Tuesday 20 January 2015

Mad Friday, Squaddies, Septics and Keeping Customers Safe

Mad Friday, Squaddies, Septics and Keeping Customers Safe

As a writer I am open to appreciating perverse events and occurrences and my work in nightclubs as a Door Supervisor/Bouncer affords me plenty of real life experience to draw on as inspiration  for my stories.

The creative processes are sometimes sidetracked for proper work and I sent my editor an end of year note of thanks for his patience in my delaying sending the next batch of chapters for editing. I told him that if I wrote in my novel’s plot what actually happened on the front door he would have put a red line through for lack of credibility.

Christmas is always a strange time on the doors and the week before Mad Friday, as we call the last day of work for most people before their festive holiday, is often the worst night of the year for trouble. People, both men and women come out for sometimes the only night and there is mayhem around town. Some are just drunk and stupid, others are aggressive and nasty, for one night feuds are resurrected and new hatreds forged, all in celebration of the season of goodwill.

A mild mannered mechanic or office clerk becomes the cage fighter of his wildest dreams. Cocky young buck gets put down by an old-headed stag, or the old stag tries to relive his manly status of 20 years before and gets put on his backside by someone younger, fitter and less drunk. Alcohol and drugs play their part but self-discipline goes out of the window and there is little class and sophistication to start with. Many a family Christmas has been wrecked by a stay in the cells for the eejit who reckoned they could fight the world, including the nice policeman who asked him to calm down… or her, gender is not really a barrier to aggression.

All this is watched and dealt with by those of us who work in nightclubs and as I teased one of my younger colleagues who had a night off, if you don’t work a mad Friday you can’t call yourself a proper bouncer. I worked Mad Friday and went to bed at about 5 AM and then was up again at 7 to catch the ferry to Ireland for a holiday on the Wild West Atlantic Coast. As we made it further West I recounted the lesser incidents of the night before to my wife. She kept her peace but I know she wonders why I enjoy the job dealing with ‘pricks and princesses’. As the next couple of days progressed with a peaceful calm environment, plenty of sleep and maybe a Guinness or two, my aggression levels drop and my tolerance levels returned to my normal relaxed self.

Last mad Friday we had plenty of incidents to add to my trove of writing anecdotes, marked in my head ‘for later use’. On the front door the ferrety guy on his phone who was barred for previous incidents and told the caller on the other end of the line that he would meet him after he had “a fight with the 2 bouncers” in front of him. I’m not small and my oppo standing next to me has half a foot on me in height and shoulder width. We sort of looked at each other with raised eyebrows as he allowed himself to be dragged off by his brother as though that was a moral victory. Or the big 50 year old man wearing a santa hat and a reindeer jumper who tried to bully a young colleague but wouldn’t stand up to me.  

They go with the cherished memories. Like the one of the young girl who when refused for fake ID told me that she “would commit suicide if all she did in life was be a security guard,” then wondered why I wouldn’t let her in when she tried to join the end of the queue just 5 minutes later. Every Door Supervisor is on the receiving end of that attitude and as I have said before if you take a backwards step then you might as well give up the keys to the safe and the chastity of the barmaids. 

Do I enjoy the job? Enjoy is perhaps not the right word but the job gets under the skin and when I had a break last summer I missed the camaraderie and the craic with the lads and girls I work with. Not all customers are horrible and in fact the vast majority have great fun and go home happy. My boss’s ethos is ‘here to keep you safe’, it says so on the back of my hi-viz jacket and we are indeed there to protect customers and staff of the venue and to keep them safe. If that means I have grief for refusing a potential troublemaker then so be it. If they bite with me for a simple question then what will they do to an unsuspecting punter inside and a fight inside the venue is much worse to deal with. If 5 people being refused a night stops 25 being involved in trouble then it is a better night than allowing the trouble to walk through the door and I have done my job and kept people safer than if I was not there.    

So back into the New Year and last Saturday night the queue is building along the side of the venue. It’s midnight and I am working the street and ushering to the far end of the line as punters stroll down from the town’s pubs and bars. Taxis are pulling up and I direct all newcomers down the line… its not rocket science.

A tall scruffy guy comes up and enquires in an American accent “Where’s the veteran’s line?”

My reply is “sorry we don’t have one but the queue is moving quickly and it will only take 5 minutes”.

He growls and swears at me and stamps off to the back of the queue. He is part of a small group of English youngsters in their early 20s who are following just behind. I take the decision that with his poor attitude then he is borderline to not being allowed in for trouble he might cause inside.

I approach him and as I normally do checked that if I had got his attitude wrong on first impression I would give him a second chance. His attitude is still poor and he deliberately ignores me trying to speak to him. I inform him and his friends that this gentleman would not be coming in. I then received an uproar of entitlement from his friends explaining that he was a veteran from America and I should be giving him special leeway because he had served. A floppy haired blonde lad asked if I was a veteran myself, as though that would have made a difference. The lone female of the group became agitated and wanted to give me a piece of her mind but was dissuaded by a couple more sensible lads and they left. I told the duty manager why I had refused the American and we both shrugged our shoulders at yet another ex-soldier turned away for being aggressive outside rather than us waiting for him to go in and kick off inside.

Job done yet the incident left a sour taste in my mouth. My first novel Splinter is about an ex Royal Marine and how he deals with life after his service. No, I am not a ‘veteran’. Although my childhood focus was joining the Royal Navy I never served in any of the forces. At 18 I went to Hong Kong planning to come back for entry interview a few months late but stayed in the then British colony for 2 years working in bars and nightclubs doing the doors. I tell youngsters starting with me now that at that age you can take on the world. Now I have learned to shake the proffered hand for the quieter life and put an end to a quarrel rather than escalate the argument. As happened with the man in the santa hat and reindeer jumper who thought my young colleague was not giving him the proper respect. I told the older man to grow up and act his age, I can do that in my 40s but wouldn’t have at 20 but that shows life’s lessons have been learnt.
In Hong Kong I saw all sorts of trouble from expat stockbrokers and bankers to Tourists, Triads and plenty of Servicemen from all nationalities. In an agreement with the bar owners, police and military authorities the Lan Kwai Fong bar area where I worked was out of bounds to the British soldiers from the garrison regiment. The garrison all knew it and with their short hair cuts and regional accent then they were pretty easy to spot. It kept the supposed bad behaviour of the lowly British Squaddies away from the nice people who were visiting our bars and making them drink in the rougher areas of Wan Chai and Tsim Tsa Tsui. After a drunken altercation with an American expat, which was hushed up, then we kept their officers out too.

I worked with a couple of lads from the garrison who were good doormen, If anybody asked they said they had special dispensation to do so but probably not. No badges and cash in hand in the supposed good old days. In a world of slang then squaddies for soldiers, matelots (pronounced ‘mattlows’) for sailors or Bootnecks for the Royal Marines were the terms bandied about. We let the Bootnecks in because they were better behaved and the Navy lads based at Tamar knew the score and we were on first name terms with the Gurkha officers who fitted smoothly into the expat world.

Bars are a business unlike any other and when visiting ships came into port then we usually let them in too. The British ships crew on shore would be ok up to a point. I threw out one big matelot for being over boisterous, the next day I played rugby against his ships team and looked behind me in a lineout to see him standing behind me. I expected a kicking but he told me that his mates had said I threw him out nicely and he had deserved it, we had a few drinks together after the game. The Australians were worse for trouble and we banned them at all times. I was at the wrong end of a shoeing from a New Zealand Infantry platoon when I intervened in a tussle with a local on the dancefloor.

Drink too much, get drunk, try to meet women, can’t meet women, drink some more then get into a fight. Perhaps that is unfair but young men full of testosterone on a ship or in barracks under rigid discipline then the pressure builds up and needs to be released when on shore. I can understand that and know it goes back to the days before Nelson and Wellington. War is a bloody business and training for war is boring.

…And then there were the Americans. One of the barmen was a cockney and called them charmingly ‘Septics’ after the rhyming slang for Septic Tank/Yank. It is a derogatory term of course but after trouble with all sorts of British and Commonwealth forces the Americans of the Pacific Fleet were a pleasure to deal with. They had a few drinks, bought drinks for the staff and the expats girls in the bar. If they didn’t meet a woman then they still had a good night. When the US Fleet was in town the American Military policemen with their snowdrop helmets patrolled in Jeeps and went in hard with night stick batons so yes the ‘Septics’ usually behaved.

I had been in Hong Kong nearly 2 years having a blast, selling crisps by day and working doors by night when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. CNN showed the war building up and the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz with attendant warships sailed into town with Ten Thousand American Sailors and Marines convinced they were going into the biggest military action since D-Day and they were out to party hard. A long term resident, an old China hand told me it was like he remembered during the Vietnam War when Hong Kong was used as an R&R stopover from the front.

 Some of them thought they were going to die and I remember that weekend for the ‘Buzz’. There was a crush of men and women on the Dancefloor, I remember throwing out a drunken expat for complaining about the Americans talking to all the women. the beer pumps were on constant flow, the tills were ringing loudly and the good time girls I knew had a good time,

I have just written about the atmosphere of that time in a novella called “Dragon”, which I hope to publish shortly. That weekend was one of the formative experiences of my adult life. The Americans behaved, they spent a lot of money and they were almost all respectful of the job we did.

When the Septic “veteran” growled at me the other day then he didn’t show me the respect that I remembered from American servicemen nearly 25 years before. Perhaps I bridled at the insult to that memory. I sympathise with the “veteran” for his experiences of violence in Iraq or Afghanistan or wherever he served and how that must have affected his life. I know many from the forces who have fought away and seen images I can only imagine. I’ve worked doors with them and maybe after a few drinks they might open up, they want to be respected for a job well done. To a man they are quiet of their achievements and their experiences. If we can we let them in quickly, without ado and with a nod and a wink of appreciation.

I have met some aggrieved at the way they are treated by civilians and 2 years ago I was punched in the face by a wild eyed squaddie out with his father and uncle to celebrate his return from Afghanistan. We didn’t get him arrested in good faith that his dad would sort him out. It wasn’t his fault “he was just back from Afghan”.  

But its the same with every other customer who I deem to be unfit for entry into the venue. I make a decision to keep the majority of customers safe. The majority are civilians and like me have little comprehension of the horrors of war. We might have watched the news and the documentaries but we were not there. It is a fact of life that most do not care but neither did the public after Trafalgar or Waterloo.

I’m sorry sir, if we did not have a veteran’s line and yes I am a civilian but you are still not coming in.

As an aside on the same night there was a customer from when I ran the pub. He was a young squaddie going back to the war and at the end of his leave I gave him a good malt whisky to savour then next time he was in a foxhole and to remember to keep his head down. He necked it like a shot of tequila and grimaced. He is out of the army now but when he saw me on the door he was pleased to see me and told me he now appreciates and savours a good whisky, a Glen Morangie.

I let him in! 

JR Sheridan

Tuesday 26 August 2014

In praise of Nant Gwrtheyrn Welsh language centre

My widowed grandmother lived on Anglesey so I have been coming to North Wales for holidays all my life. The Welsh language has always been on the fringes of my vision as an unreadable signpost or an uninviting experience in a local shop. I played rugby here and local friends who spoke their own language and translated for me when a spat word in a scrum was a put down, so not the greatest experience of the language for a "Sais" from Liverpool


Having experienced the world through travel on business I speak and understand a little (un peu, ein bischen, “tipyn bach”) of French, German and Cantonese and not much Welsh, although I always found myself missing the beautiful island of Anglesey. In Hong Kong I missed the trees, In America the sense of ancient history. “Call that the oldest house in Washington DC, my favourite pub is older than that.”  Fed up of travelling I was having a late night drink at a conference in Montreal. I was asked what I want to do in the future and I said that I wanted to live in North Wales, that train of thought was set and a few months later I resigned. 

There were no jobs and so when I did make a lifestyle choice to move here I had to make my own way. So in 2007 with my Irish wife we bought a hotel business in an “idyllic coastal location”. It was tough choice, six weeks of madness in the summer and long quiet weeks in the Winter with just enough custom to keep us open. Living in a Welsh community you are immersed in the Welsh language and I made a conscious effort to use Welsh language in marketing, for menus and in general use. The “Croeso gynnes Gymraeg” (now I understand the transmutation) to match the “Cead Mille Failte” of the Irish. For some it was too little, for others too much, an afternoon spent asking the welsh speaking drinkers and staff while trying to finalise a bilingual menu was particularly frustrating.

We came out of the hotel in 2010 after four wet summers, a full understanding of the credit crunch and a smattering of welsh words. Since then I have worked in pubs and nightclubs as a bouncer, with an eclectic mix of marketing and writing to make up the numbers. It has not been a great career choice but I’ve had a great time and picked up a few more words, “Iawn Boi” is of great value as a non committal nod on entrance. Feeling that I should I have investigated starting a Welsh learners community course on a number of occasions, each time never committing to the ten weeks duration. A holiday in the middle or a family event, meaning that I would miss an important slice of the course and therefore not catch up being an easy excuse not to go.

But I live in North Wales, I have many Welsh speaking friends and so I should go and learn. Right! Next time something comes up I will book.

I catch a bit of “Cariad a Iaiath” on S4C (is that really Neville Southall), which is at the Nant Gwrtheyrn Welsh language centre on the Llyn Pensinsula. I’ve been there after a walk up the Rivals (sorry Yr Eifl, the fork) good café there, nice lunch, amazing views, I even picked up a course brochure, but a bit pricey for the courses, perhaps in the future, when I’ve sold a load of books.

After the S4C programme I spot a competition in the Mail to go on a course to Nant Gwrtheyrn. A 3 day beginners course in July. I sent an email and forgot about it. Then came a phone call that I had won a place, “Da Iawn, Diolch yn fawr rhiawn (er Did I just say great, Thanks?)”. The prize was non-residential and after some thought I paid for two nights accommodation for full immersion.

Then last Tuesday I drove down the windy valley road to the centre. I drove with trepidation partly to avoid the steep cliff sides just off the road but also I was nervous. I had been to a café the Saturday before and made the mistake of saying about the Welsh language that “I understood a bit”, the woman replied “So does a dog!”

Perhaps I was expecting a pat on the head for being a good boy and making an effort. I left the café wondering why the hell I should bother. But I went on my course and I am very glad I did.

Plenty of Coffee, lovely people, great weather, the aforesaid amazing views and a peaceful environment in which to learn and be inspired. The teacher, Elwen Owen was calm and encouraging. She didn’t once hit me across the head with a ruler for disrespecting her language with my dodgy pronunciation.

At the end of three intense days my head was frazzled and I had enjoyed it immensely, made new friends, played some games, sung some songs (badly) and had a great time. Most importantly I had broken through a dam of misunderstanding. I didn’t know the alphabet, the pronunciation, the greetings, the colours, the days of the week, the emotions, but I do now and want to learn more, the verbs and the grammar, a bit more than the basics.

Whenever the next course may be I have already used my new knowledge in shops and with friends. Bendegedig! 

For details of courses and iaccommodation - http://www.nantgwrtheyrn.org/

Hwyl Fawr

JR Sheridan


Wednesday 20 August 2014

Do you even network?

Do You Even Network?

There is a put down joke in Weightlifting circles. Can you imagine how it feels when somebody puts you down for not being bulked up or looking buff in a tight tshirt after spending hours pumping iron in the gym. Or perhaps you do look good and they want to put you down anyway.

Hey Man…Do you Even Lift?

Some business people put as much time into networking their businesses as a bodybuilder does into pumping up his or her pectorals. The mantra is “No Pain No Gain” and there is a lot of pain in both pushing heavy weights and in networking.


The arena of networking is standing in hotel function rooms amid the plastic flowers and detritus of last weekend’s wedding party. The taste is biting into the stale crusts and the congealed grease of cold bacon sandwiches, washed down with lukewarm gritty coffee. You smile wanly at your nearest fellow business person and make polite small talk about the weather and traffic in the hope they will be interested in whatever you have to sell… or knows somebody who might be.  

If it your first time then you might be approached by the group’s networking leader who will inspect your name badge and pull up your reference on his mental rolodex. I was once approached. “Ooh an Orthopaedic Manufacturer’s supplier, we don’t have any of those.” Seeing as my company was in an ultimate niche market then that was hardly surprising. But being in a niche is lonely so enduring the gritty coffee was an attempt to meet business people in my area.

One event I went to was a chamber of commerce evening which had been taken over by a Networking organisation calling themselves a “chapter”. The very thought of belonging to a chapter put me off, too cultish for me. We all sat in thrall as the chapter leader explained in an Americanised sales patter how "You do not care about our businesses if you mind getting up at 6.30 every Wednesday morning to make contacts." That rankled.

Then the strategically scattered chapter members placed around the room stood up and gave their spiel.

“I’m a financial consultant and I want you to find me a prospect. I am looking for a medium sized property developer who needs finance from me…” Another a development manager for a law firm wanted to find a medium sized property developer who needs conveyancing work… A web developer who was looking for a medium sized property developer for a rental web site, etc, etc.

The idea was that you hand over all details of your contacts list to the group and they will do the same. Having been on the end of unsolicited calls from a similar group from a friend who had given my own details as Sales Director and therefore fair game for unsolicited calls for vehicle finance, graphic design, recruitment… I was perhaps a tad cynical.

I tentatively put up my own hand. “I have a friend who is a successful medium sized property developer.” I paused for the salivating effect…. “But if I gave out his name to all of you and you all call him I am not sure would he still be pleased to be my friend.” I sat down to nods from the non believers and an “hmm” from the chapter leader who swiftly moved on to the next hopefully more positive question.

In the next seat to me my neighbour whispered, “I wanted to ask that but I can’t my bank wouldn't like it.”

The meeting dispersed soon after and I never paid up to join the group and commit to getting up early every Wednesday morning. I obviously didn’t care enough.

That was a few years ago pre-credit crunch and a different more corporate time of my life. When I bought the hotel I went to tourism networking meetings and local groups and not able to keep my hand down volunteered my time and knowledge in a number of groups to the benefit of pushing the hotel. It worked and I became well known in the area. Even after finishing that stage I still am. 

The last breakfast event I went to was a carbon copy of one five years previous, the government, council and quango people looking at their watches to see how soon they could decently escape and the private business people being a bit flummoxed but keen to show their support to the organisers. The danish pastries were perhaps better and the morning if not enjoyable was survivable. To be fair it was fine and I made a couple of good contacts and raised my profile just a bit more. I gave some cards out for my book and people seemed interested. Who knows what will come of it?    

Networking does have a purpose and most business people do it unconsciously all the time but beware the fanatics who have bought into the religious fervour of their networking prowess. 

Looking at a specific new (non-literary) project I chose to contact a lady who boasted on all her website and literature of her networking skills, which I presumed would mean she would be “on it” with a positive proactive response. The initial reply took 4 weeks and my follow up query has still not been answered. 

I don't care if she didn't want to work with me but to ignore me has raised my ire and is bad manners. Perhaps in the modern world of instant communication I was deleted as insignificant. Perhaps if I was a better networker, or prepared to give the name of my business developer friend then my potential contact would have been more worthwhile.    

Now with a wry smile I am tempted to ask her in mock surprise, “Do you even network?” 

All the Best 



Friday 27 June 2014

Writing as Jazz


My Grandfather was 99 last month. He is a lovely man, sharp and spritely enough to be interested in my fledgling writing career and communicates regularly with me by email. His social life is better than mine and he has a bevy of ladies who take him to lunch groups and church services.

He retired as a manager in a factory and was delighted to escape from the tribulations of seventies industrial relations. He has had a full retirement that has lasted nearly forty years and with his youth his well past there is a twinkle in his eye that tells of a life well lived. In his youth he was a saxophonist in a local Jazz band and there is a vinyl record of his playing. He still listens and has passed on his love of Jazz to his two sons my father and my Uncle Brian.

Uncle Brian lives in Canada now but was over for the birthday meal and was complimenting me on my book “Splinter”. He had enjoyed the story although he did have a bit of a reservation that the boss of my gangster family was also called Brian.

I was telling Uncle Brian that if I was serious about being a novelist then I should probably invest my time in a Creative Writing course, which I keep considering and putting to one side as the muse takes me. I told him that life gets in the way and besides by the time I do the degree I could have written and self published three or four novels. Brian, who is a Doctor and eminent specialist in his field, compared the idea of being taught creative writing to being the same as his disappointment at some of the new generation of musicians who are coming out of Universities with a degree in Jazz music he sees in Toronto. His point was that technically they were very good but they lacked the spontaneity needed to make them excel.  

You can’t teach Jazz improvisation it has to come from the heart in the same way you can teach grammar and form but you can’t teach how to put heart into your story telling. Following my put down from the poisoned pen of the Creative Writing graduate lady this struck a chord.

Technically my writing needs extra precision but putting the words on the page and developing the story my brain comes alive. I employ an editor to help me with the finished story but the story and characters are mine alone and they definitely come from my heart.    

As a writer I imagine my pre-war granddad played in smoke filled drinking dens surrounded by be-suited gangsters and their molls, a la Bugsy Malone. Probably not, but he has a recording of his music and I have written a book so it is grounding to know that my creative urge is inherited from somewhere close to home.

Grandad is going to Toronto again this Summer and Toronto is a great place for Jazz. Last time I was there Brian took me to a buzzing basement Jazz club. I enjoyed the atmosphere and setting if not fully appreciating the Modern Jazz. It was all a bit "plinky plink, clash, plink" for me, but then I was kicked out of the trials for the cadet band for having no sense of rhythm.  I remember watching the audience and making up stories it was a great place for inspiration.

As a Jazz musician plinky plinks around with the rhythm and makes up the tune as he goes along, so a writer develops a story. The difference is that a live performance is over in minutes the music haunts the memory and taps the toe, a novel takes months to write and further months to fine tune and hone to a publishable standard. The words in the story are there to be critiqued, shot-at and derided, the notes of the Jazz musician are created free form and released into the world as soon as they are played for the audience to remember and relish.

A Jazz musician closes his eyes lost in the flow of his music. Can that be taught? They say you should write for your own enjoyment and the readers will pick up on the positive vibes. Can that be taught?

There is much animated debate on how to write, how to market and the dreary argument of whether you are a proper writer if you do not have the “gatekeeper validation” of an agent or publisher or creative writing lecturer. Who cares?

In the same way a Jazz musician blows their trumpet is it not better to just sit down, write and enjoy the creative process.  

Looking at the long life of my granddad who lived through two world wars and seen so much and he still enjoys his Jazz. I hope I am still enjoying life at 99 and when I look back I don’t think I will regret not doing a Creative Writing course. Do you?

Tuesday 17 December 2013

On Gatekeeper Validation

In the first year of my writing career I have learnt tonnes about the writing world. I have met some fantastic people on both sides of the publishing divide. I self published 'Splinter' in July on my 42nd birthday. To date sales have been steady with positive feedback and good reviews. My plan is now to finish writing my second novel ‘Personal Space’ and publish it in the New Year. Sales of Book 2 will increase interest for Book 1 and Book 3 will be huge and if it isn't then I am still learning my craft in the process.

"Head down, write, edit, design, publish, rinse and repeat." is my mantra. Well at least that is the idea with reference with those writer good enough to share their knowledge and experience.  

The writing part has been fantastic. I love immersing myself in the writing process and I buzz with energy as I lose myself in developing the story and the characters. I have even had conversations with readers about my characters and their motivation. How fantastic is that?

There have been some negative aspects in dealing with the literary world and the worst is that after 20 years of experience in building businesses I am in a strange new world and I don't know the rules of "Gatekeeper Validation".

The Rules puzzle me. In a recurring dream I imagine there is an exclusive members-only club for writers and I want to join.  

Standing outside I can see through the windows and watch as the in-crowd quaffs cocktails and champagne. They laugh at jokes while being served canapés by deferential servants. The men wear silk cravats, tweed jackets with leather elbow patches and the women wear pearl necklaces and pashmina shawls.

To gain entry you follow a red carpet that leads up the marble stairs to the big wooden door. At the top, hung between chrome posts, there is a plush velvet rope blocking the way. The Door Supervisor in a crombie overcoat and bow tie stands behind the rope. He shows me the palm of his hand in flat refusal.

"If you don't know the rules you can't come in.Son!"  

The brass plate on the door says “The Traditional Publishing Club”

In my dream I continue to walk along until I come upon the next venue, a brightly coloured 'festival marquee' with a handmade sign saying "The Self Publishing Pavillion". 

Not as posh or permanent as the clean brickwork of the traditional club and at times a cold wind blows through the sides of the tent.

More of a scrumpy cider and organic burger type of place than champagne and canapés. 

There were no bouncers keeping me out so I put on extra thermals and went in. As I went into the crowded Self Publishing marquee I walked past the different groups of dancing writers all dressed up in the different costumes of their genre. PC Plod (Crime), Halloween (Horror), Grease (YA), Tarts and Vicars (erotica) and almost everybody was friendly. 

They waved and asked me to join their groups. I thanked them saying "perhaps later" and kept walking on. At the centre of the tent a group were coming together to have a serious conversation about making the marquee stronger for the future and they were friendly too. Some said they had been inside the traditional club and told me that the champagne was warm and flat and the canapés were stale or soggy. They said they now preferred to buy their own Prosecco and pigs in blankets. But I still wanted to see for myself. 

Then I woke up. In the half light between sleep and consciousness my mind raced.

"What were the rules. Why don't I know the rules."

In my daytime/nighttime job as a nightclub bouncer I know a thing or two about the rules of “Gatekeeper Validation”. On the front door of a real life club or pub there are many reasons for turning a punter away. Too drunk, too wired, too aggressive, dodgy id, even the wrong clothes.

My job as the door supervisor/gatekeeper is to ensure that nobody I let in will disrupt the smooth and safe running of the venue’s business. My main rule of thumb in deciding to allow entry in the few seconds that I have a customer in front of me is their attitude and demeanour.

If they can’t stand up straight it leads to a refusal. 

If they approach in an agitated manner, their pupils are dilated and there is white powder dangling from the hairs of their nostrils then they are refused. 

If they bite when I ask them a simple question then they are refused. If they are going to be nasty with me on the door then they will be nasty inside. The nightclub holds a thousand people and some nights I might turn five to ten people away, often to cursing and threats.

It is a busy nightclub and there will still always be some grief inside but on the whole the night is calmer without the erratic, bad or dangerous behaviour of those I refuse.

So I am conscious of my own attitude with others in all aspects of my life. 

Away from the doors I am a nice guy. So when I first took up my pencil to offer my unfinished novel to the literary gatekeepers of the publishing world I did so with a positive and friendly attitude. I also have 20 years of sales and marketing experience and I thought that by being professional and writing a good story I would attract interest. 
Alas the entry policy was not clear and I was not too sure of dress code. Despite my research I did not know the rules. 

I was definitely not famous so did not qualify for the Celebrity ‘Access All Areas’ VIP pass. 
Did I need the special Creative Writing MA secret pass? 
Did I need to know the DJ? 
Or should I just bung the Doorman twenty quid?   

Sending out submissions is a nervous and confusing time for any newbie writer. I know there is a crowded market and to date that door has remained closed. Rejection letters arrived on my doormat.  A friendly response leaving me with hope that if I come back later there could be access in the future.

The equivalent of ‘Not tonight sir, you are wearing trainers’.

I had read about the slush pile mountains of hopeful's manuscripts so I was happy enough with that response.

When I accepted that I was on my own I resolved to complete my novel and entered the world of Self Publishing. Book 1 is published and selling and Book 2 is on the way. But I am easily distracted and knowing that I need to build my own author platform I derail my attention onto Facebook and Twitter and this monthly blog post. As an independent author I have nobody but myself to guide me so I raise my head above the parapet and look around. 

In the physical world I went to a local writing group and was hit the next day with the snide comments of the resident literary “guru” denigrating self publishing in her next blog post.

On the door it would have been a sly dig when I was looking another way.  

A couple of months later still hoping for goodwill and introducing myself as an independent author I approached a literary organisation asking for technical support. I was treated with cold derision and a sneer.

I couldn't understand why? Was I wearing beach shorts and flip flops to a black tie event?

Still being positive later I introduced myself to a publicly funded book distributor. I was even ready to accept their terms and conditions without a quibble. On hearing I was independent I was fobbed off with cursory answers to my precise but innocent questions. When confused at the response I eventually contacted by phone to speak in person I was met with a full on aggressive attitude ending with the memorably dismissive words, “We know what sells!”

It was the equivalent of a doorman’s hand in the chest pushing me backwards down the steps.  

I was tempted to reply, "I've seen the figures. Do you really want to go there?" But being  a good lad I didn't bite back.  

My last attempt to contact a literary organisation was an email to a highly paid manager again asking for technical support. This time there was zero response, not even the courtesy of a reply.

Even though I could hear the bang of the music inside and see the protectionist eye peering back out through the peep hole in the closed door.

Did I expect to be welcomed with open arms to the literary fold? No, I am more hard bitten than that.

Yet I did expect to be treated with the same courtesy as I would treat a decent customer who approaches my venue's front door standing up straight and smiling. I was neither aggressive nor agitated in my approach and I did not expect to be ignored and rebuffed. All because of my decision to embrace modern technology, to take control and not to wait for the professed validation of the literary gatekeepers.

Perhaps I turned up after a nasty row, adrenalin was up  and tolerance levels were low. To be fair it happens to me after a hassled night. 

Oh well, in time there will be another door to approach. Perhaps I don’t know the rules or the secret handshake. Perhaps when I do I will not want to go in anyway. I am more a Real Ale sort of chap, more at home in dodgy disco dives with sticky carpets and a kebab on the walk home than the exclusive members only club. By this time in my life I should know my place and learn to doff the cap.

I have now given up putting my head above the literary papapet and am concentrating on finishing book 2 and my life is much simpler.

I am still hugely enjoying my writing adventure. I have found a warm welcome in the support network of the Alliance of Independent Authors and am inspired by the professional efforts and self publishing successes of ALLi members and other indie authors that I have encountered.

Despite the lack of literary gatekeeper validation I am positive about my future as a writer and I do know that proper writers don't all wear tweeds, pearls and quaff champagne.  

Merry Christmas one and all. Even to the scrooges of the literary world.

Now there was a writer's writer who made up his own rules. . 

Nadolig Llawen from North Wales 



Tuesday 19 November 2013

"Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn"

This is the week of Remembrance for the “fallen” of world wars and modern conflicts from the Gulf Wars to Afghanistan. On Sunday my daughter, who is in the Sea Cadets carried the standard and lowered it in tribute at her local parade.

As my daughter makes the first big choice in her life over which A levels to take I continue living a battened down life trying to write my books supplemented with security shifts. I have been wearing a poppy on my lapel so this last week I have thought much about the real heroes commemorated by the British Legion campaign. Young men and women who never had a chance to develop into maturity and to find their way through the character shaping trials and tribulations of life.

This was brought into a personal focus last year when we visited the grave of my wife's great uncle killed at the battle of Arras in 1917. The family connection made the headstone of Private Richard Clune of the Royal Field Artillery, born in Limerick, all the more poignant.

The ranks of white tombstones in just one French cemetery bore witness to the lost generation of the first world war. Perhaps with next year's centenary there will be a time to reflect on the unfulfilled potential of those who did not return from war.

Without enforced participation in wars and conflict I have had the opportunity to live a full life and to make my my own choices leading to mistakes and fulfillment. When contemporaries of my age would have been mobilised for war I was living in Hong Kong and having a blast. Playing rugby, selling crisps and working on the door of a dodgy night club in the then British colony’s Lan Kwai Fong Bar area. I was nineteen and working on the door of a club with a supposed 21 age limit, which was all part of my adventure.

The plan had been to go travelling for a couple of months before coming back to blighty and joining the Royal Navy. In the end I stayed for nearly two years and to my partial regret never did join the Services.

For part of my time there I was living in a shared flat in Discovery Bay on Lantau island, which was about an hour away by ferry from the skyscrapers of Central. The occasion I first remember wanting to write stories, was on the top deck of the slow Disco Bay ferry passing the iconic waterfront and out into Victoria Harbour. After a long shift, rounded off with a couple of beers, I caught the early morning ferry and passed the mighty aircraft carrier (I think it was the USS Midway) surrounded by buzzing military craft and escorts. It set me thinking and sowed the seeds of looking to writing as a future career .

The Midway and the rest of the fleet were in town on the way to the first Gulf War and there were ten thousand American sailors and Marines out on R&R. Lan Kwai Fong and my club was mad busy. Uniformed American Military Police with their snowdrop helmets and long nightstick batons were patrolling the streets.

Saddam Hussein’s forces had just invaded Kuwait and the American Pacific Fleet were going to give him a bloody nose. As far as the US Marines were concerned this was going to be their D-Day and some of them did not expect to live. They partied like there was no tomorrow and spent their money on having what could be their last good time. We had little trouble that weekend and in the end the Iraqis were easily defeated but I remember that experience and my immersion in what felt like a scene out of a Vietnam war movie.

After all this excitement the fictional character that developed in my head in 1990 was a young Royal Marine stationed in Hong Kong on anti smuggling patrol and his adventures dealing with Triads and loose women. My book would capture the sights, smells and atmosphere of what was to me the most exciting city in the world as much as explore the details of his career in the military. 

Apart from a few scribbled notes I was too busy living life to write all the story down but the idea stayed in my head. My life progressed at a fast pace and I returned to Liverpool, joined a business, bought a house, married and started a family. As time went by my thoughts kept returning to my Royal Marine character called ‘Dan Richards’ and every so often I sat down to write the first chapter of my book.

My first effort was about Dan on his fast pursuit craft chasing smugglers. Then a couple of years later another first chapter was based on an ex serviceman who was starting an import export business called ‘Richards Agencies’.

The writing urge never coincided with having the time and when I did have the opportunity to take time out to write in 2007 I ran headlong into running a hotel business. After a few months it became obvious that I was not a natural hotelier and should have stopped a bit longer to explore writing as a job option with money in my pocket.

In an effort to make sense of my rather daft lifestyle choice I started making notes for a book about the lessons learned in the hotel. When I escaped chastened and lighter in the pocket I continued to write that book. When I had poured my heart and soul into those pages I put the 120k word manuscript to one side.
Only then did I finally sit down to write a novel with my hero being an ex Royal Marine called Dan Richards.

I went back to my writing roots and the first section started off in Hong Kong and was meant to show Dan as a carefree young man. The rest of the story was an exploration of where that young man had ended up 20 years later, a battle hardened veteran of modern warfare with the mental and physical scars to prove it.

When I had finished writing the whole story it struck me that the first section was not hugely relevant to the rest of the plot and so in a dramatic gesture I cut it out, all twenty thousand words of it.

The manuscript went to my editor and after further rewrites I published my first novel,

Then thoroughly enjoying myself I embarked on writing Book 2 of Dan’s adventures, ‘Personal Space’. However that first Hong Kong section of Book 1 that I had surgically removed was still stored on my computer and its ghost was calling to me.

As an independent author I have to consider the sales and marketing aspects of my writing life. So I thought I would add some content to my portfolio by publishing the Hong Kong story as a prequel novella calling it ‘Dragon’. I took my eye off the ball with Book 2 and diverted my time to polishing up the old story that had been rattling around my head for so long.  

I thought it would be a quick easy win to boost content on my author platform. That is until I sent it to my editor. Editors take their time and although I knew there would be a certain amount of rewriting I was keen to press ahead and carry on with Book 2.  So while the edit was away I had fun sorting out my cover for Dragon.

Then reality struck, my editor liked the story but knowing the history pointed out that it was obviously an early work and on top of the rewrites, the story would be better developed into a full novel to cover the plot twists that I had chopped off to keep it brief. I wanted to move on quickly so it was hard advice to take.

When I contacted an experienced writer friend for advice she told me about William Faulkener’s phrase that “in writing you must kill your darlings.” That made sense and I have put the young Dan back in his box until I have time to relive his adventures again.  

The truth is that when I invented the twenty year old Dan he was my contemporary inhabiting a part of my life that I was experiencing at that time. Now my contemporary is the grizzled and damaged ex-sergeant that Dan was to become. I find I have more interest in the current Dan with all his problems rather than the callow youth he once was.  

As a writer my own story is deeper now and enriched with my own experiences. I have freedom and vitality to be creative and to write my own thoughts and when needed to make the choice to kill off my 'literary darlings'. But on this week of remembrance for the fallen and survivors of world war and modern conflicts I bear in mind those who have never had that chance. 


Tuesday 15 October 2013

Oxbow Lakes, a publishing analogy

Oxbow lakes – A publishing analogy.

Last week on holiday in Scotland I watched salmon jumping up rapids on the beautiful and fast flowing river Dee. My wife and I had rented a cottage and visited the area to see old friends. The friend standing next to me on the riverside is a Doctor of Geology and works in the oil industry and I am vicariously proud of his achievements. I listened in admiration as he pointed out the different rock types to his young sons.  While my friend went on to great academic heights, for reasons of teenage rebellion and inattention as much as inability I failed my Geography exams.

The experience of standing by the river and walking the wild country glens rekindled my dormant memories of school geography lessons. We were close to the River Esk and I recalled the term “Eskers” with affection. As we walked along glaciated landscapes scoured into U's by the ice we stepped across a “Moraine” on the map and I recognised “Truncated Spurs” and “Hanging Valleys”.

It is funny what comes back to you from school. As we walked on another forgotten lesson came into my mind about “Oxbow Lakes”. Later recovering from our exertions in an old Aberdeen pub over a ‘round the regions’ whisky tasting platter I developed my concept about meandering rivers and their relevance to the modern age of publishing. 

In a definition pulled from the recesses of my memory, Oxbow lakes are formed over time when a river meanders around its valley and forms a loop. The slow flowing river deposits silt and debris and faster flowing winter flood water erodes away at banks making the meandering loop more pronounced. Eventually the entrance to the loop becomes tighter and as the silt and debris builds up the river becomes backed up and forces through a new channel. This leaves the former meander cut off from the main river current and forms a lake looking like the loop of a ribbon bow or an ox’s hoof. The straighter river then rushes past at a faster pace on its way to the sea. The Oxbow lake forms its own ecosystem separate to the river. It either finds a new water source or it dries up and disappears.

As we savoured the whisky fumes I hypothesised about the state of the popular publishing industry.

The source in the mountains was the ancient history of Caxton’s printing press and the novels such as Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders became a babbling brook. Heading down as the water of the upper stages of the river were the works of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Mark Twain and down to the broader waters of Agatha Christie and John Buchan. As we reach the mature river further downstream the flow becomes ponderous with slow loops making navigation difficult.

Then the internet comes along and with each modern book published traditionally or by independents the raindrops build up at the head of the river and insist on finding their way down to the sea of readers at the rivers estuary. The skies darken and the weight of new content makes its way down to the meandering loops.    

As in nature, pressure builds up behind a constriction or blockage in the flow and the waters/words find their way down to the sea by the easiest route.  It pushes through the neck of the loop on its way to the readers. The loop becomes an oxbow lake of silted up ideas, viewpoints and traditions.

Riverside dwellers are now faced with stagnant water and insist that their waterfront views should stay the same. They stamp their feet in anger at the clever engineers who insist that they can not re-route the flow as the river of words has moved on. The canny ones have planned for this. They are prepared when they need to move and are ready to take advantage of their new location on the revitalised publishing landscape.

My Geologist friend took another sip of his whisky and concurred that is indeed how oxbow lakes are formed although he was not sure about the world of publishing and we laughed about our Geography teachers. After the hangover cleared I carried on with my writing hoping to add another raindrop of content to the flow of published work.

As the content flows by there will be oxbow lakes created from entrenched positions on all sides of the future of publishing debate but the content of words being added to the flow will not cease to find their way to the readers. The distribution channels might change but books are here to stay. Slainte!