Friday 31 July 2009

Just How Free is Free?

So what have we learned this month? Seth Godin thinks free is good; Chris Anderson thinks free’s good as long as free’s actually freemium; Malcolm Gladwell thinks free doesn’t work; anyone without an agent thinks free’s the cure for everything from cancer to climate change; and a whole host of frightened writers with an agent thinks the devil’s put a lot of idle wannabes’ hands to work and come up with free.

But isn’t every single one of them actually missing the point? Free isn’t free at all. Free’s a privilege a small minority of already lucky people have bought at the expense of everyone else.

The problem is this, and funnily enough, it originates from the camp in which I’ve well and truly planted myself. The freevolutionaries would have us believe the internet has revolutionised a writer’s access to the marketplace, and the consumer’s access to all and every form of writing that exists outside the mainstream. Free is empowering – it means anyone’s work can be read by anyone. The cream will rise; bottom-up self-forming groups of devoted fans will create trusted portals of true excellence where the world’s readers can find the very best of the kind of stuff they like; the pie of culture consumers’ money will be able to be sliced up amongst everyone, by everyone.

For the freevolutionaries, in other words, free is a matter of enfranchisement. What they’re waving the flag for is universal cultural suffrage. Which is not only revolutionary. It’s fantastic.

Only it’s not. It’s not only not true, it’s a dangerous, dangerous idea. Which is why my beef’s not really with those fighting the freerguard of stuckism. They think free is dangerous too. And what’s more they’re so obviously wrong I’m happy to let them carry on talking to themselves whilst the rest of us have a debate that matters.

The reason it’s dangerous to see posting your material for free on the internet as universally enfranchising is this. Suppose we win that battle, get others to see that yes, there’s not only a kind of moral imperative to empower producers and consumers, to pay by merit, and to acknowledge that culture belongs to the people not an elite; but there’s also a pretty hot business case for ditching any form of protectionism in our approach to free. Suppose we do all that, then the war’s won. We’ve handed cultural power back to the producers of culture, where it belongs.

Only it’s not, and we haven’t. In many ways, we’ve created a worse situation than the one we’re in today. And we’ve convinced ourselves it’s not a problem at all. By focusing the battle for cultural access (for producers and consumers) we’ve ignored the billions who’ve never seen, or even heard of, a computer. We’ve defined them out of the cultural conversation altogether. By creating the illusion of universal access to the market, and a more meritocratic system of market-driven reward for producers of culture, we’ve enforced rather than deconstructed the idea that culture comes from and belongs to the privileged.

And even worse. What of those on the periphery. What of the Sao Paolo poet who has brief and intermittent access to the one computer in the shanty. He can post his work for the world to see. He can be picked up by trusted cultural portals and brought to the attention of millions. He does have access to the market. Problem solved. Great. Only…how does the market, that thinks he’s great and thinks he should have a slice of the pie, actually pay him? No, really? Into which Paypal account do they put their $9.99? How does he use the money they’re willing to pay to get the goods he needs to buy?

So free’s bad then? No. Free’s good. Free is great. Free is empowering and enfranchising, but it’s not a final answer. It has to be part of a strategy that seeks to make cultural access truly global, and access to the market truly universal. Free is part of a much wider nexus of moral and practical imperatives designed to remove more slices of the pie from privileged hands and put them where they truly belong. The cultural question won’t be answered until the poet of Sao Paolo can put his work somewhere for everyone to see, and the coconut harvester in Laos can offer a part of his material possessions in a way that is materially useful for the betterment of the poet’s life.

Free as the debate is put today will cost many in the publishing industry a portion of their salary, and some their jobs, and it will take that money and give it to great writers currently outside the mainstream. And hurrah for that. But when free is really free a whole lot more of those in the industry will lose a whole lot more money and jobs; and those who benefit from the first wave of free will lose out to the same degree. And the slices of all of their pies will end up in Sao Paolo and Laos and Monrovia and the Amazon Basin and the deserts of Mongolia. And, if we really care about culture, a double and a triple hurrah for that.

©copyright Dan Holloway, July 29 2009. This is an expansion of a point I made on Jonathan Fields’ blog on July 26, and of a subsequent e-mail I sent to Dr Christine McDougall.

Thursday 30 July 2009

I interview the world's greatest band...

My article "Inside Outside the Box", featuring my interview with Todd Howe, guitarist with the World's Best Band, The Boxer Rebellion, is now up over at:

This week's post will be up tomorrow, assuming as is likely, it fails to win the literary world's coolest blog's guest blog comp

There is a connection betwee these two things, other than the fact that I've been too busy to write something specifically for here. The connection, of course, is "Nathan" - Nicholson, frontman of TBR, and Bransford, who runs such an amazing blog.

I've done a further guest blog this week, over at On Music, Maths, and Moggies, where I finally get to grips with my rallying cry, "Bunfight!", whilst taking a moderately serious look at questions of netiquette.

Monday 27 July 2009

The View From the Shoe: Nifty Knits

This week The View From the Shoe comes from one of the most delightful talents you will ever find. Nifty Knits produces knitted wonders like the Trekkie Meerkats see here (image courtesy of Nifty Knits). I caught up with Heather, the genius behind nifty Knits.

Thank you so much for your time. So, Louboutin or Converse?
Converse, definitely – especially if they’re being worn by David Tennant ;-) What will I do without him as Dr Who?

What do you do?
I knit. I knit pretty much all the time I’m not at the day job, unless I’m out walking that is. Even I can’t multi-task to that extent! I can knit and talk, I can knit and eat, I can knit and watch TV, I can knit at the pub. I try not to knit too long at the pub, that usually results in unpicking the next day. Can’t think why.

Why is there no one in the world who does it quite like you?
I knit to my own designs and make up the patterns as I go along. I’ve made the odd scruffy note on scraps of paper, but I defy anyone else to follow my patterns! I’ve been asked to sell them in the past, but if you take a glimpse at what my notes look like here, you’ll see why that isn’t going to happen any time soon. I know nobody does it like me – I can tell from people’s voices when they ask “Why do you knit meerkats? And why oh why do they wear star trek jumpers?” Why not? I knit…therefore I am. Live long and prosper.

What do you really, really love about it?
I always enjoy seeing how my creations turn out, but most of all I love seeing the smiles on people’s faces when they wander up to my stall at craft fairs. They don’t always buy, but they ALWAYS smile. My last fair was a bit quiet, so I was sitting knitting. A family stopped and stared. After a while a girl spoke (in an incredulous voice) “Mum…that lady’s * doing * that knitting”

A bit more time in the day, or a bit more money in the bank?
Time, definitely. There is so much yarn out there, and I have a “to knit” list that is way too long. There are still more Trekkie meerkats to add to the range (Jean Luc Picard as Locutus of Borg has been crying out to be knitted for weeks) and and and…

Imagine you “make it”. You wake up, and imagine the day ahead. Tell us about breakfast.
I have had the same breakfast for years, it suits me and I can’t imagine it changing. I start with a cup of tea and half a grapefruit in bed, then porridge and more tea after my early fix of emails and twitter and checking my online shops. Now I’m rich, I’d be eating my porridge on the balcony overlooking the sea, and I’d have a full English to follow. I wouldn’t need to worry about the calories because my personal trainer would take care of that. (He’d do the exercises for me, right? I wouldn’t actually have to do anything myself?) Then back to the knitting. I’d have a personal assistant who would hover unobtrusively, writing up the patterns admiringly and taking flattering photos as I knitted.

What’s your Jimmy Choo? And what’s just cobblers?
I’ve never been a fan of fancy designer labels. My favourite footwear is my deeply untrendy walking boots. I get a lot of inspiration walking in the countryside and it wouldn’t be sensible to wear heels when negotiating cowpats!

Tell us about the last time a fan made you feel 100 feet tall.
A little girl spent ages choosing, and bought my newest design, a little knitted seagull. Her mum emailed me the next day to say that she’d looked in on her after she’d gone to bed. She was fast asleep with the two dachshunds I’d knitted her by her side – and the seagull was standing on her cheek!

Independent and poor, or under contract and rich?
I’m way too bolshie, I need to do my own thing.

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 loved Playaway! P…L..A..Y…playawayway playawayaway playplayaway! I’d like Ryan Stiles from “Whose line…”, though I suspect he’d take liberties. On second thoughts, maybe that’s why.

Frocks or socks?
One of the great puzzles during my years as a primary teacher was wondering why my pupils always drew me in a dress, considering they’d never ever seen me wearing anything but trousers.

Sunday 26 July 2009

Year Zero Writers has a Facebook Group

That's all, really :-) You can now keep up with all the Year Zero Writers at their Facebook group. Please join up and get everyone you know to do likewise :-) The link should work. Alternatively just search Year Zero Writers Collective

We'll use it as the place to keep you updated about our news, release dates, reviews - both good AND bad, and most of all, it's a place you can interact with us. So if you have questions about what it's like being in a collective, just ask.

See you there. Tomorrow, a great View from the Shoe.

Oh, and you'll have noticed a new widget. Please click it to tweet about this post from your twitter if you have one.

Thank you all!!

Thursday 23 July 2009

Not Writing

This week I am too busy to write. I even sent a message round to the wonderful members of The Man Who Painted Agineszka's Shoes to explain. This is, after all, the week that I have to get Songs From the OtherSide of the Wall finally ready so I can start selling physical books on September 1st. And I need to help my fellow Year Zeros, Larry and Oli do the same so they can also get their books on sale for then. Oh, and my wife's textbook has a final deadline of Jly 31st, so I really should help her proof it.

In other words, for a week, the fiction needs to go on hold. So I set up what I believe to be an important debate over at Aggie's Shoes, on the question of whether culture should be free, as part of giving participators an all around experience.

but then - rather like what happens in Marie Darrieussecq's biting Pig Tales that I've just finished, something started happening.

I went out in the pouring rain yesterday to deliver a form to the finance office (yes I DO lead an interesting life), and came back to find a fully developed pitch for my next novel written out longhand in my head. And no matter how much I thought about gutters and margins and formatting page numbers, all that was going round my head was the scene of Dan (my protagnist, not me), sitting in a chair in Gdansk with Agnieszka's parents, as it slowly dawns on him there is soemthing very very wrong and they may, after all, be totally mad.

I was almost feeling feverish (perhaps Pig Tales had put the H1N1 in me?). My fingers were twitching. My skin started aching and itching. I sat down at my computer and, lo and behold, come this morning an 1100 word chapter had appeared on the Aggie wall. My skin went calm, my temperature subsided, and all was calm.

Now, though, I feel that itch that urge all over again. I have some notes and before very long I have a terrible feeling the opening of my new novel will have emerged, squirming and squeezing itself through my pores until it hits the screen.

A simple message, then. If you're considering it might be better not to write: don't. The words will find their own way out. Far better to let them do it on your terms.

Oh, and I believe those of you who wish may be able to purchase a copy of Songs From the Other Side of the Wall now by clicking here. But I'm not 100% sure. I do know it will be on Amazon in plenty of time for September 1st, though. Which, if I hadn't given in and written, may well not have been the case.

Monday 20 July 2009

The View From the Shoe: To The Moon

Apologies for the late hour of today's interview with the very best of creative twitter, but I was laughing too hard to post it before now.

To the Moon - (comprising MJ and Dennis) are the most infectious and eccentric band on twitter. They describe themselves as Experimental Rock/Electro/Pop Band preparing for the worst by evacuating Earth with whoever wishes to come. Their music, like their approach to life, is unique. And their wonderful relationship with their fans is everything I love about Indie culture.

Oh, and they're exceptionally good.

Follow them on twitter and listen to them here.

Thank you so much for your time. So, Louboutin or Converse?
mJ: I tend to berate myself cos, despite being a hip young laser-gunslinger I’ve never having owned a pair of Converse! I’m afraid Louboutin is slightly too Haute Couture for me – do love Lagerfeld at Chanel but I cant say I have done as much research into fashion as I have done into supermassive black holes and their application in sound-proofing a laboratory (read studio) room.
Den - i have no idea what you're talking about. Does not compute!

Why is there no one in the world who does it quite like you?
mJ: We’re exponents of newness, originality & vitality, and we have a unique blend of our two worlds- when two worlds collide...
Den: And we clean our synths with Cillit Bang

What do you really, really love about it?
Den: much Faraday's Cage comes into play!

A bit more time in the day, or a bit more money in the bank?
mJ: Well it’s a toss-up between more time for experimentation, vs. project funding - we always need funding though, as we’re constantly being discounted from scientific government grants for being too noisy. More time for tweeting and recording and wandering around wondering around soaking up future inspiration…
Den: but time is money… Amend your paradox at once!

Imagine you “make it”. You wake up, and imagine the day ahead. Tell us about breakfast.
Den: breakfast of fruit, followed by a short run and then maybe an egg on toast. then in the studio. OR wake up in your own sick and 4 ciggies later you make a coffee and sit in the studio.
mJ: We will spend at least 8 hours per diem in the laboratories at TTM HQ, tinkering with the rocket ship and having the occasional recording session… The idea of expeditions to other countries etc is very thrilling; as Derek Smalls of Spinal Tap said… Den: “Touring the world and elsewhere”
mJ: Affirmative.

What’s your Jimmy Choo? And what’s just cobblers?
mJ: Aside from my moon boots, which have got me out of many a sticky situation in the past, I have a pair of white, fabric Irregular Choice shoes, so bright I can see them from space on my shoe rack at TTM HQ. beautiful winkle-pickers, they are. To give you a scientific opposite, I have more loathing for Crocs than I do for most other things in the universe.

Tell us about the last time a fan made you feel 100 feet tall.
Den: I think probably the midget who came up to us after a gig. Mickey. he was ace, but kept getting into fights with this lanky bloke called Kramer.
mJ: Dennis, I know you find it hard to separate the blurry lines betwixt tee-vee and reality, but that’s an episode of Seinfeld.… He’s fragile, our Dennis is.
But anyway, thanks to Twitter, I’m lucky to get a lot of postivity from Comrades. As 1st in Command of Mission “Shameless Self Promotion” or SSP (tee hee), the compliments come in thick and fast! When someone asks where they can buy your music, or why we’re not signed yet, that does things to your ego. Like if your ego was a supernova, that’d be a good likeness.
Our music is totally free at the moment, anyway – its not about making the big money out of that sort of thing, and artists don’t at the moment.

Independent and poor, or under contract and rich?
Den: depends on the contract. as no labels are giving advances unless you sign a longer contract most musicians have no choice. you need equipment (we certainly do) and some form of financial security before you can take the plunge into music full time. some money is required so that you can stop doing your office job and pay the rent. i think most musicians aren’t bothered about money, but they have to think about it otherwise society will eat them alive.

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?
Den: there was someone called Cant on TV? poor bloke! brian-facking-cant… i would have Berlusconi behind me. he's mentally ill and it would liven things up.
mJ: To The Moon Corps. Has no sales pitch, only briefs and mission statements. But I’d nominate Voltaire to stand behind me and do the actions to the Emergency Exit instructions in-flight on the Star Ship TTM. Would be imperative to have someone with such gravitas and a lust for all things electrical!

Frocks or socks?
Den: i'm a big fan of socks. Totally sold with the idea.
mJ: Girls wear frocks, and feet wear socks. But socks keep you warm in the lab, and I’ve got a pair with stars on (obviously) so we have two positives plus two negatives, so the two serve to cancel each other out. Therefore, according to the laws of physics, neither frocks nor socks technically exist! Weird! Glad we found that out thanks to you guys! We shall write up our findings and report back. *Salutes*

Friday 17 July 2009

Mine, all Mine!!

Today is Anti-Plagiarism Day, a wonderful initiative fromm Jane Smith of How Publishing Really Works. Throughout the day, literary bloggers are going to be giving their own perspectives on why PLAGIARISM SUCKS. So here's mine.

I give much of my work away. You can download my entire novel for free here. My writers' collective gives away its anthology for free here. I even organise Free-e-day, an Indie festival based around celebrating Indie culture through free downloads. I actively encourage everyone to whom I give the anthology, and the novel, to pass it on again. And I have absolutely no problem with anyone "illegal file sharing" either of them.

So I shouldn't care about plagiarism. I should think it's just another gripe of a tired industry for which I have no time. Right?

Er, wrong. I care about it very much. I choose to give my work away, and let people do the same. And those two words are the key to the whole thing. "I choose". Some day I might choose not to. And there are plenty of people who don't choose to do so, which is entirely up to them and no one else.

But file-sharing isn't the real problem with plagiarism. Nor, for me, is the thought that someone might steal my book and pass it off as their own. Yesterday, I cam across the wonderful query worksop site The Pitch Parlour. Writers are advised to submit their query, their synopsis, and the first 2000 words of their ms for scrutiny and comment. The site does a fantastic ob of reassuring writers their synopsis will only be posted with explicit consent in case of fears over plagiarism, which is a thoroughness I really admire. But my approach to this kind of plagiarism has always been that if someone gets a publishing deal for my book, they've simply done the hard work for me!

What I really object to is people stealing my blog content. Not problems with them using it - if people ask, I am almost always amenable to their request. My particular concern is my reputation. I have some controversial views about writing and publishing but I try very very hard always to frame them in ways that are helpful and constructive, and I always try to be respectful and courteous to my harshest critics - some of my best friends in the business are people I disagree with most strongly. All it would take is one person to lift my content and use it inappropriately, and soemone to trace that content back to me to ruin that (well, not ruin it, but create a lot of work smoothing things over).

Plus, the reason I give my stuff away is that I believe in collaboration and bringing culture to the widest possible audience, for free. If someone took my content and used it for gain, I'd be sincerely dischuffed.

So that's my piece. The point isn't how I DO use my material. The point is, it's up to me how I use it.

Soemthing lighter on Monday :-)

Wednesday 15 July 2009

Patroned by the People: A Very Old New Way of Making a Living

We all dream of it, don’t we? Living the life of Mozart, Michelangelo, or Moliere, practising our culture under the beneficent patronage of some European noble. Only of course it wasn’t like that. It was more like being George Michael working under Sony.

What I want to do is breathe new life into the patronage model, and see if I can make it work for 21st century producers of culture. There are models that come close: bursaries awarded by bodies like the Arts Council, or private institutions pay someone to do their stuff out of the public or private purse; laureateships empower someone to work on behalf of the people; many august cultural bodies – theatres, orchestras etc. – allow donors to become members.

But none of that quite does what I want to do. First and obviously – er, they don’t pay me! Second, and most important, they don’t match the ideological principles of my personal manifesto: Free is good; Culture is a direct conversation between artist and audience.

So this is what I’ve come up with.
1. Decide the amount you need to live on. In my case, with my debts and commitments, I think I could live more than comfortably on £35,000.

2. Work out what your working year is in terms of hours. I make my working year 2660 hours.

3. Make all your work available for free.

4. Allow people to make payments should they wish, and show the running total on your website.
5. Devote half your working hours to taking up commissions from your patrons, and the other half to producing the stuff all your fans love. Effectively, let your patrons buy you by the hour. Make sure they understand you will keep writing your kind of thing, but that you will produce shorts, poems, etc on subjects of their choice, or go and speak at their events, give them writing lessons, produce blog copy, edit their work, whatever you want to offer! My only rules would be my ideology’s mine, and I will only promote what I really like (I won’t do my patrons’ PR).
6. Keep a record of what you do, for how long, online – which in itself may be of interest

So that’s the model. Who’s up for tearing it down?

Monday 13 July 2009

The View From the Shoe: Penny Goring

This week, I’ve been talking to writer Penny Goring. I met Penny through The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes, and since then we’ve been bumping into each other on various writing sites, as well as in the twitterverse. Her writing is both brilliant and utterly unlike anything else. She also took me at my word when I said if the questions weren’t the ones she wanted to be asked, she could answer the questions of her choice, without specifying what they are.

In her own words:
I make odd machines called stories.
twitter: @triplecherry

And without further ado:

Thank you so much for your time. So, Louboutin or Converse?
Styrofoam cup with a dog-end in it.

Why is there no one in the world who does it quite like you?
Cinema usherette, deep-sea diver - I'm interested in how we think. Sniffed glue on trains after the police raided No.4, fifty black eyes, one cauliflower ear, dodgy photographs of pieces of her: her first love, her last drink, her ambition, her ear lobe, her shame. Bag lady, suit of flesh, prison issue bra. Her Dad a sex and love addict, her mum a sacrifice.

What do you really, really love about it?
Stealing moments in the correction cell, what I love is what escapes me. She patrols the swamps by night, her saving grace in the room with tiled floor and custard-coloured walls. You moved to Upper Street so we hung out in Highbury Cemetery. I've still got the round satin cushion with pom-poms sprouting from it's plump centre. Waifs and strays, London slums, malevolent, copulating insects with teeth.

A bit more time in the day, or a bit more money in the bank?
On my way home from the underbelly I saw faulty-six blue things, four legs and a fantasy. This was after thirteen years of rejecting a world which anaesthetises minds to optimise profitability. I hit rock bottom, a washed up tantalus in the crab position courting a storm-tossing merman, supine with multi-dick, paddling in the overflow of an ultrascan.

Imagine you “make it”. You wake up, and imagine the day ahead. Tell us about breakfast.
Invalid Dessert No.1
Liver Souffle

Half cup stale breadcrumbs
1 egg yolk
2oz sieved raw liver
1 tbspn cream

Mix crumbs with liver in basin. Stir in a few drops of lemon juice.
Beat in egg white, place in buttered mould.
Cover with buttered paper.
Steam for 20 mins.
Serve with sauce if allowed.

This recipe is for one person.

What’s your Jimmy Choo? And what’s just cobblers?
Wish box, witch box, addict box, lunch box, shoe box, black box, the history of orgies, stacked. Things that are difficult to grasp and easy to imagine. Sky is always a fiction.
Tell us about the last time a fan made you feel 100 feet tall.
God's gilded bollock's and the best snog ever. All those out-moded words looming like the block of flats he fell from, sporting red devil headgear. Death too big and too stupid to argue with. Armies of soft toys, mountains of dogs, barrage balloons floating with ducks in the shape of swan songs.

Independent and poor, or under contract and rich?
Crowding the edge of vision, framed by symbols - tiny block-capitals on thin paper, squashed in desperation, frantic, insistent, alone in a cloud of smoke. Fishing for an alter ego, mind boggling with the amazing glut. Is it true I don't feel anymore? Role-play aspect important, but I'm still a woman on her knees.

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 don't have a sales pitch. For my sins, I would have the monolith from 2001 behind me, Enid Blyton and Joseph Beuys either side of me and the ghosts of my friends and lovers right up front, because there's no safety in words.

Frocks or socks?
Evasive adopted evacuee shivering at the zebra-crossing.

Thank you SOOO much

Friday 10 July 2009

Free is not a Four-letter word

Well, I couldn’t really stay out of the debate, although I’ve already blogged at length about the value of giving writing away for free. The release of Chris Anderson’s “Free” and resultant hoo-ha ( is too much of a happening for me not to write again. I’ve already posted a few thoughts on

I’ll keep this brief as a result. The last thing I want is “Dan going on about free stuff” fatigue. I’ll also try and keep it opinionated because facts seem to be out of fashion in this debate. Personally, I just don’t understand the objection as a business model to so-called “freemium” promotion – offering a basic version of your product for free, and charging for a premium version. Music practitioners have used the model so successfully I’m not sure I can see the negative argument.

Which suggests to me the argument is ideological. People who are excited about the freemium model are, by and large, people who have day jobs and want the chance to give them up and be paid for doing what they love. People who object tend to be those who are already paid to write. I understand that people don’t want to lose their livelihoods. Of course they don’t, and of course none of us wants them to. But protectionism isn’t the answer.

Literature is a breeding ground of innovation, and should remain so. And the public should have access to as wide a range of culture as there is out there. I believe they should be able to access it for free, and decide, from a position of knowledge not ignorance, which of it they want to spend their money on.

The argument that this will pollute the cultural world with rubbish is just nonsense. If what’s offered for free outside the establishment is junk, the public will discard it, and no one in the mainstream will lose their paycheck. If some of it DOES turn out to be better, then why shouldn’t some on the “inside” take a pay cut so that some on the outside can have a slice of the pie?

My call to action is simple. Make your work available to the public for free download. Let readers decide what they want to pay for. It’s not the end of the world. It’s the beginning of an aspiration to take culture seriously. That’s why I started Free-e-day ( as a platform to bring together givers and takers of free cultural content. I also see it across the web in great initiatives like

Free isn’t a four-letter word. Free is good. For the producers of culture. For the consumers of culture. For culture itself. Come and embrace freevolution

Wednesday 8 July 2009


The photos have been removed. Sorry, not trying to break anyone's copyright, guys, but best to be safe. Er, if Banksy really does mind people putting casual snaps from his official exhibition when there are no postcards it's a bit rich. Especially as I bought the book and would urge others to do so. still, I hate plagiarism and copyright theft as much as the next person, so down they come

Thsi is little more than a few photos from Bristol Museum vs Banksy. I am sure he's one person who won't mind photos of his work appearing online. I am happy to attribute everything though. This is all the work of me me me, er, I mean Banksy.

If you haven't been to see this exhibition, go. I don't pretend to know enough about street art to say where Banksy fits into the scene, but I know I loved it. all of it. And he was, of course, the inspiration for Ludwig in The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes. Hope you enjoy. I'm sure he would also approve of Free-e-day and Year Zero Writers.

Show Them What You've Got: Behind the Year Zero anthology

I was very much against an anthology at first. I thought it was too passé, too much the same as everyone else did, would be impossible to make stand out from the crowd. My fellow zeros, some of them quite vociferously, disagreed with me. So I said OK, I’ll think about it and tried to prove them wrong.

My plan was to have a website where the first 3 chapters of all our forthcoming novels were pasted up so people could get a taste for our work, and to direct traffic there (which, of course, is about as passé as it gets). My reasoning was readers needed to know exactly what they were getting, and see I they liked it. My critics reasoned I’d struggle for content as not all of us were ready to release something just yet, and so we wouldn’t give a real representation of the group’s style and ability.

It was actually a Sunday Times article that changed my mind. I was reading about special editions, and some of the amazing things rock stars do for their fans, and I realised, if we were really taking our commitment to our readers seriously, then what better way to kick of than to give them something standalone, of the very highest quality, for free. Of course those of us releasing novels could upload their opening chapters – and even put those in the anthology – but it was so important to give people something more than just another catalogue.

And that’s how Brief Objects of Beauty and Despair was born. I was, as usual, wrong, and my colleagues were, as usual, right, and the result is the beautiful anthology we’ve put together, with 13 of us submitting the pieces we think best reflect our writing.

So why Brief Objects…? That was another humdinger of a debate, and it’s still not fully resolved. For me, it sums up a commitment to quality and culture; for some of us, it’s just too college art project, and Zero Cuts better represents our radical stance. Only time will tell who’s right.

There isn’t an official “book” of the anthology – for all kinds of logistical and financial reasons. Maybe if we become famous we can bring one out as a retrospective. But we have taken it every bit as seriously as we would have done a printed book – from Larry’s beautiful cover to the hours of editing. Just because something’s free and a pdf, doesn’t mean we should be any less committed to giving our readers the very best we have to offer.

I hope they’ll appreciate it. Most of all, I hope they’ll appreciate both our ideals and our prose, and come back when our books hit the shelves.

Monday 6 July 2009

The View from the Shoe: Janet Law

I discovered Janet Law and her two wonderful businesses making customised jewellery and accessories on twitter. I am a starving writer and rarely even buy a fellow writer's book because I can't afford it, but I so fell in love with Janet's rice'n'roll bags, I bought one for my wife, and it was even lovelier in the real than it looked online. This week, I asked janet life's most impotrant questions. First, a little about her from her own keyboard.

Janet has two businesses:
Little Pearl Button - My first baby - Quirky, beautiful handmade sterling silver jewellery collection (
Fortheloveoflaw – Handmade bags using a variety of by-product materials. This label will be evolving into clothing (which is what I studied in & what I really love – Fashion!)… happily sewing away… (

Without further ado:
Thank you so much for your time. So, Louboutin or Converse?
No contest! Louboutin not only because each piece is like a work of art but Converse actually started giving me bunions!!! Weird as it may sound I think this is due to the fact that I wore heels most of my life & when I took up waitressing (again) at 24 I brought some Converse… my feet did not like them!!!

Why is there no one in the world who does it quite like you?
I have been known & still do, plan or make outfits to go with shoes! I always decide what shoes I want to wear first, then outfit. I have woken up thinking of the shoes I want to wear that day even if I haven’t worn them for 3 years! I have also made clothing especially to go with amazing shoes I have brought! Shoes excite me to create a complete look!

What do you really, really love about it?
They way it makes me feel. Especially on days when I feel low, I will dress up to the nines, just because I feel down – no one else needs to know! Of course it cheers me up when people gives me compliments especially if I have made it myself!

A bit more time in the day, or a bit more money in the bank?
Always a bit more time in the day, when I feel creative I will work until dawn breaks but suffer later as I NEED my sleep too!

Imagine you “make it”. You wake up, and imagine the day ahead. Tell us about breakfast.
I will still brew fresh coffee every morning so my flat smells lovely… to be honest, I think I will just be so happy & grateful that people are recognising my work & enjoy wearing it. I probably won’t be able to stop smiling! Of course I have so many goals; I think I will be just excited that I can move forward with my plans.

What’s your Jimmy Choo? And what’s just cobblers?
Even though I don’t actually own a ‘Choo’ (I have my reasons for this) I have many designer shoes that make me feel amazing in! It’s like an extra ego adding to my height! (hee hee I’m 4’11”!) Cobblers are my ballet flats (I still have quite a few though) the shoes I chose if I know there will be a lot of ‘walking’ involved!

Tell us about the last time a fan made you feel 100 feet tall.
Every time I get a returning customer! Especially when they tell me how much they love it, or the person they brought it for loved it! I also feel so happy when online customers e-mail to tell me they received the package & absolutely love it, I cherish these e-mails, it may not seem like a lot to others but the fact that they really loved my product enough to e-mail & tell me means so much to me, also when they comment on the little details – packaging & handwriting – its nice to know that people notice! [editor's note: The wrapping and the little handwritten card that came with the bag were exquisite and remain treasured items, kept in my "remember how to make your customers feels pecial" folder.]

Independent and poor, or under contract and rich?
Independent & poor – that is me now! But I can tell you that I am so happy, I am doing something that I really love, enjoy & get amazing satisfaction out of. To have money would mean I can eventually follow my plans but I won’t sell my soul in doing it, I’m trying my best & that is all I can say!

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?
Ha! Can I say Johnny Depp?! For one he has great actions, secondly surely anything he is associated with would just fly! Either way it’ll be entertaining & draw in my customer base – women!!!

Frocks or socks?
Frocks for sure although the socks can make or break an outfit!!!#

Thank you SOOO much
Thank you for including me :-)

Wednesday 1 July 2009

Brief Objects of Beauty and Despair

Year Zero Writers has released its first sampler anthology, Brief Objects of Beauty and Despair. It's 13 pieces of contemporary fiction, a mix of short stories and extracts from ourt work to introduce us to readers, and hopefully tempt people to our novels when they come out later in the year. It's also free. You can download a copy from here. You can also read it in full at our website, where you can also find out more about us. Do help yourself to a copy, and pass it on. And I'll keep you all updated how it goes. On Friday: why an anthology?