Saturday, 31 October 2009

What's in a name?

Why is it that women's hair salons lend themselves so easily to clever, play-on-word names? Is it a kind of statement of artistry, that if we can think of a spiffing name like this we can do wonders with your fringe? Is it a strictly British thing, or is this true the world over?

I mean, butcher's shops are so often called...

...not Mincing Malcom's, or Who's For The Chop?, or From Hare to Eternity.

You know what you're getting in Allan's butcher shop--good honest pork, nothing more, nothing less. The pedant in me loves it that the placing of the apostrophe is bang-on. It makes me want to applaud Allan's sausages. I want to laud Allan's liver. Am I alone in flinching whenever I see the 'Grocer's apostrophe'? Do you blanch at such punctuation abuse? Anyway, that's probably for another post.

Fish shops are called "Bob's Fishmonger" or something, not Your Plaice or Mine?, or In Cod We Trust.

But women's hair salons strive for names like...

I Googled, and found loads of wonderfully named salons locally.

I like Hair Razors in Newton-le-willows, and the delicious Hair World. There's Q'Dos in Toxteth, cudos on that name, and Cut and Dried, and Hair 2 Dye 4, which I guess appeals to the Twitter, texting generation. There's Mane Attraction, and A Cut Above, and Million Hairs... the list just goes on and on.

I'm intrigued by Woman More Than Nails Ltd in Bebbington. What can that mean? Is it a play on some quote I'm not aware of? It seems a strange combination of words to be not deliberate. It's an existential statement--we are women, and we are more than nails. They'll be after the vote next.

And what about Envy Hair and Beauty, in Birkenhead? Do the women all hiss at each other as they go in? Cardinal sin and curlers all under the one roof? A potent mix, I should think. But not to worry, women, because after such sinful encounters, Hair Angels can be your salvation.

And speaking of good names...

The concept of Beds and Beauty is surely a male creation. Never mind all that romancing rot, this shop is every man's one-stop route to procreation--beauty to bed with ne're a hint of roses in between :-)

Thinking about this afterwards, I guess 'Beds' is the Sun-bed-set parlance for 'Sun Beds'. Or, given there's not much room on the sign to get 'Sun Beds' in, it's simply truncated. All of which is much more mundane than what goes on in my furtive mind behind those closed shutters.

Of course, 'Hair 2000' next door is probably not the best of names. What woman wants a 2000 do? Surely she'll want the 2009 version? Or, if she's the sharp-suited go-getter, she may even want the 2010 style now. A lot's happened since the year 2000--the towers have fallen, the markets have collapsed, a black president in the White House--so that has to be reflected in hair styles, right?

Ugly Ben's? Did someone name this shop without Ben knowing? Did he commission his sign writers and leave them to it? Maybe it was originally simply "Ben's...", but Ben didn't pay his sign writer, and said sign writer popped back in the night with his ladders and paint pots and the smirk of revenge on his lips.

This picture was taken on a Sunday. Clearly Ben doesn't open Sundays. Possibly he's busy beautifying himself for the week ahead. Perhaps he's out hunting down his sign writer, with a number three mallet and a re-cycled Queen Anne chair leg held aloft. Or maybe he's busy over at Beds and Beauty.

Of course, Ben has it sorted. The naming of his shop is an instant hook. People passing by on buses won't fail to do a double take at the name. As a writer, it's probably this 'notice' aspect that interests me in shop fronts. A writer, after all, is in the same 'hook' business.

I should change my name to Ugly Steve.

What do you mean you totally agree?

Friday, 30 October 2009

87K and Counting

Burying Brian now tops 87,000 words, and the finishing line is so close I can almost smell the cigars and brandy. The ending is planned and all but written, and I've one scene to write that I skipped over for various reasons.

I do think I'll need to edit the last 10k or so more than usual. This 10k has been produced very rapidly compared to my usual snail's pace. I was typing so fast at times I all but tangled up the old fingers.

Then, I'm hoping Immanion Press will still be interested in it. Storm Constantine did say she would look at it, but that was now some time ago. I've been remiss in not pushing myself as hard as I should have in creating Donald 2. I hope it doesn't cost me dearly.

In my defence, I still maintain humour is the hardest subgenre to write in. And there's a certain 'gentle tone' to Digging up Donald that I was desperate to reproduce in Burying Brian. Whether I've succeeded will no doubt be judged by others.

Assuming they get the chance to read it, of course.

Sunday, 25 October 2009


Well, I'm back on Polish! My research now tells me my father-in-law was born in the town of Tarnow in South East Poland. So that's where we're back heading.

I'm sad in some ways, because while Russian looks that much more daunting at the start, with the Cyrillic alphabet and all, I've thoroughly enjoyed battling with it. So much so, I toyed with the idea of learning both languages at once.

Everyone I spoke to advised me against doing that. You'll end up speaking some odd hybrid of the two, they told me. And that makes perfect sense.

But I think I'd like to return to Russian later. Maybe after my trip, or when I feel good enough about the Polish side that I think I can safely compartmentalise both in my brain.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Of Camp Statues

This has to be the most camp statue I've ever seen. Approaching it from its right, it looks all rather heroic and steeped with derring-do. But when one gets round the front, one realises it's really just some bloke and his sword loitering about waiting for a boyfriend with a beard fetish and a love of metallic tights to show up.

In truth, I rather like the idea of gay warriors. Warfare would be less brutal, I should think, were it a requirement that all the participants be gay. There'd be a bit more hair pulled out, I suppose, and some hurtful fashion comments tossed in, but not so many soldiers coming home in boxes. I think I should write a story about a gay army. I wonder if I can make it humorous without resorting to worn stereotypes and tired homophobic stuff.

The statue stands outside the rejuvenated Palm House in Sefton Park, one of Liverpool's oldest and grandest public parks. I'm not entirely sure whose statue it is. The name is written on the plinth that forms part of the statue proper, but I can't make it out in the photo, and rather foolishly didn't take notes. If I pop back there at some point I'll edit in the identity.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Digging up the Past

So, I've begun researching the family tree. I signed up with an ancestry site, which doesn't quite let me view birth, death and marriage certificates, but rather tells me what reference number they are and thus allows me to order them from the Government Records Office.

I ordered a birth certificate, which duly came, but which was also followed by a second one for someone totally unrelated to us down in Dorset. Maybe it was buy-one-get-one-free. Maybe it was just typical governmental bureaucracy and wastage. I'd send it on, but it was addressed to me as if I'd actually ordered it. Unless, of course, the government knows of some hitherto hidden cousin of mine from Dorset, and is doing me a favour by pre-empting my next search. (Taps nose...) Governments know that sort of thing, you know.

The ancestor site also lets me search various censuses. I'm amused that one of the columns households were required to fill in is 'Lunatic?' I've yet to find anyone who has actually put 'yes' in there. Are lunatics generally aware of their lunacy? Maybe some lunatics wear their affliction with pride: "Yes, Lunatic, that's me; fifty years, man and boy".

Searching these things is not as straightforward as I imagined it to be. It's amazing how many people with like names lived close by to each other, so it takes a level of concentration to try and hit one's target. That, and there's the rather restrictive 'hundred years' rule, whereby any census cannot be made public until one hundred years have passed. Presumably, it's to allow lunatic old Aunt Doris to peg it before the world at large learns how she talks to her teapots.

And I haven't even started yet on the Polish/Ukrainian side, so help me.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Autumnal Colours

Autumnal Colours
Sefton Park, Liverpool

I love this time of year.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Very silly, indeed...

It gets worse. My research suggests my trip will more likely be to the Ukraine, and from what I can gather I should instead be learning Russian.

So, now I must forget my two-dozen words of Polish I've so far mastered, and go for Russian instead. And these Russians don't even have an alphabet I recognise!

Oh, foolish me.

Still, I like a challenge.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

I'm a very silly boy...

I'm a very silly boy, because I've decided I want to learn Polish.

It's not a whim, as such, because a whim like this would surely go beyond mere silliness and would be bordering on insanity. The men in white coats hover beyond my windows as I type.

It's a strange tongue. It's not content with twenty-six letters for an alphabet, for a start. There are all these other combination letters with their own sounds, and letters with squares above them, or tails below, and letters seemingly there only to trick a poor sap like me in that they look like 'W' but are spoken like 'V'. Twice I've almost bitten my own gums twisting my lips to get these odd pronunciations. Dislocated jaw?—hah! I tweak the nose of Dislocated Jaw.

Why am I doing this? Well, I want to go to Poland next year, and I have this odd, unwritten, personal rule that in order to visit somewhere I have to know the basics of the language. I'm not planning on being able to discuss the Reunification of Europe with the natives, but I simply love the thought of asking for this and that, ordering beer and being able to find my way about; mundane stuff like that. Part of it is a kind of respect thing.

But hey, the visit Poland idea is secret, so you've not read that, right?

My wife's father is (was) Polish, and his roots are shrouded in mystery. What little I do know seems somewhat tragic—deaths in child birth, deaths in fire, and persecution and exile by the Nazis. My secret is I want to find these roots as a birthday present to my wife. My trip is to be a surprise trip. So no telling, okay? My wife is a technophobe, so I've more chance of actually learning Polish than she has of landing on this Blog.

I have a year to do this… reckon I'll succeed?

We'll see, and in the meantime…

Do widzenia…

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

82K and Counting

Burying Brian is fast approaching the finish line. It's now at 82,000 words and counting.

Over the last few years I've written mostly 'gritty' stuff. But until embracing Brian once more, I don't think I'd realised how much I've missed writing humour. It's a challenge, after all, because I'd argue fiercely it's the hardest branch of writing to 'get right'. And it's certainly the kind of writing that entertains me the most in its creation.

Whilst chasing an agent, after the completion of Digging up Donald, it was frustrating to be told time and time again that humour 'doesn't sell', this despite the bookstores being full with Terry Pratchett, Robert Rankin, Douglas Adams, etc. I know they are the big boys, but surely they're also selling the humour subgenre as well as their names.

I once was up for winning a major competition, only to be told (and I paraphrase) that: 'A well-crafted literary tale will always win out over a well-crafted humour piece, particularly if the humour is also a genre work.'

They went on to say: 'But don't give up. The world needs more humour writers.'

Cue the sound of Steve's head banging on wall.

Still, I persevere, and what will be will be.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

78K and Counting

Well, I'm now at just over 78,000 words with the second novel Burying Brian. I reckon the story has about another 5,000 to 10,000 words to see it completed.

It will be shorter than the first novel, Digging up Donald, which weighed in at 100,000 words or thereabouts. Not that it's a problem; a story should be as long as it needs to be in the telling.

So, I've put 8,000 words into it in three days, which has to be something of a record for me. And the nice thing is they feel like good words.

Writers reading this blog will know what I mean by that—there're words: writing sessions that feel forced, when the writer knows what's there will need throwing, or at least major revision, and there are sessions that feel more or less right from the outset.

I've three more days leave from work, and I plan to keep pushing on with the story. Hopefully, soon, I'll be able to announce completion. And that kind of announcement always feels like an achievement in itself.

This afternoon I'm off to the football. I think I've earned it.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

A Brief History of Here 4

There's a gem of a cemetery, one I'd no idea previously existed, to the rear of the Anglican cathedral. Named St James' Gardens, it's a former quarry site which became Liverpool's main cemetery in 1825 and is now listed as a public park. Of course, these days there are bigger, more modern sprawls to home the dead. But this cemetery has real character.

It's below ground level, for a start, hidden away almost and which possibly explains why I'd not discovered it before, accessed at one end by a tunnel and ramp.

I love the thought of a tunnel leading to a graveyard. It adds a sense of journey, of mystery. And that the ramp is itself lined with graves gives the odd experience of having to walk over buried bones just to get into the place.

There's food in that for a horror writer surely.

Beyond the tunnel, there's the Dead's Council. It's a curious circle of graves that in my mind becomes a meeting place.

Here, the dead might decide if they'll permit me further into their domain, or whether they'll rise up shrieking and send me running homeward.

Maybe on occasion they decide to keep the living who stray here. Perhaps the dead howl as the tunnel slams shut. Perhaps that's when they feed.

I really should Photoshop this picture. The green grass and daylight doesn't do it justice. It should be dark and misty, streaked with ghosts, and monks lurking, stooped against a squall of rain.

Some of the tombs appear older than 1825. And in truth that only adds to the charm of the place. These two flank the Oratory, formerly a mortuary chapel for the cemetery. The inscriptions are so worn and chipped I've no idea whose bones are laid here.

There are some notable graves, though; William Huskisson (1770-1830), for example, Member of Parliament for Liverpool in 1823. He has the rather dubious honour of being the first man ever killed by a steam locomotive.

I suppose it takes someone as self-absorbed as a politician to fail to notice a 100 tonne lump of metal rumbling, hissing and steaming towards him. Still, I'm sure it was an unusual demise, particularly in those times.

Even in daylight, there are places here permanently dark and shadowy.

I imagine the dead would walk here all day long, never mind waiting for the decency of witching hour. There are ghosts; look closely through the gloom under the branches.

And what had these people done in life to be denied the sun even to warm their headstones in death?

This surely is a sinners' patch; of murderers, and cut-throats, and black-cloaked vagabonds.

And these old trees growing outward horizontally from the bank, again lined with graves, must make an eerie sight on wintry nights. They could hang careless interlopers like me from those limbs.

It's an atmospheric stroll indeed. But a word of warning should you visit Liverpool and look for St James' Gardens—there are some dodgy characters down here, living I mean, not dead. The Red Light District is close by, and my reverie was disturbed by a woman clearly of disputable honour leading some fresh-faced boy to the slaughter. I was also approached for a cigarette by some character whose pupils couldn't safely dilate further.

Maybe the dead don't mind this—I suppose you get your entertainment where you can when dead—but it is something to be wary of. And it's a shame, because otherwise the place is secluded and peaceful.

Apart from the wail of ghosts, of course.