My novel ‘Reception’, a brief excerpt


Here’s the first few pages of my novel, Reception.
If you’d like to read the rest of it, it can be purchased here:


The hotel towers. It gleams and it glowers, and it shimmers in multicoloured neon thrown up from the shops in the street below. Cars on the raised overpass roar unseen, the sounds of their engines amplified, funnelled by the concrete, while the skyway itself shudders on its precariously spindly legs. Spirit cars. Ghost engines. Oblivious to the hotel with its thirty-seven storeys of imagined corporate opulence. And those obligatory red flashing beacons, flashing, flashing, one on each corner on the very top floor of the building. Here I am. Try not to collide with me.


I pull my suitcase through the revolving door and into the foyer. It is a vast space, purposefully mesmerising and almost laughably opulent. Gold fittings, leather sofas and granite walls subsume all feeling beneath a level of numbness which must surely have been the intention of the architect. There is a waterfall in the middle of the room, a real waterfall with rocks and running water and a plunge pool, and plants and trees and goldfish. The floor is so polished as to appear like glass and it reflects back the light from crystal chandeliers which hang at an equal distance, like jellyfish suspended in the sea. I recognise immediately that certain needs and ideals have been mistranslated, designed into something quite advanced from any conception of comfort, or perhaps it is the aim of the hotel to be snooty enough to acknowledge those who might be put off by its overbearing demeanour. Or maybe I am too tired to take the place seriously.
Yukio smiles, politely. She hovers behind the reception desk, a desk so vast as to cover an entire wall. It dwarfs her. Her business suit also dwarfs her. And the night, and the city both seem to obliterate her entirely. She smiles as I approach and she seems to frown ever so slightly at my clothing before correcting herself. I have been travelling through the night and my trousers and shirt have not fared well either from a grabbed aircraft sleep or from mealtime turbulence. I give her my name and my passport and my booking confirmation details, at which point she taps the details into her computer, then frowns and apologises in broken English.
‘Perhaps’, she suggests, ‘You are on the other system’.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Sorry. But you must be on the other system. I will try the other system’.
I sense a problem, but I am tired and I can feel the night stretching out its hands towards me. Flying east has robbed me of a whole day’s sunlight and the resulting darkness when I landed had been unexpected as if I had been cheated by geography. She consults her computer again.
‘Am I on the other system?’
‘Sorry. You are not on the other system. Maybe I should try the first system again’.
‘How many systems have you got?’
‘We have one system’.
She apologises once again.
‘I check the first system a third time and now I check the second system. Sorry. But I must check’.
She does so. I step back from the reception desk. I recognise the song being played over the tannoy in the foyer, a rare pop ballad from the nineteen eighties that I have not heard for a very long time. Either the group is more popular in this country, I tell myself, or it is the most incredible coincidence that a song I once cherished and then forgot should be played at this moment, this exact, strange, odd moment.
‘You are not on the first system or the second system’, Yukio announces.
A sinking sensation deep inside. The singer of the pop ballad laments city weather in a mournful, slow voice which hints at something other than the usual decrepitude. The sparkle and the rain, eternal disappointment, the idea that things are never what they seem to be.
‘Are you saying that you have no record of my booking?’
‘Sorry. We will find your details. We will give you room now, you can pay for it when you book out’.
‘But I have already paid. That’s why I brought these papers with me, to show you that I have a booking’.
‘Maybe it is with another hotel’.
‘But this is the address of your hotel, yes?’
‘Then why would I be in another hotel?’
‘Sorry. There has been. Mistake. Perhaps we make mistake. Perhaps you make mistake’.
‘How many hotels in this city are called ‘Castle Hills’?’
‘Only this one. But sorry, perhaps there is mistake’.
‘Why would I fly to the other side of the world and come to this hotel if I were not staying here?’
‘I. Maybe. Check the system’.
Yukio seems to shrink even further inside her uniform. The onerous roar of the reception area fountain seems to echo television static, a technological breakdown, a heightened sense of alert where comfort should have been.
‘Maybe’, she says, ‘Maybe I let you stay here. But we sort out problem. We sort it out, and then perhaps you will pay for the room. That is the best decision. That you stay now and then pay in the morning if the problem is not sorted out. And perhaps doing this will sort out the problem’.
‘But I’ve already paid for the room’.
‘Our records. I’m sorry. The system is adamant’.
‘Why would I pay a second time?’
I start to feel a little bit angry. And yet I know that it is not her fault. It is quite possible that a mistake has occurred.
‘Our system seldom fails’.
‘Can you keep trying?’
She does so. She taps away on the computer for a very long time. I wonder if she is only doing it to satisfy me. I try to crane my neck to her side of the desk in case I am somehow able to aid her. Every now and then she stops typing and looks at the screen, her hand poised above the mouse as if unsure of what to do next.
‘Have you found me yet?’
‘On either of the systems?’
‘I have checked both systems. Two systems. And also the back-up system. No. You are not here’.
‘You are not here’.
‘So you have three systems?’
‘No, we have only the one system’.
‘What can I do?’
‘You can stay’, she says.
She taps again at the computer. The same song is still playing from the reception area speakers. I’d never realised how long it was.
‘I can stay?’
‘Yes. You stay. But you must pay. Because you are not here’.
It has been a long day and I feel tired. Yukio looks up from her keyboard, nervous, hardly able to look me in the eye. But then she steals herself, reaches down to a drawer underneath the counter and passes me a form.
‘Fill this in, Sir. And credit card details. Because you must pay for the room. You are not here at the moment. Fill in the form and then you will be here’.
I let out a sigh.
I fill out the form. It requires all kinds of information. Passport number, credit card details, information for which I have to fumble in my luggage to find. At last I hand them back to her. The song is still playing in the background. It must be an extended edition, I tell myself.
She taps into her computer.
‘You are here now. You are on the system. Maybe this is why you were not on the system. Because of the forms’.
‘But you will look for me, wont you? You’ll look for my original booking?’
‘Yes, I look, Sir’.
‘And if you don’t find it?’
‘Whatever happens, you are here. But if you are here twice, then you will not pay again’.
‘You will check all of the systems?’
‘There is only the one system’.
I sense a hard edge lurking beneath Yukio. Obstinately, she effects the will of the Castle Hills Hotel. She is a product of its methods, a functioning part of its mechanism and yet, faced with an error, she cannot help but resort to its baser corporate instincts, the procurement of cash. The city wants to spit her out. The city closes itself off, with its light and its dark and its motorway flyovers. Yukio is its only interface.
I am too tired to argue further. She issues me with a card key and asks if I might need a porter to help me with my luggage to a room on the twenty second floor. I sense that she is dealing with me, mechanically, logically, ridding herself of one part of the problem before dealing with whatever mistranslation has eradicated all of my booking details.


A Day in the Life of a Spoken Word Artist

So yesterday I decided to have a creative day and just see if I could get some bits done without being bogged down with admin and emails and things. In fact it was a day I’d been looking forward to because there was a poem I’d been working on which wasn’t yet quite right. The poem was a hypothetical account of being astounded by a young spoken word artist , but it didn’t seem to have the rhythm or the ability to hold my attention as performer. I was looking forward to having a good old poke around on it. Here’s how the day went.

6-8AM: It’s my day off. Why am I up so early? What am I doing today? Oh god, the poem. Where is it? Here, let’s upload it on to the September Poem a Day site and see what people think. It’s not perfect, but people might give some constructive criticism.

8-9AM: Go to a coffee shop and stare at the poem. Decide that it’s best to put it away for a short while and concentrate on other things. Decide to use headphones and the coffee shop wifi to watch performance poets and spoken word artists on YouTube. It will be good research. Get sidetracked by watching videos of aircraft taking off and landing.

9-12AM: Go to the Quiet Study Room at the library. And just in case it’s not quiet enough, I use earplugs. Get out several poetry books and the poem that I’ve been meaning to work on. Can’t get the enthusiasm. Spend the first hour reading other poets, Salena Godden, Laurie Bolger, Vanessa Kisuule. Spend the next hour staring at a blank sheet of paper because I’m not as good as Salena Godden, Laurie Bolger or Vanessa Kisuule. Start work on the poem. Completely remove the last three verses and replace them with silly one-liners and jokes. It seems to work. Spent the last hour getting very excited because this now looks like the best poem there’s ever been. It’s amazing. It’s astounding. It’s far better than Salena Godden, Laurie Bolger or Vanessa Kisuule. Treat myself to a trip to the toilet. Come back and look at the poem. What was I thinking? It’s nothing like Salena Godden, Laurie Bolger, Vanessa Kisuule.

12-2: Go to the gym and ride the bicycle for half an hour. As I’m riding I keep thinking of the poem and lines that are so, so good that I will always remember them and jot them down when I get back to the changing room. Go on the treadmill too and watch MTV on the screen, following the lyrics on subtitles as I exercise all the time thinking, hah, my poem has much better lines than these lyrics. Get back to the changing room. I’ve completely forgotten the new lines. Go to the sauna and take a notebook with me to try and remember the lines. Nothing. I sweat all over the notebook and the pen dries up in the heat and becomes unbearably hot to touch.

2-4: Decide to rehearse. Decide that it should be a dress rehearsal with the new costume I bought which I want to use for the Edinburgh show next year. It feels a bit weird rehearsing in the costume and anyone walking past can just look in the window and see me. Decide to add a Venetian mask to the ensemble but it needs repairing. I superglue the feathers back on, then get my hand attached to the Venetian mask. Manage to free myself but feel lucky that I did not put it on with the superglue still wet. Try and put on some guyliner but I can’t see without my glasses to do it and it looks awful. Pop out to Superdrug to buy some really bright liptstick to finish the ensemble. Decide on bright pink. The lady on the checkout is very chatty and points out that I’ve picked up the tester. Do you know, she said, how many germs are on the tester?

5-7: Type up the revisions to the poem. It looks ok. Send it to Melanie Branton and she says it’s ok. She asks who it’s about and I tell her. In a mad moment I send it to the young poet that it’s based on and then immediately regret doing so. Spend the next hour with my data turned off so that I cannot see his response.

7-9: Prepare my set for the gig in Exeter tomorrow. Plan it right down to the second with opening remarks, costume, poem, linking material, spontaneous remarks. Fret that I haven’t rehearsed enough and rehearse the opening remarks a couple of times. Check my diary. The gig is actually next week.

9-10: I get a message from the poet. He likes the poem. I then go on to the September Poem a Day website and the old version of the poem is widely liked and someone even suggests that it’s one of my best ever poems. I look in the mirror and see that I’ve still got one eye half guylinered.

Do you have a personal philosophy?, I asked. 

Last night I interviewed Ian Beech live on Soundart FM, the Dartington-based community radio station. It was the first time I’d ever interviewed someone and I was really worried before that I would sound more like the boss of a company asking questions without having any back up questions. But Ian is a good friend and an engaging person and the whole hour zipped past, apart from an uncomfortable moment when I asked him about his personal philosophy and he said that he hadn’t got one.
Twenty years ago I wanted to be a writer of worth, a serious heavy hitting literary figure, and while these days I’m only one of those things, (heavy), I now find myself in a position where I can interview people and engage with artistic types on a regular basis. Twenty years ago, I would daydream about being interviewed because I was so famous, and one of the questions I’d practice an answer for was, ‘what is your personal philosophy?’
And I’d say, ‘live to live each day without regret, and teach the world how to love’.
Ok, so it was a crap answer, and so far, nobody has ever asked this question.
I’ve been at a loose end since coming back from the Edinburgh Fringe. The Juicy show took up a lot of time and thinking and now that Edinburgh is done and dusted, I’ve had a lot of free time to faff around with other projects. The trouble is now that I’ve started so many new projects that I’m kind of swamped. A book, a novel, a play, some new poems, a lot of new material and an art project all within the space of a week. So really I don’t know what’s going on.
As I wrote this in a coffee shop in Paignton, a friend has just come in and she’s told me about a project she’s involved in, a multi sensory multimedia performance happening ever half hour right here in town, and I didn’t even know about it. It seems amazing that art can squeeze itself into every day life. Paignton has never been the cultural capital of the world, although it did have a spate of yarn bombing a couple of years back which has fizzled out, the yarn bombed lamp posts now looking decidedly mouldy, but it gives me hope that art will always prosper in spite of geography and economic climate.
I wanted to ask her about her personal philosophy but she didn’t have time.
So life post fringe has been slowly returning to normal and the whole adventure now seems like something that happens to other people.

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