Ten Things Jackie Wilson Never Said

1993 was a bad year. The first Suede record came out and it ruined my sex life. It brought with it an early, glammed up prototype of the urban metrosexual, and I had no chance. I was too tall, too heavy, and just a fraction too hairy for the small, slim-hipped androgynous ideal. It wasn’t for the lack of effort, but I got nowhere. The elfin indie girls would scatter at my galumphing approach and I sought refuge in folk music where being an ugly fucker didn’t seem to matter so much.

’94 promised better things. Anyone with a pair of trainers and a Ben Sherman polo shirt could score. The chances increased if you had a decent pair of sideburns and called yourself a geezer. I wasn’t much of a geezer. Shit. So much for that then. I bought the entire Richard Thompson back catalogue, and it wasn’t even very good.

I wasn’t without my moments in the dubious sun. I was socially inept. This somehow made me the poster boy for the socially defeated. I guess everyone has their place in the grand design.

‘I wrote about you on my blog.’

‘That’s, er, great.’

‘I’m home all week. Why don’t you drop by?’

I didn’t drop by. Let’s skip forward a few days.

‘You didn’t come. I waited for you. I hate you and now all my friends hate you.’

The only way this stuff ever ends is with a flourish. Not from me – I hate drama. I prefer to let things burn out slowly; I cover my nose and throat and live through the grey haze until it finally dissipates. I’m sure that’s the problem. Is a short, sharp pain better than lingering detachment? Maybe, but it isn’t a choice I seem able to make.

‘Is it because I’m not six foot and blonde?’

Hmm. Maybe it was more because she was a borderline sociopath. I wasn’t that fussy, but still.

‘I’m going to tell everyone how much of a wanker you are.’

Goddamn it. The first Sparklehorse album was just around the corner too. I could have done something with that.

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7″ Fiction Prototype

After a bit of messing about over the weekend, the first 7″ Fiction prototype exists. It was done on my crappy printer as opposed to my decent office one (which needs new ink), but this is essentially what it looks like:

I’m having a logistical problem with the staples. But that will be resolved tomorrow when the cheap long arm stapler I got from eBay arrives. The hardest part was getting the front and back labels to align so the A Side and B Side both show through the paper sleeve. Anyway, it’s looking ok so almost ready to go into production for my first limited run of ten.

Actually, there are still one or two margin issues to sort out too. I think the bottom margin needs to be a bit bigger.

What makes a decent writer?

I read a great article yesterday on the Huffington Post site and I thought I’d just ponder it a bit here. If you want to see it, this is where it is: The Orange Prize has Let us Down. In summary, it talks about the latest winner of the prize and how her book is competently written but completely uninspired. I haven’t read it myself, but I’m less interested in that assertion than I am with the one Ruth Fowler goes on to make about MFA writing courses being the worst thing to happen to literature this century. Again, to summarise, she makes the point that they produce writers who can construct sentences and paragraphs, often self-indulgent and overwritten ones but sentences and paragraphs nonetheless, but who then think they are the complete package despite having little in the way of life experience or originality of thought.

Do I agree with this? In part, I suppose. Her argument actually sounds a lot like the one I’ve been making against British literary fiction in general for the past few years. Personally, I don’t think writing courses are the problem. I think the assumption that being able to string words together automatically makes something worth reading is the problem. There are a lot of different things you can do with writing, but for the sake of argument I would break these down into three general areas:

1. You can entertain people with a decent story

2. You can try and expose the realities of the world in new and interesting ways

3. You can revel in the glories of language itself and make readers do the same thing

Any one of these, or any combination of these, is perfectly valid to me. But if you pick just one of them, you really have to go for it. Some examples of authors I like:

Raymond Carver, because he examines human relationships in a way I’d never come across until I read him. He unearths complexities and nuances I wouldn’t have thought of. He makes me see the world in a different way.

Stephen King, because he writes narratives that make me want to turn the page and see what happens next. Does he surprise me in the same way Carver does? Not really, but he’s doing something different which I like equally as much.

Richard Brautigan. No great surprise there considering I wrote my thesis on him. But what he does is a combination of points two and three above – his metaphors stun me into submission. He twists language about in a way that absolutely delights me.

Ruth Fowler objects to insipid and cliched sentences like “these stories run like secret rivers through all the other stories of his life”. I object to sneeringly ‘clever’ sentences like those written by my eternal favourite Martin Amis that I read and think, hey that’s clever, and then wonder what the hell they tell me about anything. Anything at all.

Ultimately, I think a lot of stuff falls down between the cracks of those three over-simplified categories I put up there. It’s easy to wander into the trap of something sounding nice without it actually meaning anything. Don’t get me wrong, I often use hyperbole to get me started on an idea. The problem comes when hyperbole is all you use, and there is nothing of any real note around it, underneath it, next to it. Unfortunately, it seems it’s the way of the world these days. Everything needs to be a soundbyte. From political spin over moral substance, to the moronically superficial shite that people seem to love TOWIE for. Why should literature be any different? It’s a facile world out there and there’s not a lot of point in trying to reject it. The best you can do is try and subvert it – but for god’s sake don’t just embrace it.

Eponymous

Another piece of 7″ fiction. I can’t fucking stop it. I had a truly shitty day and I turned even that into a story. Before anyone says anything, I know ‘indignance’ isn’t a word, but it should be. And it fits the meter of the sentence better than ‘indignation’ does. It’s my story and I’ll write whatever shit I want, ok?

Eponymous

When Hope Sandoval sings, I feel my subconscious stirring. It rolls and slithers about in its special place in my cortex, and it whispers to me about becoming a better person. I ignore it. My being a bit of a prick is something we don’t like to talk about. An omerta hangs over our house on the subject. We carry on regardless and I leave Julia to make her apologies for me.

‘I’m going out dickhead.’

‘Fine. Don’t fucking come back.’

I don’t even know what we’re arguing about. I wasn’t listening. Maybe that’s what we were arguing about.

I put the whole thing to one side. I assign it with a mistake catalogue number of 34,587 and slip it in between getting married, and getting divorced. I’ll never find it again. I like my filing technique to be deliberately chaotic. The Dewey system didn’t work for me: I tried it, but it just gave people the chance to rattle off lists of how I fucked up from the index cards.

‘What’s the opposite of a charm offensive?’

‘What?’ I’m trying to watch some shit on the TV that I’m not even interested in.

‘A charm offensive. What’s the opposite of that?’

‘How should I know?’

‘Well, you seem to be fucking running with one.’

She’s not wrong I suppose. It used to be different. I craved high opinion, but being obnoxious has a street value of millions. The first hit makes you sick to your stomach. Two or three more and it owns you. Fixes are everywhere: the kid who inadvertently nudges me when getting off the train; the girl who takes too long at the cash machine in front of me. Once in, there’s no way out. The rush of indignance is the only thing that keeps self-loathing at bay.

She’s with me, I know, because she won’t give up. She once caught a glimmer of somebody else behind the cold front I push through the world. I suspect she might be wrong. That ghost she saw is as irritating as me, he’s just slightly less obvious about it.

‘I’m back.’ Of course she is.

‘I’m sorry.’ About what, I have no idea.

Elysian Fields

First of all, I can’t believe this video only has 48 views on Youtube. What the hell? I think Lanegan is superb:


In other news, his use of the phrase ‘elysian fields’ in this has made me determined to write something with that in it.

I don’t have a lot to add today. I’m in a foul mood. I offer instead some disjointed nonsense, handily crafted into a convenient bullet point list:

  • The record sleeves for my 7″ fiction arrived yesterday
  • I feel bad for laughing at a comment someone made about a guy who only ever writes stories that feature him ‘touching someone’s breast’ – not because it isn’t true, but because I found it funnier than I should have
  • Am trying to balance this by assuming my stuff could be just as easily catagorised as about ‘some tit listening to music’
  • I’m putting off going to the local DIY shop to buy a new toilet handle after I broke ours this morning by pulling too hard on it

That is all for now. I’ll bet you’re glad you stopped by aren’t you?

Bukowski, poetry, my daughter, and me

It’s no great secret that I’m a big fan of Bukowski. I don’t buy into his image in the way that some people do, I just think he produced some tremendous sentences. Say what you like about him – I don’t care – the guy could fucking write.

It’s rumoured he got through two or three poems a day. Now, I’ve said before, poetry isn’t really my thing. I like it well enough, I just don’t write it. I put a poem up here a few weeks back and I’m still a bit uncomfortable about it. It seems to have a touch of the old sixth form pretention still to me. However, I suspect Bukowski used poetry as a way to keep his creativity flowing. I go through massive slumps myself. In fact, my creativity is something like the ice ages – I’ve had several mini ones recently, but the last great climate shift was about four years back. At the moment I’m going through another. In the last month I’ve written four chapters of a novel, a poem (hmm), and now five pieces of flash fiction. That’s positively insane for me. I think the flash fiction holds the key. Just grab an idea and write it out. Don’t put it aside and think ‘I might be able to use that at some point’. Maybe I’m writing poetry for the prose generation. Maybe I’m writing prose for the text generation. Maybe that’s all absolute bollocks, and the point is I’m just writing – for the sake of it. (I know which one I’m going for – have had an inordinate amount of red wine).

Someone in my writing group asked me, about two months back, why all my stuff is about dysfunction. My answer was I don’t think you get to choose. She suggested I write something about love. My initial reaction was to say ok, and then ignore the idea. Actually, no, my initial reaction was to vomit up my sleeve and then to say ok and ignore the idea. But that’s probably because I’m a bit of a dick sometimes. Aren’t we all?

Today, I’ve been working on something that I suspect is in part a response to that suggestion, and in part an antidote to the moronic end of the world story I did yesterday. I don’t really know what it is. It isn’t flash fiction really. Is it some sort of confessional? Perhaps. With the exception of having spliced together different conversations into one, it’s pretty much all true. As true as anything ever is:

Hard to Explain

My daughter calls me Dude. I have no idea why this is. She always has. As soon as she wrapped her ten month old tongue around the word Daddy she decided it tasted wrong; it was bland, strangely textured, a processed noun with the nutrition stripped out.

‘Hey Dude.’

‘Hey monkey girl. What you up to?’

Sometimes I dread to ask, but I always do anyway. The inside of her head is densely packed with an imagination that consistently reminds me of the banality of life. I picture it as a fluorescent jungle in there: a whole spectrum of neon synapses, tangled and overlaid like vines in a primordial forest.

‘I’m drawing a picture of a fox that thinks it’s a dinosaur.’ Of course she is.

‘It’s a girl.’ She pronounces it gurl – again, I have no idea why.

‘She has balloon feet.’

She squeals with laughter at this last bit. It’s infectious. Breton has nothing on this girl. You can write a manifesto or you can live your dreams.

Until she came along, I had no grasp on all the things that love can be. With her it’s fundamental, beyond analysis; beneath the bedrock and absolute/elusive. I’ve cried before now just watching her sleep. Which isn’t to say she doesn’t drive me insane. When she wants something she warps the world around me. She knows disorientation is the key.

‘I like this song Dude. Is this your favourite?’

‘One of them, yeah.’

‘It’s my favourite too.’

She tries to sing the chorus in her five year old mezzo-soprano. The quickest way to a father’s heart is through his record collection. Every time, I burst out laughing – and by then she’s already won.

When she was two, she had a massive asthma attack. We almost lost her. It happened while I was at work and I drove home in a panic. The ninety minute journey took me just under an hour. I pulled up at our house and found nobody home. I drove around to the doctor’s surgery and got there ten seconds before her grandmother wheeled her around the corner in a pushchair.

‘Daddy.’

It was one of the few times she’s used that name. She belted it out with all the lung capacity she had and it made her breathing all the more laboured. I took in her painful, shallow breaths. I took in her pale face and her ravaged eyes. But that look of delight mixed with relief when she saw me – that will haunt me until the end of my life and yours. I was there. Her mum was on her way, but I was there. In her infant mind that now meant everything would be alright. The absolute trust that displayed cut a cold, burning strip from the corner of my soul. Because I didn’t deserve it – I couldn’t help her. Only the nurses could do that by pumping magnesium into her veins. The worst thing of all is that I suspect she knew that as well, even then. But it didn’t matter to her. If she died, she was going to do it with me, and that was ok too.

‘Dude? Are you ok?’

‘I’m fine kid.’ I usually don’t think about this stuff until after she’s in bed.

‘I need an ice cream.’

‘Do you need one or want one?’

It’s a fine line between what they want and what they need, and she doesn’t make it any easier for me.

‘No, I definitely need one.’

She glances over at the stereo. I get up and go to the freezer before she even starts on The Strokes.

Another shit end of the world story

Yeah, I wrote another one for this competition. I don’t know why – the idea just kind of came to me. It’s a bit of a departure from what I usually do. Who knew I actually had the capacity to try (and I do mean try) to be funny? I had to try and tone the language down otherwise I’d be off the competition wall I suspect.

Anyway, here it is. Dismiss at your leisure…

The End of the World Half Time Show

Armageddon Live is brought to you in association with Nokia, Intel and Seat motors.’

She passes me a bag of stale pretzels. I put it down next to a bowl of Angel Delight topped with silver hundreds and thousands. We’ve just finished the cheap bottle of wine my brother brought over at Christmas four years ago and we’re about to start on the cooking sherry.

‘Is that everything?’

‘Pretty much. There’s a tin of Scooby Doo spaghetti left and a plastic tub of mixed herbs.’

‘Will they go together?’

I’m determined to clear the cupboards. I paid for this shit and I’m not about to sit here and watch it be consumed in the same fireball that rips my eyes from my skull.

On the TV, the Black Eyed Peas are ploughing through an out of tune medley of their greatest hits. I hate the Black Eyed Peas, but apparently they represent the pinnacle of our civilisation. The southern hemisphere is likely to wink out of existence to the sound of Fergie wailing about her lady bumps. Strangely, nobody else seems depressed by this.

‘Do you want to go and have sex again?’

‘I can’t be bothered to be honest. I feel a bit nauseous.’

That’s the curried tuna talking.

I don’t have the motivation either. I pop another wasabi peanut into my mouth instead. It makes my eyes water. This is the crappiest New Year’s Eve I’ve ever spent. Actually, no, that’s a lie. One year I went to a Steampunk party dressed as a teenage mutant ninja turtle. How was I supposed to know?

The ‘Peas end with a rousing yell of Mazel Tov. We get a close up of the reddening sky as Justin Beiber tells us there are twenty three minutes to go. He sounds quite glib about it, but then he would wouldn’t he? To be honest, we’ve all had time to adjust. It’s been three months since the comet Elst-Pizarro was knocked out of its orbit. Three months in which to accept our impending doom. And in all that time, with the breadth of human knowledge at our disposal, this lame concert was the best idea anyone could come up with on how to spend the final few hours.

Elton John is up next. Of course he is, he gets bloody everywhere. We all know what he’s going to sing – he rewrote Candle in the Wind again. In this version he bids goodbye to humankind. Genius. It’s available to download from iTunes, or at least will be for just over quarter of an hour. I’ve bought it twice today already. In times of panic, impulse buying is the only thing I know how to do.

‘Ritz cracker?’

Why the hell not?