Photosynthesis

Photosynthesis. Plants. See what I did there?

One of my favourite things to listen to is the magnificent Desert Island Discs. I rarely get chance to listen to it on the radio, instead gobbling it in podcast form. Sometimes I’ll smash through six or seven of them in a day.

For those that haven’t heard of it, the format is simple. A famous person is interviewed about their life and career. The list of interviewees ranges from politicians to musicians and writers. Each castaway chooses 8 records to take with them when they’re stranded on a desert island. Hence the title.

Since lockdown began, I’ve been changing what music I listen to more often than I’ve changed my pants (although rest assured, I still change those daily). It all depends on mood.

When writing Lionhearts, my very angry novel about northern pride and the insidious impact of nationalism, I was hammering the music of Idles. They’re a ferocious live act and their songs are not an easy listen. Idles ramped me to write the prose style and content that I needed to for this book.

I should add, I listen to music before writing, not during. The way athletes get pumped up in the dressing room before a match.

Now that novel is in the can and waiting to be sent out into the world, I’m moving on. The rage I needed for Lionhearts has passed and left me empty on the inside. I need comfort now. I need laughs. I need a change.

I started another book, Static, that has hit the skids. Despite finding the voice I wanted, I didn’t quite find the joy in it that I needed. The story didn’t light me up. Didn’t keep me thinking about it in the way that my other novels have. The foundations are there, maybe just the timing is all wrong.

I took a deep breath. Dusted down my pride. Put it on pause. 40k words on hold.

I hate not having a project. I have to be busy. Putting this book on hold, consigned me to empty time. My nemesis.

As I do when I feel down or slightly off, I turn to music. This one was an easy choice. I fell back to an old favourite. A firm classic in our household, so much so that my three year-old daughter knows all the words.

Photosynthesis by Frank Turner.

A defiant song about living life your own way and on your terms, it’s the antidote to work and all the other things that sometimes take up space in my head.

“But no-one’s yet explained to me exactly what’s so great, about slaving fifty years away on something that you hate.

Or by meekly shuffling down the path of mediocrity, if that’s your road then take it but it’s not the road for me.”

Blasting this song and having a little dance in the kitchen with my daughter helped me to let go of the novel that wasn’t working. Like when it helps me forget the drudgery of the day job, this song helped my worries that this novel wasn’t quite right slip from my mind.

Life isn’t about being mediocre or making do. It’s about finding what lights you up. About following that through. Making the best of it.

For me, that’s what writing is about too. Pausing a novel is hard when writing time is limited. But for now, it was the right call. I needed to clear my head. Fill up the well with books and music and get some joy back.

I took the time out. I turned to Frank. He provided. A weight has been lifted.

And the best part of it all? I’ve cracked what I’m writing next.

Long story short. We all deserve a little bit of joy, especially with what’s going on in the world right now. Find your joy. Find your desert island discs – the songs that keep you going and save your life on demand. The songs that help you remember that work is not who you are. That writing and reading and expressing yourself can keep you human and sane and happy. Focus on those things and do your best to keep smiling.

Looks after yourselves.

Dan

A Compendium of Good Things

Times are tough for everyone. We’re stuck indoors. There’s allegedly nothing to do. With that in mind, I thought I’d share a few things that I’ve enjoyed recently in the hope that they can bring a bit of cheer to others.

Books

Nothing Important Happened Today by Will Carver

This book absolutely blew me away. In a way that no other book has done before. Writers like Richard Thomas mention that when they first read Fight Club, it opened up what could be possible for them in terms of writing. This book is the same for me.

Partly written in the collective first person, this book is brutal, funny and sharp as hell. It’s experimental, without ever becoming too obtuse. It opens with nine people simultaneously hanging themselves on a London bridge and descends into hell and beyond from there.

Six Stories Series by Matt Wesolowski

I’ve raved about Matt Wesolowski on this site before. The opening book in the series, Six Stories captured my attention as I’m a sucker for an epistolary novel. But as the series expands, so does the scope and the quality of these books. Four books into this series and I’m already desperate for another.

Written in the style of a true crime podcast, the Six Stories series manages to expertly mimic the podcast format on the page (no mean feat) whilst marrying both crime and horror references. Highly recommmended.

David Peace’s Work

Come for the football, stay for the murder. I was hooked by The Damned Utd. The film is one of my all-time favourites and the book is even better. But if swearing and alcoholic football managers aren’t your bag, then savage murders and sadistic coppers might be.

Whilst the Red Riding Quartet isn’t exactly new, I’m yet to meet anyone who has read even one of them. They are missing out in a big way. NOTE – I have since been corrected by James Everington that he is the one person I know that has read these books. Be sure to check out James’ work too!

Peace’s prose isn’t for everyone. It’s a fever dream and a panic attack on the page. You beg for the end of the story for some solace and some peace of mind, yet when it comes you’re bereft that it’s over.

Belinda Bauer

I read Blacklands so quickly, the pages blurred before my eyes. I gobbled this book down inside a couple of days at the start of this year. It’s up there as one of my favourite reads of the last few years. Touching and brutal, subtle and blunt. It covers a range of emotions.

The main character, Stephen is only 12 and is so believably written that he draws you in from the first sentence. The story has the feel of an inevitable car crash. Something you can see coming yet are powerless to stop. Violence rushes towards you and all you can do is hang on and hope everything will be alright.

Ruth Ware

I’ve been really enjoying In A Dark, Dark Wood. It’s my current read and like all good thrillers, there’s layers upon layers of intrigue and detail. I always enjoy the thrill of the chase in books like this and so far, this has been a very engaging chase.

Lucy Foley

I’ve listened to both of Lucy Foley’s thrillers on Audible. They’re multi-perspective stories with a a variety of narrators. Not only have both books been well read but they’re really well written. Each character has their own unique perspective and motives, which makes for great reading (listening). I think I preferred The Hunting Party over The Guest List, just slightly, because of the setting, but both are worth a download.

Will Dean

Will Dean came to my attention because there aren’t a lot of English writers who can pull off Scandi-Noir. We’ve had some great pseudo versions of this set in Shetland and other places but Will Dean breaks the mold because he lives in Sweden and writes so convincingly about Swedish culture and people. His protagonist, Tuva Moodyson, is a brilliant character and the whole Twin Peaks vibe of where she lives is utterly compelling. Three books into the series, I really want more.

Jonathan Wilson

I’ve read a lot of books about football and most of the best ones have been written by Jonathan Wilson. His books Inverting the Pyramid, Behind the Iron Curtain and The Barcelona Legacy are at the pinnacle of football writing. Knowledgeable without being smug, Wilson gets to the nub of so much football history it’s hard to see him as anything other than an oracle.

Podcasts

Writer’s Routine

I love this show. It’s one of the few podcasts that I have alerts set up for. The host Dan Simpson, is genial and knowledgeable. He keeps the writers pumped up and on track really well.

And he’s landed some wonderful guests. Ian Rankin. Ann Cleeves. CL Taylor. To name just a few. The guest list of this show is absolutely premium and every episode has a lesson for other writers. Highly recommended.

The Other Stories

This podcast is all about dark stories. Horror, crime, Sci-fi. As long as there is a dark theme, these guys are putting it out there. Not only are the stories produced really well written, but the production of them is also top notch, with some brilliant narrators on board. Each episode clocks in at about twenty minutes, so you can get through a decent number a day. With new themes open for submissions all the time, it’s a great place for writers to get involved too.

This Is Horror Podcast

A podcast for writers, readers and creators featuring the best in the horror genre and beyond. I co-hosted this podcast with Michael Wilson over the first couple of years it was running. We had an absolute blast and I’m proud to have been able to help it get off the ground, but in the last few years, these guys have really upped their game. The quality of both the guests and the interviews are brilliant. It’s a must-listen for writers, regardless of whether you read or write horror.

Outside Write

There isn’t a lot of football being played at the moment and holy crap do I miss it. That said, the Outside Write podcast and its back-catalogue has been helping me through my withdrawal. Really well put together, the podcast covers football stories and themes from across the world. From the former Yugoslavia to South America, they’ve got it covered.

TV

Ozark

This is the best show I’ve found in recent times. I’m halfway through the second series and I’m loving it. Violent and tense, this show has great characters that you invest in immediately. Well written and really well acted, this is one I’m on until the final scene. I adore it.

Better Call Saul

What can be said about this show that you haven’t already read? I was skeptical at first. Breaking Bad ended so well, there couldn’t be a need for this show, or so I thought. But after 5 series, I love it at least as much, if not more than the original. The dynamic between Saul and Kim makes them one of the great onscreen duos in TV history. There I said it. What a show.

Sunderland ‘Til I Die

I’m not a Sunderland fan and apart from a much loved game managing them on Football Manager 09, I’ve never cared about their results, but this show has hooked me big time. A look behind the scenes at a club that routinely shoots for the stars and lands on its face in the gutter. It’s as compelling as the dramas listed above. Wonderful.

That’s it for now. I’ll check in with new books, podcasts and TV recommendations periodically throughout the lockdown to try and share a few things that are keeping my brain ticking over.

Stay safe. Stay well. Stay home.

Dan