Don’t Expect To Hear From Me.

I didn’t play this song for the longest time because of what it reminded me of.

A couple of years ago I was in a band called Negative Panda Society. I loved that band and our stupid name. It never really went anywhere but one of my friends, Danny, was obsessed with my songwriting and would listen to every demo I ever played to him. He was one of the most inspiring and frustrating people I ever met. At our shows it was guaranteed he would be at the front, singing the words back to me.

Danny had been experiencing seizures and was on different types of medication as the doctors tried to establish whether he had epilepsy or something else. Unfortunately one night he had a seizure in his sleep and passed away. When I was told the next day I was absolutely devastated. He was in his twenties. I had never lost anyone like that before. You expect your grandparents to eventually leave but you assume your friends are going to be there forever.
That night Negative Panda Society played a gig at The Royal in Southend. I dedicated this song Don’t Expect To Hear From Me to him. Weeks later, I played it as his wake. It’s very special to me, as are my memories of him.

Sleep well brother.


Best Advice

For the last couple of weeks I have felt as though I were in a bit of a slump. Those around me are very good on picking up on such things and try one of two things. They either tell me to ‘be happy’ which is possibly the worst thing you can say to someone in a downward spiral or they attempt to understand it. For the majority of my life I’ve struggled with the ebbs of flows of my moods. It goes beyond being stroppy and it wasn’t until I eventually got round to seeking professional help that I was advised that I had probably suffered a series of depressions, even at the age of ten. I therefore feel I am always on eggshells around myself.
The majority of occasions when this has occurred I’ve eventually managed to pull myself out of the nosedive after a couple of days or weeks. It doesn’t worry me anymore. I know it is part of the path. The struggle I have is in being able to identify what it is I am unhappy with.

I would like to share two of the best things people said to me during that time, one of whom at least was not even aware of how solid gold her words were.
I was explaining how I felt to a good friend, someone I look up to and always think of as being a very strong and driven man, and he explained that what I was feeling wasn’t unusual and that he had recently suffered a similar crisis of confidence. He worried about his legacy and whether this was all we were intended to do and achieve with our limited time on Earth. It really hit me. A lot of the time I like to imagine that I’m alone in my thought processes, that I’m this delicate flower that nobody will ever be able to understand but he crawled right under the skin of the problem. That is my concern. What if I’m not making the most of what was going on. As John Lennon said, “life is what happens when you’re busy making plans”.
What my friend helped me to realise is that there is nothing wrong with striving for more, but you have to carry on doing whatever it is you are doing because that, unfortunately, is the way it is. We have to pay the bills, have to put bread on the table and have to… any other hunter/gatherer type expressions you may choose to supplement in. He made me think about the fact that I’m not alone in my unhappiness, that deep down nobody is happy with the status quo but unless you’re going to do something about it then nothing is going to change. I went home that night and started work on a new book. I’ve spoken before about my fears of death, of dying and being forgotten and my realisation that my writing was my attempt to eventually stretch back from beyond the grave.
I honestly love what I do for a living, I love the people I work with but to know we are all striving for something better makes me feel less alienated.

The second conversation that helped me through was one conducted on Southend high street at 1am last Sunday morning. As you can imagine, it was both sobering and insightful.
I was explaining to someone how great it is that within our circle of friends everyone is very creative, that they strive to achieve these things. What I actually said was “everyone is trying to do something”.
She said “No Paul, everyone is doing something”.
I stopped dead. She was completely right.
John and George and Ali aren’t trying to be a sketch group, they are a sketch group.
Ross isn’t trying to be a comedian, he is a comedian.
Sam isn’t trying to create music, he is creating music.
I’m not trying to be a writer, I am a writer.
“There is no try” as Yoda said.

Once you eliminate the trying aspect, I realised I am doing things and I shouldn’t be so down in the mouth because everything I write is a progression, is something I am doing and one way or another I am going to get to where I want because that is where I will end up.

Sail on Salinger.

Over the last decade no writer has had as much of an impact upon me as Jerome David Salinger. 

At a time when I wanted to be misunderstood and dark, when nobody seemed to get me and when I didn’t fully understand myself I was given a copy of Catcher In The Rye. Since that moment I have been lost to the magic of the New York of Holden Caulfield’s description; the cab rides, the bars, the women, the phonies. I had never read anything like it. When I got round to Franny & Zooey, and eventually Raise High The Roof Beam and For Esme – With Love And Squalor I was amazed to find the Salinger style wasn’t exclusive to Catcher, there’s an aesthetic to his work, reoccurring themes of disengaged family, coming of age, religion and pop culture punctuate his work. As a writer I try to put a touch of this into everything I do, it’s a sickness that I have absolutely no intention on trying to cure. He got under my skin and in many ways helped me realise that what I ultimately wanted to do with my life was write. 
The most interesting or courageous thing about Salinger is his choice to disappear from the spotlight, to stop publishing and to cut himself off when the world wanted more, more, more. 

In many ways that is what drew me to the rumours that a collection of his short stories which had previously been unpublished had somehow leaked in the latter part of 2013. 
Salinger was notably cagey about the press and the publications of his work, which reports state was not to be released until 2060, fifty years after the writer’s death. The source of the leak remains dubious despite reports online, but the text has been confirmed to be genuine. I fought against reading it for just under a second, thinking it would be best to honour the requests of a man who felt he was being dragged into a spotlight he had never wanted for himself. This subsided and I found a working torrent like the dreadful fanboy I am.

The first story, The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls is magnificent. It features a letter that Holden Caulfield wrote home to his brothers Vincent and Kenneth (who would become D.B. and Allie in Catcher In The Rye) and a short story that Vincent is writing about a repressed husband only allowed to go out bowling once a week, and his wife’s discovery of an assumed affair after his death. Out of context it does not sound like much but to fans of his work, desperate for another crack in the mirror to appear, it is magnificent. 

Birthday Boy deals with another idea of Salinger’s, that of madness. It sees Ray in a hospital bed being visited by his wife who denies his requests for alcohol. It doesn’t feel as complete as Bowling Balls but the idea is there, and is another glimpse at what else could be hidden in the safe Salinger kept in his writing room.

Paula is the most surreal of the three, and tells the story of a young couple trying to have a baby. When Mrs Hincher says she has fallen pregnant she insists on spending the entirety of her pregnancy in bed for fear of being run down by a truck or otherwise risking the life of their unborn child. The lesson is unclear, the point confused but it is just bizarre enough to be accepted.

The key thing to remember with these three stories is that it could well be the tip of the iceberg. Salinger reportedly wrote for every day of his life but stopped publishing in 1965. There are any number of stories which are waiting for us. Whether his wishes are honoured and these do not receive publication for another fifty years remains to be seen but I will be waiting. Image

Time. Lord!

In the last couple of weeks I have been handed some pretty heavy reminders of exactly how time is escaping me. It is also escaping you. This occurs at the same rate. We have that in common. It may seem that it takes longer, especially when you are looking forward to something, or even when being dragged through the rigmarole of something you don’t want to be a part of. The important thing I am coming to realise is to brace the whole damn lot of it.

I read recently that if you were to consider the time the Earth has existed as a twenty-four hour clock then humans would have been around for one minute and seventeen seconds. I couldn’t even Google that information in that time. 

This week I ran into someone I was at university with. They reminded me that it has been close to a decade since we started university. I try to think back to who I was and who I was, what I was into and how bad my hair looked and it is hard to imagine it is even the same person. Similarly I caught up with a friend recently and we couldn’t even establish how long it had been since we had last seen one another. It felt recent because of our mutual adoration of social networking but in reality was something along the lines of six years.
I think of myself in years gone by as a character that I’ve grown out of, that I can pull material from, but not as someone who existed within the body I am now in, that assisted in me becoming who I am now. We may share an awful lot of history but we feel entirely removed from one another. Catching up with friends is very important to me. It seems that as time goes by the importance of maintaining contact is stretched further. What I once considered a long period of time to be alone is now never enough. Waiting on anything is never as drastic as it was as a child. The reason for this, and I’m sure I can’t stake a claim to the theory is that as you grow older your slice of life grows, fewer things become new, become adventures, become changes. You fall into a pattern because you have experienced a lot of what is to offer. 
I’m not trying to claim that I’m some kind of world-weary seen it all type but the day to day just ticks by because it is just that. This is why when you get an opportunity to go off somewhere, or you’re offered a gig, or you are invited out to the woods after midnight you pull on your longcoat and you start walking. 
I would hate to get to a point where I regretted the decisions I had made. 


High Variety.

Last night I hosted the first Six Presents High Variety show at The Alex in Southend. It was an evening of stand up comedy, songs, juggling, escapology and improvisation. It was absolutely fantastic. I can’t think of a time when I enjoyed being on stage so much. It was made all the better by the performers so before I get into the nuts and bolts of the thing I would like to thank Sam, Cat, Ben, Ross, Justin, Adam, Lance, Jack, Jamie and Luke for the parts they played in it being a success.

I find it incredible that I am surrounded by such talent, that within our little corner town there is such skill and magic, and that there is obviously an audience for it. Those who joined us last night were patient and true. When I tried to tell jokes or play the piano they stuck by it and saw the whole thing through.

I feel truly blessed for being a part of the show and the success I feel it to be.


The Stamp Collective – an excerpt.

Last night the beautiful nun mums of Old Trunk hosted another of their brilliant Tales & Ales events at The Alex in Southend. They kindly asked if I would like to do a reading. The subject matter for this session was Tinkers, Scoundrels, Dunderheads & Pricks. Fortunately I had just the right piece, a section from my new novel The Stamp Collective.

The Stamp Collective is a tale of camaraderie, brotherhood, sex, death, Tom Jones and the Oedipus complex. In the following scene the Stamp brothers are at the wake of their mother who they lost to cancer.

Benny was stood at the buffet table. Despite his invested interest in the event, he had taken to the task of ‘putting on a good spread’ with professional aplomb and the delicate aperitifs had all been prepared by his hand. He had spent two days and nights up shaping, carving, scooping and seasoning in order to provide the kind of food his mother loved him for. Despite her constant claim she was on a diet, prior to the cancer of course, Mrs. Stamp had always been a fan of ‘picky bits’. This was in fact the exact phrase used in her will to describe her funeral arrangements.
Benny was also drunk. Nowhere near as far gone as either of his brothers but his constitution was legendary. He could drink an entire bottle of vodka before leaving the house for a night out. He did however have a tendency to get either a bit feely or a bit violent when the occasion and the drink took him.
‘This grub is a bit wanky’ said the gentleman to Benny’s left, throwing a stuffed plum tomato back onto the silver tray. ‘Where’s the fucking vol-au-vents?’
‘I’ll give you the fucking vol-au-vents!’ screamed Benny and grabbed the man’s head between his hands, twisting it until it was close to coming off before slamming it onto and through the table. Despite their pretty appearance, decorated with white lace table clothes, candles and flowers, the tables were essentially cheap chipboard affairs dressed up. The man hollered as he went through, the contents on either side of the split sliding in on him. Trays of profiteroles and filo pastry prawns collided as they met under gravity’s sweet gaze on and around him. The high pile of china plates intercut with red paper napkins flipped out across the floor.
Hearing the sound of smashing crockery acted like a summons for Frank and Rees. They knew straight away that there was only one person invited to the wake who had the capacity for such chaos if it were neither of them.
They ran to the scene of the crime, suddenly sobered by the materialisation of a family emergency. By this point the fallen man, Tony, had made it to his feet and was swinging a drumstick in their brother’s face. His cheek was already beginning to bruise from the impact with the falling trays, his shirt was soaked with fruit punch and chocolate fondant and the crotch of his trousers was splattered with a test batch of Benny’s homemade sauce.
‘Oi’ shouted Rees, ‘stop aiming that chicken leg at my brother!’
‘You!’ shouted Tony just as loudly, ‘you’re the one who has been hitting on my bird.’
‘Your bird?’
Rees automatically shot a look over to the table of women. One of them waved a monogrammed handkerchief at him in an act of confession.
‘She told me she was getting divorced.’
‘Yeah! And I’m her boyfriend.’
‘You’re not a boy though’ said Rees. ‘You’re a cunt!’
Before Tony could make any kind of move he let out a scream as Frank smashed a ramekin of Thousand Island sauce into the bridge of his nose. Frank watched as Tony fell to the floor, confused as to how his simple action could have had this equal and opposite reaction.
‘What did you do that for?’ asked Benny.
‘What?’ dribbled Frank, ‘I thought we were having a fight.’
‘Leg it!’ said Rees as they heard the approach of sirens.
The three brothers headed for the door but were caught by a sudden influx of policemen.
‘What the hell is going on in here!’ asked one of the uniformed constables. Nobody answered. The room was still. At the back of the long hall Tony let out a soft moan and blindly walked into the smashed half of a table before falling down once more.
‘Sorry, we were having a wake’ said Frank, sweeping his fringe which was soaked in gin back from his eyes. ‘Things got a little out of hand and we are sorry but we will be quieter. We buried Mother today you see.’
‘You’re just lucky we were passing. What happened to him?’
Frank, Benny and Rees turned to where the policeman was pointing. Tony was attempting to wipe his eyes clean of pink dressing and blood with the sleeve of his white shirt. He looked dizzy, even in his seated position and may well have been suffering from a concussion.
‘Oh don’t worry about him officer, he’s just had a little too much of the sauce.’

The Stamp Collective will be independently published in Spring 2014.

Edit: I wanted to thank the guy who bought a copy of my short stories. Very cool of you. Hope you enjoy it.