Friday, 9 December 2016

Terra Exitus by Scott M. Liddell

TERRA EXITUS by Scott M. Liddell

I spent yesterday afternoon and evening reading this pithy nihilistic romance by Scott M. Liddell. It’s a novel of ideas in which our narrator is an outwardly inarticulate, seemingly ordinary Scotsman who’s filled inside by rage and grief. Having found his mother dead in a corridor, waiting for A&E, he is shaken entirely out of his old life and sets off, unthinkingly into a new one, down south, in London – a place where people are ‘feral, wide-eyed foxes darting in fear from one overturned bin to another.’ Which sounds about right.
            This is the story of a man who unwittingly becomes a kind of clickbait Messiah. He works in IT so it’s a doddle for him, one boring weekend, to set up a website addressed to all the depressed, disenfranchised people round the world. Almost accidentally he raises a fortune by promising them membership of a society of loners who all would prefer to quietly leave the loathsome planet and go off with the aliens. The money he unwittingly makes he sets about distributing to the needy and trying to do some good, and we soon find out what a crushing and complicated job that is. My favourite scene in the whole novel is perhaps the one where he and his self-appointed manager meet with the parents of a terribly ill child in a pub, so that he can be reluctantly thanked for giving them a massive wodge of cash. Needless to say, it goes a bit wrong, and there’s toe-curling embarrassment all round.
            What I love about this novel wasn’t really the philosophy and the raging against the awfulness of people – it was how wonderful the supporting cast was. Our hero gets himself a new girlfriend when he trips over in Hyde Park and clonks himself unconscious on the wine bottle from her picnic. Their relationship is sweetly drawn – even if she remains a little bit of a romantic cipher. Their time in Paris with her father and wandering the city is a much-needed respite from the darkness of the rest of the book. I also loved the haphazardly-acquired best friend Jacob, who is a gobby posho befriended during a horrible party through the medium of insults. There’s a great pathos underneath the bluster of Jacob and the scenes in which he breaks down are very effective.
            The trouble with a philosophical novel is that it can sometimes feel that the characters and events are being bent too far to carry the writer’s ideas. The danger is that they can start spouting unmediated philosophy at each other. Here, that stuff is cleverly couched in the scenes when our narrator goes on telly to explain his so-called cult. Of course, he starts to actually speak his own mind, and here’s the bit when we get to the heart of the novel’s ideas. It’s also the point where everything starts to go horribly wrong… and there are a few shocks in the last chapters of the novel that made me feel… manipulated, cross, upset, dumbfounded and full of admiration for the ambition and the chutzpah that went into the writing of this slim and thoughtful book.
            Our lead character is a bit of a know-all gobshite, and his girlfriend is a cello-playing, life-affirming paragon and there’s maybe not enough counter-balance to the people-are-shite subtext, but I really enjoyed this book. The writing just rattles along and we really want to know what becomes of these people – which is quite something in a novel of ideas. 

(Terra Exitus is currently 99p on Amazon…!) 

Thursday, 8 December 2016

My Blog is BACK!!!

It’s been such a weird year, in so many ways. One of the strangest things is that I stopped writing my blog. At some point in January I just stopped, and never really thought about doing it again until quite recently. Also, for a while I forgot how to do it, which didn’t help.
            Anyway, how are you? What have I missed..?
            I’d like to get back to writing this. I used to love my blog – in its various incarnations, from 2009 until the start of this year. Mostly I used it to talk about what I was reading, but also what I was working on, and publishing, and about events or appearances and projects.
            So… here goes. Let’s start again. Are you still out there..?

This autumn I’ve been hard at work, every day, on the third volume of my science fiction trilogy for kids, ‘Heart of Mars.’ I’ve been writing about Lora and Toaster and everyone, all over again, and taking them towards the climax of their adventures. Volume two, ‘The Martian Girl’ came out back in September.
            My other big writing project of the year has been to do with ‘Baker’s End’, an audio adventure series that Simon Barnard of Bafflegab Productions and I came up with, almost a full year ago. We had both decided to do create a new project together: something new and funny and good fun. And so now we have a series in which Tom Baker plays himself, reincarnated as a gigantic black cat, having spooky adventures in the strange village of Happenstance, alongside Katy Manning and Sue Jameson. Recording these stories has been a complete blast, and the reviews have been absolutely terrific.

            As were the reviews for my Big Finish Doctor Who story, ‘The Peterloo Massacre’, which came out back in March. I’ve written at least one new script or story for BF every year since the turn of the century, and I don’t think I’ve ever had such a wonderful response. It was great to get a crack at writing what they call a ‘pure historical adventure’, of the kind that Doctor Who used to have right at the very beginning of the TV show’s history. A special feature of this story is that my research was carried out, and my initial notes and ideas were outlined, in Manchester Central Library: just about on the very site of the famous Massacre itself. 


Something I’ve got coming out very soon… ‘The Levenshulme Cats Colouring Book’! Following last year’s ‘Lovely Levy Colouring Book’ I’ve put a whole new series of thirty drawings together and it’s all at the printers right now. It’ll be ready just in time for Christmas. I’ve had an amazing response locally from cat-loving residents sending me photos of their feline chums and vying for inclusion in what I hope will be a very fun book. It’ll be on sale at SumapaBooks here in Levenshulme, or at the People’s History Museum in Manchester, or you could drop me a line (if you’re further afield) ... my email is…


I should tell you about my reading this year. 2016 was the year I really launched into my Beach House Books project – ie, when I really set about reading the books I already own, rather than buying any new ones. I was marginally more successful at doing both those things than I am in most years, but I didn’t still to the resolutions absolutely. 
But I have had an amazing year of reading – which I will tell you about, I hope, quite soon.


Thursday, 14 January 2016

Keeping Busy Doing New Things

Starting Thursday with 'John, I'm only dancing, (again!)' and a mug of sweet tea. I'm throwing myself into new stuff, new work, keeping busy making new things. It's the only way. Today I'm rereading and editing the middle third of 'The Martian Girl' and making notes on a new, secret, ridiculous, glorious, impossible project, maybe writing about my love of David for a charity festshrift - and hopefully reading some more Laurie Lee. Good morning, everyone - hope you're all well, and doing something you really want to be doing today.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

A Treasury of Brenda and Effie

Here's something that it's a real pleasure to announce. I'm going to be the editor of a whole new book of Brenda and Effie short stories, to be published by Obverse for Christmas this year.
Submissions are open...
Obverse Books
55 mins
We're delighted to announce that Obverse have agreed with Paul Magrs to publish the first ever Brenda and Effie short story collection.
Edited by Paul and due for publication at Christmas 2016, this is an open call for pitches !
Pitches should be no more than 500 words long, should contain a complete breakdown of your story and be mailed to treasury - at - by Valentine's Day 2016.
Good luck!

Tuesday, 12 January 2016


Cut Up.

You ought to Single out the people you’ll share vinyl with
The ones you’ll dance around your kitchen when you can

Listening to albums in a house with no grown-ups
Dyeing your hair to stand in the drizzle down town
our clothes are feeling elegant when we come home from school
looking for bootleg tapes,
from your glamorous older sister
now they are finite as you get older
It's the only thing he never was before

There’s gnomic laughter at the changes we never managed,
the people we haven't been yet
and there’s no telling who you'll be friends with
but keep on making good work
be massively symbolic with your homemade covers,
your lousy sound, your giddy crowd noise
but the weirdest thing will be
feeling like an outtake

Friday, 8 January 2016

The Beach House Books Project... Week One!

My 2016 New Year resolution and project is quite a simple one. I've been wanting to have a proper go at this for a number of years, now.

I've got a lot of books to read. All my life I've ended up collecting all kinds of books, in every kind of genre. I tend to read a lot, but my To Be Read Pile (or mountain!) keeps getting ever-larger. Many are crated and boxed up, many are in the attic and cellar, and a bunch are in the Beach House. I intend to make 2016 the year in which I start to tackle my backlog of books.

There's a facebook group already, 'Beach House Books' in which you can follow my progress - and where others are already digging out the books they've neglected, put by, or forgotten about.

The first week of January has been a bonanza of reading for me. I doubt I'll get to read as much in one week again, but it's been a great start for the project. From Star Wars to Calvino's war-time fables... and all kinds of places inbetween.

My favourite book of the week i've just written about elsewhere:

"I just finished 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn' by Betty Smith - a huge, autobiographical novel about the earliest years of the Twentieth Century in the poorest part of Brooklyn. I've meant to read it for years. One of those books in which one of the children in the family at the heart of the book is a voracious reader who you know will wind up becoming a writer, and will tell all the family stories and try to capture their childhood in a big, generous book like this. I've been locked inside this world for four or five days and it's extremely vivid."