I’m reading tonight at the Bad Language open mic in Manchester. Looking forward to it, despite feeling like shit with this goddamn cold I picked up from my daughter. Castle Hotel, 7.30 – be good to hear some of the people read who were at the New Libertines event last month. Clare Conlon and Fat Roland in particular.
I really don’t. I wrote a load of Haiku a few years ago, but I don’t really view that as poetry. That may sound a bit bizarre, but what I mean is that Haiku, to me, is more a concise snapshot of thought/perception than what you would think of as verse. In any case, I haven’t written a poem since I was about eighteen. I don’t have anything against poetry, it’s just not my thing.
Except that this week, for some completely unknown reason, I wrote one. I’m not sure what I think about it; I doubt I’ll be making a habit of it. But here it is. I was going to call it Happy Diwali Daily Mail, but as it is I’ve called it Rhapsody on a Theme by Sylvia Plath. How’s that for pretention?
The devil makes work for idle hands
and he made no exception for you.
The curtains are drawn,
the blinds are down;
the only light is the aqua-marine
and the twinkling cities
of the world you caught in your miserly net;
the one you shrunk like the head of a pigmy
and set in orbit round the chair you never leave.
Look at them move and scurry about:
the little people,
beyond your contempt.
Omnificent you, an opinion on everything;
a Titan, a God, with an IQ of eighty.
You’re bored? Then a plague,
your wrath made pestilent,
will remind us how useless we are.
An earthquake in Bradford,
AIDS for the scroungers,
a tsunami that will wash only queers away.
The firstborn of immigrants,
and most violent of all:
a famine for the fallen like me –
the cloven-hoofed liberals who don’t really care,
who live and let live, psychotically.
Empathise, and go to hell,
six billion and more in a handcart.
It’s the war of your world, the unholy crusade,
with the losers cast out east of Croydon.
There’s a burning bush for Piers Morgan though:
get rich, stay white, be obnoxious as fuck;
for the rest it’s Gomorrah – we deserve it.
The devil makes work for idle hands,
and it’s me, I am legion, and alive
you old bastard.
I saw a photo the other day that’s been floating around on Facebook and other social media and it kind of brought my ideas on self-publishing into focus. I’m going to start by arguing against the message shown here because there are a few problems with it:
It’s not a particularly sophisticated argument so I don’t think I need to extrapolate on its meaning. But even though I am a self-publisher, even though I can see what it’s getting at, as soon as I saw this I immediately heard in my head all the arguments that readers throw about when talking about writers that go it alone.
1. Some indie books undoubtedly did take two years to create. Maybe even longer. For every one of these, though, there are probably four or five that were cobbled together in days or weeks.
2. Your cup of coffee may well be gone in fifteen minutes, your book would last you longer. Having shopped at Starbucks before though, you’re pretty sure of what you’re going to get. They have quality control as an embedded part of their production process. The next drink you buy from them will taste just like the last one, and the one before that. You may end up wishing the book you bought would self-destruct in fifteen minutes and take the part of your brain that remembers the awful plot and characters with it in the explosion.
3. The coffee didn’t, in fact, take a minute to make. It took ages. Because someone, somewhere, was growing coffee beans in a controlled environment, using years of experience in how to do that effectively. Then there was a drying process, a logistics process as the beans were carted about the globe. There was a process where Starbucks refined how to turn the ingredients into something palatable, and specifically formed/blended/whatever.
I’m labouring the point, I know. I’m not trying to make an argument on free market economics. I’m trying to suggest that the main problem with self-publishing is perception. On both sides.
As it’s one of my favourite things to do anyway, let’s take a music analogy. It has long been the case that unsigned bands put together demo tapes. Initially, this was so they could send their work to record labels and try to secure a contract. In recent years, there has been more of a move towards them putting the work out for the public themselves. It is now relatively easy to put stuff up on Myspace, or even onto iTunes. You can burn a CD for next to nothing. Nobody seems to have a problem with this. This is music by unsigned bands. It’s either really good, and you can’t understand why they haven’t made it yet, or it’s terrible, and you listen to it and move on. There will always be some people that think they can play guitar when they know three chords, just as there will always be people who think they can write a great novel despite having a poor grasp of grammar, spelling and narrative. You can sample music before you buy it – you can sample ebooks before you buy them. For me, there is very little difference. The perception, however, is miles apart.
I’ve read some great self-published stuff. I’ve also read some terrible self-published stuff. The majority of it, (including my own, I would like to hope anyway) falls into the ‘shows promise, this writer could turn out to be a decent one’ category. Not many people seem to see it this way. And maybe that is because a lot of self-publishers declare themselves to be ‘writers’ when, in the majority of cases, I would say they are not. I am not. They, and I, are still in the aspiring phase. We are the equivalent of unsigned bands. Unproven, as yet, trying to make a bit of headway with the tools available.
This doesn’t apply to everyone – I know there are those that are set on doing their own thing, that realise their work is too edgy or alternative to ever get out there in any other form. I have a lot of respect for these people as they remind me of musicians who do what they do purely for the love of it. Yes, they want to be recognised for their talents, but if that means playing to a room of twenty people rather than to a stadium, then that’s fine. In fact, playing to a room of twenty people is what we should all be doing anyway. If it remains at twenty, then that’s the way it goes. If it doubles, triples, grows into something else, then all the better. I think we have to be a bit humble about it, recognise the fact that readers are taking a chance when buying something, and recognise that the only way to stand out from the glut is to stand out from the glut. It doesn’t matter if I get up on a podium and try to tell everyone I’ve spent time on this book, I’ve worked and reworked and reworked it, I’m serious about it and haven’t just thrown some nonsense together. The reality is I am going to look, to all intents and purposes, just like Mason Power (the pen name of some bloke who just retired, read an issue of ‘Writer’s Magazine’ and decided the fantasy story he made up for his grandkids last week can be written down in one go and make him a fortune). I’m going to look like that until someone takes a punt and hopefully decides I’m not Mason Power. One person at a time, one step at a time – I don’t think there is any other way is there?
Is this turning into a rant? Possibly. Maybe I need to go and buy myself a cup of coffee – I think I could do with one…
If anyone asks me why I feel the need to write, I usually say it’s just because I enjoy it. For me it’s what other people get out of their hobbies – football, rock climbing, golf. It passes what little spare time I get and I derive a sense of satisfaction from it. This, however, is simplifying it to the extreme.
The truth is, I don’t always enjoy it. I suspect the reason I persist with it is much more complicated than that. Don’t get me wrong, there are days when the paragraphs just seem to form themselves. It flows, and it’s effortless, and that is quite exhilarating. There are other days where it seems like it would be easier to chisel out my own tunnel across the river with a plastic spork. I sit and stare at a blank word document, putting down one or two words and deleting them again over and over. On those days it frustrates me to the point of never wanting to do it again.
In all honesty, I don’t know why I keep coming back to it. There are not that many things I’m any good at, but there are enough for me to have chosen something else to concentrate on. What I do know is that when I’m not writing, I get irritable, restless, a bit depressive even. I’m not about to say that I’m compelled, that it’s my destiny or any shit like that – I’m not that pretentious. But there is something in the fact that putting words on a page acts as a mechanism for me that helps me out in general. What I mean is, I’m not great at articulating myself verbally. I’m one of those internalisation types, I take in what’s happening but often don’t comment on it. When I do, I’m left feeling like I didn’t quite manage to express what I thought clearly enough. Even inside my own head, I struggle to get exactly what I think about something truly straight. Put it down on paper, or on a laptop screen, and suddenly I know precisely how I feel about it.
Is that weird? Well, not as weird as some of the other things that writing entails. I put a comment up on another blog yesterday that got me thinking about this: I was sitting in my office, a few days ago, trying to write a paragraph that conveyed what dejection feels like. I’ve felt dejected often enough, but the only way I could think of trying to get at it in words was to recreate the feeling somehow and then explain it. So there I am, a grown man sitting in a room on his own, thinking of all this shit that has happened to me, to other people, forcing myself to feel bad about it, basically giving myself something close to a panic attack, just so I can write down how that feels. When you get to that point, you do stop and wonder what the fuck are you doing? Is this healthy? It certainly doesn’t seem normal.
I mean, yeah, writing can be cathartic. I know some people use it as a type of half-arsed self-psychiatry. But going back over old ground, things that you’ve already worked through and resolved, just to get a few sentences together in a book that hardly anyone will ever read – now that’s more than a bit nuts when you think about it…
I’ve not been sleeping that well recently, and I suspect part of that has to do with this thing I’m working on. I know for sure that two nights I was tossing and turning in bed with stupid plot ideas running through my mind like a swarm of insects. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get them out of there, I couldn’t stop thinking about them. Other nights, I suspect it’s just been because I’m writing about depression, about violence, about things that aren’t very pleasant. Despite the fact these things are fictional, despite the fact none of them are going on in my real life, I suspect the distinction isn’t that clear in a brain that’s spent a significant amount of time thinking about them that day.
Maybe I just need to write a comedy instead. The thing is – and here is the pretentious bit – it doesn’t seem like you get to pick. This was the idea I had, the only one that had any longevity, the only one that moved on from an initial idea to a second idea, and a third. So if I don’t want to irritate myself again by not writing, then I’ll have to push on with it.
What a whinging bastard I am. Poor me. It’s not like I’ve just lost my job, it’s not like I have a debilitating illness. Everything in context. I’m not even really complaining to be honest, I just fucking hate writing at times…
Just more rambling about music I found on iTunes I’m afraid today. Checked out a couple of EPs that were released recently and found these two:
I really like this. To me it sounds like The Cure meets Curve meets early Radiohead with touches of Mansun. And this:
Jamie N Commons
A nice gothic alt-country feel to this one. Reminds me a bit of Mark Lanegan and The Gutter Twins.
Back in the 90s I bought loads of EPs. Bands had them out all the time. You could always count on a few decent early releases from new bands, with tracks that wouldn’t make it onto their debut albums. Ah, I miss those days…