My urban fantasy novel, Feline Alchemy, has been reviewed at the bookscover2cover website by Piper Templeton, who was generous enough to sign-off with the comment “I highly recommend it even if fantasy is not your genre because the writing is so clever, and the observations on human nature and the workplace are so perceptive.” The full review can be read by clicking on the link –
The very wonderful Oyinkan Braithwaite (poet, prose writer and, latterly, TV personality) has been kind and deluded enough to nominate me for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. The Award Guidelines are as follows:
1.Thank and link to the amazing person who nominated you.
2.List the rules and display the award.
Which is what’s happening here…
3.Share seven facts about yourself.
i. Sue Blake is the name of a fictional character who originally appeared in the dark fantasy novel Feline Alchemy.
ii. Sue Blake is a man’s name.
iii. In Feline Alchemy Sue Blake explains that he was given the name Sue because “My parents were both huge Johnny Cash fans, although they chose to ignore his advice about naming a son, obviously.” But I’ll let Johnny himself explain –
iv. While I was proofreading Feline Alchemy I realised it might be wise to adopt a pen-name because a number of scenes in the book take place within the office of a company called LoreLei Media; these scenes are played mainly for satirical purposes but are based on characters and situations from life. Basically, when I wrote Feline Alchemy I, like the central character, was working at LoreLei Media.
v. I like the name Sue Blake for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I tend to think of it as being like a band name in the mould of Alice Cooper, i.e. there never was any person named “Alice”, only a band of that name. It also works as an ironic nod to the time when women writers were usually forced to adopt men’s names in order to publish their books.
vi. Two of the central characters in Feline Alchemy are named Morrigan and Leiliana, in homage to the Xbox game Dragon Age: Origins (see the image at top of this post). The reason for this is that a few years ago, whilst looking to treat myself to a Christmas present, I decided to buy an Xbox. The first game I played was DA: Origins, which I started by quite enjoying and then became hooked on, not due to the gameplay so much as the storyline and characters. Essentially, it became a matter of honour that I and my trusty comrades (Alistair, Morrigan, Leiliana, Win, etc) should defeat the horrors that threatened the kingdom of Ferelden. And so it was that, auspiciously, on New Year’s Day we were finally victorious and killed the detested dragon after numerous shambolic failed attempts. It was a beautiful moment for my comrades and I.
Well, the imagination is a weird and powerful force and, as I raised my heroic arms aloft in celebration (ahem), a moment of epiphany flashed across my mind – I realised that for the Hero of Ferelden (i.e. myself) the prospect of starting another year with nothing better to maintain my interest than a job I heartily despised (see point iv) was never going to be an option if I hoped to get to December with my mental faculties intact. Instead I felt the need to try to make a positive contribution of some sort, according to whatever abilities I might have. Dragon slaying was sadly out. But I realised I could return to writing fiction, which I’d set aside a few years previously. So I did.
vii. Besides the Xbox game, the main influences in creating the characters of Morrigan and Leiliana in the novel were my cats, George and Bootsy. They were named, of course, after George Clinton and Bootsy Collins of Parliament/Funkadelic fame –
There’s no particular reason for including the clip except that the day always feels better for having a little funk in it, I think.
Now, since this post is getting rather long, I will be returning at a later date for Part 2 of the Very Inspiring Blogger Award, when I will complete the tasks set out in the guidelines as follows (drumroll….)
4. Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated.
5. Proudly display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you.
When Hollywood buys the rights to the greatest dark fantasy novel ever written, Feline Alchemy, the producers will make many unforgivable mistakes with regard to the script; this is a given. I have, however, managed to provide a bullet-proof soundtrack for the ensuing motion picture. Each song is not only groovy in its own right, but also provides insight and commentary on the associated chapter. It’s kind of like opera, really, except it’s good.
Chapter 17 – Sparklehorse, Painbirds
“Spiral down those hateful dears.”
No other band’s music has such a sense of fragility about it. Beautiful songs stutter, fall over and abruptly dissolve in confusion. You get the impression that the band, essentially Mark Linkous, is never entirely convinced, always trying to second guess itself and rarely satisfied with the outcome. It acts as a kind of antidote to the brash self-assurance the music industry generally assumes by right.
Chapter 18 – The Cardigans – I Need Some Fine Wine and You, You Need To Be Nicer
“It’s been a long, slow collision.”
I seem to remember people found it tempting to be dismissive of The Cardigans. There was the huge success that tied-in with the video game Gran Turismo. There was Nina Persson’s beauty. These things aren’t authentic; they’re not sufficiently real in indie parlance, and so people like to get cynical. Fortunately, flawless pop is immune to cynicism. Nor is it interested in appearing authentic. Tunes, glamour and wit inevitably win the argument.
Before Chapter 19 – Echo and the Bunnymen, Rescue
“Is this the blues I’m singing?”
When modern pop music was invented in Liverpool in the 60s the shadow cast by Messrs L & M over the local bands who followed in their wake was always destined to be daunting. Echo and the Bunnymen was the band that came closest to relishing, and living up to, that challenge. Rescue is one of the band’s earliest songs and shows how they evolved fully formed, without a tousled hair out of place and with pouting lips ready for the adoring masses.
End Credits – Spacemen 3, Transparent Radiation
“Uttering words about the turning tide.”
And as the lights dim on the set of Feline Alchemy, credits rolling, we need a suitably offbeat, uplifting and elegant epic on which to finish before we all emerge blinking into the light, to face the music in the real world once again. Transparent Radiation was written by The Red Krayola, a wilfully uncommercial, idealistic, hippy collective, and was made perfect by Spacemen 3. It seems to me to be an ideal song to have playing if you ever find yourself being burned at the stake – I can picture Joan of Arc listening to this on her Walkman as the flames lick ever higher.
The penultimate instalment of the world’s favourite fictitious movie soundtrack is coloured by an element of mental disintegration, casting some doubt on the Bob Marley quote in the title. However, while music never anaesthetises pain for long it does provide one of the sparks of consolation when the days get too gloomy, right?
Chapter 13 – Joy Division/New Order, In a Lonely Place
“How I wish you were here with me now.”
With Closer Joy Division produced an album that was by turns frightening (Atrocity Exhibition), haunting (The Eternal) and uplifting (Decades); it’s also one of pop’s most perfect statements. You can’t add or subtract a note or a word on that record without lessening its spell. New Order’s brilliance was more hit-and-miss: spellbinding songs mixed with filler. In a Lonely Place is essentially NO covering JD, its sense of claustrophobia matching the circumstances of its recording.
Chapter 14 – 13th Floor Elevators, Levitation
“High above the ant hills.”
If the 1965-67 Beatles had been one of the “Nuggets” bands unearthed by Lenny Kaye they’d have sounded exactly like 13th Floor Elevators: a perfect pop sensibility marshalled in the service of an outlandish sound and psychedelic poems based on bits of Gurdjieff, Leary etc. Singer Roky Erickson crash-landed in the cuckoo’s nest, sadly, but this still sounds like sheer (weird) joy.
Chapter 15 – Sisters of Mercy, Anaconda
“Let it take her breath away.”
Goth – a swear word in some circles, sneered with derision. Personally, I quite like derision. Most people are almost always wrong, as we know. So if they started to agree with me then I’d start to worry. The best bands that were labelled Goth in the early 80s, Cure/Siouxsie/Sisters, didn’t simply slap on tonnes of eyeliner and pretend to be bats; they mixed in classic tunes with the snakebite. The early Sisters EPs sound exactly how I’d hoped Suicide would sound: an electro-pulse beat combined with high-strung, scratchy guitars and the world’s doomiest melodies.
Chapter 16 – Dinosaur Jr, Freak Scene
“What a mess.”
The drawl – it’s an underused approach to rock vocals, probably because rock music isn’t intended to be laconic, deadpan and shrugging at the world. Rock music wants to be wired, energetic, and buzzing with fist-pumping pseudo rebellion. J Mascis, bless him, couldn’t be bothered with any of that nonsense. The reason Dinosaur Jr still work as a rock band is due to his approach to playing guitar, which he treats mostly as a percussion instrument.
To recap: Feline Alchemy, the genre defining dark fantasy novel, is to be filmed by Hollywood. Naturally, this means the rapier-like wit of the original text will be replaced by a lowest common denominator, bums-on-seats, FX-laden schmuck-fest replete with Dick Van Dyke accents and gooey romantic interludes… but all is not lost, because in these posts I’m providing the producers with a soundtrack so faultless that even they can’t screw it up. After the solid-gold, non-stop hitsvilles of part 1 and part 2, we stray into curiouser and curiouser territory in part 3 –
Chapter 9 – My Bloody Valentine, You Made Me Realise
“Don’t hate me cos I don’t hate you.”
When you listen to MBV at the peak of their powers you get the impression they were making music out of all the sounds that usually slip between the gaps when pop songs get constructed. The tracks on Isn’t Anything and the contemporary EPs seem like the negatives of traditional fully developed pop songs, ghosts of greatest hits beamed in from another dimension.
Chapter 10 – Howlin’ Wolf, Killing Floor
“I shoulda quit you a long time ago.”
Most people couldn’t get away with styling themselves “Howlin’ Wolf”; they’d seem a bit, well, ludicrous. But, in this case, it’s the name Chester Burnett that seems out of place. Chester Burnett might’ve been the name of a haberdasher, a friendly guy who sold you some buttons once; or a travelling salesman, specialising in pickles, say. But with a voice that sounds like a worn and weathered boulder rolling down a mountainside you’ve got no option but to take a name that’s more primal. Ladies and gentlemen, Howlin’ Wolf.
Chapter 11 – Faust, It’s a Bit of a Pain
“Who wouldn’t sell his mind?”
Krautrock as a genre divides opinion. It divides opinion because at its best it’s often like overhearing a motorway pile-up in which pop music was driving one of the cars and the other drivers were Faust, Neu!, Can, etc. Krautrock is a precise and wilful act of vandalism in that sense – that’s the joy of it. But people get teary-eyed about verse/chorus/melody, all mowed down in their prime. And so they disagree with the dangerous driving of Messrs Diermaier, Rother, Suzuki, etc. But that’s ok because Krautrock is the sound of pop music disagreeing with everyone.
Chapter 12 – Loop, Brittle-head Girl
“Trip me up inside your world.”
Pop music 101 – Pick up a guitar, hit the strings; if the noise it makes sounds good, repeat. Loop made it an article of faith to stick as closely to that template as possible. What results is music that’s like a mantra: it pulses around your head like an interior indie hypnotist and either you resist or get washed along with it and start to drift.