Friday, 4 April 2014

Writers, Right Now

A writer decides to get arrested so he can finish his novel in peace. A writer rigs an electrical charge to his keyboard that sends a shock to his fingertips whenever he uses a cliché. A writer completes a tragicomic novel about Cinderella’s elephantiasis. A writer listens to the music of Camera Obscura while writing about fictional writers. A writer writes his first sentence in four years and scrubs it out immediately. A writer stares out the window at people laughing on the street and momentarily forgets what she was writing about. A writer dictates to his secretary in his loud Yorkshire accent his latest adventure tale featuring Bob the Big Bad Bonsai-Pruner. A writer says something amusing in public no one picks up on. A writer who spent an afternoon reworking a paragraph deletes the paragraph and starts again. A writer wonders whether his unpublished manuscripts have any artistic value whatsoever, or if he has spent the last decade typing up drivel. A writer eats a mouldy sandwich and contemplates giving up (life). A writer sends a story to an online periodical and feels no satisfaction. A writer finishes the last sentence in her third novel and accidentally wipes the file from her computer. A writer wonders if he will ever have an original thought. A writer realises she is not going to make a living from writing and quits (life). A writer laughs at her own writing and wishes she had someone with whom to share it. A writer calls the police because burglars have stolen his computer containing all his completed works. A writer leaves his USB stick containing the one copy of his novel on the train. A writer feels ill-at-ease in herself and her surroundings and wishes she could write about it. A writer writes in a populist style that does not accentuate his strengths. A writer decides to cut out reading to focus on writing. A writer wishes she was anything other than a writer. A writer shares his work with a friend who tells him the writing is hackneyed. A writer is told by her mentor that she has no talent. A writer sells his manuscript to a big publisher and feels pleased with himself. A writer is killed in a car crash before announcing to his family he has completed his debut novel. A writer publishes the manuscript of a dead friend under his own name and pockets the royalties. A writer pretends to have read a popular book so he can participate in the discussion with influential people. A writer pretends to have read an obscure author so he can appear well-read among complete strangers. A writer feels insane with envy at her friend’s success and thinks up ways to sever the friendship. A writer thinks back to a time when she was happy, and wonders why she wrote less then. A writer thinks back to a time when he was happy, and wonders why he wrote more then. A writer writes something he knows no one will want to read and flips off his invisible non-audience. A writer writes hackwork and hates herself. A writer completes a poem about the time he cried at something. A writer misses a train and loses an opportunity that won’t return for the rest of his life. A writer is pleased with her work until she reads it out loud. A writer offers feedback to a struggling writer despite his own writing being incompetent. A writer chooses not to publish and meets the ire of his friends and family. A writer moves to Paris. A writer eats a baguette in Staines.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Failure of the Small Presses

When I first started writing for publication I favoured the small plucky presses manned by a team of enthusiastic oddballs over the (Royal)-We-are-Overworked-and-Too-Popular-For-You intimidation of larger presses. It made sense to start with the underdogs and move towards venues with larger readerships, as I wanted to have stories published without the wait and slog of resending to motivate me as a writer. As I acquired a decent roster of small plucky press credits, the time came for me to try my work in more popular magazines, and the frustration of having to wait a long time to be turned down was less prominent—I was able to let stories vanish into inboxes and work on novels without the need to be validated by frequent publication. Over that period, I noticed the wait for responses became longer, and the likelihood of no peep of a response became stronger—even among small presses.

I have an innate craving for the underdog. I love the rabid underdoggery of small presses. I prefer reading esoteric literature ignored by the masses. I find difficulty in books more stimulating than flowable prose and conventions. My own writing refuses to make itself accessible or find a snug niche to help publishers sell. If the large presses represent a willingness to adapt one’s writing for a mass audience, to be understood by thousands, the small presses are meant to represent the tendency in literature to be cryptic, stubborn, unpigeonholable. I have an ideal view that the small press world should be one integrated community, where underdogs bark and bray to publish innovative, daring and original literature, and to be “accessible” in a way that large presses are “stubborn” when it comes to communicating with authors.

Alas, doggie’s lost his bone. There is a distinct failure among small presses (I am leaning more towards those that publish novels over short fiction here) to offer an alternative to the large-press wall-of-silence that comes when a manuscript is posted into oblivion. Small presses manned by a staff of two, in full-time employ, with full-time families, cannot possibly offer feedback to writers who submit manuscripts, and one has to wonder—why are these people running presses, if they aren’t kicking against the frustrations that tussling with large presses bring? Why do small press owners never seek to prioritise offering (brief) feedback to manuscripts or to speak to authors about improvements? If small presses can’t take the time to fart out a small paragraph of encouragement or advice to authors, can they ever expect to receive work of the standard they desire?

The problem is, small presses, like large ones, want masterpieces in their inboxes ready to publish with a minimum of editing (although large presses do have editors and want to work with authors to improve manuscripts). They aren’t willing to waste their skill as editors or teachers on work that has definite promise, or could become a masterpiece—why waste time when a masterpiece may turn up on their doorstep from one of the thousand or so MA programs?—and even if a masterpiece shows up, there’s nothing they can do if it won’t sell. The small press is even more helpless in the marketplace, and innovation is the first thing to die when it comes to finding a selling hook—money being the natural slaughterer of all things beautiful. These things aside, I still feel the small presses have an obligation to communicate more with authors. If the supposed guerilla DIY presses are simply as silent and unwelcoming of manuscripts as the big presses—the author continues to be the one getting stiffed.

One press I submitted to boasted “we are the future of publishing.” After sending my manuscript for consideration, I received no confirmation response, and over four months has passed without a reply. Some future.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

54 Marriages in One Year! – The Foolproof Guide to Dating Without Dating, Sex Without Sex, and Marriage Without Marriage

Guest post by Dr. Chad Fortnight

Are you like me in that you simply don’t have time to follow through on long-term relationships due to a pell-mell non-stop no-time-to-breathe whirlwind helter-skelter schedule of 24-hour stuff that never seems to end? Do you regret the hours spent wasted in bars chatting to interesting and attractive people who it would take an absolute age to become closer to on date after date after date after time-eating date? Are you cynical about the prospect of keeping one partner for life, knowing full well the limited lifespan most marriages have in the modern world and the complications with kids that can cause? You need the ‘potential’ dating plan. A foolproof system that allows you to experience lifelong relationships over seven days, through a simple process of honing mind over matter.

Step 1. Choose a man or woman who appeals to you, and ask them out on a date. (If they refuse, you can attempt the following steps by merely observing the person from afar, but for now, it is advisable to start with a mutually agreed date). One the date has been scheduled, make a list of the aspects of their appearance that both appeal to and annoy you, and a provisional list of the traits that frustrate and delight you.

Step 2. Go on the date. Make sure the date is person-centred, not an activity. A quiet drink a restaurant or bar is fine. Ask the person about their past relationships, their family, their current occupation, their dreams, hopes, goals, and opinions on as many topics as possible. Make mental notes. (Taking actual notes is not advised, as it might ruin the prospect of the essential second date). Be sure to come across as interested in the person and make an effort conversationally yourself, to secure the second date.

Step 3. During the gap between dates, write down all the facts about this person and begin constructing scenarios that might arise in a long-term relationship—the fun activities together, sources of argument, incompatibilities, shared pleasures. Lie back on your bed and imagine as many of these scenarios as possible. To conduct a full ‘potential’ relationship, take each of these scenarios (or character traits) to an endpoint where the relationship will terminate. Squeeze as much pleasure as possible from the traits that appeal to you and take them towards the realm of frustration and departure. Here is an example:

a. Both like tennis. Scene: on tennis court where you banter and smile and laugh and have healthy fun. You don’t mind his or her competitive nature, until later he or she becomes determined to win and is less kind to you about your flaws. Arguments about balls being ‘in’ or ‘out’ spring up until the tennis stops completely.

b. Dislike of housework. Scene: when you are both married and have children and you are forced into doing more of the dishes and housework due to his or her domineering nature, and laziness in matters of domesticity. You may then decide to break up on the basis of this inequality and arrange visiting rights for the child.

c. Fondness for musicals. Scene: you indulge your partner’s fondness for this entertainment until it becomes clear they are completely shut off to other musical forms, and other forms of entertainment like books or cinema, and what you thought was a harmless trait has become an intolerable narrowness they refused to change.

Step 4. Second date. At this point, all the traits you dislike about the person should be amplified enough for this date to be the last—and good riddance. If you find you discover new traits of the person during the date that appeal to you, try to devise quick scenarios where these traits may cause frustration and unhappiness using the practice you have put in over the week. Remember to remain aloof on the date so the person doesn’t like you.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Sorry, Claire

Claire Turnbull is an ex-girlfriend whose life I ruined. We dated for a spell (relax—no sex) at university, she reading the Classics, me bog-standard Scottish Literature. One afternoon as we were discussing the anti-epic properties of Ovid’s epic The Metamorphoses over two fruit smoothies in a popular national chain she blurted out that she had written a novel that she wanted me to read. I was surprised because I had assumed Claire was from a bourgeois Devonshire background and therefore untalented. She produced a novel entitled The Corruption of the Enfeebled Elf-Children and told me I had a month to read before she wanted the manuscript back to send to Canongate, who at the time were a brave publisher of innovative new fiction. I read the novel to page twelve before concluding it had no artistic merit whatsoever and that Claire should stop writing or at least attend classes on how to produce a coherent cliché-free sentence. I was too scared to tell her that truth and so ignored her texts and emails for a week until she tracked me down in my flat. I told her that the manuscript was appalling and that it had little merit and she would need to sweat like a sun-stricken sow to stir up something semi-fine. She broke down and ran away, I was too tired to chase her. Later she texted me to wish me a swift and painful death and that I had ruined her life for the rest of her life (redundancy sic).

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Blogging the Done

My latest pizza longish writing The House of Writers has been completed after up to five months of larks and slog. Originally conceived as a book-length comedic novel with unapologetic OTT humour and satirical touches, the idea fell flat as I hit the seventh chapter. In a stroke of desperate drunk-thinking I rearranged the existing material into the form of a corporate recruitment prospectus and trimmed half the fat. It feels exhilarating to take the shears to over 25,000 words of a novel but at the same time, like a machete being driven into my bowels. Contrasting emotions. Perhaps this is a final warning. If I ever attempt to write commercial fiction again the souls of the Great Unread will rise to smother me in the sack where I slumber. Back to exploring forms and structures. Back to forms as generators of content. Back to miscellaneous collages fragments interlinked digressive constraint-based whatnots. Back to doomed attempts at originality in an age where straight character-driven narrative is king and so-called exploratory literature (of which I am a slight practitioner) is binned. Onwards.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Recentish Pubs

This year has been a barren barrel for my short fiction due to various changes in my attitude to short fiction—i.e. a complete lack of interest and a slavish devotion to longer-form pieces, known as novellas and novels. Earlier this year, I was included in New Writing Scotland 31, an annual annual of Scots writing and a step forward for me in terms of being published in more well-known (and local) anthologies and not esoteric lit mags. The piece printed was the last in a series of four ‘disquisitions,’ titled ‘A Disquisition on Inadequacy Among the Salaried Classes’ and is purchasable at the above link. I also forgot about a little pub from last year, ‘The Third Person,’ pubbed in Ink Monkey Magazine 5, which is an all right little comedic fou, but the stage play version last year rocked. Another story, ‘A Florescence of Gerhards’ was published in Bellow Literary Journal 2.1. All available at those links from the Devil’s Bum.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Me Currant Projeckt

My current writing project is called The House of Writers, a novel set in a likely future where literature is as welcome as sheep droppings in a cup of Horlicks. Forced to work for the expanding ScotCall empire, most writers have packed it in for safe desk jobs answering queries about anything and everything for a population of ill-educated bozos, while only a handful remain in a raggedy office block on the outskirts of a small rural province where Scotland’s writers turn out work for a narrow audience of unhinged freaks who still like to read. The protagonist, Cal, is an idealistic and ambitious youngster who believes he can make a name for himself in the House, while his family are assimilated into the ScotCall encroach.

Each chapter finds Cal moving up the nine floors of the building—from High Quality Literary Fiction all the way up to Bestsellers up top, each populated by various eccentrics whose works have been warped and exaggerated at the whims of their paymasters. The experimental writers lurk in the basement, breaking out occasionally to cause mischief on the higher floors, steal food, and plan ways to strangle ScotCall with their own phone lines. As Cal advances, ScotCall steals office space with the assistance of his poisonous sister Kirsty, who delights in the systematic destruction of all pointless scribblers.

The House of Writers is an anarchic comedy, with no pretensions to subtlety or mainstream acceptance. The idea is to indulge in wordplay, bouncy and playful language with a funky rhythm, and sheer stylistic exuberance as a celebration of what is brilliant about literature and the reading of, and why books should take precedence over everything else, especially food and procreation. I also want to posit an alternative to the book-burning visions of Bradbury et al and suggest literature will always exist, but will simply get marginalised into obsolescence, or buried under a mound of trash, and people’s standards will sink so low, Everyman’s Dan Brown editions will be released by 2070.

This is a sketch of the novel. So far the surreal comedy is leading me into other areas of (unwelcome?) strangeness. By imposing a structure on the book, hopefully my “freewheeling” tendencies with regard to plot and character won’t lead to the sort of tedium that awaited readers of my last comedy, A Postmodern Belch. We shall see. And once again, methinks I am writing essentially for niches too small to be niches, but so be it. Long live my beloved niches.