Sunday, 29 January 2012

Love Songs On The Radio

(Mojave 3: Love Songs On The Radio)

Mojave 3 there, with the beautiful 'Love Songs On The Radio'. You're listening to Pete's Drivetime Hour on Shoreline FM on 82.2 FM, online, digital radio and digital TV, and coming up shortly for you my lovely listeners: we've got the beautiful Julie with the weather and the not-so beautiful Martin with today's drivetime traffic.

I know that some of you will be thinking hang on, that's not on our usual daytime playlist, that song, old Pete's gone a little off-piste for a moment there. And you'd be right, my lovelies. Even had to bring my own CD in - if you've seen our studio webcast at the usual address slash livestudio you'll know it's all computers now, but isn't that the way of the world. Amazing how things that we think would last turn out to be yesterday's news. Might get into a little bit of bother with the higher-ups for playing some music that's not on the playlist, but it's a special day and I thought that a one-off might sneak under the radar.

I know what you're all thinking, old Pete's gone off his rocker, but don't worry my lovelies, I'm saner today than I have been for a long, long time. We don't play many requests on this show, but if we did and I could send in a request to myself, today it would be that song. Beautiful, isn't it? But you know what it's like with songs, I don't need to tell you this. Wherever you are now: at home, in the office or factory, or stuck in your car on the way home, if I said to you think of a song that means something to you, really means something to you, it's about more than the music, isn't it? It's always about more than the music.

That song's a beautiful number, bit of a country touch, would pull at old Pete's heartstrings anyway, but like I said my lovelies, it's about more than the music, isn't it? It's about the way that a song stops you in your tracks, strips away the years, and takes you right back to that moment, that one precious moment, so real that for a moment you're there, in a poky rented attic room, and you can hear the autumn rain on the skylight and that song playing on her cheap hifi, and you lean in towards each other for the first time, and in that moment you know that everything has changed. That nothing will be the same again.

That song becomes your song. Might be other people's too, but they don't matter. It's your song. The years go by, and you don't listen to it very often, but still it's there, your song. Then things grow tired and one year, you start to wonder, and the wonder turns into something else, and that something else is a cancer that eats and eats away at you, and you start to check phone bills, and steal receipts out of the bin, and every word seems to have two meanings, and every reason sounds like an excuse, and you jump between telling yourself that everything is OK and fearing that everything is not, and then one day you happen to change your routine and you're in an unexpected place at an unexpected time and there it is, you find out for sure that everything isn't OK, and that it will never be OK again.

So you play that song.

One last time. Because it's a beautiful song.

And in that moment you know that everything has changed. That nothing will be the same again.

And now it's time for Martin with today's drivetime travel on your local favourite, Shoreline FM coming to you on 82.2 FM, online, digital radio and digital TV . So, Martin, how's it looking on the ring-road tonight?

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Intermission #2

When next week's story goes up (inspired by 'Love Songs On The Radio' by Mojave 3, as requested by James), that will be the fifth story that I've posted on here, and the end of the first month of 52 Songs, 52 Stories. It's been fun to do so far, and an interesting experiment, as on at least a couple of occasions I've had little time to anything else other than just sit down and write them in a few minutes, give them a quick once over, and publish. It's strangely liberating... Thanks for reading the stories so far, I hope you've enjoyed them, and continue to enjoy the blog throughout the rest of the year. If you have, I'd be grateful if you spread the word, and give 52 Songs an occasional mention in other places.

Sunday, 22 January 2012


(Talking Heads: Psychokiller)

"Are you scared?" the man on the phone asked, in a deep and growly voice.

"No," I said.

"Well, you better be."

"I'm not."

"You will be when I tell you this. Check the display on your phone. This call's coming from inside the house."

"Inside the house?"

"From the phone in the basement. Scared now, eh? Terrified?"

"Not much. We don't have a phone in the basement."


"Can't have a phone in the basement, because we don't even have a basement."

"Are you trying to bluff me? Because if you're trying to bluff me..."

"I'm not trying to bluff you. We don't have a basement."

"Shit. Are you sure?"

"I think I'd know."

"Shit. But I thought I dialled—well, well, you just wait Sandra, I'm coming up out of this basement and I'm be heading straight for—"

"I'm not Sandra."


"My name's not Sandra. My name's Jane."



"Not Sandra?"

"Not Sandra. I don't even know any Sandras."

"Are you sure? No, sorry, stupid question. Shit."

"You're not very good at this, are you?"

"No. It's--"

"It's what?"

"Never mind."

"No, go on. It's what?"

"It's my first time. Doing...this. Being a serial killer."

"If it's your first time, then you haven't actually killed anybody yet."


"So you can't call yourself a serial killer."

"Suppose not."

"Actually, if it's your first time, you're not technically even a killer."

"I—no. No, I'm not. I've read a lot of books, though. Studied the greats."

"Hasn't really rubbed off, has it?"

"Guess not. I...look, I fell quite a way when I climbed in through the window to the basement, and I think my leg is really badly hurt, maybe even broken. And when I tried the door just now it's locked, and I don't think I can climb back up and out of the window with my leg like this.  It really hurts. And there's spiders. And I'm really cold, and I don't even know if anyone's upstairs, and if they are I can't even work this phone to call them to terrify them, and I can't even get out of here. Help me. Please."

"Are you scared?" I said, in a deep and growly voice. He didn't say anything."Are you scared?"

Finally, in a little voice. "Yes."

I hung up.

Sunday, 15 January 2012


(Justin Timberlake: SexyBack)

He always scared me, my neighbour. I was bookish and quiet, Radio 4 and light opera. He was forever demolishing things and sitting in the garden drinking from cans and whatever he did, if the temperature was a few degrees north of freezing he always had his shirt off. He did it because the kind of man he was, he wanted to show himself off, and he did it because he wanted to show her  off.

She curved over the strong muscles of his back, her head animated by his shoulder blade: when he shrugged, she looked up and down. Her dark hair coiled down the small of his back, and her eyes looked straight at you, cool and dark and hiding a lifetime of possibilities. For all it was such a primitive, debased art form, the tattoo had been executed with real beauty. I often wondered who she was. Whether he had known her. Whether he had...known her.

I tried not to look, because I am not the sort of man who looks at other men, but it was not easy. He would dig his garden, and I would sit in my first floor study, looking out of the window, watching her move as he moved. Then at night, I would dream of her. We would be at a party, and she would stand out like a rose amongst the dowdy and drooping shrubs of my colleagues. She would look around the room, and when her gaze met mine, she would stop. Smile. Take a slow drink. Not look away with contempt, like the rest.

When I woke in the morning after one of these dreams, the world seemed a little more tired and colourless than before.

My neighbour would get very drunk, and shout and fight, and throw things at his wall. He would play music late into the night, and sometimes he would bring a woman back and I would have to wear my ear-plugs so I didn't have to listen to the animal percussion of bed-frame against wall. Once, I didn't wear my ear plugs, and I closed my eyes and listened and imagined that the woman he was with was her. Afterwards though, I had to run to the toilet to be sick.

I could have moved, I should have moved, I wanted to move, to live and work in another city, but it was the house I was brought up in, and it was the house I nursed my mother in until last year, and then it was just my house. I wanted to move and start a new life. I wanted to start my life. But when I thought about all the change it scared me. Most things did. I am ashamed to admit it, but there you are.

It had been a hot day, and he had been out in his garden hammering something together all afternoon, stopping only to add to the pile of cans around his feet. The beat, beat, beat gave me a headache, so I could not concentrate on the work that I brought home, and that made me stare through the window, watching her, thinking about how a soft breeze would have caressed her hair around her neck, risen softly to my window, cooled my forehead, smelled of her perfume.

Then he turned round and saw me.

I ducked down, but my desk was in the way and I did not know if I had been quick enough. There was a loud crash outside, and I sat up to see the whole fence swaying. I was sick to my stomach and I was hot in the head and my arms and legs shivered and shook, as if I had the flu. I wanted to crawl under my bed, and curl up and put my hands over my ears.

My fence crashed and swayed again. I took a ragged breath and said, 'Be a man. For once.' At least I meant to say that, but what came out was, 'Be a man. For her.' 

I staggered downstairs and out into the garden. There was silence for a moment, and I began to hope that he had grown bored and gone inside to shout at his television, but then a whole fence panel came crashing down over my perennials, and onto my lawn. I had to step to one side, or one of the thick wooden fenceposts would have hit me. He sauntered through.

"My fence," I said, and I hated the sound of my voice, and I hated him, and I hated myself.

"Fuck your fence. I seen you," he said, "watching. Not the first time. Always watching. Fuckin' perv. Gonna tell the whole street, tell 'em to watch out. 'Specially the ones with kids."

"Don't you dare." I stepped forward, nearly tripping over the fencepost at my feet.

He made a face, and a sound like a little girl being scared. I could smell the drink on him.

"You would not believe what I am capable of," I said.

He laughed, shook his head. Then he lifted a fist, very quickly, as if to hit me. I flinched. He dropped his fist, laughed again. "You wouldn't have the bottle," he said. He looked at me as if I were dirt. Then he spat, on the ground, and turned his back to walk away.

She was laughing too.


When colleagues in my new job come to my new flat, in my new city, they often remark on it. "How unusual," they say. "Very folk art, very primitive, but all the same it's stunning execution, and that frame sets it off beautifully. She's not on canvas though, is she?"

"Goatskin," I say. "It's goatskin."

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Never Tell

(Violent Femmes: Never Tell)

They had been drunk, it's true, but not very drunk, and they were very young. Simon persuaded Paul to work through their summer job lunchbreak so they could finish early, and then on the way home one of them had suggested a swift pint that turned into three, but Simon could never remember whose idea that was. They didn't take the usual route home, because a tractor turned into the lane ahead of them, so Paul drove the long way round because it would be quicker. He slid a copy of Doolittle into the cassette player and turned it up loud, and Simon drummed on the dash and sang along.

They turned a corner and she stepped out into the road from nowhere and bang onto the bonnet and thump over the roof and then she was behind them on the road and Paul was standing on the brakes, and Simon was just holding on to the dashboard and swearing softly, over and over, and Black Francis shrieked, "Tame" until Paul slapped at the stop button and everything went very quiet.

When they reached her, her eyes were wide open and her mouth was open as if she was going to say something, but she would not say anything ever again.

They looked at her, and they looked at each other, and they looked at the empty countryside around them, and then they ran to the car.

There were three terrible weeks of stories in the local paper, and conversations in local shops. Simon slept fitfully, and woke at five most mornings, not sure if he had dreamed a hammering on the door or whether it was real. The stories stopped when nothing new happened and other stories came along, and one night Simon went to sleep at eleven and woke at nine the next morning, and hadn't dreamed of anything at all.

They didn't decide to spend less time together, but that's how it turned out. Simon went off to university, and Paul took on his dad's business, and occasional sessions in the pub turned into once a year Christmas cards, and then much later, they were just Facebook friends who never messaged or commented, just watched.

Simon hadn't spoken to Paul for five years when he got a message on Facebook with a phone number at the end. Call me, it said. We need to talk.

When Simon phoned he could hear a child shouting in the background, and the loud sound of a TV. "Can't speak now," Paul said. "But can we meet? I really want to talk."

"Sure," Simon said, "it would be great." He wasn't sure that he meant it, because although he missed the friendship that they had once had, he knew that they would never get that back. There would be an awkward conversation in a pub, a lot of time spent talking about other people they had once known, and then they would say this was great, we must do it again and they never would.

They met in a seaside town halfway between where each of them lived now, in the car park of a pub. There was an awkward shaking of hands, and Simon said, "Pint?" and then regretted it. "Or a coffee, whatever?"

Paul was older, fatter, but with dark smudges under his eyes. "Maybe in a bit." He sounded even more tired than he looked. "I've got a banging headache, drive down was a nightmare. Can we just walk for a bit, get some fresh air, blow it away?"

"Sure," Simon said, and they walked along the prom, past deserted out-of-season arcades. The path rose up from the town onto the cliffs above the bay and the wind grew stronger there and whipped at Simon's hair. It didn't seem to do Paul much good

"You don't seem right, mate." The last word felt wrong in Simon's mouth. Once, but not now. Once they had been as close as brothers, now they were just strangers with a brief shared past and one terrible secret.

"I see her," Paul said. "When I go to sleep at nights. When I wake up. I've been thinking of nothing else for months. I can't stand it." He walked to the edge of the cliff, stared out at the sea.

"Jesus, man. I'm sorry." Simon walked to him, thought of putting an arm around his shoulder, hesitated, the years apart filling the six inches between them.

"It's not her that scares me. It's what she could do to my life. My family."

"She can't do anything. It's done with. In the past. Case closed. A terrible tragedy, but she walked out from nowhere. You're not to blame." He saw the look. "We're not to blame."

"It eats away at me like a  tumour. Every day, I wake up, and I worry that day will be the day it all comes out. I've got so much in my life now, so many good things. I don't deserve them, but I have them, anyway.  But the better it gets, the more I have to lose. The day before I got in touch with you, I was reading Ella a bedtime story, and she snuggled right into me and squeezed my hand and said 'Daddy, I never ever want to lose you' and just the thought of it...Jesus."

"Paul, get a grip - you won't lose her, she won't lose you.You're just panicking, getting it all out of perspective."

"No," Paul said. "I've got everything in perspective. For the first time since it happened."

Simon snorted. "If you had it in perspective, you wouldn't be in this fucking state. It's ten years on, Paul. She's forgotten.  Not by us, you know I don't mean that, but the police? A dusty file in an archive box somewhere, and nothing to link it to us, to you. Nothing. That's what you've got to keep in mind, when you're going through a bad time, like now. No-one knows, Paul. No-one knows."

Paul shook his head slowly. "You do," he said, and Simon tried to take a step back from the cliff edge but it was all too late, far, far too late.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Intermission #1

New story up some time tomorrow morning, UK time.

It's a bit longer than last weeks; most will probably be shorter. Some might be much shorter. But this one took as long as it took.

Don't expect any to be as polished as fiction of mine you might have read elsewhere ("that's polished?" a chorus of disbelieving readers cry). The constraints of doing one of these a week on top of everything else is interesting, because I don't have the luxury of revision, just a quick whip-through. So the stories might be a bit rough around the edges but at least will be spontaneous. He said, in the hope that this is a good thing.

I'm also guest blogging tomorrow and talking a little more about why I am doing this, and why music makes stories. More on that when it's published.

I've had three requests for songs which I will honour over the next month or two. Sabotage by the Beastie Boys, Love Songs On The Radio by Mojave 3, and coming up next week, SexyBack by Justin Timberlake.

It's going to be an interesting year...

Monday, 2 January 2012

Why Don't You Kill Yourself?

(The Only Ones: Why Don't You Kill Yourself)

"Are you sure you're ready for this?" he said. "That you really want to do it?"

"Yes," she said. "No. Yes. I do, I'm sure, but I'm scared."

"To be honest, I'm scared too," he said. "But we do this, nothing can scare us. Ever again. Nothing can hurt us. Ever again. And we're together now, and we will be together, after."

"Hold my hand."

He held her hand.

"Don't let go of it."

"I won't let go of it."

"I'm ready," she said.



"On three, we jump. Don't forget, I love you, and will always love you."

She just nodded, looked down at the river.

"One," he said.

"Two," he said.

"Three!" he said.

They both stood there, on the railing of the bridge, hands pulled apart at the same time, like they'd just pulled a Christmas cracker.

After a moment, they both climbed down, saying nothing. He walked one way. She walked the other.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

52 songs, 52 stories

So what is this?

 It's a simple idea, really. Each week in 2012 I'm going to pick a song, usually at random. I'm going to write a very short story inspired by that song, and post a video for the song and a story here.

Fifty-two songs, fifty-two stories. First one will be up on Jan 1st.

What made you decide to do this?

A combination of two things that happened at the back end of 2012.

I was involved in a project called Off The Record, which is a charity anthology edited by Luca Veste, featuring stories from a host of excellent authors (and me) with each story inspired by a classic song track. Taking the opportunity for a plug: thirty-eight stories for next to nothing (Amazon UK | US), it's a bargain, and all the royalties go to charity - the National Literacy Trust in the UK, and the Children's Literary Initiative in the US. I contributed a story inspired by Hendrix's Purple Haze.

Around the time that Off The Record was released, I discovered a really entertaining blog called A Month In Music, written by Alex Watson, and based on a very simple premise. He had thirty days of music in his iTunes collection, 10,513 songs. He switched iTunes to shuffle, pressed play, and wrote about what he heard. The result was a very well-written, sweetly melancholy blog that riffs off the songs played across the month to talk about music, and memories, and how life turns out as it goes past, and I thought, I'd like to do a regular project like that. Something that commits me to writing something on a regular basis (but not an insane one, considering other writing projects that I have on the go).

And so, putting those two ideas together, this is it.

So, who the hell are you?

I am me. I write stuff.

 I like the photo in your header. 

 So do I. It's part of a larger photo from stock.exchng, and credit for the photo, and thanks for permission to use it, go to the photographer: mn-que.