I’ve been playing guitar since I was fifteen, a long, long time. Although I also first wrote stories as a teenager and then on into my twenties, life intervened, and there was a gap of several decades before I started again. It seems to me now that music and literature are first cousins: the importance of rhythm, structure, of learning to shape a phrase, all apply to both, as does the value of a pause, or even silence. Both have a formal vocabulary and rich vernacular possibilities, both hold more secrets than can ever be learned in a lifetime.
I’ve known so many musicians, professional and amateur, famous and unknown, that music, and the people who play it, seems a very natural thing to write about. 'Fergal’s First Gig' was my fledgling attempt at returning to fiction. It’s based loosely on my friendship with a schoolmate guitarist, now my oldest friend, whose playing seemed miraculous by our then teenage standards, and still does to me when I think back. The story won second prize in the Bedford International Short Story Competition 2014, which, thank you dear Bedford, encouraged me to continue. It's since been redrafted, but you can read the original version, badly overwritten I fear, by clicking @3
Oktavists are very rare creatures indeed. They sing an octave below bass and seem to exist mainly in Russia, hence the 'k' in their name. My second published story, 'My Friend the Oktavist', which first appeared in The London Journal of Fiction, describes the experience of two boys, born in small adjacent towns in England, whose voices plummet freakishly at puberty, causing difficulties. They bond and look out for each other in consequence as their lives go in different directions. Well worth Googling 'oktavist' if you've never heard one. Sadly the LJF seems to exist no longer, but Brett and Phil, editors of the fabulous Prole magazine, have kindly given it a new home in Issue 29.
'Guitar Strings, People Strings' tells the tale of an ageing metal head, now reduced to playing weddings, but still hell bent on having an impact. I've come across a number of such and they hold a special place in my heart. This story was shortlisted in the Bedford International Short Story Competition 2016. If my career as a writer of stories fails, it will certainly not be due to anyone at Bedford.
'Getting Our Heads Together in the Country' has yet to find a publisher, perhaps because I’ve never submitted it. It's set in 1969, and describes a group of teenage musicians recording a double album while communing with nature in a field in deepest Somerset (younger readers, I promise you things like this really once happened). The narrator remembers the whole experience, with mixed feelings, as a lost idyll. If by chance any editor is reading and finds this in any way intriguing please get in touch and a script will be with you forthwith.
Regarding my own playing, I had the very good fortune to learn directly from several of the iconic acoustic players of the sixties and seventies, including the founding father of the British steel string guitar, Davy Graham. Davy’s utter originality was reflected in his lifestyle and character, which was singular to say the least, but it was an unforgettable experience to go to his home and soak up knowledge and inspiration. I described how it all started in an article for Acoustic Magazine.
I currently (as of April) find myself 20,000 words into what could be a novel about a group of touring rock musicians, set in the early seventies. This is by far the longest piece of fiction I've written and started off as a short story, taken from a dream-like memory of sitting in a café on a rainy day in my teens. The radio was playing and I had no idea where life would take me. Strange how some images stay with you. Without any planning, or in fact plotting, it continues to grow as a sort of respite from the darker themes that sometimes appear in my short stories. I said I'd never write a novel, but it's beginning to look as though one could be appearing nonetheless.