An Attempted Mugging

This post isn’t really writing related, game related or even about esoterica. This is just about something that happened to me last night and I thought it was worth sharing as… catharsis? Advice? A warning? Who knows. It’s a thing. That happened.

I got back to Crystal Palace station at about 11:15 last night, having been up in north London at a friend’s flat. I do this once a week most weeks, and followed my usual route. I was first out of the barriers, winning my imaginary race. From the station I normally cut up through Ledrington Road, a darkish street with houses on one side and a bit of grass on the other. I’ve often thought it would be a good spot for a mugging and am always on the look out. Why continue to use that street? Good question!

There was a chap walking away from me towards the main road about two thirds of the way up the street. A third of the way up the street were two more people following him, and I instantly felt like they were gearing up to mug him.
I accelerated to make them aware more people were around to save the chap from harm. As soon as they saw me, the two lurkers crossed away. Job done, I thought.

I reached the main road and normally walk up the slightly darker side which has the park off to the right. Mindful of the potential would-be muggers I instead crossed to the more brightly lit residential side. There were a couple of cars about, but not many. I didn’t realise but the muggers had crossed behind me.
I saw a shadow from the streetlights approaching on my left hand side and sped up a little more, though didn’t think that anything would happen on the main road.

One of them brushed up on my left hand side, the other crossed to the far side of the road and kept pace. The one on my left told me, in a quiet, measured voice, that we were going to take a walk and not to do anything stupid or he’d stab me. I didn’t see a knife, but his hand hovered over his pocket.

I politely rebuffed him, mindful that Derren Brown had once foiled muggers (or so he has said) with mind-games – ignoring the mugging and making polite, intense conversation about something unrelated. I told him what a nice evening I’d been having and a little about the film The Insider which I’d watched round at my friend’s. He re-iterated his threat. Derren Brown 1, me nil.

I saw a couple on the other side of the road, and crossed. There was no traffic. The mugger was still brushed up against me, but allowed me to cross – possibly he didn’t want to make it look like something untoward was going on.

I approached the couple and told them that the chap was trying to mug me, and asked if I could walk with them. They seemed unsurprisingly perturbed – I imagine I had a manic glint in my eye from the furious politeness I was maintaining. I repeated myself and the bloke said yes, he was happy for me to walk with them. 

I thought that might be it, that now we were a group of three and, at this stage, half way up the hill towards the bustling Crystal Palace triangle, the muggers would be put off.

I was wrong.

He threatened to stab my new friends – a man and woman in their 20s (I’m horrible at guessing ages, fyi) – unless they backed off. They didn’t back off and took on the same polite tone I had with the mugger.

We crossed to the more brightly lit side of the street, and the mugger crossed with us, telling me that he was going to take me round the corner. There was a hefty chap with headphones in at the bus stop, but I thought better of trying to enlist him too – he seemed quite young.

We reached the top of the hill, and I let the couple lead just slightly in case they were going to turn off – they didn’t, so we were now heading towards pubs and chicken shops. Across the street was a pub I know well, which was still open and had a number of punters sitting outside.

“Do you know what,” I said, “I really fancy a pint, shall we go for a drink in The Westow?” The couple agreed and we all crossed, mugger included, then headed into the pub. As soon as we were in the ‘beer garden’ at the front, the mugger sloped off around the corner towards the bus station. His mate who’d been keeping watch had presumably disappeared in that direction too.

Pint ordered. Police called. Mugging averted.

Huge thanks due to Paul and Sophie, who’d been out on a date having known each other 2 weeks. And to The Westow, and the Met.

What have I learnt?

If he’d asked me to hand over my wallet/phone/whatever in the first instance I probably would have done. I don’t know what his plan was if he did ‘get me round a corner’. In mugging, as in writing, clarity of purpose is essential.

Also, and more importantly: don’t go down streets you think are good spots for a mugging.



Writing Competitions

I haven’t mentioned much recently about how I’m faring in trying to get published because, well, there’s not been much news. However, while trawling the internet for opportunities I’ve found that there are a couple of great writing competitions for debut/undiscovered novelists on at the mo – I thought I’d share them just in case anyone’s interested and hasn’t spotted them yet:

Tibor Jones Pageturner Prize 2015

This one actually has my local bookseller – Bookseller Crow – as one of the judges, which is pretty cool. I’ll be taking bottles of whisky in on a weekly basis until the shortlist is announced.

The Word of Mouth Prize

This also looks good and has, amongst others, the owner of Dulwich Books as a judge – also not a million miles away for the purposes of bribe-delivery.

I might actually send different novels into each one. For those who’ve read a few of my previous posts you’ll know I’ve got one novel ready to go (in my opinion) and another one well under way. The second of the competitions allows for works-in-progress, and I’m pretty happy with the first half of my second novel, so might give that one a whirl. The deadline isn’t for a while, so I’ll give it a bit more thought before committing either way though.

I also spotted this short story competition today, specifically looking for speculative fiction on the theme of First Contact (not necessarily extra-terrestrial). I haven’t written a short story for a while, but have a stack awaiting an airing. Maybe it’s time to try sending a few out…

Good luck if you’re going in for any of them. Anyone know of a good resource/blog/twitter account that reliably collates these kinds of things? I’m thinking of the novel ones specifically really, and ideally UK-focused.


Is Genre Fiction Reaching Critical Mass?

"...all the writers who’ve been excluded from literature for so long – my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction, writers of the imagination..."

“…all the writers who’ve been excluded from literature for so long – my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction, writers of the imagination…”

Interesting things are happening in SFF and other ‘genre’ fiction right now. Having been looked down on for decades (centuries?) it’s increasingly looking like mainstream cultural and critical acceptance is on the cards. Why do I think this? And why now?

The last two ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions at the British Library were devoted to comics/graphic novels and Gothic fiction. The BFI have a sweeping Sci Fi season on at the moment. The BBC are getting in on the act and have sci fI documentaries playing right now. And then there was this speech from Ursula K Le Guin (and if you haven’t read her Left Hand of Darkness I suggest you stop reading this right now and get a copy).

I’ve written briefly about Interstellar already and, whatever you may think of it, there’s surely no denying it’s great to see a slab of grown up sci fi reaching a wide audience – not just robots slugging each other in the face for once. And on TV Game of Thrones has become the one to rule them all.

That’s why I think it’s happening now, but where has it come from? What’s driving it? I wonder if it’s not linked back to the phenomenon that is/was Harry Potter. The generation that were kids when the first book came out are grown up now. And through their teenage years and into early adulthood they followed Harry’s saga, with Lord of the Rings punctuating it on the big screen (along with the Potter adaptations themselves of course). It was an adolescence defined by fantastical fiction, some of the most successful ever, and it has led to an fantasy-literate adult audience broader than ever before.

That’s my theory at any rate, and I’m sure there are many other ways to spin it – capitalism following one genre success to make more money maybe, or the internet uniting disparate fantasy fans into a collective force, or something in the times we’re living through making fantasy and sci-fi appealing as either carriers for metaphor or escapism from the global recession.

I’ll post something more about Harry Potter soon, but what do you think? Do you think genre fiction is ascending to its rightful place alongside ‘literary’ fiction? If so, what’s your theory?


Rejection and Joy

Or, The Search For Silver Linings

Welcome to the latest in my series following my attempt to get published for the first time. I come with Big News. Not the Big News that causes champagne corks to pop, sadly, but Big News nonetheless: I have received my first rejection.

When I started this series I said that I would share any triumphs or failures, and do you know what? I’m undecided as to which this is. Obviously it’s not the kind of triumph I’m after, but it does give me a sense that I am ‘in the club’. From my research for preparing to approach agents, I reinforced the knowledge that there aren’t many published authors who haven’t faced between one and a gazillion rejections (see J K Rowling for details), so in a way, if you squint really hard, I’m actually closer to being published.

For those trying the same thing as me, and for those with no intention of ever writing anything, I thought you might find it interesting to see what rejection looks like, so, with the agent’s name removed, here we are:

‘Dear Jonathan,

Thank you for submitting your work entitled A Calling-On Song to this agency.  Unfortunately, I’m afraid I didn’t respond warmly enough to the story to be able to fully engage with it. As I’m sure you know, the publishing business is fiercely competitive and in order to represent a writer effectively, we do need to be one hundred percent convinced by their work.

I wish you best of luck in finding representation.

Best wishes,

So, what to take from this? I’m sure there’s a bit of cut-and-pasting in the reply, but that’s fair enough given the volume of submissions they look at. The fact that they’ve highlighted the story as what didn’t grab them is (again, squint a bit) a sort of positive. Not every story will appeal to everyone and agents have to be an author’s number one fan to give them the support needed. That said, my novel is the definitive British novel of this generation, or so I’ve almost convinced myself. But I’ll let you all be the judge of that when it’s published!

From my days plugging away as an actor, I’ve received many different forms of rejection, both polite and preposterous, and this definitely sits near the top of the list. It further confirms that publishing is a far more pleasant industry than performance and do you know what? A literary agent has at least glanced at my novel. That makes me happy, regardless of the outcome.

Have any of you lot had rejections from literary agents (or anyone else for that matter)? How do you think this compares to your experience? And how did you stop obsessing over analysing every word of the reply?!



The Manifestation of a Manifesto


As you may well note from the long silence, I’ve been struggling for a while with the purpose of this blog. But time has rolled on, projects have been polished and realisation has dawned. I’m about to embark on a terrifying new journey and you, my imaginative and imaginary chums get to sit up front in First Class.

What am I babbling about? Simply this: in a couple of months I will submit my novel to literary agents for the first time. And so this is the forum where I will keep track of my progress, be able to sob over my failures or share my successes. It’s completely new territory, so may prove either a cautionary tale or inspirational chivvying depending on how things go. For those with similar goals it might be a useful resource and for those without it could perhaps be an interesting insight.

So that’s the manifesto. What will the next few posts hold? Some background on the novel and how long it’s taken to get to this stage. A look at some of the work that needs to be done outside the novel itself in order to submit. And I would have thought there’ll be plenty of procrastinating about quite where ideas come from, things I’m finding inspirational and ludicrous facial hair.

Are there any parts of the process you’re particularly interested in? If so, stick a comment below and I’ll see what I can do.