Memories of Middlesbrough Exhibition

Memories of Middlesbrough facebook (closed) group has been an absolutely phenomenal success since the page was set up in 2012 by Sue Martin. It is now bulging at the seams with over 12000 members and a staggering 20 000 likes. They are very active members too, posting photos and stirring up memories of Middlesbrough’s streets, buildings and people. Memories shared are almost given new life again.

Memories of Middlesbrough have been given some exhibition space at the town’s free museum Dorman Museum where a number of photos taken by the members are now on display. The exhibition was launched last month as part of Discover Middlesbrough. The display will be re-jigged with some different photos after Christmas.

momdorman1Just to underline what a phenomenon it is there have been MoM calendars, there was an exhibition at mima in association with Araf Chohan and a book is in the pipeline of photos taken by the facebook community group members.

In the meantime do go along upstairs and have a wander down Memories of Middlesbrough lane. Ride the roundabout in Albert Park or play out in the Linthorpe streets. Remember when there was a bustling market on Sussex Street. Remember when there was a Sussex Street!

Hugh Bell school may be long gone but the Winners photo lives on. Talking of celebrations get the bunting out again for a Middlesbrough V.E. street party.

Dorman Museum – Open Tues to Sunday 9.30am to 4.30pm (Closed Mondays)


Richard Milward’s Rebirth Pool

It is not only your bookshelf that demands a presence from Richard Milward but your walls as well. The Teesside novelist rose to fame and acclaim with his first book Apples is now making his mark with a paint brush. You can buy limited prints of paintings that can be every bit as edgy and engaging as his novels. The prices should be affordable for most.

Richard’s first book Apples was published by Faber and Faber in 2007, he followed this with Ten Storey Love Song and, most recently, Kimberly’s Capital Punishment. Set on a Middlesbrough housing estate Apples plots, school, night life and dislocated families from the dark and stuffed underbelly up. The characters that populate his paintings are just as shocking and in your face as those from the novels.

Apples has since been performed on stage and Richard has written essays, articles and all things in between from magazines ranging from Dazed and Confused to Fly Me To The Moon. Richard’s impact was recognised with an honorary degree from University of Teesside in 2013.

Here is a short interview with the Middlesbrough born writer and painter.

Q: You are well known for your writing Richard but tell us a little about your art background?

RM: I was writing constantly through my teens, but by the time I left sixth-form college I wanted to study Art rather than English Language/Literature, and managed to get into Cleveland College of Art & Design then Byam Shaw at Central St Martins in London. It makes a lot more sense to me how Art is taught compared to English or other subjects, since you’re encouraged to be fully experimental, take risks, and not feel straitjacketed by rules (grammar, spelling, certain formulas etc). Art colleges give you free reign to explore all kinds of different ideas in different ways, and it’s a blessing you don’t even really have to be able to draw to get into one. You just need an open brain.

rm-the-rebirth-pool_pink-printQ: Having seen you perform live reading from your work I have seen you wear elaborate props – that was my first introduction to your art work I think? Does it all tie together for you like that, the art and literature? Are you drawn towards characters in both?

RM: Yeah, there’s definitely similarities. My paintings are quite cartoonlike, like aspects of some of my books, and populated by characters that seem half grotesque, half wide-eyed and innocent. Painting almost works as an antidote to novel-writing for me though. Painting is more physical, especially when it’s properly expressive, and you’ve always got the full picture in front of you: you can adjust it all in just a few strokes. Writing a novel is a lot more slippery: you can get tangled in all the loose ends, all the different strands of the story, but then it’s a lot more satisfying once it all comes together.

Q: You had an exhibition not that long ago at House of Blah Blah, was that a big step exhibiting live? It is a great venue by the way, so atmospheric.

RM: Yeah The House of Blah Blah is really special. Good on them for getting their hands on that building and holding genuinely unique and obscure events there, from fashion shows to raves to exhibitions. It was nice of them to trust me enough to produce whatever I wanted. I don’t think they’d even seen what I was up to until the day of setting up for the opening night. I feel like other institutions can be a lot more cagey nowadays about giving artists free reign, and as a result the work can end up a lot more sterile or benign. Like Malcolm McLaren says: ‘Better to be a spectacular failure than a benign success.’ Too right.

Q: Can you tell us something about the paintings that you are selling prints of, a bit of background to the subjects and what kinds of things you were expressing? Are they limited editions too?

RM: Over the years a fair few folk have come up to me asking if I ‘d ever thought about selling prints, so I finally decided to take the plunge, especially now my pockets are more threadbare than usual. There’s a mix of prints I’m selling: four of them come from The Rebirth Pool series I did for The Tunnel Gallery under Middlesbrough train station (and also exhibited at The House of Blah Blah, and The Social, London). These are swirling retina-burning illustrations based on the hypnotic ‘mandalas’ of India and beyond, with all sorts of cryptic symbols. Also, there’s a print of a painting I did in 2007 called ‘Frisky Disco’, a splashback snapshot of Eve from Apples surrounded by a pack of thirsty creatures in a dreamlike or nightmarish nightspot. The prints are limited to 250 copies – and they’re all signed and hand-numbered.

Q: You have recently had an essay published alongside Natalie Hardwick in Stripped Tees can you tell us something about the idea behind that project?

RM: Natalie got in touch out of the blue a couple of years back, asking if I fancied writing 10,000 words on any aspect of Teesside I wanted, for a publisher she knows called Influx Press. Natalie hails from Stockton – she’s a great writer, a journalist for the BBC and Guardian among many others, and she wrote the other essay in the Stripped Tees book. Influx’s output tends to hone in on often overlooked areas of the UK. I feel like I’ve written a lot about the Boro in my fiction, but again it was great to be given free reign to write something non-fiction about the area.

Q: You have written about Grove Hill, somewhere that all too often gets a bad press. You live in that part of the town, do you find hope or hopelessness lurking there?

rm-frisky-disco-printRM: With a heavy heart I’ve got to admit I live in London now – but when I was writing the essay I was in a flat just behind Palladium Shops, so for seven or eight years I’d seen first-hand what was going on with the redevelopment of the area. Mainly in the piece I’m talking about how, despite the onslaught of bad press Grove Hill’s received, it’s only a small minority of people who caused problems there, and it’s a shame the whole area had to suffer, and subsequently be half-demolished because of it. By the time I’d finished the writing it was still difficult to draw any conclusions – the economy collapsed just after Ray Mallon vowed to ‘get it right’ with the estate, so most probably that’s the major reason the upheaval and airbrushing’s been stalled. I go into it a lot more deeply in the essay, but in a nutshell I’m not convinced you can just dislocate half an estate’s residents, disinfect their shadows, then rebuild shiny new abodes and expect the place’s reputation to be ‘cured’. The estate’s (and the region’s) problems are more deeper-rooted than that, and now undeniably exacerbated by the current government’s policies…

Q: Can I expand that a bit. You are a passionate Teessider and have also experienced living away. Do you still find home pride here?

RM: Absolutely. I miss the place a lot. My last couple of years in the Boro were slightly marred by a dire money situation, which a lot of others in the town suffer too, but I reckon it’s difficult to feel completely lonely in the Boro. We plough on…

Q: What are you working on at the moment, writing wise?

RM: I’m juggling a few ideas at the minute. I’m hoping there’ll be some news of my next novel, as well as a collection of short stories soon.

Q: Are there any plans for another exhibition?

rm-degreeRM: Yeah. This year I’ve been working on a new series of paintings called ‘Luddites’ Nightmares’. It’s been 200 years since the original Luddites smashed up machinery in protest at their quality of life being strangled by the powers that be – so I’ve created ten modern-day paintings that aim to expose and/or poke fun at the way technology distorts and disrupts life nowadays. Looks like I’ll be showing them in London earlyish next year, then hoping to bring them back North after that.

Q: And finally how are you enjoying the Boro’s return to the Premier League?

RM: I’m buzzing we’re back up there. It’s a tough league of course and there’ll be plenty of nerve-shredding twists to come, but I feel confident we’ll stay up, and that’s all I want. I had a feeling before the start of the season we’d avoid many 3+ goal drubbings, and Aitor’s proven good to that so far…

Q: How can people buy your prints, Richard?

RM: I’ve just set up an online shop here:

There’s 5 prints up for sale there at the minute, £45 apiece. Depending on how well these go down, there’ll be more prints to come, as well as some signed books and other bits and pieces. I’d appreciate it massively if people have a look and buy something…


7 Hours With Cattle and Cane

I didn’t quite spend 7 hours in the company of Cattle and Cane singer and songwriter, Joe Hammill but after listening to the latest single I messaged him with a few questions for the band. With a big Christmas concert in the offing and the single taster for a new album next year I wondered how the band looked back on the last twelve months and how they were looking forward to big times ahead. Oh and you know me I couldn’t resist dropping a Boro question in there as well.

Led by siblings Joe and Helen Hammill, Cattle & Cane’s new single 7 Hours is the first taste of what’s to come from the band’s brand new album, which is all set for release in early Spring 2017. You can place a pre-order here via PledgeMusic:

The second album has been produced and mixed by Luuk Cox at ICP Studios in Brussels and mastered by Frank Arkwright at Abbey Road Studios in London.

7 Hours showcases Helen and Joe’s finely crafted indie-pop and provides the perfect platform for the kind of soaring harmonies which are truly synonymous with family.

In between studio sessions, Cattle & Cane have spent the past few months performing at acclaimed tastemaker events such as Reeperbahn Festival, Live At Leeds and Evolution Emerging, as well as at some of the UK’s finest boutique festivals including Cornbury, Deer Shed and Lindisfarne. 2016 has also seen the band tour abroad for the first time, with shows in Germany, Malta and Belgium.

The band’s final gig of the year is also their biggest headline show to date – at the 1200 capacity Middlesbrough Empire on Thursday 22nd December. Support comes from Cape Cub and tickets are on-sale now from See Tickets:

cattle-and-cane-16Q: It is a great strident pop sound to the new single 7 Hours – you have moved a long way from the early folk roots – but you have kept the energy and invention – are we seeing a glimpse of a new direction here?

Joe: Cheers Rob. We made the decision to make a different sounding album. It came about by a lot of co-writing with people over the last year or so, which has changed how I approach and write songs. Sometimes I get sent backing tracks from DJ’s or artists that need a top-line writing for it. That really helps open up the whole process for me as writer. So I’ve been learning many different approaches to writing songs rather than just sitting down with an acoustic guitar (which still works by the way).

Q: I love the harmony/fusion between your voices on this single – is this something you arrived at in the studio?

Joe: It’s definitely a mixture. Helen has a great knack of being able to follow my melody lines (even if it’s the first time she’s heard the song) – some weird sibling telepathy thing! But in the studio, working with Luuk, we will come up with harmonies too.

Q: You record in Belgium now and mix in Malta I think – it must have been amazing expanding your musical outlook like that?

Joe: Yeah, we signed a publishing deal in Belgium which has put us in touch with a lot of great writers and producers out here. It’s nice to base yourself in a different country for a while. It definitely helps the creative process!

Q: 7 Hours is really catchy but has a tension in the sound and lyrics – instant then but also leaves an after taste, so to speak. Are you pleased by just how well it has been received critically and by the listeners?

Joe: Yeah we’re really pleased with the reception for the track. I suppose it’s a very different sounding song than our previous stuff. Dermot O’Leary and Janice Long at Radio 2 are supporting it, which is always good! And there’s been a lot of good blog coverage for it too which is nice.

Q: UK tour, Festivals and European tours and recording – 2016 has been a big year for Cattle and Cane hasn’t it?

Joe: I’ve loved 2016 (apart from the referendums/elections and the passing of loads of legends). We’ve played some great festivals, some shows in Belgium and Germany, and a UK tour. I suppose that’s helped gain new fans. Personally, I’ve enjoyed the writing and recording most of all – that’s what I enjoy most. The new album sees Helen singing 4 or 5 lead songs, and 2 of them are going to be singles. Writing songs knowing other people are going to sing them is a much more relaxing process I find!

cattle-and-cane-7-hoursQ: Crowd funding your music releases must really allow you to get closer to your fans as well as so importantly providing the money upfront?

Joe: Yeah absolutely. Lots of bands are doing it – and I think it’s kind of necessary in the music industry today for a lot of bands and artists. I think survival is so heavily centred on a good fan-base. It’s the crux of it all really – if you can you get people out the house and come to a gig then you’re winning.

Pledge has helped us so much with our second album. Bloody legends.

Q: When are you looking at for the 2nd album release?

Joe: TBC but sometime in the spring I’d imagine!

Q: Are you looking forward to the Christmas show at the Empire – should be a great atmosphere – you enjoy those special shows don’t you?

Joe: Can’t wait for the Christmas show. I think the Empire is the best venue in Teesside. When I was going out on Saturday nights a few years ago I never really appreciated that it’s actually a really beautiful place. The sound in there is great and I love that it’s tiered. I’m sure we’ll have some Christmas themes up our sleeves!

Q: How about Boro? – it was dodgy for a while but some great results at Arsenal and Bournemouth – are you enjoying the season so far?

Joe: I think it’s mad how many ups and downs there have been already. After the Watford game people are talking about relegation then all of a sudden we’ve gained 2 points from arguably the two hardest games you’ll face all season.

Personally, I’m absolutely loving this Boro era. I was too young to appreciate the Juninho years properly so grew up with Boro as an established Prem team. You take it for granted then all of a sudden you’re in the Championship and it’s such a slog to get out of. You realise there are loads of clubs who can argue they ‘should’ be in the Prem that currently aren’t. So I think we’ve done great to be here, we’re not in the relegation zone and we’ve played some really hard games. So I’m a happy and optimistic Boro fan. I think we’ll be okay.

Q: What new music are you in to and would recommend at present?

Joe: I’m listening to a Norwegian artist called Paal Flaata at the moment. His voice is like a cross between Richard Hawley and Roy Orbison and his song-writing is brilliant. Michael Kiwanaku’s latest album is also brilliant.

Listen to the new single 7 Hours through their Soundcloud

Many thanks to Joe Hammill and best of luck to Cattle and Cane. Everyone go out buy the single, pledge for the album and whatever your plans this festive season make sure you do not miss the big Cattle and Cane Christmas show at the Empire, Middlesbrough on Thursday 22nd December.


Alan Johnson Boro Fine Artist

Fine artist and Boro fan Alan Johnson has combined two of his loves to give us affordable Boro art. You can buy Alan’s depiction of our arrival at the Premier stage on ebay for a sum that will not break the bank. What a fabulous way to remember Boro first footing back in the top flight with a painting of the fans gathering before the Ayresome gates for the big Premier Riverside kick off v Stoke City in August 2016.

alan-johnson-riverside-loveAlan gave me a glimpse of his evolving artwork as he bought a fanzine off me in September. I was intrigued to see how the painting developed as detail was added. When his fiancé Lesley Hornby contacted me with a link to the finished work I thought I must ask Alan a few questions about the artwork and his Boro memories and inspiration. The following article is drawn from answers to my questions. There is a link at the bottom of the piece enabling you to buy a Riverside print for just £20 (from ebay).

I’m from Middlesbrough and attended the now long gone St Anthony’s School. Art was always my strongest subject and I guess we all seem to push the things we do well at. And with art it is easy to see when progress is being made.

An early memory of watching the Boro was a cup game.  We won but I couldn’t understand why we hadn’t stayed to watch them lift the cup. I didn’t quite get it.

Later big matches would be Leeds around Christmas. Games seemed special at that time of year at Ayresome Park.

Art did make me drift away from football for a few years but I did start going to the odd game again when we dropped down to the 3rd Division. As my foundation course was based at Burlam Road, Ayresome Park was so close.

alan-johnson-heroesWho were my Boro heroes? It is a funny question as I didn’t really have a favourite; being proud of the whole ’86 team’ idea. However, I did make a painting called Heroes, which showed a statuesque Mowbray playing in front of small fans. Tony Mowbray has/had the painting (hope he still does so).

That was completed at the Norwich School of Art where I studied Fine Art. Much of my work there had themes from home e.g. Royal Exchange, Albert Bridge.

Norwich was a great place to live and study and it did make Wembley a strange place to be that day many years later in the Play Off Final.

I will have been teaching Art in and around Teesside for 20 years in January. In recent years it has been as a supply teacher which has allowed me to spend more time painting.

I have recently working on a set of paintings about going to the match. I am looking at football from a fans view, the conversations, funny incidents and as you say the anticipation of it all.

alan-johnson-ayresome-parkI’ve always looked at art as a way of celebrating the simple, even what some would say mundane events in life; walking to the match seems a perfect way to show this and share this.

I’ve not always been too keen to show my work (much of it spends its time facing the wall) but the early football paintings seemed very popular and a quality copy seemed to be a good way for people to enjoy my work without having to spend a great deal of money. Art can be expensive but some work can take weeks or months to complete. This seems to work.

Some Arsenal fans (Operation Arsenal Art) have tried to make art affordable for the average fan; putting on shows of work by fans for fans, a good idea I think. I’ve now completed 12 paintings on the theme, so a few more and an exhibition may be possible.

My most recent painting of the Riverside was based on the first game back up. Making a few alterations to the perspective I was able to include the main features e.g. statues, gates. The figures were based on actual people on their way to the Stoke game.

It’s been interesting as some have said “she wouldn’t wear that,” or “he can’t have been going to the game,” but that’s how real life really looks. It is like getting closer to Realism in its true sense rather than what ‘fans’ are supposed to look like.

As for promotion to the Premier, like mostly everyone, I was hoping but wondering will it really happen. “We must be due a break!” My 10 year old son had no doubts so I went along with his way of thinking.

That was a massive win against Bournemouth, the first goal is something that will live long in the memory. My son and me (like everyone else) quickly got behind Gaston when he blocked the shot, shouting him on for what seemed ages, it was a great celebration!

Now for the all important links. First Alan’s art facebook page

Now the link to buy the Riverside print for just £20 from ebay. Click Here


Holmes Returns To Baker Street.. Middlesbrough

Friday 11th November marks the launch of Holmes Volume 2. This is the second instalment of short stories where author Mel Small herald’s the return of Boro’s greatest detective Sherlock Holmes. The world famous double act of Holmes and Watson have been set in 21st century Middlesbrough. Holmes swaps his deerstalker for a Boro scarf. He is an arrogant, sweary, beer swilling Boro lad, who enjoys a bit of ethical computer hacking. When I say beer swilling, it is craft beer he necks, in the Baker Street micro pubs he haunts.

I loved the first volume of stories so much that I was really ecstatic when author Mel Small offered to serialise a specially written Holmes mystery adventure through this season’s fanzines. So far it has proven really popular.

But back to Volume 2 and reading the sleeve notes it seems Holmes could be in trouble with the law. His friend and narrator Doctor John Watson must somehow bail him out of Holme House Prison or this book will not get off the ground at all.

I met Mel in the Twisted Lip, to talk about the new book, publishing and much else besides. The micro pub is one of several Baker Street locations that feature in the stories, along with Baker Street Kitchen, The Slater’s Pick and of course Sherlock’s, renamed in his honour.. apparently.

Here goes with the interview and remember Holmes Volume 2 is out today (Friday 11th November)

Q: Were you really happy with the way the first book was received?

Mel Small: Yes I think so. The feedback has been phenomenal. The most interesting I think was from a guy in Nevada. He posted on Linked In does anyone want me to review a book. I said me please, not knowing where he was from. He said, can you send it to Canyon Road, Nevada. That cost me £7.50. I was thinking will it translate to American sense of humour, and Nevada, a western state. He said I have read 342 books and this is in the top ten. So, I have sent him the next one, obviously.

holmes-2Q: You have set Sherlock Holmes in contemporary Middlesbrough in Baker Street, where we are sitting now sipping a drink in the Twisted Lip. This has now become a hip and trendy place.

MS: I don’t think that has got anything to do with me. I think it was well on its way..

Q: But it has happened. That is surely an acid test then from the guy in Nevada, someone with no link to Middlesbrough appreciates your Teesside twist to Sherlock Holmes.

MS: Yes. Because half of it is made up and half of it is real places. Some people outside of Middlesbrough won’t know that the Twisted Lip is real. If I posted a picture on twitter or facebook I might get replies, Oh right, I thought it was made up. The drink Engineer’s Thumb was made up. It was one of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock short stories. When I was looking for a name for a craft beer I thought I would steal something. That seemed to be the most apt thing to steal. People think that exists and have googled that. But it doesn’t. It would be good if it did.

Q: Maybe one day, life mimicking art etc. You told me that you were planning at first to put more stories in your first volume.

MS: Yes my plan originally was to put twelve in the book and complete the whole thing. When I spoke to the publisher guys they said, that is quite a thick book. It averages about 12 000 words a story. Times twelve you are talking about 150 000 words. They said split it. There have been a lot of fortuitous things along the way. It just happened that at the end of the sixth story it was quite a good point to end it. It that wasn’t planned but I thought that kind of works. I think I had written about ten by that point and knew where eleven and twelve were going. So the second volume was almost written when the first volume was published. It was split up really for the practicalities of the paperback.

Q: You gave a chance for your readership to read and digest and want to know more, really.

MS: It gives you something else to talk about. You publish a book and there is only so much you can do. Then really you need another book. You can only talk about it for so long or people start to get bored. Splitting it up into two gives you the two bites at the cherry.

Q: Following the Conan Doyle Sherlock short stories approach does this mean you don’t have to spend time recapping on what has gone before. That can be a problem I presume for people writing more than one volume of a book. Would you say people can dive into your Holmes stories at any point?

MS: Yes and no. The plan was to do stand alone stories that you could read in any order. But there is an arc that runs through them and the characters tend to build and there are things going on in the back ground that culminate at the end of the last book. So, yes and no. Plus you don’t have a lot of words to set scenes and the characters do need to build throughout the stories. That is how it ended up I don’t know what the conventional thinking is for a short story writer.

Q: So, could someone buy the second volume without reading the first?

holmes-2-melMS: They could but it probably would not be as good. There are a few reminders in there, saying remember this … but there are a few seeds planted in the first volume that grow in the second volume. You can read it as a novel or as short stories. It should work both ways.

Q: You work in computers and IT. Do you bring that approach to your writing with your meticulous planning?

MS: There are a couple things in software engineering about essentially breaking things down. Like a tree with subdivisions and subdivisions until you get to the point where you can understand it. That is how I plan some of the stories. I say what needs to happen in this chapter, what is involved in that. I will divide and divide and that allows me to write in the wrong orders. So, I can write the end, the middle and then the beginning. If I think of something funny, I will think that sticks in with that part of the plan. So it is not written start to end. It is back and forwards. It is a bit like programming as well in that you can change something and will upset something somewhere else as well and so you have to do some reworking in order to catch up with what you have done.

Q: Does that approach help you with working around your job.

MS: Well, I left my job last year. What I have been doing is working with Sixth Element, my publishers, to build an online portal for independent authors. It is 92% complete now.

When I started doing the books what strikes you is that all the other guys doing it are really helpful. eg have you talked with WH Smiths? Have you checked out Guisborough book shop and things like that? I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if you could get that community that seems to be developing, the independent author world and do something with it. Obviously there is facebook but this would be something dedicated.

What we are building has got a bookshop, social network but also an element of crowd funding. Independent authors don’t get the big advances, all the editing etc they tend to pay for. You can write a book up to manuscript and then you get all your mates to say I will have a copy. That helps you financially to do it. They all get their book.

Q: Put their names in the back of the book etc.

holmes-2-coverMS: Yes. And the philosophy is and then it is the author’s book. There are other examples but they will take rights etc. It is essentially pre orders. You have written a manuscript, you need some editing and some cover design and typesetting etc. People need to get paid to do those jobs. You could pay them out of the books that you sell to your mates but it the wrong order.

Q: A cash Flow problem.

MS: This gives you a chance to finance it.

This focuses on the independent world. Big publishers tell people what to read. They have the marketing budgets. They can scatter the London Underground with banners and give away thousands of books. They are dictating what people are reading. Whereas to me it should be a meritocracy. If it is good people should read it. But being good and lots of people reading it doesn’t necessarily happen.

Q: Even when you go into a national book shop the top ten and even what books are out on tables rather than on shelves is dictated by the big publishers isn’t it?

MS: Yes and all the reviews in the Sunday supplements will stay with the big five publishers. There is this whole machinery around the publishing industry and to my mind it is not about the quality of the writing. It could be Vampires are the thing of the moment.. or Harry Potter, then they want books about wizards. They are trying to tap into the thing that sells rather than something that might be original.

Every now again you get that odd story. Andy Weir released the Martian for free on facebook and people wanted it to become a book. In the end a publishing house picked it up. There is the odd story but I think they are few and far between.

Q: You can see the parallels with the music industry. The Indie scene has flourished for many years in music.

MS: Yes and it is gaining more credibility in terms of literature as well. Once upon a time if you wrote your own book it was called vanity publishing whereas now you are indie authors, we are doing our own thing, we are indie authors. Not pandering..

Q: It can be easy to self publish. But can there not be a problem with lack of quality control.

MS: Yes, that is part of the idea behind the portal where the prominence of the books is all to do with how popular they are, how many people have bought them, how many people have fed back and liked them. I have designed an algorithm, almost like a page ranking in google, where the most popular books will come up first in the searches. So the community should be feeding back into itself and anything that is in the old vanity publishing will sink to the bottom and disappear. The cream should rise to the top.

Q: Looking at Sixth Element Books (Billingham based publisher of Holmes books) they are obviously a “proper” book, from the covers, to the type face and the lay out, everything.

MS: Yes, Sixth Element are really particular about producing something that has the quality level of every other paperback on the shelf. Even the paper has to be the recycled paper that you always get in paperbacks. It has got to look like a proper paperback.

Q: Their books are meticulously proof read. Again, that is essential I would say.

MS: Mine was proof read five times by friends. Even when they had all proof read it, we still found the odd thing here and there. We made quite a few changes considering it had been read by so many people, including an English teacher as well.

There is also whether a character could not possibly know something. I wrote a big scene set here in the Twisted Lip where I said something like that Holmes followed her in unnoticed by anyone else. One of the proof readers said if he is unnoticed by anyone else than how has Watson (the narrator) noticed?

Q: So is that the case that the mystery has to be plausible/possible?

MS: You cannot just pluck things out of the air. You have to leave those bread crumbs. You cannot just say that something you are totally unaware of happens. With a Scooby Doo ending.

Q: You could write some of the story backwards. For the reader they can suddenly get that lightbulb moment when they get to the ending.

MS: I think actually Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did this. He wrote the big reveal first and then reverse engineered it into the story and planting all those seeds or clues earlier on in the story.

But you don’t always do that. Sometimes it is not a whodunnit. It is a knockabout adventure. I am still trying to write a different style for each story. I don’t want to just do the same format where it is bang, bang, bang and then all the potential antagonists sit around a table and we select the one…

Q: Like Agatha Christie. We should say again that you are not rewriting Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories are you?

MS: No, I started off with the first one. Scandal in Boro was along the same sort of lines as the Scandal in Bohemia, which is his first story. But after that I have taken a tiny little bit from him, maybe taken the same character names but have done something completely different. I started making it up.

Q: But as you said with the name of the craft beer etc. Anyone that knows Sherlock Holmes will recognise little things in your stories, won’t they?

MS: Yes. There are some subtle nods and winks here and there. You could easily read past and it wouldn’t affect the story. But if you do know the originals.. Ah yes I know that..

In one of my stories he refers to all the youths around town as an Irregular Army in Sherlock Holmes there are Baker Street Irregulars

Q: I take it you were very much into Sherlock Holmes?

MS: More the tv but I have read the books since. I am a bit of a Jeremy Brett fan but I have read the stories as well.

Q: Sherlock Holmes is being constantly being reinvented, set in the past, set in contemporary London or New York. Every generation seems to try and put a new twist on the characters.

MS: There are Tom and Jerry cartoons. Gene Wilder does Shelock Holmes as a comedy. It is massive really. It is something that doesn’t go away. There is not much like it. Maybe James Bond and a bit of Agatha Christie. Not many things have that longevity.

Q: Going back to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He couldn’t finish off Holmes because of public demand.

MS: Yes, he had to bring him back. He wrote so many other things but nothing caught the imagination quite like that.

Q: I notice you have the Transporter on the cover of Volume 2. You alluded to that didn’t you on the cover of Volume 1?

MS: Yes, that was something that the publishers did. They were mad keen to get the Middlesbrough iconography so we put the shadow on Baker Street wall. We have the Sherlock Holmes silhouette as well. My mate thought of that. I think I prefer this cover. We did well with the weather. The sun came out.

Q: If we were to meet up in a year’s time would you be looking at a third volume of Holmes stories?

MS: I am going to write something else now I think. I have already started to write a Sherlock Holmes novel but before that I am going to write something else that is nothing to do with Sherlock. It probably won’t be in Middlesbrough either although the key character I think will be from Middlesbrough.

I am writing about 3 or 4 novels at once. If I think of something funny and wonder which it feeds into I just type it into my phone. It is all in the Cloud.

Q: So as well as your themes do you flesh them out with things you see, think and hear from life?

MS: Yes, there are things that you will just see, funny phrases etc and I think, I am having that. There are a few things that people have said to me that are in this book. I just tap them into my phone.

holmes-2-shelfQ: I must ask you about the Boro season so far?

MS: It has been a bit of a shock really. To come away with a point at both Arsenal and City I didn’t expect that, especially when City went ahead. I thought that is done for now. But to score and bring it back level especially in injury time.. Chelsea next, bring it on.

Q: So, are you enjoying the Premier League then?

MS: I don’t know whether I enjoyed the Championship more really. Even 2-0 up against Bournemouth it was are we going to throw this away. It is a bit more nerve racking.

Q: How about the fact that Sherlock Holmes is running through the season serialised in Fly Me To The Moon fanzine?

MS: I will have to do something next season. Maybe, one of our players is missing. That story I thought would be difficult to do but I wrote maybe over 5900 words in one day, it just happened. I had written it within a week.

Q: Books would be serialised in Victorian times, wouldn’t they?

MS: Sherlock Holmes first appeared in The Beeton Christmas Annual, Mrs Beeton’s husband I think. Then it was serialised.

Q: Was it difficult to write a cliff hanger nine times or whatever through a season of fanzines?

MS: No. I don’t normally do that but I wanted to hit a good point every fanzine. Especially as it could be a month between each issue. It is good that people are reading it.

It must be original in the fanzines of the country having a serialised story running through the season.

Q: The Launch is today, where can people buy the book?

MS: I will take a batch to WH Smiths, Teesside Park. Also Drake’s bookshop in Silver Street, Stockton. Then in the past Guisborough bookshop and Book Corner Saltburn have stocked volume 1. It will also be on Amazon and you can walk into any bookshop and order them. It is also out as an e book.

Holmes Volume 2 – Melvyn Small –

Sixth Element Publishing

Holmes Volume 2 is available direct from 6e Publishing or online from Amazon both paperback and Kindle ebook.

Boro’s greatest detective can be purchased from the following outlets:

WHSmith, Teesside Retail Park

WHSmith, Wellington Square, Stockton On Tees

Drake, The Bookshop, 27 Silver Street, Stockton On Tees

Book Corner, Station Square, Saltburn-by-the-Sea