Monday, August 13, 2007

Bear Alley is 1 year old

Bear Alley celebrates its first birthday on August 15th so I thought I'd dig through the memory banks and see what I could come up with by way of celebration.

Mind you, why I would rely on my memory is a mystery. I have a terrible memory -- all the important stuff has been squeezed out of my head by trivia. So instead of remembering things, I make lists. All I have to do then is remember which list I need to refer to.

My office is a mess but I have a mental picture of where things are... or, rather, where they should be. It doesn't always work. I spend most of my life surrounded by reference books to the point where I feel slightly lost if I leave the house because if anybody asks me anything, while I can remember where I need to look, the facts are not at my fingertips.

Compiling lists is how I started writing. Trying to keep facts straight in my head was no good. I may as well have been trying to herd kittens. I got into the habit of writing things down putting things in order and, thankfully, I've been able to make a reasonable living from doing much the same thing for the last seventeen years. I've had 1430 articles published, from squibs to the occasional half-decent feature. I'm a reasonably fast typist, although I swear I'm nowhere near as fast as I used to be, nor do the words flow quite so quickly from my brain to my fingers any more. At times I've had to work ridiculously fast, churning out a 30,000 word magazine supplement in a week and, a year later, a 30,000 word giveaway book in six days. Probably my most sustained piece of writing was The Trials of Hank Janson, 100,000 words in three weeks, although the research had taken twenty years.

Bear Alley was started because I wanted somewhere to publish bits of research, some of it unfinished or ongoing and some of it barely worth jotting down simply because the information wasn't there. It has been a fascinating experience. I enjoy researching and the internet allows me to do a lot more from home these days than I could ever have achieved twenty years ago. I probably enjoy the research more than the writing and if I could publish my notes I probably would -- but nobody would understand the scribbles, the underlinings, the looping arrows that join numbers and notes together, the patches of cross-hatching...

I thought Bear Alley would be an occasional indulgence. I'm astonished to note that in a year there have been over 400 posts and over a quarter of a million words posted here. A lot is, admittedly, work-related, and I've been helped out by a number of people (and I think Jeremy Briggs deserves a special mention for coming out to bat whenever I know I'm not going to have much time to write) but a lot has been random bits of research, often inspired by people asking questions or my own habit of stumbling across something that nags at me until I do a bit of work to find out what it's all about. The very first post explained why the blog was called Bear Alley -- it's a real place, as you can see from the photo at the top of this ramble -- but another reason was that I know how easily distracted I can get when writing something. I use up a lot of energy ferreting around at things that have absolutely no relevance to a feature, exploring alleyways that lead nowhere except to more alleyways until I'm well off the main road that I ought to be on. It's the writers version of derive -- drifting -- although that's meant to apply to real urban thoroughfares. It's something I have to live with and, truth be told, sometimes it makes researching a feature vastly more entertaining and I like to let it happen.

So the title Bear Alley has a sort of double meaning. It was the location of the stockroom of the old Fleetway House where all the old records were kept -- records that I've spent nearly thirty years trying to reconstruct one way or another -- but it also hints at the kind of meandering journey the research often takes me, odd alleyways that, back in the old days, would remain as scribbled jottings on my notepad. Now they often see the light of day and I hope that you, dear reader, haven't regretted traipsing down some of those alleyways with me too much.


  1. Happy Birthday, Bear Alley! Steve, Jeremy -- this is a brilliant blog, keep up the good work.

  2. Happy anniversary to a unique and fascinating blog.

  3. Add my hearty congratulations to the list, Steve!

    I don't know how you keep up the never-ending supply of interesting salvage from our sadly lost worlds. I find it hard enough to ferret out info on a currently-published series for the online Black Horse Extra. Latest theme over there is cover art, by the way.

  4. Hip, Hip...
    Congratulations from The Netherlands. Just keep on exploring all those alleyways, for you'll never know what's around the next corner!
    Thank you, Steve, for one year Bear Alley and for all the information posted. I for one am extremely grateful for all the bits of research you published so far. Hopefully there is no end to your ferreting around...

    John Wigmans

  5. Congratulations Steve.

    Keep going - we are out here reading these wonderful titbits of there's something.... someone should index all the art pieces in THAT paper.....DAMN, I just got lost down a Bare [sic] Alley!



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