Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Introducing B.V. Olvomov

You get home from a hard day’s work to discover your husband perched atop a CD eating a coconut: B.V. Olvomov.

You’re standing in a brothel, mesmerised by a fat-necked peasant boy gyrating in defiance of the wind: B.V. Olvomov.

You can’t fathom why doctors steal your wallet, so you consult a lawyer who promptly calls you a ninnygoat: B.V. Olvomov.

The Bard of Porkhov is here. Here he comes, armed with his sodium-savaged Quill of the Banjax. Clear the path, Mrs Hollyhox!

He makes his debut here, in Issue 10 of the UK poetry and short story magazine The Delinquent.

B.V. wants to pronounce you. Let him.

Monday, 28 December 2009

It’s Not Me… It’s Me

Last night, after athletic sexual intercourse with a Latino shepherd (I call him Tiddles, though his patronymic is Juández), I went to sleep. Usually, my well-chiselled and shapely reader, I drift into a contented slumber wherein Karen O performs benchpresses upon each cabinet in the flat, then satisfies every sexual whim nestling in the hinterland of my anima.

However, last night was devoid of such mirth. I began to think about the doppelgänger, a German word meaning a person who looks like you but isn’t you. I thought about other people out there who look like me, think like me, act like me, write like me-he-he, who might even – perish the though – be me-hee-hee! Oh, me-hee-hee! They wanna be like me-hee-hee!

What if in another multiverse, dear horny evangelical reader, a second M.J. Nicholls was out there, sitting in a poorly heated Edinburgh flat, drinking cheap supermarket cola, writing the exact same thing as this M.J. Nicholls in a blog produced in a parallel dimension?

Now, before we hypothesise, I should state my own position on the mysteries of cosmological infinity. I have recently become a member of R. Gon Buggard’s Religiontolgy. We believe that Hollywood actresses created the universe through the sheer power of their performances in heart-warming dramas about families in wartime. So Cameron Diaz is to us as much of a God, as say, God.

This being the case, we eschew all notions of the multiverse, although we do sort of agree with Hugh Everett’s many worlds interpretation: that a level III multiverse does not contain more possibilities in the Hubble volume than a level I-II multiverse. And that, in effect, all the different worlds created by “splits” in a level III multiverse with the same physical constants can be found in some Hubble volume in a level I multiverse. That’s just obvious.

But this waking dream of a second me, mimicking me, re-mimicking me, then mimicking me again, and then doing the same stuff as me, would not leave me! Do you feel sorry for me? And do you? And you? And you? In fact, when I woke up later that morning, I asked the second me what he thought about this paranoia:

“What do you reckon?” I asked me.
“Why don’t you ask yourself?” me asked me.
“Good idea.”
“What do you reckon?” I asked me.
“Why don’t you ask yourself?” me asked me.
“Good idea.”
“What do you reckon?” I asked me.
“Why don’t you ask yourself?” me asked me.
“Good idea.”
“What do you reckon?” I asked me.
“Why don’t you ask yourself?” me asked me.
“Good idea.”

[ad infinitum]

Thursday, 24 December 2009

In Conversation With Stephen King

Exclusive (short) interview taken from the Dec 2009 edition of The Literary Pancake.

Me: Hi, Stephen. Thank you for agreeing to do this interview.

Steve: Uh huh.

Me: So, let’s begin by discussing the new book, The Possessed Fishmonger With Cystitis. Your 3,483rd book, I believe?

Steve: No.

Me: OK, well… would you like to tell us a little about the plot?

Steve: It’s about a man who wakes up to discover he’s a fishmonger, and then wakes up again to discover he’s possessed by the spirit of Linda Blair, and then wakes up again to discover he has cystitis.

Me: Fascinating. Where do your ideas come from?

Steve: [giggles] Well, I… can’t say, I… oh, I’ve gone all shy now!

Me: No, I wasn’t complimenting you, I was actually asking. Where do your ideas come from?

Steve: Oh, all right. I buy them from a fleet of Mexican sailors and Tijuanan hookers. Very acceptable rates, and I’m a multi-billionaire, so there’s never a drought of inspiration in my wallet.

Wow. I want to talk about Hollywood adaptations of your books. How did you first get involved in movies?

Steve: People read my books and made them into movies. I’ve never had any input in the process. In fact, I wish they’d ask my permission next time they make another movie. I don’t see a penny of that money they make. And they’re all having great big parties behind my back, saying ‘That Steven, oh, he’s such a sap!’ And they laugh, Mark. They bloody laugh.

Me: OK. Um… let’s talk about your writing routine. How often do you write?

I’m always writing. I never stop. In fact, I’m writing now. I’m writing my eight millionth novel with my left foot, and my eight million-and-first with my right. I’m also writing an article for Time in my pancreas. To become a successful writer, you have to be able to write in your sleep, to write during sex, to write when piloting a Boeing 737 across the Atlantic. Otherwise, kid… you ain’t gonna make it.

Me: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Steve: Lose the quiff, Jack.

Me: How do you get over the hump and write that first book?

Steve: Start with the first word. Then – and here’s a rare trade secret – write the 89th word. Somehow the novel begins to write itself. Honestly, it’s dynamite. Look at Salman Rushdie.

Me: What does that mean?

Steve: Kid, I ain’t got time for that.

Me: Sorry, Stephen. Tell me, how do you get into characters when you start writing them?

Steve: I usually go to the bedroom and imagine the character screwing. You can tell a lot about someone when they’re screwing. I usually hire a prostitute to get into the role – if the protagonist is a woman, I imagine myself screwing her, and vice versa with the man – I’m the protag being diddled. It’s been really effective, especially in writing Carrie. I hired a child hooker for that.

Me: Really?

Steve: Well, she was twelve. Not really a child, more a woman-in-waiting. It’s OK, though – I’ve arranged marriages with girls in the womb. Two kicks in the ultrascan means ‘I do.’

Me: Um… could we move away from that and talk about your literary influences? What authors have inspired you?

Steve: I've only read the one book. Dr. Jang Vulpine’s Unbearable Lightness in the Body of Healing. It’s a book about how all people need to become fully content in themselves, and to achieve a total understanding of the universe, is to become a multi-trillionaire bestselling author named Stephen King.

Me: What is your favourite food?

Steve: Yellow meat.

Me: What is your favourite colour?


Me: What is your favourite film?

Steve: I like films about women who want to become fish, who then become fish, who then decide it’s a drag being a fish.

Me: Steven, thank you.

Steve: Uh huh.

And… especially for Steven, a short fishy film:

Monday, 21 December 2009

Male Bloggers are Useless Arsechimps

Before I begin, let me exonerate Mr. Christopher Allen, Mr. Derek Osborne and Mr. Mike Stevens. I like these people, despite their constant moaning about varicose veins and acne pimples. I also recommend their delicious blogs and ask that thee comments on their wisdom.

Now. To the matter in hand. I like blogging and bloggers and the image of unsexed unwashed anti-cool we saddle on our shoulders like a shawl made from spices, herbs and nectar.

However, while writing a detailed scientific study of male blogging habits, I have come to this conclusion: male bloggers are emotional cripples in love with their own voices who want mommies to pamper their talcum bums and tell them that thing they wrote about Gordon Brown being a goat, was GENIUS.

I say: no thanks, mates. I dislike the male blogger and until I can enter into a dialogue with one of these apes, I will keep this disgust in my heart like a salamander slithering into its cot and quaffing mucho fishies.

In other news…

I have seasonal writer’s block. I can’t sit still to get the next chapter of my WiP completed. I have seasonal ants in my seasonal pants. Yesterday, I finished reading Nicola Barker’s Small Holdings: a bizarre novella about interpersonal conflicts in a garden centre, then ate a premature Xmas feast (roast potatoes, sausages wrapped in bacon, chicken and vegetable delishes).

I also rediscovered the blissless torture of Tetris: mathematical brain erasure. Must slot blocks into more blocks and get blocks into more blocks. Must get high score and beat Japanese nutters who spend weeks on there and get to level 1,000,282 then die
of indigestion. My best attempt:

This has been the worst blog post since blogs were invented. While we’re venting, though – I also hate e-cards, hairbrushes, inertia and Volvo S40s. These displease me with extra baubles.

Tomorrow I might write something half decent about Vashti Bunyan. She cometh.

Goodnight, beautiful.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Five Topics for the Price of One

This post is about intergenerational courtship, Boggle, opposable thumbs, Dave Eggers’s What is the What, and me.

Intergenerational Courtship

To begin: I believe it is wrong for people of a certain age to date others of a certain age. Here is the scale of moral acceptability, based on my own liberal values:

Age: 16-20 – Ideally teenagers should date people of the same age, though love is a fickle camel. I therefore allow a four-year margin of error for young lovers. A sixteen-year-old dating a twenty-year-old is frowned upon by society, so in this instance, it should be allowed ONLY in cases of true love.

Age: 21–26 – For those in their early twenties, partners six years older or younger is permissible. Any older, and a generational gap begins to develop: frames of reference shift, troubles ensue.

Age: 27-36 – This period of life is more open to an old vs. young demographic. It is acceptable for a thirty-six-year-old woman to date a twenty-seven-year-old man, for example, but this is stretching things to their limit. Any older, and these generational gaps will become a problem!

Age 37-44 – The mid-life crisis period is tricky, so ideally a seven year margin should be practiced. This gives persons undergoing personal traumas a chance to take stock of their life at the midpoint without having a partner too young to understand, or too old to care.

Age 45-50 – At this point, beauty begins to fade, so partners should ideally seek those with the last few flickers of attractiveness before the wrinkles begin, otherwise a conflict in the relationship might arise.

Age 50-60 – These periods are a grey area, as people enter senility at varying rates. However, this ten-year margin is useful for partners entering old age sooner than others, as one partner can support the other if they go mad or dumb early on.

Age 61-70 – This the final point in life when age is a factor in courtship. Too old, and the wrinkles might disgust, too young and the lovers might appear creepy in public. Has to be judged carefully.

Age 71-Death – At this point onward, any love gleaned is a miracle and should be embraced.


Boggle has always been the most misunderstood of family entertainments. Usually Boggle is played once – at Christmas a few hours after being unwrapped – and is then stashed in a cupboard and brought out during moments of social awkwardness, extreme boredom, or alienation from the self.

You can actually use the timer as a replacement for broken dials on the microwave, or as a retro replacement for the stopwatch. The plastic dome where the dice are kept can be filled with ice to make a giant ice cube the whole family can suck. The dice themselves can be coated in batter and fired from a bagpipe as a form of extremely Scottish missile.

Opposable Thumbs:

Any humans with opposable thumbs are freaks. FREAKS. Opossums, koalas, giant pandas and apes can bend their thumbs in such a way that they can touch all the fingers on their hand. They’re freaks too.

Dave Eggers’s What is the What

The absence of the question mark from this book title is a question Lynne Truss and I have been debating for weeks on end. In the book itself the title is a question – i.e. what is the meaning of life? – so one can only assume that Eggers left the question mark off to give the title a symmetry of sorts, or to introduce a shade of the postmodern to what is a direct, linear narrative.

Who knows. It’s not a question on the lips of most folks who read this compelling and exhausting account of
Valentino Achek Deng, whose life story is the most torturous, unbelievable, and fortuitous you are likely to encounter. Eggers narrates this incredible true tale in Sudanese Deng’s English-speaking voice, from his struggles with conflict, poverty, desolation, desperation (and more or less any human suffering it is possible to tolerate) to his equally unhappy life as a refugee in post 9/11 America.

This book makes misery memoirs look like squealing little crybabies. The only thing Deng didn’t have to tolerate, in fact, was tyrannous parents. Deng as a person is not portrayed as heroic, endlessly courageous or extraordinary – he is achingly human throughout, making his struggle the more poignant. The book is most likely too much to endure for most people – its relentless gloom putters on for 535 pages, but his story is a punishing reminder of quite how terrible we in the West have let things become in Third World nations.

Cheer yo’self up this Xmas.


I’ve been interviewed for a new blog featuring writers, artists and other opinionated art types with massive egos. You can read me being a pompous arse here.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Review of the Year (Pt 2)

Welcome back. Sit your butt down. Pull up a pew. Help yourself to a plate of my arrogance.

Where were we?


So I mentioned last time I had a mid-twenty-two-years-old crisis and signed up for Napier’s creative writing course. Yes. Good. Well, I started and met the folks there. Super crew. It was terrific to meet some proper people after a five month absence from civilisation.

I launched into a period of active reading at this point, having ran out of money to buy books. The university library was packed with postmodern genius, so I gorged. Perfect.

Nothing else happened this month.


Nothing much happened this month either. No, I lie: I got an appalling grade. I passed, but was scarred by the hollow reminder of how appalling I am in the halls of cleverness. The important fact was that I aced the creative writing assignment. The academic papers on literary theorists I wanted to get over and done with before falling into a coma.

It’s not that I dislike literary theorists, dear deformed reader. I dislike writing essays on literary theorists. Over the last three months, I’ve learned to admire the work of these folks. (Admire in the sense of taking an interest during class and wiping any memory of their existence from my mind afterwards).


Fun times to be had on a psychogeographical exercise,
which I blogged about. It was my birthday on the 7th as well. I got books. And socks. I have amnesia about what happened the rest of the time. I might have been mugged by badgers. AGAIN.


OK, so it hasn’t been a remarkable hive of activity over these last few months. I’ve been dragged through a shredder backwards with my writing but it’s been excellent having the meat cleaver treatment so I can be blasted from familiar patterns of writing and attempt to grow extra wings of talent.

My second literary theory essay grade was also terrible, but again, my writing piece aced things. I see a pattern developing. Creative writing = good. Essays on literary theory = awful.

Still, I’ll have deep and intense feelings of inferiority for the next two months. Which is OK – business as usual.

I’m looking forward to duck and stew this Christmas, and enough socks to kit out Nairobi. Goodnight, travellers!

Monday, 14 December 2009

Danger! Self-Promotion!

Having spent the day demonstrating the finest ways to avoid completing a paragraph (four lunches, eight baths, the internet), it’s a miracle I get anything finished at all, let alone published.

Regardless, the time has come to tout my work. You know me – I would much rather talk about Hovis, the stock market, Elastica, deep philosophical matters, and the hotness of soups in bistros.

Instead: it’s me. I do apologise.


Young Bones (8000+ words) is strewn like the innards of a car-crash corpse thing over the December issue of Christopher Vogel’s independently financed print and e-zine endeavour, Paradigm Shift: New Paradigm. It can be bought (ho-ho-ho) for four quid or downloaded for a dollar. Either way, no freebies.


My favourite in the trilogy of five,
A Modern Narrative [4] is sweating blood at the Piker Press, who sweated blood to preserve the formatting and are always happy to sweat blood in the name of absurd antics. They are my heroes, alongside Vangelis.


Touting flash fiction credits seems to me as necessary as dropping a dookie in a canal. Nevertheless, the people at the
Bare Foot Review have designed a trendy and snazzy page for my piece of coinage cock, Cynicicysticaldeboogieness. I want this word in the OED. Thank you to those witty people, and do check out the forthcoming December issue.

So there we are. Publishing stuff. And one out of three spelled my surname correctly! Things are looking up.

P.S. Tomorrow: schlongs and thongs.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Writers' Wives

I've been writing this blog for months now, and I've come to realise exactly what I'm lacking. Literary eye candy.

So, instead of book reviews and tedious ramblings, here's what you've been waiting for. Below are the sumptuously gorgeous wives of five writers I like. For the sake of balance, tomorrow I'll do a post of sexy male authors.

Yes: the intellectual substance starts here.

1. Nicole Krauss (writer: wife of Jonathan Safran Foer)

2. Amélie Nothomb (writer: wife of Dennis, erm... Nothomb)

3. Deborah Orr (columinist: wife of Will Self)

4. Vendela Vida (writer: wife of Dave Eggers)

5. Isabel Fonseca (writer: wife of Martin Amis)

Friday, 11 December 2009

Experience by Martin Amis

Martin Amis, you will discover, is a human punching bag for critics. Google his name or one of his books, and you will find an endless resource of Amis-bashing from broadsheets to boobrags.

The reason? Pretension. People perceive Amis as a conceited windbag who ranks himself amongst Nabokov, Saul Bellow and his father Kingsley in the pantheon of literary greats. The voice doesn’t help – that interminable transatlantic drawl with its considered hesitations and self-important emphases.

The fact of the matter, of the fact of the matter (of the matter), is that Amis is a towering presence in the field of lit-crit: the sharpest and smartest Nero of criticism working in Britain right now, with almost four decades of experience under his belt.

Which brings me to Experience, a book that is not about lit-crit, that is not about literature, but which purports to be about Amis and his dad. Well, firstly, there is no book about Martin Amis which is not about lit-crit and the process of writing. After the first fifty pages – past the infinitesimal detail about his entrance into the litosphere – I got the impression Amis had been imprisoned in this role of literary executioner since birth. His entrance into the literary world is so casual, like a son automatically following in his dad's footsteps, that it is barely covered.

The novel is largely about Amis’s relationship with his father Kingsley Amis and his cousin Lucy Partington, cut down by Fred West at a bus stop at the age of 21. Amis writes about his father using an incredible amount of literary comparisons and footnotes, showing how much he learned of his father through his books, and quite how important ‘the book’ was in their lives – scarcely a day in the Amis household would pass without reference to the Greats.

As is to be expected in household of writers who count Philip Larkin as a cuddly uncle. Anyway, this book is fascinating and intimate. Amis was deeply affected by his cousin’s death, and her presence is felt throughout the whole novel, mirroring her impact on his life. Kingsley is evoked as a genius, wit, and a hilariously un-PC father, but also an adulterer, paranoid and lonely man.

Amis looks back on his youth with humour and contempt – including a series of spotty photos in the sleeve – and tackles the press who fondly hound him, and romanticises his dental agony as being a sign of greatness. There are the usual Amis preoccupations to be found here – Nabokov, Saul Bellow and his never-less-than-irritating mate Christopher Hitchens.

Even if you’re not a fiftysomething intellectual from a time when people had staunch political stances and voiced ‘radical’ opinions among the bourgeois highbrow crowd, you should find this memoir a touching portrait of an unconventional and privileged upbringing. The passages about his father's death are especially touching. Amis's most honest and lyrical writing is to be found here.

Or, you’ll find this a self-indulgent portrait of a man you have absolutely interest in whatsoever.

I rather enjoyed it, you know.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

What I Want For Christmas

Dear Santa,

I have been a good boy this year. I sometimes let women with prams out the bus before I get on. I eat my greens and brush my teeth with kosher Colgate. Here is a list of what I want:

– A heat-seeking chrome-tipped nuclear missile
– An independent Iranian state ruled by the Nesquik bunny
– For Random House to print only celebrity autobiographies until their nostrils shit nickels
– Advertising for third-rate films and books on every pavement and outside every building
– Gravy slacks and celery sneakers
– Penguin waiters
– To raise Hunter S. Thompson from the dead so he can apologise
– For M.J. Nicholls to shut up and use his forename
– Cellos for breakfast, violas for supper
– For every celebrity author to beaten to death with a bulletproof edition of Finnegans Wake
– Death to capitalism
– For the decimal point to come out of retirement
– Bum lather

I trust you will fulfil my wishes, Santa. You have never let me down once, even when I asked for samples of Stan Laurel’s urine… you were on hand with a cup and a dead slapstick actor for me.


Markie J

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Letter to Martin Amis

dear Mart,

i was surprised to see u the other day, skulking a-round Boots looking for a suppose-a-Tory. it beholds me to say that u are suffering from some form of anal distress of some kind. my mother once had a large part of Sussex included in her bum for at least five weeks – doctors were bought in to help ex-vacuate the bother-some county and by the end she had the burruh of Blackford in there (witch she decided to keep – lovely people!)

if u do have a county lodged in ur bum, do not panic! here are my mum’s top tips for removal:

1 – reassure the residents that everything’s OK

2 – get some fire trucks with ropes to winch the county out

3 – extricate the last few remaining burrahs (unless u want to keep them)

4 – be happy

i hope u find this a helpfull guide to improving the dis-tress in ur bottom. we all have bums and its important to appreciate the fullness of there potenshall. often having counties in ur bottom can leave u feeling blocked up.

with all the luv in the world,

hurrold pumiscone

Monday, 7 December 2009

Oh Pure & Radiant Heart by Lydia Millet

I know nothing about nuclear weapons or 1940s scientists, so I approached this book seeking an education. I was going to write “and boy, did I get one” here, but that would be so cringeworthy, I might as well sign up for the fucking Terry Wogan Appreciation Society.

Lydia Millet. Her novel opens with our homey protagonists, Ann and Ben. Ann is a librarian who thinks deep things about her boring life and is far too clever to work as a sheepish librarian. Ben is a put-upon gardener working for a Stepford wife and a unilingual Japanese designer. He too thinks deep things about life, but less frequently than his spouse.

Oppenheimer, Fermi and Szilard were the engineering figureheads of the Manhattan Project: the folks that brought you that most wonderful of inventions: the atomic bomb! When the bomb is dropped on Nagasaki in 1945, the trio are transported forward in time to where Ann and Ben live. This is never explained, but these details add to the novel’s barmy charm.

Through some contrivance or other, Ann bumps into the scientists and invites them to live in her house. Nothing happens much at first other than smoking and talking and reading. More deep thoughts about life. Then later on, Oppenheimer meets a slacker multi-billionaire named Larry (the Big Lebowski with money) and forms a cult around the scientists.

It then gets very
Life of Brian – militant Christians start to think Oppenheimer is the messiah, and involuntarily elect him as the spokesperson for God on Earth.

Hmm. So that’s it. I can’t quite articulate just how I feel about the novel, other than to say: I liked it.

Millet breaks her almost 500-page epic into mini-chapters, including informative and opinionated asides on nuclear weapons, their damage, and the idiots who use them (this section is the most Vonnegutian). The characterisations are strong (if somewhat caricatured in places) and her prose is intelligent, scintillating and flecked with beautiful moments.

At other times, the prose is tedious, especially when she indulges in one too many of Ann’s deep thoughts about life, or when she loses sight of her protagonists in the third act, when we are dropped into the mad cult and left to fend for ourselves. Patient readers should be prepared to wait for the quite astonishing climax, however. No spoilers.

Apart from this, this is a fable and a satire stitched together. A fatire? A sable? Yes. One of those. I will be reading Millet again on the strength of this piece of work: an admirable attempt to combine socio-political comment with postmodern prankery and stylishly hewn prose.

Yes. Recommended and such.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Over To You

What would you like to tell me at this precise moment?

_________________________________________________ _________________________________________________ _________________________________________________ _________________________________________________ _________________________________________________ _________________________________________________ _________________________________________________.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Review of the Year (Pt 1)

Hello! How are you? Oh, it’s so nice to see you, funny-cheeks. What an adorable coat! Is that sheepskin? Anyway, come in, come in! Come sit by the fire as I tell the long and boring tale of a year in the life of Mark Jezebel Nicholls: writer and moocher extraordinaire.

2009, the hallowed year of our Lord Jezziebum, was the year I stepped from the closet of obscurity and began my attempt to get my writing out there into the world. Here is a boring recap (for my own benefit) of my progress, purely as a self-evaluatory exercise. For everyone else, there will be pictures of pies, squirrels, and cute doctors and nurses throughout.


I began the year one third of my way through a novel as part of a rare and brilliant workshop. I was immersed in this for the first few months until the group fell apart and three or four of us ended up with marketable works of über-proofread genius. A great experience, and I doubt I’ll find another semi-punctual workshop in the near or far-off future.

So, once the novel was finished, I raided my backlog of stories and sent a cache of cock to a slurry of e-zines and magazines. I sent, sighed, and went to hide under my bed.


The first thousand rejections poured in. I took them all personally. Every “not right for us” made me feel like a child excluded from the cool kids gang. I felt like a pauper holding out his tin cup and rattling it in the pissing rain. I felt like a toddler wetting himself as the girls looked on sniggering. Actually, that last one was a fantasy. Ignore that.

Even small ‘indie’ e-zines felt like unconquerable domain. I began a long hate-hate relationship with these places, merely through my searing desire to be acknowledged as NOT SHIT. This still lingers, though I approach this disdain with a healthier slice of irony.

I had some incredible luck with Cantaraville, who took a story I had written in June 2008 when I was living in Inverness cleaning my girlfriend’s school (very convoluted story).

More fortuitously, they offered to print a bundle of my older stories in an e-book format. When I heard this, this spark of cynicism I had died and I gained FAITH that I could get work out there without performing sex acts on editors. It’s amazing how modest successes can bolster a writer’s confidence. Even better, I GOT RID of all those stories. The clutter was gone! Hurrah!


Having finished one novel, I cranked out some more short stories. Several of these were abominations, others were unreadable goulash, and others were amazing fun to write. The stories I adored writing attracted the most attention – the Modern Narratives – which was another boost. If I could write AND partake in pleasure: double bonus.

“A Modern Narrative [1]” ended up at Piker Press, but later that month, I had a few other responses from mags interested in it. Frustratingly, these mags were unresponsive to my offer of an alternate piece (the second in the series).

One magazine didn’t respond to my private e-mails at all (I won’t name it – oh, OK: The Cynic Mag) and so I ended up keeping my piece at Piker. Which turned out to be the right choice, as the staff there are splendid funsters, and have let me build a series there.


I decided that short stories were fun, but I preferred writing longer material. The freedom to leap around the place, squirrel-like, was invaluable. I began a strong hate campaign against microfiction, losing multiple internet buddies, and began a second novel project.

I was also, at that time, out of cash-earning work. So, like every good student who doesn’t want to have to get a job, I enrolled in another university course. I struck gold when I discovered a new course starting that had a focus on experimental literature, with a fresh and zestful outlook. Yes! So I applied, mumbled through the interview, and was accepted.

Good things. If this sounds overly self-congratulatory, bear in mind that at this time I was also in the grip of a horrible writer’s block, almost lost my entire computer contents to an internal death, and was published in the Drabbler. I mean… eugh. The Drabbler.


The hottest month of the year means sunlight blocks my computer screen. I can’t blot it out with dark curtains. It melts through curtains. It melts me. It hurts. So writing is hard.

I didn’t write much. I ate lollipops, did one or two chapters here and there, and took money off the government.

Good news came later that month when I found a publisher taking a positive interest in my novel. But more on that later. That’s an ongoing nightmare that I might blog about one afternoon when I'm old, o'er the hill and dribbling into my Corn Flakes.

More to come.

P.S. This was written at 500MPH, so excuse the quality.

Monday, 30 November 2009

The Haddock of Truth

The whole point of this blog was to wax shambolic about my progress in Edinburgh Napier University’s Creative Writing course, but I’ve held back for two reasons.

One: It’s irritating when people discuss what they do in the day. I did this, I did that. I screwed him, I fellated her. Gah. So what. The world turns without you, sunshine. Shaddap.

Secondly: I’ve been walloped around the brains with the haddock of truth and it stings. My writing has been torn apart by savage savants and succulent svengalis. I have bruises the size of Nagasaki.

Here are some truths I’ve been forced to confront:

1. I can’t write convincing working class characters.

This is true. I perform better as a scribe when my character has an intellectual curiosity, some quirk of the mind that usually places them as lower-middle class types or richos. I was raised in a working class household but was one of those bookish brats who avoided his parents and siblings in favour of being a stuck-up tosspot. Hence, our current problem.

2. I over-over-over-satirize.

Too much satire and not enough everything else. My constant need to slap the world on the bum 24/7 needs to be contained. Thing is… I dislike most things. Cabbage. Homophobes. Gramophones. People. OK, let me rephrase… I dislike most people. Until I meet them. Then I like them. Then I resent them when they lose interest in me, and go back to hating everyone.

3. I am an unemotional writer.

It’s odd. I have satchels of sorrow and wellfuls of woe within my being. Trouble is, I care little for the emotional punch in stories. I dislike catharses (where characters weep and learn things). Characters who grow. Characters who love, laugh and live. Shaddap. Not interested. The human condition is a short poor man licking the testicles of a giant rich bastard. We are sheep. We are worthless. We come, go, regenerate and repeat. We’re too preoccupied with fast-food, coffee, careers in the media and YouTube to emote.

4. My vision is wonky.

What do I want to SAY as a writer? What gets on my cheese? What do my stories MEAN? These are important and irritating questions. My main preoccupation as a writer has been, thus far, the impossibility of writing. I think right now I’m veering towards a writing that is so self-contained, self-aware, self-critical, that it will exist only in my head as the spectre of an idea. You will have to download each spectral podcast from my brain.

Mainly I write about the same thing as most writers: why the world is a BAD and EVIL place. Sob sob sob sob.

5. I’m impatient and lazy.

I am part of the instant mash, instant whip, instant gratification generation. We want things now. We want to be geniuses now. We want to be Martin JG Will Eggers without doing the work. We want to run before we can take a college course in Basic Crawling. We are Generation Meh.

This was an informative vent. Solutions next time. Positivity! Ideas!

Friday, 27 November 2009


  1. Alive.
  2. Related to Martin Amis.
  3. The handsomest cheesemaker in the borough.
  4. Somewhat disappointed when a fat man falls in the canal.
  5. Indifferent to the New Puritan movement.
  6. Afraid of socks.
  7. Unwilling to read George Orwell’s Complete Works.
  8. Nowhere.
  9. Allergic to Qs, Ts and Vs.
  10. Not going to eat the last remaining crouton.
  11. Reading this list and wondering when it’s going to end.
  12. Fond of fondue.
  13. A writer with eight published novels and three unpublished children.
  14. Going to enrol in night school to learn Swiss.
  15. OK with Arabs living in your neighbourhood, as long as they keep away from your twigs.
  16. Amused by carpets.
  17. An avid participant in YouTube culture.
  18. A patchwork megalomaniac.
  19. Not Gore Vidal.
  20. Partial to a mince pie on the patio.
  21. Not having intercourse at this present moment.
  22. Unlikely to use the word lustrous in conversation.
  23. Skilled at disarming nuclear reactors.
  24. About to leave the room to do something unspeakable.
  25. Fond of reading book reviews but have no intention of ever reading the books in question.
  26. Simple but astoundingly clever.
  27. Dead in spirit, alive in presence.
  28. Not fond of the Nazis, but find Keanu Reeves cute.
  29. At some point going to weep for a long time and hate yourself immensely.
  30. Can’t stand up for falling down.
  31. The sort who texts opinions into radio programmes and gets rather worked up about stolen caravans.
  32. The sort who likes rosebuds but dislikes paedophiles.
  33. Willing to eat a chocolate bar, but will not donate 50p to starving children in Newcastle.
  34. Never ever EVER going to Newcastle.
  35. Going to bemoan the corporate charade of Christmas, but participate regardless lest society oust you from its heaving bosom.
  36. Unlikely to become an anarcho-syndicalist revolutionary in the next ten minutes.
  37. Not going out wearing that.
  38. Building to a crescendo.
  39. A walking anticlimax.
  40. Beginning to think this blogger is an unhinged tosser.
  41. 42.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Gold Dust Magazine #16

Gold Dust Magazine is one of the few hip and happening print magazines in the UK. The last vestige of fictional experimentation on this sceptred isle can be found in the pages of these sorts of independently spirited rags up and down the nation. I salute the impoverished bookshop owners who mastermind these endeavours across the land. SALUTE!

Aside from combining an eclectic range of short stories, flash fictions and poems, they also squeeze in some gloriously colourful artwork, book reviews and drama excerpts.

I happen to be in their Winter issue. Of course. You knew there was an ulterior motive. There is an ulterior motive behind most human endeavour, otherwise we would be partaking in those love and dope orgies The Beatles promised us in the ‘60s. Screw you, Ringo.

The embarrassing and ridiculous story of mine that appears on p10, entitled "Boopopper's Last Bop," was written almost two years ago, which explains why the prose honks of turpentine and cheap immature humour. It’s my trademark.

Also included are some fine pieces by James Rawbone, Ruthie Lockyer, Ruth H Russell, Jennifer Marshall and Rick Ewing.

You can acquire (with money) a print edition (ho-ho-ho), or nobble the free PDF

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Grandpa Facsemolina on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Oi’ve bin pluggin’ me earoles into the kiddie radio again (don’t call the Paedo Police!) and listenin’ to the hip-and-happenin’ (or in me case, replacement hip-and-happenin’) trio de Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

There wizza time when bands from New Yolk made me garter burst (like an ant blowin’ its guts) but me’ve mellowed in me old age and me finds meself takin’ to the thumpsex of these brats wi’ passion.

I first heard dem on me 134th birthday when their self-titled EP came blastin’ from the art-rock hive. I wiz leapin’ about the nursin’ home to the paean-to-porking “Bang” and I snapped a ligament. I took to this braggadocious garage rock like a midshipman to a kennel of fennel. Oosh? This is what the trump looks-a-like (I took de pictcha):

Next in 2003 came their full-funkout LP
Fever to Tell with its naptime love hymn “Maps” and the cell-e-bray-shawn of graverobbing (not me grave – I ain’t dead yet, by gorra!) “Black Tongue.” Oh Nellie, whatta-can-a-tella-thee-bout-dat?

It sent me into a coma o’ art-rock horrificaticadistressiness, friend! Even the free-and-in-love bum-bum of “Modern Romance” kept me in a trance-like squalorous heckhold for a week, ninn-a-ninn-a-noo-noo! It took 999 earthdays to recover, you febrile fancies!

By which time, by a stroke-a coincidence,
Show Your Bones, their 2006 LP spurted free. I responded: “I’ll takey me shirt off… you can see me whole skeleton, ye arty scamps!” Oooo-ooooooww! Huh-huh-huh! I need me meds. Gimme a momento. MEDS!

Thass betta. “Gold Lion” was pervect – a slink-e anthem for wildlife that had been dipped in a dense insert bright yella element that fetches bazillions on the black market. Nice and tooneful. Resta the album helped me t’sleep in those winter nights. Oh, how grandpas need their sleep!

Isis EP spoomed in 2007. I tells ya, those imps know how to heart-attack an old bugger! The loud-sex-howl-sleek-hell-nightmare of “Rockers to Swallow” made me long for the WWI trenches again. At least that was quieter! Somethinherewasblowinmearseabout!

It’s Blitz! was reweased this annum. Hoop, me thought – an album about the Blitz! Me comrades who fell in the nine wars me faught in… immortalised in song! Instead Nicko, Kareno and Briano was miftin’ me about like a cudgel lodged in the ribs of a prosthetic Voltaire. Me likes “Heads Will Roll” despite the words bein’ ripped off from me dead bunkmate Miki O.

So thass me lowdown on the Yeah Yum Yucks. Leapin’ and sweatin’ and thumpin’ from a trio o’ gruntin’ ghouls! If ye be a young punk ye’ll no doubt hop-skip-thump the night off to this mess. Us oldies need some Bach O and Beethoven O and Chopin O instead-O.


Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Grandpa Facsemolina on Mobile Phones

Let me tell you something about mobile phones!

a) I can’t get outta bed in the morning without these beastie buggers ringin’ in me folkin’ ears! It’s like a-gang-a ASBO kiddies are gatherin’ round me beddies and shoutin’ in me aurals: OI! GRAMPS! GIT DOWNSTAIRS AND EAT YER EGGS!

b) On the folkin’ bus, me hears townies squawkin’ t’their luvvas ‘bout this-and-that, ‘tis-and-tat. Go home and boil a kitten! Theren’t no need t’speak on the metro in da loudvox: ME EARS HEAR YA, SILLY! I wanna cell-a-tape their traps a-shut!

c) I canna dial without reachin’ me sista! I don’t wan-ta-talk t’her, she’s 98-and-a third, FER STREWTH!

d) Dem Jamaicans keep a-stealin’ me Vaseline and me talkback capa-hill-billities! I got me a phone from Vodafone and me ain’t seen no free weekend calls on me tariff. Charlene’s tonnes!

e) Wen I has breakfast with me son or me mum there’s a-swarm-a phone folks ‘round me bed making squawkin’ sounds: GIE US OUR PHONEBILLS, MISTA, OR WE DO YA IN! Most imprecise.

f) When I is at me t’ai chi classes and pullin’ the shapes I get a call from Bobbi-Bee at the dentist, summonin’ me t’git me teeth chipped or me gums suctioned with ‘dem torture implements (WW2 flashbacks in the ghetto, me old codlivermate).

Honestly, hakkas! Honestly!

Monday, 23 November 2009

The Staggeringly Concise Book Review Series [#7]

This blog is in danger of becoming a bibliophile’s wet dream, what with the neverending procession of book reviews I’m churning out. In that case, I’d better do something else.


Nope. Can’t think of anything.

So, to more books. Three this time. Two quickies and one not-so quickie.

We begin with the sublime Varying Degrees of Hopelessness from my current authorial muse Lucy Ellmann. This novel, like the other two I pimped out, is abundant in mordant wit and scalpel-sharp solipsism. We follow our heroine as she refuses to settle for second best in her suitors, despite being a 32-year-old virgin, and flinch as her flatmate Pol ruts with the man of her dreams.

The novel is a postmodern parody of the Austen romance – a cynic’s re-imagining of Austen in a world stiffened by repression, loose morals, and the degeneration of cultural mores. Ellmann cools it on the CAPITALS in this book and uses a stoic first person narrative for our heroine which, when contrasted with the main third person narrative, creates buckets of tragic humour. Another despairing romp for the terminal realist. Infinitely recommended.

Felipe Alfau’s Locos: A Comedy of Gestures is a lost gem from the late thirties and was forerunner for the postmodern movement of the ‘60s onward. The novel is a series of interlocking tales wherein characters are redistributed among the manifold Spanish topographies, sometimes for significant contrasts, sometimes for simple mischief.

The novel has more in common with the ancient storytelling tradition, narrated in a fable-like voice, but Alfau is conscious of the limitations of this form and deploys footnotes and authorial corrections to challenge the stiffness of the Great Canonical Novels. Their plots are immutable, whereas his book invites a reading in any order, with any number of interpretations. The stories are a mixed bunch, but
The Necrophil stood out for me: a ghoulish tale about an old crone obsessed with death that leaves a haunting resonance.

Finally, Belgian writer
Amélie Nothomb’s tasteful media satire Sulphuric Acid. Since the invention of reality television, novels have been shooting from every pipe of the cultural sewage works, pouring scorn on greedy TV execs and lazy ignorant viewers. This one-sitting read briskly states the obvious in the form of a gentle fable – the narration is childlike in simplicity, and it dumps its disgust and irritation in the most eloquent way imaginable.

The novel takes place inside a reality TV concentration camp where contestants are voted off to be slaughtered by a panel of dull camp guards (called Kapos). One girl, Pannonique, catches the viewers’ eye and she soon strikes up a rapport with the amoral producers and the Kapo guard Zdena. She is then embroiled in a psychological struggle to liberate the viewers from their depraved inhumanity towards man and so on.

Nothomb has a quietly enraged voice (compared to the outspoken Ellmann) and delivers this mordant fable with enough simmering anger and basic dignity to keep us entertained. It’s not wildly original, but it’s workmanlike and charming. It’s also an important book to refer back to when the inevitable happens and we do end up killing each other on TV. (Japan will be first, I bet).


Saturday, 21 November 2009

The Staggeringly Concise Book Review Series [#6]

You are about to read Mark Nicholls’s review of Italo Calvino’s postmodern classic If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller. You might want to position yourself in a comfortable chair before you begin, or place a cushion behind your back, as we know how arduous it can be to read things off the internet. You might also care to prepare a coffee, a light snack, or to switch a light on before beginning.

You might be thinking that this blog post is not going to interest you, since book reviews on books you haven’t read can often be frustrating. For starters, the writer delves into details about the plot which spoil the surprises a blind reading of the book might create, and likewise you are unable to form an opinion yourself and share your thoughts on the text in question.

Conversely, you might have read the text and are familiar with the second person narration that addresses the reader directly and places them as a protagonist in the book. You might think this review an obvious imitation of Calvino’s unique style, and become irate as you read on, wondering when the reviewer is going to get around to summarising the plot.

In fact, you become so irate, you search for the book on Amazon or Goodreads, but are incandescent when you notice each review is also written in the same imitative style, and the gimmick becomes so irritating you have to leave the room for a moment to calm yourself down.

As you leave the room, someone knocks on the door. It is a door-to-door salesman offering copies of Italo Calvino’s novel If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller at a reduced price. He begins his sale by saying: “You are wondering whether or not this novel is for you, or whether you might find a novel with the beginnings of ten separate novels included as part of the plot somewhat bemusing or distracting. You are unsure whether to slam the door in my face, or to go get your credit card.”

You slam the door in his face. As you return to the living room, you notice that Mark Nicholls has broken into your house and is sitting naked on the couch reading Italo Calvino’s novel If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller. You are very confused and frightened. Feelings of arousal and apoplexy stir up inside you. You decide to call the police, but Mark Nicholls springs up from the chair as you move towards the phone.

“You are wondering whether to phone the police to remove Mark Nicholls from your house. You are deeply confused as to why this blogger whose opinions you find facile and banal is suddenly sitting naked on your couch reading the very book you were reading about,” he says. You look for a blunt instrument to hit him with, but can find only a cup. You throw the cup, but he ducks and it breaks against the wall.

You start to sob. That was your best cup, and there is coffee over the walls and carpet. Furthermore, Mark Nicholls appears to be swinging his penis at you, performing an embarrassing 360° swingaround which slowly hypnotises you into a deep deep sleep.

When you wake up, you are at your desk. Mark Nicholls and the coffee stain has gone. You wonder why there is a grapefruit in your left hand and an antelope on your sofa. Those of you who read only the opening sentence and skipped to the end get a strange feeling of anticlimax.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

The Staggeringly Concise Book Review Series [#5]

The Fall are a post-punk institution: an avant-garde band of shambolic renegades controlled and manipulated by enigmatic Mancunian mastermind Mark E. Smith. Their music is dissonant, unpleasant, thunderous, venomous, cerebral, and remarkably inventive. Smith is widely recognised as being one of the most original writers in the history of rock music.

Smith presaged the legion of cryptic alt-rock wordsmiths that followed in the ‘90s and ‘00s, his influence imprinted upon the songs of Pavement, Guided By Voices, Half Man Half Biscuit and Joanna Newsom. The influence their music has had on the countless "indie" groups formed since the band’s inception in 1977 is incalculable.

The Fall have based their career around a powerful form of awkward and inscrutable cacophony, taking an anti-culture, anti-counterculture stance. The Fall dislike both sides of the cultural fence, defining themselves as themselves: impenetrable, uniquely The Fall.

To me, there have been few bands who can write songs as strange, original, breathtaking and addictive as The Fall. And so, with that preamble, we get to the topic of Dave Simpson’s fantastic book, The Fallen. Dave is your average Fall obsessive: the sort of man who knows the set-list from a 1983 gig in Oslo, or what colour shirt the fifth drummer was wearing at a gig in Brixton 1986. Fairly common behaviour among fans of the definitive cult band.

He’s also a reputable music journalist for the Guardian, but for the purposes of the book, he’s a man on a mission: to track down everyone who was ever in the Fall. The band has a high turnover rate of members to keep the music fresh, you see, and Mark E. Smith (MES) notoriously flings people out the band whenever he feels like it. The premise of Simpson's book is, essentially, an exercise in decrypting the psyche of MES, exploring the reasons why this speed-abusing, alcoholic, foul-mouthed lout is able to keep producing such staggering work.

We meet long-suffering members of the band who discuss the wall of disdain erected between MES and his musicians, the power games he uses to manipulate guitarists into producing such unique sounds, and his numerous public humiliations. Smith’s idol is clearly
Captain Beefheart, from whom he takes the notion that graft, punishing labour, and making musicians uncomfortable yields the greatest results. Simpson expounds on these theories, painting MES as a cult-leader, bully, and bumbling genius. All three are equally valid.

Simpson’s book is a treat for the Fall fans who are familiar with the prominent band members and their contributions to the music. The story of the band is such a whirlwind of hilarious anecdotes, bust-ups and bizarreness, that Simpson rightly keeps a journalistic distance and crafts these tales without too much mock-incredulity. He also introduces an appropriate warning against the Curse of the Fall: those who come into close contact with the band are destined to fall spectacularly from grace.

I think of Fall in terms of the Victorian artists – suffering for their work, spending most of their lives in poverty, being underappreciated in their lifetime. Simpson compares MES to a Victorian taskmaster, another apt image. MES is certainly an unpleasant and bellicose individual – this is quite obvious – though he wields a strange magnetism. We listeners are his battered wives, refusing to let go of our tyrannous love.

The nagging question, then: does this book appeal to non-Fall fans? Yes. There are no bands in existence as interesting and worthy of your attention as The Fall. Rock books are usually fawning tales of millionaires having fun at the expense of their fans. This is the anti-rock book. It’s an avant-garde statement in its own right. Simpson, despite coming from a contrasting world to MES, would have made a great addition to the Fall.

In fact, as the book ends, he too joins the ranks of the Fallen. No spoilers, but I hope the guy’s OK.

We end, appropriately, with a song. This is the slack-snappingly magnificent Eat Y’Self Fitter:

Wednesday, 18 November 2009


Cliché is a virus. It seeps into our lives like a plague and fits us like a glove.

Although we might spend weeks perfecting the most cliché-free paragraph ever imagined, at some point the hellhound of hackery will come barking at our door, munching apart our precious manuscripts like a rather rabid creature with teeth that hurt.

I have heard numerous cliché-avoidance theories over the years, many of them wise, many of them unwise. So, assuming I understand SOMETHING about the process of writing at this stage (I hope, I hope), the following are a series of ideas for evading the dreaded Beasts of the Banal.


1. The rain beat hard against the windows.

No no no! This phrase should be kidnapped, knifed and dumped in a dustbin. Rain neither lashes nor beats against windows. The force of the wind propelling the raindrops might create a lashing or beating effect, but this is irrelevant – it’s still a fusty way to create eeriness.

If heavy rain must be deployed, think about other sounds it makes outside a house. What the rain collides with, for example (though be careful to avoid tin roofs and the like). Better still, why not invert the description? Instead of the rain hitting the window, have the window being sieged by the rain. Inversion is a caring sharing tool. However, rain is a cliché hotspot, esp. in horror.

Learn from gothic windbag Henry James. Centre the action around the suggestion of fear. Use deceiving images or misleading sounds to create basic paranoia and suspense, or keep the action character-centred. For me, real tension resides within the relationship between what a character fears the most and the unpredictability of their surroundings.

2. A blanket of snow lay upon the ground.

Snow might look snug and cosy, but it’s not. It’s bloody freezing without four jackets and thermal gloves. This blanket image is misleading. No one wants to climb into bed and get frostbite. Why not expose snow for the menace it is? We have to extricate our cars from its slush-web, grit our paths and roads all winter, avoid being snowballed by teenage punks, etc.

Why not: An invasion of snow? A persecution of snow? A molestation of snow? An endless white diaspora of frostbite and hassle… of snow?

If the snow must be described favourably, then ignore snow’s cutesy images: penguins, tundra, Christmas. Concentrate on that bizarre human fixation with below-zero conditions, on plunging our hands into crystals of ice and getting colds that last three years, on taking six weeks to get dressed to go outside. We love it, but why? Why, oh why? Avoid referring to how it perches on trees, roofs, cars or the bobble hats of beautiful winter bints.

3. The sun broke through the trees.

There are an infinite number of sun-based clichés, but this one irritates me the most. Why must the sun always break through trees, stream in through windows, or appear on the horizon? The above expression is a nuisance, since it implies a newness about the sun’s appearance, rendering it significant when it is obviously not. The sun is endless. The sun never goes away. Of course it's going to appear from behind some bloody trees.

Why must it always break through trees? Why can’t it break from behind the head of a bald man sitting on a park bench getting rat-arsed? Or, as it does in the city, from behind horrible corporate buildings that keep you locked indoors all day away from the sun? The tree image creates an artificial beauty, when the reality of the sun is this: heat, sweat, exhaustion, irritation, sunburn, cancer.

Like snow, the sun has been misrepresented in fiction. The sun is evil. Consider such phrases as: The sun crept up from behind the trees. The sun ogled through the clouds. The sun prepared its blistering luminosity for another day’s torment of the populace. And so on. My suggestion is to capture that menacing dimension to the sun. It is deceitful in fiction to create the illusion of a benign weather condition and ask readers to ignore the skin cancer/death threat.

4. The wind howled all night long.

Only under very extraordinary circumstances can the wind howl. It makes whooshing and whirling noises to various degrees of extremity. It does not have the ability to do wolf impersonations.

The wind is a difficult weather condition to describe, since the whooshing noises vary in their tone and pitch, and we need words other than ‘whoosh’ to describe the function it performs (blowing things about). Personally, since I find the wind such a banal weather condition, I choose to ignore it unless I need something to auto-happen in a scene. The wind is a good back-up ‘happening’ if nothing else is going on.

E.g. She stood stock still. A man walked past. Umm… umm… umm… a breeze blew around her legs.

Also, remember that breezes ordinarily affect the whole body, but it might feel the strongest around a certain area. I would reserve wind for back-up circumstances only. If you’re writing a twister novel, you might wish to ignore that last piece of priceless advice.

I must retire now. The windows are weeping droplets, the wind is making things wobble, the sun is violating my precious skin, and the snow is freezing my bloody feet off.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The Books You’ve Read and the Books You’ve Said You’ve Read

I feel the need for candour. As a man unable to conceal his own general uselessness at things that don’t involve reading, writing or alphabetising books, the truth must be set free. Here are some literary prejudices and unfounded fears I have been saddling for yonks now.

1) Austen & Brontë – I have a degree in English Lit and still cannot appreciate the artistry of these authors. I’m tempted to write this off as a male/female difference, though legendary prose usually speaks for itself. It seems whenever I am confronted with these authors, my insides congeal into pâté and I run behind the sofa. I think it’s the bonnets. I hate bonnets.

2) Shakespeare – There was a time when I looked upon his works as the pinnacle of invention in the English language. Then it occurred to me: I was among the multitude of people who acknowledged his genius, but could not connect with his works. Shakey for me belongs on the stage, in heavily edited form. When I sit down to sift through a play, the whole experience bemuses me. I also feel his comedies are antiquated and are no longer relevant to folks now.

3) Dickens – I began reading Bleak House and aborted ship two or so years ago. I’ve never returned to Charlie since then. I’d like to reconnect with the master of the six-page sentence at some point, though I would really need a definitive Dickens experience. 19th century London doesn’t hold as much historical interest for me as, say, Dostoevsky’s Russia.

4) James Joyce – An unnamed critic informed me recently all Joyce was useless. The nerve! A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a brilliant work – the perfect balance between Joyce’s formless innovation and his talents as a chronicler of the quotidian (wow – how pretentious!)

Ulysses & Finnegans Wake belong to the ‘admiration’ camp – they are impossible to sit down, read and devour, but startling to dip into. It would be thoughtful for the academics to collect the highlights from these books and compile them into one volume. That way, more people could appreciate his finest moments without sifting through 1000 pages.

5) Novels Inviting Me to Emote – I confess, I am a wholly unemotional reader. Studying literature might have deadened my natural emotional responses towards prose. Instead, I acknowledge moments that are profound or significant, without reacting to them in the way I would a moving song or film.

As an emotionally volatile individual, the world itself reduces me to tears on a daily basis – the last thing I seek in books is greater dollops of sadness. I loathe moments I am supposed to react somehow – moments when characters come together in a straight-faced manner that seek to tug the heart strings, regardless with how much panache the author achieves this feat. Yes – I’m heartless. I suppose I appreciate books more on an aesthetic or technical level.

6) Commercial Books – OK, I’m a complete lit-snob. I admit it! If I hear about a book from a friend, then go onto Amazon and see over 100 reviews, a bulb pings in my head: MAINSTREAM! I deliberately go out of my way to read obscure books, and refuse to even contemplate a popular potboiler. Not every commercial book is a Dan Brown, I know, but I’m drawn more to lesser-known works, works from those no can be bothered to read.

I have found myself reading a popular book, getting into the story, then taking against the book for any formulaic imperfection. I loathe the formula in books. Sometimes at night, I have nightmares about computer-written books – detective stories cranked out by an algorithm, or herds of faceless ciphers writing the same
books over and over again in giant skyscrapers. Never. NEVER.

Goodnight. Remember to feed the fish.

Monday, 16 November 2009

The Staggeringly Concise Book Review Series [#4]

A trio of books this time.

We begin with two anti-memoirs, both essential insights into the torturous practice of life writing. I say ‘torturous’ since I am currently bleeding my heart-rending adolescence onto the page in the noble pursuit of a decent grade. One person who turned her childhood into profit is Janice Galloway in her 2008 anti-memoir
This is Not About Me.

As the title indicates, this is a book about familial ties and the endless desire to sever them. Galloway takes a conventional childhood in Saltcoats, Ayrshire – absent father, weak-willed mother, domineering sister – and transforms these laboured ideas into original and vital prose, crackling with tension, magic, insight and eye-popping characterisation.

Galloway’s novels have always been ludicrously compelling once inside, if somewhat difficult to pitch to the reader. So instead of flailing around like an octopus on speed attempting to explain what makes this a winner, I’ll say this: it’s special. Banalities become bravura. Boredom becomes brilliance. The humdrum becomes a humdinger. And so on. I recommend this for those seeking to be converted to the (anti-)memoir.

Next up is John Burnside’s A Lie About My Father. This is recommended for those seeking the quintessential evil father memoir. The father in this case is an alcoholic, a deadbeat and a Scottish hardman who mistreats his wife and son. The son (the author) then goes on a rebellious rampage of alcohol, sex and drugs. This culminates in a long spate of mental illness.

Uplifting? No. However, Burnside utilises a very poetic and compelling turn of phrase throughout, which lifts the antics from the potential whirlpool of navelgazing. He has a remarkable tale to tell and – because he can actually write with some profundity and wisdom – wipes the floor with the exploitative "misery memoir" market.

Lastly is Raymond Queneau’s comic novel
Zazie in the Metro. This short whimsical novel from the Parisian polymath (and co-founder of the Oulipo) isn’t representative of his phenomenal talent, but is a tittersome romp through a cinematic Paris of the 1950s with the acid-tongued Zazie the charming misfit at its core.

The humour was, for its time, subversive, with its foul-mouthed heroine, the consistent references to ‘homossesuality’ and the playfully childish words spelled phonetically throughout the text. There is no plot as such, minus Zazie’s persistent dissatisfaction at being unable to ride the metro, but Queneau uses witty dialogue and crackling comic prose to keep us entertained.

This novel rightfully takes its place in the canon of classic comic works with the efforts of Wodehouse, Kingsley Amis and Douggie Adams, and has been adapted into a cult French film and a comic strip. So there.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Ember in Wrilogonzia, Part 6

Note: This is a baton-handing blog opera that started here. For previous installments, see the previous installment links below. For a cushion or a soda, consult your sofa or fridge respectively. It is a wise idea to volunteer to write the next part, otherwise the Blog Mafia will hunt you down and extract your teeth.


Ember mind-clacked in her mind a series of words – glug gurgle gaggle gulag golliwog – then read them back (in her mind). This code emerged which – if her mind wasn’t deceiving her, which was common around mating season – explained Wyndel’s missing pants debacle:


“You are a… something. What’s the chemical symbol for gold? Of course, Au! Now, Oiwi… what could this mean? Oiwi… oiwi… Kiwi? Is it true? Is Wyndel a Kiwi? That is, a native of New Zealand?”

There was a pause, at which point Wyndel looked around him, wondering whether it was his turn to re-enter the narrative. Frankly, prancing around in Rocky Horror garb was not what he had signed up for in this chain-writing saga. He had expected a spunky sidekick role – perhaps as a romantic subplot to the central adventure – but instead, his todger was limping in the cold air like a soggy peanut dangling from a pub table somewhere in the Real World.

“It’s true. And furthermore, since this narrative began, I’ve been embedding pro-NZ propaganda throughout the narrative. Did you know two New Zealanders invented the zigzag?”

Cassie’s second eye formed through sheer incredulity. Unlike her left peeper, her right peeper was green and was permanently showing the reflection of gothic novel pioneer Washington Irving.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Ember said. If Wyndel was a New Zealander, did that mean she was one too? And where was New Zealand? And why hadn’t she eaten anything since beginning the narrative? God, she was starving! Perhaps she could snack on Dean’s pecs? They certainly looked nutritious…

“It’s true. If you tip the capital N on its side, and place it beside the Capital Z, what do you get?” Wyndel asked.

“A burger? A sandwich?”

“No… ZZ! Along with W, the Z is the most crucial letter in forming the zigzag! Haven’t you ever wondered why New Zealanders are so symmetrical? It’s because our forefathers invented the zigzag! The zigzag is in our DNA!” he said. He too wanted something to eat, but he was so involved in this ludicrous theory, that food was sadly off the agenda for the time being.

As he explained how New Zealand had invented socks, cheese, TNT, the Village People, Blogger, the goosestep, geese, almanacs, the internet, the elderly, the harominca, John Lennon, litotes, squares and Texas’s annual Gay Rodeo, Ember wriggled free from the narrative for a moment to have a snack.

Arriving at the Cheese or Get Out cafe, she walked up to the waitress behind the counter, admiring the skinned dalmation draped around her neck, and studied the menu, which read (in alphabetical order):


“Do you have any cheese?” she asked. The waitress scratched her head and decided that she was going to be remarkably silly in this narrative (she did have a glowing green head and five noses, after all!)

“No, we’re fresh out, sorry. We do have the next installment of this saga, however,” she said.

“Hmm. What does that taste like?”

“You’re about to find out. Well, time-permitting. Anyway, do hang around. In the meantime, have this fistful of fudge to keep your stomach tame,” she said.

Ember thanked her and admired the radioactive chic upon her cheeks. She was beautiful, despite looking like the Incredible Hulk’s anorexic little sister. She decided this character was definitely going to play a very important part in the next installment of the saga – so important that the person responsible for writing it would have to share her remarkable qualities: green head, five noses, eight mouths, seven knuckles and an umbrella for a bum.


Part 5
Part 4
Part 3
Part 2
Part 1