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  • Writer's pictureBrent

I have just finished reading Stuart Maconie’s The Pie at Night, a companion piece to the much loved Pies and Prejudice. The new book offers a look at how folk in the north of England spend their leisure time, mainly after dark, and is a nicely written, breezy series of essays which entertain and inform in equal measure. To a northern reader it reinforces a sense of worth, to a southerner I can imagine it comes across as a little self-congratulatory in parts. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it, as Mr Maconie references a myriad of places I know well and not only does he put them in a historical context, he brings them vividly to life in the present day (or night).

He had me in line one, page one: Stalybridge (not Shillingstone!) Station. He had me in the first paragraph of chapter 7: Hyde United and the list of Northern Premier League teams Wigan Athletic played against in the early 1970s. I saw them all, and many under the brand new floodlights at Ewen Fields. But mostly he had me late in chapter 8: admiring the view from the cenotaph on Werneth Low (“the finest war memorial in Britain”, according to the writer), a mile or so from the bit of Hyde in which I spent the first eighteen years of my life.

It’s the first time I have ever seen its name in a book of this kind, and he beat me to it: I daydream that one of these days a collection of my short stories will be published which will include Just the Way it was / Memorial, written in 2012, a dialogue between two women set on top of the (unnamed) Low. The view I describe is my interpretation of the similar picture painted by Mr Maconie.

Meanwhile I have recently completed the new draft of Bailing Out, a revised, extended, improved (I hope) version of the story I originally wrote in 2011/12. It is currently going through the proof-reading and editing process. Watch this space.

  • Writer's pictureBrent

Updated: Jun 16, 2019

The shocking news of the death of David Bowie yesterday knocked me, along with millions of others, right off my stride. More than that, for the first hour or so, with the radio playing clips of his hits and snippets of insight from people who knew him, it felt as though my heart was being torn open.

For Bowie was one of the very few artists who through his words and music really did lead me by the hand through the years from adolescence into young adulthood: those years when you are at your most open and impressionable, wide-eyed and clumsy, greedily drinking in all that is new and vibrant and exciting around you. Watch that man. I did. He showed me what a creative spirit could achieve, what it was to be arresting, exhilarating, disturbing and utterly entertaining.

Like everybody else, I heard a song called Space Oddity in 1969 and I was hypnotised. I bought the album. In the following six years he produced a staggering run of one brilliant record after another, peak-Bowie, each one evolving, inviting us to turn up the volume, to dance, to listen and explore and sing along. Ziggy said he’d like to meet us but he thought he’d blow our minds. Well, he was right.

I loved the acts, the looks, the glamour. I had a feather-cut and a pair of pale blue boots with a bright red star on the sides but was too buttoned-up to go very much further down that road. But mostly for me it was the music: the cascade of great songs, especially of that early period, all the way through to the album Young Americans, a personal favourite. When it was released he was still only 29. Forty years later and he is gone, far too soon. He wasn’t even with us long enough to ever know if there’s life on Mars. But maybe he knows today. Knowledge comes with death’s release, didn’t he once sing?

In 1976 I finally got to see him on stage. He was surrounded by great musicians but I couldn’t take my eyes off him from the opening song (Station to Station – I still have the set-list and the ticket, obviously, priced 35 francs) right through to the second encore (The Jean Genie). I’m not a musician but I do know a great song when I hear one. Neither am I a performer but I can recognise charisma when it hits me hard between the eyes. David Bowie was just so impossibly, bewitchingly cool.

Even his death, it seems, was a form of art. It is a death which like that of a very few others (John Lennon, George Best, Marvin Gaye, for example) has shaken me to the core, has rattled my foundations. Each passing of such a giant has made the world a shade darker. Until the next rare genius comes along.

David Bowie. Born 1947, died 2016, an inspiration since 1969.

  • Writer's pictureBrent

There was too much going on over Christmas and the New Year to write a word. Not even a word in a blog, never mind a word of new fiction. The resolution to get on with the rewrite of Bailing Out, though, should not be hard to keep to once I get into the right frame of mind and find some empty hours.

2015 ended well, with the first batch of 200 copies of Shillingstone Station selling out just before Christmas. I was both surprised and delighted. I hastily ordered a reprint of a cautious 100 and they are disappearing too. To the six shops in Dorset I added one in Hyde where the novel is now on sale: the shop whose morning newspapers I delivered for four years from 1968 to 1972! Although I do have plans to extend the promotion the book into the new year I am actually keener to spend the time writing the next one.

I am steadily devouring the 600+ pages of Adam Sisman’s extraordinary biography of John le Carré (a Christmas present) but ideas for improving Bailing Out are still popping out at me, and this one very definitely is not a story of spying. It is set in Dorset but there the similarities with Shillingstone Station end: no steam trains, no secret agents, no life-defining trips to Latvia.

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