The Darkest Secret – Alex Marwood

5 Dec

As a fan of Alex Marwood’s previous two bestsellers (The Wicked Girls and The Killer Next Door),  I waited with a bit of trepidation for the proof copy of her latest ‘The Darkest Secret.’

It is a myth that musicians dread the ‘difficult second album,’  and the same can be said for authors.  It’s the third book that really proves if a novelist is here to stay.  So picking up my copy of The Darkest Secret, I turned the first page and held my breath.

The strap line on the cover states “They said Coco went missing in the night. They lied.” The story is set over two time frames 2004 and fifteen years later.  Identical twin Coco Jackson goes missing during her father’s fiftieth birthday party, set at the posh Sandbanks mansion her father is renovating.

Coco’s parents are not just rich, they are influential, as are the friends they are on holiday with.  The marriage is decidedly rocky and the secrets beneath the surface are about to crack.

Alex Marwood is the pseudonym of a respected print journalist and the press release states The Darkest Secret is a “ripped from the headlines novel.”  But I would argue that the genius of Marwood’s writing in both this and The Wicked Girls, is she doesn’t steal from the headlines she goes and peeks at what may be behind the headlines.  It is what the newspapers don’t and can’t ever say that Marwood wants to focus on and finds the most interesting.

The ripples from Coco’s disappearance continue through the years and fifteen years later the reader is taken to her father (Sean Jackson’s) funeral when many truths, half truths and secrets will be slowly revealed.   Marwood skillfully teases the reader and just when you think you have a handle on what happened on that fateful weekend in 2004, you have to turn the page to have all that you suspected turned on it’s head.

The characters that people The Darkest Secret are brilliantly drawn by Marwood, as in her first two books she shows great mastery at character  delineation. She never holds back from the small intricacies of humanity and human nature that make a thoroughly believable, if not always likeable protagonist.  Sometimes she can jar you with details that disturb and discomfort the reader but she never shies away from painting an incredibly vivid  and visceral picture.

The book starts immediately with witness statements and this is a great hook to get you instantly gripped.  No such thing as a difficult third novel for Alex Marwood.

Coming to ebook on 1st January 2016 and paperback on 30th June 2016.  The Darkest Secret is going to be her biggest seller so far and bound to cause some headlines of it’s own.

Everyone will be talking about The Darkest Secret, don’t get left out order now, five Stars!

 

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My Father; The Soldier.

6 Nov

I have written about my father before.  The writer, the advertising man, the playwright, but never before the soldier.

I was looking through some old boxes of photographs last week when I found his parachute regiment wings.  Then I remembered that the sixth of November, it would be sixteen years since he died.  I think perhaps he wanted me to remember him as the young and brave soldier that he was.

Peter was six months too late to fight in World War II.  He joined the army as soon as he could.   His drive was to help those that had been torn apart by war.  Joining the Royal Army Medical Corp, his first posting was at Netley Hospital in Southampton helping rehabilitate the American soldiers whose bodies had been shattered by the conflict.  He worked on their bodies and limbs getting them in a well enough condition to make the long journey back home.

My father’s next posting in 1948 was Germany.  The country had been flattened and it was part of his job to this time help get a country, rather than a man back on it’s feet again.  He was now attached to the Parachute Regiment and was trained to jump into any war zone if need be to treat the wounded and of course fight his way through as he saved lives.  Dad quickly became a sergeant and loved the responsibility of drilling and training new recruits and of course the camaraderie that came with it.  “The happiest days of my life,” dad would often say much to my mother’s annoyance.

At the beginning of the new decade, unfortunately war came calling again and dad went to Korea.  He never spoke about this much, until one evening in the 1990’s.  My father was a deeply spiritual man in a wonderful non-judgmental and life affirming way.  Dad had been pouring a few rather large whiskies and started chatting about his old life.  His face looked filled with sorrow and anxiety.  Dad told me he had killed somebody in conflict in Korea.  “I had no choice it was me or him, he was going to kill me so I fired and I had a split second to make that decision.”  Although he knew he had no other choice, the fact that he had taken another man’s life weighed so heavily on my father.  He had joined the Royal Army Medical Corp to save as many lives as he could and he had taken one.  I think this haunted him for the rest of his life.

I loved my father dearly.  He was funny, lovable, kind and brave, yes very brave.

Even when the Suez Crisis blew-up he was ready to go and do his bit.  Once again much to my mother’s great annoyance.

I can see him in my mind’s eye now showing me the correct way to salute and trying to get me to enjoy military music.  God bless dad and this November, as every November I shall salute that young brave soldier who wanted to make a difference.

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Lost Words, Lost Loves, Lost Keys, Lost Lust and Lost Matches.

14 Dec

Vintage typewriters are back in demand, both as working machines and ornaments.  I have sold quite a few over this last year.  I actually learnt to touch type on one of these old typewriters at a private secretarial college in Farnham.  The word processor was just starting to dominate but my teacher, who was quite the ‘character’ insisted we learn on one of these old machines.  “Girls, you must learn on a typewriter, rhythm ladies, rhythm”  she would implore with all the grace of a twenty stone Mitford sister.

I was listing a vintage 1950’s German model typewriter last month, and as usual I ran my fingers over the keys, a force of habit. I was drawn to the keys where the letters were worn.  It always seems to be the the ‘s’ key I mused, then I started to wonder about the person who had once owned this typewriter.  What were they like?  What had they composed on this machine.

I often find half started letters  when I open up an old typewriter and release it from it’s case.  More often than not it’s the “quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog”  somebody has been trying to master the vagaries of the ‘Qwerty’ keyboard layout.

One of my favourite things I have ever found underneath a typewriter carry case,  were the football results all typed up in green ink for a particular week in September in 1971. How times have changed, quite charming really.  But what hidden history do these machines never give up?  With their disappeared letter keys what intrigue, romance, lust and forbidden passions, secrets and chicanery have they played their part in keeping?

One of the first jobs I had upon leaving college was for a certain organisation that shall remain nameless and it involved two weeks of shredding documents of a highly sensitive and nationally controversial nature.  I am under no illusion that I was employed for any other reason than it was assumed I would have no idea of the importance of those documents and their political significance.  I understood very well, but I did the job I was paid to do.  I put all those documents, words and typed letters through the shredding machine one by one.  Words can be destroyed and with it history apparently changed.

Some of the greatest love affairs in history have been lost to us because of the written or typed word being destroyed for one reason or another.

The English writers Vita Sackville-West and Violet Trefusis embarked on a wild, passionate, reckless and scandalous affair which rocked society in the 1920’s and lasted to varying degrees for their entire lifetime.  Yet we are only aware of their love from the letters Violet wrote to Vita and Vita kept locked away to be found later by her son, after her death.   Violet’s husband burnt all Vita’s letters in a fit of rage.  Yet in 2013 a piece of paper fell from a book at Sissinghurst Vita’s former home now managed by her grandson.  It was an erotic verse penned from Vita to Violet in the 1920’s and had lain hidden all those years waiting to be revealed to a more receptive world.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/apr/29/sackville-west-lost-poem-lover-trefusis

Perhaps it is my guilt at being a former professional ‘word shredder’ that makes me more sensitive to finding old long forgotten thoughts or even results committed to paper and being extremely loathe to destroy them.  I sometimes find myself looking for them.  Vinyl records are another place where history gives up it’s secrets in long forgotten words secreted inside the sleeve.  A love note of such ardour and fervour tucked away inside a Bay City Roller LP destined for a charity shop and worth far more than the vinyl could ever be.

Perhaps one day at some point in the future when the internet is entirely redundant somebody will find this blog and my ramblings and if they do perhaps they will be reticent to press delete on these words.

History is the words we share, the words that survive the ones we commit to permanency and the words that we passionately meant whether that be for good, bad, love or war and of course the football results.

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A POST WAR HAUNTING IN WUPPERTAL GERMANY – ECHOES OF WORLD WAR II

18 Oct

I can only promise you the story I am about to relate to you, I firmly believe to be true.  It was told to me with unerring regularity and honesty by both my parents, both together and separately.  Unfortunately both my parents are no longer alive, but I have utter faith that they definitely experienced the following events:

My father enlisted in the army and joined the R.A.M.C  at the age of seventeen just after World War II, having already run away to the Merchant Navy and sailed around the world at the age of fifteen.  He spent the early part of his training at the infamous Royal Victoria Hospital in Netley looking after many casualties from the recently ended conflict.

Netley Hospital, is notoriously haunted.  Dad always felt uneasy working there.  The ‘grey lady’reputedly haunts the hospital grounds and the wards.  Dad told me he hated working the night shifts there and could not wait to cycle away from the grounds, never once looking back at the forboding building.  But, it’s not the ‘grey lady’ of Netley Hospital that I am going to talk about in this blog.  If you want to read more about her here is a good place to start; http://www.southernghostsociety.co.uk/past-ghost-hunts/ghost-hunt-royal-victoria-country-park.html

No the haunting I am going to tell you about happened not long after my father left Netley.

It was whilst my father was stationed in the Southampton area that he met my mother on the legendary floating bridge, which took people across the River Itchen.  They immediately bonded being the only two northerners on that short ferry ride and they married soon after.

My father was soon posted to Germany to help the country get back on it’s feet again and being a married man, my mother was allowed to go out with him.

In those early days after the war, the military were allocated vacant civilian buildings.  The allocation was quite random and a sergeant could end up in a luxurious dwelling.

Dad was sent to Wuppertal and had quickly gained his sergeant’s stripes.  They were given the second floor of a large grand building to live in.  There were three floors in the dwelling so mum and dad had other British army personnel living above and below them.  The big white house was on a road called (as far as I can recall)  Kirschbaum Strasse (Cherry Tree Street.)

Both mum and dad were ecstatic to be given such a lovely apartment and with mum being newly pregnant, they were both very pleased with the size and privacy of the building.

The Germany my parents found after the war was far from a happy place.  I remember mum telling me how defeated and malnourished the German people looked.  There were also those that held a deep resentment for their victors and their spouses.  Mum was spat at in the street, and when she was heavily pregnant nobody would give up their seat for her on the Schwebebahn (the overhead railway system.)  The worst incident she experienced was a man pushing her off the pavement on a crowded street and her narrowly missing a speeding car.

Despite all this, mum embraced her new surroundings.  She made friends with a German woman of the same age who was married to one of the Canadian soldiers and they became the best of friends.  It must have been a daunting but exciting time for a nineteen year old Liverpudlian girl.

There was however, one problem on the horizon.  The apartment, whilst spacious, high ceilinged, well located and almost sumptuous it made my mother feel extremely uneasy.  Mum told me she was soon growing to hate it.  Mum felt that the atmosphere changed as soon as my father went to work.  She actually felt some presence or entity if you like was focusing on her.  Mum would spend as much time as she could during the day out of the apartment.  Shopping, drinking coffee, walking the streets she felt happier with the naked resentment from the Germans rather than the oppressive feeling she had at the apartment.

I remember mum telling me that she couldn’t wait for my father to get home but that when he did come home, he would almost immediately fall asleep and then she would feel even more uneasy.  Dad would tell me he tried everything to stay awake and keep her company but found he was incapable of doing so, almost like he had been drugged.  We are talking about a fit man who was eighteen or nineteen years of age.  Mum started to feel like she was being watched and it was becoming almost intolerable.  There was a part of the room where she felt it even more keenly.  Running her hands over the wallpaper she could see a cupboard or a room division had been papered over.  She forbade my father from investigating this.  Now with hindsight, of course the correct thing to do would have been to have investigated further.  But all damage to buildings was chargeable by the army and also I think mum was just too terrified to find out.

It was getting to be a real problem for my father as mum wasn’t sleeping and a few nights she turned up when he was on guard duty and refused to go back to the apartment.  Dad told me he put her inside the sentry box with a coat over her hoping she would get at least a few hours sleep and praying, for his sake that she would not be discovered.

Up until this point it was my mother who had been experiencing everything that Kirschbaum Strasse had to offer.  But that was all about to change in a chilling turn of events.

One summer’s night my parents were awoken by extremely loud noises from the floor above them.  They both described it as the sound of furniture being dragged across the floor, things being thrown and loud voices shouting in German.   Dad was very annoyed.  He got out of bed and marched out to the landing.  As he approached the door of the apartment above, the noises immediately stopped.  Dad knocked on the door and told them to ‘keep it down.’  As soon as he got back to the bedroom the noises started again, so back up he went.  Sure enough the noises stopped.  This happened a few times until dad was sick of the noises and infuriated that nobody was answering the door.

They both made the best of a fractured night’s sleep still peppered with noises from the floor above.  The next day dad was still fuming.  After knocking on the door again and getting no answer he went to find the caretaker of the building.

“Who is now living in the floor above?”  Dad asked and then told him about the horrendous noises that had kept him and mum awake for most of the night.  “The soldier who has that apartment is on leave in England at the moment,” dad was informed, and “there is nobody there at present.”  “Well you need to open it up now,” dad replied “as I think it was broken into last night.”

The caretaker and dad made haste to the apartment on the top floor to see what damage had been caused.  They opened the door to one room after another in ‘apple pie’ order.  Not a stitch or a hair out of place.  Army neatness and order throughout the apartment.  My father was thunderstruck.  There was no way after the noises he and mum had heard throughout the night the apartment could have been in any other state but a bad state.

This sealed the deal for my father.  He now realised that mum had been correct in her instincts all along there was something very wrong with the house on Kirschbaum Strasse.  From that day, dad made sure that if he was not in the house mum spent as much time as she could with her German friend and would even stay the night with her rather than spend time alone in that apartment.

The noises were heard again during the night by my parents, on other occasions and the shouting German voices but dad never again ventured out onto the stairs and up to the apartment door.  They would cuddle up and try to ignore the noises.

I myself saw the house years later in the 1970’s when as a child I lived in Holland with my parents.  We went to Wuppertal one Saturday to have a look at some of the places from my parent’s past.  I saw that big white house on Kirschbaum Strasse and as I looked up from the car a child of my own age with a melancholy face looked back at me from one of the second floor windows.

Apparently dad found out that the house had a very sad past during the war it had some form connections to the SS and Von Ribbentrop’s henchmen.  It had been used for some very dark interrogations which would of course explain the noises and voices.

“Come on Peter, I’ve had enough let’s go” mum said on that chilly Saturday afternoon as she pulled her coat to her.    I watched the girl’s face until the house disappeared out of sight.

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Homophobia, Sally Morgan’s Husband and The Society We Must Ensure We Cultivate

12 Oct

A close family member of my partner Dawn’s recently told her there was no such thing anymore as homophobia.  He implied she was being paranoid and that it didn’t exist in modern Britain.  I was strangely comforted and actually shocked at the same time.

I found it bewilderingly comforting that if this was the opinion of a straight, white male from middle class, middle England then maybe it was something he didn’t witness anymore.  Sadly I knew then and I know now that homophobia unfortunately does continue to exist.  It has, in the main just morphed into a mostly hidden and barely uttered form.

Some people’s latent perceptions can actually manifest themselves in a charming way.  Dawn and I are widely referred to wherever we go as “the girls.”  Now far from being offended by this I actually find it quite sweet.  I very much doubt though, if a straight married couple of our age would be called the ‘boy and girl.’

We have as a nation travelled such a long way from those dark days in the sixties when male homosexuality was a criminal act and the eighties when I first acknowledged my own sexuality and witnessed prejudice and hatred on a very wide scale.

In those long gone days at the end of the eighties and the beginning of the nineties I would often feel intimidated in certain social situations.  Being perceived to be a lesbian, there were many places that you would not eat or drink for fear of garnering some form of  negative attention.  I have to say I certainly don’t feel like that anymore.  There are very few restaurants or pubs even in the most dubious of areas that I would think twice about entering.

I glory in the way life has changed for both me and my compatriots in such a short time.  I am also not stupid or naïve enough to think that some people’s hatreds and prejudices have not just gone underground.  The human race is nothing if not blessed with a tremendously strong sense of self-preservation.  People adapt to the environments they find themselves in.  Many people, who in days gone by would have openly displayed homophobia now don’t for their own self-preservation and social standing.  This does not unfortunately mean that it can’t and will not eventually find it’s way to the surface.

Television psychic and snake oil peddler Sally Morgan’s and her husbands’s vile homophobic outburst is a classic example of this.  Had this repulsive specimen known he was being filmed there was absolutely no way in hell he would have expressed such prejudiced bile to the gentlemen in the video.  It’s not good ‘business’ these days to be homophobic.  But, and here’s the rub, he IS homophobic and his homophobia is ingrained.   If the environment was more supportive of his views of course they would surface again.

So whenever people say to me throwaway comments along the lines of ‘oh nobody cares anymore’  which they often do, I just smile to myself.  No there are many that DO care and are innately prejudice but the society we have built will not accept or tolerate their behaviour|

So my thoughts;   We must Glory, embrace and then celebrate the freedoms we have won and continue to ensure hatred cannot exist.  But, and it’s a big ‘but’, we must never become complacent.  Whilst we cannot always change what is inside people’s hearts.  We can ensure it stays in their hearts and not on the streets.  Let’s keep building a world where the John Morgans are alienated and despised for their hatred

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MY RISE AND FALL AND RISE AGAIN – HOW MY FATHER AND I BOTH LOST IT ALL AND FOUGHT BACK.

12 Sep

I remember vividly when my father became unemployed in the mid 1970’s. Dad had enjoyed a great career after leaving the army and after various and varied jobs he became a copywriter in London in advertising and at the same time London Weekend Television bought and produced one of his plays for their ‘Frighteners’ series entitled ‘Bed and Breakfast.’ He was flying high. So high in fact that he had ventured out and started his own advertising agency based in Richmond-Upon-Thames

Unfortunately for dad, the agency which he had invested a lot of money in failed and after reaching the top of his profession he fell back down to earth with an almighty heavy thud.

So it was, in 1976 that Dad found himself middle-aged and unemployed and at the height of an economic recession, trying to seek a job back in a career choice in which he was already considered to be an old man.

Being only young at the time, I didn’t realise the seriousness of the situation we as a small family found ourselves in. I had no idea that the mortgage repayments could not be met or that my father who was used to relying on his tremendously creative mind to conjure up magic was now being asked to retrain as a bank clerk or insurance salesman.

There are a few memories from that time that on reflection are very telling of the stress my parents must have been under and how the fall from grace must have hit them like a speeding train.

I remember dad getting some passport photographs for a job application. In those days it was the photo booth in ‘Woolworths’ with the vivid linen curtain stained from a thousand sweaty palms.

I waited outside the booth as dad posed for the snaps. Then all three of us waited for the photos to drop into the slot outside. Mum grabbed them first. She let out a disgusted volley; “Bloody hell Peter you look awful! You can’t send those off they will think you have a criminal record!”

“They are fine, there’s nothing wrong with them” Dad snapped back and took ownership of the mug shots.

“No way are you sending them, you can tell from these you have depression.” mum almost shouted. “Angela get those photographs from your father” mum then directed her ire at me.

So being the dutiful daughter I sometimes tried to be. I obeyed my mother and thought I was somehow helping my father.

Dad was fuming as I snatched them…..”give them back” he called after me as I ran off with them.

“Good girl” mum said now put your nail down them while they are wet.

I put my nail down the photographs and they were ruined. My father was furious both with my mother and of course with me. I remember they didn’t speak to each other for days. My parents were not in the habit of arguing, but for those six months they argued a lot.

My father took to sitting in his chair and reading Jean-Paul Sartre, Carl Jung and he grew a beard and started to wear odd hippie style clothing and not the smart shirts and trousers I was accustomed to seeing him coming home from work in. I also found a book on self-sufficiency by his chair which included a chapter on growing your own marijuana. It seemed the work crisis had also caused my father to have a life crisis.

I noticed my mother who always liked the finer things in life, as I suppose we all do, had stopped buying clothes and she had started to work again part-time. I remember vividly one afternoon mum enthusing about how she had ‘always wanted to give nettle soup a try.’ So we went for a walk over some nearby scrub land and picked as many nettles as we could find.

The nettle soup became dinner for the next two nights. At the time I just thought it was another of mum’s fads like candle making. Only now, with the hindsight of a middle- aged woman, can I see with clarity that it was no fad it was a necessity brought on by the parlous situation we found ourselves in.

I have always been a firm believer that in this life, often events, situations, circumstances if you like can come back around identically but just wearing a different face.

So it was in the Summer of 2013 that I found myself to be in the exact same situation as my father at pretty much the identical age as he had faced his crisis.

I had owned my own successful business for nearly twenty years. A business that had granted me a very nice lifestyle. Widespread travel, luxury cars, the finer things in life. I Always had money in my pocket and no worries in my head. I think when you get into that niche you just assume that is how life is always going to be.

Unfortunately with the advent of the digital age, widespread copying, stiff competition from the supermarkets, internet and other companies even one competitor stealing the name of our business, our company found itself on it’s knees. Also many of our assets had been used to prop up a once thriving business that was now almost a redundant profession.

On that early Summer’s day in 2013 I had to face the cold hard truth that I was a weekend away from bankruptcy. If that weekend my store premises sale did not complete there was no earthly way I could pay my creditors. It would be all over. I thought for a brief moment I might actually physically collapse.

Thankfully the shop sale did complete that weekend and bankruptcy was avoided but this left me without a business, without a regular means of income and without the prospect of ever having the lifestyle I had grown very used to.

My partner in both life and both business Dawn and I were both absolutely shell-shocked. I don’t think either of us could believe how close to the brink we had both been and how radically life had now changed.

I will always remember Dawn saying to me that she did not think I could get used to having to as she put it “cut my cloth according to my means.” She was wrong though. I had done that as a girl. I could do that again. It was the acceptance of failure that I found so hard to comprehend. We had dazzled for so long and then plummeted so quickly it was hard to accept.

I didn’t realise it at the time but I started to follow down a similar path to my father. Often it was a whisky soaked path. The appeal of alcohol was most beguiling. Having a good old drink always makes things seem better and what it doesn’t improve you forget about for a while.

I certainly wasn’t yet an alcoholic but I definitely was beginning to walk down that path.

I started to blame myself. Why had I enjoyed life so extravagantly and been so lavish. I should have been more prudent. Less foreign travel, less trinkets, less everything. The downward spiral of my self recrimination had started.

Some friends understood, others perhaps not so much that it wasn’t just a case of ‘getting over’ what had happened in a week. We had lost everything and we were right back to square one and but not as young and vibrant as we were back then.

My father was unemployed for six months and finally took a job in an agency in Holland. It got dad back in the game. After six months he was offered another job in a London agency and he rose back to the top. Higher than he had been before. The hippie clothes disappeared the Jean-Paul Satre went back on the bookcase and life returned to normal. It took him a year but he got there.

For me, the bottle has gone back in the cupboard. The boxing gloves have gone back on and are fully laced and ready to punch. It’s taken me a year but I’m ready to fight my way back to the top again. My mind is full of ideas and plans.

Watch out world, I’m back!

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The Power of Friendship & Has Social Media Changed The Face of Friendship?

22 Aug

I have always been somebody who has ardently valued friendships.  Growing up with a sister who was fifteen years older than me I experienced the childhood of an ‘only child.’  Also moving home often as a youngster meant that friendships were forged and then suddenly gone forever.   So as I reached my teens and then beyond, the bonds of friendship became massively significant to me.

My friendships thankfully have always been very eclectic.  Men, women, gay, straight, old young my mix of friends has always been a very heady brew.  If I had to define a common trait it would perhaps be a well honed sense of humour.

When working at Guildford University at the tender age of nineteen, I experienced something that both troubled and puzzled me for years afterwards.  I got on very well with both students (who were of course my age) and staff.  I formed a good friendship with one of the other conference organisers a woman who was in her mid-forties.   We would often meet up and for lunch or coffee.  Julie (for that is the name I shall use) was great fun.  We had the same sense of the ridiculous and she was an extremely interesting person.  Married with two children I enjoyed listening about her life and her sharing her wit and wisdom on the day’s events.  Then one day, at a prearranged lunch.  Julie nervously told me that she “didn’t think we should be friends any more as there was too big an age difference between us and that people would talk.”  I was mortified I had absolutely no idea what she meant.  Why would people care if two adults were friends but were in a different age group?  I remember the tears coming too quickly to my eyes and feeling extremely confused and actually acutely embarrassed.

I never arranged another lunch date or coffee break with Julie again.  Whenever I saw her at work after that awkward conversation, she would avoid eye contact with me and look rather uncomfortable.

Well has true friendship changed in our social media age?  I think the face of friendship has changed forever!  I know many people debate how genuine friendships founded on social media sites actually are.

If I look at my rather large list of friends, I see school friends that had been lost forever now back on that list.  I adore the fact that some of the folks that as a younger me I didn’t really connect that much with, are now some of the wittiest and cleverest people I know.  How wonderful social media gave me that chance to connect with them again.

I have friends on my list that I have met from all around the world, Facebook gives me the chance to keep in touch with these people I shared wonderful times with.  I also have new friends, some that I have actually met on social media, it has afforded me the opportunity to become firm friends with people I never would have been granted the grace of meeting.  I have also become close to people I have actually admired from afar for years.

On the flipside social media has on the odd one or two unfortunate occasions shown me a darker side of somebody who I have been personally close to.  You can only hide your real self for so long online before your true face surfaces.  Amazing that you can be in somebody’s company but it takes long-term online exposure sometimes for a darker side to that person to reveal itself.

Social media has changed the way we manage our friendships.  No avoiding phone calls or forgetting birthdays.  We diligently wish our friends Happy Birthday.  We message them if they are having a bad day. We actually partake in their lives a lot more now than we used to.

We can argue and debate at length the merits of social media friendship.  What I really want to know is, would in this enlightened day and age Julie still consider our friendship potentially ‘controversial?’  Has our accessibility to make friends from such a diverse spectrum stopped the old-fashioned constraints of friendship?  I sincerely hope it has.

So, I raise a glass to all my friends; young, old, rich, poor, gay, straight, famous, infamous and damn right outrageous.  Long may our differences continue to unite us!

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The Killer Next Door – Alex Marwood Paperback June 19th – A Must Read

15 Jun

In the era of self-publishing and with the explosion in social media, the world is teeming with would be novelists.  One of the most popular genres, if not ‘the’ most popular for both writers and readers alike, is the crime thriller genre.  A successful novel can launch a lucrative and heady career.  So with all that competition to rise to the top of this particular very large shark pool you now have to be extremely good and Marwood is exactly that and then some.

Her debut novel the Wicked Girls first published in the UK in 2012 has caused quite a stir and recently picked up the Edgar Allan Poe Award in New York for best paperback original novel.  It is also up for an Anthony Award at Bouchercon in November and no other than Stephen King himself selected it as one of his picks in best novels of 2013 in Entertainment Weekly.

All this heady praise and plaudits would be daunting for any author when writing their second novel.  So in the Killer Next Door has Marwood managed to maintain the quality and readability of her first novel whilst giving us something new and gripping.  Yes she has and she has done it in spades.

The Killer Next Door is set in the cloying fetid heat of a present day London Summer and revolves around the residents of a large crumbling Victorian bedsit.  The sort of building most Londoners will see on an almost daily basis but pay no heed as they carry on with their daily lives.  Marwood stops and takes us inside and uncovers all the characters and lifts the lid on that crumbling facade to reveal their thoughts, predicaments and secrets and boy what secrets!

The genius of Marwood is the characters that people her book are so believable.  Marwood revels in showing us the very worst and the very best and at times the most revolting of human nature.  For every bit of this novel that shocks it will also have many a reader gasping with amusement.  Amusement that Marwood has dared to do what she has with the plot and the characters and dared to share with the reader every last action and every repellent thought.

Don’t for one minute think this book though is peopled with unlikeable folks.  Not a bit of it for every Roy Preece –  the morbidly obese stale sweat smelling greedy landlord, there is a Cher a captivatingly vibrant Liverpudlian teenager.  Or we have Vesta a resident at number twenty-three, who in her late sixties has outlived any hope of her dreams becoming a reality but still hasn’t relinquished that spark of hope and becomes a rock to the other residents.

Of course this is a Marwood thriller so the layers of duplicity and deceit are relentless and richly formed and will keep you turning that page right up until the very last one.

This is a perfect Summer read.  Forget the lightweight romances or the naval gazing self awareness novels.  By the time you reach the conclusion of the Killer Next Door you will have learned far more about life, humanity and resilience than you will from many another well meaning novel.  The Killer Next Door just soars.

I predict more awards and a stellar career.  It’s time to stop comparing Marwood to Ruth Rendell and others.  She is totally wonderfully just like Alex Marwood and all the better for it.

 

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THE WITTY RIPOSTE – DAWN’S TALENT AT ALWAYS FINDING THE MOST AMUSING PUT DOWN.

26 Apr

I have always considered myself to be pretty quick witted.  If somebody starts arguing or becoming verbally insulting which in retail is unfortunately quite common.  I pride myself on always giving as good as I get, if not better and in an environment that can be unexpectedly hostile and actually dangerous having the wherewithal to face trouble head on and actually not show any fear is essential.  Showing the slightest hint of apprehension  can often be the most dangerous thing to do.

I have to say though when it comes to the witty retort and stunning an argumentative punter into silence, then I have absolutely nothing on my partner Dawn!

I have watched in wonderment over the years as she leaves people speechless with her ingenious comments.  She also has the capacity to sum somebody up in a brief brilliantly witty sentence.

We attended a car boot sale today that we regularly go to mainly to buy rather than sell.  It is an indoor sale so we always pay for a stall and stand so we can get in early and grab the bargains.  We both happened to spy at the door waiting to go in with her clothes rail a fellow dealer who incessantly rips all the other dealers to bits behind their backs and is rather a bitter older lady.  Said woman happened to be wearing a pair of Ugg boots.  “Oh there she is Dawn remarked to me, the woman who put the Ugg in Ugly.”  This made me snort with laughter, once again marvelling at Dawn’s remarkable talent.

During our time owning The Entertainment Exchange stores in Nuneaton there were many bizarre, threatening and at times turbulent encounters with customers.  We were the only collectors record shop in the world to ever have endured an armed robbery.  I had a knife held at my throat by an unhappy customer.  Stock was continually stolen (sometimes in bulk) by both customers and unfortunately at times by staff.  We had customers fall through windows, even ride through windows on their bikes.  I think when you are selling and buying from people that at times desperately need the money tensions can become fraught.

Dawn and I always faced down every threat and all abuse with as much wit, dignity and bravery as we could.  A decidedly northern ‘gentlemen’ once came into the shop and started to demand a refund for an item he hadn’t actually purchased from our store.  I could see Dawn was getting bored with his yelling.  “Oh go fuck off and smack a whippet” she yelled into his face.  He was astonished, it worked!

A ‘mod’ pop star who shall remain nameless once visited the store and started the old “don’t you know who I am?” routine wanting a discount.  “Yeah you’re that idiot in bowling shoes who now thinks they are D.J. ……oh and no you can’t have a discount.”  Dawn was quick as a flash.

A corpulent gentlemen was in the video game store.  He became unhappy about the amount of money he had been offered for his video game and started to hurl homophobic abuse in Dawn’s direction.  Dawn looked him up and down, the ‘gentlemen’ was wearing a Tommy Hillfiger sports top.  “Huh Tommy Hillfiger, with a figure like yours I wouldn’t bother.”

The stores actually became legendary and perhaps it’s owners and in particular peculiar Dawn’s brand of wit notorious.  I think we put the Entertainment in Entertainment Exchange.

Even on the car boot sales Dawn would work her magic.  A young girl was looking at a video game.  “Come away it won’t work her mother said to her snappily.”  Quick as a flash Dawn answered; “ I tell you what don’t work, your arse in those trousers!”

I have a plenty more of these anecdotes but I have to save those for the autobiography.  But if ever you are in a situation where somebody is in your face and you need inspiration just think, what would Dawn do.  I always do, I guarantee you it works.Image

MY MEETING WITH FRED PHELPS, AND HIS GAY DOLLS WASHINGTON APRIL 2000

22 Mar

I have spent a great deal of time travelling and visiting America over the last twenty years.  During that time I have met and encountered a great deal of interesting, acclaimed and at time infamous folks.

So it happened that in late April 2000 I came to encounter Fred Phelps.  I was in Washington D.C. for the Equality Rocks concert which was part of the Millennium March on Washington when an estimated one million people marched on the capital for LGBT rights.  Also some friends of ours were going to get married in front of the Lincoln Memorial in a mass protest and celebration of their unions and demanding the right to legally marry.

I had of course heard about Mr Phelps.  Having visited some parts of America that were not particularly gay friendly.  I was aware that there was a religious right wing element that were extremely vocal in it’s opposing of gay rights.  It was something that did not seem so prevalent in the UK and that Phelps was at the forefront of this. Phelps was the chief clown in the circus if you like. His Westboro Baptist Church followers, though small in number received an incredible amount of press attention.

Phelps and his cronies would turn up at any event they felt they could garner press attention for their extreme and repugnant views.  They would rock up at the concerts of gay performers, prom nights with openly gay students, school reunions where a gay celebrity was invited.  Phelps did not miss an opportunity to take his vitriol to all corners of the States.

So it was that April in 2000 that Phelps and his odd band of followers had turned up in Washington in full voice to protest the mass gay marriage/commitment services outside the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall.

As soon as I saw him.  I saw a man that was on the verge of madness.  His face was there but his eyes weren’t.  I actually couldn’t stop laughing because despite the ugliness of the words on their placards and the vile bile their mouths spewed.  If this was the worst we had to contend with I knew at that moment that the day was won and that gay rights and the right to marry and live as equals was all but sealed.

I could see that one of my friends who naturally was angry had started to argue with him.  But Phelps loved to be shouted at.  It fed the ego, it fed the madness.  We took her to one side it was just raising her blood pressure and Phelps could eat up this sort of aggression all day and all night he lived on hate.

Then suddenly I saw my partner Dawn approach him.  Dawn is known both for having both a quick temper and always winning an argument by finding the most outlandish thing to say.

I watched with amusement and fascination.  Phelps had two Action Man dolls in his hand or GI Joe dolls as they are known in America.  They had their trousers down and he was trying to simulate gay male sex with the two dolls and yelling at the same time about how homosexuals were all going to hell.

“Why are your two dolls bumming?” Dawn asked him.

“Homosexuality is the curse of the Devil he shrieked”

“Yeah but your dolls are bumming they must be gay, so are you gay and are your dolls going to hell?” She persevered.

He started to look confused.  Probably both at her accent and that she had perceived him as being gay.

“You want to stop doing that, everyone is going to think you are gay if you keep that up and look you seem to know what to do.  You look ridiculous and gay”

Phelps actually stopped “bumming” the dolls.

“Thanks for the laughs, let the dolls get some rest they look shagged out” Dawn said chuckling actually in his face then we both walked off convulsing with mirth.

We have never forgotten that ridiculous man with his sexually active dolls.  Why the hell media paid this fool so much attention is a mystery to me.  Possibly the ratings, the secret pleasure people get in this country from watching something like Benefits Street or somebody morbidly obese getting a gastric band.  Phelps was nothing more than a sideshow clown.  The ugly and demented face of hate.  The very embodiment of intolerance and bigotry.

So share this reminiscence with me.  When, if ever you do think of Phelps, don’t think of him as anything other than a man who stood around on a happy, sunny day and got his Action Man dolls to bum each other.

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