Thursday, 20 May 2010

Shunned and overlooked

A few weeks back, I was in the audience at the Erin Arts Centre for Mannslaughter and Mayhem, which saw three leading Scottish crime novelists entertain a full house with plenty of insight (and no little wit) into the life of a writer.

Stuart MacBride, Donna Moore and Allan Guthrie were brought to the Isle of Man thanks to the efforts of Chris Ewan, Island resident and author of the Good Thief’s Guide novels, and the support of the Isle of Man Arts Council.

It was a fine night, despite the fact that I’d not read any of the authors’ books (something I’m in the process of remedying), but I don’t think it is essential for such an event anyway, particularly if you are as fascinated by writers talking about writing as I am. (This, of course, is not the same thing as a journalist turning up to interview an author and not having read any of his material, which should be a shooting offence)

First up, kudos to Chris (and his team of helpers) for pulling such an event together; it worked very well, particularly the nice touch of having the children’s crime writing award results on the same night, with the youngsters present. I’m not sure whether this is the kind of event Chris wants to repeat on a regular basis, but the full house at least showed the Manx public’s hunger for such events is there.

It’s a shame, then, that the Island’s literary scene is so poorly served. You can’t seem to swing a guitar around your head for fear of hitting a music festival, we have a thriving theatrical scene and artists have their exhibitions. Mainstream bands and singers are brought to the Island, along with a regular supply of comedians.

But when it comes to us lowly writers, there’s barely a ripple in the Manx literary scene, if indeed there is a scene in the first place. Maybe sitting listening to authors talk about writing and reading out extracts from their books isn’t considered sexy when compared with comedians forcing you to cough up a lung, or jumping up and down screaming and throwing your knickers at some heartthrob singer. But, hey, us fanatical readers – and writers – can get just as excited, in our own little way.

I can only hope the Manx literary scene is better served in the years to come. Hopefully, Mannslaughter and Mayhem will be just the beginning. I have one or two ideas of my own, but that's all they are for now, vague notions. But one day, by Manannan's mighty sword, we'll show 'em.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

On European tour with the last of the summer wine...

In the words of the late, great Richard Harris, immortally committed to moviedom in Eastwood's classic, Unforgiven, I can say only this. 'Eat shit and fried eggs...'

Today, after what seems like an eternity, but in fact was only ten days, I can finally sense an end to the pretty miserable, depressing and shattering rottenness to which I've been subjected. And if there's one thing a blog is good for, it's allowing the writer an opportunity to drag everyone else down to share in that misery.

It started as a cough, so I took some cough mixture. Then a sore throat, so I bought some Strepsils. There followed headaches, and pains in legs, so I took some painkillers. Then a draining tiredness, so I took a day off work and took to my bed. There then followed the weekend, during which I realised this wasn't a bug I could shake off in a couple of days. So last Monday I did what I hate doing, and went to see Doc. He told me I had a chest infection, and a touch of bronchitis for good measure. So he gave me some antibiotics. 'That should do the trick,' he reckoned.

By Tuesday night, with the bronchitis now picking up the baton and leading from the front, I just wanted to curl up with the wheelie bins and let the refuse collectors deposit me somewhere. Back to see Doc, and some extra-strong tablets. And an inhaler. Three days later, and I'm now managing a whole hour, on occasion, without coughing my guts up. Result.

So there you have it. And all this just two weeks after I turned forty. All those well wishes, cards and presents, and 'life begins at forty' rubbish - you can take them back. I've reverting to mid-thirties. So there.

While there's no such thing as a good time to get sick (apart from when I broke my collarbone playing footy just a few days before World Cup 2002 started, resulting in three weeks off work), the last couple of weeks have been particularly bloody frustrating.

First, I'm now way behind on editing the Steve Joughin autobiography over at Nemesis Publishing, with all manner of deadlines looming. Second, I had just caught the buzz for a new writing project, and was all set to dive in. Not even dipped my toe yet. Third, there are 101 other jobs that need doing, including finishing the Nemesis website ready to go live, a backlog of books to review on this blog, and a cooker to clean, although the latter has been on the to-do list for so long that I think MrsQ may just have forgotten about it.

That said, it's not all been doom and gloom. This weekend I get to print out and proofread the first issue of MUSE, the new literary e-zine over at Litopia, which I've edited. And it looks mighty fine, too. The launch should be in the next week or two.

Also, I took a call yesterday from the new president of the World Manx Association, which next year celebrates its centenary. He wanted to know if, given the research I undertook for The Manx Connection, which saw me globetrotting to the various Manx societies, I would be interested in being co-opted on to a special committee set up to organise the centenary celebrations. Naturally, I said hell yes.

Finally, at least the infection and bronchitis didn't start this weekend, just as I prepare to head off on Monday night to Crete. I'm leaving MrsQ, MasterQ and BabyQ behind and heading to the land of minotaurs with my old dear Ma. My late grandfather was part of the Manx Regiment, the British Army's crack Ack-Ack gunners who battled the Germans at Souda Bay on Crete in May 1941.

Eight thousand troops were killed in about ten days of fighting, roughly a 50/50 split between Allied and German forces. My grandfather was one of the 17,000 Allied forces captured when Crete finally fell to the Germans, and he spent four years in a prisoner of war camp. I went to Crete as a youngster, but never visited Souda Bay. Ma has never been there - indeed, she's not been abroad since 1975 and is now 76, so this is very much a pilgrimage for her, and my aunt and uncle, who are coming along for the ride.

So, I'm heading away with three relatives in their mid-seventies, none of whom are exactly light on their feet or overly mobile. I'm there to drive them around, lug their bags in and out of hotels and generally make sure they're okay. More than one person has commented that it has the potential to turn into an episode of Last of the Summer Wine. My main worry is this - if the bronchitis isn't sorted out in the next 48 hours, it will be them looking after me.

But regardless of how I'm feeling, it promises to be a pretty emotional time. I'll let you know how we get on, with a few photos for good measure.