Saturday, December 25, 2010

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Bump on Facebook


And so here’s this little guy again, walking stumpy legged down the decades.

He has his own Facebook page nowadays – something I only just learned. How very modern of him.

Bump was in no way a sophisticated show. The production budget didn’t stretch to that. As the sole illustrator on the project I knew that I would have to produce many hundreds of pieces of artwork, and so the drawings were as simple as I could make them. Charlie Mills and Terry Brain (of Trap Door fame) and a very young Steve Box (later of Wallace & Gromit) kept the animation to its most basic, the appropriate treatment for Dennis Hooper’s childlike stories.

The theme song was just a three chord trick, a tune that I’d written some time earlier and had done nothing with. We recorded it in a tiny studio on Bristol’s Gloucester Road. I asked a fellow musician, Chris Sedgwick, if he’d come down from Birmingham to do the vocals. He brought his eight year old daughter Lucy with him – a little touch of serendipity as it happened. She sang along with her dad, just great, and added some real warmth. In fact she sells the song.

We made two series for the BBC, 26 episodes in all, and a Bump Christmas Special. Maybe it broke even commercially, I don’t know. None of us came out of it any the richer, that’s for sure.

But, twenty years on, Bump seems still to be remembered with genuine affection by a particular age group, hence his presence on Facebook and the many ringtone grabs from this blog. So I suppose that in a quiet way we must have got something right. Good enough.

Mr. Tibbs: stretching it?



I’m getting a bit worried about Mr.Tibbs, my giraffe-necked cat. A ring too far do you think? Like the parent of a precocious child I’m wondering if I’ve stepped beyond the bounds of encouragement and am now entering the realm of pushiness. He doesn’t seem so keen to put his head in the vice as he once was. In fact I’m having to buy really expensive cat food just to tempt him down into the cellar where the workbench is.

But hey, if you want the attention -and he does -then you have to put up with a bit of discomfort. Ask Ms.Gaga.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Headache

................................,-~*`¯ll... .....
...........................,-~*`lllllllllllllllllllllllllll¯`*-,..........................................
......................,-~*llllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll*-,......................................
..................,-*llllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll.\... ..................................
................;*`lllllllllllllllllllllllllll,-~*~-,llllllllllllllllllll\....................................
................\lllllllllllllllllllllllllll/...........\;;;;llllllllllll,-`~-,................................
.................\lllllllllllllllllllll,-*.............`~-~-,...(.(¯`*,`,...............................
...................\llllllllllll,-~*........................)_-\..*`*;..)..............................
.....................\,-*`¯,*`)............,-~*`~................../...............................
.....................|/.../.../~,......-~*,-~*`;.................../.\..............................
.................../.../..../..../..,-,..*~,.`*~*..................*...\.......................... ...
...................|.../.../..../.*`...\................................)....)¯`~,........... .........
...................|./..../..../........).........)`*~-,............../.....|..)...`~-,..............
.................././.../....,*`-,.....`-,....*`....,---......\...../...../..|..........¯```*~-,,,,
.................(............)`*~-,.....`*`.,-~*.,-*.......|.../..../..../...............\..........
..................*-,.......`*-,...`~,..``.,,,-*.............|.,*...,*....|.................\.........
......................*,.........`-,....)-,..................,-*`...,-*.....(`-,..............\........
........................f`-,........`-,/...*-,___,,-~*.....,-*......|....`-,...............\.......

We've all seen those little keyboard emoticons that people sign off with - the smiles :) and the winks ;) and the laughs out loud :D

But the above takes it to a different level. Hours of work, I imagine, and so 'headache' is both witty and appropriate. I don't know whose creation this is.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Le Peuple Des Miniscules...


Received from my publisher today.


Dear Steve

The French publisher of The Various has just sent me a lovely email, which I thought you might like to read…

Just to let you that I will present to the representative sales team, to our commercial team, “The Various” this afternoon for a launch in February 2011 - I am very moved by this so sensitive and wonderful book, it’s pure fantasy, with a great love for every human being, Various or not.

I would be very pleased if you could send all my admiration to the author. I believe strongly in that trilogy, I would like the Various to be a classic in my series and I am very proud to be the French publisher of the books.

We adapted the original cover and I just changed the title for the French audience. I called it “LE PEUPLE DES MINUSCULES”. I changed the title because "The Various" didn't fit in French and remains very obscure, but I wanted to keep the idea of strange and mysterious people. I chose "Minuscules " which means "little" and that word conveys the idea of little people.

I would like to add that Jean Esch who is the translator of the book (and the translator of Philip Pullman and E. Colfer) was very happy to have this book to work on.

Please find attached the French cover.

With all best wishes

Catherine

Monday, November 08, 2010

Carnegie Medal


I'm very pleased to be able to announce that X Isle has been nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2011. Being nominated is a long way from winning the elusive wee blighter, but it's an honour in itself  and it's where all eventual winners have to start. So yay me. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How to spot a fake Elvis


Elvis is alive and well, as we all know, and living somewhere in the Lake District, but I’ve noticed that there are a number of fake Elvises popping up here and there. Some of them are quite convincing, and it takes a keen eye to spot the difference between the impersonators and the real thing.

I was once booked to play as part of Elvis’s backing band at the County Hotel in Taunton. This was a great honour for a young lad, and I was very excited. We musicians didn’t get to meet the King in advance. He just appeared onstage as we were rolling into Blue Suede Shoes. Wow!

Elvis was in his Vegas jumpsuit period then, sporting the high collars and the silk scarves. I’d heard that he’d put on some weight, so I was prepared for that, but I was surprised to see how short he’d become. Even in his Cuban heels he was only about five foot two. Weird how some people shrink with age. But, he did a pretty good show and I was in seventh heaven. Look at me! I’m backing Elvis!

The place was rocking, and pretty soon Elvis was working up a real sweat. I was standing right behind him, and I noticed his high collar beginning to wilt. As the material became soggier the supporting structure became apparent. It was part of a cornflakes packet! I could see the Kellogg’s cockerel showing through. That’s when the scales fell from my eyes, and I knew this wasn’t the real Elvis. Damn me, it was Squizzy Squires, a local lad, in a suit run up for him by Mrs. Peach who had the junk shop in Castle Street.

Nowadays I’m less naive, and I’ve become quite good at spotting fake Elvises. There’s an Asian one here in West Yorkshire, for instance, who fools nobody. Plus his name kind of gives him away: ‘Patelvis’. I saw another one at a 50th birthday party in the Mechanics Hall, Marsden. He was very good and I know that a lot of people wouldn’t have questioned the fact that this really was Elvis. But I heard his wife nagging him about the central heating, between sets, and that made me a bit suspicious. Later, after the show was over, and Elvis was humping out his PA equipment, I inadvertently annoyed him by closing a fire door he was about to go through.

‘Don’t shut chuffin’ door’, he said, in a thick Yorkshire accent. ‘Can’t tha see Ah’m trying to shift chuffin’ speakers?’ Once again I’d spotted a fake.

Somebody should pay me for this service. I could save people a lot of money, maybe as much as thirty quid a night.

Waiting for Elvis



‘Elvis comes into your life every day.’

This according to a lady friend I was talking to. Only keep your eyes and ears open, she claimed, and Elvis will be there.You’ll be flipping through the TV guide, and you'll see an Elvis film listed. Turn on the radio, read the newspapers, log onto the internet, walk past a record store, and at some point Elvis will appear unto you. Each and every day.

Her husband assured me this was true. ‘It’s true!’ he said. I was a bit skeptical – this after all is a couple who did the whole Elvis Wedding thing in Vegas. They were joined together by Elvis himself in the Little Chapel Of The Wooden Heart, or whatever it’s called. They’re big fans.

Nevertheless, I jumped when my mobile rang about twenty seconds later. ‘Blimey’, I thought. ‘He’s here already!’ But it was my sister – not quite the same thing.

Anyway, I’ve kept my Elvis antennae tuned in these last couple of days, in the hope of a visitation from the King. Sadly, I’ve nothing to report. I’ve seen plenty of George Osborne, but no Elvis. As with all religions, it must be a matter of faith - you have to be truly prepared to let the godhead into your life. I’m plainly not ready for that kind of commitment.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Silent movie...

Schadenfreude isn't the most attractive of human traits, so apologies for posting this opportunity to smile at the misfortune of others. YouTube is awash with this sort of thing, and it's easy to get sucked into wasted hours of viewing pratfalls.

But this clip is made compelling by the absolute rigidity of the camera, and the lack of sound. The effect is just plain eery.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

How to get rid of pop-ups. (Disable Pricegong.)

I’ve nothing against advertising. As someone who worked for years as a freelance illustrator I can hardly afford to be sniffy about it. So I have no beef with the static banners and sidebar ads that appear on the sites that I visit. I understand that they’re essential to commerce, even useful on occasion - in fact there are a few on this blog.

But I can’t abide pop-ups – those infuriating little windows that appear every time you click the mouse, their function being to simply crowd you out, like feral street beggars, until you respond.

Here’s an example from Ebay. I click on a picture of a Sunbeam motorcycle, and immediately get an ad for some kind of tanning product. The link between the two? The word ‘sun’. Yup, they figure that because I’ve shown a passing interest in Sunbeams, I must surely be gagging for a bottle of their bronzing lotion. God give me strength.

Anyway, this morning I’ve made a determined effort to address the problem. How to disable the kind of pop-ups that continually appear on sites such as Ebay and Amazon?

I discovered that responsibility for these hellish little beasts is often down to a programme called Pricegong. If you can disable Pricegong the world becomes a bearable place once more.

Now I’m no computer geek, so I can’t promise that this will work for all, and there may be knock-on effects that I haven't anticipated. But with this disclaimer in mind, and depending on the toolbar you use, here’s what you do:

1. Go to the far right of your toolbar, and you’ll see a little chevron thingy >>.

2. Click on this, and other areas of your toolbar, to search for the Pricegong logo. It's a green price ticket.

3. Click on the green ticket for a drop down menu.

4. Disable the blighter.

5. Now get on with your life.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

At The Walpole Bay Hotel



The Kentish coast is a long way from West Yorkshire, so when The Gents were invited to play in Margate my first response was ‘no thanks’. A 600 mile round trip just for a gig? I’m not that desperate.

But I changed my mind for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’d never been to the East coast – a shameful state of affairs at my age. Secondly, er...my age. I had a big birthday coming up, which surrounding hoop-la I was keen to avoid. Margate suddenly seemed like a good place to be. So I said ‘OK then’, and last Saturday we tipped up at the Walpole Bay Hotel to play at a dance weekend, organised by The Cinque Ports Lindyhoppers.

The Walpole Bay was a wonderful surprise. It’s described as a living museum by its owners, the Bishop family, and that’s exactly how it’s presented – a glorious mish-mash of Edwardiana, thirties and forties artifacts, wartime memorabilia, and...tat. You could spend a very happy weekend there just poking about among the contents without even needing to venture outside to admire the sea views. Unsurprisingly the hotel has been featured in numerous films and TV programmes, and equally unsurprisingly the walls are peppered with photos of visiting and local celebs.



A perfect setting, then, for a weekend of jive and swing music, the dancers all immaculately dressed in their period outfits. And boy can they dance. The Gents are old hands at this kind of thing (see also Hep Cats Holiday) and it’s amazing to watch those crazy kids go. Playing double bass can be warm work, but it’s a breeze compared to what’s happening down on the dancefloor. I kid you not, we saw blood – a big trail of it across the floor – as we were setting up the gear. Although I suppose that could have been an example of local lass Tracey Emin’s installation art...



When we’d finished the gig it seemed too early to go to bed, so we started up again in the bar. Everybody packed themselves in there and we kept it up until three. A great night.



What was slightly weird was that there was a German film crew on hand making a documentary about the hotel. I don’t think they’d expected the dance weekend – the theme of which was WW2, it being the anniversary of the Battle of Britain and all that. So there were these wartime posters everywhere, whose message was hardly German-friendly. I don’t know what the film crew made of all this, or what they will say about it in their programme. 'Xenophobia alive and well in Britain', I shouldn’t wonder.

I was told by some of the dancers that such re-enactment groups don’t exist in Germany, and that they’re not allowed to wear their own military regalia from WW2, at least not officially. This leads to the situation where Germans who love the music and dancing come over here and don British and American uniforms so that they can be a part of it. I find this bizarre, but also rather heartwarming.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Amazing pole dancers



I'm afraid that most trapeze and circus acts leave me cold, so when someone told me I 'must' watch this I thought, oh really? Must I?

I'm glad I did though, because these two dancers achieve the seemingly impossible with wonderful grace. You find yourself looking for hidden wires or supports. Astonishing stuff.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Scraperboard technique: a masterclass.


This is not a photograph. Amazingly, it has been rendered by hand, a supremely authoritative scraperboard illustration by the late Joseph 'Joe' Mendes.

I've written about scraperboard technique before, and people have been kind about my own efforts, but here's a man who's in a different class entirely. A master class. As we zoom in, you'll see what I mean.




Scraperboard is essentially drawing in reverse. You start with a board coated in solid black, and use a special blade to scrape away that coating. Every white line and dot that you see here is actually a patch of exposed board, where the blade has removed a little of the ink.




These pieces were sent to me by Edward Mendes, Joseph's son, and it's an absolute privilege to be able to display them on my blog. There could hardly have been a finer exponent of the art at the time, and I seriously doubt that anyone could match it now.



In part this will be because the need has vanished. Commercial artists like Joseph Mendes were kept in employment largely by advertising agencies, who needed to be able to show their clients' products in newspapers and magazines.The pin-sharp line of a scraperboard illustration could be reproduced by letterpress far better than a photograph, which would look very dull and grey by comparison. Nowadays we have Photoshop, we have CGI, and the means of printing and reproduction have improved enormously. Human craftsmanship to this degree is no longer required by the industry, at least not in this field, and so it has largely died out.





Try to imagine the level of skill required to produce artwork of this calibre, the hundreds of hours of painstaking effort spent on what's essentially a newspaper ad. It's simply boggling. And yet Edward tells me that this wonderful artist referred to his job as 'scratching for a living'.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Bookcrossing





Here's a  story to gladden the heart. I received this lovely email just today.

Dear Steve

I was walking through the Valley Gardens in Harrogate the other day, near the bandstand, when I spotted a book left on a bench in a polythene bag (the book, that is, not the bench) by an old gentleman. Being a public spirited old gentleman myself, I picked it up and was about to call the old gentleman, but he had disappeared. On closer inspection, I found that the book was not lost, only travelling the world in search of new readers, courtesy of Bookcrossing.com

I am in the process of joining said organisation, but while I wait for my email confirmation to come through, I thought I'd google you too. I had never seen your work, and the book, (The Various), is silent about you, but your illustrations speak volumes - they are wonderful. I began illustrating a book in 1975. I may start on the text tomorrow, but no, I must start on your text tomorrow.

The Various has not come far since it started its 'travels' in Lincoln in 2008. It was left on a bench in a polythene bag (the book that is, not the bench), in a park, near the bandstand, by Stargirl...........


I have to say that Bookcrossing sounds like a wonderful idea, and I shall certainly be taking a closer look myself, with a view to joining.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Somewhere Over The Rainbow

I often get emails from youngsters enquiring as to when I’ll be making a film of The Various, and whether I would consider auditioning them for a part? The assumption that the author of a novel will be heading up the film-making process is both touching and startling. My rueful reply is always the same: if only such decisions were up to me.

The truth is that in the filming of any book the author will probably be the last person to be consulted. Nevertheless, we live in hope.

X-Isle was recently submitted for an initiative, run in conjunction with the Rome International Film Festival, to find books suitable for film/tv adaptation. The Fondazione Cinema per Roma will select 8-12 titles which will then be presented to Italian and international producers taking part in New Cinema Network in October.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed, of course, but it would probably be medically inadvisable to hold my breath.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Larkin's Book Bloggers


I've mentioned Larkin’s Book Bloggers before - a great idea from the States. Click on the link to learn all about them, and to read an interview I did with some of their young readers. More power to them!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Timewaster.

You're probably familiar with these ipod dancer images. But click on the ANIMATION of this one and ask yourself which way she's rotating. Clockwise or anti-clockwise?

The answer seems obvious, because you're seeing it the way that you're seeing it. But then you realise that with a bit of effort you can make her go into reverse. Or back and forth for that matter.

Good, eh? Now figure out what you're going to do for the rest of your day.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Kirkus review for X Isle



On the day of X Isle's release in the USA, I've received this great review from Kirkus.

Kirkus is highly regarded within the publishing industry, but its reviewers are not known for pulling their punches, so I was holding my breath rather on this one. As it turns out, I could hardly have hoped for better.

X-ISLE
Author: Augarde, Steve
In a devastated future world, two boys struggle to survive a brutal, bizarre existence on X-Isle. Two years after the “floods came and washed the world away,” Baz leaves his Dad on the mainland when he wins a coveted place as a laborer on X-Isle, a mysterious salvage operation isolated on high ground.

En route, Baz is drawn to Ray, a small, smart and steely boy. Both expect to work hard in exchange for food, shelter and clothing. Neither is prepared for the abusive climate they encounter as captives of Preacher John, a religious fanatic convinced the floods are a punishment demanding biblical sacrifice. Treated like dogs, the boys eventually band together with fellow captives, devise an ingenious bomb and are forced to make life-or-death decisions.

In this dangerous, dicey and displaced world tainted by evil men and base instincts, the surviving boys of X-Isle foster hope in a surprising conclusion. A powerful, disturbing story laced with quirky, memorable characters and fast-paced masculine action and interaction—perfect for male teens. (Science fiction. 12 & up)

Friday, July 09, 2010

X Isle shortlisted



Had some excellent news yesterday - X Isle has been shortlisted for the Coventry Inspiration Book Awards!

More information below from Joy Court - and here's a link to Joy's very generous review of X Isle at School Zone.


‘The fifth year of the Inspiration Book Awards will be launched in Children's Book Week (4 October 2010) and we are hoping to be even more successful this year .The last round of the Awards saw over a 100% increase in visits to our website with over 1.5 million hits on www.myvotescoventry.org and we again saw a big increase in the number of votes cast. The Coventry awards are unique in the country in that they have something for all ages, including adults and involve the whole family and the whole community and they are obviously the ideal vehicle to promote Reading For Life!


Each year we also have a high profile awards ceremony for the winners in each poll in the presence of the Lord Mayor. Adrian Johnson of Arts Council England called it an "exemplary book event". The provisional date for next year will be June 15th 2011so it would be useful to pencil that in your schedules now. Eliminations "Big Brother " style of the books with the least votes each week begins in January and you will know in February if they have won so invitations can be confirmed then! ‘


Joy Court
Learning Resources Manager: Learning & Achievement.
Past Chair:CILIP Youth Libraries Group

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

I do like to be beside the seaside.



The area of West Yorkshire where I now live is about as far away from the coast as it's possible to be in this country. I do miss the seaside, and so every once in a while I have to drive down to the South West and sniff the seaweed, as it were. Take the ozone. I've just returned from a bracing weekend away in Somerset and Devon, visiting old friends - all writers and musicians.


On Saturday I looked in on my band mate from The Gents, Richard Madelin, who's recently had a quadruple heart bypass. Yipes. He has a scar from throat to belly button, which I suppose is to be expected, but the one running the entire length of his leg came as a bigger surprise. This is where an artery has been removed in order to provide the necessary pipework for the operation. The immediate thought that occurs is, 'Hang on. Weren't you using that?' Maybe, as Richard's wife said, this was merely a B road, sacrificed in order to make way for the new bypass. I'm not sure that I have too many such disposable bits left, so please God the same thing never happens to me. Get well soon, Richard.



Sunday lunchtime I played with a bunch of nutters from art college days, The Glad Band. This outfit goes back even further than The Gents, some forty years, which is just plain scary. We manage to get together every half decade or so, and folk come to see us less for the music, which was always pretty ramshackle, than to marvel at the fact that we're all still alive. 'How many kidneys do you suppose they have between them?' people ask. And really it's anyone's guess. I've said before that Glad Band stories have no place in a blog that's visited by youngsters, but I have enough material for a whole other publishing career should I ever run out of ideas for children's books.




In Exmouth I stayed with writer friends, the lovely Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, who always make me feel as though I've been to a spa and psychotherapy session in one, to emerge invigorated, an altogether better human being. And if they, by contrast, are left drained and lacking the will to live, they never let on.




Mal and Ellie have a new book out: Cloud Tea Monkeys, exquisitely illustrated by Juan Wijngaard. The production is of a quality rarely seen nowadays, beautifully printed and stitch-bound, it really is special. I worked with Juan myself some years ago, although - like Mal and Ellie - I've never actually met him. It's a funny old business, co-producing a book with someone who lives thousands of miles away, your lives converging for the duration of the project, to then separate without (in my case) having ever spoken.

All in all a great weekend, and now I'm back. Sea air and renewed friendships have had an energising effect, and I open up my laptop with a fresh resolve: to take more holidays.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Boys Are Back In Town*



Here in the frozen North we have a few short weeks between the end of winter (June 1st) and the Longest Day (June 21st) when all is pleasant and charming. We can venture forth in something less than the standard six layers of clothing, sit outside the pubs on chairs that don’t have to be bolted to the pavement, and generally act normal. Some even go hatless over this brief halcyon period.

But then all hell breaks loose. Down from the hills they come, great gangs of the blighters, bent on rampage and destruction, and very quickly we’re sent scuttling back indoors to hide in the darkness until morning comes.
No, I’m not talking about the sheep – though they’re bad enough, hanging around on street corners, smoking tabs, and intimidating the old folk.

It’s the midges.

We’re famous for our midges round here. Marsden is to midges as Blackpool once was to mill workers. This is where they come for their holidays, and boy do they like to party when they get here. And just to extend the analogy a bit further, I’m the top attraction in town. Yup, one big amusement arcade, that’s me, a pleasure dome to rival Kubla Khan's joint in Xanadu, my pheromones sending out beacons of light lest any should doubt where the hot spot is. They all love me.

‘Let’s go to Steve’s!’ they cry. ‘It’s real!’ And go to Steve’s they do – in their millions.

It’s probably because I’m a softy Southerner. I just taste more better.

Anyway, the annual assault starts here, and so it’s time to erect the barricades once again. I have mosquito netting Velcro’d to all my windows, and that’s quite effective. In fact I love to sit at my desk of an evening, windows open, and watch all the midges batting in vain against gauze. Breaks their little hearts it does, not to be allowed in. ‘Sorry, guys’, I say. ‘Wrong dress code. Have you seen yourselves?’

Which bravado is all very well, but of course I have to go out sometimes and the midges know it. Pretty good at the waiting game is yer man the midge. A bit like yer man the triffid, in that respect. They sidle off into the shadows, hissing and muttering, maybe play a few hands of poker until I come out of hiding, and then they pounce.

I do have a second line of defence: Mosiguard. This is a great product in that it forces the little beasts to keep their distance, even the most vengeful being unable to withstand the smell. Unfortunately it forces everyone else to keep their distance as well, the choking fumes being more or less on a par with mustard gas. ‘Christ!’ they say, over in Slaithwaite, as I emerge from my front door, ‘What’s that stink?

So Mosiguard does little for one’s social standing, and that's why I’ve decided to invest in some of this Avon Skin-so-Soft that I've been hearing about. Our troops swear by it, so I gather, but then they only have to contend with weedy foreign insects. I shall be pleasantly surprised if the Marsden midge can be kept at bay with something more likely to be found in the boudoir than the chemical dump.

But we shall see, and I’m keenly awaiting my bulk shipment, ordered on eBay this morning.

(*And yes, I know it should be 'The Girls Are Back In Town', it being the females that bite, but I don't care.)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

To Kill A Mockingbird is 50.


It's half a century, now, since this most treasured of books was published. Here's an excellent article about Harper Lee, where she lives and how she lives, with insights into why Mockingbird remains her only novel.


To Kill A Mockingbird at 50



No film could ever quite live up to the book, but the 1962 Alan J. Pakula production comes very close. This was one of those rare occasions where Hollywood showed some respect for the original story, and left it largely intact. Lovely central performances from Mary Badham as Scout Finch, and Gregory Peck as Atticus....



...also notable for Robert Duvall's first screen appearance, as Boo Radley.





Nelle Harper Lee in the 'colored balcony' of the real courthouse where Tom Robinson's fictional trial is set. Local productions of Mockingbird are now regularly staged here.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Stroh instruments

I'm a real sucker for old instruments, as some might have gathered. I like to restore things, the runtier the better, and bring them back to life. If I had but space and time, I'd be a one-man rescue centre for musical junk.

My dream would be a Stroh bass. There are only a handful left in the world, and I doubt one will ever come my way, let alone at a price I'd want to pay. The Stroh range of stringed instruments was developed for the early recording age, the idea being that the horns gave a directional sound and were thus easier to mike up.


This is the bass, pictured below. I've actually seen such a beast, in an antique shop on Kilburn High Road many years ago, but never played one. God knows what they sounded like, but boy do they look cool.


Sunday, June 06, 2010

Those Good Old Days...




You have to feel sorry for modern children. They’re continually being told how brilliant everything was back in the 50s and 60s – the clothes, the music, the freedom. It’s a wonder they find any point in being born at all, when it’s plain that they’ve missed all the fun.
In my mailbox this morning, I found the following; a hymn to those good old days...

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL WHO WERE BORN IN THE 1930's 1940's, 50's, 60's and 70's!
*First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they carried us and lived in houses made of asbestos.
*They took aspirin, ate blue cheese, raw egg products, loads of bacon and processed meat, tuna from a can, and didn't get tested for diabetes or cervical cancer.
*Then after that trauma, our baby cots were covered with bright coloured lead-based paints.
*We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets or shoes, not to mention, the risks we took hitchhiking.
*As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags.
*We drank water from the garden hose and NOT from a bottle.




*Take away food was limited to fish and chips, no pizza shops, McDonalds , KFC, Subway or Nandos.
*Even though all the shops closed at 6.00pm and didn't open on the weekends, somehow we didn't starve to death!
*We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and NO ONE actually died from this
*We could collect old drink bottles and cash them in at the corner store and buy Toffees, Gobstoppers, Bubble Gum and some bangers to blow up frogs with.
*We ate cupcakes, white bread and real butter, and drank soft drinks with sugar in it, but we weren't overweight because......WE WERE ALWAYS OUTSIDE PLAYING!!
*We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach us all day. And we were O.K.
*We would spend hours building our go-carts out of old prams and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. We built tree houses and dens and played in river beds with matchbox cars. WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!




*We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no Lawsuits from these accidents...
*We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.
*You could only buy Easter Eggs and Hot Cross Buns at Easter time...
*We were given air guns and catapults for our 10th birthdays,
*We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just yelled for them!
*Mum didn't have to go to work to help dad make ends meet!
*RUGBY and CRICKET had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!! Getting into the team was based on MERIT
*The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!



*Our parents didn't invent stupid names for their kids like 'Kiora' and 'Blade' and 'Ridge' and 'Vanilla'.
*We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ALL !
And YOU are one of them! CONGRATULATIONS!




(All very well, and true to some extent, but let's not forget that we also had diphtheria, polio and thalidomide. We had regular beatings with sticks, rulers and belts. We had Teddy Johnson and Pearl Carr. We had school dentists. And of course we had Sundays, bloody Sundays...)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Quasimodo and Quasi-modal.


Chances are you won't recognise this diagram, or understand it, but you'll certainly have experienced its effect. It's a bell-ringer's chart.

If you live near a church, as I do, you’ll know all about the bells. You might bless them or curse them, depending upon the time of day and how you’re feeling (I happened to be ever so slightly fragile this morning) but you’ll certainly notice them.

To the untrained ear a peal of bells might sound like a random cacophony, no more structured than the noise from a hen-house. But it’s not so – or at least it shouldn’t be.

I used to do a bit of bell-ringing as a lad (anything to get out of school for a couple of hours) and whilst I’ve forgotten most of the little I learnt I can tell you that a peal of bells is as structured as a logarithm.


You have charts to follow, wond'rous complex, where you attempt to ring your bell at just the right moment - which will depend upon the bell before yours and whether that has been rung at the right moment. In the example at the top of this post, you are the blue bell, No.2. You can see that the order changes from round to round, and it’s your job to follow the bell that has just been rung.

Bell-ringing can be as physically dangerous as it's mentally taxing. This is the original heavy metal, after all, and trying to control half a ton of swinging bronze ain't easy. If you should hold on to the rope for a split second too long, you’ll find yourself whisked up to the ceiling and forced through a hole no bigger than a doughnut. No wonder campanologists have heads like traffic cones.

So next time you’re driven crazy by the sound of the bells (the bells!) spare a thought for the boys in the belfry, who are attempting the impossible – the Quasi-modal no less – on your behalf. Then curse them anyway, and put a pillow over your head.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Nuts in May



The squawking of horsehair upon catgut, the thwacking of sticks, the merry jingle of noddy bells...

Ah yes. It’s that time of year again.

The Morris Men are back from wherever it is they migrate to in the winter, prancing about on my patio, and frightening the ducks with their strange cries.

It’s supposed to represent  the heart of old Albion, the epitome of Englishness, but Morris dancing always seems vaguely foreign to me. Like Trick-or-Treating, or boules, I don't really get it, and so I can never muster much enthusiasm. Still, they’re the ones that are out in the sunshine dancing and drinking beer, whilst I’m sitting at my laptop working, so maybe they’re not as daft as they look.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Variety Performance



I’ve been tipping up at a few open mic night sessions over the last year or so, inflicting myself on a blameless public and generally being a nuisance.

Playing semi-pro since I was in my late teens, I’d forgotten all about this world – reminiscent of the old folk clubs – where people get up and sing for free. It’s as mixed a bag as it always was, old hands, young guns, the ever hopeful and the forever hopeless. Here you’ll find seasoned players maybe road-testing a couple of numbers before taking them out to the bigger clubs, the one-trick ponies who’ll play the same song every week to ironic applause, the earnest self-penned songsters whose appearance usually indicates a swift trip to the bar. But you also get the occasional gem, some young girl who gets up and sings unaccompanied, awkward and shy, not knowing how to stand or where to put herself...and goes on to rip your heart out.

There are usually at least as many performers as listeners, but all do listen, which can be both gratifying and intimidating. Other musicians watch you with critical eye, sympathetic should you stumble, appreciative of any flash-gittery successfully pulled off, curious afterwards to learn whatever you might have to show.


And nothing goes on for too long. As a player you don’t have the normal gig pressure of trying to hold down a whole evening, and as a listener you don’t have to endure some interminable toss that makes you wonder where you can lay your hands on a pint of diazepam. Variety is what you get, and I suppose that this is where the great British tradition of Variety stems from. The roots of it remain, though leaf and branch have long died away.

The photos were taken by my friend Mark Kelly, last St. Patrick’s day. Suitably grizzled and grainy. It looks as though I've startled a leprechaun.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Sanseverino



Musician and writer friend Richard Madelin sent me this great clip of French band Sanseverino. It was a reminder of another French band we saw some years ago in Austin, Texas, and then again in San Francisco - '8 and a half Souvenirs'.

It's a wonderfully assured performance. I said to Richard that as the Americans are with Country music, so the French are with this. If an American musician sat down with a French musician, each would recognise and acknowledge the other's identity and style. Whereas if an English musician were to to turn up, he'd be recognisable to neither but would rob both.

Richard said that the English musician would rob both and still get it wrong.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Reasons to be cheerful.

It's always a relief to get appreciative reviews from the professionals. A good opinion can be very helpful in bringing a book into public awareness, and a subsequent boost in sales. On the other hand an ill-judged one can be very damaging, especially when it contains plot spoilers - as I know to my recent cost.

But it's the lesser heard voices of the target readership that are actually the most importamt. You can't fool young readers, or force them into being engaged, no matter what recommendations come from on high. If they find your work boring, or patronising, then they'll soon put it aside. But if they like it, then the chances are they'll let you know.

So I'm delighted whenever I get emails from readers telling me how much they've enjoyed a particular book, or when links to young readers' reviews appear in my inbox.

Here are a couple received this week that have cheered me up no end.

Larkin's Book Bloggers

Dear Steve Augarde, I ABSOLUTELY loved The Various!!!!!! My friend recommended the trilogy when I went to her house and I'm so glad she did!!!I really like Midge's character, in some ways she's a bit like me but that's not really the reason I like her I just think she is the kind of person I would really like as a friend!! I reccomended the books to my school library and they have just been put on the shelves so I hope everyone in my school gets to read them!! I can't wait till I read the next books! But anyway a couple of questions....... What inspired you to write the Various Trioligy? Was Midge based on anyone in particular? Which of your books do you like the most? Do you think people who read and loved the trilogy would love your new book X Isle? And FINALY my friend also asked you this question but i'm afraid i can't remember the answer !! Would you like to make the books into a film? And if you were would, where do you think would be the best place to film it? Anyway I love writing stories and I'm really interested in fairies and magic and stuff like that and was wondering if you have any tips for writing stories/novels etc.? Thank you so much!!
From Kate, Age;11 from London

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pulp fiction - hard facts.


I picked up a bunch of old dime magazines some years ago when I was living in Bristol, a few of them pictured above. They stem from the 1930s, and it's interesting to find some big names attached to the stories within - Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler amongst them. I guess this was where they cut their writing teeth before going on to become popular novelists.

Better than the stories, though, are the small ads. Here's a real slice of social history, a clue as to the lives of Americans during the post-Depression era. It's apparent that jobs were scarce, money and health a worry, social contact limited. Take a look...


Learning to play a musical intrument was promoted as a way of gaining both cash and popularity. How many Hawaiian guitars were bought, I wonder, on the assurance that 'only four motions were required' in order to master the instrument? And how many such instruments would be laid aside upon discovering that a musician's life is about as glittering as that of a dirt farmer?


  Money money money - ways to find it, make it, keep it. How desperate the eyes that scanned these pages, how vain the hope that a dime mag would somehow provide the answer, the quick fix needed to pay those bills. What punters probably didn't realise was that the hawkers of these schemes and 'opportunities' would have been equally desperate.


                           

And look at this. America was apparently populated by bow-legged, crooked-nosed, kidney-strained men who were too old at 35 to be capable of reproduction. It's a wonder that the next generation ever came into being.


Finally, a little sample from the personal trading columns. I notice that there are a few musical instruments up for swaps - perhaps bought from these very pages - the idea that a banjo can be a ticket to riches and social acceptance being peddled to the next mug. And here's a guy in Arizona, looking around his empty apartment, wondering what his pickled tarantula might fetch on the open market, a Colorado farmer willing to trade his 320 acres for a two-bit filling station in town.

Hemingway must have been thinking of such hidden lives when he wrote his famous six-word short story: 'For sale, baby's shoes. Never worn.'