Tuesday, 31 December 2019

2020 Hindsight

Well, it's that time of year again, when we look back at what we've achieved and forward to what we want but fail to change. Casting my gaze around my office I see barely-glanced-at A4 print outs with things like:

Goals for 2019

Write a book (Aa Apple) - failed, but I've begun compiling my 2000-2020 compilation of short stories called Hidden In The Old Stone Wall, which will hopefully be ready early 2020

Coffee Cup Killer – failed, but I've written a few more chapters and figured out a few more in my head, plus have some checked at West Lothian Writers with some great feedback

Don't Give Up – success! I have not given up.

Plant bushes in front garden – failed. But I have planted 20 tree seeds in pots in the green house, Hopefully they sprout in the spring

Publish another short story - failed. But Thick as Thieves is out now published in a compilation called Knucklehead Noir by Coffin Hop Press.

I also, as if that wasn't enough, can see another A4 print out right next to it that says:

2019 New Year's Resolutions

Good Hour Every Day : Music, Language, Write – failed
Speak Japanese every even day – failed
Exercise 3 times a week – failed
No alcohol – failed
Work 9 hour days – 4-4-1 – failed
Tai chi every morning – failed, but did do it a lot of mornings
Go to bed at 10:30pm - failed
Wake up at 7am – failed
Seven fruit and veg a day – failed
Spend less money – failed
More family time – failed
More garden time – failed
Save money – failed
One coffee max – failed
More water – failed
Be more patient – failed
Cook more – failed
Write one letter a week – failed
Reduce plastic waste – I think we actually may have succeeded with this one with our use of ecobricks to insulate the loft rafters. So much so that my wife was getting sick of ecobricks scattered around the house and stopped buying plastic bottles of orange juice.
Walk more – failed
More board games – failed, although we did play Risk with a few of the local kids which seemed to go quite well. "World domination, kids! It's what it's all about!"

I only looked at and read these sheets of paper twice. Once when I put them up at the end of 2018, and again just now. So I can safely say that didn't work. 

Perhaps I was unrealistic in my goals. Just too many. My most successful year of fulfilling New Year's Resolutions I think was a couple of years ago when I only had one:

Don't be an Asshole

which was later downgraded to :

Try not to be an Asshole

So what then can we take away from this? It's better to have a goal and risk it unmet, than to have no goal and achieve nothing. Then again it's quite nice and less stressful to achieve goals that one had not really set out on achieving. But too many targets and you miss them all. As I believe it was Confucius who once said 

“The dog that chases two rabbits catches neither.”

So with this in mind then, let's try to gather a list of NYRs that are both achievable and easy to remember. 

I think I'm going to split these up into three parts: Vows, Goals and Regimen. (Already sounding too much)

2020 Vows, Goals & Regimen


I vow not to fly in 2020
I vow to drive as little as possible and less than last year
I vow to expand my vegetable garden and grow more in it


To complete Hidden In The Old Stone Wall
To either find an agent and/or publisher for or self publish Hidden In The Old Stone Wall
To complete The Coffee Cup Killer


Early to bed, early to rise
Write 250 words every day
Exercise at least once a week

One thing I realised in 2019 is that it's almost as hard for me to go to bed early as it is to get up early, and that these things are two sides of the same coin. It actually takes effort to go to bed. It's taken me 44 years to get my head round this (and I still haven't). You'd think it would be easy to climb into a nice warm snug area and read a good book until you get sleepy, by which point you're already in prime position to nod off. 

But no. I have to play Firefight on Halo OTSD until 3am. Then hate myself and climb the stairs of shame, brush the hairy teeth of tardiness, pull off my clothes of disorganisation, drop my underwear into the laundry basket of humiliation, climb into a freezing cold, draughty bed of despair, read for a few uncomfortable moments and then extinguish the light of disgust and lie there with feet of ice seeing flashbacks of popping grunts and failing to knock out big blue hunters by elbowing them on their armour.

But, happily, some goals I completed in 2019 by accident are:

The planting of 20 native British tree seeds with my son
The first draft compilation of 'Hidden in the Old Stone Wall'
The setting up and running of 6 Saltire Open Mic Nights with Steven Dakers
Successfully (I think) held the 2019 Scottish Short Film Festival in July

Had my iPhone stolen and reverted back to Nokia, thereby healing repetitive strain injury in right wrist
Began a petition and Facebook page to try to save Carmondean Library
Wrote the song Halloween Blues and covered I'm Yours, Friday I'm in Love and El Condor Pasa
Popped my busking cherry
Popped my stand up cherry
Got a dangerous metal bench moved from the local playground
Wrote a nice email to Hannah Bardell MP about the wildfires in Australia

That's about it

In my younger days I used to buy a day-to-a-page diary from John Menzies and try my best to fill it in over the course of the year (I still have these). Then on New Year's Eve I'd sit down and enjoy reading through it all again and ponder life's imponderables. But alas I don't do that any more. Mostly because I always felt guilty about not being able to keep up with my diary writing and wasting all that paper, so instead I switched to jotting in undated notebooks whenever the notion took me. Just found them and there's a few pages from 2019 so I'll take a wee stroll down memory lane and see if there's owt worth sharing.

Sunday 9th March

Ye gadzooks! Another day in the valley and I only have T minus three minutes to figure out what's wrong with my life!
  • No motivation,
There! That was easy!

Monday 11th March

I have nothing to say. Everything I have to say has been said before by better minds than I. Half the stuff I say I regret, and the other half is divided into thirds - funny stuff, informative stuff, and stuff people don't want to listen to.
    But on the whole most of the stuff I say is better left unsaid. Even the funny stuff I say is not wanted or lends anything worthwhile to the debate.
   So what is worth saying?
   Nobody wants to hear the truth, and nobody wants to hear lies. What does that leave?

Saturday 13th April

Went to the library and my son picked up two books at random to appease me - one about space and the other called Business Finance for Kids.

In the post office he bought some super sour candy called 'Hazardous Waste' which I tried too and it almost tore my mouth apart.

Wednesday 1st May

Struggled to leave my bed at 7:45am this morning. Decided to not decide whether to have a day off today.

Wednesday 22nd May

Today my son said his teacher humiliated him for not knowing his fractions or how to simplify 63/77ths. He was quite upset about it and said he couldn't remember exactly what she'd said because he'd tried to block it from his mind. I just tried to help him practise some fractions and then talk him through his emotions, relating to him a bit how primary school teachers traumatised me when I was a kid. Knocking my head together with Neil Law's and staring at me with excess mascara. I still feel nervous even now when going into the primary school to pick him up
   Anyway, he seemed to cheer up a bit after that.
   Personally I have lost faith in the present Scottish education system. Hardly any homework, days off galore, free time on Fridays which are half days anyway. What the fuck? No wonder he doesn't know his fractions.

Wednesday 6th June

So why the hell am I starting up an Open Mic Night?

Saturday 15th June

Played chess against the computer while listening to Rage Against The Machine.

Thursday 10th October

My son came home and lit up the household with his laughter and songs as usual.

Saturday 26th October

Okay. In an effort to clear my mind of the scum layer of thoughts and crabbit emotions encrusting the upper regions of my psyche, I am now endeavouring to write some diary here in my own dining room in my own house in the peace and quiet of my own family's absence.

Monday 4th November

This is the only thing I know for sure. The date. Nothing else is certain. Nothing else is written.

There. That was fun.

But no matter your successes or failures of 2019, or your goals, resolutions and hopes for 2020, I wish you all peace, harmony and happiness for the coming year. See you on the other side :)

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

A Cat Is For Life - A Short Story

I finished suckling and opened my eyes. We were lying on a soft white rug in front of some strange red and yellow crackling stuff that emitted a pleasant, but potentially dangerous, warmth. Over my mother and I reached the limbs of an ominous yet brightly decorated tree all greens and browns. My reflection in one of the large shiny baubles was curved and curious. I could see my pink nose, my short stubby whiskers, and my big, questioning green eyes. Under the tree were packages of all shapes and sizes, all wrapped up with string and colourful paper. I inspected these with interest but, compared to the soft warmth of my mother, the hard corners and edges offered little except the temptation of something to scratch my chin against. The air was filled with a variety of delicious smells I could not identify.
“Good morning love,” Mother smiled drowsily. “And how are you this fine Christmas Day?”
“Fine Momma,” I said. “Thank you for the milk.”
“You’re very welcome little one.”
I blinked lazily again at the bright, flickering tongues sending out heat that dried my eyes. “Momma, what’s that?”
“That’s fire my son,” Mother said. “It feels nice on a winter morn, doesn’t it? But you must never sniff it or you will burn your tiny nose.”
I sighed. “I have lots to learn.”
Mother grinned. “Yes, but there’s no rush. No rush at all, my young treasure. Take your time, enjoy life.” She got herself comfortable and made to drift off to sleep again.
I studied her. “Could you give me some … advice?”
Mother opened her eyes. “Advice?”
“Yes Momma,” I said. “It looks like a big, cold world out there. What should I do? How should I act? You are a cat of experience but it’s all new to me.”
“Well,” Mother purred. “I suppose I could give you some starters. First of all : Know and protect your boundaries.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ll understand when you’re older and venture outside to meet other cats.”
“Uh, okay. Protect my boundaries.”
“Yes. But don’t overdo it. Laze the day away whenever possible. A good work-life balance is critical. 80% napping, 20% work. No more.”
Suddenly a huge pair of stocking-clad legs stepped over us. I jerked my head up to see they were attached to a plump, cooing giant carrying a tray. A shiver ran through me.
“It’s okay darling,” purred Mother. “That’s one of the Owners. They look after us. Bring them a small dead animal now and then as sacrifice.”
“Yes, they love it. I always like to pop one in her slipper. Her reaction is a delight.”
“I’ll try to remember.”
“Now, in the night-time, you must stalk restlessly around.”
“Because it’s our way. Also it helps expend your extra energy in order for you to nap efficiently during the day.”
“Oh, and never smile.”
“Ever.  And never apologise.”
“What if I make a mistake?”
“Always act like you meant it, my love. You must keep your feline pride intact. In Egypt we are gods, remember. Remain aloof.”
“I’ll try.”
“Another important one is that pingpong balls are spawn of Satan and must be chased to the ends of the earth.”
“Yes. Little round white plastic orbs. Sometimes they will try to trick you by playing dead, but if you bat them with a paw off they will run again. Mark my words, little angel.”
“I shall … keep an eye out.”
“And sometimes, after a nice bath, you may feel the urge to cough up hair. There is absolutely no shame in this. ‘A fur-ball on the carpet is better than in the small intestine,’ my mother always told me.”
“What else did she tell you?”
“She often said, ‘Lap - don’t slurp.’
I gazed at her in bafflement.
“‘Sit patiently,’ she also said. ‘Look at a door and it shall be opened unto you.’ Ah, I miss her.”
I snuggled in to Mother. “Was she a good cat?”
“Yes, she was. She gave me the gift of love, and I pass that on to you.”
“And what about your father? Did he give you any advice?
“I didn’t know my father much, but I do remember one thing he used to say. ‘Remove your head you may not can, if you stick it somewhere under your whisker span.’
“That rhymes.”
“Yes, but it doesn’t quite scan. He wasn’t much of a poet your grampa.”
“It’s a lot to take in.”
“There’s plenty of time for learning about life my love.” Mother closed her eyes and stretched.
The packages under the tree again caught my attention. “And Momma, what are those?”
Mother didn’t bother to open her eyes this time. “They’re presents. The Owners and their family give them to each other at this time of year to show they love them. Just like I give you these words of cat wisdom to you, because I love you.”
A lump formed in my throat and tears prickled my eyes.
Mother opened her lids. “What’s the matter?”
“I don’t have a present for you,” I whimpered.
“Oh my love,” Mother said, hugging me close. “You are the best gift for which any cat could ask.”

© Chris R Young December 2019

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Colorblind - A Book Review

'Colorblind' by Reed Farrel Coleman 
Published by No Exit Press 2019

I just want to start this by saying I'm not criticising - I'm reviewing. As a hardly published author I take my hat off to those who are established 'real' writers, and as ever want to express my condolences to the estate of Robert B Parker and appreciation and gratitude for the great man's work. This blog post is merely for the sake of analysis and writing practice for myself to understand what works and what doesn't, in my own work and others' in the hope of becoming a better writer.

I've just finished reading Robert B Parker's 'Colorblind' written by Reed Farrel Coleman, which is an interesting case because Robert B Parker is one of my all time favourite authors in the person of private detective Spenser, who inspired me to work on my Old Mice Killer series with Jake Jones. I won't lie to you, it was his name in huge letters on the front cover which attracted me to this book in the library, but after Robert B Parker's sad demise in 2010 his characters and worlds threatened to be no more, until his estate passed his baton on to other writers to carry on the flame.

In principle I've been both for and against this in the past. On one hand I think it's great that Parker's characters live on, but on the other hand it seems inauthentic. The cover itself, as with Clive Cussler's recent pair up novels where he works with other authors, is designed to - as with me - lure in readers using Parker's name in huge font at the top, and the real author's name (who I confess I'd never heard of until now) in small letters at the bottom. It seems like false advertising on one level. But from a publishing standpoint I understand they have books to sell, and from the estate's standpoint they want to honour the great writer's memory.

Even before, I hadn't read much of the Jesse Stone series, but I was that much a fan of Parker's strong male lead characters, sense of humour and turn of phrase that I thought I'd give it a bash. So it was with a dip of disappointment when I realised it wasn't actually he who had written the story. Nevertheless, I started the novel (283 pages), and sure enough I could see signs of Parker's handiwork in the strong male lead with steel will and moral fibre, who took it upon himself to shelter the weak and lost, but not much humour. I don't know if the original Jesse Stone had much of a sense of humour in the past, but perhaps it was due to being a recovering (bereaving?) alcoholic at this stage in his life maybe there was less to be cheerful about. I don't know. I'll have to dig further back to find out.

The story is definitely a slow burner - or perhaps I should say, has a long fuse. Well written, with an involving mix of characters all with their own issues and directions. But Jesse doesn't seem to do much but keep his ears open and stay off the drink (although myself trying to abstain from various addictions over the years I know how hard this can be) for most of the book. And then all of a sudden – Boom – on page 261 (the 92% mark) all of the groundwork that Reed Farrel Coleman has built pays off and blows the top of your head off. And you're left thinking, Holy sh-cow, how did he do that? The rug has been pulled out from under you and you're flying slow motion in mid air with the book in one hand, a cup of early morning tea in the other and lines of amazement creasing your forehead, thinking, what the hell?

Anyway. The book was a rewarding read. If you're familiar with the characters from earlier novels (which I wasn't, so perhaps that was why a lot of them were hard to remember 2D names for me – hooks with nothing to hang on) then I think Reed Farrel Coleman does an admirable (and brave) job of carrying the torch, as after all Robert B Parker is a hard act to follow and a writer worth devoting some study and time to.

I'm going to give this book four stars out of five. I think it's a solid work that delivers on all promises. Coleman does an admiral job - one that I certainly couldn't do and would immediately shy away from. But I still feel cheated by the cover. I know we shouldn't judge books by their covers, but we do. Anyone who's tried to self publish knows a book's cover is important. You get one chance to make a visual impression, and your cover is it. I think the climax is rewarding enough to make all the waiting around worth it, but the waiting around is another reason why it's 4 stars and not 5. As I said, I know staying off the one thing you want in all the world is hard going, and Coleman captures that well, but the first 90% of the book needs more rewards, more meat. More character development. More Easter eggs. More humour. More flashes of the old Robert B Parker. It was nice to see Vinnie Morris pop up again, but that wasn't enough. Personally I would have appreciated about 50 pages' worth of Robert B Parkerisms sprinkled throughout the book. Food, humour, romance, geography, history, baseball trivia (Al Dente). You know what I mean? That kind of stuff. It's great when the bus finally comes, but it helps to have someone interesting to share the bus stop until that happens. That said, I was inspired to stand and write a long and involving blog post about this novel in my pyjamas five minutes after the last page, which doesn't happen often, so something's clicked.

This is how, in my mind, the cover should have looked, and would probably fit in with the high moral standard of Robert B Parker's lead characters.

Reed Farrel Coleman
The New Jesse Stone Mystery


Based on The Characters and World
Created by Robert B Parker

Have a look at Robert B Parker's Wikipedia page. I thoroughly recommend investing time, money and effort reading his original works and I intend to go back and fill in the holes as soon as possible. Reed Farrel Coleman's pretty good too and I think I'll pick up more of his work in the future also.

Thanks for reading.