In the interests of fairness

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 It’s a competition, sure, but I’m a big supporter of new, unpublished and self-published writers.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.


6 thoughts on “In the interests of fairness

  1. James Everington May 10, 2011 / 6:45 pm

    I read your extract; I liked it. I was going to say I thought there was some early Martin Amis influences to it, but then saw your post on forums earlier saying how much you hae Amis! So I won’t… There was some good images though, and good turns of phrase – suffice to say, if this was a sample on my Kindle I’d buy the full thing after reading it.

  2. Neil Schiller May 10, 2011 / 7:23 pm

    Thanks James. Hahahah, Amis – really? Well, I suppose just because I don’t like him doesn’t mean some of it didn’t leak into the back of my mind. I read pretty much everything he did up to and including Time’s Arrow. And then decided (THEN decided – who knows why) that I didn’t like him. How bizarre is that? To be honest, he was the first literary author I ever read, as recommended by one of my A Level English teachers. At 16/17 I think I just assumed that was what all literary fiction was like so I went with it, until I started looking around for myself and found stuff so much better…

    To be honest, I thought Time’s Arrow wasn’t bad. And I seem to remember I quite liked Einstein’s Monsters (typically enough, the short stories). London Fields got on my nerves, so did Money. And I loathed Dead Babies. The Rachel Papers? Trite middle class nonsense. And Success wasn’t half as clever as it thought it was… I dunno, you might be an Amis fan, but I think it’s fair to say, on balance, I’m really not…

  3. James Everington May 10, 2011 / 8:31 pm

    Weirdly, the sentence “the first literary author I ever read, as recommended by one of my A Level English teachers” is true for me too. He was the first author I read who made me realise language could be as cool as guitar riffs, so I guess I’ll always like him somewhat. Or rather, his books – the man himself seems a dick. Although oddly, Experience (his autobiography) is actually really good, and moving in places – not a word you’d associate with Amis normally.

    I admit The Rachel Papers is unmitigated tosh.

  4. Neil Schiller May 11, 2011 / 8:57 am

    Yeah, I’d heard his memoir was good. I agree with you about his style. I saw an interview with him once where he referenced Nabokov and Saul Bellow as his two primary influences. I haven’t read a lot of Saul Bellow, but I can definitely see where Nabokov comes into it. I have the same problem with him though really. Stylistically he can make me laugh out loud because the language and the sentence construction is so very clever – it can be absolutely stunning. The opening to Lolita is amazing. But then I end up thinking it’s an exercise in style over content. I find it all a bit blank, a bit empty. And then I get irritated and assume (perhaps a bit unfairly) that they’re just trying to be clever for the sake of being clever and don’t really have a lot to say… Maybe that’s just me.

    The thing is Amis sort of represents British contemporary fiction to me and I have a problem with most British contemporary fiction. It’s my problem, I know it is, it has nothing to do with the quality of work produced. And it’s a vast simplification I know, but I tried so many authors in my teens and early twenties and I just came away with the impression they were all about intellectual snobbery. Maybe I’m a class-obsessed idiot, I don’t know. But I just seemed to be re-reading the plotline “college lecturer has an affair with a student, oh what a mess his middle class life is. Don’t we all face the terror of tedium when we have a steady income and a nice car and no real problems to speak of?” It got under my skin. Once I’d read the idea once I didn’t need it over and over. But in American fiction I found proper drama, real problems and emotional responses. In terms of the big hitters in the UK in the last twenty years I liked Winterson’s first book (‘Oranges…’) and then was left increasingly colder by pretty much everything else. I liked ‘Midnight’s Children’. And I obviously liked ‘Trainspotting’. There are some out there I suspect I will like but haven’t gotten to yet – Zadie Smith, Faulks (perhaps). But it still seems like slim pickings to me compared to what’s out there in the US.

    Hahah, if I ever do get published and do an interview on UK fiction I’ll come across as a right dismissive little shit won’t I?

  5. James Everington May 11, 2011 / 9:07 am

    I can’t stand Faulks.

    I know what you mean about US fiction sometimes seeming more exiciting and less class-bound than UK fiction.

    Have you read any David Mitchell? ‘Ghostwritten’ (his first novel) I thought was one of the most amazing UK books for years – by a UK author, but set all around the world. It’s a series of interconnected short stories almost, and its range and scope are great.

  6. Neil Schiller May 13, 2011 / 2:56 pm

    James, meant to reply the other day but got distracted by some other rubbish probably. No, I haven’t read anything by David Mitchell. But I’ve heard him mentioned a little bit lately. Right – off to Amazon to check him out…

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