Archive | May, 2011

I just can’t help myself

31 May

I know, I’m my own worst enemy. But I stuck up another stupid promo thread on Amazon. I just can’t help myself. If something seems funny to me I just have to go with it. It’s some sort of weird compulsion. Comedy tourettes or something. When James Everington dared me to tag Oblivious as Erotica on Amazon, just for a laugh, I came so very close to doing it. I talked myself down on that one, fortunately. But now Stavrogin (aka Oli Johns) has suggested a joint promo game where we try and see who gets the most downvotes. It’s not fair, how can I resist that kind of temptation?

Anyway, it’s here. And funnily enough it isn’t attracting the ire I thought it might – yet. Five downvotes so far, but one of them is Stavrogin and another is me logging in as my missus so I could disagree with myself. Next week it’s Stavrogin’s turn so let’s see if he can beat me. (He started the game last week and managed a measly one downvote – terrible, must do better). Long gone are the days, it seems, when a single post could generate 50 or 60 disgruntled forum users. Apathy is the worst. We’ve got to try and ignite some interest again, somehow…

Richard Brautigan

29 May

You probably know this already, but I’m a huge fan of Brautigan, so much so that I decided about 8 years ago to make him my thesis subject. At this point (post viva and in revision mode) I’m struggling to finish my work on him and it occurred to me that posting things up on the Blog and elsewhere often gives me that extra push to write. So what the hell, as I finish a section I’m going to stick it up on here for only the most bored of you surfers to glance at. I won’t keep the whole thing up at any one time, but I’ll rotate them around on this page here. For today (or maybe for a few days) it’s the introduction.

Next up will be the new chapter 1 (previously chapter 7) which talks about his redefinition of the nature of biography, followed by his relationship to the Beats, his postmodern technique and his Zen influences… Bored yet? I know I would be. Don’t you hate students who bang on and on about the stuff they’re working on?

“And now to our man on the ground…”

25 May

“Nick, what’s happening there?”

“Well Gerald, not much I’m afraid. We’re here outside this Premier Inn in Cardiff city centre where it’s believed Neil Schiller, the man behind the current storm of controvesy, is staying. The reception staff won’t confirm this at the moment, but these pictures were taken earlier of the man himself entering the lifts in this very hotel. Since the story broke several hours ago we have had no real comment from the Schiller camp except a short statement which I’ll read quickly now – ‘we would like to neither confirm nor deny that Neil Schiller is the author of the story Ice Cream Man included in the Bestseller Bound anthology out today.’ So very little given away there.”

“Is a further statement expected Nick?”

“At the moment we’re just not sure. As you know, the ebook appeared today on Smashwords and is available for free and features sample work by ten different writers.”

[cue on screen footage of book cover with camera slowly zooming in on yellow flower. Voiceover continues]

“And if it turns out to be a story by Neil Schiller, Nick, what are the repercussions of that?”

“Well, they’d be insignificant. The latest estimate is that tens of people have read his collection Oblivious, and the likelihood is they’ll be absolutely apathetic about getting hold of the mythical lost story from that book.”

“And the other nine writers Nick, do we know who they are?”

“Yes, we do George. Darcia Helle, Maria Savva, several others. They are all moderately successful self-published and small press published authors. We know these people all have a fan base and are probably nonplussed that Schiller has jumped onto their bandwagon.”

“Ok Nick, well we have to leave it there -“

“Wait, just hang on a minute Graham” [touches hand to earpiece] “I’m being told by my producer… yes, we’ve just had confirmation that I hate being given this assignment so much that I can’t even be arsed to remember your name. Back to the studio.”

“Hahah, Nick Rover there in Cardiff. We’ll be going back to Nick later in the show to keep abreast of developments. Helen.”

“Thanks Gerald. Well, earlier in the show we spoke about Free Art in Liverpool and lots of you have emailed in. Steve from Somerset says ‘I think it’s a great idea, it’s like a Banksy you can take home’, while Moira from Uddingston tweets ‘What’s the world coming to? Imagine if the Mona Lisa was just left lying around to take away with you.’ Not sure what your point is Moira but thank you for contributing to probably the most inane part of the show. Coming up we have Duncan from Blue on the couch, fresh from his triumphant showing at the Eurovision where the UK came a respectable 14th – he’ll be here to talk about his new children’s book called Where’s my Sock? But first, the weather. Gloria…”


23 May

I’d love to put up a new post this morning, I really would, but unfortunately I’ve taken a super-injunction out against myself and I can’t. I told a mate of mine what it was going to be about in the pub last night and someone overheard me and repeated it to their friend, so now I’m bringing legal action against the pub landlord for allowing people to talk about whatever they want inside his establishment. Tweet about this and I’ll have your balls mounted on my wall, I promise you.

Half a million quid gets me the best legal team money can buy and a two week grace period before the story is out anyway. Maybe everyone will lose interest in those two weeks and it will all just go away. Maybe not. But I’ve been told by my publicist it’s money well spent. As long as word doesn’t get out from that pub and everyone knows anyway. Maybe I can sue my friend for listening to me. Hell, maybe I’ll sue myself for talking about it in the first place – I need to find some way to recoup that five hundred grand…


21 May

Six months ago, almost to the day, I was pissed off. As I’ve said before, I’m not really a depressive kind of person, but like everyone I’m prone to being a bit down about things at times.

It’s December 2010 and I’m working in a job that’s irritating me a bit (as jobs are prone to do). I’m 36 years old and in the last six years I’ve gotten substantially ill for the first time in my life, gotten divorced, been through a few other personal things that I won’t go into, and just emerged from a mini-financial crisis triggered by the fact that my partner had to finally admit her disability had gotten the better of her and stop working (which, of course, brought its own problems for her – I don’t mean to trivialise it at all, just to comment on one of the many effects it had on our lives).

Don’t get me wrong, to counteract all these things, my daughter was also born in that six year period and she is something else entirely. I know most parents think their kids are special, but you’ll have to take my word for it that this one is a force of nature. She’s either going to change the world or become some kind of super villain – it’s too early yet to tell. She’s beautiful (obviously doesn’t get that from me), intelligent, witty, quirky and one of the most unique personalities I’ve ever encountered. But I digress, the point is that despite this, in December 2010 I’m not particularly happy. If I’m being honest, and more than a little selfish and self-centered, it just feels like things are running away from the masterplan I’ve always had for what I wanted to do with myself.

Even though we can’t afford it, my missus buys me a second hand Kindle from eBay as a present. She thinks it might cheer me up. With her own problems, that’s quite amazing isn’t it? It’s really sweet of her and I appreciate it a lot. The reason I mention it is because it starts the chain of events that follow. As a result of having the Kindle, I start poking around online looking for cheap, or free, ebooks and stumble upon a couple of blogs talking about self-publishing on Amazon. Because I’m a bit dim, it takes a couple of weeks for that information to process in my brain and collide with another bit of information in there – the fact that I have a collection of short stories written than nobody is interested in publishing. My eureka moment is, inevitably, that I could stick them out myself. So I do. I don’t have any great expectations, I don’t really care what happens, I just do it and sit back to watch with a sort of morbid fascination.

Anyway, it starts selling, a bit. So I figure I’ll check out the books of some other people who are doing the same thing, to kind of benchmark myself. The first two I try are really good – James Everington and Larry Harrison. In the back of Larry’s book is a cryptic mention of this group of writers called Year Zero. Who on earth are they? I check them out. On their website is listed a bloke called Dan Holloway, so I read his book Songs from the Other Side of the Wall and really like it. I leave him a review.

I also find Dan’s Eight Cuts site and gallery press and read Charcoal by Oli Johns which is promoted on there and is another truly great book.

A couple of weeks later I’m poking around on Amazon forums and I bump into Dan Holloway. We get chatting a bit and I’m struck by how enthusiastic this guy is about writing, about putting out interesting work – stuff that is unashamedly non-mainstream, and about performing. So I start looking around Liverpool for opportunities to read my stuff out somewhere, anywhere. I find a writing group and join it – but it kind of doesn’t really get off the ground and I get a bit despondent about it…

But then I’m moaning about it a bit on forums when I bump into another bloke, Mark Porter, who also lives in Liverpool. He mentions he’s reading from his novel Dogs Chase Cars at a local writing group and asks if I want to come along. I do, so I make the short trip across the river to hear him. He reads very well and the guys who run the writing group assume that I want to join. It’s not that I don’t, I just hadn’t really considered it, so I’m more than happy to go along with their assumption and sign up. This group is not only off the ground, it’s great, I go every week.

Tommy, who runs the group, also runs an annual writing competition so I figure what the hell and enter a short story into it. I don’t know what happens next on this one yet – the results aren’t in for another month – but entering this gets me thinking I should do more of that sort of thing, regardless of the outcome. So I find and enter this other competition – Pulp Idol as part of the Writing on the Wall festival. I go to the heat and get through to the final – again, not sure what happens next here as the final is next Saturday. (This is very much a story in progress). But at the very least I am now going to be in the competition anthology which I’m really happy about.

Let’s back up a little bit. James Everington, who I mentioned earlier, leaves me my first review for Oblivious and it’s a positive one. I’m truly thrilled by this and think, hey, let’s put it out as a paperback through CreateSpace. It probably won’t sell, but at least I’ll have a physical copy of it to put on my own bookshelf. Because I have a physical copy I send it to Book Pleasures to see if I can get them to review it. It makes its way to reviewer Maria Savva who gives me some really generous comments. Maria mentions a site she is a featured author on – Bestseller Bound – so I go over there and chat to a few people, and somehow manage to get a story of mine included in an anthology a few writers are putting together.

Also, I get an email from a guy who is anxiously waiting for Maria to review his book. Mark McKenna, from New York state, who turns out to be a really nice guy. We swap Amazon files and I read his novel The Word Gang and really like it. Mark gives me the idea to print a t-shirt with the slogan ‘I read Oblivious…and didn’t drink bleach’.

At the same time I notice a forum post that piques my interest and follow its author back to his blog. Iain Manson, aka The No-Hoper, has this great online persona of a grumpy, frustrated writer with a lot of well informed opinions on the world of publishing and writing. I check his blog out every day as it is absolutely great. And somehow I manage to convince him to read Richard Brautigan… I’m also checking out his book The Lion and the Eagle which seems, from what I’ve read so far, a really great factual book about the world’s first world championship boxing match.

But hang on, how did I find Larry Harrison? Well, he was recommended to me by Marion Stein on Amazon forums. Marion’s book Loisaida is not only one of the best self-published books I’ve read so far, it’s one of the best books I’ve read in years. And James Everington? Great bloke flying the flag for short stories who’s let me put some nonsense on his blog this week about shorts – thanks James. (He also has a new collection out – The Other Room – which you should check out).

Rewind again. I’m poking about on forums and start chatting with another self-published writer Stella Deleuze. She’s giving all the proceeds for her book to charity – relief efforts in Japan. I think this is a great idea and do the same for a month. Stella also mentions an anthology on writing themed around Japan which is also geared towards raising money for relief efforts. I submit a couple of Haiku and forget about it, then get an email yesterday saying that they’d like to use three of them in the book.

This brings me pretty much up to date – to today in fact. And I find myself not at all pissed off anymore. I’m actually quite happy. I’ve met some great people, have read some great books. And I haven’t even mentioned the laughs I’ve had on forums with people like Gingerlily, Oracle, Caainsworth, Hippocratia. Am I on a bestseller list? No. Have I been shortlisted for a literary prize? Of course not, but it hardly matters. They say great oaks from small acorns grow. Yeah, but little stunted weedy looking oaks from small (misshapen) acorns also grow. I don’t care which way it goes. I’m happy, actually fucking happy. I used to write because I felt compelled to. If anyone wants to know why I write now, the answer is all of the above. Thanks are due to everyone who has made this last six months much more satisfying than the previous six… Serendipity, you’ve gotta love it.


15 May

I just watched a programme I recorded a few weeks back – BBC archive footage of bands from the early nineties. I don’t care what you say, 1989-1994 was THE best short period of music in the history of my life. They featured The Stone Roses, Ride, early Blur, Massive Attack, Nirvana, REM. The Nirvana performance was the notoriously bad one where Kurt sings in some strange quasi-choral way, but even that was tremendous as you can see his disdain for having to pretend to play his chords on TOTP. If they’d added The Lemonheads, early Suede, Portishead, maybe even stretched it to show Beck perform ‘Loser’, something from The Bends by Radiohead, and the beginnings of Oasis, I probably would have gone to bed tonight (this morning) a very happy man.

The REM performance was from The Late Show – I remember watching it in my bedroom on a tiny portable TV my dad had hung from a bracket on the wall, sound turned down low because my parents had already gone to bed. Anyone else remember The Late Show? Best cultural arts programme ever. I remember seeing Jeff Buckley play live on it (luckily I saw him in the flesh in Manchester soon after), throwing his arms up in the air in despair when the presenter mentioned he was the son of Tim Buckley. They did a piece once on a New York cab driver (who I’m still trying to track down) that took these amazing black and white photographs of people in the back of his cab. And they did an hour long special on Grunge which was called ‘But not Nirvana’ or something like that which featured Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, Alice in Chains and a load of others (including, bizarrely, REM who really weren’t Grunge) live in their studio, with the exception of Nirvana who must have turned it down.

In some ways I wish I was 18 again. I wish The Late Show still existed. And I need to go to bed before this nostalgia trip turns even more sickening that it has already.

Review of DEAD(ish)

13 May

I wasn’t sure whether to put this review on the blog, and then when I did I wasn’t sure whether to highlight it as a daily post. The author may not thank me, but in retrospect, I committed myself to reviewing self-published and small press authors this year and I’d be a bit of a hypocrite if I suppressed the not so good ones. And also, to put this review into context, I thought the author showed real promise, I just don’t think she did her book justice. Anyway, here is is:

DEAD[ish]DEAD[ish] by Naomi Kramer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have real mixed feelings about this book. Where do I start? Ok, let’s look at the positives. At the heart of DEAD(ish) is a great idea. It’s quirky and it’s different and it’s quite original. I wasn’t 100% convinced of the narrative twist where the ghost of Linda finds out what happened to her body, but I was convinced enough. It just about worked in an offbeat, Chuck Palahniuk kind of way. And it’s fair to say that Naomi Kramer can write. She has a great style which flows well and has an edge to it. No typos, no awkward turns of phrase. Technically speaking it’s written very well.

The big problem, though, is that this book to me doesn’t work as a novelette. I don’t have a problem with short work, but when something is this short I would expect it to cover only about a third of the narrative this one does, and to be a lot more densely written. What I mean is, DEAD(ish) covers a lot of ground. The framework is there not for a sixty or seventy page short but a fully formed two hundred page novel. Because it whipped through, because the chapters were so short, I was left feeling like this was an outline for a good book rather than being a good book. An early draft of something which, if worked on, could have been great.

Going back to Chuck Palahniuk (who Naomi Kramer reminds me of in some ways) – his novel Fight Club initially started out as a short story. DEAD(ish) reads as I would imagine that short story did: ie. really interesting, but in need of fleshing out. If Kramer had let some of the narrative ideas develop a bit more on the page, lengthened them out a bit, and if she had explored the characters a bit more, let their stream of consciousness build, this could have been really really good. As it is, I think it’s just ok. I didn’t waste the forty minutes it took me to read, but I came away a bit frustrated that it didn’t match its potential.

T-Shirt Giveaway

12 May

I got a review on Goodreads the other day and it got me thinking. These immortal lines are from that review:

“The book was bleak, dismal. It’s characters were simmering in a stew of doomed sexual passion; they were buried in meaningless work; it was always raining, or about to rain… I didn’t really like the book. But I couldn’t stop reading it.”

Believe it or not, this is a positive review. I know, this is just what my book does to people…

There is a now a growing, but still rather exclusive, club of people who have read Oblivious and survived. So in honour of this fact I’m running a competition. If you’ve read Oblivious, or have bought it and are about to read it, YOU can win a t-shirt. No, seriously. This is it here:

This high quality cotton item is available in one colour only – grey, obviously – and features the slogan “I read Oblivious…and didn’t drink bleach”. I said to someone earlier as a joke that I should print a t-shirt with this slogan on, and I must suffer from some sort of compulsive disorder or something because I then just HAD to do it. It’s sitting in my basket ready for order on a printing website so will be available in whatever size the lucky winner happens to be. All you have to do to enter is to post a comment on this Amazon Forum thread – can be anything at all you want, a joke, some abuse directed towards me, maybe something bleak and dismal, whatever. And the only rule is, you have to own Oblivious. On Monday next week I’ll pick one person at random, and I’ll ask them a question about the book that they have to answer correctly in order to receive this most unique and covetable of prizes. (It’ll be an easy question, something like what’s the first sentence of a particular story – it’s only to sort the true survivors from the pretenders)…

So if you need something to wear for decorating in, if you rent your last t-shirt in two with the sheer angst of reading my short stories, then I might be able to help you.

I know there are some of you out there – Amazon sales reports tell me so.

In the interests of fairness

9 May

I’ve spent some time interrogating search engines this weekend looking for fellow Pulp Idol competitors, trying to see if they’ve posted extracts of their work, trying to work out what I’m up against. I know that sounds sinister, but it isn’t really, I’m just interested. It’s a competition, sure, but I’m a big supporter of new, unpublished and self-published writers. After all, I am one. I intend to go there on 28th May and have a bit of a laugh and chat to a few people in the same boat as I am. I’m interested in what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.

Anyway, I found a few examples (not many, but a few). The quality is good. Very good. Then I thought, maybe I’m being a bit unfair. My sample isn’t up anywhere. Ok, so now it is: Hinterland (link now removed). If you are here poking around as I’ve been doing, good luck, I’m looking forward to hearing you read and I hope the experience goes well for you. If you beat me I’ll shake your hand and buy you a pint. See you on the 28th.

Oh, and here’s a clue as to what I’ll be doing. I’m not reading from the top. I’m starting with the last paragraph of section one. Why? Because that segment fits better in 3 minutes and I think it gives a better indication of the structure of the novel, the narrative voice and the narrative thrust. How about that for transparency? Well, you know, we’re all in this together – our extracts are in already so what difference does it make? I was talking to my good (but virtual – as in we’ve only ever conversed online) friend Dan Holloway about it on Friday night. He has a lot of experience of readings and performance, much much more than I do. And he agreed that starting at the beginning is not necessarily the best idea. I tried that at home before the heat and at the three minute mark I was nowhere in particular. I like the first couple of sentences but in trying to second guess the judges I figured they were probably looking for more than a couple of nice sentences. What about the structure? Does my idea have longevity? Can I make a novel out of it? This way I figure I’m demonstrating more than just style. And the ending comes at the conclusion of a paragraph, the conclusion of a piece of imagery, at a natural break in the narrative proper which (hopefully) gives a little cliff hanger for the audience. And what am I mulling over in the next three weeks? What genre this is, why I’m writing in the first person, why the narrative voice is located outside of the story in terms of time and location. Etc. etc.

Self Publishing v Traditional Publishing

7 May

I follow a lot of blogs and forums about writing and have received a lot of second hand information about the publishing world. I have experience myself of self-publishing, but it occurred to me last night that I have no idea what it’s like to work through publication with a registered house. Would I want to? Would I enjoy the process?

On the one hand, I have always written with an eye on publication as the prize. On the other, I want to write what I want to write. I mentioned Pulp Idol previously on the blog. If I had been published before I wouldn’t have been able to enter.

Competition Rule 3: Writers must not have been published by a recognised/registered publisher other than self-published, in hard copy or on the internet.

I’m self-published so that’s obviously ok. I entered the competition for experience and exposure. If I win I’ll be ecstatic, but I’m genuinely not that bothered about it. Best case scenario? I win, it attracts publishing interest, I get my book out there in an official manner and it’s all wonderful. Worst case scenario? I win, it attracts publishing interest, I get my book out there in an official manner but it’s a horrible experience and the book that comes out the other end isn’t the one I wanted to write. And then I’m excluded from competitions like this one in future.

Dan Holloway, who I’ve reviewed on this site before and who I speak to quite regularly (as he’s a great bloke) writes ultra gritty, underground literary fiction. It’s marvellous, but it isn’t for your average bookshop browser. He’s said to me on more than one occasion that he has no interest in mainstream publishing as he doesn’t think it will allow him to write the work he is compelled to write. Do I agree with him? I’m not sure. I don’t think there’s much point him beating at the doors of Faber & Faber (which is a criminal shame as his work is much better than a lot of other people that are under that imprint, and other imprints) but I do secretly hope one day that a major publisher will emerge that specialises in edgy writers. If that day comes I would love to see Dan spearheading that kind of thing as a major list writer. It’s not for me to decide, of course, it’s his work and his career and he certainly doesn’t need any advice given the progress he’s made and the incredible writing he’s produced. And at the moment that publisher doesn’t exist anyway. But if given the chance, would I snatch at a contract on offer? I said in my last interview I would; in all honesty, I’m not so sure. I’d be very cautious.

Of course, this is my view today. Tomorrow it will have changed. I never said I wasn’t fickle.


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