Friday, 28 May 2010

Poetry As Therapy -- By BeWrite Books Poetry Editor Sam Smith

Art, every kind of art, can be defined by its function.

When any music is played as background music it becomes by definition musak. Likewise when painting or the writing of poetry are used solely as a means of self-expression then both become by definition therapy.

Now let us suppose that there are only three purposes to writing — to explain me to you, you to yourself, and me to myself. Therapy can use the first and last of these. And that is as far as such writing goes.

Such ‘poetry’ therapy depends on the lingering superstitious belief in the runic power of words, on the use of the magic power of words to make the strange commonplace, ordinary and unthreatening — express a troublesome idea, a bothersome fixation and, by putting it into words, make it safe.

But any artist, to be worthy of the name, has to begin by questioning his or her every assumption; and assumptions are the glue which hold most individuals together. The true artist then has to go beyond assumption and question their every certainty, must question even the validity of their own experiences.

This self-regarding, this destructive narcissism, although essential to the process of making art, does not lead to psychologically well-balanced individuals. Consequently those who place art, or any other goal, as more important than equilibrium, have to be a psychotherapist's nightmare.

And yet counselling groups employ poetry as therapy? And those ‘poets’ assume their outpourings to be deserving of publication?

For any such self-expression to become art further critical self-examination is required. Because without that self-lacerating, self-disparaging self-criticism all such self-expression is but self-decoration.

That is not to say that the creator, to be a true creator, must risk his or her equilibrium.

John Clare, for instance, initially took strength from his unique talent, even though he ended as a man driven mad, driven into himself. The foundation for that, however, was laid first by a denial of his art, then by a brief and false celebration of it. What it was that destroyed him, what near obliterated his sense of self, was not his art, but the physical and social destruction taking place all around him. Making John Clare truly a poet for our time.


Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Why I Write -- Hugh McCracken

When I was first asked to speak to a Writers’ Group, I wondered what I should talk about. I’m a writer not a speaker and writing is essentially a solitary occupation – you lock yourself away from everyone else and snarl at any interruptions. Lyn and my family knew that.
    But there is another side. When you are not writing, you watch, you listen, you take note in writing or otherwise. These are skills I learnt and polished as a young adult in one of my early careers.
    When did I start to write? In one sense as long ago as I can remember. I was one of those children, irritating to other children, who as a small boy when playing make believe games with my friends was always the one who came up with the scenarios. I would become furious when the other ‘actors’ in the game deviated unknowingly from the ‘script’ which was only in my head.
    That stage of play ended as we twelve-year-olds moved into secondary school but not before it had resulted in fights when I, angered at my beautiful plot – again known only to myself – being ruined by the action of some stupid player, would shout, “You can’t do that!”
    “You’re not the boss,” would come the reply. “”I’ll do what I bloody well please.”
    And the fight was on.
   Ever since I learnt to read I consumed every book I could lay hands on and it eventually dawned on me that putting my scenarios on paper was probably a less hazardous procedure than trying to direct. However, the plots always grew so complex and convoluted that invariably I ended ripping up the sheets in disgust.
    Essay writing in school – a hated chore to my chums – was an opportunity to put my thoughts on paper for someone else to read. My mother wasn’t so pleased at the ocean of red ink on my ‘good’ essay jotter. (long before the days of spellcheckers).
    “How a boy who spends half his life with his nose stuck in a book can’t spell, I’ll never know,” was her comment.
    She wasn’t at all mollified by the comments at the end, also in red: ‘A good story’ or ‘Nice ideas, well presented.’ It was the: ‘Rewrite into some recognizable hieroglyphic, AND USE A DICTIONARY ‘ that always caught her eye.
    It was one patient English teacher, Mr Henderson, whose classes were undisciplined nightmares that taught me to set an essay aside for some time then come back to it to edit and proof. He also taught me an invaluable lesson in gauging what my editor wanted. A skill that stood me in good stead later as a freelance writer for periodicals.
    He had set the topic, A pleasant Saturday evening and emphasized the idea was to convey pleasure to the reader. I wrote an essay about wandering the streets of Glasgow having fallen out once again with my chums and seeking shelter from the rain in a school hall where there was a political meeting in session. I closed the essay with, ‘Some Saturday night, I’ve spent better evenings with the toothache.’ 
    I`m afraid my view of politics hasn`t changed.
    Mr Henderson made some very flattering comments about the style and tone of the essay and gave me an F, Fail. ‘Read the assignment.’
    Some of my teachers when I visited the school part way through my first year at university were surprised at my choice of Science and not English. However, jobs for graduates in the sciences and engineering were better paid than those for English literature teachers and I felt I could always write later.

With adult jobs, writing became reports and analyses with little time for thinking of fiction. It was not until the mid-1980s that I started to write short stories again and it was not until 1992 that I started to think seriously about writing and publishing fiction. After all most of my superiors in different walks of life considered my reports largely fiction anyway.
    So in 1992 when I retired from teaching I became a freelance writer. 
    One of my early assignments for a monthly magazine for the building trade was a 1,400 word article on recent innovations in plumbing. When I protested to the editor I knew nothing about plumbing his encouraging reply was: “Right, those who do know about it can’t write. Educate yourself.”
    Armed with my tape recorder I visited every plumbing warehouse in Winnipeg interviewing plumbers and their suppliers. The article came to over 2,000 words and the editor threw it back. 
    “I’ve got space for 1,400 words,” he said. “I told you that.”
    Mr Henderson’s ‘F’ grade came back to my mind. I rewrote the piece and I never again missed my assigned allotment by more than plus or minus 50 words.
    I wrote for that magazine for the better part of four years on a variety of building subjects I knew nothing about before I started the articles. I used the same technique of going to the sources and much to my surprise at a party for one builder, celebrating winning a contract, their architect congratulated me on the articles saying, he and his partners found them very useful for keeping up to date with new products.
    However, the writing bug had settled well in – for it is an affliction, I could no more stop writing than I could stop breathing – and although articles and writing speeches brought in cash it didn’t satisfy the bug. I wanted to write fiction.
    One of my stories, Rules of the Hunt, started off as a short story. On the Island my sister lives on, a wood is closed to the public by its owner for twenty-four hours each year. This is to prevent it from becoming a public right-of-way, but local children tell the tale it is haunted for that time and any who enter when it is closed, vanish. Three twelve-year-old boys, neighbours of my sister, told me the story. The characters ‘grew on me’ and before I knew it the short story had become a novel. It was largely written in my last year as Headmaster – Principal of a private school. At monthly Board Meetings I scribbled furiously in my steno pad in shorthand. Board members were sure I was conscientiously making notes, but, in fact, I was writing a novel.
    Doing this at one Board meeting took my mind back almost forty years. I had been taught a form of shorthand, although at the time I felt I didn’t really need it. (See Heads up for Harry.) Sitting on the top deck of a London bus I was scribbling – practicing really– on a steno pad when the conversation of two rough looking characters in the seat in front of me caught my attention. It struck me as incongruous they should be discussing holiday resorts and the food in the terms they were using when suddenly the words Broadmoor and Peterhead came through – two of His Majesty’s prisons for really serious criminals. At that point they looked back at me sitting pencil-in-hand poised over the steno pad. 
    I never left a bus, before or after, so quickly, jumping off when it slowed only slightly rounding a corner.
    I smiled at the memory and the Board member who had been speaking said with a frown: “Did I say something amusing?”
    Other books followed although Kevin and the Time Drum managed to get published before Rules of the Hunt.

The Hunt series was originally marketed as a Young Adult but several readers and reviewers have compared it favourably with Lord of the Flies and suggested it is more of a general readership book. The third volume of the series was just released in August of this year. The final draft was completed in Dunoon the week before Lyn died. She had been bugging me to: “Get the damn thing finished,” but when she read the draft she said: “No, that won’t do. You can’t end it like that.” I had closed the series killing off one of the characters, Davey, and for some reason Lyn had a soft spot for him, rogue that he was. So the final two chapters had to be rewritten plus an epilogue so that as Lyn said: “That’s better. It leaves an opening for Davey to have a book of his own.”
    I always enjoyed reading detective novels and police procedurals and The Knotted Chord came from some conversations with RCMP officers of my acquaintance – over drinks I must admit. The publication history of Chord was not without its complications. I had sent it to a publishing house in London and their reply, although encouraging as to the writing ended with: “A little too ‘meaty’ for our readers and the provincial setting unfamiliar.” The setting is Toronto! Mentally I replaced ‘provincial’ with ‘colonial’. But I did learn a lesson. Research what the publishing house actually publishes – that is, its target market.
    With the second publisher in England the manuscript reached the final proof, a cover was selected, then the company went bankrupt! I had a nine-months battle with the Receivers in Bankruptcy to regain my rights before I finally published it through Bewrite under my pseudonym Alistair Kinnon.

The use of a pseudonym arose when I realised that anyone who read The Knotted Chord or the sequel, The Tangled Skein, would certainly never buy a book by that author for a teenager. When I finally finished Heads up for Harry my older son, David, on reading it said it should also have been published under a pseudonym. My failure to realise this gave rise to an amusing incident at Lyn’s funeral. My niece, at the reception after the funeral, was telling me that since her twelve-year-old son had thoroughly enjoyed Rules of the Hunt, her father-in-law had given him another of my books. At her reply, Heads up for Harry another guest almost choked on his whisky. At his explanation of what that book was about, Susan’s comment, “That explains why the book has vanished. It’s hidden somewhere in Scott’s room,” started him laughing again. Susan did start speaking to me again some weeks later.

Following publishing through BeWrite I was asked to become one of the partners and senior editor which I now am.


Sunday, 23 May 2010

Local Authors Welcome?

Our beloved independent bookstores -- those dusty old treasure caverns of hidden gems -- are  pulling down the shutters faster than china shops during the Pamplona bull run.

Like the corner grocer's when a giant Tesco or Wal-Mart opens in town, they just can't compete with the chain gang in the high street and online.

These were places often owned and staffed by characters who might well have stepped straight from the pages of Helen Hanff's 84 Charing Cross Road. Cardigans and comfortable carpet slippers were sometimes the uniform, infinite patience was a virtue, literary nous was the order of the day.  And so was the welcome ... to dithering all-day browsers wondering how best to spend a little pocket money -- and especially to local authors.

But the 'chains' (how evocative is that term!) and online juggernauts put an end to these old curiosity shops. They replaced them with look-alike stores in towns and cities, with look-alike showcases of the month's hot-selling items (often alongside party balloons and colouring books), and with look-alike staff in snazzy, name-tagged shirts and with all the literary knowledge of a vending machine. They aren't paid to know any books other than cheque books.

So, between Hanff's 1970 publication of 84 Charing Cross Road and the superb film version starring Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft in 1987 comes along Mr Timothy Waterstone with an old fashioned idea. I have no doubt he was influenced by Hanff's touching tale of trust, respect, sharing and love in wartime when he opened -- during a dire book retail recession -- the very first Waterstone's bookshop ... in Charing Cross Road itself back in '82.

Five new Waterstone's soon followed. He let store staff choose the books to sell. The media loved it. In 1989 the LA Times devoted a feature to Waterstone's entitled: "The Americanisation of the British Book Trade." What they meant was that ol' Tim Waterstone had learned the value of independence in the comfy Greenwich Village book shops he haunted in off-duty hours from WH Smith. I'd lurked in those very shops myself in the eighties. I knew what he felt.

Times and proprietors change. Waterstone's soon got big: So big that Mr Waterstone's mission was forgotten and that the chain bearing his evocative name (think what water does to stone, given time -- it leaves a lasting impression) steam-rolled over the very independent retailers Waterstone himself sought to emulate. Borders, Books etc, Ottakar's, Dillons and thousands of independent book shops have disappeared from our high streets over recent years, leaving Waterstone's the last specialist book chain standing.

And profits started to drop like unsold paperbacks down the bucket tube into a disposal skip.

As the Daily Telegraph said this week: "The problem was simple – Waterstone's was firing at the wrong target. The chain was attempting to compete with the likes of Amazon, Tesco and WH Smith by offering similar titles and promotions. In doing this, it became centrally-run and process-driven, treating books like commodities.

"While Waterstone's was busy becoming A N Other retailer, local communities across the UK were missing their local bookshops and the regionally-tailored, customer-friendly, mildly eccentric services and books they offered."

In other words, books sold at Waterstone's were the no-risk blockbusters, hyped to hell and high heaven by head office. Sod the local reader. Sod the local author.

But now, maybe things are looking up. Maybe some guy in a tie recalled old Mr Waterstone's mission ... Waterstone's is turning back the clock.

From here in, Waterstone's managers and staff in 315 plush stores will be encouraged to revert to the cardigan-and-carpet-slipper days of choosing books to fit their local readers rather than foisting upon them only the internationally bankable.

Simon Fox, chief executive of Waterstone's has been making a raft of changes. In recent years, almost all book titles sold were chosen centrally. This was particularly the case when it came to '3-for-2' book promotions at Waterstone's.

Now, the system has changed. Power has – to a significant degree – been devolved back to the stores. Of all the books that Waterstone's sells, around a third are "front", or promoted, titles. At "new" Waterstone's one third of these titles are now to be hand-picked by store staff who know their local readers. Of the remaining books, around 40% will be carefully chosen by staff.

So why am I blogging at length about this? Three reasons:

1) the reader will now be heard when he speaks his mind to his local Waterstone's staff.

2) the local author will no longer be a most unwelcome guest when he offers his own not-necessarily-yet-blockbuster to the Waterstone's down the road.

3) consider buying your local Waterstone's boss a speckled bow tie for auld lang syne. He really now can 'manage' at last. A bit like in the good old days.

Take advantage of this chance, readers and authors. Let's see if we can get our local bookstores back. Tell them what you want. Tell them what you have to offer.

Any BeWrite Books author or reader whose local Waterstone's is following new policy can tell them this -- yes, we do accept sale-or-return orders for our books, yes, we will offer deep discount to retailers, yes our authors deserve your shelf space and yes, our readers deserve their availability ... especially those who are also your neighbours.

Best. Neil

Thursday, 13 May 2010

DRM = Dont Read Me

DRM is a four-letter word.

At least, it is to most e-bookworms. What jolly japes we have playing around with the initials. My favourite is my own ... DON’T READ ME, because I know so many hundreds of ebook reading folks who will never buy a DRM book on principle. But have a go at inventing your own.

Tony, Hugh, Sam and I at BeWrite Books believe Digital Rights Management (the official term) is an insult to honest readers everywhere.

Nobody should buy a book that’s so heavily padlocked (supposedly) against piracy that their private property rights are blatantly violated: that they can’t read their legally purchased book where they want to and on any reading platform they own, that they can’t lend it to a friend, that they can’t move it from one virtual book shelf to another. An ebook should be as free as a paperback or hardback treebook. Once it's bought, give it wings.

The influential ZNet’s executive editor, David Berling, came up with an alternative term to describe Draconian Digital Rights Management. He suggested: Content Restriction, Annulment and Protections. And you know what those initials spell out, folks. Nice one, David.

DRM has been around for a long, long time (to challenge the rights of manufacturers of player pianos or pianola rolls and kids who taped a favourite pop song from the radio). It’s supposed to curtail the nefarious activities of digital pirates.

Of course, it doesn’t (ask the music industry). What it does is to encourage superfluous sales and make money for publishers, distributors and retailers.

Any self-respecting pirate can do a merry hornpipe around DRM. And most pirated books are not ripped off from digital versions anyway – they’re simply scanned from best-selling paperbacks.

What DRM in fact does is to treat honest-to-goodness buyers of copyrighted material like criminals-in-waiting. It makes a nonsense of the basic rights of ownership. But it’s good news for greedy publishers, retailers and distributors who tell you that if you want to hand over a book you’ve just enjoyed to your wife – buy another copy!

When you buy something (here we’re concerned with books rather than music, film, TV, etc), a copyright is in place and is respected by most buyers. We believe that legitimate buyers (there's another kind?) do not in any way infringe that copyright through the common, acceptable, lawful and fair practice of lending the book to their neighbour or friend or deciding to change the place on the virtual library shelf where it’s stored, the device they decide to read on.

DRM appliers do – many major publishers and some high-profile retail shops and some huge distributors.

I can’t remember who said this, but the words stick in my mind: “DRM manages artistic rights in the same way that prisons manage freedom.” But a book with a DRM restriction essentially locks down that work and allows ‘owner exclusive’ use ... and even the owner is going to have trouble if he wants to read his DRM book on any reader that’s not specifically licensed for it at the point of sale.

No names, no pack drill because, if you’re an ebook reader, you know who the culprits are, our sincere hope is that you will refuse to buy a book that carries DRM and that you will spread the word ... “WHEN YOU BUY A BOOK, IT’S YOURS TO DO WITH AS YOU WILL ... JUST DON’T MAKE A PIRATE BUSINESS OUT OF IT.”

BeWrite Books – like several other publishers and distribution agencies – trust our readers to play the game. We oppose DRM and support the right of readers to FAIRLY share what they buy and to keep it for use on any reading platform FOREVER.

Cheers. Neil

Sunday, 9 May 2010


Hawkeyes among you may have noticed a new section on the BeWrite Books homepage offering freelance editorial, design and technical services ... at a price ... and only if we have time ... and only if we really fancy the job offer. Not exactly the ol' hard sell, eh?

But if it's the world's worst advertising pitch, that's OK by us. We really are pretty busy and any freelance work would be handled on our few precious days off.

On the other hand, BeWrite Books is still in the break-even stages (which is more than can be said for those much bigger houses that are in dire straits if they haven't already gone belly-up), so the odd freelance  commercial commission  for full-time staff who live with  little financial reward for their  BB work would be refreshing, and would mean a welcome few bob in the pocket of whoever handles it.

BUT ... and this is a big BUT ... do read the not-so-small print which I want to make doubly clear by reproducing it here:

*FOOTNOTE: Especially since the advent of internet, the publishing industry has been rudely invaded by so-called ‘publishers’ whose sole aim is to sell authors who innocently submit their work expensive services of dubious value in return for ‘publication’ through what amounts to a vanity press business model. It is for this reason that BeWrite Books itself must stand apart from any freelance activity on the part of individual members of the permanent BeWrite Books team. It is why authors who employ the freelance services of an individual BeWrite Books staffer must be disqualified from submitting to BB itself and why those authors whose submitted work has been declined by BB will not be considered as freelance clients.

So please never let it be said that BeWrite Books encourages submissions as a front to flog services to innocent wannabes. Submissions to BeWrite Books for publication will be handled, as always, strictly on a merit basis, and those authors we choose to work with will ALWAYS have all professional services -- editorial, technical, design, art, promotional, etc, etc, and all legal and admin costs -- freely provided by the publisher. That's the  tradition, that's the way it should be, and that's the way it will remain.

Cheers. Neil

Thursday, 6 May 2010


For many passionate readers, there's nothing quite like knowing who wrote what, why s/he wrote it, where s/he wrote it and when.

A book, after all, is a very personal interaction between two folks -- an author and a reader. So it's natural to want to know more about the other half of the tete-a-tete. Maybe not as much embarrassingly intimate detail as the tabs and mags bombard us with about our favourite movie stars, but enough to bring an author to life in our heads.

With this in mind, Tony set himself the lengthy but rewarding task of providing a new, one-stop place on the site where you can read about BeWrite Books' authors and everything  they've published, read excerpts of their work, see their faces and find answers to your questions. It went live just a  few minutes ago ... which I make 2.00am  TTT (Tireless Tony Time).

We're hoping soon that authors will add personal news of their own and also volunteer their contact details there -- direct email addresses and/or through private message facilities at their own websites and blogs -- so that you can actually strike up a two-way conversation of your very own.

Simply hit the book link to the site at the top right of this blog page, (the Big Book) click on storefront, then click on the button at the top of that storefront page for *Our Authors*. Otherwise go to:

At a great big site like, with thousands and thousands of pages, the technical side is dauntingly complex to say the least, but Tony is currently hard at work on other new features. Some -- like grouping books in series or titles by the same author (already a feature of the new 'Our Authors' section) -- involve new and specialised organisational software we've had to install. But title-grouping under the genre categories and in the complete product list is high on the 2-B-Done list.

Another priority is the PayPal payment facility so many of you have asked for. Now that our new Canadian business registration and company banking is done and dusted and new Miva merchant software installed, we should have this payment option available very soon.

And, of course, if there's anything else you want to see on site or any improvements you might like to suggest, just drop us a line or leave a comment here. The website is a living thing and will constantly be in a state of growth. And if you have a moment to spare, please do leave a comment for (click the blue box in the right margin, just under the BB link).

Best wishes. Neil

Sunday, 2 May 2010


Some time ago, I promised not to post reviews in this blog (especially of work not published by BeWrite Books). Other folks do that so much better than I can -- reviews and promises. So to prove that rules are made to be broken and that you can't trust anyone -- not even me -- here's a review. My excuse, chaps and chapettes, is that it's not just a review ... it's encouraging news of a unique challenge met  head on and how Writer's Block can be overcome by denying the existence of the malady, warmed-over coffee and sheer brass neck. It also shows that insomnia can be a bonus. Love and luck. Neil


Last year, BeWrite Books published a superb wee novel called The Movie by US author Bosley Gravel.

Its original title was Cannibal Lesbian Zombies from Outer Space – versus – Doctor Clockwork and His Furious Plastic Surgeons of Doom. How could any editor resist at least taking a quick shufti at the submitted manuscript?

As we got to know each other, I asked Boz in passing one day how long the book had taken to write. “Just under a month,” the cad cheerfully admitted. “It was done for NaNoWriMo.”

For a fleeting moment, I wished Boz and I didn’t share the same planet or that our lives were separated by several centuries. National Novel Writing Month, folks – originally a UK complaint – has spread like a plague around the world. For ten years or so its organisers have, with satanic glee, encouraged aspiring scribes to hit the keyboard and, by the seat of their pants, turn out a 50,000-word work in twenty-eight days. Few last the distance. Those who do (and don’t cheat) tend to turn in ... well ... something that reads as though it was written by the seat of their pants in twenty-eight days.

The Movie is a terrific novel; an exception to the NaNoWriMo rule and a shining example of how a wee cracker can be turned out against the calendar ... but, Jumping Jehosophat, I’d already had it in edit for six times as long as it had taken to write. I guess this new knowledge did explain the original hefty title, though ... after typing that, Boz had only 49,984 words to go.

Then I heard of Nick Spalding in the UK who – with a straight face, mind you – claimed he could write a book in a single sitting. That’s a bit like bragging that you can eat a whole jumbo jet without a toilet break. Had me laughing like a drain, did that. (We had a new toilet installed at Chez Marr on Friday, by the way, and it wasn’t funny at all: why do people insist that drains laugh?)

Utter codswallop, of course, this Spalding bluster. Most authors I know couldn’t write a shopping list without taking a cup of tea and a long nap every few items for intellectual refreshment and creative inspiration. This loony, Spalding, was either a shameless ham or a bloody liar. Maybe both. It was worth the price of a beer for his ebook to get to the bottom of this outrageous literary boast and expose the scallywag in a scathing 140-character report to all five people who follow me on Twitter.

That tweet will never be twitted.

LIFE WITH NO BREAKS represents the best beer money ever squandered on a non-alcoholic alternative. Without reservation, I apologise to its author for having leapt to crass conclusions and damned him out of hand.

Spalding may be a loveable rogue, but he’s no ham – and he’s certainly no liar. His book is one of the most beautifully crafted, honest and humorous memoirs I’ve ever wanted to weep over not having written myself.

“I have no idea how writing a book like this came to me,” Spalding says in his intro. “It just popped into my head this morning ... what if I sat at the computer and started to write without a plot or a story and with no idea where the whole thing was going?”

Well you might ask, you hopeless bloody amateur. The whole thing is going nowhere. I’ve been in this game since Grisham was a messy thing in his pram. I know, you know.

So Spalding starts to write on a drizzly English Saturday at 6.00 pm, resolving to finish before he drives off to work on Monday morning.

Zero words.

The clock ticks. By 6.09 pm, he is still at zero words.

Ha! Told ya, Spalding, you benighted berk. Books aren’t made this way. An idea is born as is a dream, it’s nurtured, huge characters start to populate its winding path, plans are laid, plot and curious sub-plots evolve  and are woven like fine and intricate Nottingham lace, outlines are drawn and re-drawn, you sit at the typewriter and open a vein, you lose weight and friends, you ask advice from your old English teacher and your sister, and ... and it takes forbloodyever and ever and ever.

Hey. Hang on there. It’s 6.23 pm Spalding Time now. I’m 1,353 words in and didn’t even notice.

This is where I decide to play this Sassenach at his own game. If he can write a book in a single sitting, I’m Scotsman enough to read it without a minute off. And here’s one promise I kept that this braggart couldn’t: You can take a Sony PRS-505 ebook reader to the loo, you see, and read on – not so the Dell Inspiron 1525 desktop dual processor with 2 GB of RAM he was using to write this stuff. But the occasional boy’s room break, I sincerely believe now, was Spalding’s only time away from his writing machine.

Why do I believe that? Why do I not believe he was cheating like some of those NaNoWriMoers? Simply because his book fairly reeks of bare-faced honesty. Anyone would be proud to show his humour in the Co-Op window ... but painful humiliation in equal measure? I think not. 

Spalding writes from the heart – warts-n-all. From the embarrassment of a commotion in his underpants during an attempt to mesmerise the girl of his dreams, through the typo that nearly cost him his career in advertising (guess which letter he left out of ‘Public Studies’ in a hugely expensive, 100,000-thousand run, glossy brochure for a snooty private college), to the touching story of the break-up of his marriage and the love of his only son to ... I know you’re wondering ... The End?

I’m not going to tell you whether this book was top-and-tailed before Spalding keeled over and fell asleep thirty-six hours after starting. Wondering if he’ll make it is half the fun, so I won’t spoil it for you. And I’ll guarantee that you’ll be rooting for the guy before too many pages.

Now, I must tell you here, that I don’t know Nick Spalding in a face-to-face or even Facebook-to-Facebook way. OK, we did spend the night together – him writing, me reading and feeling just a tad like I was the subject of the cornier lyrics to ‘Killing Me Softly’. That’s as far as our relationship goes. But what reader could ask for more? This is one of those rare, rare books that make you feel like you’re an equal partner in a tête-à-tête. This bloke’s only writing because YOU are reading. He wouldn’t have bothered otherwise. The reader is profoundly involved every line of the way.

Spalding dedicates his book to his reader. “We’re going to have fun talking the night away,” he promises. And we did.

“I can see you in my mind’s eye,” he tells me. I really do believe he can see the ready-stoked meerschaum pipes sitting patiently on my desk for some Zippo action, the dwindling bottle of The Famous Grouse, the ridiculously fat Cuban cigar my wife brought back from Italy the other day and that I’m saving for the after-read ponder and treat. I can see Nick (see, we’re on first-name terms by now) with a row of cigarette packets lined up like soldiers, the under-achieving thermos of cooling coffee that must see him through the marathon, the big, loud wall clock threatening to bring an end to all this as it ticks away my new friend’s waking hours and end the best conversation I’ve had in years.

Six hours later, I closed my Sony reader, lit the cigar in celebration of a read well-chosen (if for all the wrong reasons) … and wondered if – with no breaks – I could write review, somewhere over the grand mark, that could do justice to this gem of a book. I did get down 1,600 words without a second away from the keyboard, but it would take a more talented reviewer than I’ll ever be to give LIFE WITH NO BREAKS anything like the praise it merits. 

There’s a brush-stroked passion and a mighty magic in this little 140-pager that every reader will find for himself or herself (whatever your gender persuasion).

It’s a collection of anecdotes, muses, adventures, misadventures and admissions that reads as satisfyingly as a  running novel and rolls along as though the whole thing was plotted (which it wasn’t). It’s paced, it’s organised, it’s witty, it’s wise, it’s from the hip. There’s never a dull moment. And it’s put together with admirable word-economy by a born story-teller with much to say and only a weekend to say it in.

I’d strongly advise you to buy LIFE WITH NO BREAKS now from Amazon or Smashwords or somewhere for the price of a small beer before some folk$ realise just how valuable this wee book is and hike the price.

Then I’d suggest you read it right to the book’s very last line. That’s Nick’s personal email address. It brought a tear to my already reddened old eye (The Famous Grouse bottle had long since been emptied) to find that he really did mean what he said – this book was all about making friends, page by page, and sharing a cracking good time. 

Drop me a line, says Nick. So I did. My message ran to 170 words and took me about an hour to compose. Nick could well have rattled off the first fifty pages of a block-and-tackle thriller in that time.

WARNING TO DEVELOPING AUTHORS! Writing like this can damage your health, your computer, your ambitions, your marriage … and any reputation you might have as a scribe. Nick, I found during my read, has not relied on beginner’s luck here. He’s been a pro popular writer for his entire working life and instinctively knows the right buttons to press. Apart from the sadly overlooked ‘L’ in ‘Public Studies’ he doesn’t seem to have a missed a beat in a long writing life. He’s also a devout insomniac.

Neil Marr.