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Thursday, 7 January 2016

Another Year, Another Book Project

I think this is my 24th year as a freelance writer, and I’m so busy that I can hardly find time to put up a blog-post. Last year I managed to complete two books, making ten – plus two re-writes – over the past six years. I have yet to start sending out the novel I wrote in Taos between January and April, despite two or three flattering responses from experienced readers. I find it harder and harder to deal with publishers these days. They all seem very young, and grimly determined only to take on replica versions of what sold last year. The history of York Brewery has reached the final draft manuscript stage (90,000 words). We are about to receive thirty or so offerings from a cartoonist who has been taken on board to help illustrate what turned out to be a pretty entertaining story. After that we will review photographs, write a blurb and set about choosing a publisher – either a local outfit or a specialist in beer, pubs and suchlike. I also have to compile a glossary of brewing terms, surely a job for a cold wet afternoon in mid-January.

With a little free time opening up, I would like to pay attention to that novel, get my ‘bike ride across Nebraska’ book out as an e-publication, and give a final polish to another piece that’s gathering dust – an account of my fifty jobs in forty-five years between 1964 and 2009 (More Jobs Than Birthdays). There’s more. Rob Stone, with whom I wrote Chasing Black Gold, is looking to follow up with a second book based around his life in Canada - but right now I have to gird the loins and prepare to launch into the life story of an unusual character I made contact with last year. This is a British guy, a gun fanatic, who went to the States twenty-five years ago and worked as a bounty hunter. There aren’t that many blokes in Luton (where he comes from) who can say that down the pub. So that’s most of this year taken care of….

By way of light relief, here are a few snaps I took during our slow progress down the east coast from Edinburgh to Lindisfarne and on to London last week. I was trying out a new camera, having lost the old one towards the end of our U.S trip in October. Let me be more explicit: I left it in a bourbon distillery in rural Kentucky, my memory doubtless impaired by the product.


I’ve been over the Forth railway bridge a few times, but have never until now had the pleasure of walking around in its shadow. It struck me, while doing so, that it represented not only a wonderful engineering achievement on behalf of its Victorian builders, but also a huge feat of the imagination. Looking at the width of the estuary at that point, and the height of the structure, I wondered who first thought that it might be spanned – and who came up with the idea of such an elegant combination of iron and stone. It was a bold idea, beautifully executed.

Lindisfarne, otherwise known as Holy Island, seen from across the sands, with the tide out
After a couple of days in the Scottish capital we headed south to Lindisfarne (illustrated above by a picture taken earlier in the year) and saw in the new year over a glass of malt whisky, while watching Made In Dagenham on the TV. It was good to be able to stay there overnight and, for once, to have ample time to walk the shores and take in the unusual landscape – or, in this case, the odd scenes offered by upturned boats converted into sheds and workshops.


While A went off sketching, I explored the old lime kilns.


Over the weekend we made our way to London to see my daughter, who lives in Peckham, only a bus-ride from Greenwich. Every time I get on the bus in London these days I have the added pleasure of it being free, courtesy of my pensioner’s pass. It occurred to me, not for the first time, that I might have a very pleasant day out – maybe two or three in succession – just riding around Greater London, and even out into the countryside, without spending a brass farthing. The idea is fermenting in my mind, and I’ve pencilled it in for the late spring. I grew up not twenty miles from the centre in a town well served by London Country Buses, an offshoot of the publicly owned London Transport.

At Greenwich we saw an exhibition about Samuel Pepys, diarist. It dwelt mainly on the high excitement of three major historical events he witnessed: the execution of Charles I, the Great Plague of 1665, and the Great Fire, which wiped out most of central London a year later. As ever with such excursions, the thing that really grabbed my attention was more or less unrelated. I refer to this display of daffodils, which have arrived three months ahead of schedule in the Observatory grounds. Small wonder, then, to read in today’s paper that December was, as well as being the wettest month on record, crazily warm, being 4 degrees Celsius above normal.

Daffodils, Greenwich, January 5th 2016

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