Friday, March 25, 2005

Origin of the Species

Origin of the Species

So, I suppose you want to know how I got into this writing game then? No? I'm going to tell you anyway, so tough.

Fade to 1988.

I never wanted to be an author, never had the urge to be published. I just wanted to go to my job counting cows for the EEC, and spend weekends swearing like a bastard on the terraces at Highbury.

Then, one day at an FA Cup match in Brighton, somebody handed me a football fanzine. It was issue two of The Gooner, and was filled with all the things I liked. Mainly the Arsenal, football and swearing. It was this: aces. It also appeared to be the work of approximately two people and their office photocopier. This turned out to be true.

I had to get involved, and egged on by a trainee journalist and fellow layabout in the Cow Counting Department, I did. My first ever published piece of work was a pre-Hillsborough rant on the sorry state of English football grounds called, rather predictably, "Grounds for Complaint".

Despite its turgid subject matter, the embryo of the modern Scaryist writing technique is certainly there, and I'm rather proud of my description of the late and hardly lamented at all Wembley Stadium: "its rancid river of piss on match days, not to mention the fetid garden of dog shit next to the greyhound track". Sarcasm at its worst, dear reader, and the fools like it enough to print it in issue three.

Spurred on by this new enthusiasm for the written arts, I wrote more and more for the Gooner, and by issue six (known in football publishing circles as "The Alistair Coleman issue") I was writing most of their output. I'd even developed a nom de plume to cover up this fact: the none-more-gormless ignorant sports journalist Dan Prick, who would hold court on the most pressing of issues surrounding the modern game, like the brand of Gazza's favourite pie.

I continued writing for The Gooner, When Saturday Comes and several other footie magazines for several years under different names, and was carving a certain, unpaid niche in the market, until some bastard went and installed the internet at work.

Fucking hell. Words! People had an enormous desire to see words! Not just lucid journalistic wrioting, but any old wanky bollocks spoken with a voice of authority on free web space or some shonky mailing list devoted to fans of *cough* The X Files.

So I started a website.

It was about me, and featured a million pictures of a dog and a tribute to my favourite recording artist at the time. Some of it is still there. Somehow, it turned into an Arsenal site, featuring sweary match reports for the interested Gooner in your life. On a good day, I might get 25 to 30 hits a day. The big time.

It took about three years to realise that there were other people doing the same thing ten times better than I was, and it was getting increasingly difficult writing match reports for games that I hadn't actually attended, or even seen. You only have to look at Arseblog to see top quality football swearage in action, and I salute him. There was only one alternative. Wil Wheaton made me start a blog, and three years later, like a damn fool, I'm still doing it.

I had previously written a short story for Danny Baker and Danny Kelly on Radio Five when he had appealed for tales of dangerous and stupid stuff listeners had done, sent it in, and was amazed that the Dannys read it out, crying with laughter. That story was "I was a teenage bomber" and the Scary Story was born, and some time in my first year of bloggage, some damn fool gave me a thousand pounds to make sure I kept writing them.

I am forced to admit, at this stage, that my weblog isn't as spontaneous as you might think. Many blogs are spur-of-the-moment things where people discuss the minutiae of their lives. I do not. Most of my material is written days or even weeks in advance, sometimes tried out on one of several discussion forums of which I am a member, and mercilessly tweaked until the gags scream for mercy.

Looking back over three years of Scary Stories while I re-write them for the Scary Book, it is amazing how much my writing has changed. If not exactly mature, I've developed a style which people, by all accounts, actually like, and I've almost learned how to spell.

I'd quite like to make some money from writing now, but hey, no bugger's paying at the moment, apart from the salary I get from writing about Klingons for the BBC.

My advice to people who want to write mirrors that given by Neil Gaiman, who is as close to a writing role-model I'm ever going to admit. Write. Keep writing until you finish. Then send it off to someone who might pay you. This might even happen one day.

And another thing: I write exactly the same for an audience of one than I do for an audience of thousands. And that thing about laughing girls into bed - totally untrue. You might get them NEAR the bed, but at the crucial moment, they're still laughing.

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