Sunday, 2 May 2010


Some time ago, I promised not to post reviews in this blog (especially of work not published by BeWrite Books). Other folks do that so much better than I can -- reviews and promises. So to prove that rules are made to be broken and that you can't trust anyone -- not even me -- here's a review. My excuse, chaps and chapettes, is that it's not just a review ... it's encouraging news of a unique challenge met  head on and how Writer's Block can be overcome by denying the existence of the malady, warmed-over coffee and sheer brass neck. It also shows that insomnia can be a bonus. Love and luck. Neil


Last year, BeWrite Books published a superb wee novel called The Movie by US author Bosley Gravel.

Its original title was Cannibal Lesbian Zombies from Outer Space – versus – Doctor Clockwork and His Furious Plastic Surgeons of Doom. How could any editor resist at least taking a quick shufti at the submitted manuscript?

As we got to know each other, I asked Boz in passing one day how long the book had taken to write. “Just under a month,” the cad cheerfully admitted. “It was done for NaNoWriMo.”

For a fleeting moment, I wished Boz and I didn’t share the same planet or that our lives were separated by several centuries. National Novel Writing Month, folks – originally a UK complaint – has spread like a plague around the world. For ten years or so its organisers have, with satanic glee, encouraged aspiring scribes to hit the keyboard and, by the seat of their pants, turn out a 50,000-word work in twenty-eight days. Few last the distance. Those who do (and don’t cheat) tend to turn in ... well ... something that reads as though it was written by the seat of their pants in twenty-eight days.

The Movie is a terrific novel; an exception to the NaNoWriMo rule and a shining example of how a wee cracker can be turned out against the calendar ... but, Jumping Jehosophat, I’d already had it in edit for six times as long as it had taken to write. I guess this new knowledge did explain the original hefty title, though ... after typing that, Boz had only 49,984 words to go.

Then I heard of Nick Spalding in the UK who – with a straight face, mind you – claimed he could write a book in a single sitting. That’s a bit like bragging that you can eat a whole jumbo jet without a toilet break. Had me laughing like a drain, did that. (We had a new toilet installed at Chez Marr on Friday, by the way, and it wasn’t funny at all: why do people insist that drains laugh?)

Utter codswallop, of course, this Spalding bluster. Most authors I know couldn’t write a shopping list without taking a cup of tea and a long nap every few items for intellectual refreshment and creative inspiration. This loony, Spalding, was either a shameless ham or a bloody liar. Maybe both. It was worth the price of a beer for his ebook to get to the bottom of this outrageous literary boast and expose the scallywag in a scathing 140-character report to all five people who follow me on Twitter.

That tweet will never be twitted.

LIFE WITH NO BREAKS represents the best beer money ever squandered on a non-alcoholic alternative. Without reservation, I apologise to its author for having leapt to crass conclusions and damned him out of hand.

Spalding may be a loveable rogue, but he’s no ham – and he’s certainly no liar. His book is one of the most beautifully crafted, honest and humorous memoirs I’ve ever wanted to weep over not having written myself.

“I have no idea how writing a book like this came to me,” Spalding says in his intro. “It just popped into my head this morning ... what if I sat at the computer and started to write without a plot or a story and with no idea where the whole thing was going?”

Well you might ask, you hopeless bloody amateur. The whole thing is going nowhere. I’ve been in this game since Grisham was a messy thing in his pram. I know, you know.

So Spalding starts to write on a drizzly English Saturday at 6.00 pm, resolving to finish before he drives off to work on Monday morning.

Zero words.

The clock ticks. By 6.09 pm, he is still at zero words.

Ha! Told ya, Spalding, you benighted berk. Books aren’t made this way. An idea is born as is a dream, it’s nurtured, huge characters start to populate its winding path, plans are laid, plot and curious sub-plots evolve  and are woven like fine and intricate Nottingham lace, outlines are drawn and re-drawn, you sit at the typewriter and open a vein, you lose weight and friends, you ask advice from your old English teacher and your sister, and ... and it takes forbloodyever and ever and ever.

Hey. Hang on there. It’s 6.23 pm Spalding Time now. I’m 1,353 words in and didn’t even notice.

This is where I decide to play this Sassenach at his own game. If he can write a book in a single sitting, I’m Scotsman enough to read it without a minute off. And here’s one promise I kept that this braggart couldn’t: You can take a Sony PRS-505 ebook reader to the loo, you see, and read on – not so the Dell Inspiron 1525 desktop dual processor with 2 GB of RAM he was using to write this stuff. But the occasional boy’s room break, I sincerely believe now, was Spalding’s only time away from his writing machine.

Why do I believe that? Why do I not believe he was cheating like some of those NaNoWriMoers? Simply because his book fairly reeks of bare-faced honesty. Anyone would be proud to show his humour in the Co-Op window ... but painful humiliation in equal measure? I think not. 

Spalding writes from the heart – warts-n-all. From the embarrassment of a commotion in his underpants during an attempt to mesmerise the girl of his dreams, through the typo that nearly cost him his career in advertising (guess which letter he left out of ‘Public Studies’ in a hugely expensive, 100,000-thousand run, glossy brochure for a snooty private college), to the touching story of the break-up of his marriage and the love of his only son to ... I know you’re wondering ... The End?

I’m not going to tell you whether this book was top-and-tailed before Spalding keeled over and fell asleep thirty-six hours after starting. Wondering if he’ll make it is half the fun, so I won’t spoil it for you. And I’ll guarantee that you’ll be rooting for the guy before too many pages.

Now, I must tell you here, that I don’t know Nick Spalding in a face-to-face or even Facebook-to-Facebook way. OK, we did spend the night together – him writing, me reading and feeling just a tad like I was the subject of the cornier lyrics to ‘Killing Me Softly’. That’s as far as our relationship goes. But what reader could ask for more? This is one of those rare, rare books that make you feel like you’re an equal partner in a tête-à-tête. This bloke’s only writing because YOU are reading. He wouldn’t have bothered otherwise. The reader is profoundly involved every line of the way.

Spalding dedicates his book to his reader. “We’re going to have fun talking the night away,” he promises. And we did.

“I can see you in my mind’s eye,” he tells me. I really do believe he can see the ready-stoked meerschaum pipes sitting patiently on my desk for some Zippo action, the dwindling bottle of The Famous Grouse, the ridiculously fat Cuban cigar my wife brought back from Italy the other day and that I’m saving for the after-read ponder and treat. I can see Nick (see, we’re on first-name terms by now) with a row of cigarette packets lined up like soldiers, the under-achieving thermos of cooling coffee that must see him through the marathon, the big, loud wall clock threatening to bring an end to all this as it ticks away my new friend’s waking hours and end the best conversation I’ve had in years.

Six hours later, I closed my Sony reader, lit the cigar in celebration of a read well-chosen (if for all the wrong reasons) … and wondered if – with no breaks – I could write review, somewhere over the grand mark, that could do justice to this gem of a book. I did get down 1,600 words without a second away from the keyboard, but it would take a more talented reviewer than I’ll ever be to give LIFE WITH NO BREAKS anything like the praise it merits. 

There’s a brush-stroked passion and a mighty magic in this little 140-pager that every reader will find for himself or herself (whatever your gender persuasion).

It’s a collection of anecdotes, muses, adventures, misadventures and admissions that reads as satisfyingly as a  running novel and rolls along as though the whole thing was plotted (which it wasn’t). It’s paced, it’s organised, it’s witty, it’s wise, it’s from the hip. There’s never a dull moment. And it’s put together with admirable word-economy by a born story-teller with much to say and only a weekend to say it in.

I’d strongly advise you to buy LIFE WITH NO BREAKS now from Amazon or Smashwords or somewhere for the price of a small beer before some folk$ realise just how valuable this wee book is and hike the price.

Then I’d suggest you read it right to the book’s very last line. That’s Nick’s personal email address. It brought a tear to my already reddened old eye (The Famous Grouse bottle had long since been emptied) to find that he really did mean what he said – this book was all about making friends, page by page, and sharing a cracking good time. 

Drop me a line, says Nick. So I did. My message ran to 170 words and took me about an hour to compose. Nick could well have rattled off the first fifty pages of a block-and-tackle thriller in that time.

WARNING TO DEVELOPING AUTHORS! Writing like this can damage your health, your computer, your ambitions, your marriage … and any reputation you might have as a scribe. Nick, I found during my read, has not relied on beginner’s luck here. He’s been a pro popular writer for his entire working life and instinctively knows the right buttons to press. Apart from the sadly overlooked ‘L’ in ‘Public Studies’ he doesn’t seem to have a missed a beat in a long writing life. He’s also a devout insomniac.

Neil Marr.


  1. Wow, and I thought I was doing well in writing a 30,000 word pocket novel in about a fortnight. I feel really unproductive now! Well done, Nick and well done Neil for giving him the encouragement he needed to get it written.

  2. I didn't help Nick at all, Sally. Just bought his book when I saw it described on and couldn't resist seeing how he'd done with his self-set challenge. I was more than impressed.

    Mind you, turning out a pocket novel in a fortnight (I kept tabs on your progress over the period at FB) ain't no mean feat either. Congratulations. A commission or on spec this time? Love. Neil

  3. Ah, I misunderstood, Neil. I thought that Nick wrote it as you were reading the bits that had gone before.

    The pocket novel I've just finished is sort of a commission(acceptance/payment only based on results and I'm still waiting to hear about it). It was something that was suggested to me by the pocket novel editor.

    The 'famous' saga is not on commission, but the synopsis has had a thumbs up from someone in the know and with the right connections to make it happen if I can come up with the goods. So I'm trying to strike whilst the iron is hot.

  4. Good going, Sally. Best of luck -- especially with the saga. That one's been long on the boil. Love. Neil