Tears for the Mack

Four years ago, I watched in horror the news stories reporting the fire at Glasgow School of Art. A few days ago, history repeated itself with a vengeance. After years of painstaking restoration, the Mackintosh building was due to re-open soon. But after the devastating fire of June 17th what little remains of this magnificent building is under threat of collapse or demolition.

Already, there are discussions all over social media and traditional media about the future of the building. Disagreement about its future because of the structural risk the gutted shell poses and the potential costs involved if rebuilding were to be considered. Arguments about whether there are better ways to use the money that it would cost. People are angry that this has happened again and are naturally seeking to apportion blame for this terrible event.

Watching the pictures of the burning building and the neighbouring buildings, it seems to me a miracle that no one was hurt or killed. After the tragedy of Grenfell Tower, we can at least be thankful for that. But while it cannot compare to that terrible, terrible event, this second fire in the Mackintosh building is a devastating blow for Glasgow. Considered by many to be Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s masterpiece, the art nouveau building was a working art school, a landmark, a tourist attraction, part of the rich cultural heritage of Glasgow and a source of pride for the city. I know there will be many people with connections to the Mack who will be shedding tears for it.

The art school features in my novel, The Backstreets of Purgatory. I don’t want to make this post about the book but I do want to mention something that is bothering me, which may be trivial in the scheme of things but feels important to say nonetheless. The original version of the opening chapter was set in the Mackintosh building. After the fire in 2014, it took me a while to be able to rewrite it but, by the time I did, restoration was well under way and the future looked optimistic for the building. I had my main character make a throw away comment about the fire. He isn’t supposed to be the most sensitive of people but now his remarks seem even more crass and sad than I originally intended. Had I known, I would have written it differently.

But, of course, there was no way of knowing.

Art school window

At the moment, it is too early to predict what the future holds for the Mackintosh building. Who knows, perhaps we will hear the stonemasons and the carpenters working on it again. Perhaps the stunning iron work and the stained glass will be remade. Or perhaps, this time, the Mack will be gone for good. Either way, these are sad times for it.

 

Featured Image: The Mackintosh Building, Holly Hayes, flickr

Image: Classic Rennie Mackintosh, Ross G Strachan, flickr

 

We can’t help but judge a book by its cover

The old saying says we shouldn’t but we do it all the time. Judge a book by its cover, that is. Publishers and marketing departments rely on it. That first impression that piques your interest or puts you off completely. The distinctive hallmarks of different genres. A certain style that brackets a debut novel with the latest bestseller. I’m talking fiction (and creative non-fiction) here although no doubt there are similar criteria that dictate the covers of non-fiction and academic books even if the specifics are different.

Picture the scene. You’re browsing in a bookshop, pennies burning a hole in your pocket, on the look out for something murderous or challenging, or perhaps you’re in the mood for a few laughs, or maybe you want a fast and furious thrill, or to chill with a light, easy read, and there’s a table of new fiction laid out before you. What do you do? Continue reading “We can’t help but judge a book by its cover”

Unknown unknowns and my Unbound adventure

The moon stuff came out of nowhere, knocked me sideways, sent me swirling into a vertiginous panic

The first time it happened, I was in the infant class at primary school. At the end of the spring term, the adorable—adored—Miss Hughes announced to her pupils that she would be getting married during the Easter holidays.

‘So what will my new name be when we come back to school?’

Left to my own devices, Rumpelstiltskin would have seemed as sensible a guess as any. No joke though, the entire class replied in unison.

‘Mrs Thompson.’

When I say entire, what I mean is entire minus one.

me-age-4-or-5
Baffled

To this day, I have not the faintest idea how my class mates came by that (correct) answer or where I was (physically or mentally) at the moment they were primed with that particular piece of information. I’d even go as far as to say that I’m fairly certain I wasn’t even aware of the possibility of a Miss to Mrs transition, never mind the idea of a whole change of surname.

So there I sat on my miniature chair at my slice of a shin-high, half-hexagonal, light-grey plastic table, while Miss Hughes basked in the radiance of her future marital happiness and the adoration of her tiny students, and was (as I remain) utterly baffled.

Another time. It’s First Year at High School. A science class and Continue reading “Unknown unknowns and my Unbound adventure”

The journey begins

They seemed effortlessly cool—cool but professional—turning out top quality, exciting, left-field works like one of the good indie record labels from back in the day.

It is almost a year ago now since I met Rachael Kerr, Unbound’s Editor-at-Large, at a National Creative Writing Graduate Fair at Manchester Metropolitan University. She was one of several industry professionals speaking at the fair and I was immediately taken by the whole idea of Unbound. They seemed pretty rock and roll compared to traditional publishers. Adventurous, innovative, and totally down with the digital age. Qualities I’d love to say that I shared but a body of evidence the size of a hairy mammoth pretty much proves the opposite.

Technologically challenged, a late adopter, insecure and hideously introverted would be perhaps to understate my defining characteristics. Not ideal when Unbound’s model relies on crowdfunding, on gathering supporters to pledge to buy the book in advance. As soon as a project has enough support, the book goes into production—special editions for the supporters alongside a commercial print run (in conjunction with Penguin Random House). But to find that support, the authors have to do a large part of the marketing themselves.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m more than willing to work hard (so long as the hard work doesn’t involve picking tatties—worst job ever by the way). But I have issues asking people to sponsor me for a charity run, never mind ask them to pledge for my book.

So, back at the conference, I chatted with Rachael, pitched my idea and she seemed to like it. The basic synopsis of THE BACKSTREETS OF PURGATORY  is as follows: Caravaggio arrives in present day Glasgow to help out a struggling art student and things get messy. Rachael asked me to email her the manuscript. Result.

But I didn’t. Not for Continue reading “The journey begins”