Monday, 12 August 2019

Wet. Wet. Wet.

My new novel, Cockerings, is now 25% funded - we're quarter of the way there!

But we can't afford to take our feet off the pedal yet. There's still a long way to go.

And speaking of a long way, I just spent a long weekend in Scotland doing two performances of my talk Life, The Universe, And Elderberries for the Edinburgh Fringe and for Glasgow Skeptics.

It was also my birthday on the 11th. I spent it getting wet.

Yes indeed, it rained from the time I got up until the time I went to bed. It did not stop for even a second. The Royal Mile flowed like a river. The Grassmarket was awash. Supermarkets in Leith were flooded and shoppers were using canoes for trolleys. Okay, the bit about the canoes was an exaggeration. But by gum did it rain.

But, undaunted, I began the day with a pilgrimage to Greyfriars Kirkyard; not to see the wee dog with the shiny nose known as Greyfriars Bobby, but to find the memorial dedcated to Scotland's (and perhaps the world's) worst poet, William Topaz McGonagall.

It's hard to get a decent shot of it (or even read it) as it's mounted high on a wall but what it says is:

Died 2nd September 1902 
 Buried near this spot 
"I am your Gracious Majesty 
Ever faithful to thee, 
William McGonagall, the poor poet, 
That lives in Dundee." 

Sadly, no one knows exactly where the great man's bones lie but, like his poetic rhyming schemes, they're somewhere close. Other literary worthy mentions include The Elephant House cafe where J K Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book. It was packed with teenagers carrying wands. No, really.

And there are plenty of other places in Auld Reekie that a HP licensed tour guide will be happy to point at and tell you that it inspired XXX in the books. And, let's face it, there is a castle on the hill and the tattoo, which looks a lot like a place where you'd play quidditch.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself and my talk went swimmingly (and, indeed, many of the people who came probably swam home). But now it's nose to the grindstone and back to funding Cockerings.

If you haven't already, please pledge a sum to pre-order a paperback or ebook copy. And if you have, bully your friends and relatives into doing the same.

The sooner it's funded the sooner you get it!

Click here and join my lovely gang of patrons.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

When Clown (Names) Go Bad

A couple of blogposts ago (see here) I told the story of how Cockerings grew from a police promotion exam question into a complete novel. From the outset, one of the stars was a character called Bozo the clown. In the original exam question he was an alcoholic from Silesia (a former region of Europe now mostly in Poland) and he had a pet monkey called Caprino. The monkey has disappeared as the novel has evolved and much of the plot has changed. But throughout the last twenty-odd years of re-writes and edits, Bozo has remained the same.

Until now, that is. It is my sad duty to inform you that Bozo is no more.

It suddenly occurred to me that, with Bozo finally going public, I'd better check that there isn't a real Bozo that I might offend. After all, clowns may not be as popular as they once were, but I'd hate to damage someone's career.

So, first things first, it was off to East London to check out the Clown Egg Register.

Holy Trinity church in Dalston is home to the Clowns’ Gallery Museum, run by Clowns International. That's Joseph Grimaldi there in the stained glass window.

It's a tiny little place full of memorabilia and photographs crammed into three small rooms. But what I was interested in was the register - an archive of ceramic eggs painted to record clowns' personal makeup designs - like a kind of copyright record. The practice started in 1946 when a member of Clowns International (then called the International Circus Clowns Club) called Stan Bult painted the clown faces on emptied-out chicken eggs as a hobby. It evolved into a useful record of faces for posterity, as well as a way to memorialise the great clowns of yore. Bult painted around 200 eggs in total, and while most were lost or broken over the years, 26 of these fragile originals can be found at Dalston along with another 46 ceramic eggs on permanent display. The rest of the clown egg collection is held at Wookey Hole in Somerset.

I first learned about the collection when a fictional version of it appeared in an episode of the classic British 'spy-fi' series The Avengers. There's a series 7 episode called (Stop me if you've heard this one) But there were these two fellers in which a young John Cleese runs the Clown Egg Registry and is visited by Tara King.

I long believed it to be something made up for the show but then, to my delight, I discovered back in the 1990s that it's quite real.

The registry at Dalston caught the attention of photographer Luke Stephenson in 2007 and he published a book of his fantastic photographs of the eggs, taken at Dalston and Wookey Hole.

It's a great little book and, to my delight, it contained no Bozos. And nor did the museum at Dalston. Further researches showed me that there was no registered clown working in the UK under the name. But, and it's a BIG but, when I looked further afield I realised that there was no way I could use the name.

Because, you see, in America Bozo the Clown is as well-known as Basil Brush or the Chuckle Brothers are over here. Sob!

The character was created by Alan W Livingston and portrayed by Pinto Colvig for a children's storytelling record album and illustrative read-along book set in 1946. He became popular during the 1940s and served as the mascot for Capitol Records. The character first appeared on US television in 1949 portrayed by Colvig. After the creative rights to Bozo were purchased by Larry Harmon in 1956, the character became a common franchise across the United States, with local television stations producing their own Bozo shows. Harmon bought out his business partners in 1965 and produced Bozo's Big Top for syndication to local television markets not producing their own Bozo shows in 1966. And then Chicago's Bozo's Circus, which premiered in 1960, went national via cable and satellite in 1978.

Performers who have portrayed Bozo, aside from Colvig and Harmon, include Willard Scott (1959–1962), Frank Avruch (1959–1970), Bob Bell (1960–1984), and Joey D'Auria (1984–2001). Bozo TV shows were also produced in other countries including Mexico, Brazil, Greece, Australia and Thailand. Worst of all, the character inspired the creation of both Ronald McDonald and Krusty the Klown in The Simpsons! And he featured in 157 episodes of his own animated series called Bozo: The World's Most Famous Clown.

It appears that I couldn't have picked a worse name if I'd tried.

I therefore did the grown-up thing. I asked my subscribers to give Bozo a new name. And they came through in spades. I had some cracking submissions like Bufu, Ozbo, Skegcorn and the delightful Naughty Bertram. I had Grimdo (a tribute to Grimaldi), Tuss (a Cornish insult), Bald Ali Buccoli (an anagram of Diabolical Club - my previous book. Clever!), and Bobo ('because it was the name my family gave to a vagina when we were kids').

There were suggestions that played with the clown's Eastern European origins such as Blazen and Pajac which both mean 'clown'. And, unsuprisingly, a lot of suggestions of Bojo. I can't think why ... 

But the winner was ... GLUPI!

It sounds like a clown name, doesn't it? Gloopy. Glupi. I love it. And it's Polish for 'stupid', which is singularly appropriate..

Thank you Tom Stevens.

Bye bye Bozo. Hello Glupi!