100 Ways to Waste My Life

Now this is just stupid. But I kind of wanted to save it somewhere as well. It started as a Facebook thread, and then it turned into a bit of an obsession: remove one letter from the name of a book and create an entirely new story. By the time everyone else had dropped out, I couldn’t stop. I got to 72 and decided I needed to push on for the full 100. So here are mine. (There were others that friends had come up with, some of them better than the ones below, but I don’t have intellectual property for them…)

Google was not used for any of these.

1. Cath 22 – enjoys reading, long walks on the beach, gsoh, seeks same.
2. The Unbearable Lightness of Bing – a tale of two search engines.
3. Three Men in a Boa – fabulous drag reworking of the old classic.
4. Rime and Punishment – a tale of naked winter swimming competitions.
5. Lord of the Lies – Boris Johnson autobiography.
6. The Big Seep – a noir detective is too busy to get his roof fixed.
7. The Bile – old testament as retold by the daily mail.
8. War of the Wolds – the southern counties turn on each other.
9. Rainspotting – a chronicle of life every single day in Manchester.
10. David Copperfiel – young hero becomes dirty old man and gets himself added to the register.
11. (This is a family blog so I’m going to need you to work this out in your head): The Count of Monte Cristo – suffice to say, he wasn’t a very nice man…
12. Brideshed Revisited – a tale of the most disappointing honeymoon ever.
13. Rendezvous with Ram – niche shepherd sci-fi series.
14. The Tim Machine – a factory that turns out a load of boring, and faintly homophobic Lib Dem leaders.
15. The Price of Tides – a study of coastline erosion.
16. The Lion, the Itch, and the Wardrobe – study of big cats and their house dust allergies.
17. Anne of Green Gales – orphaned girl gets weird stomach bug.
18. The God of Mall Things – history of a deity who presides over coffee shops and designer handbags.
19. The Huger Games – bigger than the last ones.
20. The Life of I – Rastafarian autobiography.
21. The Udda of Suburbia – a cow’s life in Chiswick.
22. The Color Purple – stupid American spelling of The Colour Purple.
23. 2001: A Pace Odyssey – endless social media updates of a bloke’s running times around the park.
24. The Hunt for Ed October – talent search for a suitable model for an Ed Sheeran lookalike calendar.
25. The Naked and the Dad – traumatic coming of age story about broken locks on bathroom doors.
26. Casio Royale – story of an electro-pop secret agent.
27. The Maltese Falco – Mediterranean tribute act who has a surprise hit with his version of Rock Me Amadeus.
28. Middlemach – a fighter pilot can’t quite reach the sound barrier.
29. A Christmas Carl – tedious holiday filled with Jungian psychoanalysis.
30. Mr Bum – Roger Hargreaves tackles negative perceptions of American homelessness.
31. Little Omen – a group of girls in civil war America see a black cat.
32. Rome and Juliette – tedious chick lit travelogue.
33. Fall of the Hose of Usher – how are they gonna water the garden now?
34. How to Win Fiends and Influence People – same book, same horrible people.
35. The Road to Wigan Pie – it’s what it’s really famous for after all.
36. Right Lights, Big City – local council invests in energy saving bulbs for its street lamps.
37. The Moostone – chilling Victorian ghost story about a haunted cowshed.
38. Ven Cowgirls Get the Blues – but only a subset of them are cowgirls, some have the blues, some are quite chirpy.
39. The Woman in Whit – a ghost that’s a bit narky cos she’s had no chocolate during lent.
40. Far from the Madding Crow – just shut that goddamn bird up will you?
41. The Canterbury Ales – bunch of CAMRA aficionados can’t be bothered to leave their hometown.
42. Treasure Islad – Yorkshire version of a pirating classic.
43. The Invisible Ma – tale of an underappreciated mother.
44. The Hose of Mirth – woman wears humourous tights.
45. The Aster and Margarita – a couple just enjoy cocktails on their patio.
46. Portrait of the Artist as a Yong Man – weirdly misspelled Irish/North Korean fusion novel.
47. Lack Beauty – a tale of everyday ugly folk.
48. The Anarchist Cokbook – early political grindr prototype.
49. The Nam of the Rose – a study of PTSD following the flower wars.
50. Infinite Jes – superfan wins a lifetime supply of Jes(s) Glynne music. Gets bored in ten minutes.
51. Anima Farm – Carl Jung’s at it again, psychoanalysing chickens.
52. Of Mice and Me – a musophobiac memoir.
53. Owl – book of ornithologically themed beat poetry.
54. One with the Wind – the tale of a hopeless flatulist.
55. The Secret Gent – football hooligan spends his evenings in disguise opening doors for people and helping women put their coats on.
56. The Dharma Bus – a bit like the vengabus but a bit more jazzy and hip in true Kerouac style.
57. The Horn Birds – same book, no discernable difference whatsoever.
58. Lowers in the Attic – a tale of one removal man and his trusty winch.
59. Jas – a German shark hunter who just can’t say nein.
60. The Tale of Peter Rabbi – a study of riverbank multiculturalism.
61. The Good Solder – not that crappy stuff that doesn’t bond your electrical components properly.
62. Plant of the Apes – scientific study of banana tree deforestation.
63. The Kool-Aid Aid Test – attempt to see if juice makers have been conning us with half measures.
64. Good as God – Joseph Heller develops a bit of a complex.
65. The Itches of Eastwick – story set on flying ant day.
66. A Heartbreaking Wok of Staggering Genius – Dave Eggers gets right into Asian cooking.
67. Cod Comfort Farm – tale of a refuge for traumatised fish.
68. The Cartaker – Harold Pinter’s confessions of being a joyrider.
69. Mosquito Coat – Lady Gaga goes a bit far at London fashion week.
70. Inker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – a tale of espionage in the tattoo community.
71. Ianhoe – little known tale about the younger brother of the famous knight.
72. Do Quixote – Tarantinoesque reboot where the old knight has a contract put out on him.
73. Canery Row – depression era factory workers attempt an ambitious, slightly illiterate, budgerigar
74. Eat of Eden – family restaurant saga where apple pie is off the menu.
75. A Brief History of Tim – really boring character study of an astro-physicist.
76. Fie Easy Pieces – what I thought when I read it: ‘easy’ my arse.
77. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Tone – young wizard spends 300 pages worrying about whether someone was once a bit arsey with him.
78. Fatland – two dimensional classic given the ultra 3D makeover.
79. Song of the Silent Sow – Selby Jr. goes all avant-garde down the farm.
80. Das Bot – German epic about automated Twitter accounts.
81. The Tibetan Book of the Dad – father’s day best seller in east Asia for 1000 years running.
82. Song of Sloman – tale of a bloke who comes last in every marathon.
83. Fifty Shades of Rey – young female Jedi spots a career opportunity in Death Star interior decorating.
84. Hostwritten – David Mitchell gets his mate to throw a party and knock out a novel for him while he’s at it.
85. Exing the Cherry – Jeanette Winterson cuts all ties in her relationship with fruit.
86. The Man in the High Caste – tale of upper class Indian privilege.
87. White Fan – Jack London exposé of the KKK.
88. Jud the Obscure – a biography of Jud(d) Nelson’s career post Breakfast Club.
89. Fatherlad – one man’s struggle to become a good dad and wanting to be out on the lash all the time.
90. I Fidelity – reworking of I, Claudius set in a small London record shop.
91. The Stanic Verses – poetry collection from Croatian football legend Mario Stanić.
92. Same – Salman Rushdie gets a bit predictable.
93. Bout Last Night – comedy play about a missed boxing match.
94. The Olden Notebook – some old tat Doris Lessing had lying about.
95. The Otter’s Club – inside a secret water vole society.
96. The Asp Factory – a boy can’t find any insects, so non venonmous snakes will have to do.
97. How Late it Was, Ow Late – bloke gets hit over the head by his wife for rolling in from the pub after 2.
98. Am on Rye – Bukowski goes gluten free.
99. Diary of a Wimpy Id – notes from Freud’s subconscious.
100. Goodnight Miser Tom – yer tight bastard.


What happened?

I watched Django Unchained last night. It’s taken me a while to get around to it for some reason, but I finally sat down and put it on and I loved it. Possibly the best thing Tarantino has done since Pulp Fiction. As is usual in his films, there was a 10 – 15 minute section which lost my attention a bit, but with the exception of Reservoir Dogs (which I still think is his best), this always seems to happen. I’m still waiting for him to get a decent editor who tells him to cut a little bit of the bagginess out and then I think we’ll get an undisputed masterpiece from him.

Anyway, that’s all besides the point really. I don’t want to talk specifically about Tarantino, but about contemporary cinema in general.

I used to watch a lot of films, and I mean a lot. Ten movies in a week wasn’t unheard of. These days I watch about ten a year, which probably skews my perspective a little bit, but is also, I think, a symptom of a serious decline in decent movie making. For me, there were twelve years between 1990 and 2002 in which some of the best, groundbreaking and challenging modern films were made. And since then – well, what is there to really shout about? Let’s do a little acid test. All of these films were made in that twelve year period:

Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Seven, Fight Club, American Beauty, The Usual Suspects, Momento, L.A. Confidential, Goodfellas, Fargo, Bad Lieutenant, The Big Lebowski, Miller’s Crossing, American History X, The Man Who Wasn’t There, The Royal Tenenbaums, Smoke, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, Lost in Translation. (Ok, the last one only just makes it in as it was released in 2003).

But this is even without considering some of the (arguably) more populist films like The Shawshank Redemption, The Matrix, Trainspotting etc. etc. (And I’m deliberately avoiding foreign language films as I could go on forever).

I’ve tried to do the same with films made between 2003 and 2013 which, admittedly, is a slightly shorter timeframe, but I’m struggling to get anywhere near as many dragged out of my memory. One or two at best. So unless there’s a glut in the next eighteen months, I suspect there’s going to be no comparison.

So what happened? Did the economic downturn force studios to restrict their risk to sequels and superhero movies only? Has television taken over with all the best screenwriters and filmmakers moving to HBO and FOX drama series instead? Or has the demographic just changed? There was an appetite in that period – I remember it well – for things that were quirky, and new, and stylish. That was the definition of cool. I’m not so sure that appetite still exists in quite the same way. Films that play around with genre, that self-reference themselves and all that has come before them – perhaps the audience just isn’t there for them as it was before. Or perhaps there is just a perception that it’s not there anymore and that popular interest just needs to be reawakened by something great. I hope so, and I hope something comes along soon to kick start a fresh look at the kind of thing studios make. Because I remember being enthused by Martin Scorsese’s claim that cinema was the main twentieth century art-form, and I just can’t be similarly enthused by Avengers Assemble or Thor.

Young Adult Fiction

I haven’t been around for a while, and thanks to Martin who reminded me of my recent blog-shy behaviour tonight, I thought I should probably come back and do something.

So, what’s been happening? Not a lot writing wise, I have to be honest. Lots of work and personal stuff going on. I hit a bit of a wall over the Summer with the collection of shorts I’m working on, and with the novel. Maybe I just needed the break. Maybe I’ve been having some kind of mild identity crisis. I’ve certainly been trying to get myself out of a bit of a rut I’d fallen into.

Which brings me to the title of my post. I’ve been trying out some books that I wouldn’t normally read. My partner recommended a whole load of Young Adult Fiction to me, something she’s quite enthusiastic about, and after some initial scepticism I decided to give it a go. After all, she had previously pushed Philip Pullman in my direction and that turned out extremely well. So I gave The Hunger Games a go and was pleasantly surprised. I whipped through the trilogy in a couple of days. And then, by sheer chance, we were given Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go to read on my uni course. So that was another trilogy I devoured in just over a week – the Chaos Walking trilogy. Of the two I probably prefer the latter (just), but they both made me realise I’d held far too many wrong preconceptions about Young Adult work. I’d assumed it was all like Twilight – tween romances with a heavy dose of fantasy. I expected overly simplistic plot devices and dumbed down language, all kinds of fluffy stuff the kids might like. I couldn’t have been further from the truth.

The Ness books in particular tackle some pretty heavy duty intellectual and ethical ideas about responsibility and culpability. They explore if and how it’s possible to move on once you’ve made a serious moral error. They deal with compromise and difficult decisions in an ethically ambivalent world. And they focus again and again on the difficulty of trying to forge your own identity in a storm of conflicting influences. What’s more, they do all this with style and with a frenetically paced plot to boot. But what I realised, and maybe it shouldn’t have been such a shock, is that whilst these themes may be particularly pertinent for an adolescent reader, they are far from irrelevant for adults. It’s a bit of a myth that you grapple with the big questions as a teenager and then settle them, or move beyond them, as you mature. The reality, as I’ve found it, is that you never really satisfy yourself on these things and you revisit them again and again whatever your age. Which is why, I think, the incessant self-doubt of the narrators in both series of books, the guilt and confusion they experience, resonate so strongly. These books are essentially introducing younger readers to some fundamental philosophical concepts and pull no punches whilst doing that. As a result they stand shoulder to shoulder with work written with an older audience in mind, the only really difference being they are somehow more thematically succinct – certainly no bad thing when you think about it.

If you haven’t read Ness, then I urge you to check him out. (Surely everyone, except me, had already read the Suzanne Collins books anyway). I’m moving onto the Gone series by Michael Grant next – I’ll update the blog when I’m done with those. But it’s fair to say I’m becoming a bit of a convert. I hate admitting I’m wrong, but from time to time I suppose you have to…

I Play the Drums…

LittNothing much to say tonight, except to recommend this book I’m reading. Toby Litt’s I Play the Drums in a Band Called Okay.

Started reading it last night and have found it really hard to put down – to, you know, go to work, do stuff etc.

If you’re into music at all, a poor obsessive muso like me even, I can definitely recommend it.

That’s all really to be honest. I’m gearing up for a blog post of some sort of merit, but just don’t quite have it in me today…

Written Inc.

Written Inc.I haven’t done a lot of writing lately, except for poetics and essays for university. But I haven’t been totally idle. Read at an open mic last night and found I shit myself slightly less than last time, so all heading in the right direction.

We’ve also finally got our new writing group up and running. That’s the logo I came up with. And I’ve spent some time getting our website worked out. That can be found here: http://www.written-inc.co.uk. Putting the site together was easy enough, migrating it from a test server onto its own hosted site – now that was a painful experience. Partially because I’m a moron, admittedly, but also because the hosting service I picked was not the easiest to use. In any case, it’s done. All I need to do now is add the profiles for other members (those that want to be profiled that is) and wait for the Google bots to pick it up.

Just out of interest though, we want to list on there any literary events we know about in and around Liverpool, or the North West in general really. If anyone knows of any, let me know and I’ll stick the details up.

It keeps getting easier

You know, I’m a moaning bastard. No two ways about it. I’m old and cynical and lots of things get on my nerves. Yet I discovered a shortcut last night that is going to help me enormously in doing my MA and while it’s only a small thing, I’ve been – for some reason – disproportionately excited by it. I’ll get to that in a minute. First of all let me trawl through the good old days…

When I was an undergraduate, I had to buy a lot of books. If they didn’t have them in the university book shop I had to wander about Liverpool and try every second hand bookseller I could find. I had to try all the libraries. It was a bit of a pain in the arse. I was also trying to be a writer back then and I bought a second hand typewriter. Every time I screwed up, or changed my mind, I had to retype a whole page. Or I had to use those little tipex rectangles to blot out a word and then retype over it with the letters usually misaligned. It was, to be quite honest, a bit of a pain in the arse.

By the time I came to do my first MA, we had Amazon. As long as I was quite organised I could get all my books, delivered to my door, well in advance of needing them. I also had a word processor. It was a big, ugly, grey thing that you could use as an electric typewriter or as a rudimentary computer – typing onto a six inch screen, saving the file to a floppy disk and printing out the pages only when you were happy with them. It was a lot better than the typewriter, although printing stuff did take about as long as typing it. The only difference was you sat there and watched it, fed paper into it, and had a beer.

By the time I got to my PhD, Amazon had added the ‘Look Inside’ feature to their books. Which is just as well. I lost some of my notes along the way and although the quotes I needed were already in my thesis, I didn’t have all the details for some of my citations. Instead of trawling all the libraries, I located the books on Amazon. I opened the ‘Look Inside’ feature, searched for my quote, and hey presto – I had a page reference. I also had access to the front pages in the book – the ones that give you year of publication and geographical location of the publisher. (By this point I also had a laptop. I won’t even go into how much easier that is than a typewriter or a word processor…)

Ok, coming back to my latest discovery. But let me put it in context. My research technique has always been as follows: read a book and make notes in it while I go. Afterwards, I come back to it and trawl through all the notes I’ve made. The ones I think are going to be useful I write out, in longhand, in an A4 pad. With the page number, and the book’s publication details at the top. Sometimes, that process can take two to three hours. I filled four of these pads while researching my PhD thesis. (And incidentally, it was the loss of one of them that led to the ‘Look Inside’ discovery).

Two of the novels I’ve read so far for my current MA I’ve read on my Kindle. I knew there was a highlight feature on it, and I knew the highlights get written to a ‘Clippings’ document on the device. Very handy to have all your notes put into one place for you to reference in seminars. What I didn’t know, however, is that this ‘Clippings’ document is actually a .txt file. Which means, I can plug my Kindle into my laptop, open this file, and then copy and paste all the quotes in it into a Word document. Actually, even better, I can copy and paste it into an Excel spreadsheet. Then I have an indexed list of all my quotes, properly referenced, readily available without having to get cramp in my wrist. I can search for quotes rather than having to flip through pages to find them. And best of all, I don’t even have to type them into my essays – I can copy and paste them in.

So now I have to find something else to moan about. I could always moan about the inconvenience of that I suppose. Or how about this – why wasn’t all this stuff around twenty years ago? The hardships I could have avoided if some technological inventor types had pulled their finger out a bit quicker. Lazy bastards…