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Month: January 2019


Get your free copy of Scotched on Kindle Saturday – Monday, 26 – 28 January. For novel details reviews and to get your book go here

A free promotion last week saw almost 200 downloads. I know that many will rest forgotten in the library but if I get a handful of reviews I’ll be delighted. Reviews have some influence in leading people to buy a book.

I want as many readers as possible as a writer, whether they’ve paid or not. Those who do pay will contribute to the totality of proceeds that the author is donating to charity.

Growing a Novel from Seed

An identity crisis going on here. I am Ade Johnston, author of Scotched. I am also Adrian Johnston Bailey. As Ade Johnston I write to keep readers turning the page. As Adrian Bailey I shall reveal my literary pretensions to be ‘serious’.

So I’m working as Ade Johnston putting to bed a collection of short stories. Then I’m (Ade Johnston) going to have a go at crime fiction. For a crime novel, the formula is just that, more or less there already and well trodden by many writers. I have to start with plot structure, story, drama. The bad guys and the police team: a female Detective Inspector, a grouchy sergeant (who initially resents his new inspector, a job he had applied for) and two Detective Constables. Throw in an officious Superintendent boss, an Assistant Chief Constable who plays golf with society’s best, and the big bad media.

My ‘literary’ novel

Maybe as long as ten years ago, long before I thought about actually completing anything, an idea came along. It was one idea among thousands, many of which resulted in reams of paper, writing which periodically I would burn. I like to think the time wasn’t wasted, time for learning to write.

Anyway, this one idea has survived the test of time. It is going to be transformed into a novel. Plot and story here are of small interest only. Character depth and relationships centre around a university philosophy department (bags of laughs there!). Susan is 23 years old, a PhD student who does a little teaching. She’s had a year off for reasons revealed towards the middle of the novel, and returns to university near the start.

During her time at home with mother a step-father, her Aunt Julia is dying, and Susan visits her frequently. Julia, though, is otherwise something of a familial pariah on account of her transgressive life style and refusal to adhere to respectable propriety. The bond between her and Susan is unlikely on the surface; it is revealed as something deeper and not literally describable.

The novel opens on the day of Julia’s funeral at the gathering in Susan’s home. That day also is when Susan returns to university, taking with her a memory stick and several notebooks Julia has pressed upon her. The content of the memory stick and the contents of the notebooks will slant the novel to include an epistolary narrative.

I’ve got no narrative structure but am writing scenes as they occur to me. I’ll join the scenes with straight lines later for the story. Susan’s character feels more real each day, and several other characters are making themselves known. It’s growing like a tree with branches and leaves for texture, roots to tap into the mysterious source for what will hopefully become a ‘philosophical’ novel.

Free Kindle version SCOTCHED 19 & 29 January

I’m coming to the end of my ties with Amazon and will be ‘going wide’ next month. You can celebrate with me by downloading to Kindle my novel Scotched this weekend, 19th and 20th January.

I’m very grateful for the latest review from Alex Bewley which certainly tells you what to expect:

Scotched is a real gut-gripping page-turner that bores a grizzly hole straight through the bowels of Scotland circa 2018, offering a core sample in which can be seen an all-too-accurate sight of life in the West of Scotland.

The portrait is painfully accurate at times with all the familiar sights of Scottish urban life – drugs, drink, gambling, poverty, crime – but also that which goes unseen, the intrigue, the corruption and hand-in-glove nature of politics, business, and organised crime; and that’s where the story gets good. In the midst of such a mess are one man and his family.

To this add the politics of Brexit, Scottish independence, and the religious tensions that still plague Scotland. And Football, of course! If your into yir fitba, this novel’s for you. If not, it’s unlikely you’ll ever enjoy the “beautiful game” more than within these pages.

A must read for anyone living in – or interested in life in Scotland today.

She’s resting. The Doctor Gave Her a Sedative

The Crisis – Frank Dicksee 1891

I wonder how many books, films and dramas have contained these words? Often set in a country house, the ‘mistress’ has suffered a shock her fragile female form cannot bear. The gruff but avuncular doctor is seen coming down the stairs. ‘I’ve given her a sedative,’ he says. ‘I’ll call in tomorrow.’ Then off he rides on his horse.

When the police inspector comes calling, needing to talk to the lady, her husband says, ‘That will not be possible. She’s resting. The doctor gave her a sedative.’

It’s a stock situation with stock script. It would definitely be more interesting if it were the husband who was resting after a sedative, his wife the stoical manager who can challenge all adversity.

In this slice of narrative how much is said about perceptions of strong men and weak women. We’ve moved on considerably from such stereotypes but they’re still to be found in ‘cosy’ contemporary fiction and television.

Thoughtful, intelligent fiction does not work with stock images. That is left to the churning out of the thoughtless and simple writers and readers. Yet there is for a writer a rich and fertile ground that is never exhausted in the exploring of sex and gender.

One other thing. There is an interesting and clear path from the nineteenth century idea of doctors’ ‘treating’ emotional distress with pills, potions and injections to the present day. Perhaps, for instance, ‘mothers little helpers’ as Valium became known through the Rolling Stones song, were the drugs needed to keep ‘a good mother and housewife’ functioning.

And as drugs were needed to sedate women trapped in tight gender roles, perhaps now all of us in a toxic culture have to turn to sedation. Ironically, in an age touted as the zenith of personal freedom, we have never been more constrained, and never will we be strong enough to meet the demands of a devestating capitalist realism.

Mother’s Little Helper

What a drag it is getting old”Kids are different today”
I hear ev’ry mother say
Mother needs something today to calm her down
And though she’s not really ill
There’s a little yellow pill
She goes running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper
And it helps her on her way, gets her through her busy day”Things are different today”
I hear ev’ry mother say
Cooking fresh food for a husband’s just a drag
So she buys an instant cake and she burns her frozen steak

And goes running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper
And two help her on her way, get her through her busy dayDoctor please, some more of these
Outside the door, she took four more
What a drag it is getting old”Men just aren’t the same today”
I hear ev’ry mother say
They just don’t appreciate that you get tired
They’re so hard to satisfy, You can tranquilize your mind
So go running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper
And four help you through the night, help to minimize your plightDoctor please, some more of these
Outside the door, she took four more
What a drag it is getting old”Life’s just much too hard today”
I hear ev’ry mother say
The pursuit of happiness just seems a bore

And if you take more of those, you will get an overdose
No more running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper
They just helped you on your way, through your busy dying day

Keith Richards / Mick JaggerMother’s Little Helper lyrics ¬© Abkco Music, Inc

Upcoming Tributes to Tom Leonard

I’m reading a lot and thinking a lot about the things that were of prime concern and value to Tom Leonard. ‘What language is using us for’. The control of language by the powerful elite. Resistance through language.

.I’m also referring to his masterly biography of Jame Thomson as I prepare to write something on Thomson’s neglected gem, The City of Dreadful Night.

As noted his well attended funeral saw no representation from Scotland’s literary elite but plenty of love from his comrades.

There are a couple of events coming up to honour Tom. He was an Honorary President of Mirrorballers, the poetry collective, and they are holding an event to celebrate his life and work at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow on 29th March at 6p.m.

Before that, there’s This is Not a Burns Night #6 A Tribute to Tom Leonard¬†by Govanhill Baths Community Trust, Sunday, 20 January 2019 from 14:30-16:30 in The Rum Shack Glasgow, 657 – 659 Pollokshaws Road, G41 2AB Glasgow,

Moodscapes. Dreamscapes. Writing.

The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘moodscape’ as a depiction or evocation in words, music, etc., of complex moods or feelings.

I’d say it has something to do with ‘dreamscapes’. I’m definitely left with strong feelings after my dreams but they are hard to ‘make sense of’. They defy ‘off the shelf’ lexicons of feeling and emotion because they combine so many elements. My own dreams are always very vivid and usually have a narrative, something like a bizarre film.

Like engaging with music, a film, a poem, a novel or a landscape, it is not straightforward to describe the feeling even to myself. I think an artist of whatever sort has to ‘translate’ into a medium, a translation which can never be complete.

There are films and novels, long poems and dreams, places and climates whose details I can barely remember if at all. I can’t remember plots, characters or narratives. Yet I remember deeply the feeling-scape. It’s years since I read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner or W.G.Sebald’s Rings of Saturn yet the atmosphere, the desolation and melancholy of each are not simple: they are their own unique evocations of desolation and melancholy, produced by the writers’ art, their craft.

To think of Jane Austen or George Eliot is, more than anything, to make me smile – a different smile for each, for each of their conveying of writerly mood. Now plot, character, story increase the pleasure of reading them of course. But their siingular voices are the consequence of their deepest complexes of feeling that can’t be expressed literally. It all needs a slanting, a refraction,

There are writers, the large majority, who give me great pleasure. I like a villain and a frantic car chase as the next pulp fiction reader. I appreciate the artistry and skill of many writers as I read. But then I forget them. The pulse at the heart of a feeling complex wasn’t there.

Several artists have pointed out that their work is never completed but merely abandoned. They cannot portray more than hints, shadows, textures, whispers of the mysterious complex of feelings. Many writers spend their lives not telling the same story but trying to find another slant on the core complex that urges them to essay the attempt.

Review: ‘The Beauty of Broken Things’ by Catherine North

I read this in one sitting yesterday after seeing a tweet from Lauren Sapala directing me to a video of the author’s talking about this, her first novel. And what a stunning first novel it is!

The novel’s central themes are brought to life with excellent writing. Set mostly in a charity shop, brilliantly observed, the story centres on the intense love affair between two ‘broken things’, a man and a woman who despite their difficulties come to realise that having mental health problems does not make them broken at all. Upon a shelf in the shop is a somewhat ugly figurine of Cupid, one eye missing which also, though written off by most as ‘junk’ has its own beauty for one customer (the sort of person, sadly, whom society could write off as unbeautiful, as junk).

The central character, Kerry, is on a journey from debilitating anxiety to strength, and she sees that her story is one of “an ordinary life. If you changed a few of the details it could be any one of a million people’s narratives. The story of a woman growing up in the western world.”

Kerry has been hurt, and continues to be hurt, by casual sexism, a sexism made worse in that the multiple instances of it are so normalised, the ‘perpetrators’ often do realise they are doing anything wrong. A greater hurt is that her interior suffering is something she is ashamed of and dare not speak of to even her parents and sister, though she is to find comfort and affirmation from those who have known the pain of mental distress. I recognised so many of the difficulties facing a person often locked into their lonely darkness.

The depiction of Kerry’s lover’s the intense depression is as powerful and accurate as any I have come across. Not only is Alex often isolated in a seemingly inescapable abyss of despair, a private hell, his troubles are magnified by thoughts of suicide and his own belief that he is a weight on the world of ‘normality’. That and the everpresent attrition of Britain’s ‘welfare’ state, a cruel and cold also scours Kerry. Both Kerry and Alex are highly intelligent, well-educated and very sensitive people whose humanity and self-worth are constantly undermined by things they are not responsible for: biological factors, stigma, cultural beliefs and the non-stop machinery of uncaring ‘normality’, a world which has no time for those unable or unwilling to join in with its Set mostly values.
There are so many aspects of the approach to mental health, some which reference other characters such as Dan’s autistic daughter’s being bullied at school.

I am immensely grateful to have read this book because it reminded me that I am not alone. I identified with and recognised so much The novel helped me articulate things which I have kept private and muddled. Simply to know my own life is not so different after all from millions of others has helped.

There is a short passage that jumped out in particular. A character who has never suffered as Kerry and Alex have, appoints herself a moral guardian of ‘mental health’. There is a liberal consensus that ‘mental health’ is something like ‘the environment’ or ‘poverty’. These are Very Important Things that people know from dinner parties and ‘respectable’ media should arouse the appropriate expressions of concerned rhetoric. In my own life, coming constantly across such a phenomenon has added immensely to my own sense of being misunderstood or feeling able to ever make my voice heard. In fact, on several occasions after engaging with organisations that proved to be patronising and politely dogmatic, I was driven to despair. So I feel that the author has helped me so much here. I hope future readers will recognise their own assumptions, often so hurtful to matter how well-intentioned.

By taking each aspect of the issues around mental health discussed by professionals, politicians, educationists and (in my opinion at least) some big mental health charities, and distilling the reality into the thick lives of individuals, North has done more in this novel to portray the reality of mental distress than millions of pounds worth of expensive campaigns. Setting it in a charity shop, with understated references to ‘junk’ is brilliant. Broken ‘junk’, worthless, ugly, lonely, forgotten, cast-off, homeless: all made beautiful.

This is a brilliantly executed piece of fiction. I won’t detail its specific skills. I would like to state that it represents writing of the highest calibre. I’ll just say that in its artful use of settings, its characters, its pacing, we are given an immensely powerful drama set in a charity shop which could be on any high street. And the novel’s last sentence is a triumph. Doubly so.