Here be monsters

Where the hell have I been? I’ll bet practically nobody was asking that very question. Well, I’ve been off the edges of the online world in sunny Portugal for two weeks. I (almost) have a tan.

So what’s been happening then? The usual family holiday type stuff to be honest. Sitting around the pool, occasionally venturing into the water. I say occasionally as each attempt took about twenty minutes to get in there. The water was so cold I could only stand to expose the next two centimeter band of myself to it at any one time without suffering some sort of cardiac arrest. Did a bit of reading – absolutely loved Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, so thanks to James Everington for recommending that one to me. And I awoke from some sort of musical coma to buy a load of albums to listen to on my iPod (yes, I finally joined the 21st century and bought myself an iPod). More of this in a minute…

We did venture out from the resort a couple of times. This time on Monday just gone I was wandering around Seville in Spain. What a fantastic city that is. I thought I’d seen most of the beautiful European cities – Paris, Venice, Vienna, Prague – but this place was something else. Maybe it’s because it’s so steeped in Spain’s colonial past, maybe it was just because we did a sad tourist thing and went round the city via pony and trap, but I just kept thinking of the Marquez book Love in the Time of Cholera. The way I’d imagined the locations in that novel matched almost exactly the things I saw in Seville. We also went to Lisbon for the day. I’d been there before and it’s a pretty nice place, but unfortunately it paled a bit after Seville. I’m guessing most places would.

Ok, music. I got hold of another Get Well Soon EP, much cheaper than the CD import Amazon offer, the latest album by The Horrors and two albums by The Vines. I didn’t know these last two existed. I’ve been a huge fan of The Vines since their first record but by their third one things weren’t looking good. Everyone was amazed they’d managed to get that far and there certainly wasn’t much hope for any more. So I was surprised to see on iTunes one from 2008 and a new one released this year.

There are a lot of reasons to dislike The Vines. Hardly any of their songs last more than two minutes. They now have four different tracks called Autumn Shade and keep rearranging the song again and again. Their music (as far as I know) is still banned from Australian radio because their lead singer kicked a photographer in the face at a large showcase gig a few years back. And then there is their infamous Letterman appearance where the anarchy of their live performances overwhelmed the fact that they’re actually a decent set of musicians. I found this on Youtube so I included it here. Actually, looking back at it now, I think it’s kind of funny…


In contrast, here’s a track from their latest album which I really really like. Anything that starts with a scream is alright in my book (although it really is a bit of a shit video):


It’s becoming a music fan blog this isn’t it? Don’t worry, I’ll get back to writing next week. Like I said, the iPod has given my music consumption a new lease of life – similar to the way the Kindle did my book consumption. The novelty will pass…

Achilles’ Heel

I’ve mentioned Martin Amis before on this blog. I’m not a big fan. But one thing I heard him say once in an interview has stuck in my mind ever since. The interviewer asked him what Time’s Arrow was about and his response, whilst typically pretentious, struck a chord with me. He said – and I am paraphrasing slightly – “it took me two hundred and something pages to explain what it was about, so I can’t really answer that. Go and read it”. Or words to that effect.

I’m currently trying to write a decent synopsis for my novel Hinterland. It’s far from finished but by virtue of the fact I made the final of Pulp Idol a few months back the first chapter is due to appear in a competition anthology. The synposis has to be fifty words. A piece of piss then you might think – I’ve just churned out over a hundred on this post without even really trying. Except I’m finding it the hardest thing I’ve ever written. I’m getting nowhere with it.

I had the same problem with the synposis for my thesis. I wrote and rewrote it about twenty times and it still wasn’t very good. For Oblivious I think I just quoted some bits of the text and then had a few lines cheekily mentioning Raymond Carver as an influence and then a brief summary of a few stories. Synopses are absolutely the thing I’m worst at writing (if you exclude poetry – I’m pretty shit at that too).

Do you think I’ll get away with something that takes the Martin Amis approach? “Hey, you, read the fucking thing and then tell me what it’s about”? No, I thought not. I might try something completely random as a standalone bit of free-floating text. I think I might have to. Trying to describe the story inevitably makes it sound crap. Maybe that’s because it is crap? I’ve probably said before (and if I haven’t I certainly meant to) that I don’t refer to myself in any circles as ‘a writer’. Because I’m not. I write stuff, I enjoy writing stuff, but I don’t make a living out of it, I’m not recognised in any way in particular. But one thing’s for sure – I’m much more of a writer than a goddamn marketing person. I can’t pitch to save my life.

Hinterland – imagine Apocalypse Now crossed with High School Musical”. Well, for one thing, it’s nothing like that. But even if it was it would sound shit right? “It’s a post-punk Jim Thompson set in England”. Closer, but my god, I’d sound like a wanker if I said that.

On the plus side, my fifty word bio went a bit better:

“I am an IT consultant and PhD student, currently editing a thesis on American author Richard Brautigan. I have primarily been writing short fiction for about ten years and self-published an ebook collection called Oblivious in 2010. It has sold literally tens of copies and was recently shortlisted for obscurity.”

Songs for a Collapsing World

What a week. I’ve not been around much online. I’ve had a trial separation from the internet, in preparation for going on holiday later in the month when I fully intend not to check my Amazon sales reports, or my Twitter account, or my Blog hits for a full fortnight…

That’s not the only reason. It’s also been manic. I was a bit inundated with work on Wednesday and found out at lunchtime I needed to be in Cardiff by 9 the following morning. So I spent the afternoon running around like a maniac trying to get that sorted out amongst finishing off the work I needed to get done. Wednesday ended with me finally sitting down in my hotel room at 11.45. Thursday was a mega long day in the office followed by a night out with the company I’m working with and directors of the company they have recently merged with. 3am finish. Then another long day Friday which ended with me finally getting back to Liverpool around 10pm – still slightly hungover. This weekend I have spent clearing rubbish from the back garden, and have finally sat down after five trips to the tip. All this follows on from Monday when I had to cart a load of stuff to an auction house (as a favour to someone) and Tuesday when I spent some time in the evening at uni. Believe it or not, this is actually not that untypical of my life. It’s often like this, and I have to look after a four year old on top. Maybe not that surprising that I haven’t progressed much with my novel Hinterland.

I have, however, progressed with the sister project to Hinterland. It’s a collection of short stories that are all about the different ways music impacts upon our lives. Stealing a secondary idea from David Mitchell, I’m now making all the stories inter-relate by having characters from different tales wandering in and out of the other ones. As of right now I have one completed story, three almost complete and ideas for a further two. So far I’ve covered Tom Waits, Sonic Youth, Nirvana and, surprise suprise, Get Well Soon. Lined up I have Nick Cave, Johnny Cash and Frank Sinatra. In passing I’ve mentioned Jeff Buckley, The Beatles, Motown, The Doors, Love, Jefferson Airplane, Bowie, Ian Curtis and Kraftwerk. I want to do something on Dylan, and I want to cover Massive Attack and/or Portishead. Themes so far: music as ambition; music as escapism; music as a sort of social history; music as a signifier of your cultural heritage. I have an idea about music played at funerals, and a vague idea about lift music and the trash they play in shops…

Anyway, because all the characters overlap each other’s stories I have decided to call it Songs for a Collapsing World. I’ve always been interested in the idea of six degrees of separation. I work in IT and you wouldn’t believe how small a world that is. Every time I start a new job I bump into someone I worked with before, or meet someone who knows someone I worked with before and therefore knows of me by reputation. There was something else that triggered this idea, not just David Mitchell. I remember watching the movie The Big Lebowski for about the third or fourth time and being struck by the way the Cohen’s made of it this little self-contained world. The same ideas and themes keep getting mentioned and brought up by different characters throughout and I remember thinking – my life is like that. Someone may mention something I’ve never heard of before and within about a week it’s cropped up in two or three different conversations or things I’ve read or seen on TV. It is like a shrinking, or collapsing, world out there. Hey, I don’t need to tell you that, you’ve never met me and yet you’ve probably read some of my inane ramblings and know almost as much about me (if not more) than the people I work with, than the people who live in my street, than members of my own family.

So this is what I’ve been up to anyway. Drinking, travelling, working, and mixing ideas about Brazilian car insurance with thoughts about Brautigan and postmodernism, snatches of music and different character sketches. If anyone could read my thoughts at any one time I’d probably be sectioned.