Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Various Miseries

Last week my bisexual wombat left me.

WOMB: It’s not you, it’s meat.
ME: What?
WOMB: I have to be around more succulence. You do not satisfy my succulence needs.
ME: I can change.
WOMB: I’m afraid it’s not going to happen. I need to be with a lover who is on hand with pork chops, lamb cutlets, chippolatas and veal slabs at the click of a whisk.
ME: You carnivorous pustule.
WOMB: Insult me all you like, honey. Come Monday, I’m outta here.
ME: Please, let’s discuss this.

Last week I lost an opportunity to have an interesting conversation with a PERSON.

PERSON: So, I’d better be going then.
ME: I’ll come with you.
PERSON: Umm . . . OK.
ME: So how have you been?
PERSON: How have I been what?
ME: You, your general wellbeing. What state are you in?
PERSON: Why, are you a doctor or something?
ME: No, just wondering.
PERSON: Actually, I think I’m going to go this way.
ME: OK, see you later!
PERSON: Don’t think so.

Last week I was interviewed by The Right Side of My Brain:

TRSOMB: What have you been doing apart from the surreal blog bullshit?
ME: I have been writing various stories and submitting to various publications.
TRSOMB: Wow, what an incredibly boring life you have.
ME: Yes.
TRSOMB: Is that it? Do you ever get any pussy?
ME: No.
TRSOMB: Wow. What a chump. I mean, even David Shields gets laid from time to time, and he’s balder than a peanut.
ME: Yes, his hairlessness does render him somewhat sexless.
TRSOMB: So go on then, tell us what you’ve been writing.
ME: I have been writing an action-adventure lipogram based around an evil race of word-munching Pacmen.
TRSOMB: Right. And you think that’s going to win you the Pulitzer, do you?
ME: Suppose not. What would you prefer I wrote about?
TRSOMB: Things we care about.
ME: What things?
TRSOMB: Like what’s happening on the planet right here, right now. The state of the world as it limps from recession, from war – the crumbling edifice of democracy. That stuff.
ME: Piss off.
TRSOMB: Well, don’t blame us if you never get to boogie with Zadie Smith at Bloomsbury.
ME: Ha ha.
TRSOMB: Thank you for talking with us, Harold.
ME: It’s Mark.
TRSOMB: We don’t care.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Sentences That Multitask

I am of the opinion that writers can get too obsessed with packing excessive detail into each ‘n’ every sentence. Since I love you, and despite your string of torrid affairs with the milkmaid, I will help you unpack some of that baggage clogging up your putrid first novel.

Example A – Infodump

On the eve of his marriage to supermodel Gloria Branson, respected Nuclear Physicist Alan Wadkins strode into the Conference Room of the Research Institute in Dusseldorf where he was about to give an important speech on fission, feeling unsure he loved her sufficiently to do a wedding.

Yes, aren’t you clever? You established the protagonist’s name, occupation, social status, and private life along with the setting and the first plot strand in this sentence. Well done! But this sentence is sick, mon amour. You have stuffed a box of Cadbury’s Cream Eggs up its posterior and left this sentence a retching chocolaty husk.


On the eve of his marriage to Gloria, physicist Alan Wadkins strode into the Conference Room, feeling unsure he loved her sufficiently to do a wedding.

Take it easier, Chappie. You can introduce setting and other details later. For now, all we need is the hook – the plot morsel on which your putrid novel hinges. Now you can proceed.

Example B – Simultaneity

As Alan caught his zipper in the door handle, Linda walked past – he waved his arms and gestured to her but she was too busy chatting to a cute undergrad about his term paper.

It seems unlikely that Alan’s attention would be directed anywhere other than his zippered dick, no? You quivering cookie. Likewise, Linda is either walking or talking to this cute undergrad, she isn’t walking and talking… like we ever do that in life, especially with hot meat we want vertical in our bedroom counting the stars in our eyes. Nuh.


As Alan caught his zipper in the door handle, he winced in pain, watching Linda score with a hot undergrad on campus.

Thass better.

More soon. I have to sandblast a cabinet now.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

My Month in Novels (Feb)

OK, I’m rather late doing this reading rundown for February, but look at you – you’ve missed three buses today, and you haven’t even complimented me on my peacock hair negligee. So farts and ham to you.

I started the month reading John Barth’s 1960 epic
The Sot-Weed Factor – a shocking and brilliant take on the 18th C. adventure romp à la Henry Fielding. Now, to get the little accent above the à there, I had to go onto Wiktionary, so you’d better bloody well like this summary:

The book is centred, morally and literally, on the pretentious Poet of Maryland Ebenezer Cooke. In a word where everyone is swiving (erm . . . fucking) ladies of the night, deflowering virgins, and behaving like moral bankrupts, Ebenezer maintains his chastity, despite his love for the whore Joan Toast. A thoroughly bizarre and brilliant epic, despite how that sounds.

Man or Mango – A Lament is Lucy Ellmann’s third novel. Since my course tutor introduced me to Ellmann, I’ve had an instant psychic connection with the reclusive Anglo-American genius. Her approach to storytelling is so gleefully anarchic, her characters so blisteringly well-drawn, that to read her is to wax one’s soul. But better than that sounds. I also read her delicious debut Sweet Desserts.

Despite the naysayers, I like Alasdair Gray’s work. Yes, he might have fallen from the ranks of the postmodern greats, and yes, everyone in the Scottish literary community is expected to cuddle him senselss, but he is cuddly. And senseless. I read his short novel
McGrotty & Ludmilla. It’s like The Thick of It without the swearing or the humour.

I already reviewed David Shields’s
Reality Hunger: A Manifesto on the blog. So leave it, awright?

The trendy ginger scout from Canongate Francis Bickmore was in conversation with Stephen Hall a few weeks ago about his novel
The Raw Shark Texts. It’s refreshing to have a mainstream Scottish publisher taking on these exciting books, though it was depressing to hear him prattle on about selling the foreign rights and movie rights and so on.

Yes, publishing is commerce, but he positively relished the notion of making mega bucks overseas with the book, which is experimental and offbeat, but not immensely well-written.

Finally, I still like Nicola Barker, despite her petunia thefts.
Reversed Forecast is a weird, warped and wonderful novel with a climax that wipes the floor with 9½ Weeks.


Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Janet is Unwell

A hypertextual saga of unending miseries

We meet
Janet in her penthouse flat. Pricey: yes, but you can’t put a price on space, can you? As she sits on the sofa, entranced by the TV spectacular THROW YOUR MONEY AT THE SCREEN, a soft dread rumbles up through her sphincter. It’s March, she muses. Debt time.

We know you’re in there,
Janet Gormley.

Christ! It’s those people from the BANK GOVERNMENT STUDENT LOANS OR LANDLORD! She locates a knife with the intention of slicing a vein. But hold your horses, Janet! You haven’t explained what happened last night yet.

“It’s simple,”
Janet says, “I was about to enter the Seán Ó Faoláin Short Story Competition with a tale about a man in a V-neck vest who makes a phone call to a squid when it occurred to me – I was approaching fifty and I hadn’t finished High School yet!”

Oh, what a dozy
artichoke! But before we can explore that plot strand, we have the pressing business of the debtors. They’re a-banging.

Open up. We don’t want to hurt
you. We only want your money.

Janet freezes. She thinks about her options. She might visit Tania Hershman’s blog. She might sleep with an Albanian peasant. She might go online to this disgusting pornographic website. She might also choose, as so often we do in our lives, to do nothing.

In the end, she opts to listen to a
German rendition of Puff the Magic Dragon:

Monday, 15 March 2010

Vashti Bunyan: Miscellany

I’ve spent the last few months collecting various gems from the musical ether that feature or pay homage to Vashti Bunyan – the heart-melting songbird who I love intensely.

This will be of no interest to anyone other than fans, but hopefully folks will locate this post in the blogosphere and find it of some use. Here are the miscellaneous (non-album) Vashti tracks I have found to date. Links go to Youtube. My Norwegian blogger friend also reminded me you can use Spotify. Of course you can. Silly me.

1. Crown of the Lost

Gorgeous brooding folk number from Piano Magic’s Writers Without Homes LP (2002). This is the first song Vashti sung on record after her thirty-two year absence from the music biz. Her vocal is perfect – chilling and wounded – and marks a perfect return.

2. Dark Ages

Also by Piano Magic, from the Saint Marie EP (2003). Vashti’s voice is given an effective echo – she sounds trapped in some mysterious canyon, singing to us from, well . . . the Dark Ages.

Rejoicing in the Hands

Duet with Devendra Banhart from his titular 2004 album. Devendra captures the folk-pop side of her personality well with this short hooky acoustic number. His smoky, whispery voice works well with Vashti singing in a higher register.

It’s You

From Animal Collective’s Prospect Hummer EP (2005). Her vocal takes centre stage here as she sings very minimal lyrics over ringing acoustic guitars and woozy backing harmonies. It almost works.

Prospect Hummer

Also by Animal Collective. A twee but charming pop tune about naughty cats, this starts with a driving beat (not too driving), then slows to let Vashti drawl out the surreal lyrics beautifully.

I Remember Learning How to Dive

The best song from the Prospect Hummer EP, this is a moving and catchy pop tune with a wistful and spine-chilling vocal turn from Vashti. One of those instantly affecting tunes we know and love.

7. The Fire

Vashti’s collaboration with writer Rodge Glass, produced for the Ballads of the Book compilation (2007). The music is written by Vashti, and with Rodge’s marvellous lyrics, this is a sublimely powerful number. It could easily have appeared on Lookaftering.

8. Migrating Bird

A dark, spooky version of a Lal Waterson folk song. From Migrating Bird: The Songs of Lal Waterson (2007). This will get under your skin upon repeated listens.

My Dearest Friend

Vashti provides backing vocals in this song from Devendra Banhart’s 2007 album Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon. Her appearance lifts the song to the sweeping climax it achieves in the last thirty seconds, even if the first half is somewhat meandering.

10. Martha My Dear

A lush and glorious Beatles cover, recorded in collaboration with Max Richter. Max provides the sumptuous string arrangements while Vashti extracts each corpuscle of beauty from this classic. From The White Album Recovered, Disc 1 (2007).

11. Country Girl

Vashti provides whispery, sultry backing vocals on this ballad from Anthony Reynolds’ 2008 album British Ballads. “There was a boy I knew . . .”

12. Just So You Know

She’s also on this stodgier ballad from the same Reynolds album (coming in near the end, in the nick of time!) More importantly, she sings the entire song herself on the Bees Dream of Flowers and Your Summer's Meadow Breath EP. This version is, obviously, superior.

Sleep a Million Years

This could easily be the highlight of the bunch. Vashti gives a deeply affecting rendition of the Dia Joyce classic. Vetiver provide splendid backing – lending a real timeless feel to the music. I haven’t stopped listening to this song since I first heard it a year ago. From the album Thing of the Past (2008).

I’d Like to Walk Around in Your Mind

Lush covered this song on their 500 (Shake Baby Shake) single (1996). They had no idea who the singer was at the time, but it’s clear they had fantastic taste. This is a sugar-pop version of the tune, and recreates all the nuances of the original. A decent version.

Here Before

I found this cover in the wilderness of the internet. All I know is that the artist’s name(s) are Fever Ray & The Subliminal Kid. This take is pretty original – they capture the woodland creepiness very well while adding their own brand of weirdness.

Train Song

A nice duet between Feist and Ben Gibbard. I’m not a fan of either artist, but this tune works surprisingly well as a duet, despite Feist’s performance lacking any of the doomed romanticism of the original.

Here endeth the trawl. If you know of any other Vashti rarities or weird bits hanging around, or wish to procure some of these tasty morsels, don’t hesitate to
contact me.

Vashti forever.

* Update, 5/4/2011.

17. Here Before

A recent version by ProgressivePiano (a.k.a. Robert Van Oz) up on Soundcloud.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Realism is Rotten

Imagine a dull man named Conk. He awakes in the morning at 7AM and eats a bowl of Alpen at 7:15AM precisely. He reads the Daily Express. He gets in his Ford Focus and drives to his office, where he works as a Strategy Divisions Manager for Middlesbrough Council.

This involves filling in various clearance forms so the council can erect new bollards or build new roads. He does this for eight hours a day, staying occasionally a ninth because Conk is dedicated. Then he goes home, prepares dinner, reads middlebrow literature, listens to Cream, and watches TV.

Your task: to write about this man in an interesting way without placing any external pressures on his life. He doesn’t meet a woman. He isn’t shot at by an escaped Taliban grenadier. He isn’t going to come to any sudden realisations about his dullness. He isn’t going to grow a personality.

Yes – you can’t. You are handsome, and I like that green toga, but you can’t.

Realism is rotten. Realism is a fiction, it is fictitious in its claims to represent the quotidian in art. You cannot make the drab interesting without popping something miraculous onto its purview and watching your dull personnel scramble to make sense of these somethings.

Which is why I avoid most fictions brought together under the umbrella of realism. I find the term a contradiction, a LIE. If you want to write ‘realism’ you should be working for the Essex Tourist Board producing pamphlets. You deal in factual dross and the sordid business of accuracy.

How vile! How much better to write about Conk’s talent for scat-singing while riding a lubed-up rhino! Let’s have a few characters drilling into pumpkins then making love to the skins! Let’s write about Conk’s office taking off into the stratosphere and exploding into the sun!

Ignore what they say. Sure – write believable characters we can relate to and whom we love and nibble. But make sure you have them extracting a hog’s head from their anus while Neptune erupts.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Hello, Beautiful

Blog neglect is a shame. The nature of blogging demands a casual relationship with one's readers, and because these readers don't exist, this means the relationship taking place is between oneself in the present and oneself in the past.

So to break it down, blogging is like having a relationship with a slightly younger version of yourself. You are the same person, only the person speaking to you is the person who wrote your last post a week, a month, or a year ago. What is that person saying?

Blimey, it's lonely here.

In the event that a later incarnation of myself is reading this – M.J. in June 2019, after my fifth child and first alcohol addiction, or M.J. in March 2076, when the Bumblebee Lizards have colonised Scotland – I would like to impart one piece of advice:

Don't waste time reading old blog posts.

Too late? Well, you might want to read 100% Godfrey instead, my new flash at the radically purple blog Clockwise Cat. Or perhaps a longer piece is what thine eyes require? In which case, read my splatterporn debut Inky Beast in the new issue of Deadman's Tome.

Thank you to the editors in question for the exposure, but mostly, thank you to me. Without me, none of this would be possible, so thank me very much. I hope me will come back soon!