Thursday 31 December 2009


The Noughties were the shiny shiny decade of the bankrupt and the bewildered; the decade of the commercial, the consumer, the credit and the crash; the decade when the world stopped asking questions and gave us certainties; when Young British Art moved out of the underground into the establishment; when the angry young novelists grew comfortable pot bellies and politics forgot to be political. The decade of the surface and the superficial. Of lightness and greenhouse gases and other hot air. The decade our dreams were banished to the shadows and we lay trampled in the rush to the mainstream.

A new decade is here at last. Consumption and excess and luxury and the light in the sky and on our dressing tables is dead. A decade of darkness is ready to draw down on us, but darkness is only frightening if you're a creature of the day.

And we are not. We are writers, artists, musicians, poets, filmmakers, thinkers. We are creatures of the night; of troubled sleep; of disquieted walks under fizzing streetlamps; of screams hidden in the depths of our skulls as those next to us slumber in peace. We go blind at the shiny surfaces of consumerism and spin and the glib and the slick; we throw back questions to every answer; we refuse to take the easy path even when lame.

In the darkness, people won't need bankers to make them rich, scientists to heal their broken bodies limping on the surface of this broken planet. They will need voices to speak to their night terrors; hands to hold them and ease their passing; songs to explain the dark; to build the foundation myths of a new era; to unravel the damage and the guilt; to tell the stories that construct the new communities from the rubble.

The collapse of society is nothing to fear if you've always lived on its edges. Madness and despair hold no horror for those to whom they are lifetime companions. A decade of darkness is coming and the world is in retreat. It's time at last for us to step out of the shadows and into the full gare of the abyss. The twenty teens belong to the fuck-ups and the freakshows; the sickboys and the weirdos; they belong to the Cassandras and the Johnny Boys, the poet, singer, artist, piper, storytelling lunatics who believe that art brings its own light, its own truth; that words, pictures, music, film, community, society, myth can transform the ashes and make new.

When your fingers hurt, keep smashing them into the keyboard; when you head is cut in two with pain, pull it apart and let the hurt gush onto the page; when the world demands your silence, say "yes", say "no", say anything but "OK".

A decade of darkness is coming, of damage and despair and doubt. A decade at last that belongs to us. Your scream is its soundtrack. Don't be silent for a second.

Tuesday 29 December 2009

Sharp Teeth

OK, so I decided to go with the medieval myth of the vagina dentata, recently resurrected by some bleeding awful z-grade horror movie, as the title for this post for no other reason than my original one wouldn't fit twitter. It makes no real sense and does little but allude to Zadie Smith (not a bad thing in itself).

The article I wrote for Year Zero tomorrow is a chastisement of the writing classes of the noughties. I ask, very simply, where did all the questions go? When I was a student in the late 80s and early 90s we took it for granetd that whenever we wrote something we were entering into some larger, complex powerplay. We assumed there was no such thing as neutral. It was the age where language was taken to be imperialist/patriarchal as a matter of course and if you wanted to write you had to justify every word you set on the page and explain why it wasn't simply perpetuating the imperialism/patriarchy.

Sure this often led to a combination of bizarro weird non-linear stylisation and the somewhat easier tactic of wwriting nothing and limiting oneself to chattering idly about theory (in the name of the class/race/gender struggle, of course). But there is something inherently good about not taking things for granted - about realising that one is part of a context, about placing oneself within larger discourses and, basically, thinking about the implications of what you write.

What I take issue with in that post is why so few writers question - PROPERLY question - the internet. What kind of a space is it? What's its power status? Where does it sit in the nexus of discursive strategies?

Anyway, having berated others for not asking questions, I thought I should post some thoughts of my own. Here they are - unrounded, probably not thought through. But they're a discussion starter at least. I'm happy to discuss in more detail in the comments.

I "grew up" studying Irigaray, whose main point about linguistics is that language is male - the qualities of western discourse embody maleness. Language is sex-power. For women to speak they must use a language that is male. Irigaray's own writing is a wonderful mix of theory and poetics as she tries to find a new way of writing that embodies the female yet cuts across the lies of the male (I hesitate when saynig "embody" because it implies essentialism, and "is Irigaray an essentialist?" is one of those string-measuring exercises of which linguistics is full.

It amazes me that more people aren't asking questions of the internet, and how it fits into this theoretical model. So I want to imagine what they might say, and relate it to teh politics of literature.

I have 2 points to make:

1. the internet feminises literature.

2. this is why the literary establishment greets web-based discourse with a mix of fear-conquer-laugh.

1. The Internet Feminises Literature

I am talking in Irigaray's terms. You will probably disagree and find the points overly Freudian. They start a discussion, though.

- webcourse (to avoid repeating web-based discourse endlessly) is fragmented (something Irigaray made steps towards with her incomplete sentences - she must go nuts for text-speak)

-webcourse is associative. It makes links rather than statements. It's unitive but not in a colonizing way - it brings things within a context organically

-webcourse is preservatory by nature. Its caches and dark corners are the marshes and forests that patriarchy could never expel from mythology. They preserve the monstrous and the outcast from deletion.

-webcourse never destroys, it builds on what has gone before.

-webcourse is nutritive - it feeds itself through cooperation and contact

2. No wonder "Literature" hates the web

You will generally find one of three reactions from the literary establishment to webcourse:

- fear - free content, the noise of universal subjectivity, lack of respect for experts, lack of quality control and gatekeeping - are these really treated very differently from the vagina dentata of old? No. Literature fears webcourse because it is different. Because it refuses to respect tradition. Because it is other...

- conquer - the web is great, but do it like this, that and the other. Brand yourself across media, use the web wisely. Use it if you must but use it our way!

- laugh - "you're a writer. Great! For whom do you write?" "Oh, AN E-ZINE"

Like I say, think of webcourse as feminising, and of discourse as patriarchal, and doesn't this suddenly fit?

And of course it's even more wonderfully subversive that this feminised webcourse uses imperialist technology - what I want to avoid owing to its awful Platonist associations is a spirit-body dualism that's hardware/cyberspace based - rather I'll say patriarchy created a space of its own, feminised culture found a way in, resisted, inverted, created an enfolded space of its own from, within, and independent of the oppressor's tools.

In many ways the webcourse debate mirrors the feminist debates of the 70s - you have people of all stripes from the separatists to the revisionists. One could argue that cultural flare-ups simply have a tendency to produce this kind of multi-polarity. Or you could argue that it's the SAME debate.

So where does this leave me, as a male writer? Well, women have been forced into discourse in order to be heard for centuries. If webcourse IS feminised I fail to see I'm in a position to complain. No, what I find exciting is the fact that webcourse might actually be something different. Something with its own set of rules. Something new and fresh and liberating.

Most of all, what I feel is a relief that I've started asking questions about what I write on line in the same way I've always asked them about what I write on paper. And excited that the two sets of answers may be different

Thursday 24 December 2009

Sixteen Songs that Make Me Cry

OK, so it IS a list but it's not exactly a list. And I'm not just talking songs that bring a little tear - I am, after all, one of the world's great blubberbuses, so that'd be a pretty long list. No, these are the gushers!

So why such an unseasonal list? And why sixteen? Well, the latter question is easy, and it has to do neither with Harry Christophers nor John Hughes, but simply the sonorousness of the words (mwah, dahling). Why? Well, I love lists, and this is the list time of year, but most of all beacuse of my next novel. I've always liked the idea of writing a novel that genuinely makes people cry. Songs from the Other Side of the Wall does it to me, the ending has me blubbing like a blubby thing but I get the impression it leaves most people a little confused.

Why do I want to write a novel that makes people cry? Well, for me that's the point of connection we were talking about in the "pain" debate - the moment when a writer's words and my life intersect, when she speaks to me and only me, when she unlocks me with her words, and the tears are what she releases as the door opens. It's an intimate, beautiful, very special moment between reader and writer. I would love to speak in that way - even if only once, to one reader.

So why songs instead of books? Two reasons - first, I came up with the idea whilst listening to music - so it seemed obvious. Second, thinking it over, I actually found it easier to put my finger on what it was about songs that drove me to gushing than I did books - so it's more instructional to me as a writer.

Finally, for info - Life Drawn Freehand will go into production over the next few days, with a summer 2010 release date. It's the story of 50-something art teacher Ella, who realises, when her son dies on a gap year, that she has had her life on hold for 30 years. In order to win an audience for her art, she decides to give everything she does for a whole year away free. EVERYTHING. She gets recognition, but it brings more than she bargained for, in the shape of two intense affairs, with alcoholic ex-model and musician Sabrina, and her 16 year-old pupil Matthew. As the year draws to a close, Matthew takes Ella and Sabrina on a journey to the place where Ella's son died. It's a journey from which all know only one of them will return. It's a love story that examines every single connotation we put on the word "free".

OK, so here's The Sixteen, the songs most likely to flood the room with sentimental saline. As an authorial aide, I've put them into categories, according to why they make me cry. With apologies to Polly Harvey and Janis Joplin - I have no reason why you aren't on this list. Possibly because just the mention of your names can make me gush.

The words
All the songs on this list are, musically, constructed a certain way. I'm not enough of a musician to put my finger on it but it's something to do with rise and fall, a soaring, fragile voice slightlyu at odds with a melody that does a certain somethnig. BUT some songs have words that just pile on that effect.

Black Balloon - The Kills - OK, I'm gonna try really hard to avoid the copyright police. A line like "I've starred in a thousand street scenes just around the corner form you, on the edge of your dreams" - if that were a poem with no muisc it would have me in tears - it's a situation we all know - looking on but not being able to touch. Knowing we will come so close but no closer.

E-Bow the Letter R.E.M. "These corrosives work their magic slowly" and above all else "dreaming of Maria Callas, whoever she is" - it's blankness - teh kind of blank despair that's beyond despair Daisy Anne Gree writes. Oh, and the deep, deep sliding melody, and the howling Patti Smith solo doesn't make it less tearjerking.

Nothing Compares 2 U - Sinnead O'Connor Yes, I know it's kitsch and uncool, but it's my age. And if it needs to be explained why the words make you cry, you're probably a cyborg.

The music
Very hard for me to say what it is about these, although I intend to analyse them at length. The first two are, in my non-musical opinion, the most perfectly-crafted rock songs ever written. I should also note that I limited myself to one song a band. When I drew up an original top 10, 6 were Radiohead. Thom Yorke has a LOT to do with it - his voice, and his stage persona, are in themselves enough to reduce me to tears. If I'd chosen High & Dry or Fake Plastic Trees I may have put the song in the "delivery" category for that reason. lucky could, after a magical set at Reading, belong in the personal association category. Oh, and it's one of my tests of character whether people prefer Jealous Guy or Imagine; up there with the great Notting Hill v Four Weddings/ Unbearable Lightness of Being v Book fo Laughter and Forgetting debates

Lucky - Radiohead

Jealous Guy - John Lennon

Don't Look Back into the Sun - Libertines - I CAN say what it is about this - it's in the guitar sound - the way the tone of the sound somehow makes you feel as though something beautiful has been lost forever

The delivery
These are songs that make me cry largely because of the persona/unique voice of the singer (if I'd picked a different Skunk Anansie song it would have gone here)

End of the Century - Blur - Damon sounds like he's about to cry at any moment throughout - and especially when he says "there's ants on the carpet" - and it works by sympathy. He also sounds like a man who's realising for the first time that everything he loved has turned out to be crap.

She's a Star - James - because the voice seems to hit resonance with something in my brain and they enter this feedback loop of melancholy

Saturday Night - Suede - no one does fragile and broken but with a lilting beauty that keeps its dignity (that's the real thing - the defiance you know is futile - think the guy in Tiannenmen) like Brett Anderson.

The artist
Not a lot I can do with this. There are some songs that, whilst they would always pull the heartstrings, bring out the monsoon because we know what happened next. Because we are actually crying for the artist. With apologies to anyone who ever thought I had any taste. Yes, that IS Karen Carpenter. But, com eon - it's Karen Carpenter! Piaff is part because it's her, part the dignity in teh voice - the defiance (that's something, like the Suede above, I CAN learn from)

Where Did You Sleep Last Night - Nirvana Unplugged version

Somewhere Over the Rainbow - Karen Carpenter version

La Vie en Rose - Edith Piaff

Personal association
Interestingly, I think it is nostalgia rather than heartbreak that does it here - a perfect moment never to be recaptured. That would be true of Lucky.

Secretly - Skunk Anansie - has to do with a rather unpleasant ex, and most of it is actually about the song itself - it's about as manipulative as you can get with it's quiet-loud-quiet. Not nearly so good a song as Smells Like Teen Spirit or anything by the Pixies that uses the form better, but definitely the queintessence of heartbreaking. It's all to do with the sudden changes and the fact that you never quite, even in the moments of exhilaration, escape the underlying melancholy.

Other associations
Songs that make you cry because of what went with them - most often with me a film. Something one can learn from by remembering taht we need to engage the whole reader, and not just the bit of the brain that takes in the words on the page - why a live performance will always work better.

California Dreaming - Mamas and Papas -because I saw Chungking Express at an impressionable age

Anthem from Three Colours: Blue - Zbigniew Priesner - because it's the saddest film ever made (the defiance, fragility and everything to do with the tragedy of Kieslowski's early death and the fact it's got Juliette Binoche in doing that kind of "thousand emotions with one movement of the eyebrow" thing), and this tune is an integral part of that.

OK, so now you know my 2010 playlist. What I hope more than anythnig is that in some way, however small, I can make Life Drawn Freehand speak to one of you enough to draw a tear. Just one would do!

Monday 21 December 2009

The View From the Shoe: Moxie Mezcal

Moxie Mexcal is one of those indie free spirits it's impossible to pin down with definition. Artist? Writer? Filmmaker? Or plain old creative anarchist? So I won't try. The only thing I know for sure about him is that he's one of the good guys. Here he is in his own words:

Moxie Mezcal is a dangerous malcontent, a delusional megalomaniac, and a foul-mouthed Mexican-American glitterpunk with a penchant for black lipstick and bad wigs, who writes punk-as-fuck guerrilla fiction on and lives under an assumed name in San Jose, California.

Thank you so much for your time. So, Louboutin or Converse?
Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars all the way! Not that I don't love a good pair of pumps, but not for fucking $1,000 – and anyways, I don't think Louboutin makes them in US Women's size 13. You have no idea how hard it is for me to find cute footwear; San Jose doesn't have as many options for TVs as San Francisco, but there are a couple good vintage stores where I'm able to pick up devastatingly-awesome platforms in non-dainty sizes.
I actually do own a pair of red Chuck Taylors, just like my character in Making Dylan Maxwell, who is also the main antagonist in the novel I'm working on. They are my go-to comfy shoes for running errands and stuff, and I absolutely love them. I wrote them into the story as his idiosyncratic quirk because I always intended for him to be a villain but wanted some hook to make me identify with him personally – the thought being that I'd be less prone to writing him as a one-dimension baddie if I could find see a little piece of myself in him. And the Chucks did it, because how can you not love someone who wears a pair of red Chucks with expensive custom-tailored suits?

Why is there no one in the world who does it quite like you?
Probably because I have no idea what the hell I'm doing, I just fake it as I go.
But also, because I don't really care about being taken seriously. I've never fit in too well with the mainstream in anything I do – from lifestyle to appearance to art or anything else – so I don't really see why I should start trying now. And honestly, not giving a fuck is liberating. I write the stories that I want to tell – that I need to tell – the way I want to tell them.
I frankly couldn't give a shit about trying to shoehorn my work to fit into some restrictive formula of “serious fiction” or “genre fiction”. I don't want to be focus-grouped, I don't want to be polished. I love that handmade, DIY feel – give me a cheaply photocopied zine over a glossy full-color magazine any day. There's nothing wrong with leaving a few rough edges or letting the seems show.
I'm not trying to get a book deal or get reviewed in Publishers-fucking-Weekly. I'm taking destiny into my own hands, grinding it out to build an audience from the ground up, not wasting one ounce of time or energy wishing upon a star for the fucking publishing fairy to wave her magic wand and turn me into a “real writer”.
I have no fucking strings.

What do you really, really love about it?
What I really, really love about writing: It's really the only way I can sort out this unholy mess I call a head. It's a form of therapy, cathartic as all hell, and keeps me busy and out of trouble. Seriously – whatever neuroses or obsessions that pop up, I just put it into the stories. Guilt, addiction, paranoia, technology, gender identity, narcissism, celebrity culture, alienation, fear of dying. I just open up a vein and let all the craziness come gushing out onto the keyboard.
What I really, really love about being read: It's an experiment. What happens when I unleash giant raving chunks of my psyche into the collective unconscious? It's all about making human connections, sharing something deeply personal with other people to see if it entertains them or inspires them or makes them think about the world just a little bit differently.

A bit more time in the day, or a bit more money in the bank?
Without a doubt, more time in the day. Between everything I want to write, my nerdy tech tinkering, ongoing misguided experiments in graphic/web design, and several ill-considered attempts at music and audio production, I could use all the time I could get. Especially since all this has to fit in the few hours a week left after taking care of the really important stuff like the job and love and family and maybe even a social life.
And besides, what do I need more money for? I'd only blow it on cheap whiskey and obscenely expensive cosmetics.

Imagine you “make it”. You wake up, and imagine the day ahead. Tell us about breakfast.
I'm assuming in this context to “make it” means to achieve widespread notoriety and/or financial success, as opposed to being a euphemism for “fuck”. It would probably be the same as any other day – breakfast would be a ridiculously large amount of strong black coffee, I'm talking so strong you could stand a fucking spoon in the bastard. I use coffee to compensate for the fact that I no longer allow myself to cram ungodly amounts of filthy, corrosive chemicals up my nose.
I'm still not really sure what exactly I've “made” in this hypothetical, though. I guess the difference would be that while I was drinking my coffee, I'd be on the phone with Bob Iger or some shit negotiating my share of the after-market gross for Disney's adaptation of Sweet Dream, Silver Screen. And maybe the coffee would be a more expensive brand? I don't know. Did I get the question right?

What’s your Jimmy Choo? And what’s just cobblers?
Jimmy Choo: My iPod, Food Not Bombs, San Jose's South First Fridays, Creative Commons, MAC, Nick Cave's Death of Bunny Munro e-book app, Amanda Fucking Palmer, Johnnie Walker Black Label, and my love.
Cobblers: Right-wing tea-baggers. Releasing new books as expensive hardcovers first and holding back the e-books and paperbacks.
Tell us about the last time a fan made you feel 100 feet tall.
Honestly, every time I hear from someone who's enjoyed my work, I feel like a fucking rock star. Part of it is because I'm such an ego-maniac that even the smallest modicum of validation will send me through the roof.
The one specific comment that stands out in my memory was someone who read 1999 and said that even though his lifestyle and experiences were very different from the characters', he still believed in them as real, breathing people, and believed that's how they'd react within the context of the story's events. Which is very straightforward praise on the face of it, but if you think about it, that's really what fiction is all about – finding those universal human characteristics that exist under the all the superficial differences we manufacture to categorize and divide ourselves. No matter who we are, what neighborhood we grew up in, what we do for a living, how we dress, who we fuck – at our core, we all have basically the same fears, the same insecurities, the same need for love, the same craving for validation. That's the stuff that makes you believe in a character you've never met in real life.

Independent and poor, or under contract and rich?
Obviously I'll always be a poor indie.
I'm not even trying to make money off my writing. I'm an attention whore; I want as many people to read me as possible, and making people pay would be completely at cross-purposes.
The only stuff I charge for is the merch in my Cafe Press store, and even then everything's priced at cost. And frankly, I don't expect anyone to actually buy that shit (and they're not). I just wanted to make my own T-shirts for funsies, and I thought it was hilarious that I could make a doggy shirt that says “Punk as Fuck”.

Do you remember that bit on Play Away where Brian Cant stood behind people and did the actions whilst they spoke? If you could choose anyone to stand behind you and do the actions to your sales pitch, who would it be and why?
I'm not sure what Play Away is, but I think I get the gist of it.
Johnny Depp doing Hunter Thompson from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, preferably while actually high.

Frocks or socks?
Frocks. That word reminds me of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: “Just what this country needs, a cock in a frock on a rock.” We don't really use it here, so that probably was the last time I actually heard it.

Thank you SOOO much

Sunday 20 December 2009

Magical hours in London Part II: when Dan met To Hell With Books

A week or so ago I found, courtesy of MarshaWrites on twitter, a wonderful competition asking people to say what they would do with one hour in London. I was instantly cast back to one of the very favourite posts I've ever written, detailing one such hour I spent in the company of the wonderful Sabina England. It occurred to me how odd it was to PLAN a magical hour in London. True magic never happens through planning. It is spontaneous...

As I found myself musing last week during a second such hour, spent in the company of the lovely people at To Hell With Books, about whom I wrote a week or so ago. We were lounging in a wonderful basement space, on a decrepit button-back sofa, books strewn across a concrete floor, laptops akimbo amid piles of beer bottles, limited edition photographs and an Andy Warhol poster to die for on the walls. Lucy, one of the brains behind To Hell With Publishing, the fantastic venture that spawned To Hell With Books, was reminiscing over an impromptu poetry reading in the upstairs room of some seedy bar or other.

I'd come to London to arrange the Year Zero Live gig in Brick Lane, and wanted to take the opportunity to check out To Hell With Books. Sadly, I was diverted to Cecil Court, and the sister shop, Amuti 23. It seems there was a problem with the shelving supplier. From my days running luxury flooring showrooms I can sympathise.

I was expecting to walk into one of the myriad stuffy rare print shops that line Cecil Court where you daren't put your nose to the window unless you're wearing tailored tweeds. When I stuck my head inside the door to be greeted with a mix of concrete and chaos and unspeakably cool prints and artefacts (one of the Stone Roses' paint-splattered hats from THAT photoshoot), I had to double-take.

There was a staircase into the shell of a bunker-space, where two chilled-out people with laptops were surfing around.

They both looked up and flashed warm, possibly slightly hungover smiles.

"Is one of you Emma?" I asked.

"Hey," said Emma. "You must be Dan."

By the time I was downstairs Lucy had cleared a slew of books from the sofa to make a lovely comfy snug, and we spent the next hour burbling about pretty much anything and everything to do with books and writing, and the arts, and what was right and what was wrong and what was hot and what was cool; and occasionally Laurence - a lovely chap (lovely being the generic term for well-framed men with beards :p) with a penchant for insightful, sardonic one-liners - would come off the phone long enough to move the enthusing in some unexpecetd, anecdotal direction.

We talked about the amazing special ed of Kevin Cummins' book of Manchester photos that comes in a box held together with glue used in Formula One Cars; we talked about Andy Warhol; we talked about how to represent performance poetry on the page and crossovers betweenm literature and other arts; we talked about new writing and DBC Pierre.

And we talked about their fantastic To Hell With First Novels imprint, whose first book, Grant Gillespie's The Cuckoo Boy, is out next Spring. Sounding like something John Updike or David Lynch might do if the got their hands on the Wasp Factory, it goes top of my "to be bought in 2010" list. There are lots of things I like about the imprint - that it takes submissions direct; that it's for first novels of literary fiction (if I'd known about them before Year Zero, I may have been tempted to chance my arm); that its cover design philosophy sounds bang on what mine would be. But what I like best is that it's a one book deal. The aim is to bring brilliant writers to the wider public, not to tie them into long deals that will stultify their style and leave them in literary pre-pubescence.

Like all the best hours with strangers (well, the ones that don't involve hotels that charge day-only rates, anyway), it felt like I'd spent a whole day with people I'd known all my life. I wondered when I read about To Hell With Books whether the reality would live up to the hype. As Emma and I swapped e-mails my fears subsided and my expectations grew. Meeting her and Lucy and Laurence, I very much get the sense the reality is better than the hype.

I look forward to going back in the New Year and finally seeing the new shop. And, everything crossed, arranging a Year Zero Live gig with them.

And I'll leave you with a thought, an observation. The literary internet is full of people who moan about the current state of affairs, of writers who bewail the lack of openings, of publishers who fear for the future, of agents who live in fear of zero-advance deals. It's full of people who scaremonger lots and talk more. The more I getout into the actual world of independent arts, and hang out with people like these guys, like Sabina, like Nikesh and Nikki Loy, and everyone at Year Zero, the more I realise there's a whole world of people out there who don't bother complaining about the gloomy future - they're too busy creating a bright one for themselves.

Friday 18 December 2009

Our Second Anthology is out and it's FREE

We've done it!! After an amazing, rollercoaster ride of a buzzing exciting year, we've got a second anthology out. It's only ever going to be available as an ebook BUT in the new year you can buy posters, T-shirts, and come and see us perform live!
Thirteen Shadows Waiting for Sunrise is the second anthology from Year Zero Writers.

It is available in all eformats from smashwords for download HERE. It is also available as a Bookbuzzr, an amazing widget you can embed in your social media and read on screen like a real book. You can also download it as a glorious full colour pdf HERE or by clicking on the cover image.

Follow the #13shadows hashtag on twitter

Thirteen Shadows Waiting for Sunrise represents our individual responses to the simple question: can a writer evoke a reader’s deepest, most personal pain with words? The answers are sometimes brutal, sometimes gentle, sometimes intimate, sometimes universal; they come with smiling faces and with grimaces, promising agony and delight. But they come with a single purpose: to reach inside you.
The whole of my new flashnovel SKIN BOOK is included, alongside many works by better writers.
Do come and see five of us (Penny Goring, Daisy Anne Gree, Larry Harrison, Marc Nash, me) LIVE at Rough Trade Records, 4th Feb at 6pm - complete with 3 amazing musical acts - InLight, Jessie Grace, and To the Moon

Wednesday 16 December 2009

The Coolest Project on the Planet

This is a perfect subject for my 100th post. I was put onto it on twitter by the wonderful Cameron Chapman.
So what is it? Well, The Fiction Project has been put together by the Brooklyn Art Library and the Art House Co-op. The idea is simple. For $18, $21 if you're outside the US, you will receive a Moleskine notebook and a general theme suggestion. It's up to you to fill your notebook in any way you wish related in any way to that theme (they would like it to be at least 51% written).
Register by Feb 15th 2010, then return the filled notebook by April 14th 2010, and it will appear in the exhibition at the Brooklyn Art Library that opens on May 14th. And after that your book will be on the shelves of the Brooklyn Art Library in perpetuity.
Not only is this an amazing multi-arts project, getting people from all over the world involved in art and literature - this is collaboration in the best of ways, and not crowd-sourcing. I cannot think of a better Christmas present you could give someone.

Sunday 13 December 2009

Writing is for Readers: Reading is for Writers

OK, you know what my feelings are on the first of these - I believe so strongly that writing is for readers it's the tag-line of the Year Zero website.

But the converse is also true. OK, tired point. Old point. But nonetheless an important one - and, of course, timely as the end of the year approaches. I've not read as much as I should this year -I've been so busy with SO many things. Or rather what I have been reading is some wonderful stuff, but contemporary stuff - bang on contemporary, as in works in progress. The highlights, for me, having last year discovered Glimpses of a Floating World and Benny Platonov, in terms of novels were undoubtedly Brown Trash, Sabina England's brutal breath-taking masterpiece of suburban dystopia; and Daisy Anne Gree's Babylon, a bone-chilling modern morality tale.

In 2010 though, I want to spend more time reading some older books. I know my writing needs it.

Why is reading important for writers? Well, it's part of mastering your craft for one - how can you synthesise what's gone before and build onit if you don't KNOW what's gone before; it's inspiring - it gives you ideas, shows you technical tricks you hadn't thought of (my discovery of 2008 was the way Murakami uses dialogue tags and metaphor/simile instead of adjectives; of 2009 was as simple - but devastatingly effective - as the way Brett Easton Ellis uses the word "and"); third, and most of all - reading is just great.

Here's a list of what's on my definite TBR pile in 2010 - literally - there's no clever order to this - I have them physically lined up in front of me:

Inez - Carlos Fuetes
Brick Lane - Monica Ali
On the Road - Jack Kerouac
Generation X - Doug Coupland (giving him a second chance after hating Girlfriend in a Coma)
37.2 le matin - Philippe Djiann
The English Patient - Michael Ondaatje
What I Loved - Siri Hutstvedt
A Million Little Pieces - james Frey
Atmospheric Disturbances - Rivka Galchen
2666 - Roberto Bolano
All of Proust

and not yet on my physical shelf:
Sin - Josephine Hart (can't find it anywhere!)
the new Martell and Mitchell
Journals of Anais Nin
100 Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The rest of my plans for 2010 will follow later but, I'm sure you can guess, they'll be centred around raising the profile of Year Zero to the point where we start getting noticed in the mainstream media, mainly through devoting myself to making the 13 Shadows tour a blinding triumph. But this is the bones of my reading list. There will be more - anyone care to add?

Most important, what are the ten books you feel you HAVE to read in 2010?

Thursday 10 December 2009

Collective Appeal: The Book View Cafe

We might think we're quite cool at Year Zero but The Book View Cafe is not just the best known writers' collective on the planet, it's fast approaching Sub Zero. So I was absolutely stoked when Sue Lange agreed to speak to me about the SF collective that's causing such a stir.

You can find Sue Lange at the Book View Cafe (with links to ebooks and free stuff) as well as on her personal webpage and blog.

Her two novels, Tritcheon Hash, and We, Robots are availble from Amazon

Here's what Sue had to say:

1. How do you decide on a name when there are so many of you? How did BVC come about as a name?

Funny you should ask. The name was, in fact, the very first thing we haggled over. We started out as "Online Bookshelf." We decided it was too boring. Then we moved on to "Reads" something or other. Then we had everybody list possibilities. We sifted through probably a hundred names. We had arguments over what it was we wanted to get across. We were an all-girl entity back then and the only thing we agreed on immediately was that we didn't want the site to be pink and girly so we had to come up with something gender generic. We decided we wanted to go with neutral colors for the site and coffee motifs go well with that. Coffee and books go together almost as well as coffee and cigarets so everything came together quickly once somebody mentioned caffeine.

2. Imagine BVC was a real cafe. Tell me about the decor

It's relaxing, yet moody. A great place to intellectualize or veg out. You stop in for a cappuchino and stay for a while. Stay all night, hell, we don't care. Patrons sit in beat up leather sofas interspersed with airport furniture. We're very eclectic and casual in our taste. Every sofa has a stack of well worn magazines with titles running the gamut from The Economist to Interview to Bride's to Scientific American. Every table has a set-up that includes stir sticks, a paper napkin dispenser, stack of book marks, and used Kindle Oberons. The ones in the back include Turkish hashpipe hookahs. Our patrons tend to be health nuts so the pipes rarely get used, but they're there if you need them.
The floor is a black and white checkerboard overlain with huge Keith Haring figures.
The walls are lined with bookshelves. Unabridged dictionaries lay open on stands here and there about the room for that atavistic feel. Free Wifi fills the air as does music from ACDC played at barely perceptible levels. We don't like to cover the sound of the steam from the machines.
The patrons are the best decor any cafe could wish for. They are all the characters in the books we write: aliens, tortured souls, lumbering giants, homunculi, succubi, vampires, bats, rats, cats, unfaithful spouses, damaged adults, disaffected teens, losers, winners, sidewinders, and rascals. Once in a while a protagonist shows up. That's when ACDC gets cranked to full vol.

3. Were you always 100% clear on where you wanted to take BVC or have you found yourselves changing direction as you went?

We have changed but we're also pretty much on track. We evaluate where we are every six months. Actually I think we do that moment to moment, but we do take a vote every six months. on whether or not we want to keep going. When we started we wanted to see if we could figure out what the big deal with Internet publishing and ebooks was. We mostly wanted to figure out how to get our out of print stuff back into the public's hands. After we started growing and saw that we could in fact attract readers to our site and our work, we started to talk about charging money. That was a few months ago. Once we saw that people would actually pay for our work, we started an actual press: Book View Press. We're now almost at the point of taking ourselves seriously. In other words we're wondering about legalities. We keep hoping to stave that off as long as possible, but we're starting to become an Entity, so there you go.

4. You're best known, I guess, for SF but on your site you have a wide variety of genres. How do you think of yourselves?

Each one of us thinks of us in terms of how they use the site, but collectively I think we do believe we're a part of the science fiction community. SF includes fantasy and even horror sometimes so that right there includes three genres. But we do want to branch out more. We're especially trying to come up with ways to serve the romance community. Apparently romance readers are the biggest consumers of ebooks. We have some romance, but I think we're going to try and get some more on the site.

5. The question I most want to ask, from my experiences of running a website for a collective of authors who seem to go collectively apathetic or hyperactive, is do you have a roster for posting?

I'm not sure what you mean by that. Do you mean a schedule? Yes, we do and we are very strict with it. Each author is assigned a day to post fiction and that's their day. We hope each author has something once a week. It's not a requirement, but it's something we look for. The blog is also scheduled. Usually a member blogs on the same day they post fiction but it's not a requirement.

6. How does your position within the BVC fit with the rest of your writing life?

My position is in media relations and it is very time consuming. Internet promotion can easily get out of hand. There are so many places to spend time. So much interesting stuff to become a part of. I have enough to do as an author, now I'm looking out for BVC. And opportunities for the collective are bigger and more interesting than for me as a writer so I tend to have more fun promoting BVC than my little old self. I make sure I write fiction at least an hour a day just for myself, but that's not really enough. So many ideas, so little time. And with multimedia, I want to try so many things but formatting sound files, video files, coordinating real life activities, it all takes so much time. I get the feeling I'm getting a lot done but it's probably all crappy. At least I'm having fun!

7. To what extent are you separate individuals who share a common passion for the dircet contact with treaders the internet brings, and to what extent do youwork together - albeit in your own ways - on common projects and questions? For example, when you put your anthologies together, do you find yourselves each contributing a story or do you talk and find that common themes of interest emerge that you explore as a group?

Each member has a different experience with BVC. Some are with us just to take advantage of the opportunities, but most of us contribute to the running of the joint in some way or another. And the various projects have different personnel working on them. The science fiction anthology probably wouldn't have any fantasy-only authors and vice versa. We do stuff out in the Internet too, like our twitter fic contests. Four or five us run a contest. The next contest might be a different set of four or five. Common interests do emerge, projects might come out of that. Once a project has run its course, though, we move on to the next thing, the next group of writers, the next promo opportunity.

8. Tell me about the decision to add an author blog.

That was with us from the beginning I believe. I don't remember a time when we didn't have that. Blogs were all the rage at the time. I guess they still are. We didn't want to have just a blog, even though our site is a bit blog-like what with the new content every day. But the blog was for audience participation because the site doesn't accommodate that.

9. What is the mix of back catalogue and new material on the site?

Most of it is back catalogue. However, one reason BVC exists is for the authors to be able to experiment with the new and weird. So experimental work does exist. I put my serialized novel, The Textile Planet, up because I wanted to try some stuff with multimedia. Nancy Jane Moore wanted to experiment with flash fiction. Almost all her stuff at the site is new and exclusive to BVC. Since we started Book View Press we've talked more about new titles. Our first brand new full length book will be launched next week. It's a steampunk anthology with about ten of us contributing stories to a shared world. It's called The Shadow Conspiracy: Tales from the Age of Steam.

10. What do you think a group like this gives readers that they weren't getting already?

We give readers that haven't read our out-of-print material a chance to do so. For instance, Vonda's "Dreamsnake" was a Hugo and Nebula award-winning book. That should still be available to the public but before BVC it wasn't. Now it is. Also we give readers a chance to sample our members' work for free. Each one of us has some free fiction at the site. And we're all previously published in the print world so it's not just a bag of rags at the site.

11. What do your agents/publishers REALLY think of you doing this?

I don't think any of the publishers are against us. We, as the BVC entity, don't have formal relationships with any of them, but none of the authors have reported any negativity on the part of their publishers or agents. Often when the group has a question about what we should be doing about this or that, one of us will contact his or her agent for advice. In the upheaving publishing industry, everyone is trying to figure this out. No one wants to be compared to the recording industry which seems to have missed out on new and possibly lucrative distribution channels. I think they're pushing for us, hoping we'll figure something out so they can then figure out how they'll fit into the picture. The publishers may be laughing at us for all I know, but they certainly haven't sent any negative vibes our way.

12. I want to ask somethig about the future of digital publishing but there are so many questions, most of which are hackneyed or trite, so how about: if there's a question you thinkpeople should be asking about ebooks but aren't, what is it?

When will the price of e-readers come down?

There's a larger question I wonder about too. What will happen with the supposed loss of gatekeepers and the subsequent flood of non-professional (i.e. unedited) writing available all over the place. Will things get sorted out and some other gatekeeping system be put in place so writers will have to eventually develop a polished approach before they get their stuff out there? I guess I'm really asking: what's going to happen with quality in writing?

Wednesday 9 December 2009

This is a "Thirteen Shadows Waiting for Sunrise" Teaser

Thank you to those of you who stopped by to see Sarah E Melville's stunning cover art for the half hour it was here. Information about the Thirteen Shadows book and tour will be available on Friday from the Year Zero website

Tuesday 8 December 2009

To Hell With Boring: London's most exciting bookstore

It would seem to be a strange time to open a bookstore, but it's actually the perfect time for a well-focused independent store that knows exactly what it wants to do and be. Laurence Johns of To Hell With Publishing has clearly grasped this, and the result is To Hell With Books at 10 Woburn Walk in London, a store unashamedly specialising in quality literary fiction. Which makes it as perfect credit card candy as I can imagine.

To Hell With Publishing was set up in 2006 as a company that aimed to kick life into the independent publishing industry. It has since branched into To Hell With First Novels, doing what we strive to do at Year Zero, support new authors writing amazing literary fiction, and has even launched To Hell With Prizes, a great prize for unpublished novels (I'm not 100% sure I approve that it'f for agented authors but they already do more than anyone else for the unagented lit fic author). They love journals, chapbooks, novellas, and limited editions. Which are all reasons why I love them. I'll be heading down there to meet them and the shop in a week or so, and I'll let you know if it lives up to the considerable expectation, but I was lucky enough to be able to ask a few questions of the team behind To Hell With Books as they busied themselves for launch:

1. You are very clear on your website what you'll be stocking - signededitions, special editions, your own journals etc. What I'm less clear aboutis whether this is ALL you'l be stocking. In other words, how focused are you being?
We'll be stocking high end literary fiction and anything that we reallylove. We'll be very focused on our personal selection so that we can giveour customers the right recommendations. So we'll be extremely focused onquality.

2. I love the special edition idea. just how exclusive are we talking?Limited edition, hand-touched runs of 10, for example?
It'll vary between 10 - 200 in terms of copies. We've just published a limited edition of Kevin Cummin's Manchester (150 copies bound in light blue, light grey or dark grey cloth and boxed with a signed print in a perspex slipcase sealed with the glue used in Formula One racing, paddedand boxed in packing that's been tested by being sent to China and back - details on the website which should give you an indication of the kinds of things we do.

3. It's great that you are opening a shop like this when many are claiming
the industry is on its knees. What gives you the confidence to believe you can succeed?
Laurence has been an independent book seller all his life and I think we all feel that the time is right to start up a boutique bookshop.

4. I'm a huge fan of multi-arts and love the idea of combining books and art. And the literary crossover element is great, but will you have the same quality controls in place for the art as the books?
Quality is at the heart of what we do in Amuti and at To Hell with Publishing. Details on the art side of Laurence's interests and how properit all is are at

5. You say you'll be sharing space with your publishing wing. Don't you worry that you'll get a buch of authors camping out in your shop?
We hope we will.

6. How do you intend to promote the shop? I imagine an exclusive club or newsletter like a fine wine appreciation society. Is that the kind of thing you have in mind?
Yes - we'll be sending regular mail outs and organising regular events. It'll be a fine book appreciation society and pobably involve a certain amount of wine too.

7. You mention journals and you mention quality - from my literary fiction collective point of view, I have to ask: will you be stocking the things we can't get elsewhere - high quality chapbooks, novellas, poetry, even high quality special editions from self-publishers?
Yes - we're keen to support other independents as well as self-published work, just as long as its high quality. We'll be importing hard to find stuff from the US and rest of Europe too. I've heard you can buy poetry on Amazon these days, but it won't be as fun as buying it from us.

8. What's the space going to be like? I have two conflicting visions in my head - one is a gentleman's club with Hogarth prints and button-back chairs (I guess that's because of the address); the other is throw-covered sofas and graffiti walls like some of the cool arts places on Brick Lane. Is either of these close?
It'll be gentlemen's club meets Brick Lane. But without the throws - we're not really throw kind of people.

9. Do you intend to be a venue for people to come and hang out and talk literature? It's often struck me, as someone who's trying to create an online community that feels like the Left Bank of the 60s, that if literature's going to move forward we need places where anyone can come and swap ideas with anyone, where ideas can ferment (I imagine Malcolm MacLaren& Vivienne Westwood together on the King's Road). Do you see the shop as the physical home for a movement that encompasses your publishing wing and website, or is a shop just a place to sell books?
We're going to have a large dining room table in the middle of the roomfor everyone to sit round and chat and read at. Berets optional.

10. Because I'm asking everyone at the moment: are there any writers out there doing something exciting and new with the novel?
There are loads. We think our first novels novelist Grant Gillespie is possibly the finest example of one of them. We're publishing his book The Cuckoo Boy in April 2010. It's a quiet and beautiful story of an adopted child's disturbed and disturbing behaviour that succeeds in being funny too. And we love Richard Milward.

11. A question that sounds impertinent, but matters for setting the tone, let's play launch party balloon game. Suppose you knew they'd say yes: which of these makes it to your launch do:
- Nick Cave
- Nick Serota
- Beryl Bainbridge
- Kurt Cobain
- Jimmy Dean
- Dorothy Parker
- Max Clifford
- Brian Sewell
- Tracey Emin
- the skinhead who plasters haikus to the MacDonalds window on the corner
- Ian McEwan
- Salena Godden
- Jamie Oliver
We would rather the alive ones. And would quite enjoy seeing Brian Sewell and Nick Cave together.

Monday 7 December 2009

The View From the Shoe: Fiona Robyn

I met Fiona Robyn through one of my lovely previous Views From the Shoe, Claire Grant. What fascinated me about her work was her plan for the launch of her new novel Thaw. The plan, nicely monickered Blogsplash, is for as many bloggers as possible to put the first page of the novel on their website on release date, March 1st 2010. I would encourage all bloggers out there to sign up and take part. Anyway, here's Fiona, in her own words:

Fiona Robyn is a novelist living in the countryside in Hampshire with her cats and vegetable patch. Her previous novels are The Letters and The Blue Handbag, and Thaw is out on the 1st of February. Her main site is at and she blogs about being a writer at

Thank you so much for your time. So, Louboutin or Converse?
I just had to google Louboutin to find out what it meant, which gives you your answer. I can’t walk in high heels. I had my first pair of Converse All Stars at Uni… happy memories!

Why is there no one in the world who does it quite like you?
Nobody does it quite like me because nobody IS quite like me.

What do you really, really love about it?
About writing? There are lots of things I don’t love, but I do love bringing my characters to life and hearing their stories. I love it when my readers love them as much as I do.

A bit more time in the day, or a bit more money in the bank?
Time, every time. I wouldn’t turn the money away though.

Imagine you “make it”. You wake up, and imagine the day ahead. Tell us about breakfast.
I would have earl grey and a cinnamon and raisin bagel, outside in the sun as I watched the birds and listened to them singing. Exactly like breakfast now, then. Maybe I’d be accompanied by Johnny Depp.

What’s your Jimmy Choo? And what’s just cobblers?
Hotel Chocolat chocolates, especially the butter caramels. Thorntons is cobblers.

Tell us about the last time a fan made you feel 100 feet tall.
A reader in America emailed me to say she’d had surgery for skin cancer recently, and had lots of waiting time at the hospital between procedures. She said that Leonard from my novel ‘The Blue Handbag’ kept her perfect company. Which writer could ask for anything more?

Independent and poor, or under contract and rich?
Under contract and poor ; )

Do you remember that bit on Play Away where Brian Cant stood behind people and did the actions whilst they spoke? If you could choose anyone to stand behind you and do the actions to your sales pitch, who would it be and why?
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Frocks or socks?
Both, at the same time.

Thank you SOOO much

Thursday 3 December 2009

Hold a Self-Publisher to Account: Month 3


smashwords: 222

Scribd: 6

total: 228 (forecast 200)

Lulu direct: 2

Bookshop: 2

Me direct:

My copies from Lulu

Total: 4 (forecast 5)

It was a very quiet month as I predicted - not much publicity for my own book because I was concentrating so much on Free-e-day and the new Year Zero books. Significant events were:

4th November - Nylon Mag list Year Zero as their site of the day (a spike of around 300 extra hits to the Year Zero site on the day, that sustained over a substantial period)

4th November - Penny Goring's "Temporary Passport" is discovered on the Year Zero site and will be made into a film

6th review of Songs on Sulci Collective blog

7th - interview with a local journalist

8th flyers for Songs on display at a college alumni event celebrating 20th anniversary of fall of Berlin Wall

9th Berlin wall anniversary. I tweet five or six times, and there is a spike of 200 extra views on smashwords

20th Songs wins the Litchat #litpitch comp on twitter

28th my article on social media appears in issue one of literary ezine Words with Jam

29th SKIN BOOK featured on the Writer's Muse site

The downloads were up on expectation - analysis of the daily chart shows this is entirely down to the Berlin Wall anniversary. Other than that I note with interest not a single sale or a download blip as a result of the flyers (although, of course, the 9th November blip may be a result of this and not twitter, but the volume of retweets suggests otherwise). This is significant as it emphasises the importance of a personal presence at these events and selling on the spot rather than through flyer.

In the build up to Free-e-day there was a surge of interest in the Year Zero site and the Free-e-day site, but these did not convert to personal downloads - the results of Free-e-day itself will go in December.

I anticipate a busier month but a disappointing one for sales. My personal attention will be focused on the new Year Zero anthology and forthcoming tour for it as well as selling chapbooks of SKIN BOOK. Sales of Songs will depend on whether family buy copies for Christmas. Forecast: 5 - through bookshops as I start to do more instore in preparation for getting the new Year Zero books into shops. I may be able to do further live readings before Christmas enabling on site sales.

I anticipate downloads to be back to 300 after Free-e-day and because I will be focusing on marketing the Year Zero books as a package before Christmas, sending press releases and focusing on magazine forums. Songs will also feature on the Writers' Muse website. There will be a mention of Year Zero in Writers' Forum.

I anticipate a significant upturn in sales in late January as I get Amazon listed - I will finally this week get a Lulu ISBN, a decision not taken lightly but financially necessitated.

NOTES: SMASHWORDS will not guarantee delivery of timely figures for Barnes & Noble downloads. Mark Coker is aware of this column and the fact that I am calling them out over this (and apologising to my readers for any resultatnt confusion), and has, helpfully, agreed to ensure 1. I get figures eventually and 2. that smashwords will work to inmprove delivery of figures. I am as ever grateful to Mark. He is also aware I will call smashwords ut ina big way if they fail to deliver on this. AMAZON figures will not necessarily be timely. I will also call them out when necessity dictates. Unlike Smashwords I doubt they will care

Free-e-day live

Free-e-day live was the real-life gig to tie in with Free-e-day, the global online celebraion of internet culture that I dreamt up on the bus one afternoon and ended up attracting 100 participants all offering amazing creative things for free, and giving us workshops and webchats with invaluable resources for anyone outside the mainstream. It has been all a bit of a wonderful haze.

Free-e-day live was put together by local singer-songwriter Nikki Loy (pictured) who, being an illustrator as well as musician, embraced the multi-arts idea behind the festival. Held at Oxford's Cafe Tarifa, the night featured an art ecxhibition, belly dancers dressed as skeletons, music and reading. It was a fantastic night with a fantastic crowd. Let me bore you with a LITTLE about what makes a live, indie occasion like this great.

First off there's the hyper-contrived shot for the local rag (who thought, for some reason, that we were giving away electronic gadgets and wanted Nikki and I to hold up some mobile phobnes for the photoshoot!). next there's the inevitable when you invite people from London. As the 8 o'clock kick-off approached, 2 writers and the headline band remained, as so many before them, and so many, I dare say, to come, stranded on the M40. Never have I been so pleased (I'm always pleased to see him, but I can't remember physically bear-hugging him before) to see Roland (pictured left), who gave us a brilliant rendition of Chapter 17 of The Beach Beneath the Pavement. Hearing his words somehow made them even funnier than they had been on the page, a reminder that stories - whatever your age and their genre - are best read aloud.

Setting the reader-musician rhythm we were next treated to a rather endearing keyboard and vocals set from the big-voiced Mol Hodge. "Most of my songs are a bit morbid" she told us nervously. "Bloody hell, if you think that's morbid just wait for SKIN BOOK" I thought. Mol has a great voice, and plenty of time on her side, and as she explores the melodic range of her music over the years to come is sure to be someone we see more of.

Nikesh Shukla is someone the world has already seen plenty of. With a string of TV and radio credits, festival appearances, awards and the like, he is far the most advanced and successful of any of ourt artists on the night, and we were hideous lucky to snag him - not only that he doled out copies of his kidologies CD to grateful audience members. Having introduced Nikesh as a poet he proceeded to read us a short story, but the performance element of Rap Tracks - a hilarious tale of pre-teen rap, Asian grandmothers and Gujurati dialect - was the match of anything slam poetry can offer. More confirmation that anyone who says writers can't engage an audience with prose is talking nonsense.

I met Nikki Loy, who came on as Nikesh departed back for the next of 20 gigs in 32 days, when she was busking on Oxford's St Giles. I was so taken with her guitar and vocals I snaffled a card and dropped her an e-mail, and I've been impressed with her ebergy, verve, and all-round artistic enthusiasm ever since. This was the first time I've seen her live, and I was impressed by the way she handles a crowd and the way she handles a guitar. She too had freebie CDs that were gobbled up gladly.

In the interval, Nikki came up to me and said "can you hold this?" pointing to a UV tube. "Er, OK" I said rather confusedly, until I saw what was coming next, a train of skeletons snaking to the stage who proceeded to shake their fluorescent booty to music I was too gobsmacked to notice much but think may have been some scuzzy Goldfrapp.

The Scary Skele-belly Dancers gave me the perfect segue into the world premiere of the whole of SKIN BOOK - you know "those were th bones, now for some skin" - ah the joys of improv! Won't say much about me (below). That would be rude. Suffice to say my opinion remains unchanged - performing to a live audience is THE best thing a writer can do - feeling attentive eyes, listening to the gasps the sighs - that kind of engagement is what writing is all about. I THINK people enjoyed it - if enjoy is the right word for a story about a woman whose diary is made from skin she harvested from her twin bro.

The headline act seemed to enjoy it, though, which was nice. The Joker and The Thief describe themselves as a folk blues combo which had me worried before the show. I dislike folk so much I wouldn't hand a picture of Fleet Foxes to my dartboard because it would be unfair to the bristles. But The Joker and the Thief were an unexpected delight. Full of energy (proper energy - the kind you actually believe might just come from some kind of dark passionate place rather than the gurning wurzelly cheeriness of much folk), they delivered a set that was variegated and exciting. They have a penchant for playing around with different instruments, whcih added colour to the set - from frontman Dan (sounds like an epithet from Total Wipeouut) banging the cymbals with an assortment of bells and sticks, to Josh's alternation of ukelele, sax and accordian (far my favourite - I could almost feel myself on the set of Amelie).

A pretty much perfect night was rounded off when two of the skele-bellies came back dressed in burlesque and the crowd dispersed happily into the night.

There seem to be some obvious lessons from a night like this. Everyone would do well to bear them in mind:

1. There is a ridiculous wealth of talent outside the mainstream.

2. The creative world is full of almost boundless energy, enthusiasm, and can-do attitude.

3. Writers are every bit as engaging as musicians.

Here's hoping this is the first of very many such nights I get the pleasure of being involved in. A HUGE thanks to all who contributed, to Cafe Tarifa for being such great hosts, and most of all to Nikki for making it happen.

A full list of artists who contributed to the exhibition:

Cheryl Pearce – Poet

Will Mankelow – Photographer

Sandra Farrow – Photographer

Nikki Loy – Illustrator

James Whayman
– Photographer

Sarah Kennedy – Artist

Year Zero Writers and Rob Lennox - artist:

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Writing Peace

I've known since a very interesting #writechat session a few weeks ago that I needed to write an article about this. This ISN'T that article, which will appear later on the Year Zero site, but I want to start a discussion that will help me have the first clue where to start that piece. but given that it's Armistice Day, it seems nuts not to post something now. Please be argumentative and outspoken.

A fortnight ago, Marc nash wroet a wonderful article, Pain, in which he posed the question whetehr it's possible for writers to write a reader's pain. It has, by dint of accident, the fascinating subject matter, and the quality of Marc's thought, become somewhat programmatic for our recent works, and indeed will provide the introduction to the forthcoming anthology Thirteen Shadows Waiting for Sunrise. There has been some incredible discussion, some breathtaking writing, and some very deep soul-searching. But what I am hoping some of my fellow Zeroes will turn their thought to in the New Year will be seen as far more sinister and disturbing than writing pain. I want to know if it's possible to write peace.

Specifically: can there be a great novel without conflict?

Now, I'm not daft enough to equate conflict in a literary setting with guns & ammo, or even with dragons and jealous fathers and the old hackeneyed staples that have come down form the courtly tradition. Although I DO want to ask about this, as well - the differnce between internal and external conflict, whether one is the subject of literary fiction, the other genre fiction, as is sometimes posited.

We are so used, thanks to that courtly model, and thanks to the almost universally worshipped Dwight V Swain, to the idea that a novel is driven by conflict, that a character is only interesting if they are flawed. It is so much a commonplace that if flaws and conflict are absent a critiquer or editor will simply box-tick, saying "add conflict". Most of the time, of course, this is sound advice. but is it really a no-brtainer box tick?

I want to finish posing the question with some thoughts I and the ever insightful @kashicat put forward:

- the reason peace is seen as uninteresting often has to do with the fact people think of peace as the absence of conflict. In fact peace is a rich, wonderful, and fascinating state with a multitude of contents of its own.

- humans are imperfect. We therefore think of a character without flaws as being impossible to relate to. But is a flaw really the same as imperfection? What about motivation?

So: a novel where all the characters are "good" (discuss!) ; set in a peaceful land with no obstacles to be surmounted. Would anyone care to read it? What on earth would it look like? And how could we possibly set about writing it?

Monday 9 November 2009

The View From the Shoe: Busted Typewriter

Busted Typewriter is one of the most extraordinary sites I have ever come across through twitter. It combines the indie craft feel of an etsy site with some fascinating high art concepts - it is, essentially, just what it says - a site exploring different things you can do with broken typewriters - and other non-standard uses for writing-related implements, and musings thereon. It also incorporates Complete This Tweet, a rather fun daily writing exercise that is, again, exactly what it says

complete this tweet

Here are the words of the man behing Busted Typewriter

Thank you so much for your time. So, Louboutin or Converse?
I like to mix it up. Black dress shoes with slacks one day. Hoodie and sneakers the next. But my wife buys my shoes, so I don’t give it much thought.

What do you do?
My job is an advertising copywriter, so I write commercials and other pieces of marketing.
But on my own time, I experiment with projects like making Kindle covers out of old books – you can find them here
I also create websites like – which is a daily writing challenge I just started on Twitter.
Pretty much anything I can think of besides actually writing a short story – which is what I usually imagine myself doing.

Why is there no one in the world who does it quite like you?
At work, I’m willing to take on the projects other people turn their noses up at. It’s paying your dues and part love of the craft. But if you can turn a job everyone expects to stink into something great, you’ll earn respect. And when the next cool project comes along, they remember.
Outside of work, something I’ve gotten over in the past few years is my fear of failure. I used to scribble ideas down in a notebook and leave them there to die. Now whenever I come up with something, I just execute and let it go into the world.

What do you really, really love about it?
I love thinking about problems in different ways. In advertising, they call it “concepting.” Most folks know it as “brain storming.”

A bit more time in the day, or a bit more money in the bank?
I’m always feel more productive and challenged when I have less free time. So I’m trying to build up the nest egg.

Imagine you “make it”. You wake up, and imagine the day ahead. Tell us about breakfast.
A cinnamon bun from the street cart on the corner of 6th Ave and 24th St. It’s just heavily processed flour and sugar, but I have to stop myself from grabbing one everyday.

What’s your Jimmy Choo? And what’s just cobblers?
I really want to own my own home, but price of real estate in New York is still obscene.

Tell us about the last time a fan made you feel 100 feet tall.
Not to kiss up, but it was when you asked me to do this interview. You are a fan, right? [ed's note: I most definitely am!]

Independent and poor, or under contract and rich?
Not having to worry about paying the rent gives you the amazing freedom to think about other things.

Do you remember that bit on Play Away where Brian Cant stood behind people and did the actions whilst they spoke? If you could choose anyone to stand behind you and do the actions to your sales pitch, who would it be and why?
Not familiar with it. But I plan on playing myself in the movie.

Frocks or socks?
I’m toying with the idea of wearing mismatched socks on purpose. But my wife buys my clothes now too.

Saturday 7 November 2009

Literature's the new Art: so who's Jay Jopling?

Well, no one's actually said literature is the new art. Apart from me. Most people say it's the new music and they've got a point. Even more people say it's NOT the new music and talk about how literature can't use the gigs & merch model. And they're wrong. About the latter bit, anyway. But what I can't help feeling is that, whilst the music industry is something from which we can learn a lot - about downloads and gigging, and connecting with fans and streamlining businesses; it's actually to the art world we should be looking to understand literature.

I'm always sniping about Goldsmiths and CSM in the 90s and how they were glorified school tie networks, and how the MA Creative Writing from UEA threatened to become the same, but that's not what I mean.

What I mean is this: literature, with a publishing industry on its knees and a load of creative talent chomping to escape the shackles, is shaping up to be the next YBA (Young British artists - Sarah Lucas, Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Rachel Whiteread, Michael Landy, Gavin Turk, sam Talyor Wood, The Chapman Brothers, The Wilson Twins et al ad inf).

It's not to do with new tech - not directly, anyway. It's more that I see more and more groups of writers outside the mainstream coming closer and closer to the big time by doing things their way. People like MCM, groups like Jet-Pack and Backword Books, our own beloved Year Zero, salons like Book Club Boutique. Perhaps most groundbreaking in her own way - and you'll laugh at me for saying - Catherine O'Fynn with her mild unassuming "this is just how I did it" approach.

It felt for a little while as though we may have got there a few years ago - as though someone had finally swept Amis and McEwan and Swift out with a broom and replaced them with a hungry new generation of people hungry to put ideas on paper. But A M Homes and Monica Ali and even the Great White Teeth Hope Zadie Smith just got subsumed into the same old same old mainstream. At least Tracey Emin took 20 years to sell out!

So what went wrong with the last generation of new hope? Well, to answer that, take a look at what went right with YBA. If one wants to generalise hideously and lay oneself open to all kinds of loopholes, then one can lay the answer at the feet of two men. And neither was called Saatchi.

What happened for YBA were Jay Jopling and Nick Serota. Curators. Jay Jopling, for those of you of more tender years than me, was the owner of White Cube, the gallery that not only showcased but promoted the work of the fledgeling YBAs. He was the PT Barnum, the - should we rather say - Malcolm MacLaren of YBA - the man who made everytone else think pickled sharks were cool. Nick Serota, of course, was the legendary Tate curator responsible for the Turner Prize.


That's what the literary world lacked when White Teeth, Brick Lane, The End of Alice hit the shelves. People who were prepared to take a generation - not just one or two but a wave - and bring them to the public. People who spotted talent, nurtured it, showed it off, and didn't care if there was a place for it in the mainstream - because through force of showmanship and chutzpah they created a parallel and more exciting space.

And that's the big issue the literary sphere faces today if it's going to see all that talent blossom into a golden age, a movement, a new dawn on the public consciousness, a whole fistful of cliches that boil down to one thing: getting the general public talking about books.

Because whether it was marvelling at the brilliance of Whiteread's inside-out house, or spitting disgust at Chris Ofili's dung-filled portraits, Emin's unmade bed, or Hirst's pregnant cow cut in two, the thing Jopling and Serota did was get people talking about art. And not just artworks. A decade or so ago you could walk down a high street in the UK and hear your average Jane and Joe Public discussing what art meant. When was the last time that happened with books? Sure, we talk about vampires or Lost Symbols, but you can't stand at the bus stop and hear people jibe "Ah, but is it literature?"

And that's what we need. We need someone to make the general public talk - with gasps of delight and disgust - about books. About this book and that book and "what is literature?"

So who will it be? You'd think it'd be a publisher, wouldn't you? Vicky Barnsley, maybe, at HC, or Jessica Weiner at Harper Studio, maybe even Scott Pack at Fifth Estate. They're doing good things, all of them. But. Oh but but but.

Maybe the agents then. What about? Well, precisely. Most writers will have heard of Nathan Bransford. Lovely guy. Enthusiastic. And his authors, his individual, exciting, but somehow with a common sense of purpose authors are? Well, precisely (to repeat myself).

So who WILL be the Jay Jopling of the Literary World? Richard Nash, of Soft Skull and Cursor fame, believes it will be him. No, whatever he tells you, he DOES. And he may be right. Maybe.

I'll give a good guess. A good guess is that it'll be one of two people. It'll be a celeb - an Oprah or a Richard & Judy (and you could make a case they've partially done it already, scoff ye not) who says "I'm gonna say f*ck mainstream books. I'm gonna have me a book club and choose me the best most exciting damn books on the planet WHEREVER they come from" and shouts them from the hills. Or it'll be the person who sets up a prize with a million pound pot for the best self-published book of the year (or maybe even the best unsigned ebook - and, by the way, where ARE the ebook only awards? hmmmmmm - and hires a team of rockstars as judges.

Just a guess. And trust me - one of them WILL happen. Within 18 months.

Or it could be one of us.

Now there's a thought.

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Book Launch!

(all photos courtesy and copyright of Janelle McCarty)

I’m always saying that being a writer is about engaging with readers, about getting out and talking to them directly. Which si very easy to do from the safety of one’s keyboard. But last Thursday, it was finally time to put my money where my mouth was, and find out if I felt the same way when I actually had to do some direct conversing with readers. It was time for my book launch.

I’d chosen to hold the launch for Songs from the Other Side of the Wall at The Albion Beatnik bookstore in Oxford for several reasons. First, the owner, Dennis, had agreed to stock my book. Second, it’s the coolest bookstore I’ve ever been in, with its specialities of books on jazz music and the Beat Poets. And third, it’s a perfect venue for hosting not just reading but music.

Because, finding it oh so easy from cyber-safety to say how I didn’t want this to be like any other book launch; I didn’t want a table and some chapters read aloud to polite listeners who’d applaud and maybe buy a signed copy afterwards; I had decided I wanted a gig. A proper gig with live music. Because that’s what my book is about (well, literally, it IS about musicJ); and because that’s what Year Zero is about – giving our readers a great time.

I was very lucky that local singer-songwriter sensation Jessie Grace, whom I’d first heard at Radiohead’s old haunt The Jericho Tavern, said yes, she would play a set from her new album, Asleep on the Good Foot. Throw in some free Tokaji wine (the book is set on a Tokaji vineyard) and I was genuinely excited. When I went into the shop the day before the gig only to find a young guy chopping up Shirley Bassey records to make art, I knew I was in the right place!

Add to all that the fact that Jessie’s producer, Kevin from Selecta Sound, had swung us a 9-strong film crew from Worcester University, and I was in hopping up and down with excitement media tart heaven with anticipation.

It’s hard to figure out what to say about the event itself. It’s not really good form to talk endlessly about yourself, so I’m not going to do a review of the gig. Although I WILL say that Jessie Grace, with her clean, pure voice and dirty guitar, elevated the music part of the evening way beyond anything I could have hoped for.

So what will I talk about? I don’t know. Whether it lived up to my expectations, or whether I decided to shut up and stick behind the keyboard for one. What it was like meeting up with some fellow Year Zero Writers and the lovely Bee Drunken for two. How it felt seeing my boss walk through the door just as I was getting to the juicy bit of a sex scene? Maybe not.

The day itself felt like I’d set up an Authorworld theme park ride. I went from buzz to despair to being physically ill to control-freakery to having, ultimately, the time of my life. I decided went I chose the venue and asked Jessie to play that I didn’t want to play safe. And that had always seemed like the right thing. At Year Zero, after all, we don’t do safe. We do different and exciting and out there for the audience. Come the morning, however, the decision to augment my readings from the book with an impromptu talk about French cinema (I still haven’t quite figured that one out), and a reading of the first three parts of SKIN BOOK, seemed like a Very Bad Idea. Not just because, frankly, saying “Is it wrong to want your snot-piss-shit-come-vomit on my skin?” in front of work colleagues is embarrassing/apt to get you fired. But because SKIN BOOK is my attempt to reach into the darkest parts of the psyche, and to do it justice I was going to have to lay myself absolutely bare. It took several twitter-buddies more effort than I had any right to expect to tweet me up from the depths.

By the time I arrived, though, a can or two of Relentless later (because everyone knows caffeine’s great for anxiety), all I was thinking about was making sure the performance was as good as I could get it. That meant laying the venue out perfectly, sorting out glasses and wine, and laying out the souvenir programmes. Best of all, though (for me, not for them), having three cameras, with an editing suite in the basement meant I had enough to focus on getting my positioning and delivery right that I didn’t have time for nerves. And all the while Dennis, whose shop had been utterly overrun all day by swarms of camera crew and sound people, was an utter saint, if a very bewildered and despairing-looking one.

One of the great things about the evening was I got to meet some of my favourite people from the web. I’d already met Anne Lyken-Garner (pictured, left, in the purple) but it was a delight to meet her again. I got to meet another Year Zero Writer, Penny Goring, who was lovely, ferociously intelligent, and an utterly electric personality – one of those people who has the kind of presence that can make a whole room go quiet. And the author of the Bee Drunken blog, whom I interviewed a few weeks ago for The View From the Shoe, came along and added her wit and charm to proceedings.

And the performance? Jessie was incredible. Me? I’d better let others answer that, but I CAN say that I am very glad not to have been found out in a lie – reading live to an audience is the most exciting thing an author can do – it’s what storytelling is all about. I loved every second of it, and can’t wait for the next one (December 1st, Café Tarifa, Oxford, as part of Free-e-day, before a big gig in London). I would advise every writer out there to get out and read!

Monday 2 November 2009

The View From the Shoe

I didn't mee Nikki Loy on twitter. I met her busking in the streets of Oxford. No, not even that's really true. I HEARD her busking the streets of Oxford, thought "wow" and took her card. I went to her myspace and got in touch, and now we're set to play a gig together for Free-e-day. She IS a twitterer of note, though:

In her own words

Thank you so much for your time. So, Louboutin or Converse?

Sorry?Loubouwho? so I guess converse... hang on.. let me Google that....
OMG!!!! Louboutin! Louboutin!! Louboutin!!! Hmmm... Shooooeess... Oh dear, I think I now have a new vice!

The thing is though I only have a pair of converse in my shoe collection :0(

What do you do?

Well now, I’m a singer and a songwriter... among other things.. I sing, I busk, I gig, I get involved in just about any project that will have me. Most recently I became the lead singer for JoshWard84’s superband! It was brilliant.. We had about 25 musicians all playing together!

I am a solo artist of course . I like to write songs.. (You can download my tunes from iTunes - Shameless self prmotion!!) and I really love to perform them :0) And I am on the Journey towards living my dream..

Why is there no one in the world who does it quite like you?

Cos there is no one else in the world who is quite like me?

What do you really, really love about it?

I love singing. It’s the singing that I do it for. I like to loose myself in the moment and sing until those little endorphins start flowing and the natural high kicks in.. I get sooo much pleasure from singing.. and thankfully it seems othercpeople also enjoy it!!

A bit more time in the day, or a bit more money in the bank?

Funny you should ask that now... I handed in my notice this week. I am giving up my well paid job just so I have time to do what I want to do. I may end up skint but life really is too short to spend your days doing something you hate just to make good money. Wouldn’t it be great to make money just doing the things you love. *Sigh*

Imagine you “make it”. You wake up, and imagine the day ahead. Tell us about breakfast.

Hmmmm.... I’m sure there will be two types of breakfast when I ‘make it’. There will be the on the run breakfast where I wake up at the crack of dawn knowing I have to be somewhere for a photo shoot or to treck to a gig. So I will grab something, bleery eyed, and head out the door before I realise what it is I hsve picked up. Or, truer to my current form, eat nothing until the hunger actually kicks in... At which point I will scoff the box of cornfalkes that I have been carrying under my arm.

And then there’s that other breakfast.. On the terrace of my beach house, the breeze just lightly catching the voile curtains in the french doors so that they billow and beckon me to have a sumtpuous continental breakfast on the balcony in the sunshine over looking the beautiful bay... while I read .... *sigh*

What’s your Jimmy Choo? And what’s just cobblers?

Hey???? I’m really not that materialistic... Just give me cuddles :0) I can’t live without cuddles!!!!

Instead of that question.. can answer this one: What was your best gig to date?

I used to live in Sydney and there’s a bat there that can be hired for functions.. It was called the Sydney Glass Island. It was completely glass all the way round (except for the hull of course). The boat and my band had been booked to play a wedding.. we spent the evening cruising round Darling Harbour up and down under the Harbour bridge and McQuarie’s point playing music dancing singing and generally loving the venue!!! It was brilliant!! But tomorrow I am playing on the top of an open top bus whilst driving all round London for the day... That might top the Sydney Glass Island :0)

Tell us about the last time a fan made you feel 100 feet tall.

It’s just a small thing really. I watched a local band play. They played a lot of gigs locally but it was the first time I had seen them. They were good I enjoyed their set. When they came off stage, I was about to say to tell them how much I had enjoyed them, but they beat me to it... They started parising me before I could get a word in! It’s a small thing but I was blown away. I was just part of the audience that night!

Independent and poor, or under contract and rich?

Ahh... I shouldn’t be so flippant as too answer before qualifying my answer.. The thing that drives me, truely drives me, is the love of singing and performing not the love of songwriting. I would therefore be glad of any oportunity to sing. How much more wonderful if it brought wealth as well... I guess independence really only matters where you feel that you have a message to present to the world.. and will not compromise.I just love to sign so I guess it doesn’t really matter. That said I do not compromise on morality.. as long as that is not in question I’m happy to be under and contract and rich...

Are you disappointed?

Do you remember that bit on Play Away where Brian Cant stood behind people and did the actions whilst they spoke? If you could choose anyone to stand behind you and do the actions to your sales pitch, who would it be and why?

Sandra Bullock... I like the characters she plays.. they are often clumsy, lacking in grace and humerous in some way.. Which is kinda like me.. I’m more likely to fall off my stool than wow you wih my grace.. But her characters usually have the redeeming qualities of being intelligent and good at what they do.. and she beautiful. :0)

Frocks or socks?

Need you ask???? ..... Mmmmm but an idea has just occurred to me. You have not stated the context in which you present the question....

On me? Frocks for sure... A girl is always going to chose a glorious frock to wear...

However... If the question related to clothing a gorgeous naked man.... Sock... Red Hot Chilli Peppers style all the way!!! ;0) besides I never like seeing a man in women’s clothes!