For the first time in a while today I’m taking a proper lunchbreak. (I work from home most of the time so actually I take small 5 or 10 minute breaks throughout the day, which is why I don’t usually bother with a dedicated hour in the middle). Anyway, I figured I’d post some rambling rubbish up while I was ignoring the pile of work I have to do.
Quite some time ago I realised I have pretty niche interests. I love reading but I usually turn my back on the majority of recognised classics, blockbuster bestsellers rarely interest me, and I never pay any attention to literary prize shortlists. I took the BBC 100 book challenge and I got something like 46 (which is better than the average of 2 they expected), but it still led to some comments from people I know about supposedly being a literature graduate. It reminded me of something I think Bukowski said in response to someone showing him their bookcase: “Yeah, but you’ve got all the wrong books”.
I’m a big fan of music, and I like pretty much any genre if it’s done well. But the albums I love are, in most circles, obscure. I can wax lyrical about any Tom Waits record up to and including ‘Rain Dogs’ and I’m often greeted with blank expressions. I like Nick Cave (“Nick who?” is something I’ve heard often), Jeff Buckley (one for the affectionados only it seems), The Lemonheads (never heard of them unless you’re in your mid to late thirties, and even then it’s not a given). A friend of mine once told me if Dylan was playing a concert in his back garden he probably wouldn’t turn his head to watch. I’m not saying I’m in an exclusive club – plenty of people like Dylan – but even a lot of them don’t know or turn their noses up at Love, Jefferson Airplane, Tim Buckley, Them. My tastes just aren’t mainstream I suppose is what I’m getting at. They weren’t even when I was in my twenties and going to Britpop gigs with likeminded people, and they certainly aren’t now I’m pushing forty and everyone I know has kids and watches X Factor.
Don’t get me wrong, I watch X Factor. Now I have a daughter and don’t go out on a Saturday night, it’s something to get drunk to in the house. But it isn’t one of my primary interests, it doesn’t set my world alight.
The only time in my life I’ve ever felt like the things I was interested in intersected with a significant number of other people was when I was at university. I was lucky enough to fall in with a circle of friends (many of whom I haven’t seen since) that had opinions about all things cultural. But not in a pretentious way (because that’s a turn off for me too), more in a genuinely intrigued, self-educated kind of way. I remember plenty of conversations in the coffee lounge between seminars where we talked about Tarantino (he was HUGE at the time), American cinema in general, French cinema, sixties music, cult books, politics, and of course girls and getting drunk. I don’t know whether it was sheer luck, something to do with the course we were all on, or something to do with the specific time and place. My first job was at a charity and it had a lot of volunteers who had also just graduated and we had the same kind of discussions. I heard The Black Crowes for the first time, that was when I got hold of Dylan’s ‘Blood on the Tracks’, that was when I discovered the movies of Tarkovsky. Several years later I was at a big IT company and it recruited about 20 graduates. I remember thinking, great, this will be just like when I was back at uni or in that first job, there’ll be some interesting conversations going on at lunchtime now. There weren’t. After about the third or fourth time I heard one of them say “who’s that then?” or “that’s before I was born” I kind of realised things had moved on.
I’m not being snobbish about it, not at all. I have friends and I get on with them, we can have a great laugh about a lot of things. There’s just stuff we don’t talk about. Here’s a confession for you – in my early twenties I worked with a bunch of lads I got on really well with. But often they would talk about football and I couldn’t really join in. I’d always been a football fan, sort of, but I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it. I made a conscious effort to watch it more, to learn more about it, and that helped me out significantly. It also means I have something to talk to my dad about these days too. I don’t mean by that that I secretly hate football, I don’t. In watching it more I learned that I love it, but what I do mean is it became a prerequisite of conversation in my social circle and I would have had to do something about it either way.
Absolutely the best thing that has come from self-publishing for me is the contact I’ve had with likeminded people. By being on writing forums, by being on the Amazon forum, by going to writing groups – I’ve suddenly started having the type of conversations that have been missing for about the last 15 years. Last week I had a few beers in an actual live honest-to-god pub with some people who wanted to talk about books, about art, about trips to New York and lots of other things on top. It was great. I wish I’d done it years ago. There’s no meeting this week and all I find myself doing is looking forward to next week when I can do it again. 107 combined sales for my books? Who cares. Thank god for some sort of community.