Thanks to all those readers who made the arduous journey to the end of Part II of 36 Hour Slingback - which may have been a bit on the long side. The upside is that at least there isn't a Part III.

As you may have guessed from the headline, I'm going to have something published. The something being my first novel, The End: The Beginning, in ebook format. This will be available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble by the end of this week. The link here will take you to chapter one.

I've very happy with this development, even more so as it came out of the blue

One of the problems writers have is getting our work seen by anyone. Visual artists at any level can have an exhibition, but we can't. When our work is finished, it is sent of to publishers and literary agents where it languishes in slush piles, dusty and almost forgotten. And when it is read, then it's only read by one pair of eyes. You can send it to more people, but even then it's not being seen by more than a handful of people.

So we work on our own and then when we finish, most of our work is buried before it is born. If there's one thing you can say about us writers, it is that we must be fantastically optimistic and strong willed to keep going. Who else spends so much time working on something they know may never see the light of day, and then repeats and repeats until they succeed, or die?

Liberated by the Libboo Project
The fact that my story is now going to be blinking shyly in the spotlight is due to it being part of a experiment being run by those fine people at Libboo.com, people who just cannot stop themselves from wanting to do things differently. These are the same lovely people who brought you the first ever crowd-sourced novel, PARADOX, which was based on a first chapter written by the bestselling author Richard Wiseman. I somehow managed to be part of the team that wrote this book, though my input was minimal. A large part of the work was done by Maureen Hovermale - who is an excellent friend, writer, editor and motivator.

Libboo are now running a wholly different experiment where an author groups around themself a team of people who work together to publish and promote the author's book. I now have such a team, and it is they who are responsible for recreating my work in ebook format and for getting it onto Amazon and Barnes and Noble. 

Now all we have to do is promote the hell out of it - hence this story and the whirlwind of activity on Twitter and Facebook.

But wait, you too can also play a part in my slow but certain rise to fame and fortune (and you do want me to be famed and fortuned don't you?). 

All you have to do is contact as many people as you can and tell them about my book, what a brilliant read it is and that at only $1.99 it's so cheap they'd be rather silly to pass it up. If you're unsure about how to do this, start by telling all your Facebook friends, then ramp it up to coffee mornings and garage sales, then spin it out to your local television station and newspaper. Simple and almost effortless.

Remember, what we're trying to create here is a ground level buzz that will swell to a crescendo of jingling tills and the sound of my wallet stretching itself around my unfeasibly large fortune.

Thanks awfully...
 
 
As you may recall if you read my last blog, a few weeks ago I was involved in a mad dash to London by coach. When we left our hero/me he/I was in the underground heading for a secret location, aka Soho.

I was going to to recce the area and find the front door of an office building I'd never seen before. Fortunately I was armed with my trusty A-Z, complete with 
instructions I'd written on tiny pink post it notes the previous day. I emerged 
from Oxford Circus tube, turned left and walked confidentally until I accepted 
that I was absolutely not where I ought to have been. Fortunately for me a 
gnarled old gentleman armed with a rolled up copy of the Telegraph recognised a buffoon when he saw one. With a voice carved out of years of giving orders to idiots such as myself, he quickly sussed out what was wrong and had me back on track in about 30 sylables. I thanked him and scuttled away whilst pretending to anyone who might have been watching (which was everyone) that it was all part of a cunning plan, and while you think you've just watched some first class buffoonery, in fact what you'd just seen was the meeting between two highly trained and very sharp secret agents.

(I know you'd never fall for that, but I was once quite clearly followed by a man 
armed with a bowler hat and umbrella (a lethal combination) through various parts of the underground. If you want to know the whole of that story, you'll have to buy the coffee.)

I hadn't realised it but the area around Soho, with it's delightfully tiny streets, cafes, badly parked lorries and roadworks, is actually the backside of theatre-land, which explains some of the rather colourfully dressed people I noticed wandering about. Not that we should knock these people, oh no. While I do my best to blend in with the tarmac and grey, featureless sky, these mobile rainbows brighten up the place no end. I'm wondering if in fact they're not actually some sort of public service.

Having scoped the office I slipped down to Covent Garden to just make sure that it hadn't changed much since my last visit a few months earlier. I love this area so much that I made sure that a few of the murders in my first novel (soon to be released as an ebook) took place there. I don't know quite what happened, but I managed to find myself wandering around the Apple shop where my eyes drooled over wafer-thin computers and the avalanche of staff who stood stroking iPads provocatively. Reality suddenly got very 60s psychedelic sci-fi film stylee and I felt myself breaking into a sweat as several blonde-bots homed in on me, their gaze locking onto my wallet. I froze, but broke free of their terrible hold when the rasping tones of a security guard demanded to know how another day-tripper expected to leave when he hadn't made a purchase. For a moment all the assistant-bots were focussed on a young man who just knew he was going to be assimilated where he stood. I walked quickly towards the entrance but the guards saw me. "Look!" I shouted, pointing up towards the second floor, "A PC!" All heads flicked up towards the second floor and I dived out through the door, dragging the hapless youth with me. As the door hissed closed we could hear screaming.

I pulled up my collar and sprinted for the tube, escaping back to the safety of 
Soho where I promptly lost myself in the bustling streets. After another five 
minutes I checked the A-Z again and headed back towards where I should have been.

A couple of hours, one coffee, half a baguette and a chocolate croissant later, 
and I was free of my obligations and was able tear arse across town to the Tate Modern. Whatever you think about London, the TM is an absolute must-visit place when you're there. Only an idiot would disagree. Unfortunatley my bid to get there asap was hampered by going to Waterloo and then walking from there to the London Eye, and then all the way along the river until I arrived cold and very hungry at the TM 30 minutes later. And although I was slowly going out of my head, I was still alert enough to take a few photos of the sand sculptures a couple of chaps had made on the banks of the Thames - a place I'd never associated with sand before. 

Though very pleased to see salvation in the shape of the TM's tower (and the 
restaurant I was rather keen to enjoy), I was distracted by a large crowd who 
were hanging over the rails both under and on the Wobbly bridge. I hearded myself over to see the object of their fascination and quickly realised that they were right to be engrossed, amazed, entertained and bewildered. (Actually I don't think anyone hit all four of those things, but the crowd ebbed and flowed so there's a good chance that we need to consider all four as possible experiences in the situation I'm about to describe.)

The Thames was at low tide and on the shingle bank that had been revealed by its absence we could all see a sign announcing a musical event of a rock 'n' roll 
nature in a pub/theatre/tree nearby but much later in the day. All very 
informative, but very boring - certainly not something with strong enough pull to make crowds appear from nowhere. No. But, about ten feet out into the Thames and up to his lower thighs in water, stood a young man who was banging out rockabilly style hits as if he were one of the Stray Cats himself. On an electric guitar. 

"Fantastic!" I thought, what a photo opportunity for me. And I was right. Just 
after I finished adding him to my collection of Things of Note that have Caught 
My Attention whilst Visiting London, a rather naughty cruise boat went past. The crew stood on the deck and looked on with wry smiles as their bow wave raced and surged towards to the top of Mr Rock 'n' Roll's green waders.

Inside the TM, I was further distracted from the restaurant by some rather large videos that were being played in the old turbine hall. As I'd lugged my Canon D40 all the way to London, I felt it had to earn its keep, so out it came. The hall was dived into two main areas. One that was bright and colourful, the other a darkness that reminded me of the depths of Hell itself. Photographing anything in these circumstances is tricky as you have to balance a long exposure (slow enough to let enough light in) with camera shake and blurring. Also, if you do use a long exposure, all the detail in the really bright areas evaporate. Another problem photographers face is getting 'click happy'. This can happen at any time your camera is not safely in its bag, and is especially likely to happen when you've not taken any photos all day and are going slowly mad because you've not slept for over 24 hours and you've not eaten nearly enough food. 

This, coincidently, was exactly the position I found myself in.

Although I knew that the restaurant was one floor below me and within sight, for some reason that not even a SOCO team could figure out, I decided the most appropriate course of action was to go upwards several floors and to a point that was as far from the hot food as you could get without leaving the building. This wasn't my best idea but it did allow me to see some art and buy a few postcards. 

By now I was practically hallucinating, so I bought a cake and plonked myself 
down in the little cafe that hides between the upper galleries seeking rest and 
resucitation. Once this was complete, I managed to drag myself down the 
esculators, up the ramp in the turbine hall, and with what I firmly believed was a hop, skip and a jump found myself being addressed by the restaurant's Maître de'. Within no time I was sat by a window eyeing up other people's food and wondering if it would be wrong to ask if I could eat their leftovers. I decided not to ask and instead sat quietly trying not to notice the smell of food, or the chinking of cutlery against china, or the sound of someone slicing through a thick chocolate sponge cake with a fork...

Within no time whatsoever (but by my sliding timescale two or more hours) a plate of bangers, mash and gravy was placed in front of me. I never saw whoever delivered it as I was too busy tearing the fork out of the serviette. And by God was that the best bangers and mash I've ever eaten!? The whole plate load disappeared in a matter of seconds and about ten minutes later enough had been sucked into my system to allow my brain to return to something approaching normal. I've no idea how much later it was before I was fully compus mentis, but I dragged myself around the shop in search of who-knows-what before marching off towards Southwark station and the fast train back to Victoria bus station.

The bus station looked exactly as I'd left it, only now it was FULL of people. 
You know, Victoria is an INTERNATIONAL transport centre and as such it really 
ought to be as attractive as the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras or any one of 
the airports such as Heathrow. Instead it looks like it's been constructed out of 
old shoe boxes by a team of enthusiastic if cack-handed primary school children 
with far too much blue and white paint and not enough glue. Personally I think 
the staff there do an excellent job of herding and coralling passengers onto the 
100s of waiting buses. We might not be able to do much about the crowds (price it cheap and stack them high), but there is no need for it to be so damned ugly. 

Really, none at all.

One of the upsides of travelling cheap is that you are more likely to find people 
who, if outside the bus station, are often referred to as 'characters'. A 
character is someone who exhibits one or more (actually always several at least) signs that they are non-conformists. These signs could be a lack of personal hygiene; questionable clothing arrangements; hair that's never seen a brush; beards that look more like tree roots; and most telling of all, a willingness to engage in conversation with whoever happens to be withing listening distance. For me this was Peter, who happened to find himself stood alongside me in the passport queue, and thus well within chatting range. I knew I'd found a kindred spirit when he told me he'd just spent two weeks in a monastry in Wales, and that he was considering becoming a hermit.

Despite this obvious and deep connection, and although we shared the same seat, we'd travailed the depths of our souls sufficiently whilst waiting to get on the bus for us to not be offended that the other was asleep for almost the entire journey back to Breda.

We arrived there at 0312, about two hours before I'd expected to: the first bus 
to Oosterhout left at about 0720. Oosterhout is about two hours by foot and 
despite only wearing comfortable shoes and having to carry a rather weighty 
shoulder bag, I decided to be sensible and start walking. It was a lovely night 
for it: warm enough to not get cold, cool enough to not get too warm. Hunger was a problem but I had a Snickers bar (the world's most stupidly named chocolate bar: wtf was wrong with Marathon? The name change was such a dumb idea, like changing your son's name from Richard to Retard), a large chocolate biscuit and plenty of water, so there was no chance of starving before getting home. However, before I set out, I checked with a taxi driver how much a ten minute drive might be. After a lot of discussion about where EXACTLY I wanted to be in Oosterhout (behind the market square, in front of the market square - actually I don't give a damn - Oosterhout is bloody tiny and being at the back or front of the square is like deciding if you want to be on the inside or outside of your skin).

At €35 it was a lot cheaper to walk, and it meant avoiding having to talk to 
someone whose pedantry in the conversational field didn't inspire me to believe 
he was capable of making the split-second decisions one has to make when driving. 

Despite the obvious dangers of wandering around alone in the dead of night, it 
was far safer to walk.

And the birds sing so beautifully after the 4 AM watershed - have you ever 
noticed that? It's like they know they can't be heard above the din humans make during the day, so wait until they know they can. After an hour it had become pretty irritating but running into the trees shouting 'Bang!' wasn't an effective tactic, so I concentrated on keeping my pace up and ignoring my stomach, which was demanding energy. At the half-way point I relented and ate the Retard: which was delicious, but not nearly as delicious as the Co-Co Pops I savoured when I finally made it back to my house two hours later. 

As I sat in the armchair reflecting on the last 36 hours or so, I couldn't make any philosophical points about my trip. But it was an adventure and a lot of fun despite the madness, and I have to say that I'm pretty pleased that my way of thinking allows me to do such things still. It would have been a lot easier to fly or take the train, but less interesting in the long run. And would have meant spending far more money, something I'm not really geared up to do.
 
 
The coach barrelled through the night like a bullet, tearing through the heart of Belgium and burying its passengers into northern France. I selected 'Sleep' mode to make sure that I was as relaxed as possible should the coach decide to select 'Flight' mode as seemed more than likely given the way it was being driven.

My trip to the UK had started at 18.45 on Thursday evening with a local bus to Breda and a date with the unmarked bus stop on a empty side street near Breda's railway station. The station staff I sought reassurance from smiled as they told yet another baffled passenger that, yes, that deserted street really is the starting point for many a European-based bus-driven adventure.

Eventually it arrived, and, having found our seats, we left the sanctuary of Breda and were soon cruising along the motorway to Antwerp. At the back of the bus about a dozen or so young Dutchmen were having a party that occasionally spilled down the front where the rest of us were having quiet conversations with strangers or had found heaven in their phones. But almost as soon as we were on the motorway, we off it again, heading into a service station.

"We'll be stopping here for 30 minutes" shouted the driver to baffled passengers: after twenty minutes we stopped believing it was a joke.

Eventually we arrived in Antwerp and scooped up a few more unsuspecting characters, all of whom looked as keen as we did to spend a night on a bus.

This is how I met Silvester, another writer already one third of the way through a trilogy he's writing. How we got onto writing I'll never know, but once we did, there was no stopping us. It's always good to meet fellow writers, someone who also shares the madness, someone you can discuss ideas, problems and the never-ending marketing lottery with. He's much more focussed on that side than I am - he actually had a plan which he was following. I have nothing more than a vague idea and the desire to be writing. I know I can't afford to ignore getting my message out, but still I prevaricate. In fact if there's anything harder to do than the job of writing, it's  the job of marketing.

Silvester and I migrated effortlessly from the coach to the ferry and propped up the bar talking long and deep into our writing experiences; we swapped emails and phone numbers and bought each other drinks. He had a pint of Murphy's while I drowned in a small coffee. Small seems to have taken on a different meaning since American fast-food chains fell into Europe from the heavens. Having a small measure of anything used to mean that you wanted only a limited amount of something. Nowadays it simply means 'smaller than' or smaller 'in comparison to' something much, much larger than is necessary at all, ever. But I'm clearly not in step with a world where having an excess of something for no reason is deemed to be a good thing; where being tempted into buying 50% more of what you really want is acceptable. Frankly, I'm glad I'm not dancing to their selfish little rhythm.

Back in the barrel, Silvester and I talk ourselves to sleep with dreams of success and plans of writing one novel a year from a different country. We're bounced back into reality as the coach takes yet another corner on one set of wheels and slams to a halt behind an lorry that is going nowhere. Outside I was surprised to see how many people there are waiting for buses already: grey faces and surprised eyes watch us as we hurtle past.

In no minutes flat we're right in the bowels of Victoria Coach station, which is as vast and unwelcoming now as it was when I was last there ten years ago.

Now that we're on unfamiliar territory Silvester finds that he's now the oracle of all London transport as we (a young German woman on her way to student digs, and a gentleman from West Africa on his way to Slough) ply him with questions about buses and trains. He has acres of patience, but in the end we leave him to catch his bus home alone. We trundled off through the chilly dawn to Victoria station and slid into London's warm belly.

Sometime later I'm at Paddington, somewhere that's not an essential part of my trip, but it's where the showers are, and they are essential. It's not later than 0600 and the showers don't open until 0700. I help my Africa friend to find his train to Slough (come friendly bombs...) and wonder how I can get through the next hour. I want to avoid eating breakfast for as long as possible as my interview is as 1200. I know it'll run into lunchtime so the plan is to have a late-ish breakfast and sarnie just before the meeting starts. I hate being hungry and it will be a complete pain in the arse if my belly starts distracting me.

Eventually 0700 and streaming hot water arrives, well after I'd tracked down the man who was looking after the loos it did. I take my hat off to the staff at Paddington who were always polite, cheerful and helpful at a time of the day that, if you'd asked me any questions, you'd have been rewarded with a complete lack of interest at best, and a tidal wave of swearing at worst.

There's something very odd about finding yourself naked at one of the country's busiest train stations, even though you're hiding in a locked cubicle several feet underground. I never quite relaxed knowing that thousands of strangers (of whom 99.99% were unaware of my existence) were wandering around outside. There's always the feeling that someone is going to reach over the top of the door and pinch your jacket, or slide underneath it and steal your shoes. Despite having the whole of the Gents to myself for the entire time I was there, I still felt the need to put my shoes out of reach. As scouts and cubs are always taught to be prepared, so life teaches you that you can never be too sure that nothing, no matter how ludicrous or far-fetched, will not happen just because the chances of it happening are practically nil.

The shower brought me back to life as sure as watering a wilted plant will and with a hop, skip and a jump I was up out of the ground and into the nearest cafe. Actually, not the nearest, I shunned the well-known coffee emporium and headed for somewhere that could supply a proper breakfast, not just a gritty brown liquid, bagels and sweet pastries. That is not a real breakfast, that is the breakfast of those who've given up choosing. No, I needed a real breakfast, a full English and a rousing cup of Camomile tea - and by God I was going to have them. And I did. And I enjoyed them both very much, especially the sausages and scrambled eggs.

I’d sat in an upstairs window over-looking the area between the entrance and the platforms, and watched the slowly building tide of commuters as they rushed hither and thither, or marched their bikes expertly through the crowd. I saw people meeting and separating; people dressed to thrill and others who were quite obviously on their way to a scarecrow convention. I felt at home watching them and could have stayed all day were it not for my appointment in Soho.

Reluctantly, I gave up eavesdropping the conversation I'd been doing (actually the management of the cafe, who spent ages discussing how badly they'd done over the weekend and that it's very important to make sure that the staff have been turned into lackeys to serve the likes of me so they can make oodles of cash). I'm so glad I do not work in that kind of business, the constant pressure to outperform yourself whilst smiling, bowing and scraping must devour the soul and leave you very little of your self that isn't stained and rotten. Dickens would have a field day I'm sure.

So I slipped out and away into the underground again where I knew that, temporarily at least, I would be insulated against the kind of corporate greed and selfishness that grinds decent human beings into the dust.

Wrong! Sadly everywhere you go in the tube there's some fool trying to sell you something. Posters and billboards line every metre of every escalator and many of the walkways; while across the platform the curved walls are lined with yet more marketing bollocks. Which is ok, but only if it's Art of some sort. Call me a snob if you like, but I think the only advertising we should see in the underground is for galleries, museums and the theatre. In other words, something that makes the trip back up into the real world worthwhile.

You can read Part II of the 36 Hour Slingback later this week.