In spas, no-one can hear you scream

Had my first massage treatment in a spa the other day. It was in the Hilton, and I’m not going to lie — I felt like the fanciest bastard who has ever lived (even if the staff, guests and tablecloths could tell I’m a wee goon from Possil).

Don’t know if you’ve ever been to a hotel spa before, but they lure you into their perfumed den and get you relaxed and chilled with cups of spring water, candles — and bowls filled to the brim with wee love heart sweeties.

I mean really, mister Hilton, if you’re going to woo me with Haribo, woo me with wee sour cherries or cola bottles. Even a fried egg ffs.

Once seated on the swankiest yet most uncomfortable seat devised by human hands, they make you fill in a lengthy and comprehensive health questionnaire — because apparently the best way to relax you is by first forcing you to confront your own mortality.

The choices for a massage are “Gentle, Medium, Firm”, and you tick a box if you want your therapist to talk to you as they do it, which I suppose is a bit like having your doctor thumb your prostate at a pressure to your liking and then asking if you want to talk about the weather.

(“Firm, in a clockwise motion” and “only if you call me Sandra”.)

They escort you down to the leisure area and give you a big white housecoat (not “dressing gown”) that is advertised as being as soft as the kiss of an angel on a baby’s cheek but is, in fact, as rough as a Rottweiler’s bark after it’s just wiped its arse with sandpaper.

I mean really, mister Hiltmeister, chuck a wee bit of Lenor in the machine.

It’s around this point that I realise this is the least masculine I have ever been – including the time(s) I drank a strawberry daiquiri.

After you cloak yourself in the Bristly Rash Coat of Jaggy Doom, they escort you to a wee seat by the pool, where you realise the sheer paleness of your skin is probably a legitimate symptom for about 9 different illnesses. But even while you wait, the staff bend over backwards to make sure you’re comfortable — talking to you in a calming whisper, asking if you’re okay, can they get you anything, and you nodding, saying no and hoping they don’t stare at your pale and skinny turkey legs and wonder where the house coat ends and your legs begin.

But even better than excellent customer service is that, for your viewing pleasure, they let guests’ kids run about rampant and deck it on the floor right in front of you!

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

So then you’re ferried into a dark room where you need to peel back thirty six inches of towel to get to the bed – only for them to tell you turn around because you’re not supposed to get a back massage by lying on your back. You turn around, managing to move as gracelessly as humanly possible while people watch, and lie on your front. The wee hole in the bed that cradles your face is like having a plunger fused to your chin, a bit like when that auntie you only see once a year kisses you on the cheek, because to her YOU WILL ALWAYS BE SEVEN.

So the massage starts and it’s… Interesting. It’s a woman doing it and I picked “firm” (because if you’re going to get a relaxing massage and dream about strawberry daiquiris, you’re as well doing it in the most masculine way possible) and her fingers knead and poke and prod and it’s… Interesting.

And tickly.

Pre-massage. Look at how relaxed I am!
It did not last.

One touch and my entire being spasms. Pretty sure I managed to elbow my kneecaps via my earlobes, all the while debating whether I should giggle or greet or scream AND MY GOD WHY DIDN’T WE DECIDE ON A SAFE WORD BEFOREHAND?

*Puts sunglasses on* In spas, no-one can hear you scream.

And just as I’m about to shout out for an adult, she switches up and starts karate chopping my back – and it’s absolutely sublime.

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

“What are you laughing at?” she says.
The wee guy that decked it. I was laughing at the wee guy that decked it.
“…Nothing.”

And then it’s all over. I walk out tender, spent and a little bit emotional.

I decide to jump into the Jacuzzi — because of course there’s a Jacuzzi — and there’s an old guy with a gold medallion in the Jacuzzi — because of course there’s an old guy with a gold medallion in the Jacuzzi — and I expect him to talk about cigars, Bentleys, investing in the futures market and how the working class don’t know how wonderful they have it, when all I want to do is sit among the bubbles and pretend I’m farting.

But he didn’t, he just said the pool area is reasonably priced for a Hilton, then he gets up and leaves and I realise I didn’t pay to come into the Jacuzzi.

Not going to lie. It’s been a week, and I still feel like a fancy bastard.

Interview with Spectrum Books

Howdy!

Last week I was fortunate enough to chat to Nadine Matheson at Spectrum Books.

Nadine is a writer, lawyer and, like all cool people, graphic novel aficionado. (Her latest book, The Sisters, is available here.) We talked about indie publishing, books, inspirations, favourite fictional characters, comedy, comics, and – most importantly – Batman. You can listen to our chat right here, or download it from iTunes.

Oh – there’s a chance I may have dropped one or two tiny little hints at what I’m currently working on to bring my secret quest to take over the world into Phase III for my next book, so, y’know, there’s that.

As always, thanks for tuning in!

 

 

 

 

I love you.

Comedy, crotch water, and the hubris destroyed by taxi drivers

I was fortunate enough to perform a gig at The Stand Comedy Club two weeks ago. It was their weekly amateur night – ‘Red Raw’ – and tickets had all sold out, so I knew the crowd would be good (and, hopefully, merciful).

So, I’m sitting among the audience with a glass of water. The nerves bubble away but I’ve got everything rehearsed, so I feel like there’s not too much to worry about – as long as I don’t do anything monumentally stupid to screw it up.

AND THEN A BIG GOB OF WATER STEAMS DOWN MY GLASS AND LANDS RIGHT ON MY CROTCH.

Oh. My. Fuck.

I’m about to go onstage in front of 200 people to try and pretend I’m funny…

And I look like I’ve just peed myself.

Before I can do anything to fix it, it’s time. I slip behind the curtain and into the dressing room. My heart starts drumming like a Russian Olympian’s after they’ve OD’d on all of the steroids. Contrary to popular belief, the dressing room is in fact NOT full of topless groupies throwing themselves at people. It’s comedians we’re talking about – the room is full of nervous twitching, scribbling, incomprehensible muttering, awkward glances, and at least one PTSD trauma flashback.

It’s at this time I decide to partake in the first of my six traditional pre-gig shits.

47 minutes later, I step back inside the dressing room and glance down. Yep! The crotch water has dried out! Happy day!

EXCEPT THAT IT’S NOW BEEN REPLACED BY BACKSPLASH FROM THE SINK.

Oh. My. Fuck.

I’m about to go onstage in front of 200 people to try and pretend I’m funny…

And I look like I’ve just peed myself.

Twice.

There’s someone I’ve performed with before in the room, a familiar face among the tense, anxious mumbling – which, I’ve just discovered, is happening exclusively in my head.

“Hello Steven!”

“Hello Dave!” I say, even though her name’s Tricia. Her eyes flick to the other side of the room. “Do you see who’s performing with us tonight?”

I turn to see where she’s looking, and-

Oh.

…It’s Frankie Boyle.

Frankie Boyle – famous Glaswegian comedian and star of Mock the Week – is sitting not six feet away from me!

He nods to me and says hello. I think I nod back, but I can’t be sure because I have given up all bodily control and it’s like I’ve just floated out my head and I’m staring down at myself.

Thankfully, this means I can see that my jeans have dried.

Less reassuring is the fact that I have just looked at the running order and – yep – I AM ON RIGHT BEFORE FRANKIE BOYLE IN FRONT OF A CROWD OF 200 PEOPLE JESUS STEVEN WHY DO YOU DO THIS TO YOURSELF IN WHAT LIFETIME DID YOU THINK THAT ANY OF THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA OMFG JUST RUN AND HIDE UNDER THE COVERS AND HAVE A COMFORTING TOFFEE CRISP OMFGGFGFGGFFFGFFGFFGAAAAAARRR

It’s around this time I decide to take the second of my six traditional pre-gig shits.

And the third, fourth, fifth, six and – because it’s a special occasion – seventh.

I hear the compere call my name. Adrenaline mingles with my nerves. In fact, the adrenaline actively flirts with the nerves, but the nerves don’t have a lot of time on their hands for such nonsense – this is a post-Tinder world after all, so they just look the adrenaline up and down, tell it to get its coat, take it out the back, and pump it to a mutually satisfying conclusion before coming back in to put their feet up and settle into my stomach with a smug grin on their face, because nerves are wee pricks like that, a bit that mate of yours who just invites himself over and you offer him a biscuit and hand him a Digestive and he barges past you to go to the kitchen and grabs one of the Fox’s Crunch Creams you’ve been saving for your wedding day and he doesn’t even eat it, he just smears it over his face and makes you watch and he cackles knowing you’ll need to put up with out of date, soggy Digestives for the rest of the week GOD TREVOR I HATE YOU SO MUCH.

This is the sort of thing that goes through your head during the fortnight’s walk onto a stage as a sea of expectant eyes gaze upon you.

I pick up the microphone, wee Nervey McNervington sitting there with a post-coital glow whispering “they hate you already” in my ear IN GREAT BIG CAPITAL LETTERS – and, for some reason, a French accent.

And I start talking.

And, somehow, the crowd starts laughing.

Time dissolves. Half of my 5 minutes has evaporated in the time it’s taken to write this sentence.

It’s… It’s going better than I could have hoped for. People laugh when I want them to! People say “aw” when I want them to! People are disgusted when I want them to be! Confidence flows through me like… I don’t know, I’ve never done drugs, so, eh, tea. Confidence flows through me like tea. Or water onto an unsuspecting crotch. Anyway, I’m loving every moment of it until…

Oh. My. Fuck.

I’m currently onstage in front of 200 people pretending I’m funny…

Frankie Boyle is waiting in the wings…

And the cable has just disconnected from my microphone.

OH DEAR LORD THE WIRE HAS JUST COME OUT THE MICROPHONE AND ONE THOUSAND PAIRS OF EYES ARE LOOKING STRAIGHT AT ME.

Le coq.

But then the strangest thing happens – the strangest, most beautiful of things.

The crowd applauds. They laugh. I fumble with the wire, stick it back in, regain the volume and crack a joke about it…

And they laugh some more!

Now, I don’t like to say things overly positive of myself because (a) I’m terrified I’ll sound arrogant (b) I’m Glaswegian and we simply Do Not Do That, and (c) the universe might implode.

But – at the risk of ending existence and sending us all into the fiery depths Hades – I think I did Quite Well Actually, Hope That’s Okay, Cheers Thanks Ta.

I’m on a bit of a high for the rest of the night. Even in the taxi home, I don’t just act like I’m on my phone when the driver attempts to speak to me. “I know your face,” he says, in a voice that makes me think he’s going to follow it up with “Any chance I can cut it off and wear it whilst frolicking amidst a frenetic blood orgy in tribute to my deceased mother, whose remains I keep propped up in her old favourite chair, as she gazes at me and whispers lullabies into my head every night as I waltz around the living room wearing the dress she died in?”

Turns out he just recognised me from a pub, but whatever.

Anyway, he asks me what I was up to – so I give him the short version of this story by removing the embarrassing stuff, i.e. 90% of it.

Doesn’t bat an eye lid. At the mere mention of Frankie Boyle, he cuts me off and tells me about how he used to chauffeur Henrik Larsson, Paul Gascoigne and just about every other football player who’s stepped foot in Glasgow, including the custom team I made up in FIFA 99 that had a blue and orange kit and were called “Glasgow Irn-Brunited”.

So that shut me up.

Moral of the story is: Don’t talk to taxi drivers.

(And big thanks The Stand and all the other acts.)

Cancelled promo date (and potential apology/vent whilst paranoid)

Boldly Going Nowhere‘s term in Kindle Unlimited ends tomorrow (28th April 2016), which means it’ll be back on iBooks, Google Play and Kobo soon. But first, I need to possibly explain/apologise/vent my paranoia that a cancelled free promo was actually live at some point without my knowing.

I enrolled it in KU to test the waters and see how a creative non-fiction book would fare. I had a couple of ‘free’ promo days left so I’d scheduled them for the 26th and 27th of April, intending on releasing a video of me talking about the publication journey etc.

Unfortunately I was bogged down with quinsy, which is an evolved, sentient, and much more bastardly form of tonsillitis. This effectively KO’d my voice (if you imagine a fatality from Mortal Kombat happening to a voice, then you’re in the ballpark), so I cancelled the free promotion and decided to wait until my throat was fighting fit again. Like Scorpion. From Mortal Kombat.

A spike in sales occurred over the would-be free period — not by a huge number, but enough to get me worried that the free promo was listed without the book actually being free. Additionally, a ‘free unit’ was downloaded on the US Amazon site, meaning despite me cancelling the promo at least 24 hours previously, it went live for a brief period of time. Not that I’m remotely concerned about the actual free ‘sale’ – I hope whoever bagged it is enjoying it! No, I’m worried that the people who paid for the book yesterday did so because they believed it to be free when it wasn’t (given that someone in the US did get it for free) and accidentally paid £2.99 for a copy.

I know it’s unlikely that several (i.e., 11. Told you it wasn’t a huge number) people all clicked ‘buy now’ during what must have been a very brief free listing (if indeed it occurred at all — certainly it wasn’t listed as free when I checked in the morning, afternoon and early evening, which is what I do when I should be writing…) but it’s still possible.

So if you’re one of the Golden Eleven, please accept my apologies for what I think must have been a technical hitch. Feel free to return the book to Amazon for a refund and contact me for a free .mobi/PDF copy (with a screengrab of your confirmation email from Amazon showing the date of your purchase).

I reached out to Amazon to see if it was possible that the promo was activated. Their email read:

“Since the Free promotion for the book was canceled on KDP, I can assure there is no free copies of book downloaded by the customers from our Kindle store. Hence, as the book sales are not due to mistakes from customer nor any technical error, In this case, there is no need for you to issue refund to the customers for the normal sales of your Kindle book on KDP. ” [Emboldening mine]

So, Amazon assures me that no mistakes have slipped through, but I’d rather be upfront in the unlikely event that an error slipped through and customers were charged when they thought they were getting something for free.

Thanks for listening. You deserve a biscuit.

Stand up and shout!

For a couple of months this year, I undertook a stand-up comedy course (as part of a silly, drunken bet-challenge that I’ll talk about at some other point in time because it’s ridiculous).

For my routine, I decided to talk about suffering from “Pure O” OCD (which you can read up on here). Of course, being an amateur, 5-minute stand-up set, I don’t go into the nitty gritty of the mental illness, I just spend some time cracking some jokes about it.

(Not that I’m using humour as a defensive tactic to talk about something that’s really difficult to be open about or anything…)

The course culminated in a live performance – you can check out my set below (definitely Not Safe For Work). I hope you enjoy it. And no, I didn’t realise my voice sounded quite as deep as it does, or that I move like a drunken Thunderbird.

 

This particular form of OCD occurs mainly in the mind. Intrusive thoughts bombard the sufferer, who invariably develops compulsions to fend off the anxiety and other negative feelings the thoughts produce. Like all forms of OCD, the compulsions only provide temporary relief, as it becomes more and more difficult to mitigate the anxiety (and disgust, fear etc.) over a protracted period of time, resulting in a vicious circle that can take years to break free from.

If you’d like to know more about OCD, please check out the following links:

http://www.ocduk.org/

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/aug/31/pure-ocd-the-naked-truth

http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/#.WID0WVOLTIV

As always, thanks for tuning in!

Book review: A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig

Matt Haig’s latest effort (soon to be followed up by quasi-sequel, The Girl Who Saved Christmas) is a treat. Ostensibly a festive tale for kids, its story is one that can be read and re-read at any time of year, by kids of all ages. Even ones in their forties. Probably older. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much whilst reading.A Boy Called Christmas

So, the story then. Told with sharp prose and Matt Haig’s delightful sense of humour (tinged with darkness and tragedy, naturally) and accompanied by Chris Mould’s wonderful illustrations, A Boy Called Christmas tells the tale of Santa Clause before he was Santa Clause – when he was just Nikolas, a lonely boy who lives in a tiny isolated house in the frozen lands of Finland.

And no wonder he’s lonely. Nikolas witnessed his mum die after she fell down a well, sees his dad struggle to make ends meet every day, and his best friends are a mouse and a doll made out of an old turnip. If that doesn’t tug on your heartstrings, then I’m not sure even this story will breathe life into your cold, dead soul.

Trekking through the hazardous landscape, Nikolas encounters an angry bear, a friendly reindeer, comes close to dying on more than one occasion, becomes embroiled in the political machinations of a tiny magical tyrant, liberates a prisoner from a group of bounty hunters working for the King, and finds his True Calling In Life.

Nikolas’s story is about family. It’s about friends. It’s about magical reindeer and redeeming a paranoid elven society that wants to close its borders so it might save itself from the corrupting influence of humans. It’s about taking risks and believing in magic. It’s about how a child’s imagination allows him to adore even the most filthy and decrepit of toys year after year, as though it was a brand new still-in-its-box Buzz Lightyear action figure.

Oh, and some of the characters are delightfully twisted. The malicious Aunt Carlotta possesses the same tangible cruelty that made Roald Dahl’s antagonists so terrifying, and there’s the murderous pixie who literally cannot lie. Probably my favourite character in the novel, she’s at once achingly earnest and unabashedly wicked, and that’s not an easy combination to pull off.

I’ll add reading this book it to my annual Christmas traditions, along with watching Die Hard, promising and failing to watch It’s A Wonderful Life, and watching—but not admitting to it—Love Actually.

Since this is my first review and I’ve yet to come up with a numerical rating, I’ll award it 5 out of 5 Christmas crackers.

A Boy Called Christmas is available at Amazon.

Disclaimer: I have in no way been paid for this review. I am enrolled on Amazon’s Affiliates programme, which means I get a paid a small percentage of any physical purchases that come from use of the link. Don’t worry – this in no way costs you anything, just a small consideration from the vendor for sending you their way!

In Memory – a tribute to Sir Terry Pratchett

I’m thrilled, humbled, excited and quite frankly baffled to at last reveal that one of my stories will be featured in an anthology being produced in memory of my favourite writer – the wonderful, fantastical and majestic Sir Terry Pratchett.

Set loose upon the world on October 31st, and with all proceeds going to Alzheimer’s Research UK, “In Memory” is a labour of love forged and formulated by the immensely talented Sorin Suciu and Laura May. Comprised of 16 hilarious, emotional, insightful and downright entertaining pieces of fiction (and one further story which belongs to me and one I’m still convinced has been left in by accident), the anthology promises to be a worthy addition to anyone’s bookshelf – even if you’re not normally keen on things like sci-fi, fantasy and laughing. And you can buy this lovely little bundle of joy right here.

On a personal note, I’d like to express how proud I am to be counted alongside authors such as Sorin, Laura, Scott A. Butler, DK Mok and others. They’re a fantastic and gifted bunch. You can find out more about the project and the authors involved with a flourish of your clickity finger here and follow it closely by allowing updates to be beamed directly into your brain here.

On an even more personal note, here’s a quick blog post with some of my thoughts on Sir Terry, the project, the theme of memories – and some insight into The Vividarium

A note on “Vividarium”

Hello!

It’s less than a week before Boldly Going Nowhere is deployed. I’m excited, terrified, happy, scared, exhausted and elated.

As a completely self-published writer, I’d like to take this opportunity to explain why you’ll see “published by Vividarium Books” when you turn/swipe the first page. This is my sole trader, self-employed, Doing Business As company name. It’s not being published by some New York publishing house where people keep their toes warm by hurling piles of hundred dollar bills into the fire or anything like that – it’s an entirely self-published endeavour.

I mean, I could have just put “published by Steven McKinnon” – on account of that being my name and all – but I figured, I don’t know where this independent writing adventure will take me and it would make sense to cultivate a publishing identity at the outset.

“If you prepare for success, you may attain it; if you don’t, you never will.”

That right there is a quote. You can tell by the quotation marks. I don’t know who said it. Maybe I just made it up now. I doubt it though, it seems a bit profound for me and it doesn’t even contain a single reference to Batman.

And the meaning behind the name “Vividarium”?

I wanted a name that stoked the imagination, something that felt tangible – something that felt like you could step inside, run around, climb up and explore. Something that felt connected to the imagination, like how a planetarium is connected to planets. Books are the best medium for firing up the imagination and letting us walk through magic corridors and hallways (which is why the logo, by designer extraordinaire Sophie Taylor at Rotten Core Design, looks like a book), and what’s an imagination if not vivid?

Logo1

I’m also delighted, thrilled and frankly perplexed at being featured in an upcoming anthology in memory of my favourite author, in which my piece is called The Vividarium. The name for the publishing company came first, but it fit with the story. (I’ll be making a more formal announcement on this very, very soon…)

So there you have it. An explanation behind The Vividarium, what it means, and what I hope it will come to-

Sigh.

I can’t keep this up. It’s actually a nonsense word that appears in a puzzle in Final Fantasy VIII.

I just liked the sound of it.

New book alert!

Steven has written a new book! Check it out:

Boldly Going Nowhere

How do you convince someone to love you when you can’t love yourself?

Shy, geeky, lonely and running full-speed in the fast lane to nowhere, Steven McKinnon is stuck in a rut. He hates getting out of bed in the morning. He hates being a burden on his friends and family. And he hates himself for letting life slip through his fingers.

‘Sounds like you need a girlfriend,’ says one of his mates one night down the pub. It proves to be the call to action Steven needs to get him into gear on the path towards happiness. But what happens when you embark on a journey of self-discovery and don’t like what you find? What happens when you beat the odds and actually make things worse? And even more terrifying – what do you do when you manage to convince someone to like you?

Stopping off in Prague, Gothenburg, Newcastle and the sleepy hills of rural Scotland, Boldly Going Nowhere is the hilarious and achingly honest true story of what happens when one man decides to take a stand – against himself.

 

Boldly Going Nowhere is available from Amazon, Google Play, Apple iBooks, Kobo and Barnes & Noble.