Literature

There was nothing to say. What could be said had been said.
More words could only be vanity.
Anyone of importance had already spoken. Nothing of great import had been said.
Perhaps if we had been listening things might have gone better.
Than they did.

The only great thing left to do was be quiet.
And keep your ears open.

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The Fall of Rome

I’ve never been upset about a media related issue before, but have been feeling genuinely enraged since I found out that HBO, the makers of Rome, have cancelled what is without a doubt the best written, produced and acted TV show of all time, and I really do mean that. There is a petion on the HBO forums to get the show back. Go there and sign it. Now!

HBO have recently optioned A Song of Ice and Fire by ‘The American Tolkien’ George R R Martin which if it ever gets produced could be an amazing production. I have been watching less and less TV but the HBO shows like Rome and Deadwood (also cancelled) have been the only things holding my attention recently. If they keep cancelling the good programmes I’m quickly going to run out of reasons to watch at all, as are many other people. Maybe that will give me a good excuse to read all the good books I have stacked up.

Clever Clogs

Apparently when put under pressure to say something clever about performance poetry I managed this:

‘The performance poet is less like an actor or comedian and most like the church preacher or politician — who knows that there are many ways to skin a cat … humour, yes, but also anger, tragedy, joy … the political and the personal … strong emotions you can bring your audience along with.’

Does that sound like me? I don’t remeber saying that. Or even thinking it. Sounds good though!

Read the full article by Lydia ‘Knock ‘Em Dead’ Towsey documenting her Road to Freedom at Poetry Thursday.

Sell Sell Sell

A catchy little 12 point guide to  selling your self as a professional writer by Meg Rosoff. My personal favourite…

‘Contrary to popular belief, editors and agents are gagging for good books.’

Meg Rosoff

Imagine you’re being paid 35k a year as an editor for Random House. You’ve got three kids, a husband / wife and a £350,000 a year mortage. Gagging is maybe too mild a word for how how desperate you are for good books.

You can probably boil down all 12 points to just one.

Write a good book.

Twisted Mister

That’s it. It’s happened. I’ve been pigeon holed. My literary credentials have been measured and been found to be…twisted. And dark. Dark and twisted. Twisted and dark. However you arrange them they add up just the same. Just to be contrary I’m now going to write something bright and breezy.  Or quick and funny. Or cheap and cheerful.

This is the ‘Twist in the Tale’ piece I wrote for the BBC Festival last week. Hopefuly I’m not trashing copyright by posting it. The first few hundred words are by Kate Scott. There are five alternative endings, I haven’t heard any of the others yet. You’ll probably be able to figure out when my contribution kicks in. It is, in the words of the Beeb…twisted and dark.

A Twist in the Tale: the late train

I am much too early for my 11.54 train. I’d tried to spin the drinks out as long as I could but everyone wanted to catch the last tube home. Cold wind swoops in from the South Bank entrance, the gusts like hands shoving against my back. The station is lit with hard fluorescent light and the coffee shop staff, sullen and pale-faced, watch listlessly as I pass by. A Suit, buying a wilting sandwich, grins at me. I have joked with friends that a young woman in London, late at night, might as well go and run with wolves. Ignoring the Suit, I mask my face in cold confidence and stride purposefully past the station clock that looms above. I get on the greasy-windowed train, choosing a window seat in an empty carriage. For a few minutes I daydream, fogging the window with my warm breath. But then I pick up my paperback and start to thumb through it to find my place. By the time I’m aware of the musty smell of damp wool pressing too close against my arm, it’s too late.

‘Good book?’ The man is dressed in a long tweed coat. He smiles, a smile so open and intelligent that I nearly smile in return. But then I see him glance down, charting the outline of my body.

‘You’ve got the wrong person I’m afraid’. Too polite, too many words. I hastily put away my book, get up and squeeze past him into the aisle.

‘Oh, I’m sorry, I just . . .’. The man calls after me. I ignore him, but when he makes no attempt to follow me I feel a twinge – guilt? Why should I feel guilty? Except that there is something familiar about the man, something about his mouth. Attractive. Soft. In another situation, at another time, I might have returned his smile, encouraged it even. I almost feel regret. Until I hear movement behind me and turn to see that it is him. I push through to the next carriage and curse that it is empty: I need people, the safety of the pack. I am shaking. What is it about him that’s so familiar, so terrifying familiar? At the end of the carriage I have trouble opening the heavy connecting door. Someone on the other side pulls it open for me just as the train jerks to a start. I almost fall but a hand on my arm prevents me. It’s the Suit.

I am embarrassed when my arm detaches in his hand.

‘A Model 5, right?’

He hands the forearm back to me and I rotate it back into the elbow.

‘Yes.’

‘I thought so. I have one just like you at home. Except blonde instead of brunette.’

I am aware of the eyes that turn to stare at us with disapproval. Artificial Humans posing as real is still frowned upon even if no longer illegal. I have a subroutine that allows me to forget all about my artificial body. Until an arm comes off. The Suit is grinning at me in a bad way and then says one word.

‘Destiny.’

Model 5’s have built in aural backdoors that allow their users to override freewill circuits to gain compliance. Destiny is the manufacturer’s default setting.  The Suit must know this, and so must the blonde at home.

I stand entirely still, eyes glassy and unfocused, breathe held. Only my heartbeat remains. The Suit leans in close, his lips hovering near mine, one hand creeping towards my breast.

I raise me knee up hard into his groin, and it occurs to me what an excellent backdoor a titanium alloy limb can create.

‘I’m emancipated.’ I spit at the crumpled Suit beneath my feet. I chose my own destiny long before.

Its Tough Out There

If you were harbouring any ideas about the wonders of being a first time novelist, read this.

So its a tough world out there. Does this really take anyone by surprise? Are there people out there who think establishing a career as a professional novelist is just a matter of pitching up on an MA and then scratching down 80k on a notebook whilst sipping espresso? Then BINGO, Booker prize?

And even for the more realistically minded there isn’t any formula for success, any more then there is any guaranteed method for beating the roulette wheel. There are some ways of improving the odds – develop technique and style, know your genre, take every opportunity to meet writers, editors and agents. (Or of course side-step all the above, become a D-list celeb and hire a ghost writer).

So given the steep odds of success and the huge effort involved, why bother tapping out that novel at all.

Oh yeah, thats right. I remember now!

Because you enjoy it.

The Litt Fic Genre

An interesting breakdown of the literary fiction genre by Toby Litt. Its refreshing to see someone usualy heavily associated with LitFic abandon the partisan position and admit that at bottom is just another genre.

Toby is in a good place to comment, being represented by the Mic Cheetham agency who happen to also have Iain Banks, Jon Courtney Grimwood, China Mievile, M John Harrison, Ken McCleod, Tricia Sullivan and Steph Swainston on their books, which is basicaly a whos who of contemporary British SFF writing.

There is a lot of trashy SFF in the world, I’ll admit to liking quite a lot of it despite (or even because of) its flaws, it just appeals to my tastes. I don’t want this stuff hailed as great literature. But then I don’t want the turgid, genre bound swathes of LitFic hailed as great literature either. IMHO this is one of the majour causes of declining readerships for contemporary fiction at the moment. I would like to see a Booker shortlist that included the fantastic stories being told in SFF, or graphic novels, or even YA fiction and any other genre where the writers are pushing the boundaries and producing startlingly good writing. I think if this did happen you would start to see some of the lost readership come back to books, and back into bookshops.

A Twist in the Tale

I spent most of Thursday pondering a project I’d been asked to do in the wake of ‘Cthul-You’ airing on BBC7. The Beeb have an Audio Music Festival happening soon as part of which the Festival Live radio station will be playing to staff throughout Broadcasting House. I’m guessing Festival Live isn’t just music, becuase they’ve commissioned a five minute story called A Twist in the Tale, named such becuse it will have five alternate endings, one of which I was asked to write. The actual twist was that the deadline was basicaly the next day. Pretty tight, but hey, it was only 200 words.

They told me to use my imagination, at which point my imagination promptly deserted me. For an entire day. Inbetween organising two sets of publicity for different projects at work I kept trying to think of imaginative ideas, but the field of my subconscious was barren. Once home I plumped down in front of the laptop and spent two hours typing variations of the same first line and then deleting them again. After dinner I forced myself to write an idea I didn’t even half believe in and then realised it was naff. At which point I gave up.

Three hours, four cups of tea and two episodes of Deep Space Nine later the idea I’d been waiting for finaly turned up. ‘She’s a robot!’ I thought, and then exactly 28 minutes later it was done.

Where the hell ideas come from I’ll never know, although if anybody has any…ideas…about it then please share them with the class. The best one I’ve encountered to date is from Terry Pratchett, who thinks ideas are like pollen, just floating about on the breeze waiting to impregnate someone or something with a suitably fertile brain. They certainly don’t seem particularly related to the conscious mind, in fact anything that helps you switch of the higher brain functions seems to work wonders for conception. In my case that seems to be episodes of Deep Space Nine, but I wouldn’t gueantee that working for everyone.

A Twist in the Tale goes out next week I think, and I’ll post my ending up here after that.

Tangy MySpace

When I was a kid I used to be hooked on Lemon’n’Lime Tangy chew bars, purchased from the leisure centre vending machine for 5p each. Chewing a Tangy was somewhat like sucking down a cup full of sulphuric acid, but in a good way. 50p would buy 10 Tangy’s and I could happily sit and eat them all one after the other, and then deal with the inevitable stomach ache and dyed green tongue.

Fast forward half a life time and my tastes have certainly changed. The idea of eating even one Tangy now strikes fear into my heart and into my teeth. How did I ever eat these things, and enjoy them?

I have a similar feeling when I look at MySpace. If we’d had such a thing when I was a swaggering teenager I’d probably have loved it, but these days I recoil in horror from the garish, noisy, shoddily designed crassness of the whole thing. I spent the last hour looking for a resonably understated theme for MySpace, and then gave up with exasperation. Why bother. If I’m going to be forced to hang out in Mr Murdochs sweetshop then I’m taking my Tangy with me.

Damien’s MySpace Travesty of Taste