Saturday, 30 January 2010


I sit here in the throes of deadline fever: I have 48 hours to turn in a sci-fi short for a prestigious competition. This being the case, let me keep it short.

Short is an apt place to start. The Short Humour Site, who publish short humour (clue’s in the title) have brought out a compilation chapbook of their greatest moments. My short is included. It’s not cheap, but you can’t put a price on laughter. Well, you can: £4.16.

Kristin Hersh has two free downloadable albums of new material. She is a generous talent, and ever since I caught her laconic appearance at Cabaret Voltaire in May, I have been smitten. She has also trailblazed an ingenious ‘sugar daddy’ strategy to keep her actively recording and touring and is an inspiration to millions of struggling artists the globe over. This music is luscious.

Also, I’m shaking up my blog list, baby. If you’re coming to this blog following a very witty and incisive comment I made on your blog: hello there! I will assist you in your desire to dominate the world with giant squid-like flannels and inflatable concrete testicles. What do I mean? I don’t know. I have a deadline to make, I don’t have time for details!

Have a squidtastic start to February.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Death of the Author [Pt 3]

The Future of Narrative

Take a look at any newspaper or current affairs programme and you are taking part in the ongoing global narrative, written and performed by the media. The source material may be drawn from real events, but the media decide what issues are the most important to their (and therefore our) agenda. One week, the theme is looming terrorist attack, the next it’s the rising knife crime statistics. The media are Authors of the Here-and-Now.

We are – when we read, digest, worry or write angry letters to Rod Liddle – active participants in a 24hr rolling narrative. Unless we move among the Fleet Street decision-makers, we are powerless as to the narrative’s agenda.

Perhaps the death of the author and the birth of the internet signals the start of one similar endless, rolling narrative, written entirely online.

Imagine this.

It’s 2080. Books are no more. Print publishing is limited strictly to important business and governmental documents. To participate in the act of writing literary fiction, you must log on to the website:

The homepage has an opening sentence, written by the wealthiest fiction writer at the time of the site’s conception (it would, most likely, be Dan Brown), and clicking this link opens up an endless spider diagram of alternative ‘next’ sentences.

Each sentence in The Narrative is either chosen by a randomiser, allowing the reader a completely random reading experience written by an endless stream of writers, or you get to choose a specific sentence to read next, with the most “popular” writers on the site ranked top to bottom.

Sentences are rated individually on their merit within the story, and those with the most popular sentences, inevitably, have a wider readership. To prevent The Narrative from spiralling into chaos, each ‘next’ sentence has a limited number of contributors per hour, and each ‘next’ sentence will remain open for this period only. Each writer is allocated a ‘previous’ sentence so the story vaguely hangs together.

And The Narrative never ends. It is one endless collaboration, there is no one “author,” to speak of, there are only top contributors, varying degrees of popularity, and an endless reading experience. The story would, of course, be utterly without unity, direction, purpose, sense or meaning. A Narrative of the Ages.

Under this regime, the writer opens himself up to an endless labyrinth of multiple interpretations within the space of a sentence. No two readers will have the same reading experience. The story may follow similar plot conventions, themes, character decisions, and so on, but the execution will always be different.

Is this Roland Barthes’s utopian dream – an infinite hypertextual playground where the author is scrutinised sentence by sentence, constantly at the mercy of a competitive and censorious reading community? Writing ceaselessly positing meaning only to ceaselessly evaporate it, carrying out a systematic exemption of meaning?

Oh, I hope not, matey.

NB. See Raymond Queneau’s
Hundred Thousand Million Poems for a poetic execution of this terror.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Death of the Author [Pt 2]

The Author as Whore

After an extensive investigation of the entire British readership (well, the ten people who responded to my post on The Fall forum), it is clear that the birth of the reader has not come at the death of the author. Instead, the author has been reborn as our whore, our lover, our Friday fuck.

According to the ten people who responded to my thread, reading trends among savvy middle-brow readers seem to indicate that what people look for in an author is security. We yearn to feel safe in an author’s hands, to be able to love them totally and wildly, to connect with them as deeply as possible and build a meaningful long-term relationship.

The analogy is obvious. The author is another form of lover, partner, dirty little secret.

It begins thus: we walk into a book shop, catch the eye of a book’s cover or title, and allow our interest to be piqued by the blurb. We practice the same superficiality when we’re fishing for totty in singles bars: we go on looks alone, hoping the personality matches the package.

When we take the book home, like a sweaty encounter with a fresh slab of love-meat, we pounce upon the text: groping the nouns, fondling the verbs, and doing nasty things with the adverbs. Sometimes the experience is the release we require and we connect deeply with the text, and other times, it is a boozy tussle laced with regret and shame.

Once the novel is over, like the aftermath of a one-night stand, we stumble from the experience, turning to the cover of our lover with the poser: “Sorry, what was your name again?”

And so, once we entwine ourselves to a literary lover, they no longer become “an author” we like, they become intellectual partners. Over the years, we snuggle close to these people, taking various things from various partners, until that inevitable moment of disappointment comes – that awkward racial slur, that excruciating love scene, that tedious fourth novel – and the relationship ends.

We become fed up with their stylistic tricks, their samey dialogue, their recurring themes, their increasingly blatant flaws and failures. When we break up with them, ordinarily, we break up with them for good. Sometimes, as with a lover from our youth we might return to years later, our hearts will be stolen again.

For the author, the readership is his harem. It is his job to find as many concubines as possible, to implant his literary semen into the readership so that next generation may turn to his books, spawning a legacy to be proud of. If his mojo fades, soon the writer floppycocks into obscurity, begging agents for blowjobs, begging readers for a sad boozy kiss.

For the reader, the author is one of many lovers. We must be as promiscuous as possible. Some of us change lovers as often as we change authors. Some of us flirt with a writer, batting our eyes at his prose, and might even scan one or two of his pages – the literary equivalent of the backroom snog – but nothing more. Regardless, the author will always insinuate himself into our intellectual lives in that personal way some lovers cannot: they delve deep inside us and achieve intimacy on a level unattainable through real-life relationships.

Quoth Will Self: “All my work is highly personal; it's more personal than me. You know, reading my books is having a far more intimate relationship with me than having a relationship with me.”

Sunday, 24 January 2010

My Month in Novels (Jan)

I’ve managed to squeeze in five or so novels over the last month, but on the whole I’ve been dangerously deprived of that crucial IV drip of literary genius. That mainline of mastery, pumping directly into my veins, required to keep my own endeavours fresh in originality. So: to books.

The Xmas period was spent in the bedroom I grew up in reading a writer I grew up reading – the redoubtable Will Self. Having found his previous collection of newspaper articles too long-winded and tiresome to sift through, I had low expectations of
Feeding Frenzy.

However, while the parents got sloshed on cheap Pernod downstairs, I was entertained by Self’s witty discourses on architecture, his rollicking restaurant reviews, and assorted commissioned pieces ‘bout roads. Nice. I also found myself reading about his traumatic experience isolating himself from his loved ones during Xmas, while endeavouring to exile myself from my loved ones during Xmas. Did I go down and join them? Ehm…. nah.

Nick Cave, whose blistering music soundtracked the ickier moments of my adolescence, has written a second novel,
The Death of Bunny Munro. I read most of this on a bus bound for Inverness as the snow encased the entire North of Scotland in four months' worth of blinding white boredom. The book was a dark romp. Cave is erudite enough to reign in his extreme preoccupations with sex and biblical doom to create a tight and sleek little number. Most impressive. Though nothing beats ‘dem tunes. Start with "Let Love In" and never look back.

The longest novel I read was John Barth’s
Coming Soon!!! which stirred the most bile and delight during the festive period. I read the first fifty pages, found myself intrigued and excited at the antics therein, then I put the novel back in my bag after the one hundredth page. I was utterly infuriated with the style. However, this is the only book I have ever given up on, only to try again and find the rest a frustrating but divertingly original read. Full review here.

For giggles and wiggles I dipped into
The Book of General Ignorance which is the perfect book for pedants, aspirant trivia hounds and those curious about the fallacies underpinning most of our common knowledge.

Back home, as the new year took shape, I leapt into Alasdair Gray’s
Something Leather, which is an entertaining novel from the self-deprecating cruiser of old-school Scottish postmodernism. I found the various S&M tales therein diverting but the whole experience felt like a series of short stories and didn’t quite gel into a cohesive piece on a par with his classics, despite the exquisite final torture sequence. Marvellously designed, as usual.

I spent last week grappling with Jonathan Safran Foer’s
Everything is Illuminated, which frustrated and illuminated me in equal measures. Any novel that comes festooned with a dozen quotes from hacks claiming “this will reshape the future of the novel as we know it” is always a struggle. I want the critics to dislodge themselves from the writer’s arse, wiggle back to their drooly flats, then come up with their own opinion.

I found the structure almost conventional (surely not?) as the book plodded along, although the meandering nature of the various tales-within-tales soon wore me down. The novel is Tardis-like in that it appears pocket-sized, but takes a giant concentrated heave of effort to get through. Its Ukrainian narrator is not fond of paragraph breaks, loves repetitions, and is salacious to the point of sleaze.

In fact, this novel’s bizarre mix of eroticism and WWII horror is somewhat disquieting on the whole. I found myself torn between arousal, boredom, horror, and laughter. At times the writing borders on histrionic – the melodrama between the grandfather’s lovers becomes ludicrous, and Foer exhibits the excruciating desire to excavate each human emotion from his personnel as his contemporary Lydia Millet.

That said, the one stream-of-consciousness scene turns out to be the most powerful moment in the novel. Which is quite an achievement, as even Joyce didn’t pull that one off. There’s also a scene of gruesome slaughter that ranks as one of the most naturally horrific depictions of WWII horror that I've ever read. Foer is a compassionate writer, but at times I felt this compassion giving way to a detached glibness that soon bored me. So, an odd mixture. Worth exploring.

Last week I was introduced to the worst book in the world. It isn’t Dan Brown. No. This accolade is awarded to Quintin Jardine’s
Fatal Last Words. It is an execrable blight upon literature: a cynical blob of unedited, unproofread shelf-filling turd matter. The linked review is clearly written by a man who hasn’t encountered a book in his life.

Quintin Jardine has all the talent of a cockroach twitching through its death throes, but none of the fighting spirit. He is a petty, unpleasant, self-important, pompous, snivelling lump of hatred. His ‘books’ reflect this. I can say, without fear of libel, he is the worst writer working in the universe today.

Oh, one last thing – I now like Nicola Barker. Hurrah! Her novella
Small Holdings managed to capture the verve, quirkiness and addictive quality of her prose that her doorstopper books milk for over five hundred whopping pages. Well done, Nicola. I always believed in you.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Death of the Author [Pt 1]

Age of the Connotativist

It is a common understanding among publishers nowadays that the author is irrelevant.

Before the postmodern revolution and the invention of the ‘writerly’ text (books with a multiplicity of meanings), authors were philosophers, moralists, scholars, visionaries and prophets.

Since authors no longer produce ‘readerly’ texts – tomes with a clear moral line, a clear beginning-middle-end structure, and a general obedience to that era’s Grand Narrative, the word ‘author’ has been ludicrously downgraded. Fiction writers are no longer philosophers, teachers or prophets, unless such a tag is ascribed to them, in which case they themselves become the commodity over their work. They become that wretched USP.

The USP (unique selling proposition) drives all commerce, and art – whether we like it or not – is another form of commerce. When a writer completes a novel, they must ask themselves: ‘What do I want to sell in the long-term? Do I want to sell myself as a brand-name writer, or do I want to sell my prose based upon my name?’

First-time authors have no choice: their names are meaningless, and they will be rated upon the standard of their work and how this work slots into the appropriate genre fiction markets. However, those writers who choose to sell themselves as brand-names stand to make more cash from their fiction in the long-term. They still, however, have their identities snatched by the mitts of commerce.

For example: Carving a name for himself as Joe Whicker, that geezer who writes the Detective Asshead crime novels, Joe will build a fanbase among those who like straightforward genre novels with no ambitions whatsoever. People will come to associate the name Joe Whicker with the words ‘crime’ and ‘Detective Asshead’ over time. Soon the character will usurp Joe’s fame, his own creations will take over his reputation as author, and his name will be little more than a series of cultural associations. The word ‘author’ is irrelevant: what is associated with him is what matters.

This has been going for centuries. Say any author’s name, and a genre title, characters and themes will pop into our heads, and we will make a judgement upon their authorship based on our reactions to these associations. This is why I recommend replacing the word ‘author’ with the word ‘connotativist,’ highlighting how their names are largely irrelevant – what we want to know is his genre, his themes, his characters.

With writers who want to sell their prose based upon their name, similar hoops need be jumped. Literary writers such as Will Self, Nicola Barker et al sell books based upon their names and reputations, but the connotations to these names are a certain type of writing – a style, an edge, or a perspective readers come to know. The name solidifies into its own commodity, and this name can only be sustained with a healthy frequency of positive reviews, loyal cult readers, and an ability to stick within boundaries and not alienate the reader to the point of abandonment.

So, the bottom line is, the writer can commodify him- or herself in two ways: they can sell themselves as connotativists based upon their genre, characters, formula, whatever, or they can sell themselves based upon pre-established assumptions as to what their name suggests: the prose style, the edginess, their unique brand.

So, the author is most certainly dead. This is the age of the connotativist. We can still call ourselves writers, of course, but we are no longer the masters, commanders, leaders of our texts and our eras. Our work is determined by what people will associate us with when we croak. Once we are read, our souls are in the hands of the readers, and our work becomes little more than a series of connotations: M.J. Nicholls was moany, crap, boring, endless, preachy, phallocentric etc etc etc.

The author is dead. Long like the connotativist.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Rejection Missive From Raphael's Village

Me: Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Hee-hee-ho-ho-ho-he-ho-ha-hee!


Hi Mark,

Thank you for submitting your humorous short, "Jeden Pošetilý Povídka!" to our Healing with Humor forum. The piece is well written, but unfortunately, we're going to have to pass on this one.

Because we know it's helpful to understand why a piece was rejected, here are our general reasons.

1. Too many sexual references. We aren't against sex, but most of the references seemed intentionally crude merely to shock instead of to cause someone to laugh. "Penetrative anal sex" isn't exactly a thigh slapper (yes, okay, pun intended), and it and phrases like it didn't add to the humor of the piece.

2. Too disjointed. Not sure what lice and homosexuality have in common, but the lice gags alone might have worked. With the homosexual stuff going on, it became too jumbled, and it's unclear what the piece is actually going for.

3. Negative undertone. The piece started out interestingly and humorously, with Simon waking up and realizing he was a homosexual. It turned into something with some nasty-feeling undertones. While gay humor can be hilarious (Le Cage aux Folles, aka The Birdcage, for example), gay bashing isn't funny at all. That may not have been your intention, but it's how the tone of the piece came across to

4. No point. We reached the end and wondered why we'd gone on the journey.

Effective humor has to have a clear point. The only point we could get out of this was that the author doesn't like lice or homosexuals, but he does like talking about penetrative anal sex and making other gay sexual references.

Again, may not have been your intention, but it's how it came across to us.

5. Didn't sustain humor all the way through. Most likely because of the lice and homosexuality lines of thought crossing each other up. Separated, maybe each story line would be funny; together, they don't add up to more, they add up to less.

6. Including pictures. Unless it's specifically stated somewhere on the publication's submission guidelines (and we mean for all publications, not just ours), no one wants pictures submitted to support the story. Considering your story's content, we're rather relieved you couldn't share the pictures with us, but suffice to say, as a gentle suggestion, don't try that anywhere else. You can say that you have pictures you'd like to include if the story is accepted and if possible, but don't send them along with your submission.

Best of luck placing this elsewhere. We do hope you'll consider us for other submissions -- just because we didn't like this one doesn't mean we won't love your next piece.

---- -----
Editor, Raphael's Village

Sunday, 17 January 2010

What Lies Ahead (Twitching & Gangrenous)

I can’t believe it’s the middle of January already. I’m still scraping the elf cum from my cheeks after the New Year Piss-Up Spectacular, and the clock says it’s almost February. Hmmph! I want the person who controls time to stop taking so much heroin and lock himself in a cupboard until March 1989.

Right. So. It’s time for a status update.

Things have been shambling along at a sluggish pace here at M.J. Towers. I’ve decided to draw up a strict schedule for my writing to ensure I’m not losing hours on frivolous things like looking for work or eating. Sometimes I drift into dream-hazes that last four hours, or I spend the week procrastinating and wake up in a field in Dorset doused in ink toner. Time is fleeting.

I have some ambitious goals for this month and the next. I hope to get a part-time vocation soon (or rather, I don’t hope to) to keep the cash rolling in, but this depends on how long I can stretch the wonga I have and how much patience Her Majesty’s Government have with me. I hope lots. I don’t have sellable skills in the real world, so this should keep me in good stead.

I returned to my Creative Writing MA at Napier on Thursday. This semester looks promising: a mixture of practical writing skills such as copyediting and serious self-critical analysis. I hope to get a little writing workshop off the ground too, and my tutor has given part-time students the chance to produce a subversive pamphlet containing manifestos, psychogeographical noodlings and the like. This also looks promising.

Also, aside from bashing ahead with my novel, which I’ve decided to pin up along the walls of the flat for easier reference, I’ve been writing creative non-fiction pieces. It’s been a real eye-opener for me letting professionals read these mothers. I’ve been writing self-reflective weirdness for a while now, but have never unleashed it upon the public (because there’s no market for it). My tutor, however, has pushed me in the direction of several Edinburgh lit rags that publish these soul-bearing experimental diddlings, so I hope to get submitting.

Yes: submitting. My new mantra is ‘submit every day, you spineless arse’ and I hope to obey it. I’m going to bazooka the backlog of unpublished goodness and not-so-goodness into the wide world for at least half an hour per day and hope to come up trumps. I intend to give up writing flash fiction this year, so I want to exorcise all of last year's little spurts and follies.

Last thing: Cantaraville still haven’t sent me the proofs for my e-book collection (seven months pending). Slow and steady wins, er… nothing. Likewise, Goldfish Press (who bagged my novel) have gone AWOL and I have to play the long game while they sort themselves out. Still: contracts have been signed. I simply have to wait. Wait wait wait. God, I hate waiting.

Time is a bitch.

Be well now. Take heroin and beat your infants. It’s the American way.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Comfort While Writing

Get the violins out: I’m having comfort issues when writing.

Usually I sit upright at my desk on a hard-backed chair with back and bum cushions. I find that an upright position helps to avoid slouching and laziness, which I am prone to after about, say, two paragraphs of graft. I have a slow old fart of a computer which keeps me off the internet and focussed at the task in hand. This position has seen me through a novel, a dozen short stories, two academic essays and eighty blog posts. So it works.

Sometimes I use my flatmate’s computer to write, but this has reverse success. The chair is too comfortable and the computer has a super-quick Pentium chip, meaning it’s easier to think of something at random then go raking up the internet for details. However, it is more comfortable and a more pleasant writing experience, if somewhat slow and snoozy.

But now, finding the hard-backed chair too draconian, and the other chair unavailable, I’ve reverted to using my laptop in a very comfortable chair indeed. A chair in which I can lean forward, slouch back, put my feet up and reach hot cups of cocoa. This gives me the best of both worlds, but the snag is that Microsoft Word does irritating things with punctuation on the laptop, I can’t hook it up to a printer, and the broadband cable is sticking out the back like an IV drip. And it keeps disconnecting if I move a quarter inch. There it goes again!

So, the point I want to make is... aaaaarrrrgh! This is an infuriating dilemma! Do I select discomfort, discipline and neat wiring over messy wires, comfort and small laptop snags? Eh???

For now, I find the laptop easier to write on. Not having to lean forward over a desk is a boon, as is having a smaller monitor that doesn’t strain the eyes so much. So for now, the future for me lies in the laptop. If I improve my productivity using this thing then I might switch to this writing method in future. Ha-ho-haw! I’m easily excited these days.

Now tell me how you write so I can laugh at you. Go on, tell me, slouchy McPoopypants. I dare you.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Sleep a Million Years

Folk whizz-kids Vetiver know how to put the considerable vocal talents of Vashti Bunyan to amazing use. She appears on their brilliant 2008 album Thing of the Past – a selection of esoteric and ethereal cover versions, singing one of the most moving songs I have heard in months, Sleep a Million Years.

Vashti lends this haunting little number, penned by an artist of similar precious beauty to her (old folkie Dia Joyce), a sensual melancholy no one else could possibly muster.

The song is glorious, wistful, spine-chilling and dreamily marvellous. I almost cried. But Vashti has that effect on me generally.


PoMo Pete Wants a Mate

[Posted on Dating Site Flirt Box on 7/1/10:]

Hell-O there! Well, gosh dirt it, call me a salamander and curse my aunt Sally! How d’ye begin one-a these things???

I’m PoMo-Petey, I’m 1+1+1+20 years o’ age and I likes me postmodernism! Ho-ho! Me loves the wacko schizo funstuffs of them literary pranksters, how they holda reflection up t’the world of dusty old books and bend 'n' subvert what is possible on the INTERWEBS!

I like t’challenge the convenzional notions o’ human interactions! I wanna chance upon a wooman who hazz similar LOOPY notions of what can be achieved thru the genre-bending goodness of postmodernism!

We can read books upside down on the sofa! Eat kedgeree off the tum-tums of dogs and staple ideals to our brains! I want a woman to crack the eggs of the world with: crack ‘dem eggs, baby!

So hit me up if you like postmodern livin’ and let’s talk ideas!

[Updates to follow. Will Pete find a mate? Stay tuned.]