all these local musicians in.”

“Gied them work then, did he no? Brought them over on tour. Gave them their big break. ..”

“Aye, that’s what some folk say. But he broke the boycott, didn’t he?”

“Ah, well. Tell me this then. Why was it called Graceland if it was made in South Africa?”

“No fucking idea. That’s Paul Simon for ya, eh? The guy who wanted us to call him Al.”

“Aye. Weirdo.”

The Songs of Manolo Escobar

The Songs of Manolo EscobarThe Songs of Manolo Escobar by Carlos Alba
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was an unexpected bonus. I’d never heard of the book or even the writer. But it was given to me by someone who knows my tastes. At first glance I thought it might be a biography. In fact, it’s a novel narrated by Antonio Noguera whose from a Spanish family living in Glasgow. The author turns out to be a successful journalist-cum-novelist from a similar background to his protagonist.

Alba has neatly constructed a work of fiction that is both very entertaining and convincing, with a three part non-linear narrative which flits between Glasgow, London and Spain. Given that it spans much of the second half of the twentieth century, the Spanish Civil War almost inevitably weaves its way into the storyline. Faced with an ailing marriage and the illness of a close relative, Antonio returns to Lleida province, in Catalonia, to try to find out more about his family history.

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Primal Scream

Another taster from my work-in-progress Edina Street…
Primals
I bump into Kirsty and Bob, or whatever his name is, snuggled up in a right cosy looking corner of Pearce’s. Would’ve gone somewhere else if I’d clocked them first. But I’ve got a pint of 80 Shilling in my hand now.
“Alright, Donnie?”
“Oh aye. What yous been up to?”
It’s sticking in my craw to ask. Should’ve blanked them. And he’s still wearing that stupid fucking hat, like the one Dylan has on the cover of his first album.
“Just been to see Primal Scream up at the Venue.”
“Aye? Good gig was it?”
“No bad. Thought they were better the last time I saw them but….”
The cap adds weight to his opinion of course. Gives him the air of an NME journo or something.
“I didn’t miss anything then? They’ve run their course, I reckon.”
“Kirsty enjoyed it. Didn’t you?”
He ruffles her hair. Smiles. Patronising bastard, so he is.
“Aye, it was great. I think they get better and better.”
“I thought Kirsty said you were into them?”
“I still like Sonic Flower Groove. But they’ve kinda turned into rock gods now, have they no?”
So the lovebirds had been speaking about me? Well, at least I’m not totally out of the picture… But this pint of 80 tastes very bitter.

Saint Patrick’s Day (1991)

Another snapshot of life on Edina St, the sequel to Countries of the World.

Donnie and Alex (aka The Claw) are in the pub.
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– Why are we drinking to some Irish saint?
– We’re not. We’re celebrating the release of the Birmingham Six.
– That was on Thursday, Donnie.
– Aye. But we were skint then, weren’t we?
– Yeah, but… We’re nae even proper Fenians.
– Doesn’t matter what foot you kick with, Alex. It’s not about that, is it? Some things just aren’t right.
– Ok. How can you be sure they’re innocent these Birmingham blokes?
– You think they’d be letting them loose as an act of goodwill for St Patrick’s Day or something? Humiliating the Crown Court and what have you so that half a dozen more Micks could go out on the lash this weekend? The fact is, they’d been charged with handling explosives when they were playing fucking Snap.
– Aye, whatever. I’ve got the power…
– Well, ya werena singing that when ya were manhandled into the Black Maria the other week. The Polis never tell porkies, eh? You’ve never been slapped about in the back of the van or the cells? They’ve never tried to pin other stuff on ya?
– I give as good as I get… but you’re right enough. Filth.
– The only reason these boys are out is coz the establishment knows it hasn’t got a leg to stand on. And neither will you after you’ve had a six pints of the black stuff… We’re going to do the right thing for those unlucky fuckers.
–  I’ll drink to that. But lighten up and put something decent on the jukebox, eh? It’s supposed to be happy hour ya miserable cunt.

 

Cover to Cover

COTW-3The Countries of the World e-book version has had a makeover. I’ve gone for a simpler design although the paperback version with the flags will not change. I also think the new e-book cover helps Brian Prout’s excellent photo of Cathkin Park in Glasgow to stand out more. Further experiments with the e-book cover are on the way.

Walls Come Tumbling Down

berlin20wall20freedom

In this wee extract from Edina Street, the sequel to Countries of the World, two of the main characters, Donnie (the narrator from Countries) and Alex (aka The Claw) are watching events unfold on their TV…

– What’s going on?
– They’re tearing down the wall.
– Which wall?
– The Berlin Wall, ya fuckwit.
– Fuck me. When did all this kick off?
– When you were safely tucked up in your wankpit.
– Fucking hell, you go to bed and wake up and the world has changed.
– Look at them hacking chunks out of it. Bet that’ll be a souvenir worth a bob or two one day. There’ll be bits of it in fancy exhibitions in the British Museum and what have you.
– Or the headquarters of the Fourth Reich… Mark my words. It’s only a matter of time before they start shooting the fuckers. I tell ya.
– I’m going out for a paper.
– Oh? I doubt if there’ll be anything about the wall in it.
– Aye, but the Hibs were playing last night.
– Feeling flush are you? It’s fags we’re needing here. Or skins and baccy. Something smokeable.
– Haud on… Didn’t Paul Weller predict this?
– What? The Hibs score? That’ll save you buying a rag then.
– The Style Council. Walls Come Tumbling Down, you know?
– That was fucking years ago. Would that make Bowie a sage if they find some kinna pond life on Mars?
– Aye, you’ve got a point. But the Style Council song wasna that long ago.
– Which walls was he taking about though? The Walls of Jericho? Hadrian’s Wall…
– Both of them came down yonks ago, did they no?
– There’s still bits of Hadrian’s Wall left.
– Aye, but not enough, if you ask me…

Excerpt from Edina Street © Steven Porter 2013

The Next Big Thing

Thanks to the voice of South Queensferry, Brendan Gisby, for inviting me to take part in something called The Next Big Thing. It’s a promotional device by which an author is invited to answer ten set questions about his or her latest work-in-progress and then to tag three more authors who are also working on a new book. A bit like a chain letter, I suppose, but with the nicest of motives.

So here goes…

What’s the working title of your book?

Edina Street.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

It’s a sequel to the novel Countries of the World. When a friend asked me if there would be a follow up I said “No” rightaway. I’d never thought about it, but then I began to wonder… why not?

What genre does your book fall under?

Contemporary Fiction I’d say. It could be of interest to music fans, especially those who like the sort of stuff John Peel or college radio might have played in the late 80’s/early 90’s.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Those who appear in the type of films directed by Mike Leigh, Shane Meadows or Ken Loach. I could have seen Robert Carlyle as biker The Claw, but Bob’s getting on a bit now. I really like Paddy Considine as an actor but I’m not sure for which part. Eddie Marsden, who appeared in Considine’s directorial debut Tyrannosaur, would be excellent to play a slimy and opportunistic Edinburgh landlord.

In Countries of the World, the female character Eileen was described as looking a bit like Dee Hepburn in Gregory’s Girl. But Eileen has outgrown the flick fringe hairstyle now.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Breogan boys hit Auld Reekie and get lost in music.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’d like to find a small independent publisher because I’m a writer with an artistic mentality. Self-promotion and marketing are not my strong points. But I think I’ve learned a few things from Countries of the World experience. This novel will be more focused than ‘Countries’, which branched out into so many areas. In Edina Street, the story will take place in Edinburgh (with occasional trips up north) and will only cover a year or two in the early 90’s.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’m still writing and am nowhere near finished to be honest. Depending on other commitments, I’d hope to have it ready to send to publishers before the end of 2013.

What other books would you compare the story to within your genre?

I guess there could be a comparison with Nick Hornby in that he moved from the football theme in Fever Pitch to music with High Fidelity. I think my main characters are rougher and readier, although one or two might set their sights higher than Edina Street as time goes on.

And Trainspotting always seems to raise its head now whenever you set a novel in Edinburgh featuring a crowd of youths or twenty somethings. I don’t think my characters are quite so desperate and my stuff is generally lighter than that, without being escapist. So it may be somewhere between these two novels. I’m not a huge fan of either writer really, although I did enjoy Trainspotting and High Fidelity.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

As in much of my work, the ending in Countries of the World was open and there was a lot of scope to continue developing characters, provided I shifted the main vehicle away from football. It’s an opportunity to examine one of my other main loves: music. And perhaps look at how commerce, formats and attitudes to music have changed in the last 20 years or so.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Those who’ve read ‘Countries’ will be familiar with some of the characters and the story up to this point. But I hope to write it in such a way that those who haven’t, won’t miss out on anything important. Edina Street is a sequel of sorts, but I would like to think new readers of my work will understand it and, perhaps, be tempted to go back and read ‘Countries’ as a prequel.

My Next Big Thing nominees are:

Zack Wilson lives in Sheffield and is a writer of fiction, non-fiction and some journalism. Debut novel Stumbles and Half Slips is available from Epic Rites Press of Canada. He works as a Rugby League correspondent and is an Anglo-Scottish follower of the Scotland football team for his sins.

Ian Ayris from Essex is the author of the excellent debut novel Abide with Me, which he has recently followed up with One Day in the Life of Jason Dean.

Bill Robertson lives in Blackburn… Aberdeenshire, that is. He is an active member of the Lemon Tree Writers group in the Granite City. His short stories have appeared in anthologies and won awards and he has some books available on Kindle including the novella When the Revolution Comes and something you might just about be in the mood for at this time of year: the cracking Christmas story Reindeer Dust.

Let’s Get Lyrical

Last weekend I went to Catriona Yule’s workshop in Aberdeen about using song lyrics. And very good it was too. I’ve used song titles or lyrics in stories, poems and in my books in the past, but they have rarely provided the starting point for a piece of my work. I’ve always been a kind of frustrated headline writer and have thought it could be my dream job to concoct daft headlines for newspaper articles. I once placed lyrics in a e-book, but thought better of it and removed them in case Gerry Rafferty’s estate got on to me.

I actually started out writing lyrics, penning quite a few songs in my teens and early twenties. A friend asked me about this last week and I said it must be at least ten years since I tried to write a song. I decided to dedicate myself to what I considered my main strengths and opted for writing poetry and prose over music. But some of my favourite wordsmiths remain singer-songwriters who inspired me: Ray Davies, Paul Weller, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Shane MacGowan, Patti Smith, Mark E Smith, Morrissey and the late Michael Marra, to name a few.

Are they poets? I’ve always thought there’s been too much literary snobbery and elitism surrounding this. There are plenty (mediocre) poets who seem to look down on lyrics. Maybe some are just frustrated songwriters who can’t sing. I know I’m a bit envious. Even if lyrics of great songs often don’t look too amazing on the page, there’s something magical about words that come alive when put to music. And as last weekend’s workshop demonstrated, song lyrics can be embryos of a longer story waiting to be told.

Here are some more Smiths lyrics that that could be books in their own right.

Running with Brendan Gisby

Brendan Gisby is a fellow writer whose work I’ve discovered and enjoyed this year. We met up for a chat about writing, travelling, betting and even bigotry…

SP: The first thing I read of yours was The Hitchhiker – A Journey Round the Scottish Highlands. It’s set around 1970 but seems quite a timeless story. Fast forward 20 years and it could’ve been me taking that journey. I know the A9 like the back of my hand from countless trips between Edinburgh and Inverness. But from Dalwhinnie, your protagonist cuts off through Spean Bridge towards Fort William. I’ve hitched and camped myself (many years ago now!) around Glencoe, Loch Linnhe, Crianlarich, Tyndrum, etc. So this brought back a lot of memories for me. What’s your favourite route or spot in the Highlands?

BG: My wife and I recently moved to Callander so that we could house-hunt in the area. We’ve become pretty familiar with the road out of Callander, through Glencoe and onwards. I think that route is probably the most dramatic and inspiring in the Highlands – but definitely not for the faint-hearted during winter!

SP: Definitey not! But you’re from just outside Edinburgh, right? What effect has growing up in the shadow of the Forth Bridges had on your writing?

BG: I grew up in South Queensferry during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Situated on the southern shore of the River Forth and nestled between the two Forth Bridges, the Ferry (as it is called locally) looks out on a magnificent and memorable panorama. That landscape features in much of my work. My first novel, a Cold War thriller written in 1976, begins there. My second novel is set on Inchgarvie, the little island tucked under the Forth Rail Bridge. And, of course, the landscape is the backdrop to The Bookie’s Runner, my little biography of my late father. I think it was Hemingway who advised, “Write what you know.” Which I guess is what I’ve been doing.

SP: Interesting that you describe that as a biography. I wasn’t sure. I often wonder if your approach is a bit like mine sometimes is – fiction with a strong autobiographical element running through it. Did all that really happen or are you happy to throw other things in there, such as hearsay or made up stuff, in order to improve the storyline?

BG: Aside from the names of the “baddies” having been changed, every single word of “The Bookie’s Runner” is true. The same is the case for almost all of my short stories, including The Hitchhiker. It’s back to that “Write what you know” advice, I suppose: I often feel compelled to describe real people and real events in my life. Having said that, I do write fiction as well; The Island of Whispers, for example, which couldn’t be further from the truth!

SP: Do you like a bit of a flutter on the gee-gees or anything yourself?

BG: I used to bet on the horses back when I was the bookie’s runner’s runner. But betting doesn’t interest me now. That’s not because I’m puritanical or anything like that. It’s just that I know the bookies will win eventually; that’s why they’re rich and we’re not.

SP: Indeed! Ha ha! I loved that bit about becoming the bookie’s runner’s runner. So, what have you been up to lately?

BG: In between promoting my books and running my little short story website, McStorytellers, I’ve been trying to get on with my latest novel. Called “The Burrymen War”, it’s set in the Ferry some twenty years ago (what a surprise!). It’s a fiction, but it aims to expose the real level of bigotry and sectarianism that’s rife in many parts of Scotland. People will have us believe that the malaise only exists at football matches in the west, but that’s simply not the case. From coast to coast, there’s a lot of hatred out there…

SP: I tend to agree with you about that. It’s too easy for people in the east to dismiss it as a purely west coast thing. I think football mirrors the society and vice versa, but I do also wonder if some think it makes them ‘better fans’ by playing up to the stereotype of the tribal bigot.

BG: … Well, to end on a lighter note, in my role as the founder of McStorytellers, I’m delighted to be taking part in the inaugural Edinburgh eBook Festival, which has been running from 11th August and will end this coming Monday. The brainchild of author Cally Phillips, the festival is a virtual one celebrating all things indie and epublishing. It has held hundreds of exciting virtual events already and is definitely worth a visit.

SP: It sounds very interesting. Wish I could be there. Maybe next year! Thanks for the chat, Brendan.

BG: Thanks for the opportunity to talk about my writing, Steve.

SP: A pleasure.