Wednesday, 5 July 2017

A novella named after this blog

I wrote a novella that fits in one’s pocket. You could be sitting on a ski lift, preparing to slope down snowy tufts, and read page 28 of this novella that begins with the words “reason for making this trip”. You could be attending a cousin’s daughter’s clavichord recital, and in a break from the bumbled baroque boredom, read page 48 that begins with the words “my mother was pregnant at the time”. You could be erecting a supporting partition from drywall with seven other muscular builders, and in a lull, read page 12 that begins with the words “Paul was too vague to cause irritation”. You could be interviewing Sean Lennon about his latest album, and after making a barbed remark about his solo efforts never eclipsing the worst of his father’s avant-garde indulgences, read page 2 that begins with the words “of custard powder in a supermarket”. You could be in a chemistry lesson, feverishly trying to make the lime water turn cloudy with your carbon dioxide output, and read page 40 that begins with the words “in the lucrative trade of smuggling drugs”. There are 56 pages of text in this “sagging short”, so another 51 examples of moments in which this novella can be removed from a pocket for the purposes of reading can be provided on request. Otherwise, purchase here.

Friday, 12 August 2016


Advance Praise Bought comments on The House of Writers:

“Hey, man! Thanks for transferring the £50. You want me to ramble on about your novel’s kickassitude? Sure. It’s sitting on the bookcase, man. I have priorities, like Franzen’s and DeLillo’s latest. I like you, man, but I ain’t bumping those two LEGENDS for your little scribbling. Anyway, use this: MJ ROCKS AND THIS IS MUCH BETTER THAN THAT JUVENILE EFFORT WITH BELCH IN THE TITLE. PEACE.” — @davey46

“Mr. Nicholls, I have read this latest novel submission with interest. Thank you for sending the other manuscripts, Publish This You Cretins, Your Publishing Firm is a Tide of Effluent, Everything You Publish I Ignore on Principal. I will assign those to our intern readers. I would like to make a personal comment: why the bitterness? This novel is simply a brutal outpouring of personal grievances, score-settling resentments, and misanthropic moans about the world’s refusal to crown you a genius. I am afraid we cannot publish this.” — A Man at Penguin Books

“Dear Mark, I have had a look at some of your book now. I’m afraid that it isn’t my thing. Good luck with it. […] Just to send you a few more words … there were some things I liked in your MS, it’s just that a blurb needs to be a real affirmation and I feel uneasy offering that here I’m afraid. Please don’t be too disheartened and make sure you keep writing.” — Alex Kovacs

“Mark. I’m sorry, but I had to skip that nine-page list. It went on far too long. Why didn’t you make it easier for the reader? I’m sorry, but I couldn’t really understand what the book was about. Your father is reading the Jack Reecher novels, why don’t you write something like that?” — Mrs Nicholls

“This is a pleasant, amusing, moving, and engaging novel written by a talented person.” — CheapBlurbs4U

“A ho-hum gallimaufry of stop-start narratives, banal tangents, and boorish satirical pokes.” — Harold Sorrentino

“The nadir of attempted comedy.” — Lydia Theroux

““This novel is a crisp, buttery concoction that tantalises the mind . . . a soft and mouthwatering crunch of pleasure tingling on the cortices and yumming up the imagination.” — Gregg’s Bakers

“Labyrinthine satiric masterpiece . . . destined for a place in the pantheon of eternal pleasures” — M.J. Nicholls

Page 219:

I am the author of this novel and I have lied to you, and taken unhealthy pleasure in lying to you, and I will continue to lie to you until you beg for more. I have lied about everything in my real life (which does not exist—even as the “author” I am a construct invented to represent aspects of the “real” author—however, let’s not tangle ourselves in semantic or metaphysical notions. I have lied my way through life, relishing in the saltiest untruths. When people have asked me, “Is that soup made of string?”, I have replied, “No. That soup is made of soup.” I have told many dirty, unfair lies, and I have delighted in every one. The truth is a pointless concept, invented by non-writers to keep the masses logical and docile, to eliminate the pleasures of fiction-making. Punch the truth hard.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Only a Crohn in Her Game

I have known my sister Kathleen now for nearly three decades, and I have to say, I think the broad is growing on me. I first met her in 1986, when she had the audacity to emerge from the matriarch three years earlier, basking in the limelight of being the second child to appear after a startling hiatus of eighteen years. This effrontery aside, I finally deigned to speak to the wise and witty chick, and I found our colloquies stimulating and fruitful, and the childhood larks we spent of a high calibre. Last week I attended the launch of her non-fiction book Go Your Crohn Way: A Gutsy Guide to Living with Crohn’s Disease, and I was impressed to see that she has lived up to that early promise I heard when she first whispered her literary plans into my amniotic ears in the hospital room two minutes after my birth.

                                   (a colloquy on the early works of Will Self)
The book launch was hosted at the Edinburgh Royal Society, where a splendidly organised knees-up awaited the invited guests. But first, a portrait of the “diseased dame” herself as a young artist. As a small individual, K. was a bright and artistic being: busying herself with painting, designing, drawing, and writing in various forms, most notably as a prolific diarist on a par with Samuel Pepys: an epic tome I am informed is still kept to this date. We collaborated on various works, mostly short-lived magazines that now reside in private collections, until aging and the teenage fog separated us as collaborators. It had piqued me for years that K. was not exploiting her artistic talents to the degree I deemed satisfactory, and I would often nudge her into pursuing a reckless life of art-making and to hell with the consequences, but a horrible invader arrived and put the kibosh on these larks: Crohn’s Disease.

This violent disease, written about with eloquence, passion (against), and hilarity in Go Your Crohn Way, reached a critical stage in the mid-to-late twenties of this loquacious lass, and at the time I recall the angst and helplessness at seeing my sensational sibling have to encounter this hurricane of horror, and to a large extent, I withdrew, offering whatever crumbs of support I could. I suggested (along with her partner—more on this colossus of a man in a mo) she write a blog as a form of therapy, and this became Crohnological Order (award-winning), and the terrific book crohnicling the experience. The book is a thorough and compassionate no-folds-barred peek into the life of a sassy Scottish woman with a big brain who has insightful and sensible things to say, who has a clear-sighted (loo)handle on her condition, and who is willing to share her ordeals to help the afraid with their fraught futures. Enough said. Order the book via this link.

The launch was a splendid evening: prepared with panache and compèred by K.’s male man, James, who also acted as interviewer for the brief Q+A, and attended by friends, family, followers, and fun-lovers. I sat content in the knowledge that this broad had found her métier and flourished into the sort of creative dynamo I had been pining for, the one I had imagined packing in the paycheck for a life of unrealistic art-making for no salary. Yes, this “diseased dame” has arrived, I thought, and she has gone about it her crohn way: rest assured, this book is only a crohn in her game. Show some respect, and order the book here.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Where is Daniel Ohm?

Partial list of items found in the flat of missing writer Daniel Ohm:

An Oral-B toothbrush with blue “brush faster” stripes: bristles bent backwards during late-night speed-brushing in an eagerness to head to bed, and the occasional bristle-nibble to remove excess toothpaste.

A copy of erotic novel Hot to Touch by Kimberly Kaye Terry, inscribed on the first page To Christine: GET U R FREAK ON, with a thin settling of dust on the cover from nine months spent unsent on the dresser. The novel had been purchased on the back of a humorous conversation about amusingly titled erotica at a writing group, and remained there while Daniel mused on the inappropriateness of having purchased a novel with his own funds as a callback to the drunken amusement that night: perhaps Christine might find the novel some pre-fumbling to his own erotic approach, or have forgotten the conversation in a week’s time, and receive the book with embarrassment?

A half-completed manuscript entitled The Secret Life of Douglas Arm: one hundred and two A4 pages featuring an unproductive writer at work not writing his opus, visiting the shop downstairs to lech over the cute shopgirl three times during her shift, and his unedited thoughts on long walks round the town, musing on his artistic failure. Each page contained copious marginalia consisting of harsh self-criticism (“crapcrapcrap”, “WHY?!”, “seek help”), ending with the phrase “burn this” on the last page. Whether this criticism was intended as part of or a comment on the manuscript is unclear.

A drawerful of unopened bags of Revels. A form of Pavlovian discipline for working on his manuscript: for each paragraph completed to his satisfaction, a favoured flavour (toffees and Galaxy counters) was eaten, and for each paragraph deemed adequate but in need of serious revision, the lesser flavours were endured.

A pentacle of the Purple Goddess Wiccan ornament. The final trace of his sixteen-month relationship with Gail Stevens, the account manager who liked to read, and who read Daniel’s unpublished comic novel about depressed crop-dusters, Coming a Cropper, considered for a week at Gangplank Press. The relationship petered out after Gail was worn down by Daniel’s fondness for moping and persistent self-examination.

A series of post-it notes scattered around the flat with questions such as: should I write?, what should I write?, what is original?, what is the point?, when will I ever complete my opus?, what is the point of an opus?, etc.

The complete novels of Macdonald Harris in hardback.

The search continues . . .

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Penny for Them?

Penny for them?: An Homage in Imitation of Hervé Le Tellier

I was thinking how the rise of atheism will only help to serve capitalist bastardry.

I was thinking I cannot understand the logic of wanting to sire children.

I was thinking I have never been seriously impacted by a change of government.

I was thinking the more I read the harder it becomes to appreciate truly adequate craftsmanship.

I was thinking how my ineptness at living seriously impaired your thirst for living.

I was thinking whether Christine Brooke-Rose might have had fun in the Oulipo, and whether her refusal to participate was a rather English and arch decision.

I was thinking how the malleability of the future should be embraced, provided one has reliable support beams.

I was thinking whether my attempts to become an intellectual will bring me as much happiness as perpetually clowning around.

I was thinking how I never wanted our relationship to evolve beyond the nostalgia of our first two years together.

I was thinking how killable sexual fantasies might be if their attendant smells were introduced.

I was thinking the more you write, the more the right words materialise, and how ironic it was that I changed the last word of this thought when transferring from notepad to laptop.

I was thinking that Will Self resembles Gogol’s remark from ‘The Nose’ of Ivan Ivanovich’s head as “a radish with the tail pointing down”.

I was thinking how other writers save pertinent quotes on their hard drives in the event they may one day need a fitting epigraph.

I was thinking how my working class upbringing will always leave me feeling a charlatan around literary people.

I was thinking how my girlfriend may be pretending to sleep as I write these pearls in bed beside her.

I was thinking when I told you I had published a story, your first enquiry was about the fee, not the content.

I was thinking how unapt it was my girlfriend said in her sleep: “no books for you today.”

I was thinking how depressing it is that my writing friends continue to produce prose in conventional forms, and how I must pretend to find their success pleasing, and how much more envious I would be if they published a formally inventive novel to acclaim.

I was thinking I will never have an agent.

I was thinking I will never make enough from writing to pay even two months rent.

I was thinking I could never render you or our time together unsentimentally in prose.

I was thinking how non-writers patronise writers struggling to support themselves with their work and how much pleasure is taken in their failing to do so.

I was thinking how an unwritten rule in social conversation is never to speak in sentences over 30 seconds long.

I was thinking I am unsure if I find Courtney Bartnett’s music irritating or infectious.

I was thinking how pathetic it is when I resent attractive female writers for being both attractive and talented.

I was thinking how almost everyone resents brazenly displayed intelligence.

I was thinking a friend of mine’s well-polished anecdotes might be rehearsed beforehand in the mirror.

I was thinking how important it is we can read together for hours in bed.

I was thinking I love my own company too much to sustain a long-term relationship.

I was thinking how fucking banal these thoughts might read to an outsider.

I was thinking how I have never met an unboring drunk.

I was thinking how little people care about social graces.

I was thinking I wasted £50 to watch, from a balcony a mile from the stage, a teensy Morrissey performing an uninspired set.

I was thinking how passionate love often struggles to transcend a fondness for shit novels and corny music.

I was thinking I will always be poor, and whether this should particularly bother me.

I was thinking only writers would have the arrogance to believe people might want to read a stream of their semi-varnished thoughts.

I was thinking I have 1325 Goodreads followers and hardly any of them wish to discuss books with me.

I was thinking to maintain most of my friendships, I have to engineer 90% of our meetings, and whether this reflects more on my desirability as friend then on my friends’ laziness for planning.

I was thinking of you, whoever you may be.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The 36 Fears of Ray Davies

  1. That the girl might not like me and the date will lead to further heartbreak.
  2. That the plane might not land in Alaska and crash-land somewhere in Nevada.
  3. That the Kinks might not reunite for a farewell gig.
  4. That the girl might like me and put undue pressure on me for the next one.
  5. That the plane will land and our Alaskan relatives will swarm around with embarrassing kisses and hugs.
  6. That the Kinks will reunite for a farewell gig and ruin the songs.
  7. That I might not like her and cause her heartbreak.
  8. That I might not land the plane in Alaska but in Greenland.
  9. That I might not be able to learn the songs in time for the Kinks’ farewell gig.
  10. That I might like her and put pressure on her to for the next one.
  11. That I might land the plane in Alaska and be bombarded by relatives after money.
  12. That I might perform the songs too well on the farewell tour and raise expectations for our new album.
  13. That you might not like her and choose not to share her with me.
  14. That you might not co-pilot the plane skilfully and cause a crash landing.
  15. That you might mess up the trickier guitar parts at the first farewell gig.
  16. That you might like her and want her all to yourself.
  17. That you might co-pilot too well and undermine my position as pilot.
  18. That you might play too well and make me look old and past my prime.
  19. That we might not like sharing her.
  20. That we might not be able to figure out the directions to Alaska between us.
  21. That we might not get our shit together before the first gig.
  22. That we might like sharing her too much and both want to marry her.
  23. That we might be too good and want to take up piloting full-time.
  24. That we might play too well and have to start a nationwide tour in our seventies.
  25. That she might not want to share herself among us.
  26. That she might not want to fly with us to Alaska to meet the folks after only two dates.
  27. That she might not like our music at all.
  28. That she might like us equally and want to marry us both.
  29. That she might want to do the flying herself.
  30. That she might like our music too much and annoy us at sound-checks.
  31. That they might disapprove of us sharing the same girl.
  32. That they might not like the way we land and complain about our piloting skills.
  33. That they might not like our new renditions of the old songs.
  34. That they might love the girl too much and want to keep her.
  35. That they might like our piloting skills and want us to fly them somewhere.
  36. That they might like our renditions too much and ask for free tickets constantly.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

A “Special” Blog

A special blog is needed since for once I am elsewhere than in Glasgow moping along at a snail’s pace on the various writings I am pummelling onto the page with these fists of fury. I am in Reit im Winkl with my co-editor at Verbivoracious Press, editing the Gilbert Adair festschrift, weeding the shaggier fronds of my story collection and working pell-mell on the more OCD aspects of my novel-in-progress, being intermittently besieged by flies, and rather crankily enduring the heat and absence of solitude. Reit im Winkl is a small village on the Austrian border walled in by modest forests and numerous ski lifts, popular among the snow-inclined in winter, and that is all I have to say on the matter.

This being a writer’s blog about what the writer (me) is writing—let me amuse you (me) with a précis in equal parts boring and factual. The Gilbert Adair festschrift is a selection of fiction and essays dedicated to the Scots-English-French novelist, critic, translator, and film aficionado. One of the greatest all-rounders of the last three decades, Adair died in 2011 without having earned a place in the hearts and hearths of the masses and the chattering classes, so this festschrift aims to correct that error in an entertaining and informative manner. I have been obsessed with writing about writers for as long as I have been a writer and the latest strain of this obsession has fed into the novel, The House of Writers, about which more info in the previous posts, and the collection, The Writer’s Writer and Other Writers. Keen-peepered readers will note the word ‘writer’ in both titles hinting at this obsession.

This brings us to an impasse, since I neither like talking about the banal details of what happens in my real life (these details will be reworked and re-imagined in the fictions), nor about travels and photos of nice scenes (the proliferation of images on the net has rendered one’s presence at the nice view unnecessary), nor about what I am working on in ponderous detail (since the finished work is what matters and one’s thought processes are not something that should be rendered on the page unless one is constructing a neat parcel of bullshit about their creative process). So, once again, futility has prevented this blog update from igniting. I will disclose, however, that the novel is progressing to a pleasing point, having escaped an earlier abandonment and attempt to chisel the thing into an ill-fitting novella. The story collection is nearing completion and only a last-minute paranoia about repeated forms or half-baked prose will prevent this thing from limping into the publish-me queue.