Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Open Season

A new piece of fiction, inspired (if that's the right word) by my muse Jenn Topper @revolucion0, who provided me a topic to share bile on and I just kind off riffed from there. Compositional soundtrack provided by Public Image Ltd.

* * *

A perfect day for a round over the golf course. Roiling grey clouds, a stiff breeze off the sea, that metallic tang of precipitation suspended in the air. Certain to clear out the cobwebs all right. Time for the full eighteen holes, or just the front nine? He would just have to see how things unwound. He donned his leather gloves and hoisted his golf bag over his shoulder like a soldier on the parade ground. Only the weight of it caused an imperceptible sag.

The Royal and Ancient course lived up to the venerable tradition implied in its name thank god. A proper links course using the natural features of a rugged coastal scarp, rather than pastoral landscape architecture commissioned to make Japanese businessmen feel at home. Unfortunately this did entail the Club rules were also hidebound by tradition. But today is Friday, within the first week of April, so he gets to break with stultifying tradition. It means he can play the course clockwise.

He exits the Clubhouse having signed in and having his credentials checked. Bona fide member, who would have thought given his family roots? Like all club members, he'd had to check his mobile phone in at the reception desk. One of the few real boons of the fustian rulebook. Golf was not to be relegated to a subsidiary of doing business. No deals cemented beneath horizontal sheets of briny rain, stood leaning on your club like a shooting stick, clad in ridiculous plus fours tucked into tartan socks thank you very much. People were gathered here just to play the game and no other purpose.

He marched past the first tee. Towards some shrub and high gorse just off to the left of it. The strap of his bag was beginning to carve a welt into the skin and he absently shifted it further away from his clavicle. He stepped daintily over the out of bounds rope and unshouldered arms with only a slight a purse of his lips indicating a release of taut breath. An insect disturbed from its pollen gathering, fretted around his shadowing mass. Its bombilation carried more conviction than the apologetic unzippering of his bag. Seven surgical scrub hatted clubs popped into view, like junior doctors crowding round to observe the operating table. Bumping and boring into one another as he delved in amongst them with a gloved hand. Reaching into the innards, to extract a thin metal tube. Feeding it upwards between the jealously jostling clubs, drawing free like a langorous rocket leaving its silo.

Next he almost had to thrust himself deep into the bag's interior as if he too were prospecting for pollen. But he emerged unscathed, bearing the stock which had nestled itself flat on the bag's floor. He brought the two metal planes together and snapped them into place within each other's receiving grooves. The other graphite clubs bowed their heads in mute acknowledgement. Mere cudgels, when this had an infinitely greater driving range.

He moistened his finger to determine the directionality of the wind. Pronouncing himself satisfied, he proceeded to remove the elongated loupe from his single breasted pocket. He brought it up to his eye and nonchalantly twizzled the shallow focus fluting. With a sudden surge, he craned his neck so that the scope was partitioning the sky. Crosshairs biopsying a little clump of grey-brown cirrus. The black outer frame around the lens curtaining off the rest of creation. Suddenly something prised open the circular screen and insinuated itself briefly across his vision. Just as the projectile threatened to pass from his line of sight, he locked on to it. A golf ball, with tightly turning revolutions. Another notch on the focus serrations and he could see its dimples, like the surface of the moon. Like the near symmetrical spacings of holes in the cardboard targets at the range. The ones he took home with him and hung up on threads of cotton. Just so as to filter and dice the light, creating lacerating chiaroscuro ribbons throughout his room. He retrained his eye to ground level just as the sphere plopped silently earthwards. The backspin carried the ball back past the hole as he secured the scope on to the rifle, his tongue just protruding from the corner of his mouth.

He relaxed into his stance and scoped the first green. The red pennant of the flag was billowing out away from the sea. Pointing him at the congregation before its blood red demand for sacrifice. Seemed to be a threesome. Who was going to make the cut and who wasn't? Simplicity enough, no less stacked than the voting for new Club members. Nominated and seconded. Didn't have to be eagle-eyed to drop this one with two shots to spare. Yellow should not be a colour ever to adorn the male of the species below his waist. Above the waist is honourable, the souwester of the trawlerman, the high visibility jacket of the coal miner or railway track engineer. So this one is for all those invisible men in their high visibility jackets. The mark tilts his head back, laughing at his playing partner's remotely unheard wit. As the mark settles over his putter, he synchronises with his own teeing off. His opening salvo for the day. The birds in the trees flap over the rifle's report. It's just Nature's way. Damn, whiffed completely. Shanked it badly to the right, both tee shot and putting green. He delicately adjusts the sights and reconvenes his grip. The mark is bending down to retrieve or maybe mark his ball. Coin or other marker he idly mused. The mark's companion is about to putt, when the (presumed) thud of the stiff collapsing to the ground brings a flaring turn of the head and an accusatory putter raised at chest level. Before it is slowly lowered. Still, two shot penalty for that breach of etiquette surely? He'd leave that for the scorecard Secretary to resolve as he picked up his bag and proceeded over towards the Second tee. Or more accurately, the high grass beyond it.

He took a swig from his pewter hip flask as he strode across the wild grass, making a mental note to avoid shooting in the chest area, lest the target have a miraculous stroke of luck and be saved by a hip flask of their own absorbing the bullet and leaking malt instead of blood. Twenty bullets for a par round on the front nine should suffice. In order to win the notional Claret Jug. The Third hole had a nasty dog leg that meant he could not possibly have a clear bead to anyone on the green. So dropping a shot into a bullseye knot on the gnarled trunk of a specific tree, (which if you stared at long enough you could mistake it for a human face from a distance) entitled him to a Mulligan. Advancing from the tee to behind a high mound of earth around the fairway to continue. It was only fair to proceed in this manner. He had his rules too you know. But the Second was no "gimmie" either.

He settled himself into position just in time to catch sight of a behemoth of a man in checkered knickerbockers slowly lower himself to the grass in incremental stages. As the man finally levered himself flush, he himself felt the earth tilting just a smidgeon on its axis beneath where he stood. The thud of dead or soon to be dead weight, seems to have reverberated all the way back to him here in the Rough. The man's chin on the grass seemed to suggest he was communing with the worms as to the lie of the hole. Which would be true enough in a few seconds or so. He shook his head clear and winked one eye shut again in order to realign the cosmos. Yet in that interim, the beast had turned with all the elegance of a dreadnought, so as currently to be presenting his red checked posterior to the crosshairs like a monkey on heat. Now the eclipser of planets removed his baseball cap and still holding it in his hand, brought the ensemble round to scratch his voluminous rear. Oh to plug the cap straight into that mound of flesh. But no, rules are rules, besides there was no telling if that amount of blubber wouldn't sap the bullet of all velocity before it could burrow into a sweet spot of carnage within the body. Whatever the beached whale was sizing up seemed to be taking an inordinate amount of time. Bristling with impatience to play through, he squeezed off a round into the man's playing partner who was stood there holding the pin. He toppled to the ground with just a hint of fade to the left of the pin. Another golfer scratched. The behemoth's cap was suspended in midair, the peak just kissing the twill of his trousers.

The twin parts of the tricky dog leg had proved easy enough to negotiate. Pressed there against the earthen mound, he was trying to weigh up the lie. The victim had half fallen into a bunker, head wedged into the sand and out of sight, like a pot-holer too big for the aperture. But visibly he was still alive, since his leg was twitching and thrashing the green beyond the bunker. A last outpost of protest before the oncoming tsunami of blackness? Get in the hole, get in the damn hole! Of course the other three from his convivial fourball had scarpered for the trees. Even pranging a buggy in their genteely electrified haste. But their lack of indication of a gimmie through any ministrations made to their stricken friend, left him none the wiser as to whether to wait for him to drop into the hole. Or whether a further inside the leather putt, putt, putt was required to get this albatross off his neck. This is when you really need a caddie to help you out.

He could at least prevent that leg from twitching. But that would mean a bogey. He took a quick check of the four cardinal compass points and saw no trace of any handicappers. So he strode out from beyond the mound and on to the fairway. The gun down by his side, he moved as jauntily as if he'd just hit a peach of a shot straight down the middle. Stepping on to the apron, he started to address the awkward lie. He neared the man sprawled over the bunker, stopping only to replace a divot where the man's putter had incised some of the turf in its sudden fall. He surveyed that the overhanging ridge of the bunker was sufficiently high to swallow him up to any viewer from a southerly direction. He had to figure that there would be no fresh players teeing off from holes one and two, so those directions ought to be safe as well. The carry of the gunshot might be a problem, but if he timed it with the squalling wind, he should be able to cover it up. And any explosion of sand thrown up by the force of the bullet could be a genuine sand trap phenomenon. He swivelled the man's legs round so they folded into the bunker. "Winter rules old chap" he said. As he removed the man's limbs from the green, he saw the blood glaze on the manicured carpet. Double bogey he thought to himself, but his hands still didn't waggle as he loosed off a round into the back of the man's head. He raked the bunker with a few more rounds, then headed off to the Fourth with its water hazard. Three down, six to play.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Interview With Deborah Riley-Magnus

I first encountered Deborah Riley-Magnus through the online writing community Authonomy. She had two full novels uploaded and I had the pleasure of reading both, two very different types of work indeed. "Cold In California" was a Vampire-busting genre book, while "Blind In The Light" was an inquiry into spirituality, guided through the Catholic tradition but going so much further.

We undertook that most rare beast within an online writing community, a long, hard and frank discussion on the craft of our respective books; if I remember, on a post I started up called "Nothing To See Here" and merrily watched people dropping in and very quickly out when they realised that they had neither read the whole book, nor wanted to get all forensic. From that point on, we struck up a fruitful writers' friendship and solidarity, despite having very different approaches to the form and existing on radically separated time zones.

Deborah is a write-a-holic. Each of her two novels are part of trilogies, she has an ingenious recipe book on the go, she does commercial writing within the marketing sphere, she's a publicist with her own company Magnus Consulting, she has two blogs and set up "Whispers Of The Muse" which showcases the work of new writers in its literary wing, while it also has a special fanfiction shrine devoted mainly to Russell Crowe and some erotica too. (I know that was an inordinately long sentence, but this woman has many strings to her bow to cram in).

Debs supports new writing selflessly. Her tastes are wide and in addition to "Muse", she is currently engaged in bringing together writers as mentors under the "Cranky Critics" banner. I give you Deborah Riley-Magnus, WRITER, networker, facilitator, muse (in her own right) and all round good-egg.

"When we kicked around together on Authonomy, I read both your novels posted there. They were very different. How would you describe them?"

Blind in the Light is a literary novel about a Catholic priest who serves as one of the Vatican’s premier investigators of spiritual phenomena. He’s a man faced with the crisis of questioning the limitations of his faith within Catholicism and making the choice to leave the church to explore what he’s learned … that God works miracles through every part of life and on every level.

Cold in California is a genre novel that began as an urban fantasy and has since evolved into a supernatural romance. It’s the first fun adventure in a five book series and features a twice-dead vampire who wakes in a kind of purgatory with several other very dead supernaturals living in a West Hollywood warehouse. Their goal is to take advantage of their one last chance to earn heaven or hell (against their natures, of course).

"They seem to come from very different places within you. Representing different parts of yourself. Would that be fair?"

Sure, I suppose that would be a fair first glance opinion, but in truth, almost all of my writing seems to follow the same theme of redemption and salvation. They both come from a place of questioning.

Raised Catholic, I’m a sometime visitor at Sunday mass, but I spent ten years studying under a Native American Medicine Man and the similarities and distinct differences in how various religions and spiritualities look at life and afterlife always has me curious. What if a devout priest faced miracles he can’t explain? Would he categorize them away as unimportant, inexplicable events? Or would he delve deeper? What if a vampire died his second and supposedly final death and discovered he was chosen for one last shot at heaven? Wouldn’t he feel like an atheist standing at the pearly gates? Wouldn’t his first thought be, “Oh shit”?

Both novels are very, very different genres, but both concepts come from a singular place deep inside that defines me as a person.

"Okay, that's very interesting. Why do you feel you needed two very different ways of attacking your theme? What could one give to it that the other couldn't and vice versa?"

Nothing, and I honestly don’t think I need two different ways of attacking any theme. It’s just that this theme is part and parcel of who I am as a person. It’s simply something that intrigues me. I may stumble across a hundred ways to do it. As long as those ways are unique and interesting, I may explore them. Another answer to this might come from the marketing evil twin inside me. See, the person who reads Blind in the Light is not the same person who reads Cold in California. It’s all a matter of voice and audience. The New York Philharmonic, or Rock ‘n Roll at the L.A. House of Blues.

"How would you feel if one of the two 'made it', leaving the other one seemingly less validated?"

Ohhhh, now you’ve tapped into my biggest fear! Blind in the Light is a three book series and two of those books are completed. Cold in California is a five book series backed up with a cookbook (don’t ask, LOL, part of my author’s platform.). Yes, it is terrifying to imagine I’ll only find publication and build a reputation for one over the other. Truth? I believe in both genres … both book series.

"Although pushing at the conventions, one is definitely 'genre'. If that gets published professionally, then you risk getting pigeonholed as a genre writer. Equally, if your literary work was taken up, I bet your publishers would dissuade you from putting out the genre work, at least under the same writing name. How would you feel about either of these scenarios?"

I have thought about these possibilities long and hard. One of my favorite authors is Barbara Kingsolver. She began her writing career with a genre I like to call “light chick lit with guts”. Animal Dreams, The Bean Trees, etc. But Kingsolver is not only a prolific writer but and author with a cause. She has also published short story collections, essay collections then she charged like a bull into heavy literary work with her best selling The Poisonwood Bible and Prodigal Summer. Nothing pigeonholed her, and I like to believe I have the same tenacity to drive forward and have my voice heard.

All I need to do is get that voice perfectly polished. Kingsolver is a literary genius!

"In our online chats, you astounded me by saying you know virtually the whole book before you've even written word one. How does this come about in your head and how does it stay fresh for you as you write it?"

Well, it stays fresh because it excites me so much I can’t sit still and I usually write nonstop for months until it’s ready for readers, betas, editing and revamping. But I will say one thing, it’s not like I wake every few weeks with a whole new novel bursting to get out of my head. It germinates until it reaches a climax and I know … absolutely KNOW without a shadow of a doubt how the story progresses from the first to the final word. By that point the characters have been talking to me for months, arguing with me in dreams and basically working out the conflicts and events of the book.

"You're red hot on marketing. But I have to ask, do you think about genre before you've written a word? Or do you write the last period point and then turn round and think how to label it for marketing purposes?"

Unfortunately or fortunately, I am marketing from the bone to brain. Working with clients who struggle to shove a concept down a prospective customer’s throat against their will has made me a wary writer. Yes, I’m clearly aware of genre and the market, but mostly I’m aware of how hard or easy it may be to sell the manuscript based on the trends. Blind in the Light is a tough sell. Vampires and a cookbook featuring recipes for the (emotional) vampires in a cook’s life are very, very hot sells.

Even when I write a book I know will be tough, there’s a tiny marketing wizard living in my brain that pings with ideas to make it more marketable after it’s written. It doesn’t change the story or redirect the genre; it simply whispers “hey, this might be wonderful in winery gift shops that sell books”. For example, my second level brain is currently working out the details of a literary novel I intend to write after Cold in California rewrite. Already I have jotted down fifteen unique venues for its sale as well as a platform for the target subject. It all sort of happens while the book is being written.

"What do you see as the respective merits of both genre literature and literary fiction? "

The merits are easy to define. There are millions of people who read on this planet and just as many preferences. I may not be the author of choice for a Dan Brown fan, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a fan out there of my own I need to reach. Remember, you’re talking to the consummate optimist here.

I respect authors like you, who explore new ways of communicating with a reader, using experimental thoughts and language to tell a story. It’s an art. I respect authors who want to talk to young adults. I respect authors who write non-fiction only and I respect authors who have found a successful genre niche and fiercely staked their territory. I honestly believe there is merit to every kind of writing, from high literary to the lowly fortune cookie.

"How do you relate this to the workings of the publishing industry?"

The workings of the publishing industry? What workings? I think at this point we can all observe that the way things have been done for centuries just isn’t working anymore. I absolutely love the fact that the industry is in flux and shuffle. It demands better attention to all elements of the industry, including the author, and it forces everyone from Harper-Collins to start-up e-publishers to do their job better and better.

The direction and author chooses now is an open landscape, the terrain is constantly reforming but getting more stable by the minute. I’m not advocating a “sit tight and wait” attitude, but I am saying that no writer should close themselves off to the various publishing models available these days.

"How do you pack in so much into just 24 hour days? Never a day goes by when there isn't a new blog post, short fiction, new chapters from you and that's in addition to your day job promoting others?"

I have no idea. All I can say is that I love the work, I love the writing and I’m a pretty social being – for someone who almost never leaves the house. I never have a problem finding energy for it (although the dust is building on the furniture and most times I don’t wash dinner dishes until the next day). I get a charge out of helping my friends and clients be successful … that breeds networks … that breeds marketing and publicity ideas … and that breeds writing ideas. It’s a glorious, vicious cycle. I’m pretty blessed.

"What do you see as the future of literature? Do all the new media forms for books hold any interest for you as a writer?"

The future of literature? More intelligent, more meaningful, more entertaining, more reflective of the universe we live in and supported by the need for people to stop, read and get out of their own lives. Genres will begin to split and mutate into new genres. Authors who could never before find publication will become household names – IF they do their marketing chores like good girls and boys.

As I writer I’m interested in everything from e-publishing to traditional publishing. I consider indie publishers and have taken a serious look at POD. Lord knows I’d love to be agented but the more authors I represent as a publicist, the more I’m seeing that after the efforts to perfect and polish a manuscript … getting it out there is only successful with letting everyone know it’s out there. Okay, I’ll stop now, I won’t get onto my marketing bandwagon, LOL.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Whatever Happened to ... Saddam's Body-Doubles?

The following is a fictionalised treatment of the question. If you happen to know 6 underemployed Saddam lookalikes, then point them my way and we'll see if we can get this thing made...

Scratchy quality film, that periodically jumps. Each of 6 Saddam
Hussein bodydoubles take a turn in the sketch for which they are
auditioning for the role. They are only distinguished by a number
sticker on their prison issue jacket. Hence the jumpy film to cut from
one Sadaam actor directly to another in the same scene.

Saddam Hussein hanging on to a pay phone in prison visiting
area. He wheels around as he gets a response. On the visitor’s
side of the glass panels, his aide takes a seat. Saddam slams the
phone down and it bounces off its cradle and dangles from its
wire. Saddam takes a seat on the other side of the glass. Picks up
the wall mounted screen phone

Friday, 16 October 2009

Vooks Apocalypse

Continuing the theme of the new technology and its integration with traditional print, here is a piece of video literature and discussion.

Watch the 8 minute video, read the transcript below and compare and contrast the efficacy of either media to communicate the same message and if you like, vote on it by leaving a comment.

Hello gentle readers and welcome to the future of literature. By this I don't inevitably refer to myself, but to this as visual presentation of the written. For gentle reader, we are being constantly told that the 21st Century mind wishes to assimilate its data inputs by means other than the book, ones which incur less time investment. Podcasts, videos and vooks. Ones that leave the hands free to make the devil's work (mis-said on video as "word"). And I would argue, Satan's serpent has indeed come to reclaim the apple of temptation with ruinous, maggoty usury.

One argument the technophiles use to promote the new publishing media, is that is saves on wood pulp. Preserving Nature, how ironic while we consistently wipe out species in the name of progress. 16 a day is the estimate, 35 if you include flora.

If I may be so bold as to employ literary tropes in a visual presentation, here follows a brace of allegories for the prospect we face staving off.

The Guerilla players - that's gu-guerilla, not go-gorilla - the guerilla players present for you some mis en scene. Is the film better than the book? (You can decide by reading the full script on the blog).

Bye bye "thou whoreson Zed, that unnecessary letter" said Shakespeare. And no one's going to miss your passing 'D'eee-light. Gone to the dogs. Throw me a fricking bone here. Okay, but only into the abyss. The animals went out two by two hurrah, hurrah. Say hi to the dodo down there. Where's Wally? (impromptu "Wally the Whale" added in video - filler by the mind when mentally scanning for prompt). Washed up on a dried up estuary probably and suffocated. Don't wail and blubber so my son, this is the will of your parents. The candle wax will come in useful for the power cuts. Perish the Elephant packing her trunk. If we just eviscerate Elly here, aw don't cry little boy. There we go, you can escort the letter 'E' off to the elephants' graveyard. It will have to stand for extinct form now on. Buzz buzz buzz off letter B, we all know your namesake creatures are fast disappearing off this earth. Plant payback for all the stolen honeyed nectar, though it won't do them the slightest bit of good either. The cat has finally used up the last of his nine lives. Off to the great kitty litter in the sky. And trepanning cousin Terry. No more tales of the "Tiger who came to Tea" for you little boy. From now on it will have to be the "Tourniquet Applied to the Tableleg" Mmm, veritably trips off the tongue. Still, some letters will be all right. Though kids will have to adjust to carrion crawlers like cockroach and blowfly. Sweet dreams.

Now a little older and I'd like you to imagine a queue of teenagers all lining up outside a club. Right around the building and circling back on itself. The letter "Q" you see, like I said. The wrinkle through it? The velvet sash behind which the bouncers stand, who can gain entry, who is refused. A metaphor for life itself. Anyway, to while away the wait, said kids are busy on their mobiles (fluffed, restated as "mobile phones"). "I'm in a queue in'it?" Or punching away at their texts, since we are all touch-typists now. All of us committing our thoughts in writing, that has to be a good thing right? Now conceive a shadowy figure - someone in a balaclava maybe, not too inconspicuous with the club wear of choice for these kids - he's moving up and down the line. Inclining his head in towards those phones held out at arms' length.
E’s ? Anyone want some E’s ? Eee-asy ! ‘E’s’ are good ! The best in fact. You E’d up ? Oh, you’re sorted ... Fair enough. How about you ? No ? ... C’mon. I got all your ‘E’ needs covered. I can iterate your pleasures for you. Determine the way you experience things. Contain your inhibitions. Distill wellbeing. Render you lover-lee. Or any other E-motion you care to name. No ? Okay then. What about you? You don't spell it like that! Bloody number racketeers moving in on our turf. Not a patch on us for legibility ... That's it, get shot of the '8', now you need a - yeah that's right mate, you do spell 'deal' with two 'E's' and I got just the ticket for you on that. Uh-oh, here comes that upstart U-pusher (accidentally reversed in the telling). One of the few who've had a renaissance in market share. It's all 'me me me with that U". A distinctly untrustworthy character if ever I met one. Time to up sticks and E is for exit.

So how will our future generations acquire the speech of naming, if all the early words limned with simple, happy, associative charge, the animals, the pretty coloured flowers, the orange sun and the blue sky, are blotted out from our primary copy-books? Our loquacity will be flat and lifeless, shorn of our fabled ability to fabricate literature and dreams. We'll need the virtual interfaces then to preserve our collective memory of these fabled beasts. The new dinosaurs in the virtual Natural history museum.

What will be the point of children learning to become fluent readers, if all future 'books' will read to them in the form of vooks, podcasts and videos? Early on in our flying solo reading career, entering the imaginative world of a book is how we expand our own range of thought and to forge new connections. In short, our thought processes take wing and spread through reading. School expands our (became "their" in performance) conceptual abilities even further, still dominated by the text book or set texts. In our present desire and present is a word that in Shakespeare's time meant 'immediate', a vestigial meaning that still lurks within it depending on the context in which it is used in prose, but one that is very unlikely to come across in a video - in our present desire for instant data, for scanning information, we risk changing our whole evolutionary future by sidelining the deep thought facilitated through books. When you read, your visual cortex has to connect up with your linguistic brain to decipher what is being said by the book. As soon as you put other inundations on the visual brain, such as with vooks and video, as soon as you introduce an audio aspect with podcasts and vocalised reading, the linguistic centres of the brain is no longer the sole focus and some of the layering of the words will inevitably get missed. How much of this have you been able to process first time through? It certainly took me considerably longer to compose than for you to hear it read out aloud. For all the complex demands of sight and sound stimuli, you can still be transported among a blacked out cinema or theatre audience. Not so sat at home sat in front of a monitor or on a train staring into your phone to read an e-book. To quote cognitive psychologist J.Bruner, the creative imagination offered up by the writer allows the reader to "go beyond the information given". To take the time to think. I don't credit that such time is afforded by the new technologies which are all about time saving and convenience. The inputs are regulated for you at a rate determined by pixel rates and data translation speeds. Reading online may give you the meat off the bone, but a book gives you access to the deep lying marrow. I'd say ask the dog which of the two he prefers, except we just consigned all canines (mutated to "him") to extinction.

Alles fuer der kinder not alles fuer der kindle.

Missed prop for the visual gag to end, covered with verbal "thank you")

* VOTE NOW * Place your virtual X/Y/Z in the comment box

X The print version had far more clarity (despite author's best attempts to cut up narrative flow by referencing divergences from the video)

Y The vid's the way to go man. I could still read my e-mails and check out a couple of blogs while I absorbed the message. Safe

Z None of the above/ This guy's as nutty as the Monster Raving Loony Party.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Maths & Engish (no, not Dizzee Rascal's album)

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 And there you have it. Ten digits, ten numerical symbols. A perfect hermetically sealed system from which all mathematics stems from. All the way up to infinity, a mind blowing concept but related back to these basic numbers - in this case, symbollically all you have to do is turn a number 8 on its side and hey presto, the symbol for infinity! Everything mathematical refers back to these ordinal first terms. They reach out to encapsulate the physical universe and the physical universe is defined wholly in these first terms. The four basic functions, + - X / and equals, even these derive from the interrelationship of the numbers straddling them, One digit functioned upon to yield another. And when there are logical breakdowns within the system, the NP problem or The Hodge Conjecture and the rest, well then mathematicians ironically revert to the alphabetical abstraction of letters (Roman or Greek) in order to try and grapple with their breaches. So the numbers are still unsullied, untainted. It's the algebraic letters and the limitations of language and metaphor wot get the blame. Quantum behaviour? We just haven't cracked the multi-dimensionality to come up with a predictive probability for it yet is all.

But enough of maths, I get enough arithmetic all day at work. The only sheets I want to spread are those of a folio of a book. Maybe soon I won't even be able to do that the way technology and the market may be heading.

We possess 26 letters in our alphabet, a finite number to correspond to a finite set of phonic sounds to express every one of our words. Of course there are more than 26 phonic sounds, so here at source we already have a great deal of slippage, unlike the flawless 10 numerals within maths. Never mind, onwards and upwards eh? We can aggregate our alphabetic characters into a huge amount of combinations, first within single words, then further sliced and diced and tossed into salad day sentences, building into novels and wonderful journeys within the logic of the human mind. It's ironic that the earliest traces of writing, all seem to be recording stocks figures and the debits and credits arising from them, ie accounting systems. Numbers demanding to be expressed in symbols again. Little more rivetting than reading somebody's laundry list.

Letters are the building blocks for reading and writing our language. Children learn to recognise letters and attach the requisite sounds to them. Then they learn to associate the character symbol with each letter and from that reconstruct the sound of the word from its written representation. As they become more and more fluent readers, the eye and brain bat scarcely an eyelid as they steam through blocks of print. The words ingested as familiar and therefore automatically scanned, even though the text is fresh and unseen to them. Once a reader is fluent, they take little cognizance of the letters on a page, being several processing steps ahead of that bottom reading rung.

So how does the basal building block of letters compare with the fundament of numbers in maths? The letters themselves bear little correlation other than sound, to the words they help form. A letter 'B' is no more indicative of a 'bear' or a 'bestowal' or some 'bitumen'. It happens to usher all three onto the tip of the tongue but that's about it. Other than phonetic ordering, the letters do not bear the ordination of numbers. They do not build into scales of importance. If letters bear no significance other than arranging sounds, then we have to move on to the unit of the word for deriving everything about language. In a curious way, like numbers, words are sort of hermetically sealed. They are individually defined in terms of other words which are defined themselves by other words defined... An endless loop. This reflects the origins of language, of roots of words, of importations from other languages whether by force or through trade. There is no equivalent of 10 digits, or 1000 basal words, from which all meaning stems through second and third stage acting upon them (prefixes and suffixes). Esperanto took a shot at naailing down a basic language at 900 root words, but has had to expand to accommodate all the new words of technology.

Clearly language isn't hermetically sealed. No perfectly circular system. New words are coming into usage all the time, old ones dying off. So, given that letters do not seem to be able to carry the same weight as numbers do in maths, do we still need the visual prompts they provide? Txt spk is fast pensioning off certain superannuated characters, vowels mainly (mind you, if you ever hear der yute speak, it's like vowels were never invented anyway as their lips barely crack open to eruct their glottal stops). Maybe we should just condemn printed matter off to the recycling bins forever and content ourselves with audio and vook delivery systems for our great works of literature. Printed books will become the new samizdat, the subversive, underground literature produced on home-made presses. Oh no wait, that's self-publishing isn't it?

Me, I haven't finished messing with the alphabet yet. I don't just want to break down words and probe their plasticity, I want to split their atomic letter structure. I play with typefaces and linearity, so self-publishing is pretty much beyond meeting my needs, with its template typesetting.

And Dizzee Rascal? he'll soundtrack it for me

Since I posted this, I have come across a wonderful blog posting about the symbology of letters and numbers by @egllinski which reminded me that the Hebrew alphabet also ascribes numerical value to its letters, thus buttressing worded 'proofs' with more mystical codes of proof by numerology... And the Sanskrit word 'Om' or 'Aum' that contains all sound within its three letters and is the creative force behind existence. Fascinating stuff.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Death Notices...

nothing. When you're dead you're dead. That's why I don't quite buy the writing for posterity argument. Yes you may still be minting royalties for your heirs, but other than that what benefit redounds to you decomposing away there in your clod and loam? (decomposing, is there a more apt word to describe the status of an ex-writer?) Mind you, the same could be said of why bother to have offspring at all, now that our species is no longer tied to seasonal reproduction? Might brighten up your life while you're compos mentis, but when your compost lettuce, just what are the benefits?

Okay, so writing can't preserve more than your name and the words you bequeath. Even then you've got to be a damn good writer; John Le Carre and Ian Fleming (to name two from outside my genre) are more likely to be read and remembered down the line, than say Hammond Innes and Alistair McLean. In the same way that eventually every living relative who knew you in the flesh, themselves go the way of all things mortal, so that there is no one left to place fresh flowers on your grave; there will be no readers left to place bouquets on Innes and McLean's memory and their books remain permanently out of print.

But what are Le Carre and Fleming yielding to the generations that come after them? Well great stories and central protagonists certainly. But I think Literary Fiction writers might crave for more of a legacy than that. I think they yearn to contribute to the great debate. To furnish some ideas for the great pool of human knowledge. To create a meme in the current parlance. If it can't render them any benefit from beyond the grave, at least it might serve humanity into the future. We still live by the notions of virtue portrayed in Greek Tragedies. Shakespeare left us plenty to ponder on the condition and make up of man. Nick Hornby gave us the insight about running an independent music store. Mind you, it's all a bit wooly this conceptual inheritance thing. Maybe if you help instigate a paradigm shift in the thought of all mankind, as you can argue that the Impressionist painters achieved, rather than just a trend shift as say the Beats or the Bloomsbury Circle, then it moves us all forwards. To put it in perspective, such creative impulse throwing tiny conceptual pebbles, is hard to hold up to comparison with the creativity of a bridge builder whose artistry solves a practical problem.

So here's the thing. As altruistic as it was of Sophocles and the Bard to leave us these testimonies for us to reflect on hundreds/thousand years down the line, (funny sort of altruism that has a sadistic element to it through contemplation of the ineffably ambiguous, but still), I'm not convinced it was just to help us all along a millennium hence. They didn't have the media to project their fame much beyond their local geography, so don't think they were about celebrity status either. Okay they got decent working wages out of the writing gig so that's not to be sniffed at. But I reckon they were driven to consider the human condition out of an awareness/fear of their own mortality. In fact I believe all artists, consciously or unconcsciously have the same drive.

This becomes more so as the myth of Heaven/God/The afterlife recedes from ever greater numbers of the populace. There is no useful posterity to be had. So rather than look ahead to the hereafter, now artists look to their immediate lives. We may all celebrate birthdays, but the artist calibrates back from his imagined death day, in order to make sense of his purpose here on earth. He knows he's going to pass over, so what is the best way to make use of the time in the here and now? Well justifying it, explaining it, deconstructing it, might all be fair uses of his time. And that means not only telling his own story, but locating it within the cosmic tragedy/comedy of its inevitable full stop. We already know how this story is ultimately going to end. Therefore that is not really where the interest in it lies. Steve Tesich, who died tragically young, wrote the funniest novel I have ever read called "Karoo" Tesich's protagonist Saul Karoo, a fixer up of failing movie scripts, explains away his need to write: "from the constant need to narrate my existence". For as much as we cease to exist after death, now the nagging inquiry is that we may not purposefully exist all that much in life.

Writers may just be aware of this hollowness and in addition to probing it in their own being, also tug urgently at everybody else's sleeves to alert them to this fact. Even celebrants of Eros who write escapist fantasy books, are still driven by a need to have their voice heard (despite choosing to neglect examining the motives behind that impulse). Thanatos lies behind all contemporary literature. It is merely up to the individual author whether he doffs his hat at the spectral cortege as it passes over his future grave.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Read 'em their Writes - or how the new literature media only saves time by depriving us of the richness of our senses

I've got a techie mate who swears by podcasts. Assimilating his techie product journals while in his car makes perfect time management sense, seeing as he has an autistic child and twin daughters making inordinate demands on his attention back home. But he tells me he also exclusively consumes his beloved SciFi literature in this manner as well. It may well suit to pick out and memorise the key techie items in order to research them further online once out of his car, but the potential narrative fracturing of his SciFi by events outside his windscreen worries me. (Any meta time travel storyline not withstanding).

(His potential thoughts in bold) "The polyp-like craft exuded colours that shredded the known spectrum as it regally lowered itself towards the ground-" Oh blast, there's a sign saying 'parking bay suspended'.

"Okay guys, jet-packs on, we've a civilisation to save from extinction at the hands of-'Would you believe it, that speed camera just flashed me?'

"For all her seaweed-like recrudescences, he could still see the inner beauty radiating out. He was drawn to her like a Geiger counter to polonium 210-" Did that guy just give me the finger? Cut you up? I'll bloody show you cutting somebody up pal! (okay my mate probably wouldn't say this in real life as he is mild mannered and, well a techie).

Now shift our enclosed vista to a train or bus. You are reading a book, a pleasant and maybe stimulating way to pass the bromide of a commute in to work. Your attention wavers periodically. Maybe an aesthetically pleasing person sits down in the seat opposite you, or they have a musk that hooks your nostrils and forces you to look up from the printed page. Maybe on spotting somebody else engaged in reading, you idly crane your neck to see the title of their book to compare and contrast. Perhaps you are fully ensconced in your book, when a snatch of conversation from the passenger next to you spookily echoes the very words your eyes were scanning on the page... All minor events that distract you from the text, but you have the ability to revisit the words and give them your full concentration.

Of course you can equally press rewind on a podcast or scroll back in an e-book. But if you've clotted your ears with headphones, you are less likely to overhear the synchronicity from next to you. You may spot the other reader on the train, but how are you going to laser your comparative 'I've got Stephen Fry voicing Jeeves on my i-Pod', or 'I've got Sartre's "Being And Nothingness" downloaded to my phone' to your erstwhile compatriot in reading? Your nose may well still get hooked, but earphones in place, or poring over your IPhone, are unlikely to secure you eye contact from the Looker in the seat opposite since that's what every other punter on the train is likely to be doing.

These technologies, designed for convenience, for immediacy, actually end up serving the same function as the free newspapers given out to commuters. They wall us off from our fellow travellers. They lock us into our own senses, involve us with our own minds, but without the possibility of someone from outside breaking through to make contact with us, however cursory. It was actually David Blunkett who predicted a version of this back in the mid-1980s, when he highlighted how all these home entertainment centres (remember those?) of video, hi-fi stacks and computer (and now games console and Internet) were likely to reduce us more and more into barricading ourselves into our Englishmen's castles and entertain ourselves, rather than interact in social milieus. A modern day Tiresias, shame he failed to demonstrate such analytical perspicacity when casting sightless eyes over our culture on ascending to power. Commuters will not be satisfied until they have a data stream blocking up every one of their sense outlets (including smells, so bye bye musks and bouquets hooking you). Then they will truly be inviolable.

These devices are sold as time-saving. What they also skimp on is the quality of processing our brains do with the function formerly known as reading. The rush to put visual content into literature, vooks and the like, means people are now being asked to use whole different interpretive languages in order to 'read' literature. Picture the scene, sat at your laptop imbibing a book online. Because you lack the weft and weight of a tome in your hand, well then the devil can make work for those unemployed fingers. I bet you're reading, or should I say skimming, while you've got your e-mail/Twitter alerts pinging and dragging you to heed their siren calls. You've probably got some i-Tunes burbling away in the background. Someone's just tipped you off to an exclusive pop video on YouTube or some hilarious stunt gone wrong that you just gotta check out. Computers faciliate us multi-tasking. The antithesis of the demands made by reading a book. Can you lose yourself in a good file share?

My next post will attempt to go even further into these issues. I want to consider the evolutionary implications of our rush for more rapid assimilation of data and input. I just need to film a video and upload it, hopefully this week. It will present visual treatment of two extended (literary) metaphors and since I will also post the script for the video, you'll have the opportunity to decide which medium, video or written word, delivers the material with greatest impact and clarity.

Till then, lean over and ask the Looker what their scent is. Lean over and tell the other reader on the carriage that you loved that book, have they read ... Lean over and show the person next to you that their selfsame words have magically coalesced within not only your mind, but that of the writer who set them down in their book in the first instance...

Thursday, 8 October 2009

New Reading Formats - The word going visual

I'm not a Luddite, honest. I've graduated from feather quill& ink, through biro, Olivetti manual typewriter, Amstrad Word Processor with ectoplasmic green screen, right up to Applemac. Look around at this blog, I've even shot some vids on I-movie. But I want to consider the issue of visual video content forming part of future literary formats.

What is this strange process of communion, between an absent author sowing his/her words, for a reader all alone to absorb inside their head? Whatever it is, the dynamic is radically changed once a visual/audio component is introduced.

1) The typesetter is not an auteur:
The only visual field for the reader to negotiate is the regular blocks of text on the printed page. Therefore the visual display presents no barrier to going deeper, straight to the heart of the matter, the meaning of the words. I accept there are plenty of authors who subvert this convention, Alasdair Grey for example (and it's something I've used as well), but the majority of printed books still stick to such formats. With video content, a whole new visual language is introduced. In this day & age, people are probably highly visually literate, through film, TV & shared video. But then I don't think you can get away from the fact that the video makers are closing off some of your interpretative decisions through their choice of image which they present you. A reader of a print book is left far more amplitude within which to move through in their own mind. They absorb the words and more actively forge the images for themselves from the wordscapes on offer. I'm not saying it's impossible to do this on film, but there is less room for the viewer's active contribution to the creative process. Just as an addendum to this, what is the file sharer viewer doing with their hands while they watch the literary content on screen? A reader has no option but to hold the book in order to read, thus centring their whole physical body and in all likelihood their mental focus, on the act of reading and absorbing. Can the same be said of a viewer? A cognitive scientist can probably answer that, but I'm not one (wha'd'ya mean 'you don't say'?)

Rene Magritte's painting of a pipe with the caption "This is not a pipe" points up the fact that rather than the physical presence of an actual pipe, this is a painting of one and additionally, that it is a painting of a symbol we take as representing what we mean by 'pipe'. Now move his caption into a body of a novel. "This is not a pipe" might refer to a tobacco smoker's pipe, or a crack-smoker's improvised pipe or a sewer pipe or some duct piping that leads to an A/C unit. The visual representation of a pipe in a painting, narrows these options. An author may well write in such a way to mean (say) the tobacco smoker's version, but resonating with that of the addict's, or maybe even the serpentine convolutions of duct piping if that's the effect he is after. The visual representation, strips away a layer of imaginative interpretation from the reader.

2) Partial Recall
Some written sentences are really quite long. Though the reader has the option of rereading something, equally the viewer has the option of rewinding, if either have missed or forgotten what has been said. However, I would argue a reader who has had to construct the sentences in their mind through reading the words, is far more likely to remember the content at the beginning of a sentence, than a viewer more passively receiving the words through the articulated voice passing down his/her ear. Now you could argue that this might serve to discipline prolix writers into writing snappier, more memorable sentences and fair enough. But I would personally always stick up for the tranches of literature that delight in the word, taking their time to detail observations and the like. The word in and of itself can be luxuriated over, with the mental tongue savouring the inner rhythm of a sentence, or playing over a choice morsel. Clearly visual motifs can establish stunning metaphors, but there is a level of language that works without reliance on visual connections. Linguistic puns and other plays on words as an example. I did a recent public reading and realised that the audience were unlikely to get my "Greeced lightning' reference as written, because their processing auditory apparatus would faithfully report it to the brain as "greased lightning". The words become secondary to some extent with a video, with the visual imagery the dominant language of expression. Some writers may mourn this, others may relish it.

3) Pop Videos
Like I say, I'm not against visual presentation and have explored the option myself. I am currently commissioning 5 video voiced over readings and have storyboarded the visual content that I feel best represents the material, without trying to slavishly enact it. I'll also get the actress to do a podcast of a section so bleary eyed commuters can listen to it on their Tube journeys (god help them ease into the day with the reading selection I've got in mind...). I've also written screenplays in the past, so have some notion about structuring visual content. But I am very much treating these video presentations as promos for the book. I regard it in the same way as a pop video stands in relation to the song it is there to promote. By that I mean, not only is the video there to boost sales of the download/CD, but it has its own narrative, told in visual terms, that may only have the slightest of connections back to the narrative of the song. It is after all, to all intents and purposes, an advert. A glossy, high end feast for the senses, employing the same seductive hooks as any advert trying to get the consumer to part with their money.

Now while I'm not advocating this for one moment as being the relationship of vooks and their video content, I again want to look at the physical processes involved. When I want to listen to a song at home, I might want to lie back on my bed and let it wash over me if I'm feeling the need to chill out, or maybe just feeling blue. Or I may opt for a song that makes me want to throw some dance shapes in the comfort of my own bedroom (curtains closed). Or perhaps even sing along or indulge in some air guitar into the full length mirror. All of these are possible, because my body and in particular my eyes are free to act as they will. Now, imagine being tied down to watching the video version on a screen, still feel like dancing? Harder to pull off if you're keeping your eyes on the screen. Obviously your eyes are engaged when reading a book, but as I say in point 1) they are not really tied down by the visual content of the word, more of a scanner scooping up the content for the brain to bathe in. With a vid, they are far more trammelled by the work they have to do to feed the brain it's input. The eyes, as it were, are led by the nose to drink in the visual content.

The wonderful @namenick on Twitter who is an explorer and pioneer in all the new media possibilities for literature, pointed me at the vook of the new Nick Cave novel "The Death Of Bunny Munroe". While it certainly looks amazing, one has to remember that a) it has had a lot of money thrown at it because of Cave's crossover music/literature bankability 2) He's a musician so the soundtrack presents no problem, nor the accessibility to video makers of high quality c) clearly he is a charismatic performer, so shots of him reading and to camera pieces of him talking about the novel will work. However, the prospect of more than 1 minute watching a less charismatic author read from their own book make me want to switch off. It just isn't visual enough. This doesn't have to be an impediment to success, since Cave's vook also provides plenty of visual treats as the auteur brings his creative interpretation to the text. The interesting thing about this is that suddenly literature faces being a collaboration, not between editors and writers, dealing in the same artistic currency, but between writers and film-makers coming from very different places. If it's the author shooting the vid himself, then I'm going to ask, does he actually want to be scripting films in his heart of hearts, rather than being a prose writer?

Reading as Proust said is "that fruitful miracle of a communication in the midst of solitude" (quoted by Maryanne Wolf in her wonderful book "Proust And The Squid" which looks at the physical processes of reading. Video still communicates, but is it within the same environmental solitude and is it precisely the same communication? I have no problem with looking for new ways to communicate, but if as I suspect, this is a compensatory reaction to things like shortened attention spans and the popularity of YouTube and therefore we are trying to shoehorn literature into these square pegs in order to 'get with the programme' I am less convinced. I think it's literature trying to appear proactive, but as usual the drive is coming from the margins of some of its practitioners pursuing their own programmes, with literature wheezing and panting to keep up and broadcast itself as a reinvention. Power to the pioneers I say. Could this be publishing's punk rock movement, only with high tech?

Hey, guess what? I'll be aiming to film a video giving a more apocalyptic (as the medium desires) view on this whole argument in evolutionary terms. But I'll post it on to this old fashioned writing bloggy site thing.

See, I told you I wasn't a Luddite.

Just a writer of words who remains divided on the issue.

Monday, 5 October 2009


From his open-eyed performance in bed I had high hopes of this one. His name one of the few pre-coital words tossed beathlessly in my direction. Was he genuinely laconic, rather than struck dumb at his luck being in? Now was the period for such revelation. No longer one flesh, our torsos cloven apart. Our legs however were still intertwined like pit vipers. He, head slumped against my shoulder, me, stiff backed against the headboard, fingers buttressing a lit cigarette overhanging the sheet. I’ve no intention of bringing it to my lips. It measures out time for him, embers in place of grains of sand. The span of two such kindlings will determine whether he is reignited, or rolls over to sleep. I have found this chronometry unfailingly meters the male metabolism.

I glance over towards him, unable to determine whether the look in his eye expresses confusion as to why I am not putting it to my mouth. Or suppressed concern as to the impulse of the hot ash. The modern day version of barefoot and blindfold. He tilts his torpid head as a prelude to inquiry, but I nimbly raise the index finger of my left hand and gently transect his lips. Uh-uh, if we no longer are able to retain the disarticulations of earlier, the sonorous squalls coitally quarried from our deepest seams of self, then better we are held together under silence’s shroud. I shake my head for added emphasis and already I detect his purpose is lost in the undulations of my tresses against his exposed cheek.

Suffused in my ruminations, I was unaware that my murmuring Medusa’s locks had ceased their stroke. He was unconsciously rubbing his delicately flayed skin and I ventured some sort of vocalisation was bound to follow. Again I placed my finger across his lips and spiked their unsheathing. Tentatively he edged the tip of his tongue out against my tapered digit and hastily withdrew it again. He had tasted my resolve. Through the conduit of his lips, I felt his whole body flinch as he gathered himself up towards defiance of my circumvention of all speech. I unfurled my middle finger and laid it with great deliberation next to her sister, across the crevice of his mouth. The muscles at the corners of his lips, measuredly retracted their charges into a crooked grin. My dactyls now like twin colonnades, bracing open his stupid wide aperture. I lent forward and mutely kissed the extended knuckles of my own fingers. I withdrew my digits but maintained their sentinel trajectory. He was seemingly transfixed by the sight of two caryatids rigidly posted just beyond his orifice. He was beyond coherence right now. Veritably speechless. He jutted his chin forward and slithered out his tongue, to reel in my goading extremities. I waggled them out of range. He distended further forward. My fingers spun away. He was shaping to cast again, when my left foot snakes across and presses him back down across his chest. He is about to protest verbally, when my twin fingers reassert their superintendence across his portals of locution. His body sags and crumples back to the mattress. Though I can tell his mind has been wracked by a bolt of delicious tautness.

After a circumspect period, I detach both my leg and my fingers. He does not stir. I light my second cigarette and resume my vaulting. Leadenly, he pitches on to his side and scrabbles for something on the floor. He resurfaces with a burgundy towelling robe. Now he reclines back towards the headboard. Half pinioned, awkwardly he shrugs himself into the robe. He gropes around his back for something, with clumsy, sightless nips. I surmise that he seeks the belt of the robe, but it is nowhere to be found. He submits and his head slowly sinks back down the surface of the headboard. His pincered long locks, momentarily maintain their station like creeping ivy. Before they descend to unseam his now less than immaculate coiffure. I fix him there, framed unflatteringly by the knobbly towelling. At the angle he lies, his glorious sixpack is almost completely submerged by the flesh collected under gravity. There is even the hint of a rucking of flabby skin just above his hips. Why on earth has he donned this garment and broken the spell? I deflect my gaze and peer through the rising cigarette smoke as if for augury.

I must have sensed something in the corner of my eye and snapped my focus back. To intercept him about to tumble words into the air. This time it’s my cigarette-cradling fingers that drape themselves over his mouth. His eyes start to water, from the proximity of the smoke, or from more internal fusillades I cannot be sure. I know the prosaic reason for the robe of course. The poor lamb’s cold. His lips are quivering. He manoeuvres them to siphon some superficial heat from my cigarette, his irises scuttling to their extreme margins scanning for any repercussion. Good boy, maybe we’re getting somewhere after all. I cant my face away so that my jagged smokey laughter does not exhale over him. My perspiration went west long ago. Evaporated, since my temperature’s still rising with the afterglow.

I take pity on him and place my two unencumbered fingers on his lips again. He is surprised, since he was not attempting to challenge me. But this time they do not crest the vertex, but bow in supplication at the lower ridge. They wait a while, before he hesitantly lifts the labium and gently skims the pads of my twin votaries. Emboldened, he grazes them with his gums, before eventually, he throws off his reins and engulfs them. He laps at them with bulbous slurps and satisfied tiny suction pops. So I flick his teeth with one of them as scourge. He responds obediently and laps at them regularly, up and down in a spiral. First one, then his tongue nudges them apart so he can acquire the second. Sure enough, he soon slots into a mechanical, insipid servicing. His thoughts off elsewhere, because he’s too blunted to assert what he wants. Wordlessly that is.

His problem, like so many of his kind, is he will not just live in the timeless moment. He’s all sweaty, He’s cold. He’s lying in a viscous, cloying pool (of his own making and one in which I am happy to cleave to me, to adhere me to the sheet. To anoint us together). And, he wants to prate about it. Ask asinine questions towards self-aggrandizement. Or to record and log proceedings. To minute them. To compare with the past and to carry forward amendments into the future. Where he has already projected himself. It was as if he was narrating the entire event. The circumstance. An episode. He is keen to march me back into the mundane and I am not at that double quick pace. He wants to return us to the formally structured relations, of speaker and listener. Chatterer sizing up and chatted sized up. The one inside and the one outside, of intent. He cannot wait for the sperm pellicle to mark out time. By receding to a light, dried crust. There’s premature ejaculation and then there’s premature post-ejaculate. Cos intimacy ought not have departed with consummation.

Our bodies had already spoken, but they ought still to be communing with one another in mute elation. Interwoven, flesh blended with flesh. Who knew or cared where you ended and I began? So what of your slight edge on me in hirsuiteness, or my darker pigmentation? It was all awash in the sensual maelstrom, the perceptual overload. Our fallible vessels, cause of so much anxiety in the workaday consciousness, had been temporarily uplifted. So we could quaff of mutual veneration and adoration. And we should seek to prolong those feelings for as long as possible. For eternity. To remain conjoined, even in stillness. Indeterminate and undifferentiated. Equals.

Until that is, he clad himself in his burgundy fleece. Now our separateness is clear. Our demarcation evident against the hues of the sheet pointing up our contrast. A chasm between us, yawning in your case, yearning in mine. Me beached on dry land, you still shivering in the shallows. Conspicuously other. Another species almost. A reimposition of the way of things. You satisfied. Content. And me? Striving with all my might to hold the moment. The feeling. But now solely dependent on my own resources. And yet far too aware of this reliance, so it slips from my grasp all the while. In closing the aperture of his reporting mouth, I have sealed the portal of our connection. As if rolling a huge dolmen across the exposed fissure of his self. Occluded any and all light of disclosure from emanating from his hollow being. God damnit!

My cigarette had burned away to nothing. On the stroke of its expiration, he rolled over on to his side and curled into himself. Somehow, his unsecured robe, his aqualung to earthly life, had managed to adhere to him throughout his quarter revolution, his waning crescent, and still mantled his modesty. I was now fully excised from his company. Tossed into his Lethean moat, as the drawbridge to sleep was raised. I took a pinch of the robe between my fingers and lightly peeled it from his skin. I had a clear view of his ribs gently rising and falling with his quieted breath. The upswing seemed to take an eternity, as they manfully bore aloft their own weight against gravity. The downswing seemed to presage a relieving collapse. But each time caught itself from shuddering and instead relented into modulated repose. How does he sleep so easily? I bent down to softly kiss them in salute. My lips left a glistening imprint upon them, which I watched undulate for a couple of cycles. Insufficient moisture to model a tidal effect beneath his zephyr breath. Then I leant over and smashed my balled fist into the centre of my mark and was rewarded with a satisfying crack. I took my reappropriated rib back from him ...

Excerpt from Kindle novel "A,B&E"

Friday, 2 October 2009

Flashback (No More heroes Anymore)

Flashbacks: shimmering frames, black and white footage, softer focus. Lots of readily accessible clues to tell the viewer we're in flashback mode in a film. Now consider the novel's equivalent.

Do you write the flashback in the same tone as the carefully constructed temporality it is supposed to momentarily lead you away from? If so, no matter what cues you give in the words, it tends to leach into the main story, since stylistically it is undifferentiated. If you opt for a different tone, then it takes the reader out of the 'presence' you have established through your writing up to this point. How do you thread the reader back into the flow and the tone you had established before the flashback? The seamless temporal rhythm has been disturbed, possibly fatally.

Why have flashbacks at all? Often it is to convey key psychological information that enables the reader to unlock the motivation behind certain decisions and events involving the characters. The issue is that in such cases, frequently such information is either leadenly conveyed, (the info-dump) or in order to do it justice, it takes on such a huge life of its own, that as above, the flashback undermines what has gone before it. Simply because the weight the author has given it in terms of length, cuts into the centrality of what formerly has been given centrality. An incident from childhood for example; either it can get the most cursory treatment in order to suggest the origin of a flaw that the character is fated to repeat in adulthood; or you can deal with it at length and examine it fully, so that it takes on as much importance as whatever other characterisation you had established prior to introducing the flashback. The only hitch being the flashback stuff has already happened in the past and is over, even if its legacy lives on into the time in which the action of the novel is actually taking place. The dilemma, to return to a film metaphor, is one of synchronising the two time periods into one seamless flow.

Whatever length and intricacy, flashbacks disrupt the temporality of the novel. Unless this is a formal conceit, whereby the author deliberately plays around with the temporality throughout, I see this as a predicament. If you wanted to make reference to a character's childhood and their relationship with a parent or some formative experience, you can paint it with just one sentence. I don't think you need a flashback of one or more paragraphs.

Musing on all this leads me into a wider consideration of times and temporality within the novel. Traditionally, novels take the reader on a journey through the eyes and maybe conscience of its main character, be they hero or villain. Usually the character gains insight and undergoes a change in their dealings with other characters or with the wider culture they are engaged with. This can either be a story ending with redemption of the character, or a tragic outcome, as the character realises their flaws even as they or a loved one dies. The difficulty I encounter with this conventional structuring, is that much of it is predicated on good and bad, virtuous and sinful, godly and devilish because these were the prevailing notions of humanity as treated in the arts within drama and later the novelistic form. But such moral compasses do not hold today, where the world is much more ambiguous and harder to distinguish such clearly delineated poles of behaviour. Is there even any room for a hero in today's fiction? (I am not talking about fantasy or other genres). There are protagonists and antagonists, but beneath their respective skins are there many differences between the two? Iago is clearly ineffably evil and Othello has many noble traits, only finally being brought down by his all-encompassing jealousy and the social barriers he has faced through race. However, Gordon Geko in the film "Wall Street" while being odious, is also held up as being a model capitalist entrepreneur and speculator in late twentieth century capitalism.

The journey my characters undertake is a tad different. When the reader meets them, they are already plunged into the world, our world, and immersed in all its ambiguity and lack of guiding signposts. Their journey is twin pronged, how do they come to be here, at this point in their life with all their attendant attitudes and foibles? And how do they navigate themselves from this point on, are they able to strike for any clearer waters? The journey they make moves through less temporality than within the more conventional structures. The character arc has less radical divergences, choosing not to deal in the termini of redemption or abyssal. In our current day and age, how much do people really change? I'm not saying it isn't possible to change one's habitual behaviour and the huge industry in self-help books suggests the desire to be able to change oneself is great, but we are creatures who tend to be locked into repeating the same conduct again and again. Escapist literature diverts us entertainingly away from this reality. Serious fiction seeks to address it.

Though society may cry out for heroes, we are only served up confused, flawed mortals. Be it a Michael Jackson, a venerated Afghan War hero, a blank canvas like David Beckham, a reality show contestant who overcomes dire circumstances to live out their dream. We are definitely scraping the barrel if this is all we have to show for it. If our notions of what it takes to be a hero, (and increasing acceptance of the banality and quotidian nature of monstrous villainy), then maybe our story telling has to change as well to reflect this. Rather than the personal epic scale of the hero who overcomes his shortfalls to gain redemption, or at least die trying, maybe we can just take a character head on (heroically) trying to move off his tiny spot in the world and gain some sense of his/her orientation within it.

The present is in such a state of flux, with technological breakthroughs, instant global communications, a fiendish event like 9/11, the flashback past is almost outmoded as any useful point of reference. New novels, of atomised characters trying to reach out and connect and relate, both to other people and to the world around them, might more fit our current disposition and appetites. Although I posit this as a realistic take on the world, the author is not restricted to realism in his/her approach. The destinations at the end of the novel may be more modest than our predecessors, but the stopping off points can be wildly more imaginary.

This is the journey I'm, aheaded down with my protagonists. Care to hitch a ride?

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Speakers Corner - Media Clash

New media versus old

Pro (freedom of speech) versus con (tokenism)

Age before beauty - extract from unpublished novel "Not In My Name"

"Speaker’s Corner. Scrubby and frayed. Underfoot and downtrodden, be it bird’s or worm eye point of view. It had been possessed of an eloquent history once. Arrogated by the common people as a right to meet and swap ideas. Imposed upon a Constabulary who chose not to resist, (did they recite the twin catechism of ‘Overtime’ and ‘overstretched resources’ even back then ?). Touchstone for Chartists, Suffragettes and Hunger Marchers alike. But now it is an outmoded anachronism, just like analogue clocks that never quite count you down. This is a million miles from the public discourse of the Athenian Ecclesia. More stopping off point for tourists and sabbath magnet for every denomination of delusional nutter, to get his or her personal bugbear off their tea chest. Paranoiac individuals pontificating on intricate, many-handed conspiracies, be it extra-terrestrial, terroristic, spook secret agencies, religious or Masonic. Windblown solitary beings, whose weatherbeaten minds have been undergoing a slow process of pulverulence, (haven’t we all ?), until they pitch up here.

Even the old roll up Lefties seem to have given up the ghost and eschew doing wheezing battle with their hellbent competitors. How apposite really, since Hyde Park is supposed to be the Capital’s respiring lungs. Yet observe its trees, all grizzled and coated in centuries of the City’s agglomerated, unwashed dereliction. The Park as tubercular London’s cuspidor. Enervated by a weak constitution. A consumptive democracy. What need of further vapours? Those king for a day vagrants, becrutched stump orators up on their soapboxes, fighting over crumbs of comfort tossed as for the pigeons. In the scrum, unwittingly they place their foot on democracy’s windpipe and choke it to death. But the old lush had long since passed out.

When I was younger, I fancied I’d also climb up a makeshift podium here and pour forth. Set the world to rights with dazzlingly original solutions. Never did quite pluck up sufficient courage to speak in public though. No head for step-laddered heights. Wary of laddering my sheer tights. Besides now, there are all sorts of ways to air your views, hone one’s arguments, without having to expose yourself to public glare. When the weather is too inclement to stretch my legs of a lunchtime, then I search out the cut and thrust of debate on the internet. The Roman Forum and the ampitheatre rolled into one."

The new kid on the block:


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