Friday, March 15, 2019

The Seven Hindrances To Happiness

Humans seem incapable of being happy, as in being totally happy.
There will always be something on our mind making complete contentment impossible. It might be something to do with: children; older parents; money; sex; love; career or health. Those seven topics, either directly, or indirectly, cover all the possibilities capable of causing concern. If we needed to reduce the number then we could perhaps consider listing “children” and “older parents” under the one heading of “dependants” but somehow the number seven seems more mystical than six and might even have a direct biblical connection. So, let’s stick to our seven main topics for the moment, if only to avoid an additional period of non-happiness where we worry about whether there are six or seven main topics.
It has to be admitted that there will be certain periods, of indeterminable duration, when people/they/you/me will discover the bliss of pure unadulterated happiness. These infrequent times will rarely exceed twenty-four hours, at which point one of the seven will return, usually with a bang, to remind us that happiness is not our normal state. The above brief period of happiness might have even just been thrown in to the mix, through a trick of our devious sub-conscious, just so we can be aware of what we’re missing.
When we’re younger we naively think that as we grow older and are in charge of our own lives we’re going to experience true everlasting happiness. Sadly this never turns out to be the case. All we really discover is how much we should have enjoyed the relative happiness of our childhood because those years will never ever prepare us for what will be thrown at us in our later years. Nor should they prepare us; we all need the calm before the storm
The big news, the big secret no one ever lets you in on, is that you are never ever going to arrive at the point where you will wake up one morning and discover the grass isn’t, in fact, greener elsewhere. You know, where you arrive at a point literally, physically, mentally or spiritually where nothing will concern you. A place where there will be no dog-do lurking in the shadows of the trail ahead of you. In other words when you reach a point where your own personal nirvana will have arrived.  You’d hoped it would be a place where you could relax with your true love; read books; listen to music; go the cinema (this one is the reason why a desert island would never work for me); go for long walks through stunning soulful country; reflect on just how miraculous and marvellous a creation the human body really is; and, finally: appear on Desert Island Discs describing your own personal heaven to the world.
Spoiler alert: It’s never going to happen.
Humans are incapable of being happy (all the time).
We’re not wired to be that way, and if we were I fear we’d realise it was, plain and simply, just boring? Personally I’m not sure I one hundred percent subscribe to this theory. I think this particular notion is a fail-safe which has been wired into our systems just so we don’t get too preoccupied about not being happy all the time. Maybe it even frees up more time for us to worry about the big seven issues.
Some people sadly get bogged down with the lack of everlasting happiness to the extent that they will try and rid themselves of this niggle. They will consider absolutely anything to permanently expel the sometimes quiet, sometimes loud, voices responsible for their anxiety.  
Occasionally I have to consider the extremes some humans are prepared to go to in order for them to try to reach their own particular prefab nirvana.
This is the stage I reach every time I embark on writing a new murder mystery.
The point where I start to examine what some characters would be prepared to do, in order to put everything out of their consciousness. Everything that is apart from their own misguided selfishness and preoccupation with a state of permanent happiness. Put another way, study their endeavours to reach a state where some of their worries will not “do their head in.”    
A state we all know just doesn’t exist.  

Talking of the above, I continue working on the eleventh Christy Kennedy mystery, Departing Shadows; reading the 2nd Volume of Kenneth Womack's incredible Sound Pictures: The Life of  Beatles Producer George Martin, the later years, 1966 to 2016; going to the cinema - my favourite of last year was, by a million miles was Clint Eastwood's The Mule and yet it didn't get nominated for a single Oscar (I bet the real story behind the omission would make an Oscar winning movie, well then on second thoughts, perhaps not) and, attending concerts, the recent highlights being Joan Baez at the Palladium and the multi talented Paul Carrack on brilliant form at Guildford Live.
Until the next time...

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Mystery of The Wrecking Crew

I was very sad when I heard that Glen Campbell had passed. He was such an outstanding singer, songwriter and guitarist who had influenced me in so many ways over the years.. Sometimes the best thing to do in those circumstances is to sit down and try to put your thoughts down on paper, if only because you know that time will surely erode the intensity of your feelings. So I ended up writing an article for Hot Press magazine in Dublin that focuses on the Mystery (there always seems to be a mystery behind everything I explore) of The Wrecking Crew in general and Glen Campbell and his membership of the same outfit in particular. That Hot Press (30.08.17) piece started:

At one point in the late 1960s the best-selling group (most likely with the rare exception of the BEATLES) in the entire world was a group no fan ever screamed to. There were no known photographs of this group. No one knew their favourite food, drink, actor, actress, movie nor even what clothes they wore. Not only that, but no fan ever knew who they were and the reason for this was quite simply because the record companies didn’t want you to know. The identity of this group was their biggest, and their carefully guarded secret. It was so vital to their continued financial stability that the identity remain a secret. Should anyone outside the hallowed corridors of the Capital Records building in LA, CBS’s BlackRock in NYC, and the likes, discover the secret, it would most likely have killed the careers of some of the biggest groups in the industry and totally reshaped the landscape of the music business as we know it today. 
 The remainder of it can be found at:

I hope you enjoy...

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Sgt., Flynn's Lonely Hertz Club Van


I remember the day just like it was just yesterday. It was one morning early in 1963 and I strolled into my mum’s cosy kitchen without a care in the world. She was busy preparing lunch and, as ever, she had the radio on. She’d have been hoping they might play Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra or, better still, her favourite disc, What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes A Me For? by Emile Ford & The Checkmates.

Up to that point music had been a bit like wallpaper to me; it was there all around me all of the time but it was pretty easy to ignore. It didn’t engage me. But that morning I heard a joyous, infectious, melodic, pleasing sound that stopped me in my tracks and, quite literally, changed my world.

The sound I heard was Please Please Me and I soon discovered this magic came from four Liverpool lads called The Beatles. I became obsessed by both the single and the group. Soon I’d a cheap record player and, a few months later, was also the proud owner of Please Please Me (the long playing record). Another six albums and four years later, I thought I’d it all figured out when they hit me (and the rest of the world) with what has arguably become the most important album ever released: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band.  

During the summer of 1967 I was still living in Northern Ireland, getting ready to leave for London in fact. I'd bought Sgt. Peppers the day it was released but hadn't had a chance to listen to it too much, preoccupied as I was then by trying to secure gigs for my first group, The Blues By Five. But I had liked the album; most certainly I’d liked it a lot. Then, one Saturday evening, I was at this party in a church hall in Cookstown, up in the heartland of Northern Ireland in Co. Tyrone. Up until this point Cookstown was famous for having one very broad street which ran the whole way through the townland. The street was so broad that legend had it pedestrians brought a flask of tea and some sandwiches with them so they could take a break mid-way across. Now, to me, Cookstown was going to become famous for something entirely different.

All the walls and ceiling of the church hall were covered with a mass of colourful posters, streamers and balloons. The music was great and, as they say up in those parts, the craic was ninety. We just sat back and let the evening go. People were talking, laughing, joking and dancing. Some were sitting around, drinking and having a good time and then someone put the Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album on a record-player they’d wired up direct to the PA system.

One by one the party-people stopped talking and chatting and the noise and bustle of the party died down completely until the entire crowd present was being seduced by this beautiful and inspiring music. People were smiling and loving it. Happiness was spreading from one person to another with the same power and speed panic can move through a gathering. It was wonderful to be there. It was certainly a thrill. Every new track drew everyone deeper and deeper into this new world. Our new world, a world created for us by The Beatles. It was like everything they had ever done had been leading up to that point. Every note of music they had ever played, every song they had ever composed had been in preparation for this moment: the moment they captured with Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It didn't matter that perhaps the Revolver album might have been a better album. It didn't matter that touring had nearly destroyed our band. It didn't matter that I didn't have someone there with me to love and share this with; there was already more than enough love in the air. Nothing really mattered apart from the wonderful sounds filling the speakers and the fact that the Beatles had fulfilled their unspoken promise to us. This album wasn't a great album because it sold lots of copies. The album sold lots of copies, purely and simply, because it was a great album. Yes, maybe even the perfect album.

And the thing about the party that night in Cookstown was that we were all sharing it, sharing the pleasure. And as it was being shared, the pleasure grew. When John Lennon started to sing A Day In the Life, I swear to you I felt shivers run down my spine, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and my throat went dry. I could feel my nostrils tightening as though tears were going to flow. I bet you not one person in that hall felt any different. No one moved a muscle for fear of spoiling the mood. As the last note, the E Major, drifted into silence, everyone was left stunned and speechless. It was like a mass turn-on but instead of the buzz being incited by a drug, it had been induced by the show The Beatles had wanted, needed to present to us. This was the show they knew they could never do on stage as the moptops to their screaming fans. But they felt they could do it by sending it out to us in the form of the Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. I know that probably sounds as if I may have been indulging in some of the stimulants that had even managed to make it as far as Cookstown in those days. I wasn't. I never felt the need to. But you really had to be there, in Cookstown on that spectacular summer evening, to know what I'm on about. It was a perfect moment. It was one of those moments that rarely happen in your life but when they do, well then you have to try and find some way to savour the magic moments and cherish and protect them in your memory. All I can tell you is that as we strained to hear the disappearing E Major, there was the most incredible feeling of elation, yes… even euphoria. When all that was left was the crackle of the needle on its final revolution everyone started to clap their hands. We didn't know what else to do. We just clapped and clapped and then clapped some more.

You'll never ever meet anyone who can tell you what it was like the first time the 1812 Overture was performed, or what it was like sitting in the Olympia Theatre in Dublin when The Hallelujah Chorus was receiving its world premiere. In fact, I can guarantee you won't. Time has drawn a line under both of those. But, with hand on heart, I'm happy to tell you that for me what those audiences felt could not have compared with the experience I felt while listening to The Beatles' masterwork that night in Cookstown.

It was never the same again. I never ever experienced that same buzz again. I don't tell you that with the slightest regret. I am proud to have been alive in that time and enjoyed that once in a lifetime experience. I still love and enjoy listening to the record. But it just may have been the communal spirit between all present at the party that special summer evening in Cookstown that made the Beatles playback so extraordinary. I suppose for an experience to have been so special meant that it certainly wasn't going to be an experience which could be repeated frequently, if ever.

And it all came from the music; the music of The Beatles.

And here we are fifty years later (nearly to the day) and we’re enjoying that music and those moments once again and to mark this special 50th Anniversary celebration I wanted to share a D.I. Christy Kennedy (short) mystery, entitled: Sgt. Flynn’s Lonely Hertz Club Band, which was inspired by the Beatles eighth album or, as it was known to the EMI accountants, PCS 7027.   

         Thanks to the Fab people at Fahrenheit Press a Kindle version is available now. And talking about available now, there is also a Christy Kennedy (short) mystery included in the current (July/ August) edition of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. The Kennedy story is called Harry Potter & The Shadow of the Forger's Throne, I hope you enjoy both.



Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Legend of St Ernan's Blues



When I completed work on the first Inspector Starrett mystery  – The Dust of Death – I immediately (quite literally the following morning) started writing the 2nd in the series - Family Life. Although I had the idea for the three books right from the get go, I didn’t start work on the 3rd title for several years. Starrett is a very enjoyable character to write but I had to wait for the right time in order to make it work. Time had to pass on and off the page; things had to happen, things which I had no say in, but yet, things I had to pay attention to. On top of which, in the meantime I had other writing pleasures to attend to.  Like the Castlemartin stories, the 10th Kennedy and the 1st McCusker.  

I had the opening scene of the 3rd Starrett in my mind's eye for ages.  A young novice priest would be found slumped over in a chair while a pot of potatoes still boiled on the nearby stove. There wouldn't be any noticeable marks about his body that pointed to the reason for his demise. Starrett and his team would be called in to investigate. There was a wee bit of an Agatha Christie vibe to it, although maybe the original title - with a nod to Paul Simon's beautiful lyric - Hello Darkness My Old Friend, was a bigger clue to my themes.  I did like the Agatha Christie approach where she would have the majority of the suspects in the one space; you know, like a train, or a boat or a library. I thought my mystery would be better suited to a retirement home for priests. I took time out from writing and spent quite a bit of time "getting to know" the 11 members of clergy, working out their backstory, their foibles, if you will, and making them individuals.

Now I needed a house, a believable house.  
I’m always discovering that fact is stranger than fiction - much stranger - that real locations are always infinitely more interesting than fictional ones. Take for instance the case in point: St Ernan’s House on St Ernan’s Island, located a stone’s throw from Donegal Town.  I was intrigued by the island and the house from the first time I encountered them.  I believe Catherine and I may have stayed in the house when it was a guest house, and I admit that might even have been my imagination.  But either way, bit by bit, I discovered the history of the Island. The story about how the causeway was built is true; the fireplace coming from the burnt out Eske Castle and the original antique pen nibs addressed to then owner, John Hamilton, being found in the house, are both true and have been included in attempts to try and make fiction read as fact. The four master writers that Starrett discovers amongst the St Ernan’s residents in the house are nods back to the original 4 master writers who were based in the nearby Donegal Town Castle and endeavouring to write the history of Ireland.

Now I had my house, a lone house on a small island, an island, and I also had my title: St Ernan's Blues. 

When I was doing research for St Ernan’s Blues I was intrigued by both the house and the island. I tried several times to fix up a visit to go and examine the Island and, if I was very lucky, the house.  The owner was very polite; the times weren’t convenient, “maybe check in again in a few months,” he said. I did and (equally politely) a few more times after that. Eventually he agreed I could come over and Catherine dropped me off by the front door and she and her father Gerry and our two nephews, Oisin and Darragh, went off for a drive around the grid lock that is Donegal Town, promising to return to pick me up. The owner was very generous with his time and showed me around the wonderful historic house.  I was always conscious I was encroaching on his time and tried really hard to do the swiftest version of the tour, while keeping my wish for an investigative walk around the island to myself. Don’t get me wrong, the owner was at all times very hospitable, but I believe by the time Catherine returned to pick me up, his sigh of relief was definitely visible.  He walked me out to the car and as we were saying our goodbyes, he though he recognised someone in the car. 

“Is that Gerry McGinley?” he asked.

“It is indeed,” I replied.

“How do you know Gerry,” he asked, as he quickly walked over to the car.

“He’s my father-in-law,” I replied.

“Sure you should have told me that,” he said, as he opened the car door and started shaking Gerry’s hand furiously. 

You see my father-in-law was a well loved legend in Donegal; very sadly he has since passed. The owner knew him and everything changed immediately. As he chatted away to Gerry he invited me to have an explorative dander around the island, “and go and look around the house again if you want to” and when I returned they were still chatting away ten to the dozen. 

From their chat I got a sense of the old Donegal, of how people dealt with each other; of how when people know you are connected to people they know and respect, they are prepared to offer you the same genuine hospitality friends of theirs would recieve in return, were the situation ever reversed.  

I came away from my visit to St Ernan’s Island with the words (and melody) from a famous traditional song of the county. “Your hearts are like your mountains in the homes of Donegal,” ringing around my head and my soul and knowing that the time would never be better to start work on my book.       




Monday, May 30, 2016

American Views *


* From the front of Taxi Cabs.

I’ve always loved all things American: the Lone Ranger & Tonto, Rawhide, Bronco Lane, Wagon Train, Geronimo, Mr Dillon, JFK, Hollywood, movies, Dylan, American dollars, Elvis Presley, the stars and stripes, The Doors, all-day breakfasts (particularly hash browns) and, of course, the American classic cars.

All those wonderful Cadillacs and the other classics, now they were a joy to the eye, weren’t they? Ford Mustangs; Chevys; Chryslers; Plymouth Roadrunners; Dodge Royal American Sedans; Lincoln Continentals; Corvette Stingrays; Pontiac Firebirds and Buicks - all items of beauty and all individual flagships of a never-to-be-forgotten era.  Sadly, very sadly, the majority of American cars have now been blanded into the one-design-suits-all models - much the same bland as we seen all over Europe. Trucks are the exception; the American trucks are still as majestic, eye-catching and individual as ever, while and the classic iconic yellow school buses just keeping on rolling along the length and breadth of my favourite country.

I recently visited America for a whistle-stop book tour, stopping off in New York, Washington (Bethesda & Arlington), Boston, Minneapolis, Seattle, Orange, Scottsdale, New Orleans, Houston and Austin. Yes lots of trains and buses and planes.  I was out there on the road just like Donald and Hilary, trying to win support from the American people. 

It’s definitely Trump Time in the USA at the moment.

On my travels I discovered taxi drivers really are the font of all knowledge. One driver told me that Bill and Hilary openly encouraged Donald to join the competition because they felt they could easily beat him. I tried to figure out how a taxi driver from Boston would know that Bill and Hilary Jones of Merthyr Tydfil, and members of the Cilsanws Golf Club, were always taking advantage of Bill’s younger cousin, Donald Jones, out on the golf course.

New York City born and bred, Donald Trump, billionaire, property developer, bearer of gravity-defying hair, on the other hand, is, it would appear, to blame for everything, everything that is, according to my taxi driver – this time the taxi driver on the way into Seattle from the airport. So taking his lead I also laid the blame at DT’s feet for Rory McIlroy and Man United’s current poor form and on how few the numbers of people who turned up at my bookstore event in New Orleans were. I can’t tell you how good it feels to have someone to blame for whatever is upsetting you, so thank you very much Mr Trump.

The prospect of Trump becoming the next USA president seems to be the current preoccupation in the whole of America. Hilary doesn’t seem to be making a connection with the American people on the street, nor with taxi drivers for that matter. One taxi driver confidently predicted that not only would Trump become president but that, when he did, he would pin a sheriff’s badge on his own shirt and ride off into the horizon to right the American wrongs. In lieu of the real Lone Ranger, Marshall Dillion, Ty Hardin, Roddy Yates (now there would have been a great US President) or, my own person favourite, Alf Tupper, the Tough of The Track, maybe DT will have to do. If Donald sets off on such an adventure I feel it would be very important that someone remind him that there are only a limited number of silvers bullets available.

“Not a lot of people know this,” my Seattle taxi driver started off confidently, sounding like a denim-clad Michael Caine, “but candidates who are way behind in the primaries, just before they drop out of the running, apparently go to the leading candidate and “invite” them to contribute to their campaign losses in order to confirm - or maybe even “persuade” would be a better word - the candidate behind in the polls, that they will drop out and maybe even, in some cases, endorse the leading candidate.” He also reckoned that Cruz was too desperate to win, to be a good president. “Can you imagine the lengths a desperate president might go to, to win some issue while in the White House? On top of which he turned up at one of his final rallies dressed in denim jeans!”

Supposedly large numbers of government staff will resign if Trump wins the presidency and (allegedly) an even greater number of American citizens are going to emigrate into the open, welcoming, arms of Canada. That particular cab driver cautioned me with, “let’s wait and see how many actually do.”

Hilary Clinton’s campaign reminds me a lot of the Bjorn Borg approach to his legendary tennis matches with John McEnroe, where Bjorn would never ever “win” any of the marathon competitions, it was more that he would just refuse to “lose” to his superior, but temperamental, opponent. A very effective ruse in that it gained the Swede a 50% success rate in their twenty-two meetings. But, you’d have to say, hardly a presidential quality.  

While on my stateside travels, I also picked up from another American taxi driver that three USA nuclear reactors are currently leaking; that the Euro is shortly about the crash, not due to, but certainly helped by the fact that, three Italian banks and one Austrian bank, are about to fold. Warming to his “doom” subject, he also predicted that the US dollar will be devalued this autumn (a.k.a. “fall”). On the positive side, he predicted Gold and Silver and Wheat will go through the roof and become the main commodities of trade measurement again.

Yet another taxi driver put forward the theory that Trump is “happening” just because ordinary decent people have come to the conclusion that politics doesn’t work for them anymore. He cited the fact that the leader of the Republican Party (allegedly Trump’s party this time around) said he wasn’t ready yet to endorse Trump. Everyone immediately realised that the subtext was, “We haven’t done a deal yet.” Trump floored the party leaders by implying he wasn’t going to do a deal, suggesting, at this stage at least, that the guard is changing. My taxi driver reckoned that Trump has come this far because he is suggesting he’s going to change everything about politics than needs changing and, maybe more importantly, he’s not in anyone’s pocket, meaning that he won’t have any favours to return should he get into office.  The minute he starts to do deals and/or accept endorsement is the day he will lose his support. My cab driver predicted that people are going to show up at the polling booths who have never bothered to vote before. More alarmingly he claimed that people are really going to take it onto the streets if they don’t feel that their man is getting a fair crack at it. As I was exiting the cab, pondering street riots, his parting shot was, “if you don’t believe that Trump will get in, then please just watch the audiences on the Jerry Springer Show, or the Maury Show, or any of the games shows on our television. They’re the same audiences that will take Trump to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” 

“USA Literacy rates rise in the bad weather.” This snippet of wisdom was from a Russian taxi driver on the Orange airport run, “Really? How so?” I asked after I’d worked out what he was saying. “Don’t you see,” he continued after he decoded my own strong dialect, “that in the bad weather, the homeless pile into libraries and hide behind the great (as in physically big) tonnes so they’re not thrown out into the cold and damp.”

Talking about accents that reminds me, when ordering food in American restaurants it is important for me to remember that a) I have an Ulster accent and b) the subtle differences between the USA and UK version of English. I have an aversion to tomatoes and it’s so easy to get your order wrong in restaurants where they say “to-mate-toes” where as we (I) say “to-matt-oes.” So, invariably, my order arrives with the latter but no former, whatever it is… you know, “and hold the to-matt-oes, please” (where they translate what they think I’m saying with my to-matt-oes.” I’ve never been able to figure out what’s missing from my plate but as long as it’s not hash browns that are missing I’m okay. Having said that the cafeteria across the road from the Seattle book store does an amazing bean and ham broth.

My Taxi driver in Phoenix recommended that I beware of pick-pockets in New Orleans, my next city. The other cities to watch are: New York, Miami, parts of San Francisco, Oakland. But it’s interesting to note that not one American city figures in the Top Ten Cities in the world to beware of pick-pockets. While in New Orleans I tried to figure out if my lost crowd there had anything to do with the numerous graveyards I passed on the way in from the airport.

When I arrived in Austin, the taxi driver joyously advised me that just that very morning Uber and it’s 40,000 (yes 40,000 drivers, he claimed!) had been thrown out of the city by the mayor because they would not agree to their drivers been checked and fingerprinted or doing a test.  The following day it transpired that the mayor (unlike Trump) was negotiating.   

My personal prediction is that Donald Trump will become president, but the Trump University case will derail his presidency shortly thereafter.

Until the next time,



Saturday, April 16, 2016

Three Gillians & a Couple of Jeans

In one of his many classics, Paul McCartney famously asked, “All the lonely people, where do they all come from?”

Well let’s see now. DAVID BUCHANAN is from Castlemartin in Mid-Ulster; MARY SKEFFINGTON is from Bath; JEAN SIMPSON and JEAN KERR – yes that’s the two Jeans - are childhood best friends from Matlock in Derbyshire; JOHN HARRISON is from Scotland. All are in their late teens - so late, in fact, that they will soon leave them and (hopefully) their innocence behind. 

I started work on this book a long time ago, as was the case with the other two books in what has turned out to be The Castlemartin Trilogy. The first two were located in Castlemartin, a fictitious village, located about four miles away from (the very real) Magherafelt, on the shores of Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland. All three books are set in the mid-1960s. In One of Our Jeans Is Missing, however, David Buchanan, the main character, moves from Castlemartin to London and… well perhaps there’s a wee bit of: you can take the man out of Ulster but you can never take Ulster out of the man.    

David meets up with Mary, John, Jean and Jean and they start to enjoy each other, and music, and each other a bit more, and then one of them disappears. At least two of remaining quartet start to consider what might be the perfect murder.

I had the title from the get-go for this book. This isn’t always the case for me. Tanita Tikaram an artist I was managing at the time visited China for a holiday. She took her two best friends with her. Both of her friends were (in fact still are) called Gillian.  One day Tanita telephoned me from China in a panic. 

“One of our Gillians is missing,” she gushed.

I laughed. In my defence I laughed, not so much at the fact that one of her best friends was missing in a foreign land, but more at the way she had put it. 

“No PC,” Tanita pleaded, “she’s seriously missing!” 

When I set the phone down and had got D.I. Christy Kennedy, Inspector Starrett and McCusker, on the missing Gillians case, I started to think that ‘seriously missing’ - as opposed to ‘casually missing,’ or even just, ‘missing’ - would be a great title for a book, but for some reason or other when it came time to write it up in my wee ideas book I only wrote, ‘One of our Gillians is missing.’ 

Sometime later when I had the idea for this story of David Buchanan and his four fellow teenage exiles in 1960s’ London, the title presented itself to me at pretty much the same time. In fact the original working title for the book was, One of Our Gillians is Missing. Then I started to date a lady called Gillian (yet another one) for a while, and so in order to protect the three Gillians I changed the title to One of Our Jeans is Missing a.k.a. OOOJim (pronounced ‘Oh Jim!’  

Apart from being exiled from the home you grew up in, another of the main themes of the story is how music, big pieces of music, become very important as soundtracks to parts of our lives. I suppose the other important point to mention here is that we are all equally passionate about the music we dislike as we are about the music we love. A lot of the music references in the book – Dylan,  John Lee Hooker, The Spencer Davies Group, Taste and Stevie Winwood – have all had major influences in my life and, along with quite a few other artists, helped me during my move from Ulster to London in 1967. Yes, music certainly helped me deal with the potentially debilitating illness known as homesickness. Even today every time I listen to Neil Diamond’s classic, I Am… I Said, I can still recall vividly the intensity of the helplessness of the bed-sitter days. With hindsight if I had been a doctor I would have prescribed a twice weekly listening session of I Am… I Said, one or Mr Diamond’s most soulful statements.  Just to know that others had suffered and where suffering from your ailment could be a comfort.  With the benefit of that same hindsight I would probably add a thrice weekly visit from Jean Simpson into the potent healing mix. Hopefully you’ll see what I mean should you visit the pages of One Of Our Jeans Is Missing.  

This is my first title to be published by Fahrenheit Press.  I found main man Chris McVeigh refreshingly straightforward to deal with.  His view seemed to be that if he read the book and liked it (and assuming that I could spell Fahrenheit) he would publish it without any publisher interference, fuss or delay.  His only other observation was, “If you want to be treated like a delicate little snowflake we're definitely NOT the publisher for you - try Faber & Faber, they're lovely.”  That was certainly good enough for me. 
That's it until the next time. Next one soon.



Monday, May 18, 2015

Big Jim, Wee Doyle and the Mysterious PE Teacher


Teachers and schools can and do make a difference in our lives. When I think of my time at Magherafelt Technical College, September 1965 to June 1967, two characters - and a certain PE teacher - stand out. I remember Big Jim and Wee Doyle two great teachers and great mates of each other. The PE teacher we’ll get to later.

There are also quite a few images from those days indelibly forged in my mind.

Scenes like those of the gang of smokers behind the bike shed. I never smoked, still don’t, but I used to hang out with a bunch of outlaws (we thought) who did. They were always getting caught when I was with them but the teachers would always say, “We know you don’t smoke Charles, so just wise up and scoot off.” as the rest of the gang were led off for detention or lines or some similar punishment - I don’t remember the cane being used a lot at the Tech. I’d planned that on my last day at the Tech I was going to walk around with a cigarette in my mouth, just to make the same teachers, including Big Jim Warwick and Wee Doyle, think they’d been wrong about me all along. I lost my bottle though and didn’t go through with it. Perhaps if I had I would have been a smoker today, so maybe that’s something else I’ve got to thank the Tech for. 

The Beatles were making their mark worldwide by that point and their influence stretched as far as Magherafelt and even as far as The Technical College.  Long hair, tight trousers and Beatle Boots (winkle-pickers) were all the rage. Long hair wasn’t permitted at the Tech back then and a few of the gang were forever fine-tuning ways to hide their long locks while in school – deceptions such as brylcreaming it back into a slick DA and tucking it into their collars and so forth. I seem to remember that approach had one particular natty dresser looking like he had a permanent stiff neck. Come the final bell of the day, as we were all released and rushed down to Agnews’ CafĂ©, their locks would be allowed to flow freely again.

It was around my time at the Tech that I got both the writing bug and the music bug, both of which has been with me every since.

On the music side, one year a few of us formed a wee group together for the Christmas concert at the Tech. The group was called Goggles Anonymous – what can I tell you, we all wore glasses and Hedgehoppers Anonymous were enjoying their one and only attack on the pop charts. By a process of elimination and deduction, and as the only non-playing member, I was duly elected the Manager. At the said concert the girls screamed loudly, as they did to the Beatles on the telly; mind you, in our case it could have been due entirely to the pain, rather than the pleasure, we were inflicting. For some bizarre reason, I was the one responsible for trying to routine the group through Sloop John B 

Anyway, after that exhilarating experience the guitarist of Goggles Anonymous, Vince McCusker, formed another group, this time with four chaps from the Rainey. The new group was called The Blues by Five - there were five of them and they played (their version of) the blues - and once again I was the Manager. This time I wisely kept away from the music. In those pre-a-phone-in-every-house days, my Blues by Five business cards listed the number of the telephone box closest to my house in Beechland.  

I would use Chemistry periods to design and hand-colour posters for the notice board by the front door of the original Technical College building (where my father and my Uncle Harry had attended night classes in their teens). These posters were to announce the Blues x 5’s up-coming gigs, usually at the Trend Club or supporting the Breakaways Showband - the local kings of the Fair Hill - somewhere exotic like Cookstown Town Hall. The forward-thinking chemistry teacher used the sound-logic that if you didn’t want to be taught, well then she quite simply didn’t want to teach you. She was fine to leave you completely to your own devices, as long as you had the decency to attend all the classes and keep quiet; she was an excellent teacher and I regretted having no interest in chemistry.

I probably didn’t have any interest in Chemistry because by that time I’d already mapped out my career:  Staying at the Tech long enough to secure enough qualifications to be able to move to London in 1967 to train to be a Civil Engineer; while in London simultaneously continue with my part-time career in the music business  managing, agenting and writing lyrics for Fruupp, a Belfast group featuring my mate Vince McCusker from the Blues by Five; in the course of my work with Fruupp I would make enough contacts to move into the music business full time; I’d become partner with Paul Fenn in the Asgard Agency and go on to be luckily enough to be agent for (amongst others) Van Morrison, Tom Waits, Don Mclean, Jackson Browne, Crosby Stills & Nash, Robert Plant, The Kinks, Rory Gallagher, Elvis Costello, Jean Michel Jarre, Marianne Faithful, The Undertones, The Waterboys, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee, Ray Davies, Lonnie Donegan, and Christy Moore; while, at the same time, I would continue to follow my other love, writing, with my weekly column and articles for CityWeek /Thursday Magazine (Belfast) and by persevering with it over the years until in 1995 the first of The D.I. Christy Kennedy series was published. 

But of course I neither knew, nor planned, any of that.  If it was that easy and we could cherry-pick our way through our careers and our lives, I’m sure it would be altogether a much more boring journey.  

However with the group of teachers I was lucky enough to come into to contact with in Magherafelt Technical College, I enjoyed a solid grounding and an education diverse enough to equip me for my great journey. I think that’s most probably where I learned that what you aim to avoid is just as important as what you aim for.

I vividly remember my days at the Tech being extremely happy and really enjoying myself. I know you’re not meant to admit such things, but my school days were very happy days, not my happiest days, well that would be just too sad now wouldn’t it? But happy days they were nonetheless. You see my mum and dad always sent me out of our house well fed, in clean clothes, washed behind the ears, with a smile on my face and a sense of humour that served me well in all my travels. I worked after classes, on Saturdays and during school holidays for a gentleman by the name of Dawson Bates. He had the grocery and hardware shop in Market Square (now the home of Maurice McLean) so I had the occasional few  bob spare to buy the latest singles by the Beatles, Kinks, Them, Dylan or Otis Redding , (six shillings and eight pence) in Toners at the foot of Broad Street.  Dawson Bates, although not a teacher, taught me many an important lesson and, by his example, showed me how absolutely important it is to be professional in all your business dealings.      

With the Beatles came an awareness of girls and there were quite a few to be distracted by at the Technical College; all my gang though were madly in love with the PE Teacher who took the girls’ classes. She had a great swagger, never wore an ounce of make-up but always looked stunning. The only problem was that no one knew her name, except the girls… and they weren’t telling. 

Talking of PE, sadly I was never any good at football or athletics so my chosen sport had to be cross-country running because all you had to do was… keep on running and that was easy for me because there were so many things going around in my head to occupy my mind as I jogged along, including but not limited to The Spencer Davies Group.

Magherafelt always seemed to have more schools than any of the neighbouring towns and the number of educational establishments seemed to grow by the year. There was definitely a pecking order. I always felt the Technical College was, status wise, mid-way between the Intermediate School - a wee bit further out the Moneymore Road from the Tech - and the Rainey School. I always wondered why, due purely to geographical reasoning, they hadn’t called the Tech the Intermediate School.

As I mentioned at the beginning, teacher’s can and do make a difference.  The reason I moved to the Tech was because Mr Mowbery, one of my teachers at the Intermediate School, thought he saw something in me and felt I should not leave school at 15 (which I nearly did). No, he felt I should push myself and try for the Technical College and he facilitated an entrance exam for myself and one other pupil, Derek Mc Celland. But he didn’t stop there. Master Mowbray also thought we shouldn’t settle for the regular secretarial course available to late students at The Tech but nudged us both towards O Levels by way of the Junior Cert. Then the Tech welcomed us warmly, where teachers such as Big Jim and Wee Doyle showed to us once again that teachers can and do make a difference. So to you one and all, not to mention the Technical College itself, I offer big, big thanks and I remain forever in your debt.     



And this time I’ve read:


What’s Exactly the Matter with Me? by PF Sloan & S.E. Feinberg A chilling, disturbing and very sad read. I knew all about Eve of Destruction and The Sins of The Family but I’d never realised he was such a prolific songwriter way before that writing hits for The Searchers, Herman’s Hermits, Jan & Dean, The Turtles, Johnny Rivers, The Association, The fifth Dimension and The Grass Roots where he produced and made the records and then went out and found a band to tour under the name. On top of that he secured the Beatles their first record label with Vee Jay Records when EMI’s sister company Capitol Records literally didn’t want to know. Elvis Presley taught him to play guitar. He signed his first song-writing deal when he was 15 years old. The sad part deals with the company he signed with and how wrong these things can sometime turn out. The book serves as great lesson for everyone wanting to get into the music business - just be so mega careful who you do your deals with. As with all great music books it sets you off out to add to your CD collection. I found – Here’s Where I Belong – the Best of the Dunhill Years 1965 – 1967. Taking into account his thoughts in this book perhaps a somewhat ironic title but for all of that a great selection of songs from his career.   


Mrs Kennedy and Me by Clint Hill – a great read, the inside story only told from a totally different angle.  The description of the ordinariness of the 21st Nov 1963 is spine chilling effective


Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – I’ve been meaning to read it for years and, prompted by the TV series, happy I did. Pack a lunch and a sleeping bag; it’s a long but rewarding journey. I really don’t know how they’re going to fit this into 7 hours of TV.


And that’s it until next time.