"My Favourite Book Of The Century"

Such a lovely review to find: 2000 Tunes, "book of the century" (even if it does interfere with honeymoons). The review certainly left me grinning!

Get Bendy

A poor abused book, trying to flap away to freedom. Image by jarmoluk via Pixabay.

"Get bendy," he says.
"No, I'm not talking about yoga," he adds.

I love the physicality of a printed book. It has strengths (texture, presence) that can't be replicated digitally. E-books have three features that ameliorate this for me: you can read them in the dark (and not wake your bed partner); you can tap a word to get an instant dictionary definition; and you can fit 50 books into your pocket.

The other day I was asked whether I use a bookmark to keep my place in a printed book or if I fold down the corner of the page.

WHAAAAATT!!! I could never fold a page! I am an ex-librarian! I’d argue that there is always something to mark a page with if a bookmark isn't nearby. A scrap of paper. A hairclip. A sock. A drinks coaster. Another book inserted lightly at the edge. A lock of hair from a virgin princess. A bus ticket. We live in a world of things, and they can be repurposed!

It was pointed out that if they own the book they can do what they want with it and I shouldn’t be imposing my rules on someone else.

I don’t think I was doing that. Obviously, each book owner can do as they wish. If I want to smother my book in chocolate spread it is my prerogative. But I'd need to have a good reason to do that. Likewise if I enjoyed folding the pages or writing in the book - great, let me do it. It's just that, for me, "lack of something to use as a bookmark" has never occurred in 40+ years, so it doesn’t seem like a good reason to fold a page. The only reason to fold a page is because I like folding pages (in which case I should take up origami).

Then again, I am someone who plans ahead a lot. I cut the front of nice cards into strips and leave small piles on shelves. Even guests can partake of my bookmarky beneficence.

Which makes me think - with the print copies of my work, am I more horrified by a fate of notes, scribbles, creasings and tearings; or by the sadness of a pristine almost-unread state destined for a charity shop? It's the kind of conundrum that I often ponder. Two types of horror.

So, you. You there in the corner, in the spotlight, looking guilty with a paperback. Bookmarks or bent-over corners? Or resting a book open flat so that the spine splits? Would you write in a book? Am I overly fussy about this? Over to you.


Ey up! I talk about my Manchester novels on Jenny Kane's website

Aye, well chuffed, pop over to Jenny's website to hear what I was nattering about (mostly
2000 Tunes, and Cold Fusion 2000).

This is a backup of the text there.

Guest Post from Karl Drinkwater: Thinking Manchester in the year 2000…
Posted by Jenny Kane on Aug 18th, 2016

I’m delighted to welcome Karl Drinkwater to my blog today to chat about his writing, and the influence the city of Manchester has had on his words. Why not put your feet up for five minutes and join us for a chat?

Karl Drinkwater

Hi Karl, where are you from?
I’m originally from Manchester. Therefore I grew up miserable. This gradually softened to a perpetual grumpiness and a desire to create a better world through fiction. I now live in Wales. It’s like Manchester with hills and greenery.

Manchester (1)

Which books did you want to talk about today?
Cold Fusion 2000, and 2000 Tunes. They were my most recent novels, both set in Manchester in the year 2000, shortly after I left for Wales. When you leave a place you see it in a different light, the good and the bad. And you see yourself in a different light too. A teeny bit of that will bleed between the covers.

Karl Drinkwater Cold 

What inspired you to write the books?
I think I was getting things out of my system with these books. They’re love letters to Manchester, its music, its city, whilst also being critical of some aspects. And they’re also more traditional love stories after a fashion, about nerds and difficult people being able to find love and happiness and contentment. Both books are set in the same summer with crossover places, themes, situations and characters that sometimes mirror each other.

Karl Drinkwater 2000 Tunes 

What type of research did you have to do for your book?
Since both novels were set in a very real place I wanted to reflect that, and show how the geography of an area affects our perception of it. The difficulty was that the city centre had changed a lot in the last sixteen years. Many of the places in the novel have already been lost, renamed, altered or closed. 2000 Tunes opens outside The Haçienda, one of the world’s most famous nightclubs: just before it was demolished for luxury flats. I had to combine my memories of the city at the time with archival photos and discussions; my diaries were useful too. I built the city back up as it used to be and then let the characters breathe into that space.

There were also the elements related to the protagonist nerds. In Cold Fusion 2000 we have Alex, who is obsessed with with poetry … and hardcore physics. Luckily I’ve studied literature and astronomy at university, but I still had to learn more to fully get into his head. In 2000 Tunes Mark is obsessed with the music of Manchester. Again, it’s a love of mine, but the amount of detail I had to research so that I could draw parallels between songs based on dates, musicians, locations and so on as Mark does … that was a whole other level. Some of the research led to a series of blog posts all about the songs Mark thinks are the best examples of Manchester music (and which also form the chapter names in the novel). You’ll find the posts here.

Manchester (4) 

Why the year 2000?
It was a time when people thought the world might suddenly change for the better. What fools we were. But it’s an interesting liminal time, totally appropriate for coming-of-age stories about obsessive nerds, the amazing women they fall in love with, and the life-changing decisions they confront.

Do you prefer to plot your story or just go with the flow?
It has to be a bit of both. I plot so that macro-scale events work well, with escalation, reversals and so on. So if I sit down to write a scene I know that the two characters will begin arguing, and eventually come to blows, and say things they’ll regret, or reveal things they shouldn’t – but the details of what, and when, and how aren’t decided in advance. They come naturally from the characters interacting. Reviews often praise my realistic dialogue, and I think if you let the words and actions be authentic to the characters then the scene will flow; and often surprise the author.

Website: http://karldrinkwater.uk
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/karlzdrinkwater/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/karldrinkwater
Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/bIkYp5
Purchase: Amazon UK / Amazon US

Manchester (6)

Extract from 2000 Tunes
Samantha Rees thrust money into the taxi drivers hand and hurried away. Stopped, smoothed down her black skirt. Was it too short?
Too late if it was.
The white-washed Presbyterian chapel was built on a hill and the graveyard sloped down to dry stone walls. A bank of dying daffodils bent their heads towards her in the breeze. When she was a little girl her uncle had tricked her, making her believe they were really called Taffodils. She shook her head and climbed the steep stone steps, worn from two centuries of comings and goings.
People in black milled around outside under incongruous sunshine. She spied smokers having a quick ciggie behind the holly trees. She’d have joined them if she wasn’t so late. Just a one-off to settle her emotions.
The mourners admitted her, welcomed her. Hugs and questions but she pushed her way through as quickly as she could without seeming rude. It smelt like a flower shop. Overpowering sweetness of the white lilies. Snippets of conversation heard in passing.
“Such a nice day for it …”
“Aye, booked the weather in advance, knowing her.”
“Joined her husband, that’ll be a reunion.”
“Always said they didn’t want to outlive each other.”
“Shouldn’t be in here really, I’m a pub man …”
Inside was dark polished wood set off against pale walls. Pews and a small gallery were filling with those too tired to stand around. She spotted her mam and they hugged. Seconds without words, but which said everything, before Sam moved to arm’s length. “Sorry I’m late. I dropped my bags off at your house first, and the trains were –” but Mam silenced her with a waved hand.
“I knew you’d be here, bach. We waited. She’d have wanted that.”
Despite all the murmurs the atmosphere was hushed, heavy, like a gap in sound before an approaching storm. Noises seemed further away than normal, vitality cut off from conversation, words disconnected from their source, just as Sam’s mother was now disconnected from her source. Organisation rippled through the crowd as people moved to seats. Some mourners had to spill over into the small gallery.
Mamgu was in the coffin at the front. It hurt to look at the box, to picture Mamgu’s face without a living smile on it; so when the minister stepped into the pulpit and began speaking Sam was glad to focus on him instead. The service was in Welsh. Soon there was sniffing and nose blowing as the eulogy continued.
They stood to sing. Calon Lân began, beautiful music and strong voices. Sam tried to sing along but her throat tightened so she mumbled, “Calon lân yn llawn daioni, Tecach yw na’r lili dlos.” A pure heart full of goodness, Is fairer than the pretty lily.
She had to look up as her eyes brimmed, lights hung in threes, the images spilt over and she realised she hadn’t brought a hankie but would definitely need one…

Karl Drinkwater is originally from Manchester but has lived in Wales for nearly twenty years, ever since he went there to do a degree: it was easier to stay than to catch a train back. His longest career was in librarianship (twenty-five years); his shortest was industrial welding (one week).
Sometimes he writes about life and love; sometimes death and decay. He usually flips a coin in the morning, or checks the weather, and decides based on that. His aim is to tell a good story, regardless of genre. When he is not writing or editing he loves exercise, guitars, computer games, board games, the natural environment, animals, social justice and zombies.
Many thanks for a great blog Karl.
Happy reading everyone,
Jenny x



I sometimes review books, but rarely on my website. Even rarer is for me to interview another author - it's more likely to be me at the receiving end of a Q&A. But I wanted to tell you about a book. I read a lot, and impressing me is not easy. I read this book in two sittings reading until 2am (there's symmetry for you). I hadn't felt such a compulsion to finish a book for some time. It was particularly refreshing after reading a few books recently that were slogs to get through, including a novel by one of the world's most famous authors.

Housebroken by The Behrg (Amazon UK / Amazon US) is controversial. It has many great reviews. Also some that warn of cruelty, toxic scenes, and people who stopped reading before the end. You know what? When something polarises opinions it interests me more. If something only gets five star reviews I am suspicious of either manipulation, or of the fact that a thing that pleases everyone can only do so by aiming at the lowest common denominator. I don't want bland books; I read to feel things.

So I'll review the book. And occasionally digress into talk of writing in general. Then I'll include an interview I did with the author. I hope you'll enjoy this combination.

The Review Of Housebroken

Notes I made on a pad before I was halfway through the book:
  • Currently reading a horrible but brilliantly-plotted novel that surprises me (and sometimes sickens me).
  • Every word earns its place.
  • Straddles the fine line between restrained and gratuitous. Horrible and riveting.
Notes I made on a pad when I was near the end:
  • Characters peeled back, surprise me but believable.
  • Ha! Not what I expected!
The first thing I need to get out of the way: Housebroken seems like a nasty home invasion story. That's not false marketing, because it is one, up to a point: but also more. Don't worry, the story doesn't go loopy, it always makes meticulous sense, but - like many of the best things - it is more than it first seems. It has layers and can change. The plot is happy to take you in new directions. So up to halfway you expect it to collapse into torture porn (the easy way out for sensationalist writers who can't generate interest via decent character and plot) but this novel doesn't do that; instead it is willing to switch to elements of technothriller and industrial espionage, replacing terror with excitement. A good conjuring trick. In fact, it is a classic trick, often used in films – horrible stuff shown at the start so you expect it all the time, never relax, but then the writer/director doesn't need to go there again and nothing is as bad as you expected. A few times I dreaded where I thought the story was going but the author pulled back. They'd achieved the effect they wanted, no need to then really go there. And thus it's not gratuitous, it's carefully controlled. So don't be put off by the trappings at the start. If you've ever enjoyed the tension and compulsiveness (whether well-written or not) of Dean Koontz or Dan Brown, you will enjoy this. Stick with it even if you have a weak stomach – it would be worse to stop during the most distressing scenes, because then those are what would be forever stuck in your mind with no resolution. Better to be strong, push through, see the story change, gain some hope, overcome the fear, and in the process dissipate the distress. In other words, endure what the protagonist endures.

This is a bleak/hopeful tale. Like The Road but rather than unconnected vignettes, it is more of a traditional tightly-plotted thriller. Unlike many mainstream thrillers where I find it hard to care about the characters, this also allows transformation and depth so you do come to care, more than just the inevitable sympathy for the victim of violence. It's relevant though. I wrote a guest article recently about why people should read horror. I gave three reasons. Up to the halfway point this book reminded me of a fourth: to close a book and be thankful for what you have. Not the possessions, but the freedom, the health, and - most important - the loved ones. To remember that nothing else matters as much as those last three. Appreciate them now: don't wait until their birthday, don't wait until Christmas, don't wait until they're ill. Do it now.

The book is expertly plotted. As an author I can appreciate the careful placing of every reveal and every twist, each foreshadowed element. I respect the ability to do that so consistently. In fact, that does enough to stop this just being a book in an often-tired and cheap genre (the house invasion); it manages to take it, polish it, and make it stand out as an impressive example of this particular fear, at the top of the pile. That takes a rare gift. Two of my books are built around continuous drama, must-read-on-to-find-what-happens-next plots (Turner and Harvest Festival), but if I attempted Housebroken's story I am pretty sure I couldn't have pulled it off as successfully as The Behrg. It takes some effort to say that, but it is only fair to do so. When I encounter another writer that impresses me I am happy to doff my hat in their direction. Particularly as it is difficult for me to read a book as a reader - I can't help but analyse the dialogue, the effects, the structuring, the flow, the style. For at least some of the time this book distracted me from those workman evaluations and pulled me back to the story. That's a laurel wreath right there.

(An aside on the plotting: only one scene in the whole book didn't fully convince me. It's an incredibly tense scene, sickening too - the nastiest thing in the book. I don't want to give spoilers so, for those who have read Housebroken, if I say net, pool, running on air, you'll know what I mean. My issue was that, plotwise, the author wanted the scene to be a dramatic reveal - but really the character would have woken not to silence, but to screaming; intended dramatic effect over-rode realism. The discrepancy could have been solved with heavy gagging. For this to be my only issue is actually praise for the novel.)

Well-crafted writing often has depth, by which I mean there can be multiple references from the same word/image/motif. The worst stories and novels have only one layer, the surface. You can still enjoy some of them if they do the surface layer well, but depth and multiple layers are better. For example, The Road's surface layer is the journey and the destination, but that's hardly what the book is about. It is layered with familial love and duty, questions of what a good person is, responsibility, how to act, the environment, our current values, and more. The road that is walked, but also the one that us lived. For all my praise of Housebroken I am not saying it has all those layers; a book aimed at such a designed experience can't. But it is nonetheless well-crafted. For example, at first it seems like just a random home invasion but it's not. Like all aspects of the plot, other things are going on below the surface, and it is all connected satisfyingly. There are layers concerned with:
  • corporations and greed
  • technology and possessions versus the important values
  • getting at the core of your personality
  • psychological control and playing a role and using words (one of the themes of my first novel Turner)
  • a game of "What if?", where you ponder what you would do (and visualised in an extended metaphor near the novel's end)
  • entertainment (of the reader - don't underestimate the importance of this)
Multiple levels, multiple meanings. That statement is made with the book's title, which implies home invasion, but also dog training (with a particular item that doubles as a final and central stripping-away of the protagonist's old psyche as he is “trained” and transformed too via being broken). [Note - that's not a spoiler, since the prologue gives part of this away on the first page.] Likewise the destruction of the house room by room is a metaphor for the deconstruction of a life; both are destroyed in tandem.

I want to talk about settings. It is important to have a variety. It's very hard to keep a book compelling if all scenes are set in one (or a few) locations. It was a criticism I had of two books I read recently. In many ways this is why books about being on the run, or a journey, are popular, and have been ever since The Odyssey (the more entertaining sibling of The Iliad, partly because of the variety and changes). You'd think with a book that seems to be about a home invasion this would be a real problem, mostly set in one house, maybe a few rooms. But this is where I was again impressed by the author. Scenes take place all over the house and grounds, and even when a room is repeated the context changes, and the decor changes as a result of past scenes. It's cleverly tied to the theme - by letting the story spread through each room it also takes chaos with it, destroying what was there before, the past, the possessions, and seeing what is left when the layers are peeled back. Scenes later go even further afield, to other surprising and interesting locations (see, I said it isn't just a home invasion story). There is never a sense of "seen it", of the tedium of confinement that so many authors would have fallen into, thinking it helps with empathy when really it only makes the reader's eyes glaze over. When we read a book we want to let go; we want to trust the author to take us on an exciting journey but not crash the car; to conjure and perform magic tricks and not drop the ball. Yep, I felt that security here, and could sink into the story.

In the end? A well-written, superbly plotted novel. The Behrg always has an eye on the reader and their experience, carefully controlling and manipulating and foiling expectations. I don't feel like there's a word wasted in this story. The author doesn't over-explain, or do the reader's work for them in this tale (partly) of redemption. I think this book does a LOT right when it comes to pace and plot twists. It's not for the faint of heart, yet it is also cleverer than I anticipated. If you feel like being challenged and also going on an emotional rollercoaster, give it a go. It's horrible in parts, an uneasy read, but I'm impressed.

(Warning: some people can't read a book where an animal suffers, so I have to warn you that there is one scene of that in this book.)

Interview With The Behrg

Karl: Please don't tell me Housebroken was your first novel. Or at least tell me it was your first published one, but you wrote another fifteen first and had to trash them. It wouldn't be fair if you got so much right on the first attempt!

The Behrg: It was actually my first, though I'm no novice to writing. Previously I spent my time writing and studying screenplays. As I transitioned to a more narrative structure I was surprised at the similarities, though really I shouldn't have been. What I really enjoyed, however, was the freedom it opened up to explore these characters, without the need to hit a certain "plot-point" by XX amount of pages.

Karl: Okay, I feel better. Even though I know screenplays and novels are different disciplines, I imagine there is a lot of overlap from the fact that they both aim to tell an interesting story, concisely.

This may seem weird, but bear with me - I sometimes imagine how great it would be to be able to somehow sit in readers' heads as they read one of my books, seeing the exact points where they were excited, bored, confused, scared, tense, pleased and so on. Although you can't shape everything to the demands of others, because then you'd end up fitting everything to the same template like a malignant focus group, it's still good to have an awareness of what King's "dear reader" might feel at each point, because then you can lead them round and satisfy or frustrate their expectations. So few authors genuinely consider what the reader is thinking during each scene, instead often falling back on self-indulgence, just writing what they want. But while I was reading Housebroken it often felt like you'd really considered and guessed at what the reader would be thinking and expecting at each point, controlling their reading experience like a Hannibal Lecter of words. Were you conscious of doing that as you wrote, or maybe earlier when you plotted?

The Behrg: Not weird at all -- I think every author would love to know especially where things stop working for a reader. For me it comes down to not forcing the characters but rather trusting them and their decisions. It often leads to darker places than I'm comfortable with, but not following them down those paths would eliminate the authenticity I feel we, as authors, seek.

Love your article on Linda's Book Bag btw, exactly how I feel about horror. Too many people think it's just the cheap slasher / gore splashing everywhere / no character development type of garbage that B-movies are made of. My idea of "horror" is much broader. Well executed "argument" you had there.

Karl: Thanks. Just curious, what was Housebroken's word count? I knew it was a Kindle Single and for some reason thought they were all novellas and expected Housebroken to be a quick read. It was, in that I ploughed through it in two nights, but not quick in sense of feeling short. If anything, every time I felt I'd had my money's worth, you threw another twist into my trolley, as if you wanted to give not 90% value, but 150% value. Which makes me wonder if part of it was my expectations to do with length.

The Behrg: Actually Housebroken wasn't a Kindle Single but was rather one of the first books selected in Amazon's new "reader-powered publishing platform," Kindle Scout. As far as the twists in the novel go, most were uncovered through the writing process, rather than pre-plotted. I honestly expected a much different ending to the story than where it eventually led.

Karl: Apologies for my mistake about the Kindle scheme, I probably got the Single mixed up with Scout's requirement for 50,000 words or more (and skimmed the "or more"). Writers, eh, never trust them to be able to read as well.

Penultimate question: your craziest writing experience, experiment or method. Ever co-wrote with someone else? Written to a time limit? Written while drunk? Gone through an experience of a character so you could write about it more truthfully (e.g. climbing into a dog cage)? I can't list many more, since I don't know what I don't know, but an answer might seem obvious to you.

The Behrg: My craziest writing experience? Like writing under water or while standing on hot coals? Or maybe the short story I penned while sky-diving? :) While it often feels I've got a gun to my head when writing (metaphorically, of course), I can't say I've done anything too crazy. I let most of that insanity onto the page rather than into my own life. That being said, I do try to challenge myself by switching things up, whether that be trying to write a novel longhand or blurring the lines of genres, etc.

Karl: Something off-topic. I'm not going to ask ask about your name, since I saw you'd covered it on your site - no doubt a question you got tired of! So instead, music. Lead guitar, or rhythm, or both? Do you sing and play? What style and songs? I'm still a beginner in many ways (my nemesis is the F chord, well named; or maybe having to stretch my fingers across 5 mid-neck frets for Revolution by the Beatles). So: any guitar or general music tip, something that you wished you'd known and might help me or others?

The Behrg: Ah, the name thing! :) It is an odd one and yes, I wrote a blog article about the decision, but no one's EVER asked me about playing music, so kudos for the original question. I picked up the guitar when I was fourteen after a rock-climbing accident where I shattered my femur bone two weeks before summer vacation began. With nothing to do but watch endless loops of The Price Is Right, it was a great way for me to invest my time and has become a huge part of who I am. Funny how the tragedies in life often carry us down paths we would have otherwise never ventured. I've played in various different groups from wedding bands to originals, and at one point even had a production contract that came close to "making it," I suppose. I'm a big believer that everyone should play a musical instrument. It's like learning a second language - it expands your mind, gives you an opportunity to lose yourself in something creative, and is a far more productive use of time than playing some absurd app on your phone. As far as advice, I'd just say play the music you love. Stick with it because it does get easier. Don't be afraid of making mistakes or changing what someone else has written in the way you play it. That's the beauty of music, is that it's never finished. Never complete. It's always a work in progress. The same could be said of writing, to some degree.

Karl: I agree so much. I wish I'd started learning years ago. Actually I did have a few lessons as a kid (guitar and violin) but didn't enjoy it. I only started to understand the pleasure when I began making music with friends. Now one of my favourite evenings is when we get together and have a crack at playing songs - one drummer, me on lead guitar, one singer, and a fourth either playing bass, keyboard, or tambourine. It's social, it's creative, and we laugh a lot. I have sometimes altered and simplified songs to bring them down to my skill level, so I'm glad I needn't feel too bad about that. In fact, I'm tempted to go do some finger picking practice now. Thanks for your time!


Recent Reviews For Harvest Festival And They Move Below


The dark word is being spread, like an irresistible layer of chocolate on toast: yet more recent reviews for Harvest Festival (action thriller horror) and They Move Below (horror short stories).

Many thanks to all my reviewers! I appreciate it so much!


Sleep Is Death

Today the gaming website Rock Paper Shotgun asked Have You Played… Sleep Is Death? As regular readers know I am an author who also enjoys games; especially if they tell stories (and are mixed with zombies).

Sleep Is Death is a tool for interactive storytelling. I did play one game of it in June 2010. It was a bit silly - I didn't really know what was happening, and where we were supposed to end and the characters begin. I may regret this, but here is the story we created, off the cuff.

Disclaimer: this is a fictional Karl, roleplaying a third character. It doesn't represent my real-life views on zombies or anything else. This is also the censored version, since there is no 18 rating on the Internet.


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