Tuesday, 20 April 2010


I woke up to a sweating sick-stained sun, locked in a lunacy of suited normals clacketing blackberries hum thrum hangover drum, happy transparent heads.

I woke up sodden, frozen, crusted with tears from dreams of desert spaces, neon electric amphetamine places, haunted keening faces, ant-crawling into undergrowth decaying nests flinging formic burial dance ejaculations at their dying queen.

I woke up homeless, skin grotesqued on John Lewis glass, caged in beige and cursed and coughed and incantated and deflated and scoffed and stoned and slashing, smashing crashing at the window for my outside home.

I woke up on the office floor sodomised by spreadsheet slutting gang-rape jargon-happy whores in shirts and ties and CK1 and stripped and mocked by flights of office angels careening heavenward-career kicks to my crotch.

I woke up staring at the eyes of Martin Luther King, the gaze of Kurt Cobain, the glaze of Janis, Jimi, Jack, the drug-drawn, the persecuted, spat on, the unvoiced, the bony-fingered, track-marked, the unwritten gospels, cracked canvas and dried-up colour-wombs.

I woke up staring at the billion unaccounted reasons not to die, slapped welts to make my cheeks too raw to turn away and cry and cursed the mornings spooling out towards the sunset, and the daily pill the act of will required to make the choice to live.

There is no more tomorrow

There is only an endless today strung out like a thousand junkies coming down the mountain cradling tablets carved with promises from their gods.

We woke up you and me, undreaming dreamers we bark out our caffeine chorus at the midnight sun

We run, fucked-up and spectacular, into the dervish hills singing flail-body ballads at the sky.

Heavy-legged triumphant we outrun the sunset,
slash our sinful eyelids,
fix on the skimming morning star horizon,
empty our birthing wail into the dawn
and wait and run and wail and wake and wait

and flash and fill with sheeting screams and answers build and burst and brightness comet-summoning shaman mummers flame the heavens burning relentless the dreaming drabness suits and skirts and office-dark nights and towerblock evening grey and paypacket veins and expectation gym kit briefcase jumpsuit duvet madness

and in the warm the wake they give we take the fireball dawn

we are awake.

Monday, 19 April 2010

When art and science "collide": In praise of the Higgs Boson

In order to celebrate the endeavours of the Large Hadron Collider, Year Zero's very own Physicist-in-Residence, Marcella O'Connor, has put together an anthology of creative work inspired by and dedicated to the elusive Higgs Boson. All this week, she will be posting the entries that have come in from writers both within and beyond the tenuous wave/particle duality that is the boundary of Year Zero.

You can find the contents, updated daily with full links, BY CLICKING HERE.

So far we have wonderful prose from Bradley Wind and Marc Horne, and poetry by Stuart Estell. I know I've contributed a rather surreal piece called Solid that's actually (sorry, Marcella) more about the Higgs Field than the Boson itself. But other than that I'm as much in the dark matter as anyone, and hugely looking forward to discovering how the Higgs Boson has inspired my favourite creatives.

So, don't worry that you missed the London Book Fair. Despair not that you're stranded by ash. Come and lighten your week in the company of this inspiring particle.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

What's in a Name?

Nothing. Nada, niet, zilch, zero, zip.

That's all, really. I wanted to say something about Ian McEwan or Martin Amis or Graham Swift, or Zadie Smith - or even why I've decided I love Jeanette Winterson. But they're too easy targets. So I'll have t piece together an argument from the start.

And it starts in many places.

It starts with the wonderful world of independent literature - the fantastic small presses, cool shops, salons, scenes within scenes that are springing up.

It starts with Katie Price and Martine McCutheon, and "celebriterature"

It starts with the fact that we don't have an aplication or submission process at Year Zero.

And it starts with Haruki Murakami.

I love Murakami. So do hundreds of thousands of others. My bodily fluids are in disarray at the thought of 1Q84 arriving in translation. If I met him I'd probably faint.

It really starts with WHY I love Haruki Murakami. I love him, you see, because he wrote "Again and again I called out fro Midori from the dead centre of this place that was no place" and I cried for about 10 minutes afterwards. I love him because he wrote a scene about a woman, stuck on a ferris wheel, who looks into the window of an apartment and sees herself, commiting acts she could never imagine, and that scene changed the way I write forever.

I equally love Penny Goring because she wrote the line "You find me at night when I’m trying to sleep and tell me all about why you can’t stay."

And that's the point I'm making. I love people who do amazing things with words. Rather, I love the amazing things they do with words (there are many other thigs I love about Penny, of course, but they have to do withthe fact it's my privilege to know her).

But the more I see of even the Indiest of the Indie world of publishing, the more I realise how uncommon that is. We all have heroes, of course. I guess we do, anyway. But the literary world (and I know it's not alone) is full of a certain kind of adulation that I really don't like. An adulation for names. A deferentiality - be it for Zadie Smith or David Vann or whoever. And it goes hand in hand with a derogation of Katie Price and Martine McCutcheon, and I am left in a state fo constant bewilderment that no one sees the contradiction.

Much of the literary world, it sems to me, is all about names. It's about clubbiness and cliquiness. About liking the right thing and disliking the right thing - about thinking (tired and overused example, sorry, but it's been a long week and I'm tired and overused) John Diamond was a brave man chronicling his demise and Jade Goody was an attention-crazy slapper. About whom you've met, whom you've heard, how famuos your guests are, who retweets you, who says hi to you down the pub. And frankly, I find the whole thing utterly nauseating.

We had a Year Zero gig this week (still waiting a coupla piccies before I write it up). We held it at the OVADA Gallery in Oxford, a project run largely by unpaid staff and directors to bring the arts into the community, against a backdrop of a fantastic exhibition called Hidden Voice, put on by young carers from the county. It was the best gig I've ever been to, with 40 or 50 of the loveliest people I've met in a long long time. It came about purely by chance when a friend pointed me to an exhibition there, and I got chatting to the curator and said do you ever do literary nights, and two weeks later we were doing one. She didn't know me from Adam but she had a read fo some of our stuff, and circulated their mailing list, advertised on the Arts council website, gotus a slot on local radio, made our ragtag group feel, in short, welcome. Part of a bigger picture in which we're all doing the same thing - trying to build a world with more art in it.

Why mention the fact we don't have a submission pocedure at Year Zero? Well, it sounds rather clubby and cliquy, that's why. But it's not. It's simply that we do a certain kind of thing and - without giving away too many details - rather a lot of us are rather damaged so we need to have a safe space to do it in. Think of us like a band - you wouldn't say a band was a clique just because they don't let every bass player play bass for them. I HOPE we do everything we can to encourage others doing the kind of thing we're doing, and to share what we've learned. I'm sure we could do more, but I hope that's through lack of resource not lack of willing.

We called our gig on Wednesday "Open-armed and Outcast", and the more I think about it the more important that description feels. There is a whole world in the arts that's about belonging in the "in crowd" - and for me it's even more distasteful and prevalent in the allegedly indie scene, where it's mixed with a cultural snobbery.

There are all sorts of debates to be had about filtering and gatekeeping, of course, and how it can ever be possible to read everything out there and give stuff a chance, but I want to make a very simple, very plain point. It's cool to like great writing. It's cool to have something move you to tears or laughter or despair or exhilaration and to tell teh world how great it is - whether it be by Zadie Smith or Jane Unknown or, yes, by J K Rowling. It is NOT cool to like something because it is by Zadie Smith, or to tell people you had Zadie Smith giving a lecture in your store whilst you hide the fact embarrassedly that you also had Jane Unknown. And it is VERY NOT COOL to say something's crap because it was written by J K Rowling.

I have met a lot of wonderful people in the publishing industry since I joined Year Zero (I don't actually think I've met anyone from the industry who isn't really nice), but my experience has done nothing but confirm why I want to have nothing to do with that industry.

In short.
What's in a name? Absolutely nothing.
What's in a word? Absolutely everything.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

A Taste of Holloywood

Many of you will know the extraordinary Sabina England. Many of you will have come across her and her work after I wrote about the time I met her for real.

Well, now Sabina is going to make a short film based on her script, Wedding Night. It's going to be an incredibly exciting project, and Sabina is looking to raise $1000 to make it happen, thriough a campaign on the uber-cool sight IndieGoGo. She's made a video to explain what she's doing that's absolutely fab - but be warned - be very warned - this short contains scenes of Sabina in formal clothes with an (almost) smart hairdo that some of those who know her may find disturbing


The following is in Sabina's own words. This is a fantastic project - if you can afford anything, please get involved.

WEDDING NIGHT is a 15 minute film & tells the story of a Pakistani bride & a Desi American man who meet together for the first time on their wedding night. The husband expects his wife to be a shy, polite bride, but she is nothing like that. In Pakistan, she had a “reputation” which brought shame to her family. In short, she was known as a whore. It shocks her husband & he’s devastated. The wife feels trapped in this marriage, but she’s determined to control her life.


In Hollywood, there are many female filmmakers, but they are fighting to be heard and have their films be noticed. Even in the 21st century, Hollywood is still considered a man’s territory. Only in 2010, did a woman finally win an Academy Award for BEST DIRECTOR. It’s still a battle to bring female-focused stories onto the big screen, but that hasn’t stopped female filmmakers from making it happen. My film is female focused, it tells the story of a woman from a woman’s perspective, and it shatters racist, xenophobic and stereotypical ideas of Muslim women and South Asian women.

Backing WEDDING NIGHT is not just about helping out a female filmmaker. It’s also about giving an opportunity to a Deaf woman. Deaf people are constantly struggling to find opportunities in the film industry. I want to inspire them and tell them, THEY CAN DO IT, TOO.


I have already created a film budget plan, so I know how the money will be spent.

-film camera & equipment (Canon XH-A1 film camera) including boom mic, tripod, batteries, tapes
-lighting kit
-stipends for the Director of Photography, two actors
-fees for location shoot
-fees for food catering for actors and crew during 2 days of shooting
-fees for post-production (editing studio, music, and sound)


I studied at London Film Academy for a summer course and learned essential filmmaking skills— storyboards, setting up the camera, shooting, directing, cinemateography, editing, and post-production sound.

Last year, I launched a successful comedy webseries on Youtube called “The Velma Sabina Show,” almost all of my videos have crossed over the 1,000 view mark.

I’ve had my plays performed and produced in London, UK. I have been active in theatre from a very young age— from writing, directing, acting, and stage managing. I graduated from University of Missouri-Columbia with a B.A in Theatre (with a focus on Playwriting).

Monday, 5 April 2010

A Small Press says "Yes"

More and more that's something I'm hearing writers say - their ms has been accepted by an exciting new small press. They're not asking money up front like a vanity publisher. So this is fantastic! Isn't it?

We are at a time when the publishing industry is catching up much of the rest of the world in realising that aggregation and merger are outmoded business models, and small, independent and flexible are the way forward. This is creating fantastic opportunities for new small presses. But, like all booms and bubbles, 95% of these new presses will fail, and do so quickly - through plain natural selection (in many cases, where they have not thought out a new business model that isn't successful/lucky, the issue will simply be - as always - undercapitalisation).

The future failure of so many new presses creates a very real problem that writers need to be aware of - when the business goes bust, their book (or the rights thereto) will be one of that business' assets - the chances of the author getting their rights back in a hurry are minimal (and the assurances of the lovely people who run the press are irrelevant - once they're wound up it's not up to them, it's up to the banks)

It's so early that we really don't know who the charlatans and incompetents are, and who will emerge victorious, so all we can do if considering a new small press is be as savvy as we possibly can. I would recommend considering the following checklist of questions:

1. There are many many more books than shelf slots. You may have experienced rejection after rejection. If someone approaches you it's flattering, but PLEAS, be self-aware enough to ask why. Have they really spotted what everyone else missed? Quite possiblyso, but almost certainly not.

2. Following on, if I were approached, i would want to a. make sure the contract protected my rights so they reverted to me in certain timeframes/scenarios and b. look at their business plan. You should, of course, discuss the publisher's business plan before signing even if they're HC, but in cases like this I'd want forecasts and figures, and if I didn't feel confident analysing them, and didn't have a manager/accountant to do it for me, I'd walk away.

3. Remember that submission followed by instant acceptance can amount to the same thing as being approached directly - like a cynical, jaded lover ask yourself, and them "why so keen?"

4. Always always always go to sites like Writer Beware and Absolute Write. DO remember that negative feedback can be as unreliable as positive, but consider any comments.

5. Use google - for two reasons - to find out what people are saying about them that may affect your decision, and to see just how wide their web footprint is

6. Consider approaching a reputable independent editor like Maria Schneider or Nicola Morgan. Ask them if they consider your book shelf-worthy, and if they say no, think carefully.

7. It's hard in a global age, but meet these people if you possibly can. This is a people business, and as a writer your instincts about people aer probably fairly good.

8. This should be obvious, but it may not be - ask to see the other books they're publishing. For new presses there may not be any on the shelves - ask to see the mss. Consider the following factors - 1. Does your book fit alongside these? It would be pointless, for example, for me to have The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes published by DIIArts - it just doesn't fit with their other books, and would get lost amongst them. It would fit very nicely in the portfolio of To Hell With Publishing, though - if a press is REALLY new, you need to talk serious turkey with them on this - it may be too early to tell what the feel of the press is (their website's "look" will tell you a lot, though - take a look at www.moxiemezcal.com for example - I KNOW my book would fit there) 2. Are the books any good? I would never really feel comfortable joining a group where I wasn't the weakest member (at Year Zero, I've got very lucky - because I do the tech donkeywork they let me hang out and put my writing up), but I do have a Groucho Marx approach - if they're right for me because it's such a strong portfolio, why would they think I'm right for them.

9. If you still like the idea, ask yourself: could I do what they're doing myself and would I want to? That doesn't mean, for example, "could you edit your own book?" You couldn't. It means "could you find an editor suitable and work with them?"

For me, number 9 is the one that clinched it. I know I can do as good a job as anyone I've come across for my particular brand of weirded out underbelly scuzz. And I love doing it. I REALLY love it.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

A Matter of Taste

This year I decided to enter my novel, Songs from the Other Side of the Wall, for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards, which is one of the biggest prizes there is for unpublished and self-published authors. I made it to the second round but no further. Progress form the second round was dependent on reviews from Amazon's "Expert Reviewers". These reviewers were given the first 3-5,000 words of each book - the first two chapters in my case (you can read the whole book for free here to give you an idea what they were judging). It should be noted that they were not given the book's "pitch" (what you'd see on the back cover, or its genre. That may be evident.

A few months ago my wife receioved a hilarious circular e-mail telling the same story from two different sides and showing what a difference perspective plays in how we see things.

I decided to post the reviews here because they show a very similar thing about books.

I will not comment here on the reviews themselves. You are free to, and I will certainly join in once conversation has begun.

ABNA Expert Reviewer 1

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

I was very intrigued by the title of this excerpt, which may also interest other potential readers as well (though I was unable to determine what relation the title had to the story).

What aspect needs the most work?

Without seeing more of the work than this excerpt, I am not sure that the date at the start of the first chapter (December 12, 2007) has much relation to the story. The second chapter does not start with a different date. There is quite a bit of vulgar language that seems to have no other purpose than to shock the reader. This language could be eliminated or replaced with something not as vulgar without detracting from the story.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

After reading this excerpt, I cannot identify the central conflict. I am not sure who the target audience is (age and gender) or what other authors' works this target audience may enjoy. It seems as though the author may not have clearly identified this either.

ABNA Expert Reviewer 2

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

The quality of writing is very consistently very good and the work is finished and polished. The characters we meet are interesting and even in this short excerpt are fleshed out enough to seem like real (if atypical) people. Choice of words and phrases are original without seeming contrived or awkward as is so often the case. The story promises to be a little edgy without being at all crass. It is fresh and contemporary. There are some truly brilliant parts, for example, when Szandi describes the route to Yang's studio or Yang's handwriting or is entranced by her eyes, the description of their lovemaking or her flashback about her Mum.

What aspect needs the most work?

I am unable to identify any major flaws in this excerpt. One minor issue is that as far as I can tell, Ilke never tells Szandi her name when they meet yet Szandi knows it.

These certainly aren't flaws, just some thoughts while I was reading:

It took me a heck of a long time to figure out that Szandi was female on the first reading.
There are some Briticisms that may or may not be intended.
What's up with Claire?
Szandi is quite mature for a 17 year old.
There are a lot of little threads started in the beginning of the novel, such as the letter about Szandi's father.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

Judging from this excerpt, there is no doubt that the manuscript should advance in judging so that it can be evaluated in its entirety. It is difficult to say exactly where the plot is going from the short excerpt but there is more than enough enough interest and originality in the characters and opening action to hook the reader. It is likely that the main character doesn't really know where her life is going, either. I certainly hope that I have the opportunity to read the entire novel in the future.