Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dodgy MP's expenses? Call the Cops!

Not another scandal at the House? Did somebody call for the cops?

This wonderful picture is, in fact, taken by Nils Jorgensen. Nils is a street photographer but don’t be fooled by the name. He is a brilliant master of his trade. He sees the human face of our hectic world, capturing on film the zany, the love struck, the implausible and the many inter-relationships we miss in the maelstrom of the urban streets.

Nils knew at 14 years old what he wanted to do. Not a surprise as his mother was an artist and he grew up in a creative homelife. Dad was a doctor who loved to take pictures. Young Nils path was set. He would be a street photographer. Now he is one of the best. The elite.

You can see his work here. He’s on flickr here. And here is a site called In-Public for street photographers that's well worth a visit.

Nils pictures are handled by Rex Features worldwide. Please don’t lift them. Go to Rex.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Caroline Smailes

I want to introduce you to a courageous new writer.

Her name is Caroline Smailes. She’s from Newcastle.

I don’t know if she’s courageous in the physical sense, I’ve never met her in the flesh. Maybe she can crush spiders in a fist (unlike me) or cringes at the scrape of chalk on a blackboard.

I know she’s a capable mum with three children, which takes physical courage so I would guess that she is.

The bravery I’m talking about is in her writing. It’s there for all to see. Caroline writes with the intensity of a blowtorch. Her words ring with unflinching truth. Whether she's writing about child abuse or the harrowing relationships suffered by mismatched men and women, tainting, tarnishing and finally destroying the lives of their children.

Ms Smailes writes from the viewpoint of a tortured, grieving spirit that has been mercilessly battered by a pitiless life. That parallel hell we all fear in our blackest imaginings if our cosy worlds were to ever crash around us.

She’s there, putting on paper the dark places we recognise, but, in embarrassment, guilt, or self-denial, avoid thinking about. Caroline speaks where we fear to utter. Surely the precinct of the truest of artists? She writes about what concerns her – not about what might make money.

A true breath of creative fresh air because, with such bravery comes real originality, making her voice unique to her. You can’t mistake her style for anyone else.

Typically, in 2005 Caroline took a bold decision to change her life and to pursue her writing career wherever it led. I guess it has not been easy. But Caroline doesn’t do easy. In three years she produced two masterful, important novels that, I believe, redefine their genre. They are published by The Friday Project.

Her first is: In Search Of Adam’

“In Search of Adam is a profoundly affecting book. It deals with the horrors of a damaged childhood caused by a mother’s suicide, a father’s neglect and child abuse. Dark stuff, but it is handled with a deep sensitivity and realism by Newcastle-born
author Caroline Smailes.”

So said The Big Issue in the North.

I can’t think of a better source of a blurb for such a work.

Her second is: Black Boxes’

In it we meet Ana Lewis. She is 37 years old and lives with her two children, Pip and Davie. In the opening Ana has just taken an overdose of pills.

By the end of this book Ana will be dead.

Black Boxes follows the final hours of Ana’s life, recording her thoughts and memories. As the drugs start to kick in, we discover the awful sequence of events that have brought her to this moment.

Powerful, uncompromising stuff. I challenge you to think in the same way after reading these tour de force novels as when you started reading them. That's where her art is.

See a fascinating interview with her on 5th Estate here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Wassat Out The Window, Dad?

When your holidaying on the Spanish Costas, driving your rental Ford Focus, little Billy’s ice cream cornet dripping down your neck, you may see some ironwork sculptures by the roadside. They adorn roundabouts and parkland, sea shores and hillside terraces.

If you’re interested, they are the work of a young man named Toni Mari. He began work for a local Spanish blacksmith, aged 14 where he learned all about forging cast iron. There was once a blacksmith’s shop in most English towns but now they are hard to find. In Spain this craft still flourishes in the countryside.

Young Toni Mari made little iron figurines of bulls and other animals. It wasn’t long before neighbours commissioned work from him. And so he progressed to larger works. Soon Town Halls asked for Municipal art for their towns and seaports and Toni Mari became recognised as an artist in iron.

He has exhibited in New York, Paris, Madrid and Barcelona. But most of his work is local to the holiday town beloved by Brits, Javea, Costa Blanca where he was born. He still works in a small, roadside forge beneath the Montgo Mountain. A true Hephaestus.

See his gallery here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


They are put here for a purpose. We English are, to borrow from Poo Bah in The Mikado, ‘born sneering’. Especially members of our Establishment. They can burn the paint off a door with a haughty look. I once saw an English DSS Inspector halt a furious, out of control complainee in Bromley dole office with a withering, raised eyebrow.

I have worked with lots of Aussies. Newspaper offices are full of them. Have you ever tried English pomposity with an Australian? Just as your high horse is pawing the sky on hind legs, reaching its zenith they laugh. Or worse, blow a raspberry or fart Waltzing Matilda.

Most deflating.

Their purpose here is to be a drag anchor when the English get all hoity toity. (I love that. Always wanted to use it. I mean..where on earth did it come from? Hoity toity?)

This role of English pomp pricking should be for Americans. The original 'money alone is status' race. But Yanks are so in awe of our class system. They can’t do it.

So we have Australians. And not just Rupert Murdoch, the Aussie ubermeister of them all. I mean the line Aussies you meet in a pub. When you start in with your top line, “of course, my aunt Emilia knew Queen Victoria,” little marsupial flaps come down over their ears. They drift off-message with chants about Ricky Ponting, whoever he is.

(I know who he is..I’m trying to be pompous.)

Except when it comes to cricket.

One mention of the ashes and they turn all English. Have you noticed? They actually get pompous. They are so sure of themselves they lord it over us like English aristocrats.

And that’s the problem. When it comes to cricket they ARE aristocrats.

Ps. You think you can swim until you swim with an Australian. They are like dolphins.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Want a funny guitar for $40,000?

At 17 years old Willi Wilkanowski was already an articled violin maker in Warsaw, Poland. He moved to Brooklyn, USA in the 1920's to make violins and cellos. But something diverted him. Whether it was a fancy for the jazz music he found in New York or a commission is unknown. In 1937 he made a guitar. But no ordinary guitar. One based on his infinite skill as a violin and cello maker. Here it is. A stunning creation called a Wilkanowski Arch Top Acoustic. You can see the six string headstock is borrowed from a cello as well as the f-holes. The waist has that cello look, too. He only made a handful of these and no two are alike. Now an auction house in New York is selling it. Willi stopped making them in 1941 and disappeared from history. Johnny Cash had one. (JC could afford it)

I couldn't resist featuring it in my thriller The Emerald Killers. But my musician, Clayton Earle, sells his for drink, silly b*****.

Here's how a proper Wilkanowski violin sounds.

There are people on the roof!

Bogota, Colombia. Kidnappers, drug dealers. Cocaine cartels, right?


I featured the bohemian La Candalaria district in my third book, The Emerald Killers as a hotbed of villainy and violence. And it's there if you go looking for it, especially at night. But it's also a magnificent, living, historical monument of a place. La Candalaria is Bogota's oldest district. There are blue, orange, turquoise, green, magenta, ochre and yellow colonial buildings, adorned with balconies painted crimson, dark green and deep blue that line the cobbled streets.

The local Museo Botero has 85 important works including some by Picasso, Chagall, Dali, Renoir, Matisse and Monet. Plus all the gold the Conquistadores missed and some brilliant sculptures.

There are people on the roofs. Not real people, statues.

Colombian artist and sculptor Jorge Olave fashions full size works of art of local artisans and politicians at work. Your plumber sits on the roof line looking down on you in effigy as you go to the chocolateria. There's the mayor wagging a terracotta finger at you for dropping litter.

Imagine a full blown Boris Johnson watching over you on your way to the Tube. Gordon Brown holding hands with Alistair Darling on the roof of the Bank of England. Your local MP, squatting on your ridgeline, assessing your mortgage payments and wondering how to claim for them on his Commons expenses.

Of course not. We already have them looking down on us. Here they're called CCTV cameras.

Is that really you, Twiggy?

Not many women can, or even want to be photographed for a national ad campaign four decades on from the full flower of their youth. Some get away with it, some don't. All are as brave as a lioness to attempt it in the first place. The camera is an unrelenting eye. They have my full admiration.

Jane Fonda did it in her seventies. Ex-cabinet Minister Michael Howard's wife, Sandra Paul did it. One of the biggest fashion models in the sixties and seventies, Sandra came back successfully in an M & S commercial in her 50's. Andie MacDowell is still getting close-ups in her 50's in the L'Oreal cosmetic ads. Good on them. Troupers, all.

Has anybody done it as well as Twiggy? I photographed her in Carnaby Street when she first struggled for recognition (not for long. She was a natural.) Now she's back in the latest M & S ad campaign. Still as beautiful as ever. Here's what I have left from my shoot.

Boiling a kettle at 100mph

Is there anything more beautiful than a restored steam train going hell for leather? It's a boiling kettle on wheels but somehow it stirs the soul. Fortunately for couch travellers, there are photographers who spend a lifetime seeking out these steam-snorting behemoths.

One of them is David Hill. You will have seen many of his photographs at your breakfast table. Dave works for the UK National newspapers. A superb cameraman in his own right, he could have taken a lucrative staff job with them any time, but Dave is driven. He has the travel bug and uses his freelance money to take his camera around the world, picturing people and places you and I would never experience without him. I once commissioned him to climb Mount Everest for me with his camera. He did it superbly. He has an exhibition called 'Travels & Trains' at the Oxmarket Centre of Arts in Chichester. 20th July to 1st August.

If you're in the area, don't miss it!

Here he pictures a steam train in Baotou, China pouring molten slag from a steelworks down a mountainside. Look at his work here and be entranced. Here he's on Flickr.

DIY Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock was an abstract expressionist. He virtually invented it. Flinging household paint, mixed with sand and broken glass onto a canvas stretched over the floor. To paint he used sticks and syringes or just a bucket. TIME magazine dubbed him, Jack the Dripper.

He was made famous by a German-born photographer, Hans Namuth who pictured and filmed his frenzied painting style. Namuth said:

"His movements, slow at first, gradually became faster and more dance like as he flung black, white and rust colored paint onto the canvas. Finally he said, it's finished!"

Pollock fought alcoholism all his life. He finally died in a drink related car crash, aged 44.
Hans Namuth died in a separate car crash in 1990.

Jackson's paintings cost millions. You can make your own here. Or buy a poster here.

I wandered lonely as a cloud

Clouds, eh? fluffy, white things. Always raining on the tennis and on my barbies. I collect them. They can be stunning - and cheap. Like these clouds:

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Joseph Mallord William Turner RA

Do you remember the first time you saw a Turner? I'll never forget it. On a lunch break I walked into the Tate Gallery for something to do. There was The Fighting Temeraire and I literally saw the light. It was burning in the sky as the hulk of the old fighting ship was dragged into dry dock for her destruction.

More light than I had ever seen in a painting in my life. Viewing them we all feel Turner's revelation when he painted it. I moved on to Sun Setting on a Lake. I wanted to shield my eyes from the glare of the sky. I felt I needed dark glasses inside a gallery. But this is only paint on canvas. It can't happen.

I felt he was saying, 'to get in touch with your creative side, look at my sky. Turn off your thinking head and breathe deeply. Then just wait. It will come...'

How did he do that? Meditation hadn't been discovered in 1838. Had it?

Bass motives

What did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted first to be a musician. I left home at 16 to join a jazz band on the road. The string bass, otherwise known then as bass fiddle, bewitched me. I made it to the Marquee Club which was then off Oxford Street. Interval trio to the great Tubby Hayes Band. Oh, joy!

Leaving the stand after our 15 minute set Hayes bass player (a proper musician) whispered to me, "You've got a nerve, haven't you, son."

I was sussed, as they say. Never played again (thank God, said the crowd.) I was terrible.

Go here to the greatest of them all. Keter Betts playing Joy's Blues from the LP Bass Buddies & Blues.