A Christmas interlude that takes place during the novel I started during this year's NaNoWriMo. It's not part of the novel and not written in November so is probably more of a NoNoNoNo...

Saturday 25 December 1993

Wendi opened her eyes to find herself lying on the sofa in front of the muted television. On screen Noel Edmonds was wearing an obscene jumper and talking on the telephone. She felt about for the remote and the cathode ray tube relaxed into inactivity with an electric sigh. The sun was shining through the large glass window and against the odds - it had been pissing down the night before - it was a nice day. She wrapped the blanket around herself and stood up.

The penthouse flat was bare and undecorated. The record company had purchased it only recently and were intending it to be used by the more successful members of the talent whilst in London. Whilst Beam certainly were flavour of the month in some quarters they were hardly the most lucrative act on the roster so Wendi was only here on sufferance.

Peter had actually done most of the talking to the powers that be - ever since the summer tour during which her life had fallen apart, Wendi had been staying at his flat. However he'd recently embarked on a relationship with a new girlfriend so what with her, the guitar collection and Wendi on the sofa it was all getting a bit crowded.

Wendi was rootless and adrift. Her only family and her lover cancelled out in one fell swoop. They'd both attempted to contact her since the summer via the record company but she still had nothing to say to either of them. She doubted that she ever would. People talked about going home for Christmas. Up until this year Wendi had been lucky enough to live in the same house for almost all of her life so it hadn’t applied. Now that made the fact that she couldn't go back even worse.

Johnny had told her that the company would be happy for her to stay here until February when they intended to move DJ Drake in - he'd had that huge hit so they obviously felt he was worth investing in. Never mind the fact that he probably had a parental home and a girlfriend. Wendi was bitter as she shuffled over to the sliding door that led out to the balcony. She walked out into the cold London air.

The roar of the metropolis was muted that morning and the concrete of the balcony was freezing. She pulled the blanket tighter about herself, walked over to the railing and peered down into the alleyway. A row of dumpsters stood there like a train in a siding, a scattering of pigeons wandering about pecking at the overflow in a desultory manner. Normally the smell of Chinese food rising from the alleyway made Wendi hungry but this morning the aroma was like Berwick Street market at the end of a long day, rotting vegetable matter with hints of urine and other bodily fluids.

She was hungry though. She hurried back inside and pulled on her basic costume - thick socks, oversized boots, skinny jeans, sweatshirt and leather jacket. As an afterthought she donned a woolly hat and oversized shades. Not that anyone was going to recognise her.

She only had to hope that there was somewhere open this morning. Somewhere that did a full English breakfast.

Reaching into the pocket of her leather jacket for money, her fingers touched something unfamiliar. She pulled out a plastic baggie inside which a few wraps nestled. That coke Peter had given her the day before she'd moved in. She'd forgotten all about it. She hadn't been in the mood, and besides, she still preferred ecstasy. Coke tended to make the Persona too strong and whilst this was useful when working, when she was alone sometimes she felt like she was being swamped by this other mind, this alternative Wendi who had sprung into being as a direct result of her chosen career. Sometimes she thought she remembered the Persona whispering to her in her childhood, a tall shadow that hovered just beyond the corner of her eye and guided her fingers when she'd been drawing, but she was probably just retrofitting it into her memory.

She hadn't done any drawing for years. She missed it. She had no illusions about being any good, but there was something calming about working on a large complex piece over several hours or days, the way she could lose herself in the act of creation, the way her mind was reshaped by the lines of the image and the way the act itself cemented certain memories in place, the programme on the TV in the background, the songs being broadcast on the radio. She had never liked to put her stereo on during these sessions. TV or radio was a lifeline to the outside world, an umbilical cord connecting her to the non-drawn universe in which the real people lived. If she put her own music collection on it was too isolating.

This was also why creating music was a very different experience.

It was a team effort for a start and by its very nature it required total commitment. There was no-room for multi tasking, she couldn't switch off any part of her brain, it was all consuming. And apart from anything else it was the very opposite of relaxing. It made her electrified, it made her heart race and her brain with it.

She pulled the penthouse flat door shut behind her and began jogging down the stairs, thinking about drawing. There was an art shop in Great Marlborough Street wasn't there? She began to feel a warm glow of anticipation and excitement. She could buy some pens and pencils and a sketchpad. Or a one of those huge pads with paper half the size of her. It was going to be great. She could do one of those intricate drawings that took days, those floating islands with almost infinite detail, tiny people and animals crawling all over it...

It was only when she closed the street door behind her and was enveloped by the unusual silence that she remembered that it was Christmas Day and that the art shop would be closed. Disappointment crashed in on her as the planned excursion into her imagination was curtailed. It wouldn't be open tomorrow either and then Monday and Tuesday were bloody Bank Holidays as well thanks to Christmas falling on a Saturday. It wasn’t the sort of shop that tried to maximise sales by opening as much as it could. Quite the opposite in fact; she wouldn't be surprised if they weren't planning to stay closed until the New Year. Which mean Tuesday 4 January.

Lazy fuckers.

She kicked a bottle as she stepped out into a deserted Shaftesbury Avenue and it spun into the gutter. Knowing her luck she wouldn't be able to find anywhere to get breakfast either. So far she hadn't seen a soul.

Wardour Street smelled foul. Aside from the odours it shared with Berwick Street there was a distinct flavour of vomit, alcohol and revolting chips. Wendi had tried some of them the other night and had ended up throwing away the entire portion. They simply didn't taste right. The oil had probably been in use since the eighties and she strongly suspected that the chips themselves had been fashioned from reconstituted mashed potato. She'd been hungry too, but there would have been no point in going back to complain. They'd all be like that. Instead she'd flung the packet across the road in fury as hot tears had sprung to her eyes. It hadn't just been the chips. It hadn't been anything to do with them.

She pushed the memory away as the tears welled up again. Not now, not here. Not appropriate. She'd feel better after a cooked breakfast.

The Telecom Tower looked down on her in a way that made her uncomfortable. There was something she didn't like about it. She never had. A shape, an indication of evil eyes about the cluster of antennae that crowded around its neck just below the revolving restaurant. She turned off into St Anne's Court and out of its field of view.

The alleyway was as deserted as the rest of London but in her head it buzzed with a peculiar potential. There was something odd here. She looked off down an even narrower passage that led off between two buildings to her right.  Was that a person sleeping rough or just a pile of old rags? Shadows and shapes flickered at the periphery of her vision as she squinted. Something familiar from deep in her childhood, something she would have preferred not to remember.

Wendi sped up and hurried past, wanting to escape whatever it was that she’d been about to see. Besides, she had a feeling that the end of her quest was within reach. Yes, there it was. Even though she didn't remember having visited it before, her subconscious had obviously noted the presence of this establishment. The windows were steamed up, glowing with a warm yellow light and the faded Pepsi sign above the word CAFE was illuminated. She pushed open the door.

Six tables were crammed into the space, each of which was occupied by one figure swathed in coats and scarves. A radio was playing, too loud and distorted to be able to work out what the music was. The man behind the counter gave Wendi a complex wave that managed to convey that she should take a seat and he'd be with her in a minute. She looked around and decided to sit opposite the smallest of the huddled figures.

"Do you mind if I sit here?" Wendi pulled the chair out and looked down at the top of a matted mop of bottle-black hair. The figure looked up, large bloodshot eyes hovering over a white mug that was cradled in interlaced fingers each of which terminated in a bitten black varnished nail. It was difficult to tell whether this was a boy or a girl. The head nodded so Wendi slid into the chair and plucked the menu - which had been laminated with yellowing sellotape - from between the ketchup bottle and the saltcellar.

No, not fried eggs. They gave her the creeps. Not bacon.  She never knew what all the fuss was about - in her experience it was like eating salty cardboard. Cooked tomatoes just seemed wrong. The idea of a full English was much more attractive than the reality. What did that leave her with?

"What can I get you miss?" The man from behind the counter was suddenly looming over her. A few inches from her nose a filthy apron exuded the odour of decade’s worth of fried breakfasts. That clinched it.

"Beans on toast please. And a cup of tea." Wendi didn't fancy the idea of anything that had been dipped in the oil soaking that apron.  Like that chippie in Wardour Street, they probably recycled everything here.

"Anything else for you before you go?" The man had turned to the diminutive figure opposite. Wendi wondered why he was being so rude.

"No fanks," the timbre of the whisper indicated that this was probably a girl, "I still got this." She held out the mug for the man to inspect, and sure enough it was at least a third full of a watery brown liquid that had probably once had a teabag waved at it.

"Actually can you make that coffee?" Wendi said. The man sighed and made an adjustment to whatever it was he’d written down on his pad, before shuffling back behind his counter and busying himself with Wendi's breakfast. She stared with fatal fascination as he pulled a couple of slices of lowest common denominator white from a cellophane packet and ladled a scoop of own brand baked beans into a tiny saucepan from a catering sized tin that stood open next to the hob.

This was hardly going to set her up for the day or settle her stomach. Still, never mind. She turned her attention to the girl opposite.

"He was a bit out of order, eh?" she whispered. The girl shrugged but then looked up into Wendi's eyes and managed a quarter smile.

"I guess. I ‘aven't been in here that long though. You'd have thought..."

Wendi nodded. The girl must have been sleeping rough. Somewhere like this was the only place she had to go.  A lot of the homeless probably ended up in here but there was no need for rudeness. Wendi didn't believe in “compassion fatigue”. People who used expressions like that probably never had any in the first place. But are you any better, she asked herself, after all what are you going to do? She recognised the voice of the Persona in that question and resolved to prove it wrong.

"I'm Wendi." She held out a hand and the girl shook it. It was quite astonishing. Wendi was used to other people's hands always feeling warmer than hers, they told her she had bad circulation. But this girl had fingers that felt as if she had liquid nitrogen flowing through her veins.

"Juliet," the girl whispered, releasing Wendi's hand. Wendi could still feel the cold spots on her skin where Juliet had touched her fingers and had to stop herself from rubbing warmth back into them. That would have been tactless.

The man appeared at Wendi's side again and slammed a plate down in front of her. Watery baked beans swam on top of what looked like a couple of thin sheets of singed polystyrene foam. It was hardly the Full English she had been imagining and would do nothing to quell the relentless march of her hangover....

See? A sarcastic voice within. It was right. Any problems she had were nothing compared to Juliet's. She had no right to feel sorry for herself.  To be hung over implied the ability to drink heavily the night before. OK so she'd had a shit year. Some might have called it the worst year of her life. But when everything had fallen apart she'd had options. Her friends were looking after her, her employers were looking after her. She may have wished she was dead as she looked down on fifty thousand people from the main stage of a major music festival in July, but for fuck's sake. She'd been on stage in front of fifty thousand people. OK so it had been first thing in the afternoon and more than likely a fluke of the programming due to the unavailability of the Zine stage later that day, but even so. Some people worked for years to get in that kind of position.

Nevertheless, the lukewarm beans and nominal toast were on the wrong side of foul. She wondered if she should complain but then thought better of it. What would everyone think?

"Are you sure you don't want anything?" she addressed Juliet who staring down into the depths of her mug again. She could at least get the girl something, "I wouldn't recommend the beans on toast, mind."

Juliet looked up and the ghost of a smile flickered across her frail features again.

"Nah. Fanks anyway. Not hungry. Plus I can't stay here much longer."

"Are you sure?"  Wendi rubbed at the back of her neck with one hand. A dull nauseous ache was advancing determinedly up muscles and tendons that were as taut as an over wound bass string. She could feel the tendrils of neuralgia exploring the rest of her skull; if she wasn't careful this was going to turn into a fully-fledged migraine that would put her out of action for days. It was always a risk when she drank too much. She looked down at Juliet's hands, and imagined those thin cold fingers massaging her neck. It was an intoxicating thought. Maybe there was something she could do for the girl. If she asked her to come back with her then maybe... You're despicable, you know that? the Persona cut in.

"Yeah. Been sleeping rough but got somewhere to go now as long as I'm quick. Don't want to miss the boat."

"That must have been grim," Wendi was in danger of blushing at her earlier thought, even though there was no way Juliet could have known about it. The Persona was right though.

"It was. All over now though!" Juliet's ghost smile bloomed into full life as she pushed the chair back and stood up, "I'm looking forward to it!"

"Where..." Wendi started as Juliet started to walk towards the door. Juliet stopped and turned towards her.

"'S OK. I'm flattered. Would have been nice," she whispered and reached out a hand to brush Wendi's cheek. The cold almost felt like a slap. Wendi felt dizzy, her brain clouded. What was going on?  There was something cold and hard pressed into one cheekbone.

She opened her eyes. She was lying on her side in St Anne's Court in front of the cafe, a smear of rotten vegetable matter on the bottom of her boot. Had she followed Juliet outside and slipped over? She struggled to a seated position.

"Are you OK down there, Miss?" A man in uniform stood at one end of the alleyway. Wendi nodded and raised a hand. She grabbed hold of the railing in front of the cafe and pulled herself upright.

The cafe. It was closed, and obviously had been for some time. The windows were thick with grime and there was no furniture inside apart from the counter at the far end. Had she fallen over before going inside and dreamed the whole thing? It had seemed so real. But that was the only explanation.

"Are you sure, Miss?" The man at the end of the alleyway had turned towards her. A policeman? She was suddenly very aware of the wraps of cocaine in her jacket pocket. Walking away would have aroused suspicion so she turned and began making her way towards him instead.

Ouch. Her knee seemed to have taken the brunt of the fall and she was limping. A blow on the head would have accounted for her being knocked out, though. She prodded gingerly at her skull. Nothing she could find. No tender spots.

"I slipped over," she called out. The man was no longer looking at her and now that she was closer she could see that he wasn't a policeman after all. An ambulance driver? Behind him in Wardour Street the windows of the ground floor buildings shimmered with an unearthly blue flashing and she could hear the sound of an idling engine.

As she drew abreast of the entrance of the narrow passageway she’d noticed earlier, two figures emerged, paramedics carrying something between them. A stretcher. There was a small figure slumped on it, still half wrapped in a filthy sleeping bag. It was Juliet and she was quite dead.

"Poor kid," one of the paramedics muttered, "That's no way to spend Christmas."

Wendi stood rooted to the spot as perspective slammed into place around her.  It had taken a girl's death to show her how trivial her problems really were.

Even the Persona had nothing to say.


The other week I was delighted to discover, via the medium of a #FollowFriday tweet, that Claudia Brücken was on Twitter. Claudia Brücken! One of my favourite singers from the 1980s. Now whilst any regular readers of this blog may already have noticed from earlier entries that during the 1980s I was a big fan of Toyah Willcox, there were of course many other bands that tickled my fancy during that era.

One such band was Propaganda. Picture the scene. It was 1984 and the pop world was in thrall to Frankie Goes to Hollywood as they bestrode the charts like Liverpudlian colossi thanks to the skilled media manipulation of their label, ZTT Records.  It was impossible not to be aware of the furore and whilst I as a 19 year old goth might have liked to scoff at the blatant commercialism, I couldn't help but be caught up in the hype.

Despite what people now might remember, Frankie were not the only band signed to this cunning outfit.  Propaganda were also on the roster and unlike Frankie, they were darker and had more of an alternative edge that appealed to my nature. This was a band that were cool...

The problem with being part of a subculture like punk or goth was that sometimes you found your actual tastes at odds with what was perceived to be cool by the collective received wisdom. And more than anything else, you wanted to appear credible. That was the word I remember us using more than any other. Credible.

Not Incredible, which in retrospect would have been far more interesting.

The love of a good pop song had to be viewed through this filter.  I remember being very puzzled once when thinking about this too hard. Why, I wondered, were Blancmange cool but the Thompson Twins weren't? Some of their material was very similar. Was it all down to Blancmange's edgy use of the word "bloody" in the lyrics to Living on the Ceiling? I don't know who the arbiters of this distinction were, but they held our teenage minds in thrall.  Soft Cell, now they were cool because not only had their first album been shot through with an undercurrent of sleaze and subversion, but then they'd thrown their chart success back in the faces of pop by releasing the dark second album The Art of Falling Apart which didn't really contain any radio friendly singles whatsoever (but was magnificent nonetheless).

And Propaganda did a very canny thing. They released a double-sided single with the same song on each side. But very different versions of that song.

The A-side Duel was a wonderfully glossy radio-friendly pop song with a hook to die for. The B-side Jewel was an altogether darker interpretation, with an aggressive industrial drumbeat and shouted punky vocals.

"Which one you play depends on which way you play".

Of course the young goth me was proud to buy the single (the sleeve of which was graphic-designed to within an inch of its life and covered with all sorts of gnomic quotes that he puzzled over) and made a point of only playing Jewel on his student radio show, to confuse and bewilder people who may have only seen Duel on Top of the Pops.

Of course what I realise now is that secretly I loved the A-side more. And that was the clever thing Propaganda had done, make it OK for someone who worried far too much about being credible to buy a perfect pop song.



The album A Secret Wish appeared and was all very much to my taste - poetic female vocals against an electronic, dark background. Once again my album sleeve synesthesia kicked in and I felt that the grey cover featuring the wire torso of a mannequin felt exactly like the contents. This was gothic yet pop and in many ways the perfect answer to the pop-or-cool dichotomy that raged within the shallow part of my teenage soul. This, I decided, was credible and tracks from the album made frequent appearances on my student radio show alongside Foetus, Bone Orchard and Alien Sex Fiend (as well as Soft Cell, Toyah and Blancmange). Any comparisons that the media made to Abba due to the band's gender make-up were simply lazy maths (2♀ + 2♂ = ABBA). Similar Abba comparisons would later be made for exactly the same reason to Lush and Ladytron.

Sadly there only was one album. Like many bands of the time their trajectory was bright but short, a single-apparition comet with a hyperbolic trajectory. Thankfully before they left the solar system there was a tour which came to the Hammersmith Palais in London. By this point I was very keen on gigs and tried to go to as many as possible in Brighton, London or even further afield. My friend Bob shared my enthusiasm for Propaganda and so we both bought tickets and made a rendezvous in W6 on a cold November night.

It was an unusual crowd. The gigs we were used to going to tended to be full of people who, like us, went to see bands play on a semi-regular basis, dressed the part and knew what to expect. This lot were... well ordinary. Of course there was absolutely nothing wrong with that but it felt odd being the only goths in the room.

This was the other side of gigs. Propaganda's appearances on Top of the Pops had guaranteed a more casual audience, an audience who were perhaps not used to the whole Everyone Crowd Down The Front Until You Can Barely Move scenario. This resulted in some frayed tempers. In this sort of standing-only gig (far preferable to the violently enforced seating of the Hammersmith Odeon just up the road) you were by definition pressed up against people. More often than not you ended up with someone leaning their arms against your back whilst you leaned your arms against the person in front of you and so on and so forth. Uncomfortable and hot, but all part of the experience.

And then this guy just in front and to the right of me started turning round and angrily telling me to stop leaning on his girlfriend. I can assure you this wasn't a creepy lean, just one of necessity and besides, what else was I to do? An exclusion zone around his girlfriend simply wasn't going to happen that close to the stage.

His girlfriend didn't seem to have any problem with it and was herself leaning on someone just in front of her.

I ignored his impotent fury. I had a band to watch (and besides, sooner or later we were bound to part company by brownian motion alone).



From what I recall it was a good gig, the band and supernumeraries accurately reproduced the sound of A Secret Wish with the added power of it being played live. And I discovered another advantage of the ordinary audience. At the time I sported a messy black Robert Smith style hairdo which must have stood out like a sore thumb because I noticed that throughout the gig I kept catching Claudia's eye (a similar thing happened to me a few years later with Aztec Camera when a puzzled Roddy Frame kept glancing at me, obviously wondering what on earth a goth was doing at one of his gigs).

It wasn't that long a set, but it was enjoyable. Afterwards I felt the glow of satisfaction of having seen a band play live the songs I only knew from vinyl.

As Bob and I stepped out onto Shepherd's Bush Road another difference became apparent. No-one was hanging around; no-one wanted to meet the band. I couldn't understand it; meeting the band and getting an autograph or photo had become part and parcel of the experience for us.

Never mind. We hung around anyway. And then, giving us a smile, Susanne Freytag hurried past, too quick for us to buttonhole her. Still, that at least gave us an idea that the band were on their way out. And then we spotted Claudia with a couple of other people, so we stepped forward, said hello, told her how much we'd enjoyed the gig and asked her to sign our tour programmes.

"I saw you!" she said to me, proving at least that I hadn't imagined her noticing me during the gig.

Bob even had a camera, so he posed with her whilst I did the honours and then we swapped places.

And the flash wouldn't warm up. And the people Claudia was with were walking further and further away. And she looked awkward waiting there as we stared at the offending camera. And in the end she had to go lest she be left behind.

So I never did get my photo taken with her...

And sadly that was it for Propaganda. They split up not long afterwards. Of course I kept my ear to the ground and was aware of Claudia's follow-up band Act who released one album, plus her solo album Love: And a Million Other Things in 1991. Then much later in 2004 she resurfaced as half of Onetwo.

And now in 2012 she's released another solo album, The Lost Are Found to be followed by a UK tour in Spring 2013 which is due to take in the Concorde 2 in Brighton. I'll go along.

Maybe I'll finally get that photo.

One of the advantages of living where I do is that it is relatively easy to go out in London in the evening during the week and get back in time to get a reasonable amount of sleep before going to work the next day.

All very convenient but one downside of this practice is that it means sometimes I have to catch one of the late trains back. One of the Drunk Trains. We've all experienced the Drunk Trains. The ones that run after the pubs and theatres have turned out and as a result are full of people whose social skills have been dulled by the liberal application of alcohol to the brain cells. Now I like a drink as much as the next person, but even when I have been drinking I don't take it out on other people. I don't start trying to guilt trip them into engaging me in inebriated conversation with an undercurrent of menace lest they appear a humourless party pooper. I don't, I would hope, turn in to an Aggressive Drunk.


A lot of people do though, which is why the drunk train can often be an ordeal.

The first ten minutes are OK as most of the Aggressive Drunks have purchased fast food from one of the many franchises that are still open when they stagger through the concourse. The odour can be a bit much - especially if they've bought one of those cornish pasties that smell like school dinner - but at least their mouths are occupied with something other than belligerent speech.

The last twenty minutes or so can also be all right as many of the Aggressive Drunks have fallen asleep by this point and the snoring and the farting is a small price to pay for being spared the verbal harassment.

Unfortunately this leaves anything up to an hour for truculence.

However, on one late evening journey recently I was delighted to discover that the Drunk Train seemed to have changed. I don't know if I was just lucky or whether this was part of a sea change overcoming the world, but it was wonderfully quiet. People were either chatting quietly in pairs or occupying themselves with their smartphones, tablets or kindles. They were reading, playing games or just communicating online with friends who weren't physically there.  If it hadn't been for the fast food and the flatulence it would have been a breath of fresh air.

There was someone who wasn't happy. He was sitting upright in his seat and from the reddening of his features and the deshabille state of his business suit it was clear that he was a lone Aggressive Drunk. This is not the optimum state for such a person, normally they prefer the safety afforded by wandering in packs.

He glanced disparagingly around at all the other passengers, all quite happy with their devices. He didn't have one and he didn't like it. His looking around and the scornful smirk got more and more marked. He was desperate to say something, to complain about what he saw as the state of the world these days, how people had lost the ability to communicate and how it wasn't like that in his day...

All this was legible just from the cut of his jib. And it was this, plus of course the fact that they had far more interesting things to do, that ensured that no-one was stupid enough to catch his eye.

Complaining about the state of the world and the behaviour of young people today is part of the human condition. Discovering that things are different now and that people are now engaging in activities that are a mystery to you is not a sign that you have started living in End Times. It is just a sign of getting old, of, if you're not too careful, entering your own personal end times.  Douglas Adams of course put this far better than I could possibly hope to do in his Essay How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet which appeared in the Sunday Times on August 29th 1999:
  1. Everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;
  2. Anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;
  3. Anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.
The trick is to try and revise your age upwards with respect to point two. It makes life far more exciting.

Unfortunately no-one had ever told this to Mr Aggressive Drunk, and if anything he'd probably revised his age with respect to point two downwards. And no doubt he would have continued to stew in his own juices for the rest of the journey had two people not got on the train at East Croydon and made the cardinal error of sitting opposite him. As the doors closed and the train slid off, his smile widened. He'd got his audience, and by god he was going to give them the performance of a lifetime...

I can't remember his full speech, and even if I could I doubt you would want to hear it. I'm sure you can imagine it anyway. Full of self-righteous bullshit about how people aren't as friendly as they used to be, no-one talks to each other any more and we are all becoming slaves to our machines wasting our time playing games or texting...

The fact that half the people in the carriage he was disparaging were very probably simply reading (using Kindles or other tablets) escaped him. Would he have felt the same had they been engrossed in newspapers, magazines or books?

Probably not, but then again, his sort don't have a problem with interrupting someone reading.  If they want to drag you into their monologic orbit they will. To them the sight of someone reading is like a red flag to a bull.  If you even look up at the first enquiry "Good book?" (which somehow contrives to imply 'well it fucking well must be if you're reading it instead of talking to ME') then you end up doomed to listen to them going on about that book they read once (which often turns out to be The Da Vinci Code).

There's no moral to this story. Over the course of the journey Aggressive Drunk got drunker and drunker thanks to the six pack of Stella he'd brought onto the train with him and the poor unfortunates who'd sat opposite were subjected to a more and more incoherent diatribe on the problems in society. He then started going on about the fact that he'd been an officer in the army and by the time we arrived at our destination he was just about able to stagger off into the night, satisfied that it wasn't him that was getting old and out of touch but that it was the world that had gone bad.
"Young people's lives are regulated more by moral feeling than by reasoning. All their mistakes are in the direction of doing things excessively and vehemently. They overdo everything: they love too much, hate too much, and the same with everything else."
- Aristotle, 350 BC
"I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words... When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint."

- Hesiod, 700 BC

Whilst I realise that the frequency of my blog entries is not what it once was, November 2012 turned out to be the first month for several years that I didn't write a single entry whatsoever. This wasn't due to my laziness or me spending too much time partying hard to be able to put finger to keyboard. Quite the opposite. Despite the lack of blogs, it's quite possible that I wrote more in November 2012 than I ever have in any single month in my life.

I am talking about NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and is an annual affair. It's basically a challenge - write a 50,000 word novel between November 1 and 30. When I first heard of it back in 2009 (when the project was already ten years old) my first thought was that it was impossible. An absurd thing to hope to achieve in one month whilst still trying to hold down a day job and live a normal life.

This year I felt differently. Not only had I got into the habit of daily writing via the site 750words.com but I was now determined to produce more. My novel Comeback had taken over three years from first concept to first draft but I didn't want to wait that long to find out what happened in the prequel. So I decided I was going to do it. Challenge accepted. Never mind that November also involved going to see gigs in Birmingham, St Albans and London, I was already writing 750 words a day, increasing that to 1667 words a day shouldn't make that much difference should it?

Basic premise - supporting character Wendi from Comeback is recording a new album with her band Beam at a recording studio in the Devon countryside in 1994 and something scary happens. In between we get flashbacks to earlier episodes in her life. And go...

Despite the name, NaNoWriMo is an international affair and during the month I read all sorts of blogs about it from all around the world. Increasingly these seemed to be rather negative in tone. Many seemed to think that the exercise was of no value and that any work produced would be of such low quality as to be effectively worthless, that pushing yourself to meet a daily target was artificial and would result in prose that was flat, dry and uninteresting. You had to be inspired, these commentators said. Was this true, I wondered? Was I wasting my time?

Now that the month is over, I have come to the conclusion that I certainly wasn't. As discussed before when it comes to writing stories I'm an archaeologist rather than an architect, and over the last thirty days I have been surprised and pleased by the adventures of Wendi. I had no idea. She did that? She went there? I was happy to make the acquaintance of some new individuals and took an instant dislike to others. I started feeling guilty at the bad times I was putting Wendi through. I got scared when writing some of the darker scenes when alone in the house. Was I going to look over my shoulder and see one of the beings that haunted Wendi hovering in my own doorway?

Of course it's rough and ready and of course a lot of it won't survive the editing process. That doesn't mean it has no value. I feel as if I've been down a clay mine, hauling great truckfuls of slippery grey material out of the earth. It may not look like much now, but by the time I've finished refining, sculpting and shaping it I'm hoping for something special.

Yes, 50,000 words is far too short for a novel. If anything I am now approximately halfway through. The nature of the threat is now becoming clear, but quite how it is going to be overcome I have no idea.  But I now have half of the first draft of a novel that I didn't have this time last month.

I am looking forward to continuing with it, although do feel a sense of relief that to a certain extent, the pressure is now off. I have the time to blog again and re-engage with a number of other writing projects that I put on hold for the duration.

As I typed in my final word count to the NaNoWriMo site yesterday I must admit I was expecting a fanfare of some kind. Perhaps some animated fireworks and dancing cats doing a conga across the bottom of the screen. But no. All I got was the terse message Words remaining: 0.

Never mind. I did it.

In the last sentence I wrote, Wendi fell asleep, exhausted.

I hope she wakes up soon.