Gough Road: My 2011 #NaNoWriMo novel is done!

For the second year running, I’ve taken part in and finished the NaNoWriMo challenge — writing a completed novel of at least 50,000 words between November 1 and November 30. I didn’t finish quite as early this year and I wrote a little bit less, but I’m really pleased with the result. For those of you who are curious, here’s the blurb:

Gough Road
Lonely people live between 40 and 44 Gough Road. At 40a Ricki Smith is a nymphomaniac with an unpleasant mother. Simon and Stephanie Benning compulsively renovate 40b while dreaming of a life outside London. Mike Gage in 44a is an Australian bank executive obsessed with a railway line that was never built. Karim Napur watches immigrant workers come and go from the crowded flat at 44b, while Sandra Bellfall’s house at 42 is getting emptier all the time. But which of them will be the first to die?

And yes, I’m still exploring options for what to do with last year’s novel. I re-read it recently and enjoyed it, which is good. Now I should let other people do that.

Here & Now 10th Anniversary Tour: Opening Night, LG Arena, Birmingham

I delude myself about many things, but I have no illusions about 80s retro concerts these days. The audience will be pushing 40 from both sides and growing fat, because that’s the category I fit in myself. On the upside, I’m in Birmingham, so I’ll still be skinnier than 93% of the crowd.

Obesity aside, who could resist this lineup if, like me, you unexpectedly ended up in England at the last minute? The initial attraction for me was Pepsi & Shirlie (‘Heartache’, Wham! backing singers), who have essentially done nothing since 1990 and thus compelled me with their rarity value alone. I also own both their albums on original CD versions. To quote Daniel Johns: yeah, I’m a freak.

The other acts on this bill I’ve never seen before (no mean feat given my retro tourism dedication) are Jimmy Somerville, Midge Ure and A Flock Of Seagulls. I have witnessed three others previously:

  • I’ve seen headliner Boy George on stage in Taboo, playing the role of Leigh Bowery after Matt Lucas gave it up (I saw that production too). Never seen him live as a concert performer though.
  • I’ve seen second-ranked Jason Donovan on stage in Sweeney Todd in Bromley, a performance that was way more impressive than you might deduce from that description. Never seen him live as a concert performer either.
  • Belinda Carlisle: this will be the eighth time I’ve seen her (five Australian Here & Now performances, once in the London production of Hairspray, plus the Doncaster Shoppingtown Hotel this year, a performance I was too slack to blog about, slap me if you must).

It’s an odd mix of acts. The Seagulls belong in the early new Romantic period. Pepsi & Shirlie scored their hits in the latter part of the decade, but had a presence much earlier with Wham! Midge Ure arguably has the most diverse range of hits. Belinda and George run close behind. Jimmy has a compressed range of success, and Jason doubly so. But I’m looking forward to it all. Here’s a blow-by-blow description with hideous photos:

A Flock Of Seagulls
Setlist: The More You Live The More You Love, Wishing (If I Had A Photograph Of You), Space Age Love Song

A Flock Of Seagulls being nothing more than lead singer Mike Score is no shock, but there are two other shocks to come. He does not have that hairstyle, itself a lazy shorthand for the 80s these days; instead, he has an age-making ponytail. Yes, that was 30 years ago. On the other hand, we have advanced wig technology. He refers jokingly to this — “Does anybody out there miss my hairdo? Yeah, I do too” — but it’s not enough.

Even more annoyingly, he goes nowhere near the band’s biggest Australian success, “I Ran”. I was half-expecting this — the song was only a minor UK hit — but that doesn’t make it right, dammit.

Pepsi & Shirlie
Setlist: Goodbye Stranger, All Right Now, Heartache

22 years after their last gig (as Shirley points out), the ladies are looking good and working hard. The audience definitely perks up when ‘Heartache’, easily their most recognisable track, closes the set, and is perhaps a tad restive otherwise. But that’s about familiarity, not competence.

Outfit-wise, there’s a lot of glitter and sparkles and black (all popular choices for retro ladies of a certain decade). I honestly half-expected a Wham! medley, so it’s good to see the pair mining their first album for the hits. In a modern twist, Shirley also thanks their tweeters.

Midge Ure
Setlist: If I Was, Fade To Grey, Vienna, Dancing With Tears In My Eyes

Midge was, in a word, majestic. ‘Vienna’ was the first track which got most of the audience standing. Midge introduced it by noting that it was “the nearest we’ll get to opera tonight”, a wry reference to his recent brief stint on the TV talent show Popstar To Operastar. Being in a crowd of a few thousand people all singing the last line was well cool.

Remarkably, this was the first time Midge had actually performed ‘Fade To Grey’ (which he wrote and produced for Visage) live in concert. The result was impressive, though I suspect the crowd would have reacted better with a more synth-heavy arrangement mimicking the original, rather than the rockier approach we got here.

Belinda Carlisle
Setlist: Live Your Life Be Free, I Get Weak, Circle In The Sand, We Want The Same Thing, Leave A Light On, Heaven Is A Place On Earth

No surprises here: Belinda is a consistently enthusiastic live performer and always delivers the hits. In her UK career, the Go-Gos really are a footnote, so no songs from them. I would have liked ‘Always Breaking My Heart’ to show up — it was a major UK hit and I’ve never seen her do it live — but you can’t have everything.

Belinda did her typical arrangement of ‘Heaven Is A Place On Earth’, with a slow version of the first verse before kicking into the familiar version. Quite a few of the crowd took several lines to recognise it. I note in passing that former Bucks Fizz singer Shelley Preston is no longer serving as Belinda’s backing vocalist/musical director. Ah well.

Jimmy Somerville
Setlist: You Make Me Feel Mighty Real, Why, Never Can Say Goodbye, To Love Somebody, Smalltown Boy, Don’t Leave Me This Way

Wee Jimmy was easily the most enthusiastic performer this evening, keeping the crowd enthused the entire time and bouncing from one side of the stage to the other. His falsetto remains impressive too.

Despite having two backing singers, Jimmy didn’t perform ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ in the familiar Communards duet version, taking on all the lead vocals himself. Still sounded great. The ending of ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ incorporated a few phrases of ‘Turn The Beat Around’, and Jimmy noted that he was going to sing ‘To Love Somebody’ with “some bitterness” because “I haven’t got a husband”. The Bronski Beat material is just as impactful as it was 25-odd years ago. While I enjoyed everyone, I’ll single out Jimmy as the highlight of the night.

Jason Donovan
Setlist: Nothing Can Divide Us, When You Come Back To Me, Every Day, Hang On To Your Love, Sealed With A Kiss, Especially For You, Any Dream Will Do, Too Many Broken Hearts

For some reason, it took a long while for Jason’s set to fire up. In the first few numbers, he gave the distinct impression he was singing from an autocue. It wasn’t until ‘Sealed With A Kiss’, performed only with acoustic guitar accompaniment, that the crowd got really into it and Jason responded in turn. From then on, things were fine.

It pains me to admit it, but I think this was because of the material. I’m a product of the Stock-Aitken-Waterman era and I love their classics, but there’s no denying that the identikit approach they took to songwriting meant that for every classic, there were a lot of indistinct mid-tempo songs, and Jason seemed to get more of them than any other SAW act. ‘Too Many Broken Hearts’ and ‘Especially For You’ are good; the rest simply aren’t the greatest moments in the SAW catalogue, chart success notwithstanding.

‘Especially For You’ was performed as a duet with backing singer Sarah Fearnley ( or “Fern” as Jason called her). No, she’s not Kylie, but he could hardly leave it out, could he? I reckon the whole thing would work better if ‘Too Many Broken Hearts’ got moved up top and he closed with ‘Any Dream Will Do’. When it doubt, save your biggest hit for last.

Boy George
Setlist: Church Of The Poison Mind, It’s A Miracle, Everything I Own, Always On My Mind, Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?, Karma Chameleon, That’s The Way, Victims, Bow Down Mister

Resplendent in a glitter bowler and with much better vocals than you’d expect if you’ve ever watched Culture Club’s ‘A Kiss Across The Ocean’ concert video, George delivered most of the hits you’d imagine, but still managed a few surprises. By far the oddest inclusion was a torch-song rendition of ‘Always On My Mind’ (modelled on Elvis, not the Pet Shop Boys). George sang this well, but I can’t help thinking it was an odd inclusion in a nostalgia show where everyone does their own material. He got the chance to demonstrate his ballad range by singing ‘That’s The Way’ (with singer Lizzie Deane giving her very best Helen Terry) and ‘Victims’, so it wasn’t needed for that.

During ‘Karma Chameleon’, George did manage to forget the words at one point, but everyone was having such a good time that no major panic ensued. The finishing number ‘Bow Down Mister’ is one of his lesser solo hits, but has lots of singalong
George claimed that he would have done more numbers but for the LG Arena curfew (it was 11pm when the show finished, 15 minutes behind schedule). I’m a bit sceptical, as it’s hard to see what else he might have added: ‘Time’ and ‘I’ll Tumble 4 Ya’ are the most obvious contenders, I guess. I’d have liked to hear ‘The War Song’, but that seems even less likely. That said, and despite ‘Bow Down Mister’ being his conventional big finish (it serves the same role in Taboo), I think ‘Karma Chameleon’ should get the closing spot. But I’m nitpicking. It was a great performance all round.

Additional random notes:

  • I have to stop getting to concerts early. I was on the arena floor an hour before A Flock Of Seagulls were scheduled to appear. On the other hand, people were showing up halfway through Midge Ure. What is this, Melbourne?
  • “Anyone found smoking in the building will be subject to our ejection policy.” Eject! Eject!
  • There’s a relatively long gap between acts; given everyone is using the house band, I expected faster transits. There was also an interval between Belinda and Jimmy, which frankly I think was a mistake; better to maintain the momentum. Also, no video screens, alas.
  • The program for the event lists the biggest hits for each performer, but mistakenly claims Belinda Carlisle sang “I Go Weak”.
  • Building posters inform me that the mega-fabulous Kim Wilde is touring third-billed with Status Quo, ranked under Roy Wood. Frankly, that’s depressing.

Time for a bit of flamenco

I need to write up the extraordinary 19-course meal we had at Calima Dani Garcia in Marbella last night, but while I get around to that, here’s a quick (and not very well-shot) video of the flamenco dancing and singing that entertained us later in the night.

No dipping my feet in the Alboran Sea

Despite my earlier prediction, I didn’t end up swimming in the ocean waters off Malaga. The beach itself is stony with unimpressive waves (very Skegness), and the mist is so persistent you can’t see any decent distance. Looks perhaps interesting for a walk first thing in the morning (the sand was too hot when I went down at 4pm), but no swimming appeal.

The problem with coming from Australia is that northern hemisphere beaches nearly always seem like a disappointment. Not that I’m a big ocean hunter anywhere on the globe, but there’s not much that impresses me the way the NSW North Coast still always does.

A delayed trip to the glories of Andalusia

Getting from Sydney to Malaga takes a while, so the last thing you want is delays. But I had delays aplenty on the 40+ hour journey between those two places, most of them caused by mechanical problems on aircraft.

Getting between Sydney and Singapore was no problem. The trouble started when we got back on the plane. Sitting a few rows in front of me in Premium Economy (win!) is a guy who, to put it charitably, has had way too much to drink. A decision has been made to remove him, and after bringing in a few burly-looking security guard types, he agrees to leave. A good idea — you don’t want a sloshed vomit fountain sloshing around the cabin on a 13-hour journey. But that means a good 30 minutes of delay while we wait for his luggage to be removed as well. (Memo: if you want to get smashed before boarding a plane, please travel only with hand luggage.)

That’s done and we pull back and try not to sleep through the safety announcement, but we haven’t even left the ground when another problem is detected. One of the windscreen wipers isn’t working. We have to return to the gate and get it fixed. At least we’re in Singapore, a true 24-hour airport, but that still means we ultimately take off two hours later than scheduled.

It is events like this that make me glad I schedule flights in a paranoid way. I originally had a seven-hour gap between landing at London Heathrow and flying out of London Gatwick (pretty much unavoidable if you want to get to Malaga). Even with two hours delay, I have oodles of time, and I’m at Gatwick via a National Express Coach with room to spare. Our flight is put back 10 minutes because of late incoming aircraft, and the BA First lounge is pretty ordinary and lacking in power outlets, but it’s nothing I can’t handle.

We take off, cross the channel, and then hear some very suspect noises from the landing gear. In due course, the captain comes on and announces, rather long-windedly, that because the indicators to check if the landing gear works aren’t giving readings, we need to return to Gatwick to avoid the risk of leaving a hard-to-service aircraft in Spain. We’re turning around, but will need to fly for 20 minutes or so to burn off fuel. Great.

We land, and after initially telling us we’ll disembark while they work out what to do, BA decides to shift us all into a plane being bought into the next gate. We can’t get off until we’re ready to move to that plane, and even our route between the gates has to be approved by airport administration. All that results in us eventually arriving in Malaga three hours behind schedule, and means I don’t actually hit my hotel room until 10pm.

These annoyances go with air travel. I’m not that bothered really, and unlike previous occasions, there’s been plenty of communication on what went wrong. But I feel sorry for the people who have to sit next to my sweaty body on the plane.

Anyway, now I’m here, soaking up the glories of the Kempinski Hotel Bahia Estepona — the kind of place I only ever stay in when someone else in is footing the bill. The picture above shows the view from my room (I’ll take better pics with the good camera tomorrow). The grey area is actually where the sea is, but there’s so much mist you can’t see it. That doesn’t mean it is cold and unpleasant, quite the opposite. This might be the trip where I actually get to swim in a European ocean, rather than just looking at them. It’s about time.

Qantas: It’s hard to fix problems you don’t recognise

In an interview in today’s Australian, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has the gall to suggest that Qantas handled the volcanic ash-induced delays on flights out of Europe back in April this year well:

How the company managed its way through (the volcano crisis) was a real credit to it, and the feedback from passengers, and the positive impact it had on our reputation, was actually quite good.

I was on the first flight Qantas actually ran out of London after the volcano incident, and, as I’ve already documented for Lifehacker, it was a total shambles. What made it so annoying, and makes Joyce’s comment so galling, is that much of what went wrong wasn’t to do with the climate — which Qantas can’t control — but with its ability to communicate with passengers — which it absolutely can. If the litany of miscommunication, outright lies and pointless inconvenience Qantas delivered on that occasion is supposed to be a “real credit” to it, I shudder to think what a bad experience might be like.

Shot: Read an excerpt from my infamous novel

As I detailed yesterday over at Lifehacker, I managed to finish my novel-in-a-month challenge. If you didn’t catch it there, here’s the cover (click on it for a bigger version) and the blurb for Shot:

“I’ve produced 219 adult movies. What have you done with your life?”

Mark Anderson is Australia’s most successful porn producer, responsible for the legendary Crocodile Cumdee series and for convincing two former Neighbours actresses to pursue a career in sex films. But how did a nice suburban boy from Beecroft end up as a porn king? Mark’s tale ranges from Vegas to the outback as he explains how to deal with porn star wives, when to tell your parents you’re a XXX mogul, why you should never appear in your own films and the importance of the dildo contingency plan. Because even when you’ve made 219 movies, life doesn’t always go the way you want.

And because people keep nagging me about it, here’s your chance to read the first chapter. Comments welcome!

Chapter 1: THE BIG SHOT

I’ve produced 219 adult movies. What have you done with your life?

In October 2008, I met Ben Parker at the bar in the Melbourne Qantas Club lounge. It wasn’t a planned meeting; we both ordered the same beer. Ben’s the director at an agency which hires out motivational speakers. We got chatting and I told him what I did.

This isn’t always a good idea, obviously. If I sense that someone is going to be offended because I work in porn, I usually just say that I’m in media production and leave it at that. I’m not ashamed of my job. I just can’t be bothered having arguments about it most of the time. I could sense an opportunity here, though, so I told the (ahem) naked truth.

Being honest turned out to be a wise decision. Ben readily identified himself as an occasional porn viewer, and it turns out that he’d actually seen my very first feature, Down & Dirty Down Under. It’s a reasonable guess that the beer might have helped in making him confess this so readily.

Having told him the rather weird story of how I’d entered into the business, I could sense Ben was getting excited. And not excited in the manner of a viewer of one of my movies; excited because he thought he’d spotted a way to make money.

“So Mark, ever thought about speaking at conferences? I reckon you’d be pretty good.”

Conferences as such aren’t a big feature of the porn world. The typical industry event involves a scantily clad “actress” (who everyone will have forgotten about in two years) cutting a ribbon before we all head to the bar to network. In this context, “network” is often code for “get sloshed”.

There are a couple of big XXX industry gatherings held in the US, and I usually head to those over the Australian summer. But I’ve never thought of speaking at them, and I don’t know how much insight I’d have to offer for the cash-hungry Yanks who dominate the market. “And our next speaker is Mark Anderson, the well-known Australian porn mogul.” I couldn’t quite see it.

But that wasn’t what Ben meant. He was thinking of the typical dull business event where accountants discuss tax law or IT geeks find out about what’s changing in software. In that context, I could see that someone talking about the production of Crocodile Cumdee 9: Ayers Cock would be an appealing change of pace.

Ben certainly thought so. We were onto a second beer by this time, the flight having been delayed.

“You’d need to tone it down a bit, of course,” he remarked knowingly. Corporate audiences wouldn’t be expecting to hear in-depth descriptions of preferred porn star positions. The fact that they might well end up sleeping with their colleagues after the inevitable drinks, dinner and dancing was, I gathered, beside the point.

“On-set stories would be good, but you’d need to come out with some business lessons, stuff which you’ve learned that can be applied to other industries,” Ben suggested. Having survived piracy, stoned actresses, an unexpected murder and fierce competition for a decade and a half and made a decent amount of cash into the bargain, I figured I could deliver that.

“There’s plenty I could say about useful business skills,” I said. “People management can be tricky when half of your employees are running around naked.”

“That’s the kind of thing. You want to titillate them a bit but not go overboard.”

The bottom line was that there was a constant demand for new blood on the corporate speaking circuit, so Ben reckoned that it might be worth adding me to the books. I knew all about novelty being important, and I was happy to try it out.

Indeed, the more I thought about the idea, the more I liked it. I’d always enjoyed debating and public speaking back when I was a teenager with time on my hands, and getting paid for it made the prospect much more appealing. And I’d always taken an analytical approach to the porn business, so it wasn’t like I needed a bunch of new ideas.

I came up with that ‘219 movies’ opening line for my speech on the flight back to Sydney. Then I wrote my whole draft presentation one night the next week, in a hotel suite where we’d shot several scenes for the fourth instalment of the Jackhammer My Crack series earlier the same day.

Unfortunately, Ben’s offer came not long before the global financial crisis really hit. In one way, that could have been helpful. There was less money to spend, so companies that might have held out for a big name speaker suddenly had to think about other, cheaper options. Alas, it didn’t work out that way.

I did one speech for free at a pharmaceutical company convention, so that Ben would have something on video he could show to other clients. All that NovaCron had to pay for were my travel costs. It seemed to go over well, and the feedback forms were extremely positive.

That didn’t mean everyone liked it. I’ve known for a long time that you can’t please all of the perverts all of the time. Given the topic area, there were the inevitable angry screeds asking why a “Satanic smut peddler” (that’s a direct quote) was being forced on them at a professional event. I’d presented a fairly sanitised version of my life, heavy on the business lessons and light on the lube, so that seemed like a criticism issued on autopilot. I mean, I never even used the word “rimjob”.

Prudes aside, the overall reaction was positive. A couple of audience members even said they felt inspired to think about making their own movie. Good luck, I sniggered to myself when I read that. If people think they can build up a business with access to a cheap camera and cheaper genitalia, experience will disillusion them soon enough. But while it seemed everyone liked me, no-one wanted to hire me.

Ben thought the timing was just unfortunate. “Everyone is getting all panicked and conservative,” he explained to me a few months later. “No-one wants to stick their neck out by hiring a porn producer as a speaker, just in case they end up getting stick for it.” I noted that Getting Stick wasn’t a bad title for a future video, but I couldn’t argue with him.

Anyway, almost a year and a half has gone by and there haven’t been any other offers for paid work. A couple of companies tried to book me for freebies, including (to my surprise) a charity that specialised in offering computer access for the homeless and disadvantaged. I was almost tempted — I felt like the speech was going to waste — but Ben said that doing too many free gigs set a dangerous precedent if you weren’t already well-known and scoring a lot of paying work.

I’m still on the Speaker Easy books in a technical sense, but I suspect that Ben has moved on to pushing other clients. He sends me a friendly email every now and then and offers to take me out for a beer to “discuss prospects”. Nonetheless, it’s the former sports stars and the ex-board members who keep on getting the speaking jobs.

Sure, part of me is a bit disappointed. For a start, it would have been an unusual marketing opportunity. I’m sure that I’d have mentioned the names of a few titles I’ve produced, and I bet that least one person in the audience would end up renting or buying it out of “curiosity”.

More importantly, it would have been an extra source of income and a validation of my success as an entrepreneur. And let’s face it, no-one is entirely immune from the notion of being applauded by an audience.

But I didn’t really go into adult movies to become famous. After all, if I’d wanted to do that, even fleetingly, I’d have appeared in one of my own videos by now. And that hasn’t happened so far, even though I only got into this business because my girlfriend suddenly announced out of the blue that she really wanted to star in a sex tape.

Wanna read more? I promise I’ll keep everyone up to date on my editing, agent-hunting, publisher-pitching and ebook explorations.