Monday, 4 May 2015

Heartbreak in the Garden of England

It might surprise you to know that I don't really like football, particularly as I have written two novels which are set squarely in that world and a third which borrows from it.

I'm more of a horse racing man. If you try and engage me in conversation about, say, Wayne Rooney, Chelsea's Championship, whether Newcastle will be relegated or Barcelona's decline from the heights of sublimity, I'll probably listen politely and nod without taking it all in. 

Readers of my latest novel Once Upon A Time in the City of Criminals will know the, um, more extreme opinions my characters have about the colossal dominance the EPL has over the sporting culture of this country. 

And you may agree. Or disagree. It's a free country and you, dear reader, are the ultimate judge.

But one thing's for sure. 

I love Notts County. The oldest football league club in the world. Formed in 1862. 

With a fanatic passion. 

And when I love something, I love it. Uniquely. Unilaterally. Obsessively. An ex girlfriend or two. The racehorses Dancing Brave, Desert Orchid and Sir Percy. The metal band, Black Sabbath, The writer Martin Amis. The comics genius Jim Starlin. 

Because of this love for Notts County, I don't even follow England's football team. 

Seriously. I consider it infidelity (which most of my friends think is a bit extreme). I used to, but not any more. Totally uninterested.

(And believe me, I'm comparatively second division when it comes to this - probably - irrational fanaticism. There are people who were there yesterday who have missed a handful of games in all their lives, since the nineteen sixties. Home and/or away. Clubs like Notts attract this kind of madness).

Notts fans, in the absence of a pub, colonise a
secondhand shop with a co-op next door just
down the road from the away end

Yesterday, my beloved Notts, in front of 2100 fans who had somehow made it to Gillingham in deepest Kent for 12.15 on a Sunday, were relegated to the hellish wastes of League Two, the fourth tier of English football.

We were safe, after Burke's goal. Other results didn't matter because we were in the lead. We were safe for another season in League One. Hope springs eternal.

Then, in the eighty eighth minute, Gillingham equalised with a header in the top corner. 

The vision of that goal going in is seared into my mind like a traumatic image that will never go away. Forgive me for not linking it here. I can still see it and it's horrible.

Only people who have actually experienced this will know what it feels like. Hope snatched away. It still hasn't sunk in and I doubt it will for a while. 

The Kent outfit scored two more quick goals and we stared, en masse, like trees in a petrified forest, under gun metal grey skies, from the stands as Gillingham (a team with nothing to play for) supporters celebrated as if they had won the league!

Priestfield Stadium, where Gillingham play, is embedded in an old school lattice of terraced houses. 

Nowadays, they build football stadiums on greenfield sites out the way, but not here. 

So when we left, two sets of fans together, snaking the short distance to the train station, in streets two car widths wide, one set; angry, frustrated, despairing and the other (weirdly and impolitely), celebrating, it was bound to crack off, and the journey for many spectators was a weird one. Like going back in time.

Which is how I perceive Gillingham. 

Like all the towns along the Medway, bar leafy Rochester, it's a town that's seen better days and because of that, the locals are voting for UKIP's madmen in droves. 

It has the dirtiest pub I have been inside in years (the Southern Bell) and it made me think that, perhaps, the locals are looking in the wrong place for something to blame for the region's decline.

You don't expect this of Kent. The Garden of England. At least I don't. 

I picture a Kent of cathedrals, thatched roofed pubs, maidens in scarlet bonnets carrying baskets of freshly baked bread; orchards, kingfishers, rolling hills, and sun-drenched fields of barley and hops.

I wrote a chapter about a match against 2003 in Gravesend and Ebbsfleet in the novel Violent Disorder. In many ways, the towns have got worse. Kent has got worse. We saw no fields at all. Of barley or anything.

In effect, it's a bloody horrible place to get relegated. 

The walk to the away end

On the train home, we saw a youngster travelling north with his dad, his Notts shirt uncovered, tears in his eyes. 

My brother said to him that there would be more days like this - many, many more. More relegations, more promotions, more administrations, more tears and heartbreak, but also more joy and elation, more extremes. 

Because following a team like Notts is all about life itself. 

The notion put a smile on his face and I like to think our perspective has created a Magpie for life - not easy in a multi-billion dollar Premier League world, and on a train home full of title-celebrating Chelsea fans travelling to homes in Stevenage, Grantham and to my own city, Nottingham.


We shall be back. 

In other news, this week, magical romance novelist Wendy "Destiny of Angels" Steele reviewed "The Night Porter" on Amazon and described it as "the best book she's read this year". Thanks Wend! :-)

Set in the luxury Saladhin Hotel, accommodating four authors in the hunt for prestigious prizes at the Arkwright Literary Awards, this story is told by the night porter. I'm usually not a fan of first person stories but I loved this one. Succinct, funny, sad, surprising, this book has it all.

The characters are superbly observed, from the belligerent bar manager to the sweet YA novelist. I loved the visual nature of the book, conjuring up scenes within the hotel that made me feel I was there. The night porter, however, is the star as he diligently attends to his work in the twilight world he loves. Once the guests arrive, the night porter's world expands and he becomes intrigued by the relationships and dynamics between the writers. His professionalism is sometimes at odds with how he feels towards the writers and I enjoyed the conflict he experienced, trying to decide when he was on duty or reacting as a friend.

Accompanied by footnotes which are always interesting and often hilarious, I loved the contemporary writing, language and style.

As the pace of the book gathers and the night porter is invited to the award ceremony, I read into the night to finish this compelling tale. As the awards are presented, the night porter, a man who wouldn't class himself as a reader, understands why writer's write and why Indie authors will fight against the odds to share their stories with the world.

This is Indie writing at its best and I'm looking forward to reading more by Mark Barry.

And Bodicia, of A Woman's Wisdom fame, bought and read Criminals. Now, she freely admits this isn't her stuff at all. but we do bits and bobs together in the industry and she wanted to see what the fuss was about, so I was biting my fingernails when I discovered she had bought the paperback version.

Here's her review. Thanks B! Phew! :-)

I don't normally read books like this one and I opened my spanking new paperback with a hint of trepidation but I am so glad I read it. Despite the drugs and violence, the platinum edged Terry Valentine still has it in him to feel love and compassion. He does what he does because he is numb to it, it's just a days work to kneecap a debtor, to threaten and abuse then wash his hands and go for a pint. It's how it works, it's what he does to get by. But he is capable of more and when he falls hard for Chloe he knows she is everything he can't have but wants so very badly. She is just out of reach and it's a knuckleduster in the gut every time someone does have her. She makes him want to be a better man, not different as he can't change, but better. She is the one (pevertedly) wholesome person he has in his sullied world who needs him for himself. She becomes his meaning and he will do anything to protect her.

Barry takes a bloke who has not had the slightest bit of real luck in his life and makes him a bit of a hero. I liked Terry Valentine and I wanted Chloe to want him. I needed her to want him.

As usual Barry writes in a structure which is unusual and which many writers wouldn't get away with but he does it with finesse. It works. This book is not for the faint hearted but it is still an incredibly compelling look at a world where sex, drugs and violence are perfect bedfellows. And it is a realistic look into the darker side of life where drugs are used to escape an unacceptable reality until the usage becomes the reality and the user doesn't want the dream state of real life anymore.

And finally, the terrific Terry "Kings and Queens" Tyler gives me a decent mention in her interview on Judith Barrow's author blog. It's a fine interview and well worth a dekko.

Thanks, Tezza! :-)


Not all doom and gloom.
Is there a better night anywhere than the West End?
Here's me, an attractive tattooed lady we met in the pub, my brother, and peeking in from stage left, my son.

And finally, finally, great short story here too, from an author who clearly understands the medium backwards - Sheffield's finest, EL Lindley.


  1. Terrific post Mark and great news on the new reviews but sorry you had such a shockingly depressing day yesterday - difficult to overcome that... Gx

  2. I'll be fine, Georgia. It's only football after all. August? Have a read of that chapter in VD with your Horlicks - it's my go at social realism :-) Thanks for commenting :-) Mxx

  3. I have read it Mark ;-) and like it!! Still to finish though Gx

  4. Nice pic, and cheers for the mention! Have you gone blond or is it just the light? I agree re Workshy Lindley's short stories, she's dead good at them :) x

  5. As you know, I am married to and mother of 2 Watford supporters, so I have experienced the PAIN of relegation. OK, so we are promoted (sorry sorry) but we all know we shall be relagated next season. *pats on back*

  6. Gah! Sorry to hear your team was relegated. The new season will be here before you know it and then there is everything to play for again. Not much consulation now, I know.

    Fab pics and thank you for flagging up my review and website.