Our Friend And Part Of Our Family.

Andy English Roxy

A little over ten years ago Jo and I told the kids we were going out to do some food shopping. Back then, it was the best way of ensuring they wouldn’t want to come along. We were only going to ‘have a look’, that was all. It had taken no time at all to talk Jo into getting a dog as we both loved them, the kids were forging new lives for themselves in Bristol and this may help a little. We both knew that this was going to be the only addition we would now add to the family, so going to ‘have a look’ seemed prudent before making a permanent decision.

We drove through the rolling green countryside of Somerset, not far from where my favourite cider is made. Eventually we found the sharp turning up a track which opened out to reveal a house with fencing around the back, securing the considerable land running up a slope into woodland. Just before the woodland was a large kennel. The entrance to the back was through a large metal country gate, the kind we are always reminded to close in the Country Code. On the other side of the gate was an old red car that looked like it hadn’t moved for some time. From behind the car appeared two mischievous faces, one on top of the other like in a cartoon. One face was terracotta red and white. The other face was dark chocolate brindle with a white inverted wine glass running down the centre of her face, the stem of the glass ran between her eyes and the bowl of the glass opened out to envelop her mouth and jowls. They remained peeping from behind the car for only a split second, but that image will stay with me all my life.

They bounded out from behind the car to greet us, their bums shaking from side to side with excitement and faces scrunched up with unabashed joy. After a very quick discussion with the breeder who explained the female brindle was the only one left from the litter she would sell because although she was a fine example of the breed, her inner eyelids were different colours so she could not win competitions. Within seconds I was back in the car looking for an ATM while Jo stayed to make sure no-one else came along and took her from us. Going to only ‘have a look’ was never a realistic option. I returned with the money and we left for home with the new addition to our family, our Boxer puppy called Roxy.

As a puppy, we could not have asked for better behaviour. She never really messed in the house, apart from mitigating circumstances which I will explore in more detail later and she never chewed anything which was a blessing, as Boxers are infamous vandals. Not one chair leg, sofa cushion or shoe did she destroy.

I say all that, but must confess I am guilty of using rose-tinted glasses which ironically, would have been destroyed as she did eat a £200 pair of Oakley’s I had. I returned home from a night out with work somewhat inebriated to find Jo holding up a twisted piece of metal that resembled part of the frames and it took me a few moments to realise the glasses were no more. Roxy had somehow climbed up onto the dining table upon which my glasses had been laying in assumed safety, skated around on the shiny veneer before devouring said glasses. We knew this to be the course of events as our once pristine, lacquered table now resembled an ice rink where several drunks re-enacted Torville and Dean’s Olympic Gold winning ice dance to Bolero. She also gorged herself on every one of my England Cricket baseball style hats. She would eat one, so I would buy another one, and with canine appreciation she would eat that too, ad nauseam. Literally.

***WARNING – Anecdotes Of Poo – Those who have just eaten may not want to read this next bit***

Then we have the chocolate cake incident. I still shudder at the thought of it. We took our youngest to London on her birthday for a day out with her friend to do some shopping and then on to Planet Hollywood for something to eat. In Planet Hollywood I asked them for a surprise birthday cake, and bless them, they provided a huge chocolate birthday cake. Lush. We took it home as it was so big it would feed us all for days to come. Of course Roxy managed to somehow drag it off the kitchen work surface and devour it all. And when I say ALL, I mean ALL. Oh lordy, she ate every bit of it. But she was not sick and showed no signs of feeling sick. We were worried as we knew chocolate can be very harmful to dogs, but we got a lucky break and all appeared well.

At this point I need to explain that we had an ‘En Suite’ bathroom with a walkway between the bathroom and bedroom that had wardrobes either side of it. The doors of the wardrobes were mirrored and on a sliding track. Roxy would sleep on the floor either next to, at the end of or under our bed, it never failed to make us laugh as her little legs disappeared under our bed.

We were woken by the horrific sound of solids and liquids being expunged from an orifice at high pressure. The noise came from the walkway between the bedroom and bathroom. It eventually ceased and there was the sound of rapid paw steps over to Jo’s side of the bed. I turned the light on to see Roxy sat at Jo’s bedside with an expectant look of ‘uh-oh’ on her face. I turned to look at the walkway. Oh my. I felt like Roy Scheider in Jaws, sat on Amity Island Beach in the homage to Vertigo as the camera moves in and zooms out. Before me was Dante’s third circle of hell, Gluttony, or at least the results of it. All I could scream was,

“OH NO!” in shock and awe.

My wonderful dog had woken with significant digestive discomfort and legged it over to the walkway where all hell broke loose. She was understandably curious and concerned with what was going on back there and tried to investigate. Dogs chasing their tails can be amusing, although not when something like that is taking place. She had created her own little circle of hell, all over the mirrored doors, the floor, the tracks and inside the cupboard. Jo ushered Roxy out of the room and downstairs. I got myself a towel, wrapped it around my face in an effort to filter out the overwhelming smell and started the clean-up process.

I eventually joined Jo downstairs to sleep on the sofa. It was several days before we could sleep in there again.

I could tell many stories about pulling grass from out of her as she ran inside like her ass was on fire, or waking to find her nose in my mouth and the time she coughed canine phlegm into my mouth but that was only the smallest part of our life with Roxy.

She was so very gentle, which for a Boxer is quite something. If we were ever upset about anything, she would always be there in front of us, tail wagging and nervously looking for reassurance that we were okay. She was a begrudging companion to an old rescued Boxer we had for the last few months of his life, but she was a companion to him nonetheless. She was aloof, fuss was on her terms. She was a foot warmer when you wanted to sleep on the sofa. She never showed aggression to other dogs and just wanted to play with them or on them, even once still trying to play with a dog that had just attacked her and opened her side up quite severely. She was great with our Grandson, always so patient with him as he played with her, put shoes on her and sometimes fell on her (all closely supervised by us, of course). When we came home she would sit patiently, waiting for us to take our coats off and hang them up before leaping up with excitement to greet us. She would punch Jim in his testicles every time he came to visit. She only ever showed dislike for one person, which proved her to be a great judge of character. She was my alarm clock, waking me up every morning without fail to go for a walk and she would play by running at me, swerving and jumping out of the way at the last moment. She loved to do this and I loved to watch her do this every morning. Her favourite words were Cheese, Chicken, Treat, Walk and Cats, but not to speak, that would be ridiculous. The back door to our old house had a cat flap and she would poke her head through it to bark at people who were walking along the footpath at the back of our house, like some ground-level animated Gargoyle. She developed over a number of years, a unique way of asking to be let out for a pee by exhaling in a manner that sounded like the groan of a Zombie or one of the creatures in Resident Evil, it amused us but could be rather disconcerting for the uninitiated. She was most comfortable when she could lay on the sofa, roll onto her back and tuck her legs in, like an upturned bean. On one occasion she allowed several cows to lick her face. She was a keen and constant farter.

And then a week and a half ago we were on the way back from our morning walk when she slowed down, not to sniff at anything and not to pee, she just slowed right down and stopped. This was to be the start of our losing her. She went rapidly downhill from there, refusing water and food unless it was given to her by hand and only then in very tiny amounts. She perked up a little on Sunday with a visit from the girls and our Grandson, but not enough. That Tuesday the vet advised we could have tests done but they would only confirm what was causing the inevitable and there was little to be done. So Jo and I had reached the day we had known would always come and we made the hardest decision. To carry on would have been selfish and cruel on our part and would not have taken into account her comfort and quality of life.

We both held her as she went and our hearts broke.

You can’t choose your family, only your friends so they say. But Jo and I were so very lucky to have been able to choose this member of our family who was also our dearest friend, bringing us so much happiness in the 10 years and four months she was here. We no longer have our alarm clock, no-one to eat that little bit of cheese, no-one ‘zombie breathing’ to be let out to pee and now the corner of the sofa looks empty.

But in the last ten years we have laughed so much, smiled at each other over her as she snored laying between us and have had the best companion and friend we could have wished for. We would not change a minute.

Goodbye Roxy – X

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Thoughts On Submissions And Queries To Literary Agents

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Before I start I wish to clarify I have not yet submitted, I am not published and I share these thoughts with no inside knowledge. But I can read, I can observe which can in turn, inform what I have to say. This is just as much for me as it is for anyone else.

Literary Agents on both sides of the Atlantic speak of the same mistakes they see in queries time and time again. These appear to be the main offenders.

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1. Who are you submitting to?

Do not just pick a handful of agents from whatever source you’re using. Look into what genres they represent. Is that your genre? If it is, great, continue your research. If not, move on. If you think, ‘They could do with a change’ or ‘My book will be like a beacon of light showing them the way forward and they couldn’t possibly turn this one down’ then you are woefully mistaken and they will more than likely not read beyond the opening sentences of your letter.

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2. Are they accepting queries? 

Agents at times will have periods when they do not accept submissions. This will be due to their books being full and they need to commit time to their current clients or they simply will not accept unsolicited submissions. How selfish of them eh?! You should be able to establish if they are accepting queries or not from your source material or the Agent’s website. There’s no point in spending all that time and nervous energy in preparing your submission when it will be deleted or filed under ‘Bin’ without being opened.

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3. Get their name right! 

I’m not even kidding. I saw a tweet from an Agent, let’s call him Mr Smith, he works for an Agency, let’s call it The Birmingham Agency. In that tweet he told of a query to him that started Dear Mr Birmingham! I’m going to bet he did not request a full MS from that author. The devil is in the details, especially details like the Agent’s name.

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4. Your book is not as important to them as it is to you.

Yes your book is important to you. But that doesn’t make it automatically as important to an Agent. They may get dozens of queries everyday and they appreciate you have slaved long and hard on it, had sleepless nights, moments of abject despair and moments of euphoric highs. They know this all too well. But they do not share those feelings and nor should they. If and when you become an Agent’s client, then I think it is fair to expect a greater amount of attention and appreciation, that’s part of the deal. But do not expect it at the point of query. An Agent I know of received a query advising them in the opening paragraph how hugely important the book was and would be to the Agent. I understand that query did not go well. Be confident in what you have written, like it and sell it by all means, but some humility can go a long way.

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5. Do not give deadlines to an Agent.

They are busy people, but people nonetheless. If they are going to read your work they will get around to it when they can. If they are going to reply, they will get around to it when they can. Nothing you can say in your query letter will change that. Do not give them a deadline by which to get back to you (that has happened). It will not go down well. If you have not heard within 8 weeks of sending, then a polite and professional follow up will suffice (that seems to be the consensus among Agents).

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6. Give them what they ask for.

If an Agent asks for a cover letter and the first 3 chapters, send them exactly that. If they ask for a cover letter, a synopsis and the first 2 chapters, send them exactly that. They are not just looking for an excellent book, they are also looking to see if they can work with you. If you fail to follow simple instructions at the start, that tells them you may not be able to work with them and potential publishers. Do not send your work on pink paper in a nice, flowery font. Do not send them balloons, confetti or cakes. Actually, on that last point, send me the cakes – email me for my address. I will accept all submissions and will send a response to every submission I receive. I like cake. There, I said it.

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7. It’s a business, deal with it.

Capitalism is not for everyone, but until something better comes along, we’re stuck with it. You have to accept that Agents and Publishers must be able to make money, filthy lucre, green, mulah, kerching, bread and dough. If you are not comfortable with this, then maybe you need to think about the traditional route to publishing and is it for you? It may be time to think about self publishing or establishing a self efficient, non-profit, cooperative nation-state of your own that uses exchange of services rather than currency as an economic system and we can all just get along, but that’s just crazy talk. Who would want that?!

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8. Think about it, research is easy. In these modern, fancy times of horseless carriages and the internet, research is no great effort. It’s a question of clicking on several buttons, reading some stuff and making notes. What could be easier than that? So before you send off your queries, do some research. You can look people up on their website for submission information and look them up on Twitter to see what they’re like and if you could be a fit. If they seem like someone you could get along with, they’re accepting queries from your genre, you know how they want the query and in what format, then you might be ready to send off your work. Good luck!

I just hope I take my own advice when the time comes.

What is an idea anyway? Guest blog on creativity and research by Wood Dickinson

A great piece about the amount of work required before you can even begin to write your book. There are no shortcuts and as I found and am still finding, the more research and background work you put in, the more the words and creativity will flow.

Creative Writing with the Crimson League

987763_man_thinkingPlease join me in welcoming Wood Dickinson today to crimsonleague.com!

Wood is an award-winning filmmaker at renegade Pictures. Today he’s going to discuss a topic as applicable to novels as it is to screenplays: how to develop an idea, and the importance of research to our writing and our creativity.

This post is one of the longer guest posts I’ve featured, but it’s well worth the read!

Recently I was faced with answering the question, “What is an idea?”

I was working with a first time writer, trying desperately to teach him about the formation of an idea. He told me he had tons of ideas and thought he could write movie scripts and make movies like crazy.

After a painful few weeks, I decided to show–not tell–this would-be writer what an idea really looks like. Here’s what I did and said.

“What you call an idea is really just…

View original post 1,018 more words

Get On With It Man, Quit Stalling.

As Popeye said, “I can’t stands no more.”

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I’ve left my book alone for as long as I can take. I know I was meant to put it away, forget it and get some detachment, which is all well and good. But that is difficult when it’s in my thoughts almost every waking minute and quite a few sleeping ones also.

I timed it all rather well as I had The Ashes to distract me over the last few weeks with another great victory for England against Australia. Huzzar. For my friends on the other side of the Atlantic and further afield, if you wish to understand what Cricket is all about please click on this link.

Aside from watching Cricket, I have used this ‘down time’ wisely (I hope). I have studied self editing books to the point where I can’t take another sentence written by Sol Stein, sorry Sol. I’m sure he’ll be distraught at this news and I hope he doesn’t stop practising, he’ll make it one day.

I have also been tough on myself in terms of what has to be cut from the book, which is a considerable amount. I know what my first draft is and that is, as Hemmingway said about all first drafts, ‘shit’. A literary master at work there, wielding the subtlety of the English language like a 12 gauge shotgun. I have whole sequences to cut. Although I love the writing in some of them, they serve no real purpose in moving things forward, but I will file them away and recycle the bones somewhere else, hopefully. I have characters to cull and some to merge.

I have also settled on the outline for the sequel and have started the research for settings and continued world building, well, more the odd extension here and there. It is certainly easier starting work on the sequel now the world of my book has been established in the first.

I have started to research which Agents may suit me and vice versa, how to write submissions and doing the groundwork on networking. I am beginning to think of myself as a writer, but one that is not yet published. Yet. I have a determination I have never experienced before with any endeavour. It may not happen, but it will not be for the lack of effort or desire. I will not be left thinking in years to come if I could have done anything more to make this work. As a writer, performer or artist of any kind you are asking others to share the belief you have in what you do and you owe it to them and yourself to give your endeavour every chance to succeed and exist in the mind of your audience, especially if you want them to pay for it. Yes I want people to eventually pay for my work. Yes I am comfortable with that.

Enough of this for now. If Hemmingway were alive today, I’m sure he would say, ‘You have a shit load of work to do.’ Wouldn’t he?

Life, The Twitterverse and Everything: Why Should You Use Twitter And How?

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It has been kindly suggested to me by my fellow writing blogger Lara Chase that not everyone on here may be familiar with or confident in using the magnificent phenomenon that is Twitter and it may be a good idea to share my experience in how to use it and get the best from it. But to begin with, why would you want to use yet another social networking / blogging site? Well, let me explain why I feel Twitter is a great thing to have at our fingertips before I look at how it can more specifically help us writers.

1: Information Will Arrive On Your Timeline As It Happens.

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I follow a guy who lives in Japan, no particular reason other than we share a love for the Terry Gilliam film Brazil. He can hardly speak English and I speak no Japanese at all. But when the awful earthquake and subsequent Tsunami struck the coast of Japan in 2011, he was only a few miles up the coast from the main areas effected. I found myself in the surreal position of my friend describing the horrific events in real-time as I lay in bed at home in Buckinghamshire in the UK. It was terrifying. How else other than through Twitter could that have happened?

2: A Powerful Tool For Democracy And Good.

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During the Arab Spring uprisings as oppressive governments tried to restrict journalism to heavily controlled areas and censored reports, much of the only information coming out of those areas arrived by Twitter. The people on the ground risking everything to obtain freedom for their country were not only able to contact the outside world to make sure we knew what was happening but they could also use it to coordinate their efforts.

On a lighter note, in 2011 some areas of London were subject to rioting where property was damaged and destroyed. On the following day, instigated by groups on Twitter and Facebook, the people in these areas took to the streets in large ‘Flash Clean Up Mobs‘ to help those most effected by the damage to get cleaned up and back to normal as soon as possible. How great is that?

3: The Potential To Communicate With Those We Admire

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If you’re a fan of Justin Bieber, Stephen Fry, Ricky Gervais, John Cusack or Kim Kardashian (I follow some but NOT all of these people), you have the potential to communicate with people you would never have to the opportunity to otherwise, unless you going to take stalking up as a hobby. I have enjoyed brief chats or retweets from people I admire such as Michael McKean (David St Hubbins in Spinal Tap), Benicio Del Toro and Sam Neil, how cool is that?! But don’t worry, I haven’t hobbled anyone.

4: You Can Get Stuff.

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Quite often Twitter gives you access to get stuff. Stuff that you might desire like tickets to concerts long believed to have been sold out. Some examples: My wife and I like the British comedians Reeves and Mortimer. They tweeted they were filming a new sit com and if you were among the first few hundred to follow their new Twitter account you could get tickets to see the filming of it. We did and we did. My wife has had dinner with a restaurant critic for one of our national newspapers as they were ‘at work’ and we got front row seats for another British comedy show. All from Twitter. Bargain.

So How Does This Twitter Thing Work?

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It works like most blog sites in that you will need to follow people to receive their posts (Tweets). You can do this by searching for individuals by name or Twitter name, for example my Twitter name is @anglish15 . You can also search by subject or key words, for example Literary Agent. Once you start to follow a few accounts Twitter will make recommendations to you. Like most blog sites. for others to view your posts they need to be following you so it helps to be reciprocal if people follow you and on Fridays it is popular to recommend people you follow by tweeting their twitter names with the Hashtag #ff (Follow Fridays).

Which brings me on to Hashtags. By entering the #character before one or more words (no other punctuation or spaces) it links the tweet to any other tweet with the same Hashtag. If I share by blog in a tweet and use the Hashtag #shortstories anyone who searches this Hashtag can view my tweet. It is a great way of promoting or tagging your tweet. You can also use # to search for subjects and accounts to follow.

Each tweet can only be a maximum of 140 characters long including text, punctuation, Hashtags and link addresses. So in this instance the answer to Life, the Twitterverse and everything is not 42 but 140.

How Do I Use It As A Writer?

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I am going to be editing and revising my book so I am researching Literary Agents, Submissions and anything I can learn that could help me get that deal. I follow Literary Agents on Twitter which is a great to research them, what they want to read and who they work with. Some Agents are also happy to answer questions you may have at certain times, but don’t web stalk them, they’re people too! They will tweet when they are prepared to take questions from you, so be patient. It’s also a great way of staying in touch with other writers on a more informal basis. As I said before, one of the joys of Twitter is its immediacy.

So what are you waiting for? Get on there and get tweeting, and if you don’t mind, give me a follow! @anglish15

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Don’t Stop, Keep Going : The Devil On My Shoulder

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It’s been three weeks since I finished the first draft of my debut novel. I printed it and placed it neatly on a table at home. Initially, there was the euphoria you would expect. I felt I had accomplished something significant, I smiled and did some internal whooping, but not out loud. I also drank some Rum, quite a bit as it goes.

I started this blog which so far, has been a great experience. My confidence is growing, I’m reading some great blogs, it’s introducing me to a community of writers that I would otherwise never have had the opportunity to engage with and I would like to think I am making some new friends on here. I have written a few short stories from the world of my book, which has been a handy little exercise. It means I get my daily fix of writing, I could go cold turkey at anytime but right now, I choose not to. I am researching how to edit, revise and rewrite my book. It’s my first, first draft. I know it’s a bit of a dog at the moment. A good and faithful dog that wont crap on your carpet, but it does smell and needs several good baths and a haircut.

But. My book. It sits on my left shoulder, dressed in a cheap, bright red onesie, clip-on horns and holding a long red fork. It whispers in my ear,

‘Hey, come on. Start rewriting, editing and revising. What are you waiting for? Get stuck in.’ I want to. I really want to. I want to put down the books I am reading, even though I am enjoying them immensely and start rewriting mine. Balls to waiting, nothing gets done by waiting, waiting’s for suckers etc.

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I know I have to wait, do the research, the hard work and take time away from my book. I have to keep going and stick with the plan. Writing and revision is the pay off for the work I’m doing now. But lordy, it’s hard. This book has been a big part of my life for so long, I have had the luxury of getting lost in it on an almost daily basis for longer than I care to remember and I am of course desperate to make it the best book I possibly can. I know however, a little knowledge is a very dangerous thing. So that means I must keep working, researching and learning. I will not be fooled into thinking I have done enough when there is a tiny and honest chap at the back of the room patiently holding a hand up saying,

‘Um, pardon me. Sorry. I don’t want to interrupt but I’m not sure you’ve done enough yet. Sorry. Gosh. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to start your edit and revision yet. Um, gosh. Sorry.’ He is well mannered with thick floppy hair, terribly, terribly English and understated. But damn it, that charming, smug bastard is right. Bless him.

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And yes, I am aware of the irony in the amount of telling there is in this blog rather than showing. See, I’m learning.

The Versatile Blogger Award

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Pay It Forward is not just a saccharin, schmaltzy film with Kevin Spacey and the boy who can see dead people.

Paying it forward is also very much the spirit of The Versatile Blogger Award and having been so generously nominated by Lara S. Chase (if you’re not already following her, I thoroughly recommend you do so) I intend to ‘pay it forward’ by listing the blogs below that I have found to be really interesting, useful and enjoyable. Tradition also requires I give seven fun facts about myself. I will adhere to tradition.

My blogs of choice, in no particular order are:

1. Lionheart Writers – As a relatively new writer, I find the tips and advice on this blog very helpful and reassuring.

2. The Wandering Barefoot Editor – You know how you just enjoy somebody’s style as you read? Well I enjoy his!

3. Valeriu Dg Barbu Blog – We all love a bit of poetry and I find his so rich and full of colour.

4. 300 Stories – For the sheer effort alone of taking up the challenge of writing 300 short stories in a year, this is one blog that deserves your follow. I’m also really enjoying the stories.

5. Rebecca McKeown Writes – Her short story had me hooked, check it out!

6. Writer’s Resource Blog – It does what it says on the tin. A must for anyone with an interest in the world of publishing. Fascinating articles and tips.

7. Street of Dreams – Good thought provoking blog about writing, art and everything.

8. Alan James Keogh – A young writer posting excellent short stories for us to read, for free, gratis, no money required. It’s good stuff!

9. Kurt Rees – Great, accessible poetry that makes me think. I can’t ask for more than that.

10. Thrilling Writing – Andrew marsh’s blog with great tips on writing and the creative process.

And now seven facts about me.

1.  The greatest day of my life was when Jo and I were married in a little snow covered town at the foot of a mountain in Austria.

2. My favourite all time film is Lawrence of Arabia – You could take any frame of that film and hang it on your wall.

3. I have a Boxer called Roxy, she wakes me up at 6am every day to go for a walk, I pick up her poop, I feed her and she has not said thank you once. 10 years and never a thank you. I am not bitter about this.

4. My favourite Cheese is called Epoisses. It smells foul.

5. My favourite book is Catch-22. The film is not so good.

6. I once stood behind John Hurt in the canteen at the BBC. He got a sandwich. I got a black coffee. I do not recall what he had in the sandwich. I am almost 100% certain he does not remember it as fondly as I do.

7. When I was younger (much younger) I was a bad actor. I was in an episode of a TV programme called Dramarama, as listed here. The guy who was ‘The Baddy’ was also the Zombie being beaten with pool cues in this amazing scene in Sean of The Dead. We did not stay in touch, shame.

Take care and all the best,

Andy