The first post in the Writing IRL series. Writing is a lengthy process. You might have an idea for a story or an article that is almo...

The first post in the Writing IRL series.

Writing is a lengthy process. You might have an idea for a story or an article that is almost completely formed in your head, twists and turns and characters and dialogue all pre-planned and ready, but getting it down onto paper the way you imagined it could still take hours, days, weeks. There'll still be points where you don't know what you should write next to keep the prose flowing, or you're stuck on the big twist because you just can't find the perfect way to word it. And even when you think you're done, you have redrafts, plot holes to fill, errors to correct. It all takes time and effort, even for the shortest of stories. 

Even writing that paragraph was a struggle. 

So as a casual writer, when you have a day job, and you have to commute to and from the office, work an eight hour day, cook and eat dinner, put the washing on, do the ironing, tidy the house, see your friends and family once in a while, read whatever book you're in the middle of, and still try to get seven or eight hours' sleep every night, you start to think that maybe you don't have time for all that sitting and scratching your head, all the redrafts and research required. 

But, with a bit of thought and preparation, maybe you can do it. Perhaps you just need a little bit of a kick start, a few tips from one casual writer to another.

Here's a handful of mine.

Write whenever you can.

This sounds obvious, doesn't it. Of course you should write whenever you can, you're thinking, but that's the whole point - there's not enough time when I can! Well, I wouldn't be so sure about that. Before recently, bath time for me was just for bathing. I didn't scribble anything in my lunch break, because that was for lunch. I never used to write during my commute, because that was my reading time; it was just designated as such in my head, and the idea of bringing my laptop onto the train and tapping away at my stories was a preposterous one. 

It still is, of course, and I would never do that on such a short journey. But if you drop the laptop part and replace it with notepad or smartphone, then why not? What's stopping you using all those times for writing?

For me, it was the size of smartphone screens, so I bought a phablet. But after that, I was good to go. There are so many good writing apps available, a lot of which I'll be writing about over the coming weeks, that it's actually really easy and liberating to write wherever you are, whatever you're doing. And if you don't like the apps, there's always the old fashioned notepad and pen.

By allowing myself to break the process into bite-sized pieces and miniaturise it from large screen to handheld, I've grabbed back the tiny little parts of the day that I used to think were just lost and made them mini pieces of writing time. Then later, when I do have a chunk of time when I can sit down with my laptop or typewriter, I can pull them all together and edit them into stories, novels, blog posts, whatever my (stunted) imagination has conjured. 

So now, I write on the train (I really do - I'm writing the words you're reading right now on the way to work). I write in the bath and while the dinner's on. Those are the times I used to think I couldn't write, because I was busy; but now, I've realised that if you really want to, you can. So I do. 

Cut out the crap.

My girlfriend and I are big fans of TV, films and video games. Our life is put on hold while we watch the latest series of Narcos, Game of Thrones or House of Cards. We often spend whole weekends playing Tomb Raider together. We love it, and there's nothing wrong with it, and it probably even helps me with my writing, as all those storylines get pumped into my head and plant seeds which might later grow into ideas of my own. 

But sometimes I feel like spending an hour watching Kevin Spacey fuck people over might be an hour of writing wasted. I kick myself for playing The Division, when I should be editing my novel.

So, instead of sticking with Gilmore Girls, which my girlfriend loves and I loathe, I put my headphones on and got my laptop out, and I started writing instead. I could have taken the easy way out, stayed horizontal on that sofa and not moved until I had to, but I made the decision that writing was more important than the story of two idiots from Stars Hollow. 

The moral of that short story is that there are things that we like to do and things that we just do because we can't be bothered to do anything else; and if you're doing what you like doing and it's more important to you than your writing, then by all means, do that first; but if not, then stop putting writing off. Shut yourself away, go to a quiet spot, do whatever you have to do to get in the zone, and use that time to write instead. Cut out crap shows about an immature mum and her child prodigy daughter, and write your own stories instead. 

Set yourself soft deadlines and achievable goals. 

By the end of this year, I want to have finished the third draft of my big novel. By the end of each Tuesday, I have to have written up my Wednesday Wreading and Writing Wroundup for the next day. At least once a month, I need to have written one of these Writing IRL articles. 

These aren't hard deadlines. If I miss one, I won't cry about it or impose any kind of self-punishment. Probably. But they help me to make time for the hobby that I might otherwise push aside out of laziness - instead of lying on the sofa with my feet up, I'll lie on the sofa with my laptop. They aren't word goals - I haven't failed as a writer if I haven't written ten thousand words by the end of the week - but they give me a little kick, and often that's just what I need.

So maybe set yourself a far-off target to do something big. To write a novel in a year, or five blog posts within a month. Not something too huge or daunting, but enough to drive you to make time for it. That is, after all, exactly why a lot of people participate in NaNoWriMo. Or, at least, I think it is - it can't be because they imagine they'll write a bestseller in a month. I bet most of them are bloody awful. 

Enjoy yourself.

I've probably said enough now. I think this is the longest blog post I've ever written. So the most important point is that you're here, reading this, because you love to write, but you also have a life to live. So enjoy it, have fun whenever you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, and live life to the fullest, because every new experience you have will only make your stories more exciting.

I hope this is useful to all you casual writers. It better be, I spent about an hour on this when I could have been writing a thoroughly mediocre short story. 

If you have any tips of your own, I'd love to hear them. Feel free to tweet me, comment on Instagram, or write on DoD's Facebook wall. Just don't send me abuse; I'm a really delicate soul.

And to everyone who thinks that if you have to persuade yourself to make time for writing then you're obviously not a real writer at all, I say this: Fuck off. 

The Internet seems to be half full of writers with infinite time and money on their hands. They advise aspiring writers to spend 8 hour...

The Internet seems to be half full of writers with infinite time and money on their hands. They advise aspiring writers to spend 8 hours a day reading and then spend another 8 hours writing - anything, everything, whatever comes into their heads. They say we should set ourselves daily word targets, and not stop until we reach them; but also that we should still socialise as much as possible, because all the people we meet will be delicious fuel for our writing. They tell us to buy Scrivener for £15 or a Macbook for £1500, to pay for creative writing classes or attend ridiculous How to Get Published conferences that never helped anyone get published. If you really want to write, they say, if you're really serious about it, this will all be a matter of course. If not, well, you can't want it that much, can you?

But what about those of us who have jobs that we can't afford to just quit? What about people with pets and loved ones and bills and interests that demand our time and money? What about those of us who just write because we like to write, and not because we need to be rich and famous (an unlikely dream anyway, even for a brilliant writer)?

Well, if you're one of those people, welcome to Writing in Real Life. In this series, I'll be exploring what it's like to write in the real world, without weighing yourself down with a desperation to get published or the pressure of hard deadlines and insane word goals. I'll be sharing ideas on how to find time for writing if you don't want to quit your job and stay indoors all day, and useful writing software and hardware for people who can't afford to spew all their wages into Tim Cook's greedy pockets. I might even give you a chance to join in or something. I don't know. One step at a time, folks. 

And if you're still reading, you must be interested. So why not click a link or two below and read the content I've spent literally tens of minutes putting together for you?

"'Why, one day you'll get to eat at the heavenly table,' the man said. 'Won't be no scrounging for scraps after...

"'Why, one day you'll get to eat at the heavenly table,' the man said. 'Won't be no scrounging for scraps after that, I guarantee ye.'"

I have friends (no, really!) who joke that I buy them books not because I think they'll like them, but purely because I liked them, so I spend my life forcing the things I love onto the people around me, forever trying to mould them into little clones of myself.

They're absolutely right, of course, and one of the books I've forced on a lot of people over the years since I read it is Donald Ray Pollock's first novel, The Devil All The Time. Unfortunately, I have a terrible memory, so although I know I really enjoyed it, I can't remember the story. I only remember that I loved the darkness, and I thought it was incredibly well written. So, opening The Heavenly Table for the first time, I knew that I loved Donald Ray Pollock, I just couldn't remember exactly why.

Well, I've been reminded now.

The Heavenly Table follows brothers Cob, Cane and Chimney as they leave their hard life of poverty and backbreaking work in search of riches and infamy, robbing banks and living as outlaws inspired by a tattered old book that only one of them can read. In their run from the law, they cross paths with several other characters from all walks of life - from pure evil to comically ridiculous - and, obviously, everyone learns a little bit about themselves and what it means to be human.

The writing is sharp, clear and always engaging. Pollock has an excellent sense of humour and a great way of not only imagining a wide variety of different characters, but also introducing them to the reader in a way that doesn't feel out of place or unbelievable. There isn't a chapter that makes you want to close the book and move on, not a single point where you feel bored.

The only problem with the writing, if one is following the rules of good fiction writing to the letter, is that in The Heavenly Table, Pollock has completely forgotten the "show, don't tell" rule. Or, perhaps because he's so good, he just thinks it doesn't apply to him. I felt like almost everything that happened in the book was told to me, recounted as a set of events, rather than shown to me through description and subtlety. We never see the boys rob a bank, for instance; we just get told that they have. And yet, I didn't feel - as we're told a reader should when faced with such writing - insulted, or patronised. I didn't feel less engaged, because I hadn't had to do half the work myself. Perhaps this is because there is so much content, so many characters and ideas, or maybe it's because of the quality of the writing or the story. Whatever it is, Pollock is right - he is too good to follow the rules.

Writing theory aside, this is a very good novel. Enjoyable throughout and filled with just the kind of writing that makes me happy - as dark and heartless as the world in which it is set, but laced with the same kinds of humour and empathy that get any sane person through the day. I'm not about to go around saying this was my favourite book ever, but if you're a friend or family member of mine, I'd advise you not to buy it for yourself, so that you don't ruin your next Christmas or birthday present.


‘Every now and then, all a woman needs is a good throttling.’ This is what Ollie Splendid tells me, wearing a practiced evil grin, as...

‘Every now and then, all a woman needs is a good throttling.’

This is what Ollie Splendid tells me, wearing a practiced evil grin, as he places his skinny feet in their heavy boots on the coffee table between us, and lights another fag. He is of course referring to his recent run-in with the law for attempting to strangle adult-film-star girlfriend Sasha White, a topic which his publicist told me was off-limits, but which he had a desire to broach almost immediately. To complete the narrative, White dropped the charges and took Splendid back days after the event, proving to everyone that the Internet’s sympathy for domestic abuse victims can indeed run dry, and we still live in a world where beating a woman will never hurt your music career.

Deliberately controversial, proudly addicted to almost every substance you can think of, undeniably talented and worshipped by all the wimpiest kids from Camden to Shoreditch, Ollie Splendid is the most famous goth-pop-electro-rock-country-metal-reggae-hip-hop star you've never heard of. He's what's been on the tips of everyone's tongues for years; a counter-counter-culture disease that no music critic can contain, even with their most powerful medicine: a one-star review. Of which Splendid has had more than I'll ever have hot dinners. But still, he's a cult hero, and his flame doesn't look like it'll go out anytime soon.

So, when he starts a conversation like that, I don’t know whether to be disappointed, or just roll my eyes and move on.

‘Sometimes, all anyone needs is a good throttling,’ he drawls, ‘but I’d say women need it more often.’

So, you don’t regret what happened?

‘I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t want to. How can you regret something you chose to do?’

Sometimes, passion takes hold, and we rush into things that we haven’t thought through. Does the great Ollie Splendid never experience that?

Splendid smiles. ‘I like your attitude. No, I don’t ever feel like that. Regret is a coward’s way of avoiding the fact that you’re a stupid cunt. Everyone is a stupid cunt, you don’t need to pretend you had a moment of madness; a real man would just admit that he’s always a stupid cunt, and move on.’

I ask Splendid if that means that he’s never regretted anything he’s ever done, that he’s the only man in the world who doesn’t feel remorse, because he’s accepted that he is flawed and has moved on. He sighs, rolls his eyes, scratches the trackmarks inside his left elbow; and I realise that that rollup he’s smoking stinks. Whatever’s in it, I haven’t smelt before. It makes my eyes water.

‘Well, I suppose there are things I wish I hadn’t done,’ he says, sliding further down the couch he’s reclining on, ‘The Parallel Plan is one of them.’

The Parallel Plan, Splendid’s 2012 album, was his most commercially successful yet. His sound, usually so choppy and undependable, was suddenly smooth and well-produced, rehearsed and professional-sounding. It sounded like every other one of his albums and EPs had been recorded in a garage, and this was the first one done in a studio. It sold thousands of copies, and finally shot him from nobody to nobody-with-a-small-following. So why does he regret it?

‘I don’t know. Maybe I love it. Maybe it’s fantastic. Or maybe I sold out. Maybe everything I’d done up to that point was screwed up and thrown away to produce something that people actually wanted to hear, instead of ignoring what people want, to make what I want to make instead. Nothing should be driven by the audience; I’ve already discussed that they’re all stupid cunts.’

So is the new album completely different? A harking back to those albums in which the audience’s opinion is disregarded?

‘I don’t know,’ Splendid says, sliding down so far that his buttocks hit the floor, his eyes rolling back into his head, ‘why don’t you listen to it? I fucking hate journalists.’

I point out that the album hasn’t been sent out, even in review copies, to anyone yet. That it hasn’t even leaked online. That there’s speculation that it hasn’t even been recorded, and that his current stint of interviews with music media is apparently just to keep fans happy while the late-arriving album is recorded.

‘Fuck you,’ he replies, digging out an inhaler he has spotted underneath the sofa, spraying its contents down his throat and gurgling for a full minute. ‘It was complete three years ago. I don’t need to answer to you. You prick. You’re just a whore, like Sasha. I hate you as much as I hate her, right now.’

I ask if he wants to take a break, continue later on.

‘Take a break? That’s exactly what I wanted to do. And she was all, You’re not leaving me, I say what happens in this relationship, and that’s not happening. Well, fuck her, she needed a good throttling. Did you know she lost her virginity when she was fourteen? Fourteen? That’s repulsive.’

I start to pack up, telling Splendid that I’m not comfortable with where the interview is going. I don’t think he’s in a fit state to continue, at this point. He ruffles his jet-black hair, punches the floor with his bony fists, chews his gums for a bit.

‘Fuck you,’ he repeats, slurring, ‘I’m fine. You can print every god damn word of this. My relationship with that slut has been exactly like my rise to fame. At the start, it looks like everything is going to be sweet, everything happy and exciting. You spend these first exciting months being creative and enthralled and looking forward to every new experience. Then you learn that you’re not getting as big a cut of the profits as your manager is, that your new lover has slept with half of her friends, male and female, and isn’t even ashamed enough to cut off contact with them.

‘Your publicist is more interested in that other band she works with, and your girlfriend has had anal sex with her modelling agent, who you shook hands with as if you were buddies just last Tuesday. There’s only so many of these revelations you can take. How many other people who get as much media attention as I do can honestly say they’ll never get rich off of what they do? What sensible twenty-year-old woman has already had two abortions? That’s just bad upbringing. That’s a bad person, right there. I feel like I’ve had more than that, the amount of times I’ve been fucked by this industry.’

So are you pissed off that your girlfriend has had experiences you haven’t? Would you rather she’d been shut in a room forever, that you owned her like a jacket or a pair of shoes? Are you just eaten up by jealousy? Or is that just a channel for venting the frustration you feel about the unfairness of the music industry? Do you think you deserve more from what you’ve done?

‘I’m pissed off that I’ve spent my whole life not being an arsehole, and no one told me that the only way to get ahead is to be the biggest arsehole you possibly can, and never feel remorse for any of it.’

I wonder if Splendid is always this scattered. He doesn’t seem to be able to structure his thoughts. I watch him pop a pill into his mouth and wash it down with a warm beer that’s been sitting on the coffee table since before we got here, and ask if it’s this insecurity he seems to be feeling that drives his drug use.

‘I use drugs because I like the feeling they give me. I take them because they turn the volume down on pieces of shit like you, always shouting advice on how to live at me. I couldn’t make music without these drugs, because I wouldn’t want to pour my heart out onto disc knowing that scum like you is going to hear it.’

So the car accident he was involved in before his first album, which many have said was the beginning of these addictions (and in which his high school sweetheart was killed), didn’t have the effect that has been reported?

Splendid sits up, seems to sober up for a second, and just stares at me through glazed eyes. After a while, he growls, ‘Fuck you,’ and pulls himself back up to sit on the sofa opposite me.

I decide to change the subject. Perhaps Splendid wants to talk about the screenplay he is apparently working on, for an indie film about which details are currently sparse.

‘I’ve always loved to write,’ he begins, a little robotically, but seeming more as if he now wants to conduct an actual interview, ‘so when I was approached to try my hand at a screenplay, I jumped at it. I’m about halfway through, I’m fairly happy with it so far. It’ll need editing, like anything does.’

How long until it’s finished?

Splendid sighs again. The pause before his answer is a long one. ‘I don’t know. Maybe it won’t be. God, I hate this shit. I just wish I could quit and move to some island where I wouldn’t have to speak to another human again.’

Do the drugs cause these mood swings?

‘What is this, therapy? I’m unhappy because I hate everything. I hate everything because nothing gives me any reason not to hate it. I hate Sasha because she can’t keep her legs closed, I hate my manager because he’s stealing money from me, I hate journalists because they ask stupid banal inane questions to satisfy the idle curiosity of fans I’ll never meet or give a fuck about, and I hate myself most of all for caring about any of this shit.’

These are the types of concerns that everyone has, in one way or another. Some feel them more than others, and some people worry about different things. But we all have worries, we’re all just walking bags of issues. Why would you hate yourself for caring about them?

‘Because one day,’ Splendid says, lighting another one of those evil rollups with his skinny, shaking hand, ‘you’ll be flying through the windscreen of your girlfriend’s mini, zooming headfirst at the side of a lorry at a hundred miles an hour, milliseconds from certain death, and you’ll realise that nothing you’ve ever worried about has mattered. It doesn’t matter how promiscuous your girlfriend was before she met you, how ridiculous your friends’ decisions have been and how they’ve all ruined their own lives through their own stupidity, how much money your manager is making at the expense of your own bank balance. What matters is the set of relationships you formed and maintained while you had the chance. What should have concerned you were the friendships you established and how you made those people feel, the love you cultivated and the people you’ve made sure are definitely going to miss you. You realise that the only way you’ll ever live forever is in the hearts of others, and everything else you’ve ever focused on is trivial in comparison. You realise this all too late, and then you’re dead, so you can’t change any of it.

‘Except sometimes, you’re not dead, and you wake up in hospital, and you’re doomed to have nightmares forever more about what happened and what you realised. But still, even though you have all these residual issues in your head, even though you had that beautiful moment of clarity, and even though it haunts you every day, you haven’t learnt anything. You still resent your parents for not giving you the opportunities your friends had, you still hate your job, you still don’t spend enough time with your nearest and/or dearest, and you still wish your girlfriend had more class. All that deeper meaning, that inner clarity, that love you felt when you were certain your brain was going to be spread across the side of an Eddie Stobart, it’s all gone, and you can’t find it again.’

Splendid sobs, loud and hard. I don’t know whether to hug him, or leave the room. I certainly don’t think we can continue the interview. I move closer, pat his shoulder, and turn my recorder off. He seems to forget I’m even there. When he begins to pull a belt tight around his left bicep, I decide that it’s definitely time to leave.

And now, in my hotel room, typing the interview up, I reflect on how lost Ollie Splendid seemed to be. If this whole persona he portrays to the media is the product of such deep insecurities and unresolved issues relating to a truly life-changing event, how good should we feel about buying his music? We’re watering the plant that creeps up his sides, slowly taking over his life. We’re friends with the monster that lives under his bed, and no matter how often he changes addresses, we’ll always tell it where he lives. He can’t survive with the limited fame he has, keeping his issues alive and sticking him firmly in the public eye, where the skeletons in his closets are exposed every single day; but nor could he really function without it, he burns too bright to be kept in the dark. It doesn’t seem like there’s a solution for this damaged young man who spends every minute of his day worrying about things he doesn’t need to, but I do feel like my hour or so with him, wondering what he was on about, has made me understand him more than I ever did before.

Then I get a call from a much more sober Ollie Splendid, obviously fresh from talking to his publicist, telling me that if I print any of what he said earlier, he’ll cut my fucking throat.

“Have you ever been lonely? No, neither have I. Solitary, yes. Alone, certainly. But lonely means minding about being on your own. I'...

“Have you ever been lonely? No, neither have I. Solitary, yes. Alone, certainly. But lonely means minding about being on your own. I've never minded about it.”

Mike Engleby is an odd young man, a loner. A student at a prestigious university, and a heavy abuser of drugs and alcohol. He hangs around on the edges of social groups, always there but never quite fitting in, always watching the girl he calls his "girlfriend" but never really speaking to her, just hoping that she'll notice him if he hangs around long enough.

That is, until she disappears one day, without a trace.

I've only read one other book by Sebastian Faulks: A Week in December. I don't know if I was in a bad mood or it was the book's fault, but (and I have to be careful here - I've recently learned the soft way that authors can stumble across this blog and read my shit reviews despite my warnings that they shouldn't) I found it to be trying too hard, being far too pleased with itself. Although, saying that, it might have been how it was sold to me too. I was told it was brilliant, genius, an amazing creation of a mind that thinks on a plane far above our own. I didn't think it was.

Anyway. Because of that, I went into this expecting the same thing - writing that was quite impressed with itself, a topic that might seem deep in the blurb but was actually a bit fluffy and shallower than expected, an unsatisfying experience all round. But, I'm pleased to say, I was very, very wrong.

"My name is Mike Engleby, and I'm in my second year at an ancient university." That's how it begins. A refreshingly simple beginning, I think, since there is so much pressure on novelists to grab you by the throat and wave you around in the first paragraph (which, of course, leads to such ridiculous opening sentences that there's a whole competition dedicated to coming up with them). From there, from a voice that is distinct and well-formed and quite unreliable, we learn all about his social life (or lack thereof), his forgetfulness, his childhood, and his obsession with Jennifer, the girl who disappears.

It's gripping. I loved it. There's character development, humour, intrigue. Engleby is likeable, despite (or maybe because of) his oddness. I think so, anyway. I'd read a couple of reviews that disagreed, and a few that said there was too much telling and not enough showing, that Faulks seemed too desperate for us to come along on the journey with him; but I didn't notice any of that. Maybe I was too excited, I don't know.

Then, in the middle, it dipped a bit. After Jennifer's disappearance, we follow Engleby as he stumbles into adulthood and normal life, drifting away from his extreme social difficulties and into a pretty average life that we thought he probably never could have had. Here, we get some waffling that I don't think is all that necessary, and a lot of predicting the future (the book is set in the seventies and eighties, mostly) which of course has already been lived by Faulks, so is "amusingly" accurate, but not amusing enough to be rewarding. I started to think Faulks had lost interest in the character and just decided to wander off on a tangent and never come back.

I think this bit could probably have been fifty or sixty pages shorter. Maybe.

Either way, the ending is brilliant again. All the issues Engleby has bubble up to the surface, what happened in the past comes back to get him, and Faulks's research (which must have been extensive) pays off in a massive way. As usual, I don't want to include spoilers, so I won't go into what happens, but the loose ends are tied up and it's hard not to be impressed. All of this might all be a bit too neat and convenient for some people, and I wouldn't blame them; but for me, it worked. Faulks definitely walks the line between Brilliance and Trying Too Hard, but this time, I think he stays on the right side for the majority of the time.

So, at the end, I was satisfied. I had enjoyed myself. This is what reading is about, yes it is yes it is. 4/5.

"Kind? How boring that would be. I aspire to be wicked." Until I began listening to the Song of Ice and Fire books, I n...

"Kind? How boring that would be. I aspire to be wicked."

Until I began listening to the Song of Ice and Fire books, I never really considered audiobooks as an option for consuming novels. If I was going to read, I was going to read - hold a paperback in my hands, sit in a nice comfortable chair (or, y'know, a filthy bus seat), maybe put some instrumental music on (I can't have two sets of words going into my brain at once)… y'know, really make a night of it. But my attention span is short, and the more time I spend working for The Man and the less I spend writing my little stories, the more precious those minutes begin to feel; so sitting down in my favourite pants on my favourite chair to read a thousand pages of fantasy for three weeks suddenly doesn't seem as appetising an idea as I'm sure it does for so many other people. Hence the reason I turned to Audible.

Well, that and the fact that I had a code for two free Audible books.

Anyway. Fast forward a year, and I've just finished listening to book four, A Feast for Crows, and it has made such an impression on me that I just have to review it for my blog that no one reads. Yes, it has rocked my world. Made me laugh and despair and feel painfully confused. It's been a hell of a ride.

But I'm not talking about the story. No, sir; I won't be reviewing that. We all know how good the Song of Ice and Fire series is, how incredibly broad and deep George R. R. Martin's imagination has proven itself to be in the five books we've seen so far. There must be a hundred thousand reviews all over the Internet that go on about all of that - I don't want to cover old ground.

I want to talk instead about the narrator of the books (the longest of which is 47.5 hours long!): Roy Dotrice. The now 93-year-old actor has voiced every one of the books so far, and even held a Guinness World Record for the number of characters he voiced in the first, A Game of Thrones. He does all these different voices, he reads clearly, and he has a great timbre to his voice, which is vital if you're going to spend forty hours listening to it. He's really quite impressive, most of the time.

I just don't think he should voice the next one.

It all starts so well. At the beginning of A Game of Thrones, the children have children's voices, the women have women's voices, Tyrion has a curious northern English accent for which we can just about forgive him, and the book flows along nicely. But then, at some point, something goes wrong. Maybe Dotrice lost his notepad, or the Excel spreadsheet in which he noted down all his voices was corrupted by a shoddy Windows update (typical Microsoft). Or maybe he took a blow to the head, I don't know. Either way, Tyrion turns Welsh, never to become northern again.

That's fine. Maybe he moved to Wales at some point, and picked up the accent really quickly. Remember that time Joss Stone took a week's holiday in the USA and came back talking like Dolly Parton? Who's to say that couldn't happen to a Lannister?

But as you listen on, you slowly become aware that that explanation is an unlikely one, as other accents start to fall apart too. Varys speaks like he's just crawled out of a horrific car accident and is yet to see a doctor. Jaime and Cersei speak nothing like their younger brother. Tywin sounds like a huge fat man, a Jabba the Hutt of Westeros, for whom it is such an effort to speak that he can only say two or three words at a time without taking a break. Thoros of Myr starts out as a very old, fragile man and ends up a burly northerner. Through the course of the four books to which I've listened, Samwell has had about seven distinct accents.

Then Dotrice loses interest in names as well as voices. Bran becomes Brian. Brienne starts out as Bry-een, then in the fourth book, she becomes Brian too. Maybe he just likes the name Brian.

But that doesn't mean the voice fun is over. While everyone else turns slowly into Brian, Jaime becomes Welsh too, just for a few chapters. Cersei, not one to be left out while the rest of her family lose their minds, goes through male puberty, and trades her lady's voice in for one much deeper. 

I know, I'm being very mean. I don't mean to be. Roy Dotrice is a legend - I'm not sure I could record one of these books now, at 27, let alone at his age. I certainly couldn't come up with all the voices he does, to make dialogue that much easier to listen to. And it must be hard to get everything right in 40 hours of audio recording - I imagine there comes a point where you notice an error in the middle and just think, Fuck it, we've been here for two weeks doing this, let's just burn it to disc and go home. But still, this bloke held a Guinness World Record for this shit. Did they not listen to the book, and realise that he'd given two different voices to some of the characters? Does it still count, if you do it wrong? With this being the only audio edition of these books that is likely to be recorded for the foreseeable future, and with the narrator having such a huge influence on the listener's enjoyment of them, I'm just thinking that maybe it's time to get a slightly better reader. Someone who isn't as useless as nipples on a breastplate.

Although, thinking about it, and reading back what I've written here, that would make them less fun. A lot less fun.

So no, actually, ignore all of the above; I'd rather they kept him. Has anyone got his number? I want to call him up and have him talk to me in Lady Melisandre's whispery voice for a bit of cheeky ASMR.

"This isn't a tough love mission to turn the wayward back to the straight and narrow." A girl is missing, and her dad...

"This isn't a tough love mission to turn the wayward back to the straight and narrow."

A girl is missing, and her daddy's body is in a barn with a pitchfork stuck through it, bloated and bloody and stinking like a rotting skunk stuck in a U-bend. The only suspect, Gail G'Wain, the well-read and apparently rather intelligent orphaned farm hand, is gone too, run off into the worst storm that's hit this backward town for decades; and it's up to the seventy-odd-year-old sheriff, on his very last day on the job, to find that little bastard and bring him to justice.

Dramatic, isn't it. What a premise. But the writing tips all over the Internet tell us that it's not enough to have a dramatic story - they can take a hundred pages to really get going - so you have to grab the reader right at the start with something shocking. Well, don't worry; Cold Quiet Country has that covered. We open with the corrupt old sheriff blackmailing a young waitress into coming back to the police station with him and giving him oral sex in his office, because we really need to sledgehammer home that he's a corrupt old pervert, or how will the reader know?

I'm being unfair. I feel it too, the urge to strip Chapter One of its subtlety because the audience of today has ADHD and agents will throw your submissions away if they're not grabbed by the first sentence. It's just, in this case, it made me roll my eyes a bit. That's all.

So, for the next 320 pages, we find out how things got to this and where they're going from here, from the points of view of three characters: Sheriff Bittersmith, the old pervert who's been in charge of the town for umpteen years and is now being thrown out in favour of newer, more sensible blood; Gale G'Wain, who's holed up in a dead man's house a short walk away from the crime scene; and Gwen, the missing girl, who has the strange ability to sense when people are about to die. For some reason.

I didn't like this book. It wasn't a gripping story and it wasn’t particularly well written, in my opinion. And this is only my opinion, so if Clayton Lindemuth or one of his relatives ever stumbles across this review, they can disregard it as idiocy and they won't really be wrong. Sorry Clayton, sorry Clayton's family. I'll try not to be mean, but still, it's probably best if you just leave the review now. You win some, you lose some. I'm just bitter 'cause he's got a book deal and I haven't.

Anyway. One of the reasons I struggled to get into it is that the first half is peppered - enough to make you sneeze - with quirky similes. Unusual similes are better than clichéd, ten-a-penny ones, that is absolutely true. I'm sure Stephen King says it in On Writing, I just can't find the page… but if he does, then it must be true. But in this case, there are so many that it becomes something you notice, something that makes you think, Oh, this again. Which isn't good. And then they start coming two at a time, sentence after sentence: "He watched me and walked backward the first few yards, jumpy as a fart on a griddle. Like facing me would stop a bullet, midair."

…A fart on a griddle? I don’t think a fart would really interact with a griddle, just kind of, waft over it. And how does the second one even relate to the first? Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't think they really convey similar meanings. Ain't nobody got time for that. And it seems the author didn't either, or he ran out of them, because they dried up about halfway through the book, which was nice.

But then, there were the characters. There wasn't one I liked, to be honest; but I really disliked Liz Sunday, Gwen's best friend, who has almost exactly the same sob story as Gwen, which is about as imaginative as a kangaroo doing jumping jacks. Like a crap idea at a manager's meeting. She's weird and whiney and completely unconvincing because she pops up in situations that make you think, What? Why would she do that? Why would she be there? Who invented this girl?! I won't go too far into it because I don't want to include spoilers in this review, but trust me. She does things and turns up in places that completely break the fourth wall and make you remember you're definitely reading fiction, which is bad.

It did become readable, gripping even, for a little while in maybe the third quarter. Stuff started happening and it was interesting and dangerous and I forgot for a few pages that I was reading a story and just got lost in it for a bit, which says something nice about the skill of the writer, I suppose, when he gets it right. But then, boom, it fell apart again, and Aaron got his knickers in a twist once more.

Liz Sunday turns up again - in a ridiculous situation, obviously - and suddenly, we're thrown from the sort-of-almost-nearly-American-noir style that has been attempted so far (Publishers Weekly are quoted on the back cover comparing the writing to that of Donald Ray Pollock, and as a massive fan of Donald Ray Pollock and all his darkness, I'd say this is nowhere near it) into a dramatic Young Adult superhero showdown in which Gale G'Wain has the time between battles to explain - in a monologue that is so romantic, melodramatic and unbelievable that it made me physically cringe - just what happened for everything to end up here. Only he misses a vital point that was obvious to everyone else about five chapters ago, and the hardy, slightly unhinged Liz Sunday has to point it out to him so that he can spend the next 10 pages asking the reader if it's true. Did that happen? Am I crazy? Is Liz right? Did Gwen do that for this reason? Did that happen? Ugh.

Then we waste another who-knows-how-many pages wildly changing course to round off Liz's subplot in ridiculous fashion and for no good reason, dealing with her back story in much the same way as we deal with every back story in the book: with a bit of violence and very little realism. By this point, I was hoping the book would end, so I really didn't want to be dragged along to deal with Liz's problems, which were just clones of Gwen's.

And then, finally, we get the ending. Predictable, as deep as a puddle in a drought, and just as unbelievable as the rest of the book. And all I was left wondering was, why was it called Cold Quiet Country? What's that name got to do with anything that I just read?

Well, I suppose Cold is related, since they were in a snowstorm. So yeah, I suppose it's perfect.

I've been mean haven't I. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be. I just got all frustrated when I wasn't convinced by the book's darkness or its style, and definitely not by its characters or dialogue. There was nowhere near enough subtlety or variety, and both of those things are definitely vital to excellent writing, in my arrogant opinion.

An opinion which, it should be noted, is not popular among other people who've read the book - the people who have bothered to write reviews on Goodreads are mostly positive about it, and on Amazon UK, it only has one review lower than 4 stars. So if I have made you feel sad, Clayton, or anyone else for that matter, remember that I'm massively outvoted, and still just bitter that there are people out there whose novels are being published and read, while I'm just a nobody writing reviews no one really cares about on a site no one visits.

Still. 2/5 at the most.

"If such a thing had happened once, it must surely have happened many times in this galaxy of a hundred billion suns." I d...

Let's face it, as always, BB-8 is the real star of this photograph.

"If such a thing had happened once, it must surely have happened many times in this galaxy of a hundred billion suns."

I don't often read sci-fi. It's not that I have anything against the genre; that which I have read, I've mostly enjoyed. I love Star Wars and the news I read is almost exclusively technology-focused and I have a Computer Science degree and I found it very hard to get a girlfriend before I captured this one, so I'm sure I tick almost every box in Amazon's Probable Sci-Fi Reader list; but no, what I normally choose to read is largely dark, depressing, American, literary fiction. General fiction, you'd probably call it. Stories about young men feeling sorry for themselves and learning the hard way what it takes to be a man, you know the kind.

But the novel I've been writing for the past two years (at least), and of which I recently finished the first draft, would probably be counted as science fiction, since it's set on another planet. And in the future. I mean, I still think it's literary fiction - what do the location and the year matter? That's just the backdrop to my deep, well-formed, Booker-prize-deserving characters. But try telling that to a literary agent in your covering letter.

So I'm reading more sci-fi. Because I have to, if I want to fit in when I'm a famous author.

So, I read Rendezvous with Rama. And I'm going to review it for you. And that was the longest, most pointless introduction to a book review that anyone has ever written. But it's all about me, so I'll leave it in. I love me.

In Rendezvous with Rama, we join humanity in the 2130s (very close to the time in which my book is set - maybe I'll have to change that), when it has colonised most of the planets in the solar system, and a meteor strike in Italy has caused such a huge ruckus that a system has been set up to scan the skies for incoming space objects, so we all have a bit of warning in future. After running happily for a few years, one normal Tuesday (probably), this system spots a huge asteroid heading toward the sun, travelling extremely quickly and rotating like a dizzy dinosaur. Probes are dispatched, photographs are photographed, and it is found that this asteroid is perfectly cylindrical, fucking huge, and therefore… DUN DUN DUN… not an asteroid at all, but a spaceship.

Everyone is all like shiiiiiit boi, and the closest vessel to Rama (which is the name we give this interstellar monstrosity) - the Endeavour - is sent to land on its face and explore its innards. The majority of the book, therefore, is spent following the Endavour's crew as they discover, bit by bit, the tiny world inside of this humungous ship, and try to fathom what race could possibly have sent it our way.

Reading it, I often found I had a smile on my face. The language is light and easily read, the characters likable enough (if a little two-dimensional), and the story believable enough that it draws you in; but the exciting part, the part that put the smile on my hairy face, was the magic of Rama. I liked the mysteries revealed a little at a time, and the eternal promise that in the next chapter, perhaps, a Raman might come out to play. I liked the idea of Rama. This huge cylinder that could contain anything at all, inside of which Clarke builds a world from scratch.

Unfortunately, though, I was left a little disappointed by the limits of what he did create. Perhaps I'd built up the possibilities too much in my head. There is, after all, only so much you can fit into one novel. But still, I felt like there could have been more, and the ending could have been more satisfying. I won't go into detail, it wouldn't be right; but suffice to say, at the end, I was more, "Oh, okay then…" than "Wow!"

Regardless, it gripped me, which seems to be getting harder and harder these days. I never dreaded opening the book and I didn't feel relieved finishing it. And those are all good points, when you're a moody stinker like me. So, for giving me a good grin on a few journeys to work, and for making me feel the magic of an imagined alien race, I'll give it 4/5.

So you're a writer. And you're sick of working for The Man, and you've finally finished your latest attempt at a novel, and you...

So you're a writer. And you're sick of working for The Man, and you've finally finished your latest attempt at a novel, and you want to make a proper go of it, after all these years of half-arsed writing whenever you can find time. Well, the Internet says you need a blog, and you need to be marketing yourself; so whatcha gonna do about it, eh? EH?!

(Don't worry if all this doesn't apply to you. It applies to me, and that's what's important.)

Well, first you need to do some research. But you're lazy, which is why your efforts at writing have been so half-arsed up until now. So here you are, reading someone's blog on how to blog. Someone who has, up until now, been a lazy and half-arsed blogger, and who has read around a bit so that he too can blog like a proper blogger, and get people reading the blogs that he has blogged.

So let's learn together!

Getting Started

I'm already established on this blog. Look, it's been around for years. But let's suppose you're not up to this point. Before you start, you need to make sure you have all of the following:
  • Something to blog about. Obviously.
  • A name for your blog. Obviously.
  • A blogging platform. Don't keep switching and don't have blogs on a shitload of sites. People need to know where to find you and changing your primary blog all the time means losing your fanbase overnight. As you can see, I've chosen Blogger, but there are quite a few alternatives out there. Loads of people choose WordPress, but I just couldn't work that shit out. George R R Martin uses LiveJournal - who knew that still existed?!
  • A laptop. Or a desktop. Or a tablet. Or something you can use to post to a blog. Come on people, these are the basics.
And I think that's it. But I'm sure that I'll be proven wrong. I'll be updating this as I go along, so we'll see if I need to add anything.


This is the tricky bit. As you can see from my post history. So, here are the things I think are most important:
  • Something I've struggled with as my writing has improved is posting mediocre writing to my blog. I feel like it will diminish my "brand" (as if I have one) somehow, if I publish a post on my blog which isn't as well written as a story which I've polished until I'm completely happy with it. Which results in me posting nothing, since nearly all of my writing is mediocre. Well, unsurprisingly, people don't expect perfect writing in a blog, especially one which is updated regularly; so as long as your content is interesting and vibrant, just post it. Then, The People will always have something to read, and always have you in their minds. That's what I'm doing right now - staying in your mind. Isn't this interesting, and vibrant? And badly written? Yeah, I think so too.
  • Post regularly. Like, all the time. Weekly. At least weekly. Like, at the very least. Daily, if you have enough to say. Honestly. Some bloggers charge people to read half their content, they write that much of it. But we won't do that. Not yet, anyway.
  • Include pictures, and big fonts, and small paragraphs, and all the other stuff that holds the attention of those twitchy, eternally restless noughties kids. Make it colourful. Grab people by the face fat and scream at them, with your words.

There's definitely more to say here. But this is a good start. We're at the bottom of the ladder at the moment, so let's add to this list as we climb.

Other stuff you need to think about

  • Twitter. Instagram. Facebook. Reddit. Bus stops. Megaphones. All the ways you can shove your blog in people's faces, with varying degrees of subtlety.
  • Erm... I'll get back to you.

My plan

To be honest, that exhausts my research at the moment. I told you I was lazy.

But I've already learnt a lot which I haven't been doing for all these years on this site; and actually making a plan to implement all of the above, instead of just talking about it, might give me the kick up the arse I need to read more, to write more, and to raise my profile online after all this time sort-of-blogging. So, from now on, I am going to try to:
  1. Set aside at least an hour a night to write, whether that's for the blog, or short stories, or a novel. This is going to be a seriously hard one, as I barely get ten minutes a night done at the moment.
  2. Post to at least once a week.
  3. Start reviewing books, for many reasons. One: it'll get me reading more, which every writer should do. Two: so that I work out more precisely what it is I do and don't like about books that I read, which will improve the quality of my own writing. And most evil of them all, three: it might trick readers into coming here, and then I can shove my own short stories down their throats. Mwahaha.
  4. Share a lot more on Instagram (@destroyedordamaged) and Twitter (@destroyordamage)
  5. Post regularly about how this plan is working so far, so you can all laugh at my failure.

It might take some ramping up, and I'm not saying that I'll definitely meet all of those aims, but I'm going to try. Right now, I get an average of 377 page views every month. In 3 months' time, I'll write an update post to let you know how it goes.

Feel free to get in touch if you're doing the same. Or, y'know, more, if you're not as lazy as I am. Let's see how far we can get. Maybe we'll all be the most famous people on the Internet in a year's time. Like that Zoebra bloke.

I want to write more blog posts. I do. Whenever I have time to think, I spend it trying to think about things I could write about...

Death Valley, California. A metaphor for the state of this blog.

I want to write more blog posts.

I do.

Whenever I have time to think, I spend it trying to think about things I could write about. How I feel about a certain topic, perhaps, or an idea for a silly post like the ones I used to write. But then I think, who'd care about that shit? I'm not sure I would. Everyone has opinions and everyone thinks they should blog about them and then with everyone blogging about their opinions and views I think we're all starting to realise that we really don't give a fuck. Besides, even when I have an idea that I think will really be a hit, it suffers in the execution. I begin to write it, and I realise that I hate my own writing, and before I know it the keyboard is covered in blood from all the punching myself in the face.

I could write about writing, I suppose. Advice, opinions, maybe a journal of my own progress. That might do well - my example letter to a literary agent is still one of the biggest hits on my entire blog, after all. But no. No. I can't do that. I'm not qualified. Advice on writing from someone like me would be about as valuable as advice on writing from E L James or my girlfriend's cat. Worthless.

So what else? Perhaps I should just write. Just write a load of words as they come into my head, like I'm doing now. But that ends up all dribbly and nonsensical, scattered and pointless, like the post you're reading right now. No, that won't do at all.

God knows I have enough short story ideas to fill a blog with first drafts that no one will ever read. I should make time for those, really. I never feel like I have time for them, but I should make it. I know a girl who does a vlog, and she's really good at making time for that. She sets other things aside to make her videos, because it's what she wants to do. The rest can wait.

I should do that too.

I have a good idea for a serial I'd like to write, kind of like a novel that I don't edit to death, but instead post here a chapter at a time, as I write it. Maybe that would catch the attention of the people. It'd certainly be exciting, feeling like I had to finish the next bit to keep the blog going. Yeah, maybe I should get on with that.

Yeah! I should!

Get a grip. Make time. If this is my passion, I need to make sure I allow myself to be passionate.

Thanks for the talk. You've really helped.

I'll start tomorrow. Or at the weekend, or something. I don't know, whenever I have time.

    I’d only just sat down really, and I certainly hadn’t started doing anything worthwhile, when I heard the knock on the door.     ‘Y...

   I’d only just sat down really, and I certainly hadn’t started doing anything worthwhile, when I heard the knock on the door.

   ‘You’re in my cubicle,’ the voice said. It was a deep voice, belonging to a man who sounded like he was probably fifty or sixty, authoritative and wise.

   I didn’t answer for a long time. A part of me hoped that if I stayed quiet, and completely still, he’d move on, walk away, assume no one was home like religious salespeople would. But he didn’t move, and the tension built, and my neck and face filled with the hot blood of embarrassment so that I could feel them turning a fiery red, and I gave in. ‘…Excuse me?’ I said.

   ‘This cubicle is mine. You’re in my cubicle.’

   I looked around, silently begging the walls of that tiny little space to help me, not moving a muscle for fear of making even the quietest of sounds. If this man was correct, if this was his cubicle, what was I to do? Give up everything that I came in here for, all that I hoped to achieve, and bequeath it to him right now? Awkwardly squeeze past him, standing there with his angry face on, waiting for me to get out of his way? I couldn’t, surely; I’d die of embarrassment as soon as I swung that door open.

   So I sat there a while longer, not making a sound. I looked at his feet under the door of the cubicle. His shoes were black, shiny, expensive-looking. The trousers which sat on top of them, just the right length, were pressed beautifully, the crease as precise and straight as if it was ironed in by Jesus himself. If this man was anything like his ankles and feet, I faced a formidable foe. I suddenly felt very dizzy.

   And it must have been this dizziness that commandeered my mouth, because I became aware of it saying to him, ‘Aren’t there any other cubicles you could use?’

   ‘Of course there are other cubicles,’ he replied, ‘but this one is mine.’

   I knew there were other cubicles. There were about eight empty cubicles when I came in, and none of them looked any less special than this one. If I’d known someone was going to do this to me, I would have chosen one of the others. I didn’t come here for trouble, I came here to do my business and then leave. I certainly didn’t intend to steal anything from anyone. If ownership of cubicles can even be claimed.

   ‘Can you wait a couple of minutes?’ I asked, as I heard the squeal of a door hinge from outside. I would have relished the chance to imagine that that squealing door signalled his exit; but his shoes remained there, standing firm, pointing at me accusingly from under the door.

   ‘No I will not,’ replied the voice, ‘get out of my cubicle!’

   ‘Your cubicle?’ A new voice replied, coming from far above a new pair of shoes, which were brown and equally shiny, topped with tan-coloured, equally beautifully-pressed chinos. ‘This is my cubicle. Always has been.’

   ‘I beg your pardon?’ Replied the first voice.

   ‘This is my cubicle! Who’s in there? Get out of my cubicle!’ The new man rapped his knuckles on the door a few times.

   ‘This is not your cubicle, sir. This is mine, and you have no right to bash on its door so.’

   And so it continued, for a gruelling few minutes. I sat in mortified silence, now at the centre of a heated row that I caused just by sitting down in an open-topped cuboid. There was no way I was getting anything done with all this noise, all this pressure, all this misunderstanding weighing down on me. I said, ‘Excuse me, chaps?’ and I said, ‘I’ll really just be a couple of minutes,’ but they weren’t interested in me anymore, just the locked cubicle and the intruder inside it and the battle over who could claim it as their own. And then another voice joined, furious that its owner had entered a room where his cubicle was occupied and there were two more men fighting over it.

   I started to wonder what was so special about this little cubicle, seemingly so identical to all the rest. I hurriedly, quietly began to check under my feet, all over the walls, behind my head, to see if there was anything in here that might hold the key to the mystery; but there was nothing. It really was just another cubicle like all the thousands of others I’d been in over the years. I couldn’t see a single thing that would make it so hotly sought after.

   But by the time I’d finished looking for reasons, there were ten more voices outside, and the number was still growing. They cried out in indignation and rage, spite and sadness, each one next in line to hold dominion over that little box I was sitting in. There were insults and accusations flying everywhere, and the noise in that small, tiled room was unbearable. In the melee, I was sure I even heard some punches thrown and caught with gusto. So finally, I decided to give up my occupation.

   I wasn’t going to achieve anything in there anyway. Not with that noise outside. So I stood, and I pulled my trousers up, and I did up my belt, and for the sake of appearances I pulled the chain; and finally, I took a deep breath. My heart was pounding, a thousand beats a second. I was terrified of the mob outside that door, sure that I was going to be ripped to shreds as soon as I left; but there was only one way out and I didn’t want to be seen as a coward, so I was going to face it like a man.

   One more deep breath, in and then out, and I turned the little lock, and pulled the door open.

   At the sound of the toilet’s flush, the mob had been silenced; and now, they stared at me with rage on their bulging, red faces, completely without sound, as I took my first step outside of the cubicle. Some were fat and old, some were slim and young; some had beards like monster truck tyres around their faces, and some wore no hair at all on their heads. Some had others’ collars in their white-knuckled hands, and some were frozen in a pose of mid-throttle. But they all stood completely still in the tableau in which I found them, and watched me in silence as I sidestepped around their huddled mass to the sinks, to wash my hands and leave. I’ve never felt so excruciatingly observed.

   But when I reached the sink, every man in the crowd abandoned his staring, and made a dash for the cubicle, taking his chance to mark his territory and prove to everyone in the room that what was rightfully his was rightfully his, and no one else had any chance of taking it from him. The struggle to fit into that tiny box was manic.

   Faces were pushed away by desperate hands and hands were pulled back by desperate stragglers, as twenty or thirty men tried to force themselves into a space barely big enough for one. The hinges on the door creaked and the water in the toilet bowl sloshed, all of it heaving under the strain of hundreds of stones of human trying to squeeze their way in. I cringed, imagining the pain of being in the middle of that ruck, and took a step back.

   And then, the inevitable happened. With a crash and a smash and an almighty splash, the walls of the cubicle gave way, the toilet bowl cracked, and every man in the mound was scattered across the floor like so many bowling pins. They’d destroyed the thing they were fighting over, and now all that was left was their hurt pride, shattered dreams, torn clothes and a broken cubicle splayed across the floor like a deconstructed cardboard box. The ruckus dead, the fight over, the men looked around them with dejection and broken-heartedness weighing heavy on their features.

   Some of them picked themselves up and dusted themselves off, slowly and painfully, preparing themselves to live life without the cubicle. Some of them stayed down, sobbed into their sleeves, wallowed in sadness. Some just stood up and stared at the hole where the cubicle used to be, scratching their heads and wondering what had come over them. Some were too injured to do anything at all. They were all quiet now, no longer arguing over who might have owned that space, just trying to recover from the loss they’d suffered. It was the saddest sight I’d ever seen.

   After trying to console some of them and failing, helping some of them get up onto their feet and others seek medical attention, I left that toilet, and haven’t ever returned since. To this day, I don’t know what they all saw in that cubicle. All I thought it was good for was taking a shit.

   The kids run around the pool playing a game, the rules of which seem undecipherable even to those participating, and the noise they make...

   The kids run around the pool playing a game, the rules of which seem undecipherable even to those participating, and the noise they make is that of savages and wild animals and the dying and the dead. Some of the parents are embarrassed, this being a communal pool open to the entire resort, but most just lie on their sunbeds in a blissful dream. The ones that are embarrassed add to the noise, stopping their screaming children in their tracks and telling them stop it, Harry, and telling them now you calm down, right now. The kids receive these tellings-off like beautiful women receive compliments, forgetting them instantly, and run straight off screaming at the top of their lungs. For many of these kids, it's the first trip abroad they've ever enjoyed. For all of them, it's the first trip in such a large group.
   They’re all wasted firsts, of course. None of the kids will remember the details of the holiday or mark it specially in their minds; they’ll remember the sunburnt shoulders or the popped pool ring or the first and last time they ever tried tuna on a pizza. Never the important details.
   Gathered around the big blue kidney bean of a pool are four families, their members related in some cases by cousinhood and sometimes just by lifetimes spent together, and each of those families have brought their own favourite combinations of generations. One couple have their children and their new grandchild; one have only their five children; one of the men, fresh from a divorce, has brought his two daughters and his new girlfriend and her stepson, the controversy of which has been the elephant in the room for the rest of the families for the whole holiday; and the last have brought their son and their very elderly parents, who sit under a parasol frowning eternally.
   Of this elderly couple, the old woman sits in a wheelchair saying nothing, hasn't said a word to anyone but her husband in years; and the old man speaks only when he wants to say something cantankerous or upsetting to one of the young holidaymakers or to complain to a helpful member of staff about something they would be powerless to fix. He seems to have been spending the week so far venting frustrations he's been storing up his whole life, as if aware that it’ll be his last holiday and desperate to get them off his chest at least once before his clogs pop for him. The negativity has hung around the old couple like a cloud, making their parasol a place to avoid for anyone who values the fun they’re having.
   But it is under this parasol that one of the kids chooses to sit, in an unoccupied garden chair, and sulk his way out of the game.
   His sigh is like a whoopee cushion’s, under the weight of a heaving clown car.
   Then nothing happens for a while. The kid just stares at the floor.
   ‘What’s wrong wi you?’ The old man says.
   ‘Huh?’ The kid says, still focusing on the floor, kicking it with the ball of his bare foot.
   ‘You eard.’
   ‘Lewis kicked the ball into one of the palm trees,’ the kid says, after a pause.
   ‘An you can’t get it out?’
   ‘There somethin wrong wi your ears? I said is that why you’re upset, cause you can’t get it back?’
   ‘Oh. No. That was what we were trying to do.’
   The old man stops looking at the kid, stares back out at the pool, the kids, the palm trees, the blue. Some time passes. ‘I don’t understand you fuckin kids,’ he says.
   The kid looks up at the old man, recognising a keyword his parents have been keeping from him.
   After studying the old man’s face for a few seconds, he elaborates. ‘I’m annoyed because I wanted to be the first to do it.’
   ‘The first,’ the old man repeats. ‘Good luck wi that.’ He chuckles, a raspy chuckle laced with malice.
   ‘You’ll never be the first to do anythin, boy. Everythin’s bin done. Every record’s bin broken, everywhere’s bin explored. All the years you’ve got ahead, an you’re still just as likely to break new ground in your lifetime as I am, an that ain’t fuckin appenin. You’ll do well to kiss goodbye to opin to be the first at anythin. Firsts are wasted on the worst o the world.’
   There’s a pause, as the kid tries to compute what the old man has said. He thinks for a while, then says, ‘Huh?’
   ‘I’ll give you an example. One day you’ll meet a nice woman. Or man, whatever, I don’t give a fuck what you kids get up to. Point is, you’ll fall in love. She could be everythin you’ve ever dreamed of. Funny, smart, pretty, sexy, best o the best. But you can bet your arse she won’t be a virgin. Not even close. Some arsehole will ave come along before you an taken that away, years before you got there. Which’d be fine, on its own. It ain’t really about virginity, you can lose that ridin a bike; the real trouble is the stolen innocence, all the fings you could’ve ad a first go at together, an now you can’t. Believe me, e’ll ave shown er everythin you wanted to. Er first theatre show, er first romantic oliday, probly er first place to stay an all, somewhere she can take er clothes off for im whenever e tells er. She’ll love those memories, even if she never says it. Everythin you wish you could be the first one to give er, she’ll ave been there, done that, an the arsehole what done it will ave packed up and fucked off years before you even showed up. She won’t even wish you were the first. You won’t stand out, by any measure.
   ‘An that’s just your love life. You’ll never invent anythin new, create anythin original, discover anythin ain’t already bin discovered. Too many people ave come before ye. Sooner you learn you ain’t special, better you’ll cope wi life. Wish someone ad told me earlier.’
   By now, the kid’s father has noticed that the old man is ranting at his son, and has approached to make sure the kid isn’t being upset. He reaches the edge of the parasol as the old man finishes his monologue, and stands smiling with faux carefreeness.
   ‘Everything alright, Stu?’ He asks the kid.
   The kid looks up at his dad, then back at his granddad, then back at his dad.
   ‘Granddad said the F word,’ he replies.
   The kid’s dad takes his son’s hand and begins to lead him away. ‘For God’s sake, dad,’ he says to the old man, ‘I’ve told you before, try to keep the language clean in front of Stuart.’ He leads his child away, shaking his head.
   The old man just continues staring out at the pool, his hands in his lap, the noise of the kids fuelling that dull ache at the back of his head. He and his wife sit there like statues, passing the time by passing the time, and nothing else.
   After a few minutes, the old wife speaks softly. ‘You’re completely wrong, you know.’
   ‘Eh?’ The old man replies.
   ‘Is that what you’ve thought, all these years? That I don’t wish you were the first? I wish for nothing more. I wish you’d been all I ever had. You’re the love of my life, Trevor. Special is all you’ve ever been to me. Life just went the way it went. Always does. First or second or a hundred and fifty-seventh, nothing could take away that you’re the most and the best. Nothing at all.’
   The old man sighs. He says, ‘I know, love, that weren’t about us.’
   He can’t even remember if he’s lying. Probably it was the case that he just wishes she was his first. That he hadn’t wasted so many opportunities to have a first shot. Something like that. He’s not sure what his point was. All he seems to feel these days is angry. But not when he looks at her.
   The old couple join hands, and stare together at the pool and the kids and the palm trees and the blue and the whole world full of wasted firsts.