The full audiobook hasn't dropped yet, but for anyone who'd like a sneak preview, the first chapter is on SoundCloud.
The full audiobook hasn't dropped yet, but for anyone who'd like a sneak preview, the first chapter is on SoundCloud.
I’ve been using the same beaten up shoulder bag for just under twenty years. I picked it up for a trip to the US back 2001, and it’s served me well ever since. Indeed it it gave yeoman’s service just recently in Korea and Hong Kong.
I fear those days are coming to an end though. A couple of small holes have opened up in the corners and I can easily imagine my very expensive Apple Pencil slipping right through one of them.
I’m having a surprisingly difficult time replacing it.
There’s a few things that come come together to make a Goldilocks bag; as in - just right.
It’s not too big, or heavy, and yet in a weird Tardis-like fashion you can fit a lot of stuff into it. My big arse iPad Pro, for instance - with the Smart Cover and bunch of other things. Notebooks. Phone. Wallet. Headphones.
For a wonder there’s also, for such a small, simply designed bag, a surprising number of little pockets and hidden slots for documents, keys, coins, AirPods, Kindles and suchlike.
Stitched together from soft but durable canvas and cut just so, it’s very light and when empty moulds to my side so that I forget I’m carrying it. The strap is wide and fixed directly to the main body of the bag. (Buckles are an abomination, and thin straps the tool of assassins). The main flap seals with Velcro, making it difficult for pickpockets and direct marketers to gain access to the inner volume without my knowing.
I’ve got a new Crumpler coming for Christmas, but I doubt it will replace my much loved and far travelled old companion.
I enjoyed a quick trip down to Sydney last night for a Christmas party with the TV guys I’ve been doing some stuff with this year.
Great night. The venue was a brew pub in St Peter’s - Willie the Boatman.
I had whatever lager was on tap, because I’m finding most other beers too fruity for my gnarly old man palate these days. There was an elegant sufficiency of nosh, including three different types of sausage sandwich. The company was excellent. And I want to be a TV writer now.
Seriously. I love this stuff. Not just the wide range of Frellman-approved complimentary sausage products, but the writing. There is something about the screenplay form that really appeals to me.
Earlier this year I talked a bit about writing a pilot episode for a black comedy set in the world of espionage. (Couldn’t sleep, seething, the night of the election. Got up at 3AM and vomited my rage into the screenplay software. Finished the first draft inside a day. It was very funny. Who would have imagined that deep existential dread and loathing would have an upside?)
I put my experience with the Felafel movie to good use. Sent off the script with my invoice and promptly moved on. I didn’t forget about the screenplay, but I consciously stopped thinking about it.
Writing for screen more generally, however, was a different matter. Having acquired some new skills I was keen to polish them. So when I got back from Korea I put aside some time to write another pilot. This time an adaptation. Since A Girl in Time was the first novel I wrote after studying screenwriting to get a better grip on story structure, I decided to rework it into a TV pilot.
Smooth transition. Or relatively smooth, with a couple of caveats. The dialogue and scene setting moved from page to screen without a hitch. An hour long pilot was the perfect length to move Cady and Smith from Seattle to London. The ep finished with them escaping London on a cliffhanger. All good.
The one issue I did have, and still have to address in any future drafts, was point of view. I write point-of-view novels, of course. I hadn’t realised just how pointy until I attempted the transition to screenplay. A lot of the humour and narrative power of that book, and probably all of them, comes from the very particular world views of whichever character is narrating a chapter.
But how do you do POV on screen? To be honest, I have no fucking idea. But I’m going to find out. One way it affects the transition if you just cut and paste? You find your characters standing, talking, and doing nothing. In a novel those sections can be surrounded by passages of internal monologue and reflection. But not on screen.
That’s why that party was so good last night. A room full of people who’ve done this stuff their whole working lives. It was like talking to a bunch of kung fu masters who had all of this arcane knowledge I needed to gather.
So I’m gonna do another quick screenplay next week. A conventional crime/adventure/martial arts story based on a book idea I had a couple of years back but did nothing with.
And then back to novels for a while. Still gotta pay those bills.
Before you start you will need land, lots of land, underneath the starry sky, and you will need to fence it in. Otherwise your tender juicy steaks will wander off. If there is no land available in your local area, you may have to send an invading army through the fence lines of rival steak lords, seizing their ancestral lands and women for your own. If they have yurts, burn them.
When the yurt coals are reduced to an even heat, extract your steak from its container. This will be messy and often distressing, but less so for you than for the steak.
Jamie Oliver recommends feather steak, also known as flat iron steak, but neither feathers nor flat irons are edible, which explains why so many of Oliver’s restaurants have closed.
A simple fillet steak, cut into the shape of a steak, always impresses.
Never cook your fillet cold, because the application of heat causes the molecules of the steak to rapidly move backward and forward in a process we call cooking. Applying cold to the steak will not cook it at all.
Make sure your griddle, fry pan or barbecue plate are similarly hot and cast from iron or you will need to go back to the Bronze Age and restart your civilisation if you want to caramelise your steak for a deliciously crusty outer crust.
When done, your steak must be medium rare, or else there was no point to any of this. If perfect steaks were just lying around all over the place and not even mediumly difficult to find, this whole exercise would collapse under the weight of its inherent contradictions.
Do not, under any circumstances, allow the steak to toughen up. It will learn Krav Maga and then it will be you on the iron griddle and the steak boasting to all its friends as it sticks a fork into your rump.
Rubbing the steak all over with olive oil is sexy.
So very, very sexy.
Add your steak to the hot pan and cook for six minutes, turning every minute to make sure nobody is sneaking up on you.
Rub the steak with half a garlic clove as you turn. Your screams as you burn the tips of your fingers will unsettle whoever was sneaking up on you. Put your burned fingertips into a knob of butter.
This is also a little sexy.
If you want to go the extra mile for your guests, walk a mile into the woods and create a herb brush by tying woody herbs like thyme and rosemary to a stick. Unless they followed you, your guests will never find out how you did that.
Once cooked to your liking, rest the steak. Some Netflix and a little day time drinking. We all need me time. Your steak will come back to the game refreshed and stronger than ever.
We all have our favourite ways to eat steak, but increasingly I’m turning to the old ways and using my mouth.
I had some thinky time while I was travelling. Getting ten thousand klicks away from your daily routine is good for that. Apart from filing a couple of columns, I didn’t work. Every time my thoughts strayed to work, I lured them away with contemplation of chicken and beer.
It cleared my head.
One of the first things I resolved to do was spend a lot less time on the Hell Sites of Twitter and Farcebuck, and more time here. There’s no escaping the Hell Sites. I do a lot of business there. But there is a cost, a heavy fucking cost to being there.
That led me to my second resolution. If I was going to spool up the engines on the Burger again, I didn’t want to simply repeat here at length, that which I was doing there.
Bitching and moaning, basically.
Ninety percent of everything online is bitching and moaning now. The rest is cat and dog videos, adverts inserted into cat and dog videos, and shameless self promotion.
But mostly bitching and moaning.
It’s not just human nature. The platforms have tweaked their software to preference ugliness because like the tabloid editors of yore they have learned that ugliness sells. If it bleeds it leads, as we used to say in the fish wrapping business.
Or to update the model, it if enrages it engages.
I’ve had enough. We’ve all had enough.
I can’t change a damn thing by putting on a happy face, and to be honest, it’s not appropriate given the accelerating collapse of our civilisation and ecosystem. So I’ll still be raging over there.
But here I want some peace and quiet. So for the next 12 months I’m going to try a new approach to blogging. Niceness. Gentle humour. Good vibes.
In service of this new beginning I’m going to run some of my favourite and most gently written pieces from my old private column, Alien Side Boob.
Starting with the piece above.
How To Cook the Perfect Steak.
I'm one of those people who doesn't like to travel too much when he travels. For sure, I'll happily fly around the world and through the night, but when I get where I'm going I like to sink my roots deep. I like to dig into every nook and cranny of whichever neighborhood I'm staying in rather than flitting about the country, changing hotels and moving from city to city every couple of days. It's possible I'm just weird and lazy, but ... okay, I guess it's more than possible.
In Korea this meant hanging out in the University district of Hongdae most of the time, occasionally riding the subway into the heart of the city, and not really venturing much further. A few people asked if we were going to go up to the DMZ, because it's awesome. And maybe if I'd been there another week, we would have. But not this time. Had too much hanging out to do.
One of the things I really like about my approach is not just getting to know a place, but letting the place get to know you. I like to choose a bar, a café and a couple of restaurants to get most of my business, for instance. The first time you roll in, they'll treat you like a tourist. The second time too. But by your third visit they're onto an earner and you start getting better treatment. In Seoul this often took the form of the password for the superfast Wi-Fi, nicer snacks with the drinks—seriously, these people serve snacks with every damn drink that arrives— or even free drinks.
Luckily, Thomas is a bit the same way. Probably even more than me. He's a good traveller, fearless* in many ways, but when he finds something he likes it's difficult to shake him of it. We ate the same breakfast nearly every day for 10 days.
We had one break from the routine to try out a specialist toast place. Yes. The Koreans have specialist toast shops. They are more civilised than us.
We tried Korean barbecue of course, but to be honest I never really found a place that grabbed me. There were two restaurants, both of them pretty cheap, that we kept going back to. One was a place called to Ddobagi chicken, which offered about a dozen different variations on fried or barbecued chook.
The other was Mawang, a specialist pork joint which had more than generous service of beautifully cooked pigmeat. We ordered one platter, medium sized. It defeated us.
Neither place was looking for the tourist dollar and none of the staff spoke English. But they did have menus with pictures of the food for idiot Westerners who wandered in by accident and we did just fine by pointing at those and rubbing our tummies. So too with the beer.
Chicken and beer it turns out, is the national dish of Korea. Not that fiery cabbage shit everyone goes on about. We defaulted to the same two or three dishes each time at Ddobagi – an eponymous sort of nugget mound in which hefty chunks of deep-fried breast meat arrived in a crunchy coating of spiced rice flour, and a platter of legs and wings smoked and baked in a sticky sweet seasoning. There was a barbecued menu item that looked amazing, but the staff anxiously mimed to us that its fiery spices would kill us instantly. Should I ever be in Seoul at the same time as Mr Barnes, we shall see about that. The beer was some ice-cold local brew which appeared to be called Max Cream but which I insisted on ordering as Creamy Head because at heart I'm a 14 year old boy.
We doubtlessly would have discovered two or three other really cool places if we'd stretched our legs. But then I'd have eaten less Ddobagi chicken and Mawang Pork.
*You have not seen determined until you've seen a 17yo boy negotiate across an impenetrable language barrier with the staff at an Internet cafe for access to the gaming 'puters.