Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Dancing With Myself: KENT WESTMORELAND

Sea Minor:  For those unfamiliar with your novel BARONNE STREET briefly describe it.

Kent Westmoreland: The protagonist is Burleigh Drummond.  Twenty-eight year old Drummond is the fixer New Orleans bluebloods and politicians run to when their problems become too complicated for their titanium-hearted lawyers. 

In BARONNE STREET Drummond must employ his Machiavellian skills to solve and avenge the brutal rape and murder of Coco Robichaux, an ex-girlfriend.  As Drummond investigates, he discovers Coco lived a clandestine existence in the city’s netherworld and had been drafted as an unwitting pawn in a plot to disrupt the upcoming mayoral election.  As often happens with pawns, she was sacrificed.

Sea Minor: BARONNE STREET and Drummond seem to be a throw-back to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.   That’s assuming Hammett and Chandler stories had been published in modern day magazines like FHM, Esquire, and Details rather than Black mask and Dime Detective.

Kent Westmoreland: When I created Burleigh Drummond I wanted him to be a contemporary Phillip Marlowe - cool, a great wisecracker, and obsessed with the truth while seeming not to care, but haunted by his inability to make things right in an imperfect world. 

However, contemporary doesn’t mean setting the stories in the present and handing him a smart phone.  My concerns with Marlowe and his followers were they middle-aged, financially unsuccessful, angry, and alcoholics or near alcoholics.  I made Drummond a fixer rather than a detective because it is a dubious job that would pay well.  He’s not angry, but does suffer from a troublesome malaise because of the corruption and dysfunction he not only sees but participates in.    Drummond does drink a lot, but because he’s young man on the prowl for female companionship.

Sea Minor: I see the DNA of other fictional detectives in Drummond.

Kent Westmoreland:  Those guys would be James West from the classic TV series The Wild, Wild West and Sherlock Holmes.

What I always loved about James West is wherever he went people said “There’s James West, secret agent for the Secret Service.”  It was so absurd.  But I realized this would happen to Burleigh Drummond since he operates in a small city which only has three degrees of separation as opposed to the standard six.  So I worked that concept into the stories.  He seldom engages anyone who doesn’t know him or know of him. In one of the short stories a police detective mentions Drummond’s clients consider it a status symbol to say “Burleigh Drummond is fixing the situation for me.”

Until the BBC series Sherlock, Holmes and Dr. Watson typically have been portrayed as middle-aged or older.  Holmes was twenty seven or twenty-eight when he met Dr. Watson and Watson began chronicling their adventures.  Watson was few years older; in addition to being a physician Watson was an ex-military man who missed the excitement of war.

Also more often than not Holmes’ clients were wealthy blokes and government officials asking him to fix a situation for them (italics mine).

BARONNE STREET begins when Drummond is twenty-eight and has been working as a fixer for three years. His best friend and occasional partner, Morgan Cross, is obviously ex-intelligence, though it is never explicitly stated. Like Watson, Cross knows his way around guns, death, and boredom.

Sea Minor: One of the most fascinating characters in BARONNE STREET is Evan Charbonnet, a gay crime lord who controls the French Quarter.  I haven’t come across a concept like this in other novels.   Why did you create Charbonnet and his lavender mafia?

Kent Westmoreland:  New Orleans has a large gay community which exerts considerable influence on the city.  For a novel about New Orleans to be authentic that influence must be included.  I have read several New Orleans based novels where token gay characters exist, but they’re cyphers; they serve no other purpose other than to have gay character.  In BARONNE STREET (and the short story “Price Tag Attached”) I have created major gay characters and who are key to moving the plot forward.

Also gay characters play subtle, but important roles, in Chandler’s novels: The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely, and The Long Good-Bye and Hammet’s The Glass Key.   The Maltese Falcon’s trio of gay criminals is more obvious and important to the plot.  So my gay crime organization is homage to Hammett and Chandler; I’ve taken the idea to the next level.

I discuss this subject in this incredibly amateurish video .

Sea Minor:  Does a person like Charbonnet or a gay crime organization exist in New Orleans?

Kent Westmoreland:  Some of the sleazier strip clubs in town are reputed to be clandestine brothels where drugs are easily available.  They are owned by a gay business man.  Assuming those innuendos are true, the owner would have to have very strong ties to politicians, the police, and the criminal element.  Let’s say I took the prevailing gossip and ran with it.

Sea Minor:  Several short stories feature Drummond.  Please tell us about them.

Kent Westmoreland:  Drummond appears in four short stories.

The earliest two “A Relatively Small Sum of Money” and “Part of the Plan” are set prior to BARONNE STREET.  In Small Sum Drummond is hired to look for a missing heiress, but instructed to “not look too hard”.  What he finds is a scheme to defraud the missing heiress; being Burleigh Drummond he doesn’t let that happen.   Plan is more of a caper; it follows Drummond as he manipulates a failed justice system that allowed someone complicit in a child’s murder and rape to avoid jail.  

The third “Ash Wednesday” is a re-telling of the Cinderella story and is set subsequent to BARONNE STREET.  The events of the novel are briefly mentioned and as a result of those events Drummond is a darker character than in the first two stores and the novel.  There are two versions of this story.  The original was written for an erotica anthology and the safe-for-work version appeared in Thrilling Detctive magazine

 The fourth story “Price Tag Attached” is collaboration with the prolific O’Neil De Noux.   Characters from our fictional universes solve the murder of a shady antiques dealer.   This story is set in what our sci-fi colleagues call an alternate timeline.

All of the stories are available in Kindle format from

Sea Minor:  Two final questions.  Where are book and stories available?  Do you have a web site?

Kent Westmoreland:  BARONNE STREET  and the short stories are available from Amazon at

And I have this website   

Thanks for interviewing me.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Reader's Block

Reader's block.  Curse it.

It's something I'm prone to.

A few weeks ago, I looked up at my shelves and tried to pick out a new title.

The shelves are full of them.  Shiny spines.  Names I love.  Titles that entice.  Promises I've made to myself.

But none of them appealed. 

Too long, perhaps.  Too noir.  Too new.  Too old.  I had the excuses.

I looked at my kindle.

Too heavy.  And the energy required to turn the thing on, I wasn't sure I had.

Reader's block.

I get it for lots of reasons.

First off, reading requires some effort.  At least at the outset.  Like swimming in a cold pool.  Hell to get in, great when you're set and on your way.

It doesn't help that I have the mildest of reading problems.  It's a scanning thing, no biggie.  Big enough to put me off from time to time.

And there's work.  Emotionally sapped, intellectually drained and physically worn, effort can be the last thing I want to make. 

There's the kids.  When the work slice of the pie has been taken, the children still need someone to play with and to cook for them, to sort out their issues and to put clean clothes in their drawers et al.  Another slice of the cake gone.

I've just been working through Pulp Ink 2 as co-editor.  It's been a wonderful experience and I am definitely leaning on Chris Rhatigan's strength on this one.  He's tremendous.  This time out, neither of us is there as a writer.  We decided early doors that we'd concentrate on editing work. 

In order to do that, it's meant reading each of the submissions to decide upon the stories to use.  Sometimes it's taken 2 reads to make a decision or to find out what either Chris or I could see or couldn't see that meant the need for a fresh attempt.

The editing itself was pretty big this time.  Not all the stories needed much change, but they all demanded concentration.

And there's the flick through to check on the changes.

Now there's the proof read.

Man.  It's a real labour of love.  It's labour, none-the-less.  All of us who've been in anthologies or magazines or online should all spare a thought to those grinding away behind the scenes and those shiny covers.  Hats off to each and every one.

Finally, there were the Smoke edits, hopefully soon to be signed off soon.  Hopefully.

Which means I have lots of excuses for thinking 'sod it' when I look at those books I've been desperate to get into.

Reader's block.

Sleep or the television or time in fresh air all seemed more appealing than books. 

I wonder if you get it.

If you do, what are your solutions?

I imagined having a few days of vegetating in front of the TV.  That's not easy when most of it isn't to my taste.  The Antiques Roadshow isn't even on at the mo.

I turned to a thick book I started a good while ago.  Literary fiction.  Dense.  A change of pace.  No dialogue.  Not much plot.  I wasn't far in before the tome seemed heavy in my hands and my eyelids even heavier.  And the book's great.  Beautifully winding.  It's just that it had words in.

So another break.  More TV.  More frustration.

I thought about getting hold of some graphic novels.  There was a lot of sense in that.  For reasons I'm not sure about, that never got off the ground.

Coming up to the third week of the block, I went into my bedside cupboard. 

Picked up a Bukowski.

Ham And Rye.

Very short chapters.  Utterly engaging.  Perfectly paced.  Completely brilliant.

My writer's block was over.

Maybe I have my answer.

A dose of Hank.

And that reminds me, a sweet tangent this, of the letter we once got as poets from John Martin of Black Sparrow.  Mmmmm.

So that could be it.  It'll either be Bukowski of Proust (for as I was at the sea last night, I decided that would come soon).

If you have any tips for what a man with tired eyes should pick up when needing a gentle initiation, I'd love to hear them.


Friday, 25 May 2012

Beware Your Shirt!

It's not possible to get a review like this one and not feel good about your work.  It had me cackling to myself for several hours, including when I was trying to get to sleep.

Mr Kelly from Manchester, thanks for the smiles:

'5.0 out of 5 stars Beware your shirt!, 23 May 2012

By T. Kelly (manchester) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME) Amazon Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: In Loco Parentis (Kindle Edition)

If I have a complaint about In Loco Parentis, I would have to say that it is so readable and compelling that I spilt food down two separate shirts and a pair of trousers whilst trying unsuccessfully to feed myself without having to stop reading.

I am not sure if this reveals bad manners on my part, or on Nigel's: for not allowing his poor readers any time to live their own lives whilst immersed in his stories.

Perhaps its just the sign of a really, really good read.

Encore... '
Encore, Mr Kelly.  Encore.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Writers and Resilience


It plays such a major part in our lives.

We’re at our most resilient when we’re young.  It comes within the package that is the innate survival kit with which we are equipped at birth.

Take the example of a child learning to stand.

The child gets up, holds the position for as long as possible and then falls.  Instead of packing in the standing thing there and then, they get up and try again.  And again.  And again.  Eventually, for the vast majority of children, the end result is that they can stand.

You can apply that to any development we make.  Without resilience, we’d just not get anywhere.

The processes of learning are best utilised in a nurturing environment.  It’s something parents have to be careful about – allowing a child too much freedom to explore can have as damaging consequences as inhibiting opportunities.

There’s some irony here that it when children arrive at school that they are at risk of having their resilience squashed.  Just as parenting has fine lines, so does teaching; the difference with teaching is that instead of a handful of children to think about who are all more-or-less operating within the one culture (that of the family) there might be thirty-plus of them and their backgrounds are likely to be pretty diverse.

As we grow older, age and wrinkle, the resilience we began with has likely taken a lot of knocks.  It’s probably a lot weaker in adults than any child anywhere.

It’s certainly something that we need to keep alive all the same.  If you’re a writer, the need to do so is crucial.

What follows here is not a generalisation. Rather, it’s a personal response to my own experience of the last week.  If there’s anything you can relate to or can use and learn from, then I think I’ve achieved what I set out to.  If I sell another couple of books in the process, that’s probably part of the reason for the post (I’d rather just say that than have it niggle at you as you read).

Saturday.  In the evening, In Loco Parentis becomes available.

I’d liken it to being present at the birth of a child. 

You don’t know how things are going to turn out until the book appears.  You can have hugely aspirant dreams and disturbing nightmares at the same time and you don’t know which of those is to win out until you see some evidence.  Maybe you even need someone to let you know.

Out comes the book.  It’s there.  Live.  Not breathing, obviously.

And then the wait.

One of the things that’s very different now than from a couple of years ago is the ability to monitor and count sales as they come in.  If you’re self-published, you’ll know what I mean. 

So the book’s out and you tell folk and watch and wait.

A few sales give hope.  And then it stops. 

A day goes by.

Another sale on the clock.

Another day.  Maybe one more sale.

It turned out that when I opened the floodgates there was very little water on the other side.  There was no pouring.  Not even a trickle.  I had drips.

Like learning to stand.

Get up.  Fall.  Get up.  Fall. 

Write book.  Damn.  Write book.  Damn.


Even the drips have stopped.

So, what the hell to do.

I woke up this morning on the verge of self-pity.  Self-pity for me is natural default.  At least in the beginning.  Depression is the next step. 

So am I going to get depressed?  Hell no.  No fucking way. 

And why not?

There are a few different reasons.

Firstly, I know I have resilience.  I may have forgotten that over the years, but I do.  I go to work every day, for example, to foster the resilience of the children I teach and hopefully add to the things they know in the process.   I get up every morning.  Write things down at night.  Stories, blog posts, tweets etc.  I do them.

So, this morning, I knew that to avoid the self-pity, I’d have to actively do something about it.  Which is this piece.

Tip 1 then, when your armour feels thin, don’t lie down and wait for the point of the sword.  Get yourself up and polish, repair or re-design your defences – whatever it is your good at, do.

Then analyse your own measure for success.  Is producing a best-seller the only thing that’s going to pump up the ego?  If it is, I’d suggest you either move the goalposts very quickly or find something else to do.  Or maybe you should think about writing for yourself only (nothing wrong with that, by the way). 

Tip 2.  Great books don’t equal sales any more than sales equal great books.  Remember that.

Experience is a useful tool and is good fuel for resilience.  Experience has shown me that when a kindle self-published book is released, sales will be slow.  There’ll be good days and great days and there’ll be famine.  You can’t do the Joseph/Pharaoh thing about filling all the barns with corn, but you can remember the good meals.

Dirty Old Town has sold an average of 3.5 books a day for almost a year-and-a-half now.  It came out of the traps like a dog with three legs, yet it’s still limping its way around the track.  Beat On The Brat also came out with three legs, but it seems to decide to take long rests when the mood takes it – I don’t think it’s even at the first bend.

Tip 3 – books are like your own children.  Each is lovely and wonderful in so many ways, but each is different and will find their own way in the world.  Don’t expect them all to grow up the same.  The difference is that you have much more control of your book as it doesn’t (mostly) have its own agenda.

Tip 4.  Remind yourself of your successes.

This is easily forgotten.  A positive word about your work made 6 months ago can never be rubbed out.  The remark was there.  Check it out every so often.

Tip 5. 

This goes back to the nurturing aspect to resilience.  In order to best take risks, the environment can be set up to allow them.

Nurturing in writing comes in different forms.  Agents, publishers, editors, family, friends, peers, audience all play their part.

For me, whatever this says, it comes in the form of being appreciated in some way.  As a writer it means that someone out there has got it.  The message, I mean.  That they were entertained and see aspects of the book in just the way I’d hoped they would.  Maybe they’ve even seen and found more than I was hoping.  Even better.

Take these review snippets:

If you've read any of his short work or his novella, Smoke, you know that Bird is a noir poet whose work is complex yet immediately satisfying. He follows up on that brilliantly in his first full-length effort.’  Chris Rhatigan

‘I loved the little wisps of paragraph, the short scenes that
were woven together so intuitively. In Loco Parentis isn't a
'plotty' book, it's more like poetry (the fluid and easy
spoken-word kind, street poetry, not the dense and
inaccessible wordgames that fill the ruling-class
anthologies). I think that's why it jumped my To Be Read
pile so easily; reading it was like falling into a moving river
(yeah, if you've seen that episode of I Shouldn't Be Alive
where the father and son are dragged along by their faces
under an ice shelf!)’  Nicki

‘Bird describes the violence, sex and drugs extremely well.
You feel the immobiliser smack against your head, the sex is
raw and complicated with a variety of emotions and motives
as the characters struggle to find the comfort they desire, and
the drugs bring the angst together like a fog swirling around
the characters until they become totally lost in a world where
right and wrong become impossible to differentiate.
Beautiful, painful and excruciatingly brilliant writing. Nigel
Bird is a writer of the highest quality. Don't miss out.’ 

‘IN LOCO PARENTIS displays Nigel Bird's ability to expose
the raw experience of life. Hope, pain, fear, loss, rage, love,
lust and regret all drive the characters, and will take root in
the reader in this well written tale.’  RThomas Brown

I’m also going to paraphrase my good friend, major talent

and trusted reader AJ Hayes, who said something like – ‘It’s

brilliant.  Exactly what I’ve come to love about your work.  Go

for it.’

We all know that reviews make some difference to sales. 
More importantly to me, they tell me I’ve succeeded after all. 
Sell one copy for the rest of the week, sell 10 or a 100,
whatever the number it won’t really matter so much to my
own feelings. 

By reading my work in a very short time, by putting pen to
paper, by drawing out the essence of the book that I hoped
was there and by adding nuances that I hadn’t seen myself,
they’ve done me the greatest service of all.  Reminded me
that what I do matters to some.  Given me the courage and
the confidence to try and stand up and let everyone know
that they might like it too.  And to all of them, I don’t really
know how to pass on my appreciation other than to say thank

I guess that tip 5 is to cherish the times you hit the target no
matter how many times you miss the board.

Tip 6. 

Remember when you were learning to stand? 

Probably not.

To finish, I’m going to point to the achievements of
Manchester City this weekend.  I’m not a fan, but I was

Normal time is up and they are about to fail to win the
Premiership in the way that no sane person would have

They need 2 goals in less than 5 minutes of injury time.

Score the first and they’re half way there.

Score the second and it’s in the bag.

To me, that’s resilience in a nutshell.  Congratulations to Man
City for their win. 

Congratulations to any of us who can draw inspiration from

Here’s to success, in whatever form you may find it.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Truth Or Dare

I'm not so brave as I once was.  I'm certainly much less crazy.

Apart from getting older, it's helped by avoiding stimulants that have no more power than coffee or tea.

So I'm taking Truth.

In Loco Parentis is a novel.  Teacher Noir.  It's a bit like I imagine The Slap to be, only it would have to be considered to be a hard slap.

I'll put in some frills later.

You need to know a few things before clicking to make a purchase.

First off is that I did submit this to a couple of publishers.  You may be able to guess who they are, but I'll not mention them in case it's bad form.   The part you need to know is that this novel didn't make it past the gates - I had positive feedback, but it wasn't for them.  Now, I hoped that it might come off and their response might mean that it's not the novel I hoped to write.

That said, it's the story I wanted to tell.

So, left with a choice of trying to find other homes and just going it alone, I decided on the latter. 

A little bit like the character in the book, I'm an impulsive kind of guy.  Impulsiveness has been a blessing and a curse in so many ways, but it's the way I am and I'm pretty happy with the way things turned out.  So as soon as decided, I did it.

This happens to be my longest piece yet. 

Smoke will soon be released by Blasted Heath; stretching myself to novella length was a challenge which I thankfully managed to pull off (by all accounts).  Stepping up to 3 times that length, I can only say I think I managed it.

The other thing is that I'm not intending to make this free at any point.  If I change my mind on that, you'll just have to forgive me, but I want to do this without the free promotion.

If you're interested, would like a read and feel the price of $2.99 / £1.99 is steep, just send me an email and I'll get a copy to you in Kindle format (or a PDF if you'd rather).  You'd be most welcome to have one.

I'd like to thank those who've read the book in advance of publication for their support, effort, encouragement and comments. 

Here are a couple of thoughts on the novel, which you might be interested in:

"All on his own, Nigel Bird has created a new sub-genre: Teacher Noir. In Loco Parentis delves into the darkness of the everyday through the eyes of painfully human and delightfully contradictory characters. This is vulnerable, brave fiction.

Bird is a noir poet who crafts characters you will love, hate, and become addicted to--all at the same time. Be prepared: In Loco Parentis is a rare and devastating book."

- Chris Rhatigan (Watch You Drown, All Due Respect, Death By Killing, Pulp Ink)


"IN LOCO PARENTIS displays Nigel Bird's ability to expose the raw experience of life. Hope, pain, fear, loss, rage, love, lust and regret all drive the characters, and will take root in the reader in this well written tale." - R. Thomas Brown (HILL COUNTRY)

Those comments are very much appreciated given that they come from very fine writers.  And in case you haven't heard, Watch You Drown is free in the US today (truly).

Which is about it for the Truth.

The Dare part?  All I can do is dare you to take a look.  Check out the intro and see if it works for you.  It's not going to suit everyone's taste, but there's only one way to find out if that's yours or not.

Till soon.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Dancing With Myself: BRIAN LYZER interviews BRIAN LYZER

When did you begin writing?
About twenty years ago. I remember the day clearly. I had a moment of inspiration on a Saturday morning and started typing on my computer. Eight hours later I had a hundred pages of an outline. The amazing thing was how fast the time went by and how engrossed I got into my own story.
More than one reviewer has stated that THE VIEW should become a movie. What do you think about that?
I take it as a very nice compliment. In a way it makes a lot of sense to me because I sort of see the story visually in my head long before I write. As a matter of fact I consider my self a storyteller more than a writer. I also knew the last line of the book very early during the process.
Interesting.  Any other insights into your writing process?
Just that I try to get everything I think about down on paper as quickly as possible. I don’t worry about whether something works or not. It’s important not to over think things early in the process. As an example, I had well over 500 pages which eventually was trimmed down to just less than 300, but I love that process. It’s amazing to create something out of nothing and then sculpt it down to a polished story.
Who are your influences?
There are so many I’m afraid of leaving one out, Robert Ludlum, Stephen King, John Irving, Ken Follet and James Patterson, all different styles, but each enjoyable reads.
What made you decide to self-publish?
I did try sending the query’s to agents at first, but it felt like I was working too hard for too little results. I think it would be nice to have a traditional publisher though. Writing is a lonely enough business and I think it would be fun to be involved with other people as long as they truly believed in my book.
Are you working on anything new right now?
A children’s book and then another fictional novel, but unfortunately I do have a regular day job and can only progress so fast. I guess that is one of the benefits of self-publishing. I can do everything on my own schedule.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Stairway to Heaven: Dan O’Shea goes dancing with himself

Excuse me a moment. *Turns around and slaps own face* Geeze, just because Nigel put on Stairway to Heaven doesn’t mean I get to grope my own ass during the slow bits.

Stairway, eh, Nigel? Damn, that’s better than eight minutes, and that’s the radio version. Not letting me off easy, are you old sport? Couldn’t go with something hard and fast, get this over with? Maybe The Jam, Eton Rifles maybe? Let me show off my anglophile chops, transition into a nice Occupy Wall Street groove, do a little socio-economic two-step, a little geopolitical rag, try for some 1980s nostalgia just to make myself look a tad younger? No, huh? You’re going for the jugular, gonna make me show my age, eh? OK, time to bust a move. Dancing with Myself.

I’m suspicious of this whole exercise, frankly. I mean look at these puppies – these are big dogs,13Ws. And I don’t mean in those whacky-ass European shoe sizes either, Nigel. I checked the conversion chart. 45s? Really? That’s a handgun caliber, not a shoe size. No, on me we’re talking 13W worth of good ol’, god-fearin’ American shoe leather. The problem being, you can’t start slinging gunboats like these around the dance floor without stepping on a few toes. But there are advantages, of course. Yes ladies, I did say 13 wides. *wink wink*

Not that I can’t pull off a little fancy footwork. Did some boxing back in the day, strictly amateur hour stuff, but still, I laced ‘em up and climbed into the ring a couple dozen times. And your fists won’t go anywhere your feet don’t take you, even if you are known around the gym as the even-whiter-and-less-talented Jerry Quarry. So yeah, I can move the tootsies a little. And I can take a punch, but you knew that already. You’ve seen my face.

Crap, the slow part’s over. Bonham’s really pounding the skins now, Jimmy Page is firing on all cylinders, all that mamby pamby Hobbity shit, the rings of smoke through the trees shit, that stuff we were trying to digest down in Brian’s basement, lubing up the process with a case of Old Milwaukee because, god damn it, we were pretty sure some sort of paradigm shifting universal secret was stashed in there somewhere, we’re past all that now. Now we’re winding on down the road, our shadows taller than our souls, the tempo cranked all the way up. Time to let go of my date, break out of that feel-up clinch and shake it. But we didn’t used to, not at the dances in the school gym, not back in ’75. Of course, we weren’t listening to Bonham on the drums, that wasn’t Jimmy working the ax. Just some guys in bad polyester shirts and worse heavy metal hair, guys with maybe five years on us, but not guys who’d been to our school. Guys with day jobs at Caterpillar, or maybe down at All-Steel, Guys that ran drill presses Monday through Friday, guys that stamped metal. Guys with enough left in the tank after all that to get together in the garage, work up a playlist, waste their passion on a mess of 16-year-olds who stayed in that graceless four-armed circle-stomp clinch all the way through the fast part because we weren’t even hearing the music, just the blood in our own veins, just that voice in our own heads that kept telling us maybe tonight maybe tonight maybe tonight. Or maybe not. Usually not. Didn’t matter. Not our awkward gyrations, not our clumsy innocent pursuit of our pubescent fantasies. Didn’t matter to us, not on the gym floor at Marmion Military Academy.

Because it was all still ahead of us, we knew that. College, jobs after college. And not running drill presses either, jobs with ties. We had nothing on the line. But those guys on stage did. Not just another Saturday night for them, not in their heads. They were dreaming of filled arenas, limos, t-shirts with their names on the front and tour dates on the back. They were up there doing the one thing in their lives they loved at the end of a week they probably hated so that we could ignore them and turn in our masturbatory little circles wondering if this was the night we’d find out what color panties Mary Mulcahy was wearing.

Those guys, they were playing with desperation because they knew that they had maybe another couple of years. A couple years left to pretend that some guy from A&M was going to hear them playing a soc hop in East Bumblefuck, Illinois, was gonna give them that mythical break. A couple years before some girl in a bar became more than some girl in a bar, became a wife, became a mother, and then they wouldn’t have time for the garage, time to work this year’s new sound into the playlist and they’d put away the ax with the rest of St. Paul’s childish things. Maybe take it out late at night sometimes, just working the strings, not even plugging it into the amp, not wanting to wake the kids, trying to convince themselves they still have some magic in them somewhere, or at least that’s how I picture them, say nine years on, in 1984, the third baby on the way, the mortgage payment late because the holding company that bought out the plant had packed it up for some non-union spot down in Mississippi and the unemployment had run out and they had to shut off the tube when that Regan commercial came on again, the one that said it was morning in America, so then they were sitting there alone in the dark and they had to reach for something, so they reached for the guitar. Maybe called up some old friends, maybe got the band back together, maybe played some weddings or something, not chasing dreams this time, just making ends meet.

Somewhere down in Mississippi, somebody else is reaching for the guitar now. Not picking through old Zeppelin tunes, probably. Drive By Truckers maybe, old Skynyrd tunes maybe, Tom Petty maybe. Because now the plant’s packed off to China, and it would take four shifts a day at Walmart to make up that paycheck, but Walmart’s only hiring part time because full time would mean paying more benefits, so its five hours a day in the blue vest unpacking the boxes from Shanghai, throwing the shit they used to make on shelves for a quarter of what they used to get paid, then shucking the blue vest for six more hours of pushing shopping carts around the lot at the Food Giant, and Obama’s on the tube telling them Hope and Romney’s on the tube telling them Obama’s the anti-Christ, and they’re pretty sure it isn’t going to matter much to them either way.

What’s that Nigel? The music’s stopped? I guess I didn’t notice again, guess I wasn’t listening. Guess my mind was somewhere else. I wish it was still on Mary Mulcahy’s panties, but I know what color they were now. Sometimes I think that was the last good thing.

But hold on, don’t throw it to the judges yet, let me see if I can’t work up a little paradiddle, go out on a high note. *a slow, pathetic shuffle, muscle memory gone all Alzheimer’s*

Fuck it, who am I kidding? I’d pull a groin.

Dan O’Shea is a Chicago area writer represented by Stacia Decker at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. His short fiction collection, Old School, is available through Snubnose Press, Amazon  (UK) and Smashwords. On days when he remembers he has a blog, you can catch him at .

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

One Man's Opinion: The Diving Bell And The Butterfly

When I bought my copy of The Diving Bell And The Butterfly it was for research purposes. I intended to write about (and am writing about) someone with locked-in syndrome. 

To help me decide that this was the book for me, the publishers had generously placed on the cover the recommendation from someone at the FT  who had said it was 'one of the great books of the century'.

It's certainly a very moving book and, should you want to dig into what is said, a profound one.  Reading about someone who can't move their body, has hearing issues and can only use one eye (for seeing and for blinking out the story) it's difficult not to think about life and it's many facets.

The story is a surprisingly light read in many ways, a very easy and gentle passage from beginning to end.  The style is descriptive and personal, yet slightly removed from real anguish and joy.  Hard not to be impressed by Bauby's philosophical stance.

Here's a quote about when he first sees his reflection after the massive stroke that left him in his condition:

'Not only was I exiled, paralysed, mute, half deaf, deprived of all pleasures and reduced to a jelly-fish existence, but I was also horrible to behold.'

There's a rather dry humour in the statement and it's a humour than runs right through the piece.

My favourite chapter is about Bauby and a colleague of his who spend a day at the races.  The newspaper they run has a sports reporter who knows his horses and the whole of the office is relying on the duo to get their bets down for the big event.  The section tells a lot about who Bauby was before the stroke as well as much about how he was afterwards.

I was struck by the tenderness and also by the absolute frustration of a man who has young children and how the love they share is tested and stretched.  Not to mention that he knows he shan't see his father again - young Bauby is in his prison and his dad is too frail to leave his apartment.

There's a reminder right through this that whoever we may be, it's likely that there'll be a time when all our memories are distilled into short measures.  The people we have been will have faded and we'll have to manage to make the most of what we are left with and what we remember.  It's a reminder that when a person is wheeled passed us that however misshapen or twisted the body might be, the mind might be sharp and active on the inside.  And if we need to treat the most vulnerable members of our world with respect, shouldn't we also try and apply such principles to everyone?

I work in a school with an 'Exceptional Needs' unit and try to be smiley and positive every time I see the kids there.  What I feel I need to do from now is to take that a little further in terms of the communications I offer.

Another thing occurred to me as I was reading.  It provided an excellent mirror to hold up to Stona Fitch's excellent 'Senseless', highlighting just what a well-written tale that is.

It took only a couple of hours to complete and is broken into very neat chapters (I guess the act of blinking out a story is exhausting), but I'd recommend it to anyone who's feeling a little sorry for themselves, anyone who likes descriptions that border on the poetic and anyone who has ever wondered just how bad a Sunday can get.

It's not even close to being the greatest book of the century.  Maybe not even that close to being the best book of its year, or even month.  Still, I think you might benefit from a read of it.  Digest it and go out there and try and make the most of your day.  I for one will be trying.