Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Specific Horoscopes

Once a tricky financial situation is resolved, you can turn your attention to other matters, such as the lady with the big brown eyes and the spectacular hip-to-waist ratio who works in Waitrose who once smiled at you when you asked her where you could find rice noodles, and trying to work out if she's actually shacking up with that security guard who kissed her on the cheek that time as she was leaving, or if they're just mates in a flirty yet sibling-like way. You could always try to find out her name and Facebook stalk her (though maybe ask your pal Emma to go into Waitrose and check her name badge, so it doesn't look like you're staring at her boobs?). You'll also be surprised to find that decisions for which you internally castigate yourself turn out to have a surprisingly positive outcome: like when you go to get some new socks from Gap, see how much the prices have risen since the last time you were single and had to buy them yourself, stingily decide to put it off for a few weeks, but then find out that leaves you money to get to Nathan's party, which will actually be quite good, despite your somewhat theatrical public reservations, and finally strip you of your slightly juvenile indie kid prejudice against the music of ABBA.

It will be a big week for you, full of unexpected events, none more so than the moment when you're on a walk in remote countryside, take a sharp left after a thick copse, steaming in the sunny aftermath of rain, and happen across an old man in a cravat with a metal detector who says the word "Hmnarg" to you in baffling yet ostensibly friendly greeting.

You know that fancy new petrol strimmer your uncle sold your nan, which you're looking forward to using on her nettles this weekend? It was stolen. I'm sorry to have to break this to you in advance, but that's kind of what I'm here for.

This week you will face a dilemma, after discovering a new bench not far from your customary daily clockwise walk around the Leicester ring road, which turns out to be a good place to drink for several hours in peace and has a clear view of the women's medical college, but which will mean you will be able to brush your hands across fewer lampposts than you do on your standard route, the upshot of which will be that your Dark Lord and Master who controls the light in your mind will be disappointed in your performance. You must take time to consider your options. But life is not all angst, and, though you often feel you are living in your own hazy solipsistic world, strangers will be watching you with admiration, such as that guy Nick who, though thirty years your junior and considerably more skilled in personal hygiene, feels an unexpected jealousy when he drives past you on his way to the surveyor's office and sees the skip in your step as you walk along, cackling, with your can of Kronenbourg, and, when he strolled past you outside Marks And Spencer two weekends ago, was surprised to see an unliberated, aching part of himself reflected back in your shifty, dilated eyes.

Nothing much happens this week. You should probably chill the fuck out and stop worrying about it. Maybe try living in the present for once in your life?

There are times in life when everyone needs to treat themselves, but this is not one for you. Look at yourself: you spend money like most people drink water. You're a disgrace. Would it kill you to get a kettle that cost £20 less, and which you hadn't seen in the background in a shoot for Elle Decoration? Also, one tiny problem with your washer-dryer does not mean you have to go straight out and buy a new one. Do you have any concept of the suffering and compromise of your ancestors? Get a grip. Why not try to enroll on an evening class in 19th Century Irish History, to get a sense of perspective. Maybe have a proper think about what it was like during the potato famine: a time when those posh ridge cut crisps with the poncey vinegar flavouring that you keep buying from the deli were notably thin on the ground. While you're at it, please stop using the words "pampering", "chillax" and "vino".

With the pace of the modern world, we all get caught up in the whirlwhind of our day occasionally, which means we need to take a step outside of the eye of the storm to see what we're really doing. In your case, you need to realise that while typing the names of three things that help you relax then "..." followed by the word "Bliss" into the status update on a social networking site is a good way to inform your friends that you are in a happy state of mind, people are starting to notice the repetition of it, and not in a good way: it has become a cliche for you, and, if you continue to do it more than three times a week, it will lose all meaning. But try not to be petulant and throw the baby out with the bath water. Make it work for you. Next time, instead of writing "Tea, doughnuts, cat.. Bliss" show people your self-deprecating side by writing "Coffee, ginger nuts, massive fuck-off warm purring dragon... Bliss". It might even get you a retweet on Twitter and up to four more followers, one of which will almost certainly not be a firm with the word "Dragon" in their name trying to spam you.

It's not going to be a good week for you, and you need to realise that when life gives you lemons, you can't always make lemonade. Let's face it: you wouldn't even know how to start to make lemonade. Do you know what you put in it to make it fizz? Do you know how to mix it with the lemons? Of course you don't. You can barely pierce the film lid on one of Tesco's instant birianis. Sometimes you just have to let those lemons languish at the back of the bowl, behind more readily useable fruit, then buy something a bit less tart - maybe a honeydew melon. Okay, look, I'm totally skirting the issue here. Let's dispense with the metaphors and be straightforward: this will be the week when somebody steals your bike, and Sheila finds that thing you wrote in your diary about the fantasy about the sleepover and Jean mistaking your cock for a wallet.

BAD NEWS: On Tuesday, whilst driving through Dorset, distracted by your cousin Rachel's constant nervous babble, you will run out of petrol. GOOD NEWS: on your walk to find a petrol station, you will stumble across a village art trail, featuring many imaginatively and elaborately crafted ducks, which will enable you to see Rachel's previously suppressed jovial side.

Many a wise person has said that life is what happens when you're making other plans. Some massively tedious twats have said it as well, but, in this instance, for you, it is relevant. You should totally ditch those plans for the new conservatory-meets-living room. It's going to mean five months of upheaval as the project drags on, with the builders leaving copies of the Sun open at Page 3 in all four of your bathrooms. Also, you'll never properly get to enjoy the results because, three months after everything is finally finished, Phillip is going to get offered that job in Geneva. Of course, you'll "discuss" it, and the deeper implications for the kids, but, let's face it, the ultimate decision will be his, and you'll go along with it. You always do, don't you? In every relationship, there's one person kissing the cheek, and another person offering the cheek to be kissed, and you are in the former role 97% of the time. It has worked relatively successfully for the two of you, in the grand scheme of marriages, and is nothing to be ashamed of - it doesn't make you "weak" or "downtrodden" - but, looking back on it, maybe you shouldn't have come on quite so strong back when you first met, and established the goalposts by being so amenable to everything he suggested? I'm just saying: it's perhaps worth thinking about.

Today one door closes, and another opens. Unfortunately, the first door led to a nightclub dancefloor, where last night five strangers were standing in a circle clapping you as you did a moon walk to 'Thriller', and the second one leads to a TGI Friday's, just off a small retail park, where tomorrow you will be starting your first shift as a waiter-cum-cleaner. Fortunately, there's a third door, which also opens, and leads to a second floor fire escape, which you will descend after a couple of hours, ditching your shitty uniform in a nearby skip, and heading to a nearby park, where you will spend an ineffably pleasant, sun-kissed afternoon eating a tub of Ben And Jerry's and reading some early 1980s issues of Shoot! magazine you found in a junk shop.

Let's face it: you've been needing to give yourself a break recently. You've been tired, and just recently started to feel not "with it" any more, alienated from a younger, hipster generation. For example, that time you had to Google the meaning of that emoticon, or when, in a moment of honesty, you realised you actually didn't really give a crud about what either of the principle characters in the film 500 Days Of Summer said or thought, and only really warmed to it because of that kick-ass Hall & Oates song on the soundtrack. But now you're refreshed. The bags under your eyes have temporarily vanished. Your hair looks so good that, were the option available to you, you'd probably take it off and put it in the fridge until something important was scheduled to happen. The future looks incredibly bright! But it's not, because any future is never just "bright": it's a mixture of good and bad that can, sometimes, both be of long-term benefit to your development as a person. As you realise this, walking through a backstreet in Chichester whilst eating some wasabi peas, you will be overwhelmed by bittersweet feelings in such a way that you realise you've never dwelled upon the true meaning of the word "bittersweet" before. And this in itself will not necessarily be a bad thing - though the "bitter" part of "bittersweet" may be a bit stronger if you happen to have a friend called Jean, and be in a relationship with a Scorpio, whose diary you have recently stumbed upon and accidentally-on-purpose read.

My latest book (not about astrology)....

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

How To Write A Literary Novel: A Few Pointers For Getting Started

* Writing a literary novel is incredibly tough, so you should be well-prepared for the fact that life is not going to be normal while you're doing it, and your social life will fall by the wayside. The process takes untold dedication and sacrifice. Though it's worth keeping in mind that you can skip a fair bit of that if you just make sure you write the words "roiling" and "brackish" a lot.

* It's good to choose a title for your literary novel with someone who's someone's relative in it. Everyone has relatives, so it will give the book a universal appeal. Also, try to evoke an ambience of a pastoral nature. For example, I have decided to call my novel 'The Uphill Gardener's Nephew'.

* While writing your literary novel, pay close attention to the skies, their hues and patterns. What do they remind you of? Remember that by properly creating a picture of a good sky, you can really help a reader get inside a dramatic scene. Failing that, just keep describing them as "gunmetal grey".

* Think about getting some quotes for your book's jacket from some well-known names on the literary scene. Who might like your literary novel? Tim Lott, Hilary Mantel and Maggie O'Farrell have never actually written any books or journalism of their own, but give between 60,000 and 70,000 words of quotes away during the course of an average year, so maybe try them?

* In today's publishing world, it's increasingly important to think of your branding so, upon choosing your author shot for your jacket, make sure you find one that fits in with the book. If you have written a tender love story set amidst the final days of the Boer War, maybe don't use that photo from last year's Waveney Otters reunion, when Ian was bending down in front of you against the garage and you had the fox mask on and were pretending that traffic cone was your nob.

* Not many people under the age of thirty write good literary novels. This is because they have not had the life experience to weave the complex fabric of wisdom and narrative necessary to a good book. The best novels are full of paragraphs that simultaneously move the plot along and pass on facts about things and people that the reader can take into their own lives, enhancing them in the process. For example: "After killing Ambrose Stoneman, Sheila went down the street, turned left, then right, and caught a bus to Carl's house. She stood in the kitchen, and looked at the stuff that was in it. '27,' she thought to herself, 'is generally perceived to be the best age for a table.'."

* Try to set at least one pivotal scene of your literary novel against the backdrop of the Twin Towers. Even if it's not actually about the Twin Towers, or it's set in The Malvern Hills, try to mention them. Say something like "Looking at the rubble of the childhood den where she and Ambrose Stoneman first played army, Sheila couldn't help being reminded of that time she watched 9/11 on Carl's telly, and the world changed forever." This will give your novel socio-political weight and make critics use phrases such as "state of the nation" and "epic" when reviewing it.

* Children's heads smell a lot in literary novels, often of butter or milk. Nobody knows why. It's just a fact. Maybe you've smelled some children's heads recently and not really got much of a scent? Remember: that's just reality. It's not important here. Ignore it.

* It's increasingly hard to sell literary novels from Britain to America these days. "It's too British," is a common complaint from American editors. Don't be too deliberate about it, but do keep this in mind as you write. When mentioning days, try to pick ones suited to both the American and British ways of writing dates (e.g. 6/6). If you have created a character with bad teeth, think carefully: Does he or she really need bad teeth? Will it damage the plot to make them whiter and more symmetrical? If the answer is no, make an alteration.

* While writing your literary novel, try not to shave. If you are female, you should also try not to shave, though people probably won't notice, so make up for that with a few artfully placed stains, or by rubbing your hair vigorously against some woven synthetic fibre. When opening the door to the postman, cultivate a distracted air. Put a pen behind your ear, even if you don't use a pen to write. Dressing gowns worn at insurrectionary times of the day can help too. Soon, you will be known at your local sorting depot as 'The Writer' and word will spread to people who don't even work for the Royal Mail. The publicity machine will be rumbling into life before your novel is even finished!

Sunday, 3 July 2011

How (Possibly Not) To Make A Scarecrow: A Photo Story

As those who read my recent Guardian column on the subject will know, I like scarecrows, and have been wanting to make my own and finding excuses to put it off for some time now. Yesterday, however, I finally got down to business, with the help of my friend Jo, a vacuum-packed bag of straw, Shipley (who, as you can see, put his own special final touch to the project), an oddly shaped piece of tree my dad found in the woods behind his house, some of my old ripped flares, a parka, and a false beard. I think he has a kind of "Madchester-meets-flasher" look going on. I'm looking at him very much as a first draft scarecrow, and I might go back and modify him, but for now I think he makes an adequate replacement for my wicker man, who sadly rotted and was reduced to a forlorn pile of sticks over the cruel winter months.