Monday, 30 August 2010

Annie’s Flex ‘n’ Fold Punk Ironing Board

Annie the punk rocker had a problem. She wanted go to the Clash concert to make a nonconformist statement, but she also wanted to impress Joe Strummer with the wow of her threads. She decided she would have to iron her green shirt – the one with the black and blue finger-paint daubings – lest it appear too shabby in the glare of the club.

Ironing is not an activity favoured by most nonconformist punk rock enthusiasts, especially in the era of social unrest in which Annie exists – the ‘80s splayed before her like a slob on a slab. First of all, she would have to acquire an ironing board, which she did by visiting the B&Q across the street from her flat, which we assume is in London.

As she attempted to unfold her new Bosch Swivelsteam XV4 model, failing to unhook the rail from its safeguard, an idea came to her. When the railing bucked up and stabbed her in the chest, the idea was confirmed. She would wear the ironing board to the concert. Sod the shirt! What could be more nonconformist than wearing the dull appendages of domestic life to punk concerts and exposing them as bourgeois shams?

Fastening a series of tight knots around her chest and the base of the board, she would carry the board around on her back like a bag. (Fig. 1). Whenever she released the catch, she would be propelled into the air and the board, if leaning against another punk enthusiast, would be tilted at such an angle that she could see above the mohican hairdos and view The Clash in all their splendour. (Fig. 2).

Of course, like all visionary ideas, it was soon copied by her peers, and mayhem ensued. (Fig. 3). Oh well. Back to the, um, ironing board.

Fig. 1

Fig. 2

Fig. 3

P.S. Midway through drawing these figs, Annie changed her name to Alice. "Much more euphonious" was the reason. Mad wench!

Friday, 27 August 2010

Statements of Positivity

I like Zionists because, in all my time among the tetrapods, cuttlefish and gnus, I have never met snappier dressers.

You have a striking mien when regarding that sousaphone – one suggestive of orchards, poems in the sunshine, fuzzbox guitar à la Slowdive, lemons, and Lillian Gish.

Last week I brought my doctor grapes. He told me he didn’t like grapes, but he would perform that hysterectomy anyway, gratis. I said thank you and flashed a bit of leg (I know what he likes).

I don’t understand the purpose of poetry but I do like poets. They are cute little urchins who realise what they are doing isn’t art, but a sort of charming word puppetry. Aww, they are so cute!

I will never be beautiful like Richard Bacon, but I can steal his face and walk around in the guise of a BBC Radio 5 host, making observant remarks about current affairs that die in the moment.

They still make Lilt. This is a fizzy beverage forgotten in the passing of time, but it is still as delicious, despite the clock’s wrath.

People who use the words “hitherto” or “ipso facto” in conversation will die sooner than us, so all is well.

Online booksellers selling ex-library stock “like new” will meet their sticky ends when I ram that fireball nether-wards.

Donna McPhail. I remember you. I thought you were the funniest one on The Sunday Show.

Cuddlecore maestros Cub thought they might make a few bucks from their song “Everyday With Chico” when the reality TV star was at his peak. Alas, he faded from our hearts and the moment passed. Ah well.

Pea and salad and lettuce make us healthy. Small balding men who stand in shops listening to football instead of loving their customers do not, and will die when The Reckoning is upon us.

B.S. Johnson was once among us.

Custard is not an apt substitute for cardboard. Try boxing up a broken window with Ambrosia. See?

Money is the root of all evil, but evil roots cost money to repair. That dentist won’t be paid in proverbs, no siree.

Love yourself. You are better than the others.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Reading Habits

Since the beginning of January, I’ve tried to read a minimum of two hours per day. So far, with obvious moments of lapse and catch-up, this has been an achievable goal. Since watching TV turns your brain into pickled baboon turds, my googlebox supplement comes through DVD boxsets and iplayer content, in infrequent doses (one/two hours per day).

I make a point of reading (if I must) only one novel of 400 pages(+) per month. The rest should be between 200-400 pages, and ideally I will read a few shorter books to buffer the heavier material. This means I get through about three/four books per week on average, two when the fat novels are out.

The amount of books we read in our lifetime is teensy compared to the amount printed per month. I wager we read less books in our lifetime than are printed per month. This fact fills me with dread, despair and a mad craving to lock myself in a cellar and read until I turn into soup.

Discovering a new author only leads to another, and while we work through one back catalogue, a new face jockeys for position atop the reading list. I hardly read anything modern: I’m still working through the ‘60s postmodernists. I get a toogle of excitement when I discover a writer I love has a huge back catalogue. On the other hand, I quite like authors who die young. This means I can get through their works quicker.

I think my reading falls into two categories: professional and pleasurable. The former consists of books from my MA Course’s library – books sympathetic to my own leanings as a writer. The latter are authors who I know will tingle my pleasure receptors. When the two categories blend, usually this means I have found a very special author indeed.

So that’s all very good. I’m sure you will agree the above five paragraphs constitute a satisfactory blog post. I think I will conclude on a positive note by saying the whopping range of choice available should be appreciated for as long as one has functioning eyeballs. In other words, stop reading this and get to the library, pronto. Then leave the library when they don’t have the book you want and sulk. Sulk the day away, friends. Sulk sluk slurgh.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Štiks and Stones

Having missed all the interesting events at the Edinburgh Book Festival, I nabbed a place at the European Fiction event, which boasted perhaps the oddest line-up of the year. Writers Alasdair Gray, Igor Štiks and Michał Witkowski were present, discussing the latest anthology from Dalkey Archive, collecting ‘the best’ fiction from (almost) each European nation.

Quite how they chose each writer is beyond me. Igor Štiks – a Bosnian émigré living in Edinburgh, famous for his works on Croatian life, was chosen to represent Bosnia. Hmm. Michał Witkowski is the Polish author of Lovetown, representing, uh, Poland. Alasdair Gray, the 75-year-old asthmatic who hasn’t written a decent book since 1992, represents Scotland. Hmm again.

This opens questions. Gray hardly seems the best choice to represent Scotland in this anthology – his work barely takes place on this planet, let alone Mother Caledonia. Štiks is an academic and his entry (which he read from) sounded like the sort of intertextual shtick most academic writers do. Witkowski’s entry could have come from McSweeney’s. Representation was discussed, but I wasn’t listening to that, because I was thinking about funnels.

Anyhow, I haven’t read this anthology, so it would be easier to do that. What was interesting to hear was how nations such as Poland are so entrenched in their own literary traditions, to them, “avant-garde” is only an expression in inverted commas. Witkowski spoke of looking to America for innovative, experimental fiction, and the same is true of the UK. The problem was diagnosed, inevitably, as publishers being blockheads. It was vexing to learn publishers could pay less for new fiction in translation than celeb memoirs.

It is also vexing to think that Gray was chosen on the grounds of being the most avant-garde Scottish writer alive. Are there really no Scottish writers who like to write books on the toenails of weevils, or treatises on Franco-Prussian ergonomics on napkins? I happen to know seven such people, and six of them were born in Haddington.

Štiks was the most compelling and handsome speaker there and I’ll be snooping around his work very soon. As much I like Alasdair Gray’s books of sexual fantasies/perversions, he cuts an awkward onstage presence, if “cuts” is the right word, slumped with his arms behind him, stumbling into theatrical answers like a grandpa being given an occasional electro-shock wake-up. Witkowski was amusing and looked the most like Viggo Mortensen.

I also tried a kumquat today. I have to say: disappointing. I expected better. The kumquat is the Scottish avant-garde of the fruit world.

Thursday, 19 August 2010


1) Since our Hattist performance at the Book Trust, where we received a standing ovation and groupies a-go-go, there have been plans to build a giant floating fez-ship over Edinburgh, keeping watch over the non-hat-wearing population. The fez-ship will contain lasers to keep the docile consumer masses in their proper headgear before the Sultan of the Hat returns. This ship, Uncle Fezter, or another fez pun, will be powered by HIM.

2) I am addicted to cuddlecore music. I am talking about Cub, Bunnygrunt and The Muffs. These bands write twee pop songs with childish melodies that makes one want to get up and dance and shed ice-blue panties. I have come to realise how much of a slave I am for a cute pop hook and I do not care what the cooler-than-thou crowd says.

3) I am nearing the end of a fifteen-book Gilbert Sorrentino marathon, and I never want to write anything linear ever again. I want to hide in a cave and carve postmodern stories into walls, lapidate passersby, and send abusive smoke signals to the “civilised” world. Gilbert has changed how I think about narrative composition and ice-blue panties.

4) In Chris Bachelder’s U.S.!, a great fuss is made about the excessive usage of exclamation points in the novels of Upton Sinclair. I have decided, to forge a more positive outlook, to end every sentence I write in exclamation points! This technique is a lesser-known Oulipian quirk, and within good reason! Can you imagine reading a whole novel like this! You would be either outraged or amused! I imagine outraged, though!

5) Before I start the second year of my Napier MA, I am undergoing an airborne sex change. I demand that the operation be performed while hurtling through the air at 10,000ft. The complicated procedure will be conducted within a floating gazebo, decorated by Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen (remember him?) and my doctors will be former cast members of E.R.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010


Why do you write? Do you write to make sense of the world? Is that too trite? Do you write because you have a passion for language? Do you think that is good enough? How are you going to write something accessible for the kiddies? Do you write because you have a unique take on things? How unique, exactly? Are you as unique as Lydia Davis? Or Elizabeth Browning? Or are you somewhere in between? Or nowhere in between? Is one person’s uniqueness better than another person’s uniqueness? Was that sentence awkward? Would you like a paragraph break?

Is that better? Are you finding this wearisome? Would you like a break? What if I say no? Is this blog post more or less unique than Elizabeth Browning? Who is Elizabeth Browning? Sonnets From the Portuguese? How do I love thee? Do I love thee? Do I think thee is not as unique as Lydia Davis? Do I love Lydia Davis? Who is Lydia Davis? Is she better than Lydia Millet or Lydia Lunch? Does Lydia Lunch like lunch or prefer dinner? What did I have for lunch? Is that any of your business? What did you have for lunch? Is that any of my business? Paragraph break?

What are you wearing? Is it mauve? What is the point of mauve, anyway? Would you use mauve in a story? Have you ever worn mauve in your life? Why should we bother describing clothes in stories? Does anyone really care what another person is wearing? Oh, you do, do you? Well, how would you like three pages of exacting description about clogs? What’s that? If they were pretty clogs? Are you serious? What’s that?
I should be working on my story, not faffing about with the interrogative? Should I? Should I?


Monday, 16 August 2010


I would like to apologise to the following:

1) Bonnie Raitt, for fourteen years sneering at your accessible Grammy-winning C&W stylings.
1) Jem Finer, for considering your contributions to the Pogues of no consequence.
1) Ian Rankin, for using you as a whipping boy on this blog in past posts, when I should have used Iain Banks.
1) Franz Kafka, for finding your prose tedious to the point of despair, and your despair tedious to the point of prose.
1) Don Delillo, for not reading a single word of your books because I hate your name.
1) To all Jennifers, for using the name Jennifer for every female character I write.
1) Don Delillo again, as the more I think about that name, the more irritated I become.
1) My body, for eating that whole bag of marshmallows.
1) Anyone reading this tripe.
1) The inventors of cheese, for finding your product disgusting and reprehensible.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Quiddity Theme Tunes

Popular singer Abby National has kindly contributed the following five potential themes for this potentially interesting blog:

1. “Both Quiddities Now”

2. “Life on Quiddity”

3. “Trouble on Quiddity”

4. “Quiddity Matters”

5. “Quiddity in the Wind”

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The Curious Business of Torrented e-books

OK: Say you are a reader. Say you actually like to read books and take pleasure in other people’s words and ideas. Say, after so many years reading these books, you decide to give up reading them in print, and switch to online or via kindle. Busy life and all that. No room in the satchel for a lumpy Charles Dickens or slim Aimee Bender. You are a go-getter. You gulp down lattes and say “no rest for the wicked.” Go you.

So: Now that you are reading books in a digital medium, a thought occurs to you: ‘Hey . . . I wonder if I could download these books as a torrent? Well, why not? I mean, all that music I downloaded last year from Rapidshare and other morally dubious file-hosting websites was free. Why not books? I mean, I earn enough money to own a kindle, so why should I have to pay for other things? Why can’t I spend that money on Nigerian whores or cheese?’

Indeed. So there you go, logging onto, downloading every new release reviewed in the Guardian that week. Well done. You have stolen forty novels and have helped publishing in its goal to be replaced by Rupert Murdoch's Asian cable channels. So what now? Where do you possibly begin with this e-sack of illegal loot?

I mean, it takes you about a month to get through one book, doesn’t it, because you are a slow reader, aren’t you, yes, you read slowly because you are too busy exchanging witty summaries of your exciting life to your chic urbanite friends who power-walk and do lunch and other repulsive vacuities of our repugnant capitalist world, yes, and you couldn’t possibly get to that new J.M. Coetzee when you are still reading that Martin Amis from 2008, and you like Martin Amis, but he doesn’t half go on much, but you recognise his name, and you must like him, you must, because his views on warmenlovepolitics chime with your own and he appeals to your bourgeois sensibilities, and you will get to J.M. Coetzee at some point but, ooh, he’s a little offbeat and I’m not sure I’ll like him, so in all actuality I'll probably never get around to reading him, I’ll stick with Martin, yes, because I know him, he is a voice I trust, and at this time in my life I don’t really want to be experimenting with new writers, it’s not like I have the time to read him anyway, no, what with the meal-eating with friends and the work, and the going to see bands and pretending I’m still young and the hilarity I have with my friends, oh my many, my varied and many friends who also read one book per year but make $299K in the city, yes, we can’t possibly read with our schedules, no, we must exercise, watch films, watch reality TV ironically, no, we have no place for books in our lives, no, no, I don’t know why I got the Kindle to begin with.


What? What’s that? Oh, you don’t? Of course you don’t, you peasants. So please: Get your dirty thieving e-paws of our beautiful books, you repulsive crooks, and get back behind your desks and listen to your Jamie Cullum. For Cullum is the way for you, and Coetzee is the way for us. Thank you.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Festival Highlights

1. Poetry Unbound

Ten poets undergo horrible experiences onstage – sodomy, stabbings, burnings, skinnings, and so on, then have ten minutes to compose a poem about their experiences. The audience votes the best poem and the winner gets a slot in the Slam Tent at the Ham-on-Rye Festival. Includes David Thirstburn, Alan Keswit, Shona McIlkley.

£19 Adult, £18.99 Student. Seating: 50. Expected: 200.

2. Bob Hacklaff + Jason Justinson

Bob Hacklaff, acid-tongued funnyman from Channel 4’s panel show All Politicians Are C**ts, is back with an outrageous new show: Fuck You, You Fucking Fuckface Motherfucking Fuck. In this rowdy and side-splitting show, Bob sets out to use the word ‘fuck’ five times in every sentence as a sociological analysis of the parameters of contemporary language. The Guardian: “A Rabelaisian romp that sets new boundaries of bad taste, then breaks them.”

Support from Jason Justinson, the most recent twentysomething cheeky Irishman who does jokes about relationships and the fact that there are actually differences between the sexes.

£7 Adult, £7 Student. Seating: 4. Expected: 900.

3. Brecht vs. Beckett

In a first for Edinburgh, The University of Chester’s drama graduates present Theatre of the Absurdly Tuneful. Beckett’s Waiting For Godot and Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera meet for the first time to form Waiting For Opera: an existential musical interposing the plot and characters from both plays to devastatingly original effect. The Herald: “Like being in the head of a schizophrenic Nazi janitor.” Original score by Katy Perry.

£40 Adult, £60 Student. Seating: 500. Expected: 3.

4. Madagascan Toe Orchestra

For the first time in Edinburgh, come and see the marvellous quintet from Antananarivo! This outstanding group perform tribal music on entirely on their toes, using their toenails as the driving instrument, with the rubbing sounds providing a support, or rhythm section. This is a one-off opportunity to see this incredible group – tickets are selling fast! They are performing hourly at the Hooterfooter Tent for the duration of the festival.

50p Adult, 35p Student. Seating: 30. Expected: 0.

5. The Critic Strikes Back

Five critics who have spent the duration of the festival in a loft in Morningside are invited to review, onstage, the shows they haven’t seen. Watch them as they reach for pithy quotes that kill dreams stone dead, insult performers they’ve never heard of, and undermine every idea by comparing it to something that has gone before. This is a must-see show, though the critics maintain it will be disappointing and not as good as Live Jenga.

10p Adult, 1p Student. Seating: 0. Expected: -5.

6. Live Jenga

For years, performers, actors and directors have wondered: could you make Jenga into an event? Usually, the answer is no, but Bob Holm isn’t so sure. Using dramatic lighting techniques, tense music and two moody competitors, Bob sets out to prove Jenga can be as entertaining as Shakespearean tragedy, and a lot less wordy. No coughing or heckling permitted.

£400 adult, £399.85 student. Seating: 10,000. Expected: 50,000.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Flush Fiction

Why are there never any reading materials in public toilets?

Say I go into the stall in a restaurant bathroom for a number two. I don’t want to walk past men at the urinals carrying a book, because this is odd behaviour, and I want to keep odd behaviour to a minimum in public life, so I have to go in there with nothing. If I have partaken in a hearty meal, I will be in there for 5-10 minutes, which seems the perfect length to read a short piece.

So here’s what I propose: Flush Fiction. Each public toilet should have a writer-in-residence. Their task is to compose short stories on one or two sheets of toilet paper. The stories don’t have to be brilliant: basic Man A does Thing B and ends in Happiness C stuff. The point is, the stories will keep the user occupied during their time on the toilet, and they can use the story afterwards to wipe themselves.

The prospect of having someone wipe their bum with an original work of yours might seem ghastly, but think of the practise. You will write so many little vignettes that a genius idea is bound to spark. You will soon be on the bestseller list, courtesy of those hours of forced writing. You can do this work from home: sheets of loo roll can be shipped to the writer, who writes their work along a roll, respools it, then sends it to the establishment.

The classier the location, the different the stories. Swanky eateries require Victorian yarns or comedies-of-manners, whereas your fast food joints will make do any potboiler or bonkbuster. There is no telling what people will like, of course, so be as eclectic as you can. Stalls could even be divided into various genres, meaning women will get a more diverse reading experience, which is fine, as women read more than men on average.

Write to your local restaurant. Say you demand Flush Fiction in their stalls at once. Say you refuse to sit there staring at graffiti which, although mini-narratives in their own right, lack a proper story arc. Give public toilets the stories they deserve.