Once upon a time, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away there was a simple story of a boy, a girl, some swords, some explicit passages and a bit with a dog.
I had lunch today with an old friend. I can't help thinking of Jane Horrocks as I write that. An old friend, implying that it's the friend that's old rather than the friendship. The friendship is over twenty years old. We had an hour together, and we chatted away as though no time had passed since our last meeting. We parted committed to seeing each other again soon - and regularly if I have my way.
We talked mainly - as we always have done - about swords and stories. This was, naturally, interspersed with catching up with news about each others families and so on, but mainly it was swords and stories. He's got a wonderfully infectious way about him - his enthusiasm for writing is as great as it was when we were in our teens, but he's got the advantage of having written two novels, and had one of them published. We talked about my last semi-aborted effort, and thrashed out some of my issues about how to take the plot forward. He's bursting with ideas, and frankly I think that's great.
I talked about my plans - my great scheme for writing more, the scheme that part of me doesn't see happening. I came away filled with thoughts and directions to go in, and I guess that's what I need sometimes. I need to be prodded with swords and stories.
There has been a pause for a week or so, when I have got even further behind with work, with e-mail, with finances, with everything.
This is probably a good thing, because there's a good reason.
I think it's fairly reasonable to say that I have fallen behind with my studies lately. Ridiculously far behind. And so, the last week has been spent doing something I have never done before - cramming. The course notes have been vigorously attacked with orange highlighter, points plucked out and referred to in the assignment that I'm about to send in. I've created a beautiful work of fiction, I think.
It's an essay crisis! Hurrah!
Other than that, the course is going really well, I think.
I've always written. As long as I can remember. When I was seven, I wrote a play for my class to do at school. It was written on two sides of paper, it was laid out as "he says, she says" and pretty much all on one line. It was about Robin Hood, and the only reason that it was "he says, she says" was that I couldn't remember the word "said". Sadly.
Since then, I've been through ups and downs, and the current spell is definitely a down on a number of fronts. But that's a good thing.
Honestly, it really is. Because when I'm happy I have nothing to write about, nothing to rant about. And when I've got something that's niggling at me, it makes it easier to find something to write about. Although it does make it harder to find the time to write.
Interesting, as I say. Inspiring, hopefully.
I read a chapter or two of On The Beach back at the beginning of September 2001. And then I stopped. The novel is the story of a small Australian community in 1960. The northern hemisphere has effectively eradicated itself in a nuclear war, and the fallout is creeping inexorably southwards. Everyone is going to die. That's about as far as I got before the Eleventh. Suddenly it felt too real, too uncomfortable. I put the novel to one side.
This weekend, I started reading it again, and rattled it off in a couple of sessions, mainly on the train on the way to Cork and back. It's fantastic.
At its heart is a beautifully simple story of impossible love against a background of inevitable death. It's about people clinging on to their dignity and their lifestyle because it's all they've got. It's a fine example of claustrophobia, and of horror. Death is coming, death is descending, and there's nothing to be done about it.
When it was written in 1957, it must have felt all too likely. It feels real, and plausible. And it feels hopeful. Because it's about how individuals deal with inevitability, and it's about how the way in which one lives one's life is important. And I'm still slightly shell-shocked in a way that I haven't been for a while. Excellent stuff.
There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea is asleep, and the rivers dream.
In a sense, whenever we read a work of fiction, watch a television programme, or a movie, we are immersing ourselves in artificial reality. From the fictional borough of Walford, to the county of Wessex, to Neverwhere, Narnia and the Nova Beacon, every writer creates their own world. Often it may be superficially similar to our own, but it's always the world viewed through the eyes of the writer, and no writer, ever, has 20:20 vision.
Sometime I'll write about how this applies to non-fiction, and to weblogs, and even to instruction manuals and minutes of meetings. But I'm not writing about that today.
There are often claims that Science Fiction and it's bastard daughter Fantasy are in some way easy escapist nonsense. The argument runs along the lines of: These worlds are fictional, rather than researched. So they're made up. So the writer, in choosing to set their fiction there, has done something easy, and therefore to be derided.
This is, of course, nonsense.
It's one thing to write a novel set on the world of the bouncing pigs. It's another thing to set a novel on the world of the bouncing pigs, but make the world entirely plausible, make the bouncing feel entirely natural, make the characters the sort of living breathing characters that the reader can relate to, and tell a story that says as much about the culture inhabited by the writer as it does about the culture that the writer has created. In some ways, writing what you know is the easy way out. Creating something plausible is much, much trickier.
Recently, I've found myself dipping into several rich parallel universes, worlds created with detail and background hinted at and teased, rather than being laboured, rather than relying on tehreader and the writer's shared experience to act as cultural shorthand. So far this year, I've rediscovered the delights of Talbot's Multiverse, of Zelazny's Amber, and Jaime Hernandez' Hoppers. I'm intensely jealous of these writers, where the setting is as much a character as the individuals who live there, and while they're clearly escapist (and in the case of Zelazny, nonsense), the richness of the sense of place in these works never fails to impress me.
People made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, somewhere else the tea's getting cold.
Let me let you in on a little secret here. Since I started this, I have read a book. A whole book, cover to cover. It's moved from one room to another, and is therefore a load off my mind. Sound good? It was very short, it wasn't any of the books that I have listed so far, and it had a lot of pictures.
16. Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr is a classic, and anyone who says otherwise is a woman, a gay or a mental. It's a book that gave me nightmares as a kid, and fired the imaginations of thousands, if not gazillions of children and adults alike. It's something I am saving for a rainy night with a big mug of hot chocolate, wrapping up in blankets and reading to comfort myself. Or perhaps once my nephew is a couple of years older, I will read it to him.
My nephew was thrilled to get a card from his Uncle Alan on Sunday. It was an internet card, and it had Tikkabilla on it. He wanted to know if the card was from Mr Twinky too, which it was. I like the fact that he asked without prompting, which goes to show a whole lot of things about both him and about my sister which frankly warm my heart far too much to go in to here, where I am trying to focus on books and maintain a veneer of sneery cynicism. Moving right along.
17. I couldn't say where I got the idea of reading The Alphabet by David Sacks, but I suspect it is because I thought he was David Sedaris, or Oliver Sacks. Or a pseudonym used by the pair of them when they collaborate.
It's a work of non-fiction, but aimed at a broad market, so it probably includes the mildly harrowing tale of how the young upstart "J" rose up and overthrew the stalwart and faithful "I" at the start of many words, and I'm hoping it'll cover some of the reasons why languages and writing systems evolved.
I suspect I've always been fascinated by this sort of stuff.
18. Take The Cannoli by Sarah Vowell wsa recommended ages ago by someone I met in Hong Kong. She was a niece of a friend of mine, and he basically suggested that I was someone who could discuss a particular book with her - which I did. We got on well, although we only met a couple of times. But in that time, I guess I made an impression on her, because a year or two later she popped up in my comment box. That was a surprise in itself, because I'd only just started accepting comments and I wasn't really expecting any, and partly because I wasn't blogging when I met her, and I was surprised that her uncle new. Anyway, she recommended this book. I'm vaguly dipping in and out of it - it's a book of short essays and stories - and it's not necessarily grabbing me, but I want to give it more of a chance.
19. Laptop Dancing and the Nanny Goat Mambo: A Sports Writer's Year by Tom Humphries. Lordy. This is so not my type of book. I'm not going to read it. Anyone want it? I'll swap it. Just drop me an e-mail to nannygoatme[at]oddverse[dot] and so on, explaining who you are, why you want the book, and what you want to swap it for. I'll choose the best in true Noel Edmonds 1975 style. And once I've got rid of it, I will explain why I have a copy in the first place.
Reader Interactivity Opportunity: Have you read any of these books? Are any of them any good? Do any of them "grab" you?
Reader Interactivity Opportunity 2: As suggested by one of my acolytes and long-term fans, mike, I'm going to type up some of the first sentences, and let all six of my regular readers vote on what I read next. And I will promise to abide by the majority decision.
Today, I am mainly in meetings. This is the lot of every Friday. I tackle meetings by remaining quiet for most of them, and then laughing at strategic points. This works. My enemies are divided and therefore easier to conquer.
This approach brought to you by "coffee" - the drink that makes you peppy.
12. Ecstasy by Irvine Welsh is possibly the only thing he's written that I haven't read. It's not supposed to be as good as some of his other stuff, but I intend to read it and I know I will enjoy it. What I like about Welsh is his keen eye for the way people interact, and the fact that he can make the most unappealling of characters just sympathetic enough to be engaging.
In his debut, Trainspotting he tells a disjointed tale of a group of characters that feels less like a story and more like a series of snapshots of real life. The fact that there is character development in there as well just makes his achievement more impressive.
13. Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland could be great, but it could be conceited self-indulgent twaddle. Coupland is another one of those writers who plays with the format and the very idea of what a novel is. Sometimes. And sometimes he writes simple tales about interesting ideas. I'm hoping this is simple, but full of interesting characters and ideas.
14. Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee by Meera Syal. If you're British, the chances are you're familiar with Ms Syal's work as an actress and comedian, and you probably have a fair amount of respect for her role - almost coincidental - in raising the profile of women from Wolverhampton in the mainstram British media.
15. My mum recommended Quarantine by Jim Crace. It's a retelling of Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness retold in non-miraculous terms, one of the most undescribed parts of the New Testament. The little I've read appears to be beautifully written, and I'm particularly keen to read it as a recommendation from my mum is always worth pursuing.
Reader Interactivity Opportunity: Have you read any of these books? Are any of them any good? Do any of them "grab" you?
I refuse to give up on a book due to apathy. I'll quite happily get rid of a book if I find it bad in some way, but to give up on a book before I've given it a fair trial seems horribly unfair.
Every book on my bedside table has had merit at some point. I've picked it up and thought I would enjoy it. Now I'm prepared to be proven wrong, but if I'm wrong I want evidence. So every one of these books will get read, or at least properly started. And most will get finished.
6. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke is a tale of the rediscovery of Magic in York in the early 1800s. Part historical novel, part fantasy, Clarke's writing style is engaging, and her use of language is accessible. I bought this to read on a plane, got a fair way into it, enjoyed it. The main problem with the book so far seems to be its length. It's a juggernaut of a novel, a shambling behemoth. I've got the paperback version, but it's just a pain to hold.
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell when it came out in hardback. As a paperback, it's much more compact, and it's a book that I'm really looking forward to but Mitchell's one of those writers where I need to make an effort. I loved Ghostwritten, and really enjoyed number9dream, to the extent of getting close to bullying people in to reading them. But there's a psychological barrier to picking one up. Part of that is the depth of submersion that you really need to do to enjoy Mitchell's work to its fullest. I expect this to be a book that sucks me in, and I want to be in the right frame of mind to be sucked in when I start reading it.
8. Morvern Callar by Alan Warner was recently made in to a movie. I was made aware of both the movie and the book due to the Late review, that fine late night show where people argue with Tom Paulin. Basically, the consensus appeared to be that the book was better than the movie. The other week I read the first few pages of the novel, and I found it quite interesting, and almost engaging. I almost wanted to know what happened next, what would she do after she got home from work. However, I probably don't care. That's the problem when your protagonist isn't hugely sympathetic.
9. The Man Who Walks by Alan Warner opens with the line "The Nephew was lain silent atop the paper sacks of pony nuts near the roof of the agric supply warehouse, dreaming about ghost bags, when his mobile diddled 'Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves'"
I bought it because I fancied reading Morvern Callar, but the shop didn't have any copies in.
10. Again, everyone I know seems to have read Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I managed a few pages before I was distracted. Probably by Mr Twinky. It looks quite interesting, seemed to be well written, but I have a problem with the hype. It's annoying. Any book that is successful automatically carries with it a slight stigma that runs along the lines of "I've seen this advertised" meaning "It can't really be any good". I cite Norah Jones as the prime example here.
Anyway, it's published by Canongate, which can only be good, it won the Booker, which is often a recommendation, and it makes me think about Pies, which is always good.
11. Finally for today, The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill concerns the Minotaur from classical mythology working in a diner in Carolina. An interesting conceit, and it was on the Booker long-list. As a result, I picked it up last week on a whim, when i needed to spend a few extra Euro to make the most of a credit note. The premise itself is enough to get me to open it at some point. Quite when depends on how much priority I put on it compared to the other books on my bedside table. As ever... you can help make my mind up...
Reader Interactivity Opportunity: Have you read any of these books? Are any of them any good? Do any of them "grab" you?
As has been noted, I'm decluttering. This is a process, I'm aware. Last night I made a pile of books on my bedside table. There were thirty of them. Thirty unread books, many of which I have started, none of which I have finished. My goal is to read fifteen of them before I buy any more books. As some of the books in question are, frankly, huge, I expect this to take between eight and nine years.
The problem is where to start. I need help. I definitely need help.
1. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole has a lot to recommend it. A comic masterwork, the central character, the beautifully named Ignatius Reilly appears to be one of those people who believes wholly in themselves, and is therefore ignorant of the chaos around him. The hype is that this is one of those books that you either love or hate. I didn't get far enough in to it to tell, despite a couple of attempts
2. Don't call me Human by Wang Shuo looked enticing in a bookshop in Hong Kong. I've never opened it. Wang Shuo appears to be one of China's more subversive writers and his style is compared to Murukami, which can only be a good thing. This is a surreal tale of the Olympics, filled with action and slapstick. I suspect I bought it for travel - I read a lot when travelling, and then didn't have the urge to open it. I have no idea why.
3. The Book of Revelation by Rupert Thomson was bought because I wanted to read more by him. I'd read The Five Gates of Hell in my mid-twenties, and thoroughly enjoyed it, but I don't remember getting more than a few pages into Revelation, or Soft (which I have around here somewhere). Revelation seems to be a stlyised novel, about the systematic destruction of a dancer's life, set in Amsterdam. It looks multi-layered and allegorical. I can't remember if I even opened it.
4. Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson is one of those books that gets lavished with praise and described as "astounding" at irregular interviews. Everyone I know seems to have a copy. I bought it to read on a trip, and never opened it. That said, it seems to be a book targeted at women, and enjoyed by women. I don't know if that's true or not. Because I've never read a word of it.
5. Finally for now, The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester is the one of this batch that I am most likely to read first. I bought this because I'd toyed with it for ages - the story of a lexicographer who also happened to be a psychopath. Out of his friendship with a scholar comes the Oxford English Dictionary. I got quite a long way in to this, and found it an easy read. But when I put it down (presumably because my train arrived), I had no immediate urge to pick it up again. Of the five books written about here, it's the one I could probably finish quickest.
Reader Interactivity Opportunity: Have you read any of these books? Are any of them any good? Do any of them "grab" you?
When Keith was a young man, he would stand in the street outside the flats and call men. One by one they would come to him through the streets, beyond which lay the glass and bond of the city, and he could see them in the light of the moon. The glint of light on the towers of the city was like the glint in the eye of his young admirers, and that in turn was something like the glint of the stars through the clouds. He himself wondered why they came, but they came for him. Because of that he was in some way special; and, perhaps, he was to muse over lunch one Sunday some years later, they came to him for the same reason that he came to them, which was purely for the oddness of the whole thing.
Keith, I said, you are talking utter bollocks.
He steepled his fingers and smiled at me over the froth of his latté. He smelled of verbena and tobacco flower, and there were fewer lines around his eyes than I remember.
Let's pick a paragraph at random.
Sophie Amundsen was on her way home from school. She had walked the first part of the way with Joanna. They had been discussing robots. Joanna thought the human brain was like an advanced computer. Sophie was not certain she agreed. Surely a person was more than a piece of hardware.
Many people have read these words before me. I quote them here because they're a random paragraph from a book that I picked up, opened at random, threw up on, and carefully discarded back in to the nine-for-the-price-of-two bin in Dublin's exclusive Grafton Street bookierie "The Dublin Bookshop".
It's a very simply constructed paragraph. The sentences are simple, subject-verb-object - the only grammatical construct that most of us were ever taught. Although we were probably taught it with "doing-word" in there instead of verb. Running it through Microsoft's wonderfully eccentric readability check, it comes out with a suggested reading age of nine.
And yet, there was a phase where every adult I knew was reading this book. For the record, it's Paulette Moller's translation of Jostein Gaarder's bestseller Sophie's World. God, it sounds worthy. An exciting story combined with a mystery combined with an investigation of the way that the theories of philosophy have developed through history. But at the time, everyone was reading it, and coming across as slightly disappointed, as though they were somehow not getting it. Based on the paragraph above - the opening paragraph no less, it's surprising that these readers did not degenerate into gibbering wrecks crying out "why, why, why?"
I picked the book up because Mr Twinky's reading something that he describes as "like a dumbed-down version of Sophie's World written for imbeciles" (I'm paraphrasing). I turned to a random page in the middle somewhere and read the worst-crafted passage of dialogue I'd ever seen.
When I was fourteen, our class mutinied during an English lesson. We refused to finish reading a book, and our teacher said we could, if we could find six good reasons why we didn't think it was worth reading. We found four, and she let us off. With this book, we'd have thrown it at her by the end of that first paragraph. As an adult, I can't understand why other adults would want to read this - and yet it became a bestseller. I am mystified and bemused. I still don't understand Jeffery Archer's success.
Writing that's easy to read doesn't have to be simplistic.
Read Vernon God Little instead. It doesn't say anything about philosophy, but it says a lot about our society, and it's a stonking good read. Clauses and everything.
Oh England, my lionheart
Peter Pan steals the kids in Kensington Park
Peter Pan is one of children's literature's greatest creations. He's the boy who never grew up, isn't he? And which of us wants to grow up? We can all relate to that. He's exciting. He opens the minds of three young children and takes them off to a world of adventure, where they meet mermaids, and pirates, and badly stereotyped Native Americans, and they have a thrilling time, before they go home and live their humdrum lives again.
That's Peter Pan in a nutshell, isn't it? It doesn't capture the details of the plot, but it captures the spirit of it.
Rubbish, I'm afraid. Peter Pan is far more complex and interesting than that.
Peter Pan is a perpetual child. Look at any small boy you know. The chances are that he is sometimes sweet and innocent, and sometimes a complete monster. Barrie describes all children as "gay and innocent and heartless", and Peter Pan is the ultimate child. He is fickle and self-centred, and utterly charming. He's not the boy who never grew up. He's the boy who refused to grow up, and who refused to let any of his friends grow up either.
The boys on the island vary, of course, in numbers, according as they get killed and so on; and when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out; but at this time there were six of them, counting the twins as two.
I don't like the sound of that. Thinning them out. It all sounds so callous. But that's Peter for you. He sets Wendy up in a house of her own, and turns her into his mother. This consists mainly of sewing and of giving out medicine. Thrilling, eh? He's so desparate to hang on to his own childhood that he denies Wendy hers. Seems to work for Wendy, though. Odd girl. Head turned by the thought of seeing mermaids, helped along by a hefty dose of fairy dust.
Adventures ensue, but at the end of the day, Wendy wants her own mother - she wants to take her brothers home. Peter won't let them - he wants them to stay, although it's quite clear that he would be likely to forget about them fairly quickly. He is offered the chance to stay with Wendy, but this would mean growing up. He declines.
"Oh, all right," Peter said, as if he had asked her from politeness merely; but Mrs. Darling saw his mouth twitch, and she made this handsome offer: to let Wendy go to him for a week every year to do his spring cleaning. Wendy would have preferred a more permanent arrangement; and it seemed to her that spring would be long in coming; but this promise sent Peter away quite gay again. He had no sense of time, and was so full of adventures that all I have told you about him is only a halfpenny-worth of them. I suppose it was because Wendy knew this that her last words to him were these rather plaintive ones:
"You won't forget me, Peter, will you, before spring cleaning time comes?"
Pan, however, has the attention span of a child. He remembers the next year, although he has forgotten much of the adventures of the year before.
She had looked forward to thrilling talks with him about old times, but new adventures had crowded the old ones from his mind.
"Who is Captain Hook?" he asked with interest when she spoke of the arch enemy.
"Don't you remember," she asked, amazed, "how you killed him and saved all our lives?"
"I forget them after I kill them," he replied carelessly.
When she expressed a doubtful hope that Tinker Bell would be glad to see her he said, "Who is Tinker Bell?"
"O Peter," she said, shocked; but even when she explained he could not remember.
"There are such a lot of them," he said. "I expect she is no more."
The year after, he forgets to come for her, and by the time he remembers again, Wendy has grown up and has a daughter of her own. He takes her instead, and when she too grows too old, it is Wendy's granddaughter that goes with him.
Frankly, I loved the down-beat nature of the ending. It really drew out the childlike qualities of Pan for me - his innocent and heartless side. It surprised me though. I don't remember that from the Disney version.
Overall, I was surprised when I read this book. I was surprised at the sympathy I felt towards Hook, despite the fact that he was clearly a heartless villain, and I was surprised at the animosity I felt towards Peter Pan, who was the hero in a story of his own writing, who didn't care for anyone else, and whose final victory was hollow and ultimately meaningless.
What's the point of winning, if all it means is moving on to the next excitement?
The rock was very small now; soon it would be submerged. Pale rays of light tiptoed across the waters; and by and by there was to be heard a sound at once the most musical and the most melancholy in the world: the mermaids calling to the moon.
Peter was not quite like other boys; but he was afraid at last. A tremour ran through him, like a shudder passing over the sea; but on the sea one shudder follows another till there are hundreds of them, and Peter felt just the one. Next moment he was standing erect on the rock again, with that smile on his face and a drum beating within him. It was saying, "To die will be an awfully big adventure."
gro.tesque (n) A style of painting, sculpture, and ornamentation in which natural forms and monstrous figures are intertwined in bizarre or fanciful combinations.
As in art, so in entertainment. The exaggerated forms, character traits developed to the extent where they become almost more important than the character themselves. And in the best cases, there is a character there with whom the audience can empathise and sympathise. Often small, often frail, often hidden by bombast.
Sometimes, grotesques are trumpeted by their name - Prunesquallor, Mrs Fezziwig, Mr Bronson, Basil Fawlty, Edina Monsoon, while others are more cunningly hidden behind such polite and charming names as "Mrs Bennett", "Ivy Brennan" or "David Brent".
A well-crafted grotesque is a pleasure to watch (or indeed to read about). They are often the comic character, the creatures of sitcom and light relief. They're familiar and larger than life, and we draw comfort from the fact that nobody in real life is like that at all.
Ladbrokes are apparently claiming that the BBC's Big Read vote is a one horse race. I'm not surprised, but I'm horribly disappointed.
Because I don't get it. I used to love the Lord of the Rings, as anyone who is my mother will confirm. As a grown-up version of The Hobbit, it was a big scary book and I was really proud that I could read it to the end. But it's absolutely awful.
In terms of structure, in terms of characterisation, and in terms of writing, it's horribly pedestrian. And in terms of the nature and scope of its plot it was revolutionary, but has since been bested by dozens of other writers.
In some ways it's important, but it's not good. It has flashes of brilliance, and it has page upon page of tedium. It's undeniably popular, and probably deserves that, but I guess I just don't believe that many of the people who vote for it to win awards have actually read the darn thing.
I need a holiday.
In the last hour, I've been snippy with three people, and I've been rude to two. And one of these was at home, and completely unjustified, and now I'm angry with myself about that.
All of which is deeply counterproductive, and so I'm taking myself through my ten point de-stressing plan. However, sitting at my desk listening to the shit hitting various things is not going to help.
With the benefit of hindsight, this has been building since Tuesday, if not earlier. The blessing and the curse of weblog comment boxes is the fact that you can go back, re-read your comments, and cringe. I can see myself getting less witty and more bitchy, all in ten point verdana. It's not pretty.
I recently discovered that I am usually fairly even-tempered, which came as a pleasant compliment from someone I have known for almost half my life. I don't feel like that at the moment - it feels like it's just out of reach. Still visible, still attainable, but annoyingly evasive. It's only four months since I wrote about workplace stress, and somewhere I've lost sight of a little of that.
Entry tails off into random oblivion...
Good evening, London. I thought it time we had a little talk. Are you sitting comfortably?
Then I'll begin. . . .
I suppose you're wondering why I've called you here this evening. Well, you see, I'm not entirely satisfied with your performance lately . . . I'm afraid your work's been slipping and . . . and, well, I'm afraid we've been thinking about letting you go. Oh, I know, I know. You've been with the company a long time now. Almost . . . let me see. Almost ten thousand years! My word, doesn't time fly. It seems like only yesterday. . . .
I remember the day you commenced you employment, swinging down from the tree, fresh-faced and nervous. A bone clasped in your bristling fist. "Where do I start, sir?" You asked plaintively. I remember my exact words: "There's a pile of dinosaur eggs over there, youngster," I said, smiling all the while. "Get sucking."
Well, we've certainly come a long way since then, haven't we? And yes, yes, you're right. In all that time you haven't missed a day. Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Also, please don't think I've forgotten about your outstanding service record, or about all the invaluable contributions that you've made to the company. Fire, the wheel, agriculture . . . it's an impressive list, old-timer. A jolly impressive list.
But . . . well, to be frank, we've had our problems too. There's no getting away from it. Do you know what I think a lot of it stems from? I'll tell you . . . it's your basic unwillingness to get on with the company. You don't seem to want to face up to any real responsibility, or to be your own boss. Lord knows you've been offered plenty of opportunities. We've offered you promotion time and time again, and each time you've turned us down. "I couldn't handle the work, guv'nor," you wheedled. "I know my place."
To be frank, you're not trying are you? You see, you've been standing still far too long, and it's starting to show in your work. And, I might add, in your general standard of behaviour. The constant bickering on the factory floor has not escaped my attention. Nor the recent bouts of rowdiness in the staff canteen.
Then of course there's . . .Hmm. Well, I didn't really want to bring this up, but . . . well, I've been hearing some disturbing rumours about your personal life. No, never mind who, no names, no pack drills. I understand that you are unable to get along with your spouse. I hear that you argue. I am told that you shout. Violence has been mentioned. I am reliably informed that you always hurt the one you love, the one you shouldn't hurt at all.
And what about the children? It's always the children who suffer as you're well aware. Poor little mites. What are they to make of it? What are they to make of your bullying, your despair, your cowardice and all your fondly nurtured bigotries?
Really, it's not good enough, is it? And it's no good blaming the drop in work standards upon bad management, either; though to be sure the management is very bad. In fact, let us not mince words . . . the management is terrible! We've had a string of embezzlers, frauds, liars and lunatics making a string of catastrophic decisions. This is a plain fact.
But who elected them? It was you! You who appointed these people. You who gave them the power to make your decisions for you. While I'll admit that anyone can make a mistake once, to go on making the same lethal errors century after century seems to me nothing short of deliberate.
You have encouraged these malicious incompetents, who have made your working life a shambles. You have accepted without question their senseless orders. You have allowed them to fill your workspace with dangerous and unproven machines. You could have stopped them. All you had to say was "No."
You have no spine. You have no pride. You are no longer an asset to the company.
I will, however, be generous. You will be granted two years so show me some improvement in your work. If at the end of that time you are still unwilling to make a go of it . . . you're fired.
That will be all. You may return to your labours. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.
- Alan Moore, V for Vendetta
What is it about Martin Amis?
This week's "Story of the Novel" featured literary critics singing the praises of Amis. Last week, the BBC's news pages had an interview with Zadie Smith, whose writing I used to enjoy. Now, she has forever tainted my expectations with her comments.
"I like Martin Amis very much, and White Teeth owes a huge debt to London Fields in every direction. It was the first time I had read about a London since Forster where he got absolutely right the random connections that are made in London."
"You have this bloke, Keith, who is the main character of London Fields. Keith is quite low down the ladder in London, but Keith, in the course of a day, will meet the very posh Nicola Six and her kind."
"He will go all the way down the bottom to pubs where all men do is throw darts at a board day in, day out."
"Martin understood about the movement in London - the natural passage from one place to another. You can very quickly go very high and very low in the same week and I think it makes London kids very streetwise and very society-wise."
Frankly, I found myself wondering, what is this woman raving on about?
London Fields is an abomination of a novel, guilty of being self-indulgent, cliched and full of the most incredibly sloppy plotting. It veers drastically between being well-written and readable to sloppy and obscure, often within the space of a couple of pages. It's a self-conscious crime perpetrated against the reader. And yet people - respectable figures in the business - rate it.
The question that this raises is the age old question of the 'novel'. What value is a novel with substantial ideas if it completely fails to communicate those ideas in a cohesive manner? Can it really be said to succeed if nobody can read beyond fifty pages without ripping the book apart and running naked through the streets? If you alienate your reader are you an artist or simply a cultural vandal?
Of course, by my personal definition of art, Amis' work is art. Of course, my definition of art includes Marcus Harvey's 'Myra', so I suspect that says a lot.
It was almost a surprise.
I only read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix because I wanted to find out for myself who died. I carefully avoided all of the spoilers, and formulated my own theories. I read two spoilers - quite by accident - but one of these was a hoax, so they contradicted themselves and cancelled each other out.
I even had a moment of annoyance on Friday, when Mr Twinky and my Mum discussed who died over dinner. Bold as brass. Was I upset? Yes. But I did, for a moment, think they might be winding me up.
So, as I approached the page when I knew the death would occur, I was prepared for it. But I was also prepared to be wrong. And I wasn't. And it wasn't well written, which is quite a change for Rowling. But obviously, she was really upset when she wrote it.
I, on the other hand, wasn't really bothered that much.
I have a horrible, horrible confession to make.
I wasn't going to buy Harry Potter and the Three Year Marketing Campaign. Not yet, anyway. I was going to wait until it was out in paperback and ready to take its place alongside the rest of them. Neat row on the shelf, that was the idea.
But the hype ruined that.
The hype was quiet, firm, and insidious. This is what the hype said.
Somebody dies in this book. We don't want to ruin the surprise, and we will go to any lengths to avoid ruining the surprise.
All of which sounds fine. Except that's not what it's really saying. What it's really saying is:
Somebody dies in this book. You want to know who dies, and we're not going to tell you. But you really want to read it in the book rather than hear it in idle gossip. So buy the book really quickly and lock yourself away with it.
I've read ten chapters so far.
Interesting article in The Times that basically says 'Don't Write a Novel just for the Money'.
I still have completion anxiety. I've never finished writing anything in my life.
By far my best unfinished novel was 'Different People', which I must have spent about 40 hours actually writing, a lot more time thinking about, and it stood at about six chapters in that time. It's actually some of my best writing, being based on stuff I knew. Best buried, though, it pains me to say.
Partly because I've stolen the unwritten ending to the unstarted sequel, and shoehorned it in to 'Reek'. Reek stands at around 60,000 words, and I swear that I will finish it. But the fact is, I think back to the beginning, and I know that it's going to need a huge rewrite.
Then there's the novella. The one that's on line, that I'm writing actively at the moment. It'll be finished in three weeks, and then I'll write about it more.
Then there's 'Butterfly People'. Whatever happened to that? I think I decided that it was hackneyed. Still, I'm reading M John Harrison to get me in the mood to write it again.
Briefly, there was 'A Clockwork Orange'. More of a trial than pleasure. Still has some of the favourite sections of anything I've ever written, though.
- Back where I come from, we used to live in a society where women were treated as second class citizens. They still are to some extent, but it's changing. Men are starting to realise that there's no real difference between men and women in many ways, certainly nothing that would stop a woman from running a guild, or serving in the armed forces. But it took a lot to make it change. It took some women defying the natural order of things, the way that things had been run for centuries. Sometimes standing up and saying 'this is wrong' can be the hardest thing to do. But if you believe in what you're doing, and you know you're right, you have to do it.
- Even if you're afraid.
- Especially if you're afraid. And the thing is, the scariest thing, is that you will probably fail. You'll probably make no difference at all. But you'll show that you can stand up for what's right. You may not make a difference yourself, but if you show one other person that it's possible to make a difference, then you've won. Maybe not a big victory, but a victory.
Keith Talent was a bad guy. Keith Talent was a very bad guy. You might even say that he was the worst guy. But not the worst, not the very worst ever. There were worse guys.
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
I read London Fields because a whole load of my friends are reading it. As a challenge, or a bet, or something. And then we're going to discuss it.
Even as I'm writing this, Mr Twinky is sitting next door with a mug of tea and a copy of this book.
So, rather than give away the plot too much, I'll start by giving some other people's comments from amazon.com first.
It's not as bad as those comments would suggest. The first forty pages are pretty much unreadable unengaging tosh, true. After about page 100, though, it really does get a lot better.
100 pages into a book, you should be emotionally involved with the characters to some extent. I wasn't. I didn't really care one way or another about them. But I hated Amis. Which, I guess, is a valid response. It's a shame, though, because the rest of the book gets a lot better.
Until the last ten pages or so, which are mashed together on a low budget, and kept in place with string. There's a huge build up, and the book doesn't deliver. But I did find myself going back and reading the beginning again.
Personally, I blame the editor. Amis proves himself easily a competent writer, and just as deserving of plaudits as, say, Terry Pratchett. It might be easy to miss the fact that the first chunk of the novel is distressingly bad tat if you've read it twice because - and this is the scary thing - it does get better on a second reading. And I did read it twice.
So - a curate's egg. Good in places. Made me laugh out loud. Made me want to throw the book against a wall. I didn't run naked through the streets of Dublin yelling about my wasted hours spent reading it, but then I suspect that's just as well.
I found my treasured copy of 'Kill Your Boyfriend'.
It was just there in a pile, with some of the comics that I'm intending to keep - not to be confused with the huge stacks that I'm intending to sell. Someday. And I'd completely forgotten that I had it.
Years ago, back in 95, I'd guess, this comic was like gold dust. It was anarchic. It was ground breaking. It was pushing forward the boundaries of the medium. All that sort of stuff. And if you were any sort of comic fan you had to buy a copy. Maybe even two. Because within ten years this comic would be worth more than gold, more than princes.
According to recent sales on a well known internet auction site, that means that gold is worth around €3.70.
What can I say about Black Box beyond the bland statement that I didn't enjoy it at all? It didn't thrill me, it didn't excite me, it didn't really interest me, but I still felt the need to read it all the way through because it promised lots of exciting revelations that it carefully didn't deliver on.
I didn't have a problem with the writing, which was competent, and the subject matter kind of interested me.
Everyday we put our lives in the hands of someone else: airline pilots with a phobia of flying; psychiatrists in need of therapy and air hostesses trying to 'do the right thing'. So meet an apparently disparate group of people all connected to the tragic death of a stowaway in 1978. It's twenty-three years later, and despite their attempts to build new lives, the connections begin to emerge and, along with them, the truth. A truth held on blackbox recordings, answermachine tapes, sitcom outtakes, and court transcripts.
The problem was that by the time these connections began to emerge, I had already grown to know the characters and in almost every case not to care about them. If I don't care about them in 2001, why should I care about them in 1978?
In writing this novel, characters are secondary to plot, and plot is secondary to spectacle. The revelations don't lead to anything. The book reaches a climax, sure, but the revelations are irrelevant to that.
In most books you could cut some extraneous material and still leave the plot intact - and you'd still have a substantial sized book. Black Box would be a pamphlet. I could forgive this if the padding was interesting, but it's not. It's just padding.
After finishing "His Dark Materials", of which more later, I decided I fancied something a little weightier. The publication of Granta's list of toppest young british authors and the coincidence of finding it in a book store in an airport led me to Toby Litt's Deadkidsongs.
It's deceptively simple, yet structurally complex. A tale of four boys, who are members of a gang called simply Gang, sometime in the 1970s. It starts with falling out of trees, with rivalry between fathers, with almost drowning, and veers into darker territory from there.
Litt does some fascinating things with narrative, and with authorial voice in this book. For example, the first four chapters use 'we' a lot, but never 'I'. The novel is full of factual errors and deliberate inconsistencies, despite the stated intent of Gang to have one record of everything that happened. And the closure presents two possible versions of events - both compelling, and inconsistent, and flawed.
The book, however, was excellent.
Sunday night's television schedule was dominated by Craig Doyle, surely a candidate for "I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here 2" or "Z List Russian Roulette" presenting a show about the fifty places to visit before you die.
It was an odd mix of travelogue, chart show and grotesque voyeurism, with the visit of the bereaved widow to Machu Pichu being possibly the nadir of 2002 car crash television. This isn't to denigrate her emotion at all, by the way. Just pointing out that it jostled badly for focus with the Great Wall of China and Disney World.
Anyway, I digress.
The list was clearly a 'wish list'. It wasn't based on reality, it was based on places that people wanted to go. Places that they thought they ought to see. I guess I was surprised that Antarctica wasn't in the list. After all, I'd want to see it. Just because I have this thing about not being 100% certain that the place exists.
Still digressing, but getting closer to where I want to be.
After all, if it's a wish list, shouldn't it also include places that don't exist? Places that exist in the mind only? Fictional settings.
So, I present my top five list of imaginary places to see before you die. Or, should you so desire and it's permitted by your faith, afterwards.
5. Ankh-Morpork 4. The Dreaming 3. Rivendell 2. The Hundred Acre Wood 1. Narnia
I've been away for a couple of weeks, and while I've been away, this web page has been Ghostwritten. I'd like to thank the two people who have been keeping an eye on things here. It's always nice to pop into a remote internet cafe and find news on your own web site that's reached you faster than the newspapers have. Something classy about that - again, thank you.
Mainly, though, I have spent time relaxing and reading, and I have immersed myself in David Mitchell's debut novel, Ghostwritten. Very smooth, very accomplished. It's also the first book that I've read in ages that I've come away from reading, and I've not known whether or not I found it satisfying. Now don't get me wrong, I recommend the book wholeheartedly. It's damned well written, and very clever. But I had to re-read the last chapter a couple of times to decide whether or not I liked it.
So, straight back into questions, I'm afraid. Without giving away any plot details, has anyone else read this book and formed an opinion on it?
Dimitri Yemetz has written a book about a heroine who wears round spectacles, flies a magic musical instrument, has a mole on her nose and attends the Abracadabra school for young witches.
Possibly less blatant than the Chinese Harry Potter rip off from a few months ago, there is no denying that the marketing is designed to confuse.
However, this is just a distraction from the main issue. Which is more interesting? Russia's response to Harry Potter, or Russia's response to J K Rowling?
(NB: This is not today's question of the day).
Crossover Fiction is a term that's used for a different range of things. The internet is full of crossover fiction. Admittedly, this is mainly short stories where the cast of Murder She Wrote meet the cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for instance. Or where the members of N'Sync meet Gareth Gates, the writer of the story, and some poodles.
However, Bel Mooney's writing about fiction that crosses over generations. Books that are nominally aimed at children, but which adults will love too. They're in vogue at the moment.
At least, writing them is in vogue. Reading them has never really been out of fashion. These are the books that we read as children, but remember through to adulthood because they made a mark on us. It's suddenly in vogue to write the sort of book that Lewis Carroll wrote, that CS Lewis wrote, that Susan Cooper and Alan Garner and JK Rowling wrote.
The best of these will last. And it's interesting that they all have a strong fantasy element. There's been a fashion for writing children's books that address issues. Books set in inner cities, where deprived children nurse weeds into trees while coping with being the product of a broken home where the mother is a junkie and the father and his new boyfriend are trying to get custody. Very worthy, and very educational, and not at all escapist or enchanting.
By playing up the fantasy element, the setting becomes more flexible, and perhaps the book becomes more accessible. The main issues that are dealt with in children's books are timeless. By setting them in a fantasy context, the shelf life of the book is extended, and the relevance is widened.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. Similarly, it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a school teacher in possession of a copy of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, must be in want of a good slapping. After all, how is Austen relevant to the modern student, or even the modern world? It's a book presented to school children to scare them, to breed into them a fear of reading, of literature. Eat your peas, children, or Jane Austen will come and get you.
I dare say that things have changed since I was a young'un, though. I dare say that these days children aren't faced with a reading list, to be followed up by a series of comprehension exercises. After all, one should aim to intimidate students, rather than entice them. It's two hundred years old, for goodness' sake. Why do we need to read it?
We don't need to read it. We don't want to read it. We're not going to read it. Blah blah blah end of civilisation as we know it.
Jane Austen needs a little introduction. Teachers know her history - students don't. Students look at the book as a two hundred year old heap of words rather than a literary masterpiece. Faced with Austen, teenagers don't think 'oh great, a challenge', they think 'oh bugger this, I'm off down the pub.' They're not going to read the book, get sucked in, and become entranced by its charms. That's not how their brains are wired. In other words, they need context. And so, as a public service, here is the one paragraph guide to why Jane Austen is worth reading.
Jane Austen is a complete bitch. Under a veneer of politeness, she paints a world full of grotesques, and places at the centre a flawed character who you like because she is incredibly sarcastic. She writes about her time, naturally, but she's writing about the hell of families, and how awful parents are. It's writing about the nineteenth century - but it's not a historic document, it's a very thinly disguised piss-take. Remember that as you read it.
Harry Potter And Leopard Walk Up To Dragon is available now - but only in China.
Harry doesn't know how long it will take to wash the sticky cream cake off his face.
For a civilised young man it is disgusting to have dirt on any part of his body. He lies in the high-quality china bathtub, keeps wiping his face, and thinks about Dali's face, which is as fat as the bottom of Aunt Penny.
Today's cheery effort.
If I was a feral child
I'd like to live with goatses
Because they're warm and snuggly
And wear such lovely coatses.
We'd hang around in pastures
And feast on grass all day
We'd trot across the meadows -
A life so rich and gay.
We'd not watch television
We'd not eat mushy peas
Yes, that's my new ambition
Can I be goat-boy please?
Or maybe not.
Nemesis the Warlock was a great anti-hero, or at least so I thought when I was a teenager. He was an amoral alien with a human sidekick, who later turned against him, as you do, when you're a human sidekick to an amoral alien. Part of an incredibly convoluted web of stories (which the cynic in me believed was only so complex in an effort to sell more comics). Scarily, one of the comics published in about 1988 is an influence on my writing almost fifteen years later.
I guess that's because of the amoral alien in me.
Counting to None: In which time collapses, the universe is rewritten, and people have sex with ideas. There's a lot of leather and sex and death, anarchists fighting for good and basically all of your usual stuff that you expect from Grant Morrison. And as usual, it's all tweaked to the nth degree to keep you just off balance.
Maybe it's screwing with my mind, though, sitting through a consolidated dose of this. Maybe it will make me invisible too...
This fell out of my mind.
I was dreaming like a texan girl; Thursday afternoon and proud. I signed a name across the sky, then oh so softly spoke aloud. And this is what I said in truth, so plain and honest, sad yet sweet. "I wonder if her majesty can pick the toenails from her feet."
No sooner had I said these words than joy came dropping ever slow from people standing on the earth and yet above the earth below. The joy was rich and deepest red, and gave me warmth within my breast and I could not afford to think that I was better than your best.
And so whenever evening falls and songs slip softly from your hands and father time and sister moon transport me into other lands, I think upon the fateful day beneath the sky so rich and green, and ponder on what happened then, and still forget what might have been.
I used to write poems. I called them poems, although verse would probably be a better description; they rhymed and scanned and made vague sense if you knew what I was writing about.
Some of them were better than others. Some of them were very short. Most of them were hugely derivative. Basically, they were written quickly, often in bars as entertainment for my friends. I've not written anything along those lines for a while. I think it's due to a lack of subject matter.
Some of the people who read this weblog are bloody good writers. Except they don't write. They don't rate their work, or they don't have any inspiration, or they look inside themselves and find a void instead of words (you know who you are) or, god help the poor souls, they don't think that they have an audience.
I can help with some of that. I'll be your audience. I love to read the things you write - you know that - and I think that you're very good. I'll even put them up on my web site. Anonymously, if you prefer. I can help with ideas - I've got zillions trapped in my head and not enough time to write them all. You can do that. I know that you can.
Just let me know that you're willing to be involved. One or two of you will get bullied, but I expect some of you to need no encouragement at all.
Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.
For every published writer out there there are at least a dozen unpublished who could be. Sometimes they're easily better than the published guys - at least in terms of writing ability. But writing well and being published are a thousand miles apart, and a whole different mind set is involved.
For a kick off, to be a published novelist (or whatever) you have to be able to write a novel. That's a big book. Whole lotta words. More than you write in a web log entry. So you need to be confident you can sustain an idea for that long, that you can hold a reader for that long, and that you physically have the stamina to write it. Thinking 'oh, the story about how it took me twelve years to ask out the guy behind the counter at Gap would make a great novel' is an age away from writing the novel.
So you've got the text in front of you. Or you've got a significant portion of the text and you know you've got the oomph to finish it. Next stage is to convince yourself that it's worth publishing. Your friends tell you it is - but they're your friends, so you doubt them. You put it away for six weeks, re-read it, and you think it's still good - that's a bit better. But actually submitting it to an agent is scarier. Because they might say it's rubbish. You need to develop an arrogance about your work. And that's hard. The longer you leave it the harder it gets.
But you can't get too precious about it. Even if you get a publishing deal, an editor's going to get their hands on it. Someone else is going to be stroking your baby, playing with it. And even though the goal is to make it commercial, to make you more money, it's still someone interfering with your artistic integrity, damn it!
And then there are the critics to face.
There's a huge difference between writing for a small audience and getting something published. And that's why it takes a kick up the proverbial arse to do it. If you're not born with the arrogance to get away with it, you need to force yourself to do it.
I've come across a few on-line writers who I saw as potential novelists. One of them made a serious attempt, and realised that she didn't have the staying power to plot out a full novel. But at least she tried.
I just keep thinking about all the crap out there that people get paid for writing.
I'm leaving my running word count up, albeit moved to the bottom of the page. I need to "beat" myself to make myself finish this. It's just the way I am.
So, last week I was given a copy of The Creative Writing Coursebook, a book which I fully intend to read. The problem (and there always had to be one) is that I don't want to break the flow of my current writing project. I reckon that I hit the 25% mark this morning. That's 18,000 words between 9 October and now. If I keep up at this rate, I'll finish on April 22. That's a reasonable target.
I'm thinking of publishing an ongoing wordcount.
I am approaching the 25% mark in my latest, greatest, heap of words that may evolve into a novel. In the last few thousand words, the narrative has twisted in a way that was always intended, and yet feels forced to me. I'm torn between revising what I have written, and ploughing on regardless.
I'm currently e-mailing out 'chapters' as they are written to a select audience in an effort to avoid going back. I want to keep up my momentum, and get past the 25% 'barrier', on towards a more fluid narrative. But at the moment I'm bogged down in exposition.
This is the downfall of an improvised novel. That said, I'm progressing better with this than with any attempted novel of the last ten years. Part of that is not sitting down and analysing before I start. There is always a feeling that since what I produce will not be on a par with Peter Carey, there's no point in even starting. Here I am trying to write something complete, not necessarily something great. I think.
It's possibly a mistake to go from a book by Murakami to a book that namechecks him. number9dream
, David Mitchell's second novel is set in Tokyo, and was up for the Booker prize this year.
As might be expected from a book in such a position, it's pretty good. It's been accused of playing too many tricks with the reader - and while it does play some literary games, they're rarely overdone. My only concern at this stage (and I'm about 60% of the way through the book, in a single sitting) is that it's not worth the hype. I'm prepared to be proven wrong, but so far, it's not saying anything much to me beyond the narrative, and the hero is proving to be annoyingly naive. Although the writer lives and works in Japan, it still feels in places like someone has given him a checklist of Japanese cultural touchstones to throw in at appropriate moments. But a damn good read nonetheless.
Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World was my introduction to Murakami, really. After a few false starts, including leaving my first copy in a hotel in Manila, I finally finished this on one of my long flights this week.
Part of me really wants to worship this book - but the fact is I can only say I thought it was really good. I love the description, the build-up of emotion, the descriptions of food and of sensation. I thought that the parallels between the two strands of interweaved plot worked very well. There is a jaded part of me, however, that finds the whole book to be slightly cliched. Maybe that's because I'm reading it with the huge amount of baggage that comes from having read William Gibson and Iain Banks extensively. A shame on me, I know. I still recommend the book.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Loved it loved it loved it.
From this book I learned that cheaters sometimes prosper and that magic is an acceptable way to carry out cosmetic surgery. As usual, Rowling pushes all the right buttons - a well paced story, a suitably gory twist at the end, plenty of red herrings and yet everything tying up into a very neat and satisfying package.
The ending is more downbeat than earlier books - and rightly so, given the events in progress - and clearly shows that this is an ongoing story that is going somewhere, rather than just a series of books with a similar setting. Excellent.
It's incredible... the pleasure that can be discovered in re-reading old writing, and finding that you like it, and that you think it's actually pretty good. It's a shot in the arm, as well as a kick up the arse to make you write more. As a result, I present a few choice extracts of my own that remind me of this fact.
On the outskirts of Las Vegas, there's a dirt track that leads off the main highway. It's not a remarkable road, nothing that you would even look twice at. There's a simple sign that points the way to Clearwater View, but aside from the fact that it's in the middle of a desert, there's nothing you'd notice about it at all.
A couple of miles down the track there's a store. A gift store. It sells souvenirs - postcards, mainly, and little snow globes showing a fictional winter over the fictional skyline of Vegas. Everyone stops at the gift store, and most people turn back there. There's nothing to see at Clearwater View, they're told. So you might as well go home.
Just after the gift store, the track heads into the hills, and becomes harder going. You pretty much need a four wheel drive to get that far, and you'll probably find yourself wishing you'd taken their advice back at the gift store and headed back to the bright lights of the big city.
But if you press on further, you'd find that the road enters a tunnel. Interesting, you might think. It looks like an old mine, although you didn't know there were any mines here. You start to wonder why they were so keen for you to turn back, back at the store, and you think that there's something a little odd going on here.
About a hundred yards in to the tunnel there's a gate, with a dilapidated sign saying that it's dangerous to proceed further. You pull up, wondering what to do now. You've got pretty much no option but to reverse back out of the tunnel and head back to Vegas.
But you're curious. You get out of the car and get the flashlight from the trunk. You decide to have a closer look at the gate, see if you can make out what's beyond it. Something isn't quite stacking up here, you think.
And it's round about this point that you feel something poking into your back, something that your instinct tells you is probably a gun. Since you're shot in the back fairly quickly after that, you don't have time to register that nobody asked you who you were, they just took matters into their own hands. And then you die.
Except that's not where it ends.
It ends hours later with a sudden awareness, a pain where your eyes used to be, and something in your mind. Something that is so alien that you can't understand it, can't react to it, and you drown in it.
More later, I think.
I had an achievement today. I'm sure I did. I meant to write about it. And then I forgot what it was. It may well have had something to do with finishing writing "A Clockwork Orange". And that's not strictly true. However, I did finish the first draft of chapter 15, which is the last part of it that I am going to write. After this it's up to Gregg to do a couple of minor tweaks and then we can all relax.
Lanark sat on a shelf.
Big, chunky hardback. Off-putting in its size, but enticing and attractive. I never read it, back in those few months in Falkirk. I looked at it though, saw it as a precious thing.
Years later, I read Something Leather, and felt decidedly guilty doing so, but enjoyed it thoroughly.
The book now sits on my coffee table. It's enticing me again. And the first three pages are excellent.
Don't mind the bollocks.
In the spirit of the Dogme manifesto, All Hail The New Puritans begins with a ten point plan. Somewhat like Alcoholics Anonymous, authors have been made to sign up to ten rules by which to write, designed to drive the focus of writing away from gimmicks and back towards story telling. One suspects that most of them would have done this anyway, though.
What results is a uniform collection of stories, almost all of which have a consistent feel. There are some nice stories in here, and I wish I had written - well, all of them really.
Headspace. Is this page my headspace? No. It's no more an indication of what is going on in my mind than what you read in a newspaper is an indication of what is going on in the world. It's just a facet, just an illusion, another persona that I choose to present.
If I can't tell the truth then make it a wonderful lie? Perhaps. There is merit in this idea. I've toyed with it. I have considered redefining my life through daily fiction, building a web of lies. But my life is like that anyway - all lives are. So what I choose to place on this page is here because I have chosen to put it here. And what others choose to use theirs for is their own choice.
Not the Kubrick movie or the Burgess novel. A 'short story' that Rich P started a while ago - maybe 15 months - and I've picked up with Gregg. Rapidly becoming the bane of my existence.
It's turned into a huge, sprawling thing, a monster that will run to over 50,000 words when it's finished. This is a daunting prospect. It's probably longer than the Burgess novel. But - and this is the good point to this - it's actually pretty good. In places. I've done some strong writing in this, some stuff that I'm really proud of. It's almost a shame that it's sandwiched into a science fiction plot.
Things that I've written recently that I'm proud of are few, although the sudden, shocking death of Kirena Morok, and the immediate reaction to it is one of them. The other that springs to mind was a piece I wrote last night, in a chapter entitled 'Seven Hours with Peggy Sue Holmgren'. The character I was writing about was an American Cop in 1963, a bigot in almost every way possible, but one who doesn't realise it. I'm trying to make him sypathetic as he rails against fags and niggers, and I find it physically hard to even type the words. But that's part of writing.
On my short stories, I seem to be falling in to a style, a style that is very much like All Hail the New Puritans in many ways. I don't know if I should be worried about my lack of originality.
I now have ten story ideas for my pretend short story collection. They'll be five to ten thousand words each, meaning that I reckon I need fifteen plus. That's not bad going, really. I know that I need to write more, but never mind. And the good thing is that none of these stories have anything to do with Doctor Who. Mind you, most of them deal with sex and sexuality. And power. Which is possibly worrying.
It was a vile, cold winter, and not like the warm balmy Brisbane winters that she remembered with warm affection from her childhood, thought Tegan, as she stood at the top of the hill, holding her shawl tight around her, and watching the infinite ranks of the Sontaran armies stretching out to the horizon on the ruined plains before her, cast into eerie shadow by the fervid orange light from the setting suns of Gnusmas.
And she had a vile, cold winter in her heart too. As vile as the bus that stood a few feet away. The Doctor and Turlough were busily trying to paint it black, but part of it remained multicoloured - the way Adric had left it.
A couple of hares scurried out of the back of the bus, and scampered down the hill, where the Sontarans shot them.
"Rabbits," she said.
I found one of my favourite poems online today. Well, I've only read the first four lines of it before, but I believe it to be a classic, formative experience that warped me for life. It's called The Diplomatic Platypus.
I had a duck-billed platypus when I was up at Trinity,
With whom I soon discovered a remarkable affinity.
He used to live in lodgings with myself and Arthur Purvis,
And we all went up together for the Diplomatic Service.
Possibly, this explains a lot.
The problem with reading Jeff Noon is that once you've started you can't stop. His writing, and his subjects look like tricky ones to get a handle on, but Noon's writing is so lyrical and seductive that before you know what you're doing you're 150 pages in and you don't know when you're going to have a chance to stop for food again. Pixel Juice reminds me of Will Self meeting William Gibson and William Burroughs, with the sort of short stories that I love, the sort that intertwine and blur and never quite meet except at imaginary angles.
"Basically, I was trying to import William Gibson into Manchester. You can see the joins."
O you whom i often and silently come where you are that i may be with you,
As i walk by your side or sit near, or remain in the same room with you,
Little you know the subtle electric fire that for your sake is playing within me.