Unearthed heroes.

There comes a time in the life of any young fanatic when you think you know it all. You’ve read their individual and collected works. You’ve trawled libraries and search engines for everything there is to find on them and then they go and pull the incredible feat of surprising you, from beyond the grave.
I’m talking about the emergence of new material, namely Jack Kerouac’s Upper Peninsula Diary which was found in a used bookstore in Michigan and photographs of J D Salinger in army fatigues amongst his buddies during the Second World War.
As someone who grew up ravishing every written word the pair of them wrote it’s a strange sensation to know there is still more, that I’m obviously not quite the fan I thought because I’m not prowling bookshops in small-town America and I’ve not spent the best part of a decade researching an elusive writer who would hate the thought of any kind of interest in him still existing. The thought of Salinger’s alleged trove of unreleased material found following his death is more than I as a fan can stand.

It’s nice to have a little reminder that those whose words taught you so much can still surprise you in the way they did when you first fell for them. That there may be a limit to the amount one person can produce in a lifetime but for someone else to accumulate and obtain that knowledge is almost as limiting.
I don’t want to be precious about them but there’s a reason the UPD and unreleased Salinger manuscripts never saw the sight of day during their lifetimes, and it’s just possible they could stay that way.

Read about Salinger here.
Read about Kerouac here.

Kit list.

As many of you should know I am headed for the Sahara in October, trekking 100km to raise money for The Prince’s Trust [read more]. I’m paying for the trek myself but I could really do with begging, stealing or borrowing a lot of the essential kit I will need.
If anyone I know has the following and is willing to lend them to me through October then please let me know before I buy them for myself.

Large rucksack/kit bag.
Sleeping bag (2 – 3 season mummy bag preferably).
Gaiters.
Head torch.
Water bottle/canteen (1 litre capacity).
Indiana Jones style hat.
I will cross items through as they’re offered to me.

If I manage to collect all of these items and not pay out I’ll donate my expected expenditure to The Prince’s Trust.

Anyone who does give me any of the above will get an honorary mention in whatever form my creativity takes after this (if I make it through). There are talks of a video blog and a book.

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Yo, we’re up to date bitch!

This week represents the return of Breaking Bad for the latter half of its fifth and final series. Breaking Bad is the brainchild of Vince Gilligan and follows the story of high school chemistry teacher Walter White (Brian Cranston) as he discovers he has months to live and reconnects with one of his lost flock to start cooking methamphetamine to build a nest egg for his family.

I first got into Breaking Bad because the concept seemed so incredibly bizarre it had to be good. I knew of Cranston as the hapless father in Malcolm In The Middle and the idea of him ‘breaking bad’ was just as ridiculous to me as it was to Jesse Pinkman. What happened is that I discovered one of the most intense and brilliant television shows of the last decade. After getting the first season on DVD I borrowed the second and watched the third and forth on LoveFilm and Netflix at the time the fifth series was being aired. It was exciting to know there was so much content to get through, so many places it could go, so many drug lords to be toppled and misadventures for Walt and Jesse. What happens to Walt and what happens to the series as a whole is that it continues to draw darker, like an approaching dusk. The deaths in the first series, particularly the acid bath have a near humour to them, like a Laurel & Hardy sketch, with corpses but as Walt bumbles his way into things you can’t help but be drawn to what he does, after all it is essentially good. Is it wrong to steal a loaf of bread to feed your starving family? Is it wrong to cook meth to cover your family in the event of your death?

Walt does break bad and he just gets badder. He is the one who knocks. He is the danger.
What is executed so well is how believable this change in his character is, after all this is a development we have seen over four and a half series. The shy and retiring Walter White, high school teacher and cancer patient is not the same as the W.W. who gets things done. He seems so calculated and malicious and yet we are all still there for him, on his side and waiting to see how it played out after the incredible cliffhanger of Walt’s DEA agent brother-in-law Hank having a eureka moment on the toilet and realising the great Heisenberg he had been chasing was sat outside eating BBQ.

The new episode did not disappoint. There are already clues to what could happen to Walt and his family as the sun sets on one of the most stunning and fantastically written series I’ve ever seen. At one point Walt even muttered the immortal line ‘to be continued’, practically to camera and we know where it’s going and can’t wait to see that showdown. The flashforwards continue to drip information like a crack in a dam but we will get there.
The only disappointing thing at this stage is we are sat waiting for Sunday, for the next episode. There is no backlog for the majority of people anymore. Much like the product of the desert-bound RV, we are hooked.

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On Feminism

“Why does Kate keep posting all that stuff about feminism?”
What an excellent question, and one I have been asked far too many times of late. The answer of course is that there has been a resurgence in the campaign as a result of more and more men thinking it is acceptable to treat women as secondary citizens.

I feel very fortunate in that I have never really felt vilified because of my gender, my ethnicity, my religion or any other recognisable trait. I’m a white male who has never truly struggled for anything or suffered for my beliefs. That’s why it is so important for me to speak out about it. I know a lot of the problem with any kind of discrimination is down to people who fall into the same brackets as me, but I understand why. I was never expressly told that women are equal to me, or that because someone has a different skin colour to me they shouldn’t be treated differently. I don’t recall being instructed it was not acceptable to slap women on the arse as a form of endearment or to wolf-whistle at them if I found them attractive. I was never told these things and yet I know them. The idea of acting in such a degrading manner towards anyone makes me feel a bit nauseous. It seems such a tired cliche to shout “look at the tits on that”, and yet there are men my age who think it is still acceptable. I would like to think that we are growing better, generation by generation.
When you consider that a generation before us had segregation of races and considered this acceptable, and a generation prior to that had seven million Jews and other minorities killed, we seem to be getting better, but the improvement is far too slow.
My generation represent the first time being gay has been accepted, and rightly so. Our view is that you love who you love and whose business is it other than your own (as long as it’s not with children or animals). It’s parts of the generation prior that still hold that archaic view there is something inherently wrong in being gay, and that’s where the real fear of “coming out” grows.

Women’s rights seems to be a much slower burn. In 1918 women were allowed to vote for the first time however three or four generations later they still don’t earn the same as men for working the same jobs, they’re not respected in the same way as men for their opinions, and they have put up with it for far too long. That’s why Kate posts “all that stuff about feminism” and regardless of any opinion on the matter, I am proud of her.

The Life & Loves Of Jet Tea book launch.

Last night I attended my first ever book launch, and what a launch. I’ve waxed lyrical about Joe Gardner’s writing enough times for you all to understand that I’m a fan. His first novel, The Life & Loves Of Jet Tea hit a chord with me, and I’m currently rereading my now signed copy. The reason it resonated is Joe and I have similar goals. We want to get to the top. We are both aching to get out of the menial things we have to do to get by and be recognised as writers. We both take what we see around us and turn it in, making something of it. Having now met the man I am pleased this kinship seems to have held fast.

Jet Tea is a coming of age comedy about three friends struggling with the world they see around them, a world of pubs in West London, of officious security guards and wizards. Even on my second reading I am laughing at visions of Jet Tea dancing ‘seductively’ (I’m not sure that’s the right word) alone on bar dancefloors, and am sure use of the term ‘he’s a bit of a Craig’ is on the cusp of going viral.

Last night Joe invited friends to join him in celebrating the success of his first book with a Q&A followed by music by a number of his close friends, including Glen (and his band Jeeps) who was the inspiration for the character Maurice.

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It was a pleasure to be a part of, and surreal to meet people I only knew as fictional characters. The real life Jet Tea was in attendance. He hasn’t yet read the book. This astounded me, but then again, as Joe said, would you want to read your own biography?
What’s cool about Joe and his world is that he is surrounded by creative people, much in the same way I am fortunate to be. I think there is nothing better than having people around who you can bounce ideas off of, and watching the sound checks and back and forths between everyone reminded me of the dynamic amongst my friends. There is a respect for what each of them is able to do, and they have time for that. It was cool to be included in that.
Before I knew it, I had to make a dash for the exit to catch the train home and I didn’t get to say goodbye to the awesome people I had been introduced to, or even thank the host. If you haven’t read Jet Tea then get on it, it comes highly recommended.

Happiness is a rejected manuscript.

Last night I got home a little worse for wear to find the first of the manuscripts I sent out last week back in my house. It wouldn’t have riled me up if I hadn’t spent so damn long in the post office explaining why I needed so many stamps (you’re expected to include a fully paid self addressed envelope with all submissions for their safe return). Feeling a little deflated but also a little gassy, the latter as a result of Heineken (you can take the boy out of Holland but yea yeah etc.), I ripped open the envelope to find the following message:

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This might just look like an ordinary rejection to the untrained eye but it outright thrilled me, and while I wasn’t able to take it all in at that moment, I found myself thinking it over in the shower this morning as I tried to wash the fur from my tongue and the beer sweat from my brow.
This rejection letter represents the first handwritten response from an agency I have received (excluding the submission of Situation One which took a year to be returned to me). I have read in the Writer’s & Artists Handbook that if you get a handwritten response you’re onto a good thing. Last year each of my submissions was returned with a combination of either a template rejection letter, a photocopy of a rejection letter where someone had crudely scrawled my name in the gap beside ‘Dear’, or worse still, a letter which nobody had bothered to fill the blanks in on.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that running a literary agency is incredibly hard work. They receive so many submissions and any kind of response is taken on board and appreciated. The letter I received yesterday is from Darley Anderson, the actual genuine man himself, proprietor and all-seeing eye of the literary world. While I am ready to admit this may have been as a result of me sending it addressed to someone no longer employed at the agency, I am taking this as a victory. The fact it got as far as Mr Anderson is a small triumph. Having studied the roster of staff in depth there are any number of people who could have written that response to me, or printed the Word document: Rejection Letter To Twerp.doc. Instead he took the time to respond himself, and within a week of receiving my manuscript.

This means, at least to my mind, that I escaped the slush pile. It must have been reviewed before it was passed through to him, and I may just be romancing it all but surely those who read it beforehand identified something in it. My cover letter had been seen and under the words ‘50,000 words’ and ‘love story’ a line had been placed, possibly indicating who would be best to field a response. Am I getting too Sherlock here?
All I am saying is it’s good to know I am not just throwing my efforts, time, energy, money into a void. There is something on the other end, and it’s hurling stuff back.

I say, a moving grove.

For those of you who have somehow escaped the endless updates and pleas for your hard-earned (for most of you) cash, I am walking 100km of the Sahara desert in aid of The Prince’s Trust – you can still donate here. As you can imagine this involves a fair amount of training.
While I’m not necessarily unfit (I walk four miles a day and go running three times a week) there are always improvements to be made and the thought of walking up to 18k in a day, in the desert is somewhat daunting.
A couple of years ago I couldn’t have imagined heading off on an adventure like this, and I’m so pleased the stars aligned or whatever else occurred that is now making it happen. It’s an incredible feat and a story I know I will cherish.
I’m not the only one heading out on this adventure though, there are around ninety others, who are hopefully breaking in their walking boots and running up the stairs in the office instead of taking the lift as I write this. The only one of my fellow trekkers I know, aside from email contact and jealousy of fundraising abilities is Terri. As she lives on the cusp of Epping Forest (very much like a troll) she invited me for a day of wandering about in the woods while she cheerfully called ‘I think it’s this way’ over her shoulder.

I turned up on her doorstep just before eleven o’clock with spots in front of my eyes and a stinking hangover. After rehydrating my brain and checking our provisions we took off for an epic walk.
The joy of wandering around the E4 woodlands with Terri is that she is an excellent storyteller and traveller. She told me about petting tigers in Thailand, about her bucket list and about the ring of grime that collects around one’s ankles after walking distance.

After four miles we made it to a pub. After five miles we had somehow looped back round to be at the pub again. We stopped to have an awesome picnic, comprised of goodies I had bought before the sleep was even out of my eyes. After seven miles we were at Waltham Abbey. While the names of towns weren’t completely alien to me, I didn’t realise the distance it meant we had covered until we came across a map at the start of a woodland trail. It felt like we had just been ambling but the map proved different. There was a mighty area of trees on the map between the two points Terri was highlighting. We had actually accomplished something.
After 9.9 miles Terri decided to make an Instagram video (because she’s such a hipster) and the iPhone app we had been using to calculate our distance stopped as the phone shorted out like we had crossed the streams. She quickly started it up again to reach our grand total of 12.64 miles by the time we made it back to her humble abode for Rekorderlig and a sit down. We burnt over 800 calories and felt like we had made something of our Sunday.

I know the Sahara is going to be a different beast altogether but with just over eight weeks to go, I think we can tame it.

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