Grovelling apologies for my lack of blogs lately. I could throw myself on your mercy and beg forgiveness but if you know anything about me, you’d know it wouldn’t be sincere anyway so I won’t bother.
Suffice to say, I’ve been snowed under finishing off Wings of a Sparrow which is now scarily close to completion and looks awesome. I just hope you lot like it because as I always say, my readers are the most important people of all. Without you guys buying books, I don’t eat!
On which note, heartfelt thanks to everyone who has kept The Crew at number one for pretty much 9 straight months now.
I’m staggered and not a little humbled by this success as well as by the equally brilliant performance of Top Dog. As a consequence, as soon as Wings of a Sparrow hits the marketplace I’ll be starting work on the third book in the Billy Evans series.
I already have an idea for the story and trust me, it is an absolute cracker. And yes, there will of course be a huge twist at the end!
In fact I’m already excited at the prospect of getting to know Billy again. He really is a naughty boy! 🙂
As a writer who doesn’t exactly shy away from contact with the outside world, I receive a steady stream of emails from people asking me questions. These range from requests for advice on writing to comments about books and all points in between.
All are welcome, all appreciated and all replied to. After all, if someone has taken the trouble to mail me, it’s usually because they have taken the time to read something I’ve written so the very least I can do is respond. Time is, after all, the most valuable commodity any of us have.
However, there is one particular question thrown at me, and on a fairly regular basis, which always provides a warm glow of satisfaction; ‘what’s the next book about?’
The great joy of this question is that it provides both affirmation and confirmation in equal measures. For it provides proof that not only is my work liked, it’s anticipated! Could any author ask for more than that?
What makes it even more special is that my back list isn’t just varied, it could even be described as manic. I certainly can’t think of many authors who’ve published books about subjects as diverse as racism in football and farting although I’m sure there is much a decent psychiatrist could make of that!!
Yet as many people have told me, the eclectic nature of my work is part of the attraction. I am, as one reader put it, the Forrest Gump of lad-lit. I think that was meant as a compliment, it’s certainly how I took it anyway!
This ‘box of chocolates’ reference inevitably leads me onto another oft asked question, how do I pick the subjects for my books? The answer to that is simple, or at least it was.
Like most authors, I have a list of books I intend to write at some point. Some are based on personal experience, a few on a passion for something and others which stem from a simple nugget of an idea I have locked away in what passes for my memory. This list has always been fairly flexible and it’s fair to say that it contains books which will never, ever get written for no other reason than I simply don’t have the required skill to pull them off. And before anyone asks, yes, my autobiography is on there and no, it won’t ever get written. There are lots of reasons for this but ‘no one would ever believe half of it’ and ‘guilty your honour’ are two.
But in the past the underlying reason for the subject matter of a particular book was always purely and simply what I could persuade my publishers to print. A process which all too often was incredibly time consuming and frustrating involving arm twisting, deviousness and even grovelling. Indeed, it is a fact that Billy’s Log, which remains one of my personal favourite books (and is also one of my biggest sellers!) was only published at all because I insisted on having it tacked onto the contract for Barmy Army. But that process took two long years!
However, since the move into eBooks and the speed with which that allows me to both write and publish, things have changed immeasurably. For with the decision on what to write and when being mine and mine alone, not only am I in total control but I can be much more reactive to what my readers are telling me. The astonishing success of both The Crew and Top Dog since they went online (and however you look at it, almost 8 months at number one on both Amazon and iTunes is an astonishing feat) is a case in point. For with Wings of a Sparrow almost complete, I had already taken the decision on what to write next but such has been the volume of requests for a third book in that series, that has now become my next project.
That said, only yesterday I had a ‘bolt-of-lightning’ moment which got me so excited that I had to pull over and send emails about it from a lay-by on the A1 so it might be that things change again!
But that’s the joy of epublishing over traditional publishing. It allows me that flexibility which as a writer, is incredibly liberating.
And as long as my readers are happy to indulge me, I’m only too happy to continue along my meandering path.
God bless ‘em all!!!
One final thing I have to say. Just prior to EURO 2012, the BBC aired a documentary which made all kinds of accusations relating to the potentialfor racism and violence in the Ukraine and Poland and featured amongst other things, former England international Sol Campbell claiming that he thought some black and Asian fans might come home in coffins.
As I write this, it is the morning of the England vs Italy quarter final and without wishing to tempt fate, there has not been a mass outbreak of mass racism at a single game nor has there been a single England fan arrested.
We are all used to this type of media fed hysteria ahead of major tournaments but that does not make it right and it most certainly does not make it acceptable. Surely the time has come for the FA to make a stand against this ridiculous, insensitive and above all insulting style of sensationalist reporting and let it be known that it won’t put up with it any more.
But above all, Sol Campbell has done a huge disservice to his country and the many black and Asian England fans who stayed away from the tournament because of his ridiculous assertions. He was also incredibly insulting to the tournament hosts.
Thankfully, the England fans have already let it be known what they think of him with the brilliant ‘coffin parade’ in Donestsk but if he had anything about him, he’d have the balls to come out and admit he was wrong.
So, it’s underway. Thus far the games have all been great and thankfully we’ve seen barely any of the racism that was so feared pre-tournament.
What we have seen however, are sporadic incidents of violence but of course that was always going to happen wasn’t it. After all, why else are we seeing so many riot police on the streets of the host nations?
And this of course begs the question; why so much talk of one potential problem and so little of the very real one? After all, there have been thousands of inches of print and hour upon hour of television expended on racism whilst the very real threat of hooliganism has received barely a mention in comparison despite the fact that far more people are at risk of being caught up in violence than of being racially abused.
The reason of course, is that the pre-tournament media needed to fill space be it on paper, on line or on air and racism fits the bill perfectly. It is in many ways, the perfect story because we all understand it to be wrong which means that they can say pretty much whatever they like and hype it for all it’s worth sure in that there is no one to provide any kind of contra argument let alone complain.
Conversely, no one cares that some Ukrainian nutter is spewing forth dire warnings of what might happen should any Englishman dare step onto their soil because we all know that such threats are laughable, the media more than most. But they are also well aware that going into hoolie-mode might well attract the wrath of both the FA and the government and why risk that?
No, hooliganism is only news when something happens and then it’s suddenly big news. Occasionally, very big and very bad news.
In many ways, that’s why today is the big test for this tournament. We talk a lot about the Poles, the Ukrainians, the Russians, et al, but thanks to history and our domestic football culture, the English will inevitably always be at the centre of any discussion about hooliganism. They will also be the target. Not just for the local hooligans (and for ‘local’ read Poles, Ukrainians, Russians, Croatians, etc, etc) but for those who seek to soil our nations reputation and undo all the good work that has been done to change the negative perception of our travelling support.
That to me is a real worry. Let’s face it, there are plenty of journalists who would be happy to do whatever it takes to hand Mr Platini our collective heads on a plate and there are certainly enough policemen out there willing to help them do the job. With UEFA hardly being our biggest fans, finding ourselves standing in the dock in front of them is not an attractive proposition.
Don’t get me wrong and make no mistake, England might not travel abroad looking for trouble these days but there are plenty of lads amongst their number who won’t back away if it kicks off. However, those lads are also old hands who know the score and they are well aware of the bigger picture. They know better than anyone how to read an atmosphere but the problems arise when they are placed in a situation where backing off or chilling out isn’t an option left open to them.
As I write this, the majority of the England fans are in place, the sun is shining, the beer’s already flowing and the Police are twitchy. As the day progresses, it may well get more nervy and with our game over early, the fans will have a long evening ahead of them.
Oh yes, tonight is the first real test for this tournament. It’s also a huge test for our reputation. Let’s hope everyone passes it.
I think it’s fair to say that my blog yesterday on the death of the gun-toting Mark Duggan caused something of a stir. Not only did it receive the highest number of hits I’ve ever had but it attracted favourable comments from all sections of the community bar one. But given that he was an American who seemed obsessed with the notion that this is all our own fault because we’re, well… British I didn’t really take it seriously.
However, during the day a question was posed of me and it is one I’ve thought long and hard about ever since. To say it has caused me some angst is an understatement but it is this… what’s the difference between hooligan gangs and street gangs?
Now the simple answer is that street gangs exist 24/7 with the sole intention of bullying and exploiting to further their own activities. They have little or no respect for anyone or anything yet demand it as their right simply through their very existence.
The hooligan gangs are very different. The catalyst for their existence is and always was football and in the vast majority of cases, certainly in my experience, the only thing they are really interested in these days is confrontations with those who wish to confront them. And I use that term confront advisedly. The changing nature of hooliganism and the impact of policing on football have changed things dramatically over the last decade or so but that’s another blog entirely.
The other important thing to note is that the hooligan gangs tend to exist as proper entities only on match days which is when they come together as a group to enjoy their weekly buzz of football and its culture. For the rest of the time the majority of those involved are normal citizens going about their normal business.
This was and is a very simplistic but pat answer. However, whilst considering it in the wake of the riots (and they were riots, not protests) I have been forced to confront a few home truths. For whilst it’s all well and good for me to sit here condemning the vandals, the looters and yes, the murderers, the simple truth is that they weren’t doing anything that football hooligans didn’t do in the past.
Back in the ‘70’s, football fans used to lay waste to town centres on match days with London almost a war zone on occasions and most can recall the devastation England fans caused on their travels at the time.
Equally, anyone who knows anything about the Casual culture knows that a fundamental element of the early days was the fact that the expensive clothes worn back then were rarely ever paid for but were instead liberated. Often through the simple act of invading high-end clothes or sports shops en-masse and emptying the racks before anyone could stop it happening or even on occassions, through the act of ‘taxing’. An activity which involved an individual handing over his gear by way of a charge (or tax) for being somewhere he shouldn’t! Furthermore, jewellers were often targets especially in the West End of London whilst motorway services were on occasions stripped all but bare by coach loads of football lads which is one of the reasons why they were eventually banned. And sadly, plenty of people have died as a direct result of football hooliganism over the years.
As a consequence of this reflection, I have been forced to become a little less judgemental when it comes to those who have ended up in court. Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that anyone who ends up in front of either a magistrate or a judge deserves everything they get but it is fair to say that I know only too well that some of those arrested will indeed have been swept up in things and will have been doing things that they might not necessarily have ever considered doing before. It’s called ‘mob-mentality’ or as my dad used to call it ‘like-mind’.
Dr Clifford Stott of Liverpool University (a man who oddly enough seems to have founded much of his early career on the content of my books) argues that this phenomenon doesn’t actually exist but having experienced it first hand on many occasions over the years and witnessed it on far more, I would argue that Dr Clifford Stott is talking bollocks.
As I say, it is no defence and it is certainly no excuse. But maybe, just maybe, we should consider the idea that some of those who claim to have been caught up in things do actually have a legitimate case. And in such circumstances is either prison or a criminal record really the best punishment to be handed down?
Especially when some kind of public apology together with a bit of community reparation would serve equally well if not better.