Friday, 29 July 2011

Remembering John Martyn...

Writer Chris Nickson talks about musician and singer-songwriter John Martyn...

John Martyn was the ultimate cult figure. For over four decades he was a musician’s musician, a superb guitarist, and a singer whose deliberately slurred delivery became a much-imitated trademark. He straddled the worlds of folk, jazz and rock, earning an OBE shortly before his untimely death in 2009 and being honoured with a Life Achievement by the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.

Charming and garrulous, John’s music was lauded by people as disparate as Faithless’ Sister Bliss, Phil Collins and Bob Marley. He was a true innovator, using the Echoplex to create waves of guitar sounds back in the 1970s and constantly pushing the boundaries of his music.

His ‘70s discs remain classics (Solid Air was named one of the great chill out albums by Q magazine), cited by many in the generations that have followed. But they’re just part of the canon he left behind in a life that was always creative and sometimes turbulent.



John first came to prominence in the golden summer of 1967, releasing two solo discs before working with his then-wife, Beverley. But it was in the next decade that his career really took off, both as a live performer and in the studio.

The 1980s brought a chance of style, more slick and with hints of jazz, and with it came records that sold well, including an unexpected hit with a cover of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” From being a solo artist he developed into a band leader, working closely with others, something that would serve him well for the rest of his life.

John revisited his old songs in this next context at the beginning on the 1990s, which brought a new lease of life to his career. Suddenly he was news again, and he built on that with lauded forays into trip hop and then a disc of covers that saw his critical reputation rise and rise.

But over the years John hadn’t been kind to his body. He’d been a drinker since his teens, and for much of that time a heavy drinker, in addition to taking various drugs. In time his body rebelled. He was hospitalised for different things, and developed a cyst on his knee. A car crash turned the problem into something dangerous, leading to the amputation of part of John’s leg.

Even that couldn’t slow him down completely. He returned with On the Cobbles, one of the best albums, and still toured regularly, even re-creating Solid Air onstage in 2007.

By the time John turned sixty, he’d become an emeritus figure, celebrated with awards and a lengthy box set of rare material. There were plans for a new record…but it wasn’t to be. John succumbed to pneumonia early in 2009.

What he left behind is a body of work that ranges from the beautifully intimate to the majestic and a life that moved between the raucous and the sublime, all detailed in Solid Air.

‘Solid Air – the Life of John Martyn’ by Chris Nickson published on July 24th.





Here's one of Creative Content’s favourite John Martyn songs:

Friday, 22 July 2011

Isla's Tips for Tea

Our guest blogger this week is Isla Blair, author of "A Tiger's Wedding: my childhood in exile". Raised on a tea plantation, Isla knows quite a lot about Britain's favourite brew...

Tea has many therapeutic uses apart from just drinking it.

Cosmetic

If you have a late night and you wake up with suitcases under your eyes, the whites of which look like uncooked egg whites, only bloodshot, lie down for ten minutes with a couple of cold teabags on your eyes. You will get up with your eyes looking and feeling better – really – I’ve tried it. It works!

Uses in the kitchen

Rub a pan that still has the smell of onion or fish (the latter never in my house of course, because I hate fish!) with damp tea leaves and the smell disappears.
You can use it as a cleaning agent. Dip a cloth in cold tea and wipe over mirrors or chrome and it will gleam.

And of course feed houseplants on tea; they love it. Not every day, just as often as you would normally feed your plants.

In theatre companies, the wardrobe mistress often uses a dilution of tea to “dip” shirts or lace, giving it the colour of a soft sepia photograph.

On the other hand if you want to remove those stubborn brown circles of tea from a white table cloth, drop a few drops of lemon juice on the stain, leave it a few minutes and then wash out.

For a very old tea stain – water mixed with glycerine. This does work.

Tips on serving tea

Always heat the pot, but never add “teaspoons – one for the pot”; it makes the tea too strong. Use filtered, cold water to boil up and pour it on the tea as soon as it’s boiled. Leave it for three minutes if it is Indian tea, a little longer if China tea.

If you are not serving it immediately and you think it’s brewed, strain it, to prevent it becoming stewed and bitter, and stir it. If a cup of tea is too strong, poor some water into the cup first and then add the tea – don’t add it to the pot.

Which brings me to the vexed question of milk first or tea first? My father used to get quite animated about this. In posh circles, the etiquette was tea first, followed by milk. Apparently if your porcelain was not of good quality, the boiling tea could crack the cup, hence milk in first. If your porcelain was of excellent quality, it would withstand the hot tea being poured in first.

I’m told that is how it started. Who had the best china – the richest, poshest people. So it became a sort of class snobby thing. Very cucumber sandwiches and Lady Bracknell. My father (and I must say, all his tea planter colleagues) insisted on milk in first and to hell with the snobbishness. It was the same thing as putting hot water into the cup then the tea if you wanted to dilute it. The tea mixed better, swirled around more if it followed the milk into the cup. To this day I am fussy enough to have my tea in porcelain cups instead of chunky pottery or thick china mugs. I just like it in cups; it feels more refreshing and gracious, it is more calming – to me anyway. - Isla Blair

"A Tiger's Wedding - my childhood in exile" is published in eBook, hardback and audiobook. 

Photo by Patrick George

Friday, 15 July 2011

Encouragement...

Writer and actress Linda Regan talks about encouragement...

Have been quite busy of late: My new book comes out next month, and Dead Like Her and Passion Killers come out in E-format. I am also working on a new one which will be published next year. 

Sometimes when I get writer's block, or my nerves start unsettling my confidence, I re-read my old reviews, to give me impetus and remind myself that I can do it. I have met some extremely nice people in the crime-writing world. I suppose we all write dreadful things in our books, and kill people and things like that, so in real life we are more chilled and hopefully kind. 

Lovely Colin Dexter, a wonderful writer, a great teacher, and a lovely person very kindly read and reviewed Passion Killers for me, and he gave me the following quote: Regan exhibits enviable control over her characters in this skilful and fascinating whodunit. I’m really proud of that, and thrilled that Colin Dexter likes my work, but most of all truly grateful to him for saying so. - Linda Regan

Cheerleaders photo by Sergey Vladimirov

'Dead Like Her' and 'Passion Killers' are published in eBook format by Creative Content.
 

Friday, 8 July 2011

Does "No Frills" = "No Thrills"?

It's holiday time! And Creative Content director Ali Muirden gets a few things off her chest...

I apologise upfront, but it’s time for another rant about travel in this country.

I find it increasingly unappealing to have to fly anywhere these days and not just because all the ‘no frills’ airlines seem to have adopted the motto ‘treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen’.

I know I’m not alone in feeling this way as yesterday it was reported that over 17 million people in the UK are planning a ‘staycation’ this year.  And after experiencing the trauma of Luton airport the other week, I can’t say I blame them.

My journey started off well. I left my house around 4.30am for a 7.15am flight and sailed up the various motorways to Luton with absolutely no problem (apart from the monsoon-like rain conditions).

I had cunningly decided to check in online - paying £10 each way for the privilege. Airlines want us to check in on-line (some even make it mandatory), but when you try to do this, they insist you have to pay for your seat before you can do so. Can anyone tell me if this is even legal? 

Anyway, I decided to pay up so that I could have any extra hour of sleep. But it was once I reached the turn off to Luton airport at around 5.40am that it all my planning went spectacularly pear-shaped.

I queued for over 40 minutes on the slip road just to get onto the roundabout that leads to the airport. I was convinced that there must have been a six car pileup (or punch up!) on it, but when I reached the roundabout, it just turned out to be that good old chestnut “sheer weight of traffic”. I raced off to the long stay car park, chucked my car into a space and sprinted to the courtesy bus stop…. To find another gaggle of tired, disgruntled passengers, shivering in the cold and rain, waiting for the bus… which was stuck in the traffic at the roundabout!

15 minutes later (it was now getting on for 6.30am and my flight was at 7.15) the bus turned up. We piled on and the bus set off. Only to get stuck in the traffic at the same bloomin’ roundabout for another 10 minutes. 

Feeling my blood pressure escalating to dangerous levels, I trotted up to the front of the bus to ask the driver what was the problem and would it be quicker to walk.

He was philosophical.  Apparently it’s like this EVERY Monday morning at Luton since they increased the number of flights but forgot to do anything about the road system infrastructure around the airport.  

We eventually reached the drop off spot in front of the terminal at 6.45am… I had just half an hour to make my flight. 

Thank goodness for online check-in!

But, I had forgotten about just getting through security!  When I got there, the queue was 300 strong and out the door, spilling down the escalator.

So I coughed up another £3 for a “priority security pass”….enabling me to jump the queue as a VIP! (Don’t make me laugh! VIP in airports must stand for Very Irritating Person!)

Going through security was the usual scenario of being barked at by grumpy, tired officials, stuffing all my possessions (including most of what I was actually wearing) through the scanners and then putting them all back on again the other side.

At no point during this whole procedure had anyone said “please” or “thank you” or “if you wouldn’t mind”, never mind “have a lovely holiday”.

It’s like the whole of the aviation industry is just really, really annoyed that any of us want to fly anywhere. And they really know how to let you know it.  

Why is this? Why, when everyone wants us all to spend money and save the economy by splashing our hard earned cash are we so awful to the very people who are our bread and butter? Is it a conspiracy? Did the government tell them to treat us worse than cattle being transported around so that we’d stay put and therefore cut our carbon emissions? If so, just tell us…I won’t budge an inch from my doorstep… honest.

Which leads me back to where I began…. No wonder 17 million of us have decided it nicer (and much easier) to stay at home! - AM

Friday, 1 July 2011

Actress & crime writer Linda Regan talks about strippers, G-strings - and fear of the dark!

Why did you become a writer?

I became a writer because I couldn’t stop writing. As a child I wrote a secret diary, and then short stories, and then gradually a novel evolved. That didn’t get published though, and hardly surprising; it was dreadful. None of my early attempts got published, but when you can’t stop writing, and you keep on doing it, and then sooner or later something happens - like you teach yourself to write and then a publisher wants to publish you. 

What inspired you to write Passion Killers?

I was inspired to write Passion Killers because my father worked in strip clubs; he was a comic. As a child, I used to sit backstage. I was fascinated by these ladies wearing absolutely nothing except bright red lipstick (I think that’s why I used bright red g-strings in the murders). I was intrigued by the bond they shared, and how they would stick together if a man hassled one of them. Personally, I enjoy women’s company. I love going out with my girlfriends for a fun night without our husbands. I still see all the girls I went to school with; I couldn’t live without their support in my life.  I wanted to write a book about that friendship and trust between women, and of course as murder is my subject - along with sex- a murder in a strip-club evolved. 

There’s no denying that Passion Killers has some pretty X-rated scenes in it – what are the challenges of writing sex scenes?

I think you either write violence and sex, or you don’t. I don’t have barriers and I don’t think, oh this is a sex scene, I just think this is what happens now, and this is how the character feels and out comes the sex and violence. I suppose I dig into my subconscious and go for it. That’s partly to do with my acting training too, which brings us onto your next question…

Both Behind You and and Passion Killers are set (at least partly) in the world of theatre and television. How does your experience as an actress influence your writing?

Personally, I believe everything we know and have done in our lives affects our writing. Certainly my experience as an actress has an enormous effect on my writing. I grew up in show-business. I have worked extensively in film and television and everyone says my books are very filmic. So I think that has to be the answer. As an actress, I love to exaggerate my imagination - and that spills over into my writing.

What is your routine when you’re writing? Take us through a typical day.

I have no typical day - except I panic a lot, and that happens every day. I spend hours sharpening pencils and tidying paper work and wondering if I’ll ever write another word; then I panic again and write like a lunatic. I’m like that as an actress too - I get sick with nerves before I have to go on stage, and wonder why I do it, and then after I come off stage I am so glad I did.

“Behind You” and “Passion Killers” have already been published in eBook format, and “Dead Like Her” is coming out next month. What do you think of the digital revolution in publishing?

I think the digital revolution is great. We can take more books on holidays, and train journeys because of it, and leave more room in our case for shoes!

What advice do you have for someone who wants to try their hand at writing crime fiction?

If you want to write crime fiction, then my advice is to write. Just go for it. Everyone starts somewhere, so don’t let anyone put you off, just write.

Is there anything that your readers would be surprised to know about you?

I’m sure there are loads of things my readers would be surprised to know about me. I think the most interesting bit, as a crime writer is…..I am totally terrified of the dark! I guess that’s why I write crime. I write about everything that I am afraid of - then I feel it has been exorcised, until the dark creeps in the next day…….and then I have to start writing about what I’m afraid of again!

What are you working on now?

I am working on a new book. I have one called Brotherhood of Blades out next. That one is set on a high rise estate where a young boy wants to leave the world of gang-crime behind him and become a street-dancer…but he witnesses a murder and finds he has to make major choices, and a lot is at stake… including the life of the only person who has ever really loved him. And then I am working on the sequel to that, which will be out in 2012.

"Passion Killers" by Linda Regan was published in eBook format on June 30th.