Tuesday, 27 August 2013

More Tea Vicar? - Short Story

“May I come in?”

“Good grief, is it time for my Last Rites already? I haven’t finished my cuppa. Or my morphine for that matter”

“I’m an Anglican vicar not a Roman Catholic priest”

“Good, because I’m not one for confessing, death bed or no death bed. Besides, De Quincey has already said it all for me. So, you’re a representative from the church of compromise and sequestration set up by Henry Tudor are you?” 

“Yes, I understand you were a former professor of History”

“Hey less of the ‘former’ if you don’t mind!” 

“My apologies. Do you give lectures from your bed?”

“Tell me vicar why are you here exactly? I mean we’ve never even met one another before. So why now? What’s the occasion I wonder? What could it possibly be about my current plight that draws you here? Could this be a getting to know you session, the first and last of its kind? So you can gather some notes for the eulogy, just to infuse it with enough singular detail to make it sound like we were personally acquainted. Thus further voiding an already empty ritual”

“My my, you have a very dim view of religion”

“Since my cataracts and glaucoma I have a dim view of everything vicar. It’s not enough that your putative god built in such obsolescence into our body’s cell machinery. He had to  supplement our enervation with all these other afflictions. Built in his image? I pity him... if he actually existed”

“The human condition is indubitably a puzzling one. We’ve spent millennia trying to solve these conundrums and yet here we still are. Here I still am, a minister and adumbrator of a religious faith. It must hold some validity, or at least people believe it does”

“Oh yes, very scientific. We historians laboured under similar illusions. Crediting our academic discipline proceeded upon scientific standards of proof, of supporting evidence. But you know what? I lost my faith in it. Turns out history is merely the value judgements of mankind on past events. Kings and Prime Ministers may legislate and act and mass movements may make their moves, but it is only us academics and chroniclers who rule on them. What should be accorded weight and what should be dismissed. I thought I could change the world by reflecting great insights into human behaviour, so that we could learn from the past. But here’s something I comprehended from the scientists across the High Table at dinner. The past may keep repeating itself, but you never know which bit of the past will repeat and when. As with the Butterfly Effect, the starting conditions of each epoch under comparison are different, so the outcomes will be too. Therefore I grasped I couldn’t save mankind and by the end of my career, I knew I couldn’t even save my students either. And now with my failing body I discover I can’t even save my family? There, will you put that crisis of faith into your sermon at my funeral? Might prove instructive to others...”

“No, while we don’t paint paragons of people, we do try and keep the last and lasting impression of them positive”

“Like I say, a meaningless ritual. I suppose I have left it too late to change my will and organise something different to mark my passing. Like a New Orleans Jazz Funeral, though I can’t stand jazz. Or a viking boat pyre, though I suppose smoke alarms and health and safety will put the kyybosh on that. I quite fancy the idea of a sky funeral, but we lack for indigenous vultures in our perishing climate...”

“The Christian funeral ritual is as much for the bereaved left behind as the send off for the corpse wherever it is aheaded. it plays an important function in the mourners coming to terms with the reality of death”

“I admire your self-surety I really do. But then I’m the one with the greater question mark hanging over him over the near future. Tell me, when you confront the realities of the world armed only with your good book of homilies and vague imperatives from which you elicit your answers to the human condition, does it fill you joy or despair? After all even Christ had misgivings while up on the Cross, Thomas was so sceptical they fashioned it into a soubriquet for him. Moses beat the rock with his staff because he had a moment of vacillation in his conviction. See, I may not have the detailed answers, but at least I am released from the bondage of blind faith, of doubt and despair. Because I accord the cruel, cosmic joke of existence. Of coming into life, of making attachments and then having them snatched away from you by death. All because of biochemistry’s drive towards entropy. Mind you there are those proponents who argue that even those precious attachments are only an outcome of biochemistry too, the blind imperative to pass on our DNA”

“You live on in the hearts of those who love you”

“Until they too pass on and no one remains to light the candle for me. All our mouldering hearts full of unrequited love, because there’s no one left to meet it”

“See that sounds like a very bleak worldview that can only lead to despair”

“The despair actually only comes at this particular juncture. I’m sorely testing the love of my wife and children because I am checking out of this world before them and abandoning them”

“You cannot be held responsible for the failings of the mortal body”

“Who then? Only your god could be an alternative candidate. But I can’t descry him, seeing as I don’t believe in his existence. But it’s a particularly cruel twist of fate that means any last days I eke out under my condition, can only be secured by these infusions of morphine to dull the pain from numbing my mind. And I know there will come a point where I slip into a state where I cannot medicate myself, so my poor benighted wife will have to do it. She and she alone will hold the power of my life in her hands. She could determine at any time to supply me the terminal dose so that it’s morphine that shuts me off rather than the disease. What terrible power that is to wreak on a loved one? That’s why perhaps I say my imminent passing is a dereliction of love. To place such an unreasonable burden upon them”

“But the corollary of that is to wish your wife dead before you. That could be misconstrued as selfish thinking”

“Any two historians would give you divergent views on that one. Do you still credit that’s how your god set things up? Or is it more likely to be the result of blind forces?”

“You have your beliefs and I have mine”

“Bad faiths both... I’m sorry where are my manners? More tea vicar? Or would you prefer a touch of the harder stuff?”

“Well I wouldn’t say no”

“Here you go”

“What is it? Scotch? Wow that’s bitter. Hold on a moment, that isn’t... Have you given me your flask of morphine by any chance?”

“I’m sorry vicar, my ailing sight you see. Can’t tell the difference”

“Should you be quaffing alcohol at the same time as morphine?”

“Don’t think either vice is going to make too much difference in the long run do you?” 


Postscript: The Funeral

It was a virtual stranger who officiated at the service. Whether this was a deliberate decision undertaken by the ecclesiastical body or not couldn’t be established. But suicide is still regarded as a sin and more so in a man of the cloth who has pledged himself to avoid such mortal sins. He was found dangling from the church rafters, hung by the length of his liturgical stole. The recipient of his last pastoral visit was unable to attend the funeral as he was bedbound. he was insensible of the whole matter, despite the gossip spreading beyond the parochial congregation through making the local news rag.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Reality And Fiction

The novel was once a radical art form. It represented a slow turning away from sacred and transcendent literature and placed the human subjectivity of the author at the steering wheel. Though religion didn't immediately lose its influence within literature, no longer did authors have to re-present traditional themes, forms and symbology. They were free to choose what they wrote about and didn't have to refer to previous conventions and traditions if they opted not to.

Cervantes and Sterne celebrated this with their gorgeous insinuations as to the unreliability of their narrators. Could fiction be lying to us, making things up and stuff? What could mendacious literature be for then? Did it seek to reflect the real world? Was it intended to provide an interpretation of the world? How does any of that play with the fact that it is a work of fiction, an imagining of an author's mind, no matter how much 'based on truth'? How did the subjectivity of its single author's imagination square with imparting anything universal to a readership?

In painting similar development occurred. Western art was in thrall to theology, with prescriptions, proscriptions and a ready made symbolic palette to refer to. Within these limitations however, artists advanced their art by discovering perspective and how to play with light and colour, so that religious icons were supplanted by the sumptuous canvases of Giotto and Titian. It may have been revolutionary to move the Madonna and Child away from the very centre of the painting, but it was still utterly rooted in religious iconography and imagery.

It was the various modernist movements in art, Impressionism, Cubism and the like, which took the religious shackles off the image in painting as artists went in pursuit of 'truth'; that is the essential real nature of objects, be it landscapes, still lifes or figurative art. These were inquiries into the truth of objects through exploring the way we 'see' things. But the revolutions didn't stop there as art freed itself from the figurative, passing through abstraction and into conceptual forms that eschewed canvas and paint entirely. Art became self-aware, not just of light, colour and perspective, but of its very fictions too.
It reached its apotheosis perhaps with Magritte's painting -

It expressed a key realisation: a picture of a pipe was not the same as a pipe itself. A picture of a pipe was actually a symbol, an image of what we know and recognise as a pipe. It cannot represent or reflect the ceramic/wood ensemble that constitutes the object that is the pipe, for this is a two-dimensional representation only of its image. Art had so freed itself from depicting and portraying, that it had shrunk its own horizons into fairly arid considerations of the image (Pop Art, much conceptual art for example). The image itself had been supplanted by the sign. What something stood for. Art became aware of its limitations and its fictional nature, almost completely cut off from trying to portray the real.

The novel has not had nearly as many revolutions and paradigm shifts as visual art. Yet it should have arrived at the same place in terms of becoming conscious of itself as fiction. In fact, fiction ought to have a competitive advantage in all things fictional, seeing as it's even in its very name! Magritte's painting wouldn't work without the tension set up by the words "This is not a pipe".

There are some hard and fast realities about the novel, or any artwork, that make them have some actual substance in the world. A print book is an object, while even an e-reader data file exists on some level. Books take up space on libraries and shelves and if they remain in print after the author is long dead, then they could definitely be said to have contributed to the lasting store of human knowledge and ideas. So as a material entity, any book forms part of reality. But of course we are really talking about the contents within. The body of the written word.

Novels are stories rather than truths about the real world, though there can be points where they catalyse truth in the form of the emotional reaction of the reader. And through all its seismic changes, painting being a visual artform has always placed at its centre an inquiry into ways of seeing and the nature of perception. What's the literary equivalent of visual art's primary inquiry? Well it has to be language, since that is literature's only real tool. The author may have a palette with plot, character, imagery, setting and the like on it, but all are solely rendered through words.

So any novel ought to be aware of its relation to language. How words work to build up images, voices, narratives. But also how all of these are at one remove from reality, since the fictional building, tree or person is only constructed through words rather than brick, wood or flesh. A tale involving a pipe is not an actual pipe, only a representation of one through story.

And it becomes more complex, for the word PIPE has a myriad of meanings all differing from one another; a smoking pipe. Some plumbing pipe or duct. A blowpipe. A sewer. A gas pipe(line). A hose pipe. An organ pipe, or other musical pipes. The anatomical windpipe. Various tubular formations that channel things through them, such as in volcanos or in geology. And that's without any of the meanings of the word when employed as a verb.

Magritte's painting would not have worked so well if the image was of a bit of copper tubing. It relies on the primacy our brains give to the word 'pipe' to associate it with the act of tobacco smoking. Words have inbuilt hierarchies of meaning, they have etymological roots rooted in historical realities. Anglo-Saxon words, Norman french words, Latin, Greek, Arabic and all the imports from colonies ruled by English speaking imperial powers. There are reasons why certain classes of anglo-Saxon words survived into the language, while others didn't, supplanted by Norman-French ones. There is the Latin from the original Roman invasion, Latin from Christian liturgy, Latin and Greek from the slowly developing scientific orthodoxy and classification. It is organic, constantly shifting and evolving. It is loaded with value judgements and assumptions, even if these are not apparent. The choice of Latin and Greek was often to convey the sense of the word being scholarly and not really accessible to the common man. The legal system is replete with such abstruse words. It's a very distorting medium that both muddies interpretations of the real world even as it purports to classify and sequence it by grouping things into classes. So not only does language construct an author's representation of any human world he cares to compose, language is also already at one remove from everyday reality as its descriptive medium. The author may write of a smoker's pipe, but in real life the concept of a pipe is already a shorthand and a convention couched in language.

In the early 21st Century, we are actually at an advantage where fiction is concerned. We have become so saturated by media, by images and data bombarding us, it is often the case that thoughts and ideas and even feelings that emerge from within us, may not have actually originated with us. Advertising may have implanted an idea, or you may have read something but forgotten you ever had read it and now credit that the idea was your own. This is the world of the hyperreal, where everything is constructed through media, sign and symbol and nothing is definitively real. Or if it is, we certainly can't tell the difference, because it has all become conflated. Now imagine constructing your fictions out of that? You already start from the world of the fictional. You are reflecting the unreality of constructed reality back on itself. In this way, fiction may just help us in our ways of seeing and conceptualising reality and to consider the part language plays in moderating and defining our reality back to us. Fiction isn't real, but it can help interrogate the world around us to see what may equally not be as real and unconstructed, unfabricated by various assumptions, connections and abbreviations. Novels can't solve the conundrum of reality, but it can help us get beneath the surface of appearances

This is not to say all fictions have to engage with writing about the manufacture and prefabrication of the hyperreal. But if writing contemporary fiction you ought probably to be aware of it. Add to that a consciousness of how language operates to obfuscate as much as illuminate and the power bases and relationships it has stemmed from. Although part of the liberation from religion and supernatural explanations of the world came from a greater understanding of cause and effect, ironically we still don't understand much, such as the workings of the human brain, about the nature of the cosmos, the blind drive of genes to reproduce themselves. The contemporary author who seeks to explore our world should really start from a position of acknowledging the limits of his understanding and that the world, or parts of it at least, go in and out of focus like a mirage as he seeks to grasp hold of it.

If the author accordingly is dialoguing with this mirage in his fiction, then it will also entail the reader does the same. The author and reader constantly dialogue together through the book,  as the levels of its 'reality' shift and mutate, as the language and perspectives on offer are constantly being redefined between the two of them.

This is unlike the vast majority of books which lead the reader passively through a constructed story. No matter how much the reader's imagination is engaged in following the author's carefully laid out trail, the book does not change in its essence. It does not take on a life of its own outside of the story being read. There may be twists and unexpected turns, but how much is the reader determining these? These beautifully crafted, self-confident yarns leave no room for doubt, even if the ending is left open or ambiguous. It is done so artfully. The implication behind such crafted stories is that the world is and has to be exactly as is portrayed in the book and by this I don't mean the real world, merely the world described in the book. The author is in absolute control of the world he builds, creates every detail and knows even the workings of things not referenced in the book at all.

Nowhere is there room for fictional scepticism to be chipping in. That although say a city or a planet is described, the reflexivness of the writing pulls against that surety at the same time (one example where the author does this is Stanislau Lem's "Solaris". Kafka's work though more mundane in setting also had this pull-me, push-you dynamic). Instead the world of the yarn book is established by the author to facilitate the plot. It can't heave loose threads that might unravel it. It must be hermetically sealed within the world of the novel, narrators can't be picking holes in it unless it's a "Matrix" type scenario being written about. The world is great or terrible and the hero reacts accordingly, but the world is unquestionable and unbreakable even if the hero manages to effect some sort of regime change within it. We cannot be so certain about the workings of our own world. Fiction perhaps ought to reflect that tremulous doubt in our own minds in its presentations. Authors who start from a postion of confessing their own relative ignorance about the nature of reality, will produce very different novels from those who either feel they have an excellent grip on the nature of reality, or deny any need to bother trying to comprehend it.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Story versus Narrative

The story goes that Ernest Hemingway was challenged to tell a story in just six words and he came up with the following:

"For sale, baby's shoes, never worn".

But is it actually a story? For the reasons below I would say not. It is definitely a narrative, because it has a movement forward; From the neutral commercial opening "For sale", it has moved on by the end to deliver a powerful emotional punch, as the implication is that the shoes were never worn because the baby has died. But the devil is in the detail and 6 words just cannot provide any such detail. There are too many unanswered questions for the reader to decide that this is anything more than a taste of a story rather than a complete one.

1) Baby's shoes: newborns don't really wear shoes. They are in babygrows with pouches for their feet. So it's unclear whether the baby died during childbirth or in the home. Since babies don't walk, while in the home they are unlikely to wear shoes, though they may have them for when being taken out in a pushchair or sling, where the shoes are purely decorative adornment. The shoes don't have to provide any support for the foot, since again the baby is not putting any downward pressure on the foot against the ground. Therefore such shoes are flimsy, unless the parent has indulged in a designer brand trainer/sneaker (though presumably Hemingway was writing before the ubiquity of the branded sneaker took hold). They are 'booties' rather than shoes perhaps. So the question has to be asked, why bother putting them up for sale? They are low-cost items, except perhaps if a brand trainer/sneaker is the item in question. What resale value could such short-lived accessories have?

2) Why is a grieving parent putting baby shoes up for sale anyway? If it is to banish a painful reminder from sight, just throw or give them away or burn them? The emotional impact of the tragedy in this tale is a tad compromised, if a parent has the wherewithal to put up an advert to sell such a low-cost item. One would certainly like greater insights into the parent's motivation behind such an action. This part of the story is too incomplete.

3) Time is always an important quality in fiction. There is no way of knowing how long after the baby's death the advert was put up. Is it at the end of a grieving process of some length, therefore possibly representing closure? Or is it as above still in the rawness of the immediate aftermath? The narrative moves, but we are uncertain along what timescale, the opposite ends of the possible spectrum again inflecting the emotional state of the character very differently. Never worn suggests that it is either in childbirth or so soon after as the baby never taking an outing in an upright pushchair or a sling so as to require decorative footwear. But it is not conclusive.

It may seem churlish to spend so many words to critique a 6 word piece, but I wanted to use it to illustrate some of the differences between narrative and story.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Book Review - "Evie And Guy" by Dan Holloway

What a fantastic concept for a book! George Perec may have written a whole novel without a single letter 'E' (ironic seeing as there are four in his name on the spine, bet he still got paid royalties though), but Dan Holloway has created a work of literature constructed almost entirely from numbers.

Each chapter represents a year in the lives of the eponymous Evie and Guy. The text is constructed of dates, times, duration and the parentheses reporting interruptions or other impediments to finishing, the act of masturbation. And that's it. A matrix of numbers that look random and yet means so much. For this is a book about relationship as measured by time. A clusterfuck of a read, both literally and metaphorically.

Relationship, not in that wooly sense of you and your partner, but an actual physical relationship of two bodies (objects) in proximate space. Though the two narrative timetables are separated in the text, Evie’s following on only after the entirety of Guy’s, the reader is silently entreated to superimpose them to try and render meaning. To see where their onanistic acts might coincide (the only way perhaps for them to mutually consummate their love?) or perhaps where they are cast down in their own solitude and simultaneously scratch their own sexual itches. The beauty and simplicity of the 10 digits of the numerical palette are arranged and rearranged with subtle differences so as to offer different emotional tenors and different physical alignments.

I’m reminded of the fathers of forensics such as fingerprinting, who patiently built up a database until the sample was large enough to be able to pronounce it a science that followed rules and predictable observations. Here the reader, if they are so minded, can plot the blow by blow comparison of Evie’s times and dates with that of Guy’s to glean the emotional state of their relationship at any one moment. Was Guy frotting himself to death in a particular year because he was unfulfilled by Evie, or separated from her? Did the Fall of the Berlin Wall give him a hard on in front of the TV that he just had to relive himself? For her part, Evie’s self-pleasuring never falters while with Guy and it is only when he is dying that she becomes less surefooted (handed?). Once she has honoured his passing, she reasserts her sexuality and is able to fulfil her pleasures as before. Guy’s dishonour roll of interrupted or failed tommy tank manoeuvres attests maybe to the more mechanical torquing of the male member, that there is a climactic destination that has to be attained, else it is a failure. A dud. A blank. Even the name 'Guy' perhaps stands for every (male) man perhaps? This is a book about both relationship and gender, employing numbers but not by the numbers.

I don’t think its canvas is quite as large as the author perhaps imagines, citing the artistic language of Rothko and Emin in his preface. It’s actually way more intimate and I believe all the better for that, so that it is not weighed down by notions of grand art and experimentalism. But it is interesting, that just like an opaque piece of contemporary conceptual art may rely on its title and or an explanatory text, “Evie and Guy”  hinges on that one page explanatory preface and the sole appearance of words in the numerical narrative at the year 1995 to draw the novel to its conclusion.  I read the book first without the preface and couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the set of figures in the brackets represented. It was only by reading the explanatory words of the preface that those important contextualising devices were set in place.

A brave work, but in form and content. And one that could reward endless revisiting with full attention to detail. Plot your own matrices and enjoy!
The book is free to download from http://danholloway.wordpress.com/work-in-progress/evie-and-guy-2/ or available as a paperback from http://www.lulu.com/shop/dan-holloway/evie-and-guy/paperback/product-20961947.html for £6.99 + p&P or direct from Dan for £7 inc postage by paypalling songsfromtheothersideofthewall@googlemail.com

Saturday, 17 August 2013

American pie 2 - The United States in song

Following on from my chart of songs about US states A-M, here's the second part N-Z

1) "Nebraska" - Bruce Springsteen

2) "Reno, Nevada"- Fairport Convention

3) "New Hampshire" - Sonic Youth

4) "Jersey Girl" - Tom Waits

5) "New Mexico" - Johnny Cash

6) "Fairytale Of New York" -  The Pogues

7) "Carolina" - Shaggy

8) "Dakota" - Stereophonics

9) "Ohio" - Modest Mouse

10) "Oklahoma, USA" -  The Kinks

11) "Portland, Oregon" - Loretta Lynn

12) "South Pennsylvania Waltz" - 16 Horsepower

13) "Sweet Rhode Island Red" - Ike & Tina Turner

14) "Tennessee" - Arrested Development

15) "Texas" - Big Black

16) "The History Of Utah" - Camper Van Beethoven

17) "Long Vermont Roads" - Magnetic Fields

18) "Virginia Plain" - Roxy Music

19)  Washington - no song (lots about Washington DC)

20) "Wisconsin" - Bon Iver

21) "SongOf Wyoming" - John Denver

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Me And Bertie Brecht

I don't have too many literary heroes. And of those that I do, the likes of Kafka, Beckett, Winterson, DeLillo and Sam Shepard, my writing is about as far removed from these supreme stylists as is possible.

Yet one literary hero has absolutely informed my approach to fiction. The German playwright Bertolt Brecht Brecht's stagecraft was shaped by his political beliefs as a Marxist. While his end motives don't inform my work, I do share some of the approach he adopted.

Traditional theatre took place on stages behind a proscenium arch.

The rear of the stage plus its wings (and any scenery flats used in the play) were said to form three walls and the audience sat facing an invisible "fourth wall" through which they watched the action unfold on stage. Although the wall doesn't exist, or is said to be invisible because it marks a definite demarcation. The action beyond it is magically transformed, the believable world of the play into which the audience are transported as they watch; assisted by the transformations made by the actors as they enflesh and inhabit other human psyches than their own.

Brecht wanted to break down that fourth wall. He was intent that the audience were not transported into any other world, that they were fully aware what they were watching on stage was an illusion, an exercise in make-believe. Actors often addressed the audience directly and out of their character. He used music, song and comedy to underline the non-realistic nature of the action. He felt that if they knew what they were watching was not real, it would help them enter the expressive language and stagecraft of the play and that was where he could get them to engage with his political message. He wanted to analyse the relationships of power between different social groups that he felt otherwise would go hidden.

Okay, so you may be asking yourself, how does this tie in to novels? There aren't any actors to disabuse an audience of the notion that they are entering another character. But I'm interested in a similar process of alerting the reader to the fact that they are reading a work of fiction. That they don't have to suspend their belief to enter the world of my books. That as author and reader, we both enter a joint venture to try and establish just why this particular piece of fiction exists in the form and precise manner that it does. Why have I opted to tell this particular story in this manner and why the reader might read it. We are sharing a journey through the narrative that relies upon both of our input. This is not quite the journey of a reader being transported through a world by a narrator guiding them firmly by the hand. Although a reader uses his own imagination to enter the world of the book, once there he is often restricted in creating it. My books aim to have the reader participate in constructing the world of the book, because he has to decide at what level the fiction is pitched at.

Like Brecht's actors, my characters address the reader directly. A narrative voice is established that can flirt with the reader, argue, wheedle, beg, chastise and all sorts of other direct interactions. The voice with which the storyteller tells their tale, is more significant than the story they tell, since that yields greater insights into their character. How trustworthy, how reliable are they as a narrator? (hey aren't at all of course, for they are fictional creations!) How 'true' is the fiction they are weaving? The novel keeps asking the reader to consider that. The reader may have to realign the level at which the 'reality' is pitched within the novel at various stages and that in turn may make him question the level of the 'truths' about his own reality. A dynamic use of the illusory nature of fiction to probe the nature of illusion around us. The relationship is less that of reader and main character, but reader and author to yield what I hope is a richer reading experience.

So Bertolt Brecht I salute and honour you for your insights.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

American Pie - American State Songs Part 1 A-M

Below is a chart of songs mentioning a US State. Please add any I couldn't come up with in the comments.

The wistful and the critical, the songs seem to be split between punk rock and country and western genres, even when rockers like Springsteen or Disco divas like the Bee Gees try their hand.


1) "Sweet Home Alabama" - Lynyrd Skynyard

2) "By The Time I Get To Arizona" - Public Enemy

3) "Road To Alaska" - Bee Gees

4) "Mary Queen Of Arkansas" - Bruce Springsteen

5) "California Uber Alles" - Dead Kennedys

6) "Bound For Colorado" - Townes Van Zandt

7) "Connecticut is For F*cking"- Jesus H Christ & The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse

8) "Hot Day In Delaware" - Saves The Day

9) "Moving To Florida" - Butthole Surfers

10) Midnight Train To Georgia" - Gladys Knight & the Pips

11) "Hawaii" - Beach Boys

12) "My Own Private Idaho" - B52s

13) "Come On Feel The Illinoise" - Sufjan Stevens

14) "Moving Back To indiana" - The Jackson Five

15) "Iowa" - Slipknot

16) "Kansas" - The Wedding Present

17) "My Old Kentucky Home" - Johnny Cash

18) "Louisiana" - Underworld

19) Maine - NO SONG

20) Maryland - NO SONG

21) "Massachussetts" - Silverstein

22) "Especially In Michigan" - Red Hot Chili Peppers

23) "Jordan, Minnesota" - Big Black

24) "Mississippi Goddamn" - Nina Simone

25) "Missouri" - David Nail

26) "Montana" - Frank Zappa

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

I was given the following questions as a blog post prompt by the lovely blogger Amanda Socci, so I thought I'd better do as I was told (!) and answer them.

Actually they form a really good set of Qs that I haven't really been asked before, so am delighted to have the opportunity to respond

Thanks Amanda!

Her blog is here

(1) Your Twitter feed features a bunch of clever wordplays with hashtags (example: Murdoch on the Orient Express #AuthorBooks). Do you plan to compile those wordplays into a book?
Not a dedicated book, but I have written stories drawing on the 140 character limit, plus a hashtag game did inspire my story "The Caller To The Bingo Caller's House Calls House" which I can be seen reading here on video.
(2) You call yourself a literary Molotov cocktail thrower. That implies there is an element of danger to your writing. Can you explain?
I see it more as representing that element of my work which poses a challenge and radical alternativcs  to the existing literary order. The novel form hasn't really changed since the 18th century and I aim to offer a 21st Century literary form. that doesn't mean I want to overthrow the novel and demand everyone else also conceive of a new or updated novel form, it just represents what interests me. For an introduction to some of these ideas, my essay on Creative Imaginations Blog "Towards A 21st Century Literature"
(3) What is “semtex semiology?” Internet search engines do not recognize that phrase! Did you invent that phrase? If so, why?
No that one is all my own work! It comes from my political novel "Not In My Name" which looks at how extremist politics is being fought in cyberspace which is both a battle for hearts and minds and far more vicious because it is conducted behind a veil of anonymity. The idea of Semtex Semiology, was the paradox of how the most material destructive force of a suicide bomb, was being used to implant ideas, to attract recruits to a political cause. How footage of detonating IEDs (Improvised explosive devices) is being used to wage war on the internet. 
(4) You write at length about your university dissertation. How does that fit into your writing?
I actually manipulated my university course choices so as to avoid doing a dissertation! I was very disillusioned with university and was on the point of dropping out when took up creative writing which kept me there because of the opportunities available. But in my debut novel, the main character of which was an academic's wife, I put in a section on each of the different academic types, which may or not be based on my  own experiences! You can sample that section here.
(5) What is the meaning of the title of your blog, Sulci Collective? How did you come up with that name?
Well, a sulcus is the wrinkled groove you see on the human brain. Sulci is just the plural form, and collective is both a reference to all of them (ie the whole brain) but also the idea that I wanted my creative work to be collaborative and involve other artists with their own artistic visions and approaches. An example of something produced from collaborating with a designer can be found here I've got a couple of posts about collaboration coming up, as soon as the graphic designer sends me her experience of working with me!
(6) How do you invent so many wordplays? Are you afraid that someone will steal those ideas or plagiarize you somehow? Why or why not?
Not at all, There's enough words in the language to go round for everybody! I love the wordplay because ti keeps my brain limber. It can also prompt an association of ideas that can lead to something I can develop into a longer piece of writing. It is just play, playing with words and language, unlocking that side of the brain.
(7) Your book 52FF features 52 distinct flash fiction stories using diverse, exotic, and interesting themes. What inspired you to write about those themes? Real-life experiences? Fantasies? Television shows? The news?
Anything and everything in real life can provide a prompt. In that book I actually list the prompts for all but the 5 experimental language stories at the end of the book. Here's a link to the list. I've talked quite extensively on prompts for flash fiction, but travelling on public transport is very fertile in this area. Anywhere there are people really!
(8) You have been interviewed extensively. Is there anything that the interviewers have not asked you that you would like an opportunity to discuss?
I have to say yours are the best set of questions I've come across which is why I'm delighted to be doing them. I like out of the box questions that maybe only have a tenuous link to writing. Failing that, I'd talk about my non-starter career as a bass guitarist in a band
(9) Why do you like reading difficult, challenging books? What do you learn or gain from those experiences?
Because I'm interested in different approaches to narrative, particularly ones that take great risks with language or form or both. I like books that force me to think in a different way and it definitely feedsback into how I think about and approach my own writing.
(10) Do you write for the Good Men Project? If yes, can you discuss? If no, can you describe how you support that initiative?
I was asked by a good friend (whose publications I've contributed to and will be hosting on this blog later this week) to send them something as an unpublished novel of mine is all about the experience of growing up male across two generations. So I've contributed, but am not really an active participant. Maybe when I clear my work backlog I'll see if they want to do anything more with me.