Tag Archives: salford

A Killer? Minus The Caffeine.

14 Jul
Post 3 – for ReadKirklees

Occasionally I do chuck a book title or two into this blog as ‘recommended reading’ for like-minded folk. And last year I flagged up a book named ‘King Crow,’ by Michael Stewart. Mr Stewart happens to hail from the same side of the hills as I do (that dreadful Manchester place) and like me, he also did the defector thing – now happily living in west Yorkshire, hanging out in Kirklees and no doubt feeling as confused as I do, in terms of whether he’s more of a red, than a white rose.

Purchased in 1989 from Afflecks Palace. One of my many relics...

Purchased in 1989 from Afflecks Palace. One of my many relics from days of yore..

Now, ‘King Crow’ was a darned fine book. So much so that it won The Guardian’s ‘Not The Booker Prize’ award. So much so that I’ll be honest here; I didn’t really want to read Michael Stewart’s next offering. Because I don’t know about you, but these days, I rarely find a writer who manages to pack the same kind of punch with that ‘difficult second novel.’

But ‘Cafe Assassin’ has more than managed to pull this off. For me, the acid test of a damned good read is this; that you find yourself flicking back and forth in the book – checking facts and circumstances; reminding yourself of the vaguely sketched but now important, details of the story. Smiling to yourself ‘ah yes….that fits. I like that.’ And the proof of the pudding lies in the fact that you find yourself thinking of the story a few weeks later – pondering the characters, their motivations. And finally – when you find yourself trying to lend your copy to your mother (even though there are snippets in there that she might not fully approve of – and I’m not talking about the way the author disses The Cramps) well. Then you know that you really *should* flag the book up to all and sundry.

Be afraid. Especially if you're a posh QC who screwed your one-time best buddy over...

Be afraid. Especially if you’re a posh QC who screwed your one-time best buddy over…

Michael Stewart doesn’t just write books. He’s a bit of a scripter too. And his work always touches on the kind of themes that fascinate me the most; working class origins, poverty versus privilege, justice, people struggling to find their own unique voice in a world that seeks to sink the undesirables and the impoverished as fast as it damned well can.  And what I love most about his writing style is that it isn’t exclusive – anyone – of practically any reading ability – can pick up his work and engage with excellent prose, ultra-realistic discourse, canny social observations and humour – whilst actually educating themselves at the same time (i.e. I’m off to read some Baudelaire and a dab of Gerard de Nerval now.)

Neither does ‘Cafe Assassin’ lack on the storyline. Regular readers of this blog know that for nigh on 15 years, I’ve been involved in support to prisoners at home and abroad – so the blurb on the back of the book was a clincher for me; “Nick Smith went to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Now, after twenty-two years inside, he is looking for the man who put him there…Nick wants everything that Andrew has. He wants it all and he will do anything to get it.”

To kick off with, we don’t know what Nick has done – whether he *has* indeed committed a crime at all – but we know for sure that he’s out and about these days and that he’s mega naffed-off.  In between the thrill of the chase – the desire for house, life, wife – I love the way that Michael Stewart deftly weaves in the colours of the North; I found myself hankering back to the days of mooching around Afflecks Palace in my monkey boots with the Rasta shoelaces, hanging out at The Dry and at The Night and Day Cafe, laughing at the ‘student-types’ at the Hacienda … (and will the lad who approached me on the dance floor there in ’91, informing me “Hey Girl – I’m digging your rave!” please email me? Because you are categorically the only man who has ever complimented me on my dancing prowess. And I would personally like to thank you. You were twisting my melon, man.)

Baggy jeans, maybe. But was there EVER an real excuse for me wearing these things?

Baggy jeans, maybe. But was there EVER an real excuse for me wearing these things down the Hacienda?

So from the dropping of E’s down at the Hac (not me, Mum!) to the violence of Cat A-Wing HMP Wakefield… right over to the triple-garaged homes of well-heeled Ilkley; our protagonist continues to lurk and plots the utmost in revenge. Yup – Cafe Assassin has all of the bases covered for me.

But I’m not going to spoil any of the suspense for those of you who want to read it (and believe me – there’s bags of the stuff in there) but I will say that for me, at any rate – the ending was rather unexpected.

dockers

Another one of my MADchester antiques

But certainly not a let-down.

So if you are after a rollocking good read for the summer; if you trust me on my previous choices and words of wisdom and if you want to support one of the best indie publishers in the UK (those Bluemoose people) then do snaffle this book up ASAP.

ms on cimbali

The only missing ingredient in the book? The caffeine.

In fact, my only criticism of the novel is that there was a distinct lack of caffeine involved.  But then, none of us are perfect.

 

 

Don’t Be A Bird Brain

16 Oct

Followers will know that I like to blog about all kinds of stuff, but that I can become the gobbiest when it comes to the issue of ‘outsiders’. Yes, I get all crabby about those who are on the fringes of society (because of lack of income or birth right or connections) but I also get my knickers in a twist in relation to the way that people who are deemed to be a bit ‘different’, ‘quirky,’ ‘eccentric’ or who seem to be singing from a completely different song-sheet from the rest of us ‘normals,’ are treated.

Elvis falls into one of these categories.  Not only is his name un-cool (because most families don’t listen to Elvis obsessively as we do) but he also happens to be a budgie. And after Father Christmas delivered him to us last year I have lost count of the number of times people have exclaimed “Ha-ha! You have a budgie! Aren’t they a little old ladies’ pet? How bizarre!”

He was a loving little companion. Until he shat on my copy holder.

He was a loving little companion. Until he shat on my copy holder.

So even though our Elvis is one un-cool dude – he has clearly has a feathery little soul of his own. So he gets treated like royalty (better than royalty actually, if Prince Harry trucked up to our house – I certainly wouldn’t be cleaning his turds up with a wadge of Kleenex). During the daytime if the house is empty, Radio 4 is switched on so that he doesn’t get too lonely (he is a huge fan of Women’s Hour and has a bit of a thing for Jenni Murray). And if I’m working from home he accompanies me to the office (he’s sitting on the printer right now chirruping away – and yeah, it’s yours truly who has to leave the room if the phone rings. Not all professional callers are as understanding of a budgie’s need to squawk along to The Archers as you’d hope that they might be.)

Yesterday, I was in the middle of reading an excellent guide  for employers on how to create an autie-friendly workplace when my daughter (who was trying – and failing –  to train Elvis to sing a Beatles song) interrupted me with “Hey Mum, why do we use ‘Bird Brain’ as an insult? ‘Cause Elvis – and all birds – are way cleverer than my brother…” and this reminded me of a fantastic book that I recently read.

‘King Crow’ by Michael Stewart had me all fired up. Indeed, chuffed to bits. Because the action takes place in a very foreign, an oh-so exotic and distant place. Far-flung shores which are all too often overlooked by the UK south-eastern dominated publishers. Yeah folks, this venture into alien territory involves all of us suspending those LondonCentric belief systems and assimilating a superb tale that centres on a general geographical area known as ‘the North of England.’  And then focuses further on an even smaller microscopic part of the landscape which happens to possess a very un-Kensington and Chelsea place name. That of ‘Salford.’ Or pronounced ‘Sol-fud.’ (In case you somehow thought that it should be uttered as ‘SORL-FORRD’)

So yeah, thank God for people like Michael Stewart who are proud of their roots and who enjoy writing for the literati – as well as for plebs like me n’ mine. Folk who get all giddy because we used to wander through those exact same tower blocks which he touches upon.  People who know precisely what the terraced houses he mentions still look like (or indeed,  taste like … I used to have a thing for licking red brick work when I was a nipper. But let’s not go there.)

And my interest in reading this book was piqued further when I realised that the story is told through the eyes of a school boy who is autistic. Although the ‘A’ word is never used. It doesn’t need to be. Michael S  simply shows that his protagonist Paul Cooper, operates on a different plane to most others. And that Paul’s obsessive traits are focussed on birds (and unlike most teenage boys, this kid’s fixation is with on the ornithological – the feathery, rather than the female form.)

Who's The Daddy?

Who’s The Daddy?

Now, you might already be familiar with the ‘Rainman’/ Dustin Hoffman version of what being autistic might entail – but ‘King Crow’ is a beautiful reminder of how autism can take both stark and subtle shapes within a personality. And it also nudges the reader into realising that obsessions – which might at first hold no interest for the reader whatsoever, when so cleverly woven into a story with such a fascinating character – can leave your fingers itching to find out more via Google. Or cause you to fall into petulant arguments with your six year old as to whether “it IS a sodding Crow in the back garden. Or a raven.  Or…let’s get the damned field book out, eh our kid?”

I don’t normally blether on about books that you MUST read – but if you tend to care about the sort of things that I get all het-up about, then this is a book for you. And I won’t say anymore about it for fear of spoiling the storyline…

And for those of you who have already read this book and who have enjoyed other stuff delivered by Mr Stewart. you will be pleased to hear that his next book will be launced in the new year. (Although sadly, the guy cannot guarantee any budgie cameos.)

But hey.  Back to the report that I mentioned earlier*. And an excellent quote from it. Courtesy of a fella named Stephen Shore. Who offers some very sage advice.  Which I reckon, should be applied not only to autism but to many other hidden impairments. And to the overall issue of ‘intelligence’ itself.

“If you’ve met one person with autism. You have met one person with autism.” (Stephen Shore.)

 

Never mind your bloody bird-brain! Sherlock's latest cerebral rival...

Never mind your bloody bird-brain! Going pipe to claw.  Sherlock’s latest cerebral rival… (and never mind my northern bias – check out Museum of London’s ace new exhib on our Sherlock and his incredible legacy)

 

* ‘Making Employment a Positive Experience for People in Calderdale’ By Matthew Lowe – for Calderdale Council and National Autistic Society

 

 

The Book Has Left The Building…

5 Mar

It’s finally up there for people to buy.  My first fiction book. You can find it on Amazon here.

I allowed myself a small, self-indulgent moment when the first dribblings of tweets and publicity trails arrived.

I felt good about the fact that I’m honestly not out to make money from this book. It’s always been  about the process of creation for me. About the fact that I finally listened to my inner voice …. that I simply had a story that I wanted to tell and to share with others.

I smiled and I pondered as I looked out upon our beautiful valley here. It really has been a mammoth task – but so satisfying and so uplifting an experience.

So, I got ready to go out, to meet my fellow writers and to bask in the warm glow of their support and artistic inspiration.

And then my husband said; “I hope you’re not going out like that. The budgie shat in your hair and you never even noticed.”

Mind Games & Ministers by Chris L Longden (now available at Amazon and soon to be on all of the others of course...)

Mind Games & Ministers by Chris L Longden (now available at Amazon and soon to be on all of the others of course…)