Monday 20 December 2010

National Short Story Day

The shortest day of the year, December 21st, is also National Short Story Day, a wonderful initiative to celebrate this wonderful form of the written word. Sadly the live event we had in store in Oxford has fallen foul of the weather, but over at eight cuts gallery we are celebrating by giving away 10 fantastic stories by Year Zero Writers, as well as our two Year Zero anthologies.

Enjoy them all, and make sure you buy at least one collection of short stories next year. In addition to Robert James Russell's The Mating Habits of College Girls and Penny Goring's NeuroRococo, which I'll be publishing at eight cuts.

So, what short stories would you recommend? All titles and links gratefully received

Monday 29 November 2010

True Grit

This is a busy and very exciting week, and I have all my sets of fingers and toes crossed the snow doesn't bugger things about. I'm delighted to say I'll be at two fantastic gigs this week.


This Thursday is Text in the City at Oxford Castle's O3 Gallery ,where I'll be joined by the wonderful Larry Harrison, our musician in residence Christi Warner, Oxford Creative Writers coordinator Anna Hobson, and special guests from the super fab Dissocia Zine.




On Friday, I'm extremely excited to be reading for the first time in Brighton, at Grit Lit, held at Red Roaster. I'm particularly excited about this, not just because I've never read in Brighton before, and I get to be part of a super line-up, but because everyone I speak to tells me how amazing the cakes at Red Roaster are.

Friday 19 November 2010

Making a Song and Dance About Copyright

in the wake of a fiasco about purloined recipes that has already sparked enough bile not to be rehashed here, the lovely Jane at How Publishing Really Works has designated today copyright day. A whole host of bloggers will be blogging about copyright so check her blog for links - if you ever need to write on the subject there's bound to be something relevant to nick. That's satire, by the way. Which I believe is one of the legitimate uses for purloinage of portions. I heartily recommend Nicola Morgan's particularly clear and detailed contribution.

I will leave the law to others, and my take on copyright is very simple. Don't pilfer unless the author tells you it's OK. If an author does tell you it's OK, don't take that as an indication that you can extrapolate anything beyond that one instance. At all.

So to avoid this being a silly short post, I will tell you about a fantastic anthology I'm taking part in, put together by Michale Wells, author of the hilarious I Shot Bigfoot and Other Stories.

As "one of those" authors, the kind who hang out on the web rather than behaving decorously and getting a publisher or slinking off to their garret in a fit of pique or melancholy, I get asked to take part in a lot of fun anthologies. Sometimes they involve writing humour, something I find so traumatic I have to decline. Two recent ones I said yes to that have had a moderate amount of attention (largely because they were timed to come out at the same time as the bad sex awards) were about writing sex.

But the one in question, to be released in December, is a collection of stories inspired by songs. Not songs we got to choose ourselves (how many teenage memoirs of Love Will Tear Us Apart can society cope with after all?) . Michael randomly generated some titles from somewhere. I'm not sure where , and given the amount of INXS on there I'm in no hurry to ask. One of the INXS titles, Beautiful Girl, fell to me. I wrote a very peculiar story that none of the contributors could make head or tail of about a guy falling to pieces having killed a kid in a car crash (I say that because most people didn't even figure that out - that was the point. I wrote it like one of those black and white, oddly cut, moody enigmatic 80s pop videos).

What's relevant (and like a bad jokester - told you I couldn't do humour - I know you're there ahead of me) is that we spent a long long time discussing fair use before concluding that we wouldn't quote a single lyric. In the whole thing. Which has about 40 pieces of short and flash fiction in it.

Song lyrics seem to be THE most controversial copyright topic, largely because of the ambiguity over fair use. I can see why there's ambiguity. After all, on one hand you get Patti Smith who writes half the ancient mariner and sets it to music. On the other hand, you get the likes of 2 Unlimited, where if you didn't capitalise "No Limits" to make it clear you were referring to the title, you'd be lifting pretty much the whole song. But with songs being so much a part of popular culture, and so many of us writing about popular culture, it would be great to have SOME kind of rule for those of us who want to do the right thing by fellow artists, yet not have to avoid writing about whole swathes of subject matter or fill the page with allusion - yes, allusion, metaphor, word play are great, but sometimes you just want to quote a lyric and not risk being slapped with a suit you can't pay.

Maybe if we were allowed to quote a set proportion if we could prove due diligence? Let's face it, most managers are just too busy to get back to everyone who wants to quote a line from their band. BUT it's a bit rich if they then take out a suit against someone who tried to get permission but was never answered. So my suggestion - if I can show I asked your permission and you didn't get back to me, don't beef if I quote half a verse or a chorus couplet. And in return, if I can't be bothered to ask I won't quote.

Saturday 13 November 2010

5:am and time for my battered sausage

A week or so back I wrote a rather angry piece on this blog that both got the tone wrong, and conveyed completely the wrong message as a result. The danger of writing generalistic pieces is that they are, well, generalistic and weak as a consequence. So I put examples in, and as a result came across as snarky, having more chips than Harry Ramsden, and aiming my shots where they weren't intended.

So an unconditional apology for aiming my snarks at Ben and Lee, and Todd and Emma - neither you personally nor Richard, The Canal, Literary Death Match or To Hell With The Lighthouse (now The Book Stops Here) were intended to be in my crosshairs. I also forgot the golden rule (that I finally got into my noodle with respect to "the mainstream" last year) that the best thing to do when you don't like something is to carry on doing what you're doing, only even better.

I did have a gripe, and it was this - the media portrays a literary scene as being new that is not, as being cutting edge that has actually been around long enough that it has donned its pipe and slippers and no longer occupies the front line position in the fight against "the boundaries" whatever they might be, that disproportionately reviews titles by its circle whilst refusing to look at other small releases; and there is also a part of the peripheral literary scene that likes to portray itself as these things in order to appear cool. The losers in all this are the public, who get disappointed, and never get to see the real boundaries until they too have donned pipe and slippers. The answer is for the literary media to spend more time looking around outside of what it already knows either from its friends, or from slick PR or the London circuit; and to be less frightened to champion something that other people don't like or don't get - to stop playing safe all the time. As writers and independent publishers we need to keep putting our message in front of the media to show them there is an alternative - and to do so vigorously and unapologetically - it deserves to be there as much as anything else does. Calling out laziness and prejudice is very much part of what we need to do. Snarking doesn't help our cause, but more than that it's not what I'm about and it's not what great literature's about. And the last thing for me to do is to piss off people who have done great things to bring great literature to the public. Sure, now they're successful I 100% expect them to extend a totally non-insular non-introspective outlook to everything else going on, just like they did when they were smaller. But I'll stick to bruhaha designed to promote the work I really beieve in, not to do down anything else.

So, I manifest myself to promote only manifestos of action not snark - I think at both Year Zero and latterly at eight cuts gallery I've done that - that needs to be done more transferably, and to work with people who want to promote great literature, to give the public the great stuff it deserves.

I could remove the previous piece and have done with it, but I won't, because that would be disingenuous to the people who took time to comment (even those who did so anonymously), and, having had my ass whooped, it would do me well for the ass-qhooping to remain public.

Sunday 7 November 2010

NaNoWrimo: The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes

I've met an awful lot of people here and on twitter in the last 18 months. And most of them have no idea why my blog is called what it is, why it has the funny little avvie it does, and why my twittername is unspellable. Well, without gong into the long version, The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes is a novel I began in the spring of 2009. And never quite finished. And for all I have other ideas and novels, I keep coming back to it, so I have decided to use NaNoWriMo to edit and finish it for good.

The avvie is the central image from the book, the eyes a pair of trainers - look closely and you'll see the pupils are the 500 logo)

Here's the opening, so you can all see at last why I have the username I do. It's a work of (increasingly - the opening section is harmless enough) transgressive literary fiction, and I'm going to quit the usual self-deprecation and come out and say it. It's the best thing I've ever written, and I need to finish it (I have 56,000 of a projected 65k already but lots of editing to do).

Blurb

Why are some images impossible to ignore, while others disappear without ever being seen?

In 2009 one image became as iconic as the face of Che Guevara.

A story of art, politics, online communities, environmentalism, and the nature of celebrity;

Of the search for the truth behind a seemingly tragic death, that became the most watched YouTube video in history;

Of two personal journeys – a man whose daughter, missing for ten years, is fading from existence in a world he cannot reach; a schoolboy whose quest for beauty in mathematics has kept him locked in his room for three years; and the website that unites them;

Of the world’s most reclusive artist; of a dominatrix who uses other people’s pain to break down the doors to parallel worlds in search of the origin of her own agony; of an astrophysicist determined to preserve the moment of his wife’s death forever; of a vicious vigilante who spends his evenings composing haiku.

Of the relationship between beauty, pain, and reality.



One

It’s nearly midnight, and I’ve watched Agnieszka die 103 times since I woke.

In that time, the clip has had 274,392 views.

I click the play arrow for the 104th time.

Agnieszka.

Running on the treadmill like millions of other middle class woman in their twenties. She looks fantastic in her lycra – she has the time and money to do this on a regular basis. Stop here and you’d never have noticed the silver and greens on her feet.

The camera wobbles. Has her friend turned to check out someone on the pec deck? Another tiny wobble, enough to remind you how casual the whole scene is, that she has no idea what she’s about to film – although there’s been speculation about that, of course, just like everything else.

Here it is. Three seconds of footage, the seconds before she stumbles. She turns, and over her shoulder she says something to her friend. It indecipherable. Not one of the people at the gym that day can remember her speaking at all. The best Polish and English lipreaders are clueless.

Everyone in the chatrooms devoted to her has their own theory. She’s calling out to a child she
gave away as a teenager in Gdansk; she realises she’s lost her footing and lets out an expletive; she’s begging her friend for help; she’s fluffing up the camera for posterity. The truth is she says something different to everyone who watches the clip. It’s as though, in those final seconds, she’s stepped out of her own body and time and speaks straight to you, the viewer.

Just you.

Just me.

See you, Dad! I’m sure that’s what she says. Every time I watch I’m even more certain. I pause the clip. Play. Pause. Play. Pause. I see her mouth form the shapes.

The gate closes. Her hair moves first, and then her head turns; she looks at me over the burgundy uniform; “See you, Dad!” she shouts. “Take care, love!” I shout back from the kitchen window but she’s already turned away, heading for school.

See you, Dad!

Was that the last thing she ever said? Why say it that morning? Was she worried? Did she know something I didn’t? No matter how many times I go through it, I just don’t know.

“Take care, love,” I whisper at the screen.

Play.

Ten seconds and it’s over. Nothing left of Agnieszka but her silver and green Mercury 500 trainers, logos filling the camera like startled eyebrows. The image of the year; of the decade, probably. The picture on every student’s wall, on T-shirts and placards and newspaper spreads.

And the reason my boss will call me tonight – the front cover for Epoch magazine’s Review of the Year.

Give me a different angle on it, Sarah will say. Make it fresh. Sure. Three weeks to find a completely new take on the most reproduced, rehashed, reformatted image of the century.

There’s the phone. The ringtone’s the riff from Smells Like Teen Spirit. Emma had Nevermind in her CD player when she left. I let the second bar finish and press accept.

“Hi!” I get ready for the inevitable banter about calling the wrong side of midnight, and click the mouse out of habit.

105.

It’s not Sarah’s voice. It takes a few seconds to place and by the time I do the line’s dead. The phone’s still against my ear and I hear every word in real time, as though the line’s on a delay.

“Dad? Can you hear me? I’m safe but I don’t know where I am. Dad, I can’t explain it but it feels like I’m fading. Like now; I’m shouting but it feels like nothing’s coming out. And sometimes when I look down at my feet I think I can see through them. Does that make any sense? Dad, you have to come and find me. Please.” The line clicks dead.

Find me. Please. The words synch perfectly with Agnieszka’s lips.

“I’m coming, love.”

But she’s already turned away.

She trips, tangles, and the film ends.

Two

We can see her clearly. She’s sitting with her legs folded underneath her, gripping the phone with both hands. It takes a moment for us to register things are wrong with this image. We have to blink several times, but still our eyes don’t feel right. We look closer, and then we see that although she is sitting on her legs, her legs aren’t on anything.

She’s not floating. Nor is she in a darkened room, lit only by an infinitely precise light. We don’t even have noticeably tunnelled vision. It’s just that we only see her.

Sometimes when we stare at a flecked carpet in summer we sense that something is amiss. Then we notice a movement. A few seconds later we see an ant scurry through the fibres, and suddenly our optic nerve turns on a switch and we see that the whole floor is a teeming sea of ants.

In the same sickening way we see all at once: this is Emma, and she is still 14 years old, the age she was when she disappeared; but the telephone she clutches like a parachute rip-cord is an iPhone; her skin and clothes are blurred. It’s not our eyes. We see the iPhone perfectly well. It’s her.

She is blurred.

She turns. Her eyes make us seasick. Instead of colour there’s a soup of grey strobing and fuzzing. “Where am I?” she asks.

She sounds sad. Or maybe we just imagine that she must be sad, because through the white noise in the pits where her eyes should be it’s impossible to say if she’s crying or not.

“I don’t know,” we reply. “How long have you been there?”

“I don’t know. No, that’s wrong. I’ve been here a day. Only this day seems to happen again and again and again. I don’t know how many times. It feels like someone’s caught it on tape and they keep playing it over and over and over, and the tape’s wearing thin in places. What will happen if they play it too many times and the tape snaps?”

She’s speaking quickly, like she only has one lungful of air and she has to get everything out in that single breath. We daren’t interrupt, even if we could answer her questions, in case she goes silent for ever.

“I’m scared. I don’t understand what’s happening. Would it be better if they stopped the tape and left it in an archive somewhere it could never be played again? Does that make any sense?”

“Tell Dad,” she begins but whatever the connection was, it’s cut. We blink several times.

Everything is sharp again. We stare at our computer screens, and Emma exists only in the words we see there.


Three

Shuji Nomoto stands with his head pressed against the door. He has been listening for ten minutes as his mother, Junko, and his older brother, Yuichi, argue about something inconsequential downstairs. At last he is satisfied there is no one on this floor, but still his muscles pull against him as he puts his fingers on the handle. His grip falters; the sweat on his palm slides against the metal. He swallows hard and listens to the sound of blood in his ears, the quick, quick, quick beat of his heart, the only fragile thing that separates life from death.

Silently.

Silently – every day he uses oil from his fried tofu lunch to keep the door from making a sound. A crack of strange light appears from the corridor and Shuji winces. Cooler air and the smell of bean curd catch his face and he feels giddy. He closes his eyes, pushes, feels for the tray with his feet, pulls the door, eases the handle back, turns the lock, and leans back against the door, fighting back shameful tears as he waits for his heart to slow.

Eventually he is calm. He sits at his desk, his back rod-straight, and moves his finger in a perfect nautilus spiral on the mouse pad to bringing to life the ageing laptop his mother bought before his confinement began.

One morning, when he was 14, Shuji stepped out of the shower in the corner of his Kobe room and towelled himself dry. He pulled on his underwear, trousers, socks, a vest, and a clean white shirt. He stood in front of the mirror, pulling wax through his short hair, expertly teasing it into spikes between his fingers. Without any warning, he stopped, stared, and saw someone he didn’t recognise staring back at him from the mirror. It was like he was looking at a mannequin in a shop window, a model on a billboard.

There was a stranger in his room, and the stranger was him.

He took off his school uniform, emptied the identikit outfits from their drawer, bundled them into a bag, placed them outside his bedroom, closed the door, and locked it behind him. He washed the gel from his hair, dressed in jeans and a Nirvana T-shirt, sat at his desk, fired up his laptop, and began scouring the internet for every reference he could find to the Byfield Effect .

He hasn’t spoken to, seen, or been seen by, another person since.

At first he was fascinated. He devoted every second of his time to understanding the Effect. It felt to him as though knowing it better than he knew anything else in or about the world was all that mattered. He had been given a task of monumental importance, but he had no idea what, or why. All he knew was he had to prepare for it by mastering this theory.

Two years later, Shuji saw the clip of Agnieszka Iwanowa’s death. He played the clip through five times. Each time Agnieszka turned her head to the camera, he pressed his face closer to the screen, trying to decipher her words, to make out what she was saying to him. He knew what he was watching change his life forever, but he had no idea how.

Eventually his eyes hurt so much from the concentration he cradled his head in his hands, massaging his brow with his fingertips. Through the gaps between his fingers, he saw on a piece of paper handwriting he recognised as his own: Nomoto-Byfield Conjecture.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

4:am fiction : writing in the slips

OK, so Brutalism was a stunt. The Book of Fuck was actually The Book of Fuck All Else to Do. But still. Once upon a time (can you see the jokes coming? Can you? Both of them?) we knew where the boundaries were, and we knew who was pushing them (can you now?). Fuck the mainstream said Ben Myers, and Adelle Stripe. And the other one. People oohed and aahed at 3:am and remembered that the klf actually had more to say than the Venga Boys even if everyone else had forgotten it.



In fact, while everyone else was still talking about Amis and McEwan, Barnes and Rushdie and Ishiguro, even though they'd been really quite shit for a good few years; and Zadie Smith was cool even though she went from zero to sellout faster than the Lambo Countach they'd had on their walls as pre-pubescents; and there were whispers about slams and things that had to do with hopping were a little but hip; but actually it was all about the lyric, the sound in your ear the thank-fuck-punk-is-dead return to syncopated sensibilities. While all that was going on there were geeks who got in your face and did stuff that made you nervous you might get glassed or your mum might walk in. But that was kind of the point. And who cares that their influences were Burroughs and Fante and Richard Hell and people old enough to be their dealer's dealer if they'd had a dealer anywhere but their overactive imaginations. Because all we'd really had was three chord shit and Pink Floyd and David Bowie. And all of a sudden we were Where It's At.



We had people who were doing things with language. And saying social stuff. Big social stuff. With odd sentence structures. It was like Brett Easton Ellis and Doug Coupland had had their brains transplanted with a bunch of British nobodies and that's why they seemed so crap all of a sudden. Eventually they got names like The Brutalists. Or The Offbeats. And their CBGB's, their Chelsea Hotel, was 3:am the granddaddy of all literary ezines. And in those early days you sense if they'd had gigs there would have been police raids; and speed-fuelled fights; and taking to the streets to smash the windows of M&S.



And then. Then the boundaries dried up and they found themselves fielding in the slips. They got blogs for The Guardian. and "fuck the mainstream" became Lee Rourke's debut novel The Canal - with an indie publisher (kind of) but a publisher nonetheless. And the granddaddy of anti-culture produced the granddaddy of all sellouts (without even the irony of John Lydon selling butter) and Ben Myerts signed the dotted line with Picador.



And I don't think I've seen a single piece in the papers that stood back and said what the fuck!

WTF is that we have a literary scene - primarily a London literary scene (but the Brutalists were Northern, weren't they? Wasn't that part of the point? - that's as vacucous as Manchester music became in the mid 90s.

Not that this is bad *in itself*. What's bad is how it's being spun (largely by each other). This WAS the *edge*. It's now the flabby middle, but the names are still being spun as edgy. The public is being sold Richard as though it's Book of Fuck. As though IT, the sellout, is at the limits of the written word. Is it any wonder that when they find out it's yet another slightly blank slightly non-linear spin-off of ladlit more via Glamorama than Less Than Zero they think literature is moribund?

And this would be edge (we could call it U3 as much as we could call it 4:am fiction) has attracted around it (hint - edges don't HAVE things around them) a whole world that sells itself as the literary avant garde. But it's not. It's a scenester scam where what matters is playing namedrop bingo with the beautiful people. And that's the problem. People are being sold a pup. I've seen it from the inside, and it's not nice. Not that it's nasty. It's just, well, a shame. Literary Death Match, To Hell With the Lighthouse - high profile events getting the public whipped up about some exciting new things in literature - only to offer them people who may have had something to say (or whose predecessors may have done). Once. But are now part of an inward-looking group who are rather pleased with how cool they are.

And that's where it's harming literature. Today's movers and shakers want to be the first to tell their friends they discovered the new cool. They don't want to stand up and tell their friends they found something no one else likes that they think is the bollox.

Which is no different from the rest of the publishing industry, of course. Fine. But they're selling it like it is, and that's going to be their downfall. The slick, blank, rather shallow Ellis-lite Welsh-liter 4:am fiction they flog is all knob gags and middle class angst and surfaces that are no longer surfaces to expose the shallowness of society, but surfaces that expose the shallowness of the form itself.

There IS a new underground, of course, that has nothing really to do with 3:am (even if some of its practitioners have moved on and stayed fresh) or 4:am or anything else you could name from a clockface. And the irony is, that while cool slowly eats itself, the old industry that's so far behind the scenesters who are behind, might actually be so oblivious they inadvertently pick it up without knowing.

So what is the new underground? Well, it's so underground I probably don't know about it (but unlike the scenester-setters it's my daily quest to look and not be told about it by a style bible). As I've said elsewhere, I think Sean McGahey nailed it in a recent Facebook status update when he talked about those not afraid to stand up and be mocked for being sentimental. As punk gave way to New Romanticism, so I think the age of blank will give way to a new kind of writing that's not ashamed of emotion and adjectives, of scratching the surface and tapping the romance below. It will be unashamed of rather old-fashioned art forms like painting. It will have sweeping palettes, and be somewhat like the Italian horror of the 70s. Modern fairytales, salon culture that's not quite what it seems, burlesque - like the transgressive masterpieces of the 19th century, look here for the really new of the 21st. Look hard and look quick though, because sentimentalism soon becomes dandyism, and the whole thing will have started again before any of it hits the media.

Sunday 31 October 2010

Long Day's Journey Into Print


It's been a brief but rollercoaster ride since I set up eight cuts gallery press to publish some of the best underground writing on the planet. But this week it all came to fruition when I received my copies of Cody James' The Dead Beat and Oli Johns' Charcoal.



These two amazing books (which you can buy for just 6 pounds by clicking the covers) both seem to deal with the dark downside of life, but both celebrate the glorious uncertainty, the unexpected moments of light in the adventure of being human.

Cody James' The Dead Beat follows the lives of Adam and his neurotic, addicted friends through 1997 San Francisco as theywait for Hale-Bopp comet to come and change lives they are incapable of changing on their own. Oli Johns' Charcoal is the story of an anxierty-ridden man obsessed with the suicide of the model Daul Kim, desperately wrestling with the question if there was anything he could have done to save her, anything he could still do.

If there is a single message to these two tour de forces, it is simply this: there is very little that we can change in life. But that's not the point. The point is that we try, and never give up hope. And that what meaning life has is forged in that struggle and the moments of horror, humour, and humanity it brings.

You can also click


here to buy the ebook of The Dead Beat for $2.99

here to buy the ebook of Charcoal for $2.99

Thursday 7 October 2010

Poetry Competition

Oxford International Women's Festival Poetry Competition

I am delighted to be involved with this fundraising event for Oxford International Women’s Festival:

Visit www.oxfordwomen.co.uk for more details about the festival, or find them on Facebook.

POEM THEME: Women and Wellbeing.

CLOSING DATE: Friday 5th November.

CATEGORIES: Open Category (all ages can apply), 3 prizes; Under 18s, 1 prize.

PRIZES: Perform your work at a local poetry event; win a creative writing tutorial, books by local authors and other great prizes. NB if you prefer not to perform your work in front of an audience on 17th November, you can nominate someone to do this on your behalf. The best 12 entries, in the opinion of the judges, will be published in an anthology, and will receive a copy. The 4 main prize winners will receive 5 copies each, and will have their work featured here on the eight cuts gallery website. Other featured poets will each get one copy.

ENTRY CRITERIA: The poem must be your own original work, and must be your interpretation of Women and Wellbeing (this can any interpretation as you wish). People may enter as many times as they wish, provided each entry is accompanied by the correct fee. Maximum length: 50 lines. Please do not write your personal details on the poem itself: provide a separate cover letter with your name, age (if entering the Under 18s category), and your preferred contact details. Entries cost £1.

Post your entries to Oxford International Women’s Festival, 25 East Street, Oxford OX2 0AU with payment by cheque or postal order. Cheques payable to Oxford International Women’s Festival, please. Alternatively, you can hand in your poem, cover letter and entry fee at the Albion Beatnik bookshop, Walton Street, Oxford.

Entries will be judged by local writers. Winners will be announced Monday 8th November.

Main event:

Poetry Performances and Prize-giving: Wednesday 17th November, 7pm- 10pm, East Oxford Community Centre. Winners from both categories can perform their poems as part of the event which will showcase poetry based on the theme, Women and Wellbeing.

Special performances from, amongst others,

Joan Barbara Simon, author of Mut@tus

Charlotte Geater

Ellie Tranter of Yak Shack

Christi Warner

+OPEN MIC

TICKETS: £4 per ticket for the event; competition winners get in free.

To sign up as a reader for the main event, please contact Anna Hobson annacreates@yahoo.com (ticket price will still apply, sorry!). Performances should not last more than 10 minutes and must be your own original work. NB please note that due to the under 18s category, all poems performed prior to 9pm must be suitable for this age group. If you require a later slot, please inform Anna.

Judges: Anna Hobson

Dan Holloway, founder, Year Zero Writers; owner, eight cuts gallery press

Ellie Tranter, poet in residence, YakShack

Sunday 3 October 2010

Not an Anthology: Into the Desert


I have just finished putting together Into the Desert, the first ever collection at my new project, eight cuts gallery. It features work from 19 amazing writers, and I'm incredibly proud of it. But that is, in a way, by the by. Why I'm writing something about it is I think this is a new way of curating and showcasing literature, and I would love to know whether you think it works.
To return to the beginning. The very first point in the eight cuts gallery manifesto states:

■Culture has no boundaries. It has no preconceptions as to what is literature.
So to showcase literature to its best effect, an anthology won't suffice. A website works rather well - I have been able to include not just amazing poetry and prose, but pictures, visual poetry, music, and even a stunning full-length documentary film.
The second thing that holding the exhibition online has been able to do is let me curate it mercilessly. The remit was simply to send in something that responded to the title, Into the Desert. The results were wonderfully diverse, literal, metaphorical, spiritual, and all taking a slightly different slant on what "the desert" might be and what a journey into it, and out of - where? - somewhere else might entail. It would be impossible to do anything with an anthology that wasn't really rather crude.
What I've been able to do online is to create a series of hyperlinks between pages that lead the reader through the exhibition in numerous different ways, placing different works together each time, making them question the meaning of each as they go, as well as giving them pictures of the overall theme that are as shifting as the desert sands themselves. And because the hyperlinks are anchored on words and images, I've been able to play with the audiene's expectations - to give them preconceptions about what comes next - preconceptions I can then either reinforce or upset.
In short, this format has been able to give me two exhibitions - that comprised of the pieces themselves, and that made up of the relations between them. Which, I think, is what good curation should always do. BUT, and here is the second question, does that kind oif curation have a place in literature?
There will also be a tie-in live show at Oxford's O3 gallery featuring readings, music and film, on November 18th. And I hope there will be both other live shows, and dedicated screenings of Cody James' full-length film, a documentary about the Columbine students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold that forms a segment of the exhibition (along with Oli Johns' The Things They Let Into the Classroom and Sarah E Melville's French Lesson) that could be called something like "school is hell".

Monday 13 September 2010

The View From the Shoe: The Indie Handbook

It's been a while since I did one of these, and they are always incredible fun. It's a privilege to welcome to the shoedome Eric Robertson, the guy behind the fabulous The Indie Handbook. Straight over to Eric:

The Indie Handbook started as a joke—a tongue-in-cheek deconstruction of commercialised American hipster culture. What I never expected was that people would take it seriously. I aim to provide much-needed press to unsigned and underexposed artists, trying to put as much effort into quality and style of writing as the artists I review put into their songs. I've been told this is stupid since no one wants to pay attention to anyone who sincerely tries, but in my mind, it's the least I can do—a sign of respect for the artists who pour so much of themselves into their work. My ultimate (and most likely unachievable) goal is to write beautiful criticism.

I operate a second blog, The Indie Handbook Annex , where I indulge my love for essay-writing in the myriad other topics that fascinate me—anything from music to linguistics to the poetics of advertising. I am also in the process of working out the logistics of and funding to launch a magazine dedicated to the DIY aesthetic.


Thank you so much for your time. So, Louboutin or Converse?
Well, I'm wearing Converse at the moment, so I suppose I've already made my choice. Though, they're women's Cons, for whatever it's worth.


What do you do?
I sit in the corners of coffee shops pulling odd faces whilst rifling through a unsettlingly extensive mental cache of T.S. Eliot extracts applying Jungian psychoanalysis to 17th century Scottish demonology through a filter of pre-Enlightenment pop culture references, Gilmore Girls quotations, particle physics, and Kierkegaard in search of a new metaphor to describe whatever happens to be pouring through my tartan earbuds. (I also drive around with my windows down, playing Tigermilk or If You're Feeling Sinister—at a slightly-louder-than-normal volume—in hopes that I will pull up beside a cute girl who'll then look at me and say “Oh, I love Belle & Sebastian!” etc., etc.)


Why is there no one in the world who does it quite like you?
I am a hyper-literate, nerdy, INFP loser fanboy with years of formal training, a dead-end job, an inferiority complex, and absolutely no social life. No, seriously, I can afford to spend 20-25 hours a week working on the blog because my only other option is to sit at home watching NCIS reruns. (Did I mention my charming, disarming, self-deprecating sense of humour?)


What do you really, really love about it?
More than anything, I love all the people involved with it. I know it sounds cheesy, but I really just love all aspects of the human condition from the artists and publicists who began as feature stories and became good friends to the writers and bloggers who have become collaborators. I am even weirdly enamored of the handful of people who hate me for being insufficiently cynical and not mean enough. For me, I suppose, it's always and only ever been about art and people. Though, I am also quite fond of the way new music just sort of materialises in my mailbox and inbox.


A bit more time in the day, or a bit more money in the bank?
Unless by “a bit more money”, you mean at least six figures, I would opt for a bit more time. Four hours would be enough, I think. I will gladly adopt this scheme (http://xkcd.com/320/), if I can convince everyone else to allow me to do so. I'd just love to not be angry at the prospect of waking up in the morning.



Imagine you “make it”. You wake up, and imagine the day ahead. Tell us about breakfast.
Another four or five hours of sleep, probably. Or waffles.



What’s your Jimmy Choo? And what’s just cobblers?
Jimmy Choo: Chet Baker singing “Born to be Blue”, one of the original 1000 copies of Belle & Sebastian's Tigermilk, a 1584 copy of Sir Reginald Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft, a date with Debo Mitford circa 1938. Just cobblers: Dave Matthews, bands with 1000-word press releases, Paste Magazine.


Tell us about the last time a fan made you feel 100 feet tall.
I literally have almost no immediate contact with anyone who reads the blog. If it weren't for the Wordpress stats page, I wouldn't even know I had fans. I suppose a lot of it is wrapped up in the sort of people who are fans—musicians and writers and radio people. I find it incredibly flattering to know that they (at least occasionally) are reading what I have to say. I was absolutely over the moon when, after an interview, Emilie Simon (my all-time musical idol, number one celebrity crush, and genius behind Végétal which I chose as Album of the Decade) asked me what Brooklyn bands (where she currently lives) I thought she would like. More recently, an artist I wrote about well over a year ago said she continues to read the blog not because she always likes the recommendations, but because she loves the writing.


Independent and poor, or under contract and rich?
Independent. Marry rich.


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?
Laura Bettinson, a.k.a. Dimbleby & Capper because: A) She's better looking than I and therefore more marketable. B) Gaffer tape.


Frocks or socks?
Well, there was that one time in my History of Fashion class at uni when my friend Dan and I were led to believe we might have the opportunity to try on a corset. When the day came, the amateur costume shop girls opted to wear them themselves—in an entirely historically inaccurate manner, I might add. So disappointing. We had quite been looking forward to that.

Tuesday 31 August 2010

Games Perverts Play

It's my great great privilege to have a piece included in a wonderful new project, put together by the inspirational Elly, aka Quiet Riot Girl.



My piece, Meat, is here. It is a double privilege for it to be illustrated by the amazing Penny Goring



This is what Elly has to say:


http://gamespervertsplay.wordpress.com/


Games Perverts Play : stories and essays from the sidelines of pornography...


Games Perverts Play is a new and unique collaborative writing project, edited by Quiet Riot Girl http://www.quietgirlriot.wordpress.com/


Games Perverts Play uses pornography and essays to explore the less examined sides of our libidos, and to dissect our sexualities. Gender, power, pain and violence are all present in the background when we play. This project brings them to the fore, and enables us to look afresh at what it is we are doing when we write about sex, when we play sex games, and when sex gets serious.


First edition September 2010: OBJECTIFIED


We are told every day that women in particular are objectified in our culture, particularly by pornography. The word is supposed to have negative connotations.


But what happens when a bunch of writers take that word, and roll it round their tongues. What emerges from their pens? Their cunts and their dicks?


Here, writers Dan holloway, Marc Nash, Penny Goring, Mark Simpson, M de Winter, Arjun Basu and the editor, Quiet Riot Girl have objectified ourselves for your pleasure, and maybe your discomfort too.


We hope you enjoy the experience.

Sunday 22 August 2010

Failed Flights of Transcendence

August 26

6-8pm, Art Jericho, 6 King Street, Oxford

off Walton St, behind Jude the Obscure

“Failed Flights of Transcendence” is how 2010 Booker-Prize nominated author Tom McCarthy described the theme of his last book, Men in Space, and perectly encapsulates the relation between David Dixon’s exhibition and the work of tonight’s writers. Constantly building, constantly striving, constantly looking to break out. Of preconceptions; of limitations; of existing forms; of outdated ideas. Constantly trying; constantly nearly… making it; constantly trying harder. A night of words, music, and art to make you think, hope, despair, laugh, and ultimately shout for joy at the marvellous absurdity of life.
Entry just £3, all of which goes to the excellent cause of Launch Collaborative, the innovative arts collective putting on the event. This can be fully redeemed against copies of (life:)razorblades included, which you can buy for the silly price of £2 (usually £5) from the Albion Beatnik stall that will be with us all night

Year Zero Writers is an international collective of independent writers from 8 countries working in different forms and different fields, united by the desire to bring their work direct to readers, free from all commercial consideration. Acclaimed by sources as diverse as Nylon Mag and former head of Harper Collins, Jane Friedman, Year Zero Writers features new writing on its website most days, and regularly hosts events at venues ranging from Rough Trade East in Brick Lane toOxford’s OVADA Gallery, as well as being regulars at The Albion Beatnik Bookstore.

eight cuts gallery is a space that exists to blur the boundaries between literature and other art forms and to champion the awkward, the difficult, and the brilliant. it is currently seeking submissions for its inaugural show “into the desert” (http://eightcuts.wordpress.com/eight-cuts-gallery/into-the-desert/), and nominations for the chris al-aswad prize for outstanding contribution to breaking down barriers in the arts (http://eightcuts.wordpress.com/eight-cuts-prize/). eight cuts gallery press will release its first novels in November (http://eightcuts.wordpress.com/collaborate/coming-in-2010/)

Penny Goring (http://www.pennygoring.wordpress.com/)
Writer and artist Penny Goring is a voice like no other, at once Beat-inspired and transcendant, punkish and rooted. Her work will feature at the Independents Liverpool Biennial http://www.independentsbiennial.org/2010events/1259-chaosmos2010

Dan Holloway (http://danholloway.wordpress.com/)
Author of the novel Songs from the Other Side if the Wall and the collection of short stories and poems (life:) razorblades included, Dan is the curator of eight cuts gallery. He writes gentle literary fiction about modern Europe, urban poetry, and somewhat bizarre reviews of an eclectic range of music.

Marc Nash (http://sulcicollective.blogspot.com/)
Marc Nash writes experimental fiction that wrings the meaning from words’ necks. His fascination with typesetting, and the physical appearance of words makes his writing look like nothing you’ve ever seen. And that goes of his live performances too. Marc is the author of novel A, B & E.

Wednesday 18 August 2010

I Just Started a Publishing House

Some of you know this from snippets that've been leaking out, but now I'm coming out and clean and saying it how it is. A lot of people have told me for some time I should. Now, finally, I've worked out the way I want to do it, and I have. And I have the first two books coming out in November.

As you might expect, eight cuts gallery press is not like other publishing houses. To start with, we won't make a penny's profit from your book.


As you'd expect for part of my new project eight cuts gallery, the press will focus on a very narrow niche of books, within the contemporary urban fiction area if you had to put a genre to it. I would love to receive submissions, but like I say, this isn't a regular press. I'm only interested in submissions from writers who buy into what I'm doing (metaphorically, it's not a vanity press).



Which is what, exactly?

Well, first and foremost, I want to whip up a storm about the very best stuff that's out there, the kind of stuff I want to read, the kind of stuff that for one reason or another may find it hard to find a home in the mainstream. Our first two offerings, for example, are around 25-30,000 words. I'll also be bringing out poetry and short story combos. I also want to give the very best self-published works a chance to storm the major literary prizes that currently will not accept self-published novels.



eight cuts gallery press is an integral part of the overall eight cuts gallery project, designed to bring great literature to the public's attention regardless the format, the style, the commerciality; regardless anything save the fact it's great literature.



So what are we about?



we will



  • release an eight cuts gallery press print on demand paperback version of your book, without an ISBN, although you may attach an ISBN to other formats of your book

  • enter the eight cuts gallery press edition of your book for major literary prizes, in consultation with you

  • allow you to produce any additional versions you wish in any formats, and provide formatting and editing for those other versions, as well as putting you in touch with top producers in alternative formats

  • publicise and sell your book in all formats

  • take no money from sales of the eight cuts gallery press edition of your book (the exception being where your book is short or longlisted for a major literary award, in which case we will take a royalty from sales – yes, you read that the right way round – until the marketing fee the prize requires us to hand over is recouped)

  • mention your book in all publicity, and ensure that your book appears on the click through page of any online articles by or about us

  • sell your book online and in selected outlets, and at all events

  • never associate you with defamatory material, but we may cause a brouhaha

  • link to your primary website from our homepage

  • let you retain all rights, whilst being happy to help negotiate the sale of those rights on your behalf should you wish, without taking a commission

  • give all our writers an equal share of profits from eight cuts gallery press (80% split equally) and eight cuts gallery (20% split equally, with 20% to eight cuts gallery and 60% to participating artists)

  • let you set the price for your work

  • target sales, publicity, appearance and alternative format possibilities for you
    provide full monthly statements of your sales, and forward all monies to you, by Paypal, on a monthly basis

  • send out review copies of the eight cuts gallery press edition in consultation with you


we’d like you to



  • be available for media interviews within reason

  • be prepared to have a photo and press sheet drawn up for publicity

  • link to us from your website and mention us in interviews where possible and appropriate

  • agree to your book and name being used in publicity material for eight cuts gallery events

  • agree to the title and cover of your book appearing on eight cuts gallery press merchandise

  • agree to be open to suggestions of possible alternative formats for your book

  • let us quote up to 200 words from your work for publicity purposes

  • let us purchase other formats of your work at wholesale price in order to send them for review, to display them at fairs, and to sell at our events at a price to be agreed with you (and we’d like to take 20% of the profits on non eight cuts gallery press editions)

Here's a peek at those first two books. Click the title to read the opening chapter.



The Dead Beat by Cody James (whom you may know as Daisy Anne Gree)



It’s 1997, and the comet of the century is due some time about now, on its 3000 year roundtrip.


“Man, fucking Emeryville,” Lincoln said, pausing in his stride to hock phlegm onto the sidewalk.”
And so, for want of anything better to do, Adam and his meth addict friends end up in San Francisco, wondering where their place in the addict hierarchy might be, why no one has written a good book in over a decade, and what the fuck the comet might mean, when nothing on earth means anything.


And in a zip of light and a snort of meth the comet is gone, taking with it this last snapshot of earth for 3000 years, leaving Adam to wonder if it meant anything at all, or whether it was maybe just a bit cool that the sky looked different. Just for once. For the last time in his life.



Charcoal by Oli Johns



“Apparently there are three popular ways to kill yourself in Hong Kong.
Throw yourself off a building.

Hang yourself.

Burn charcoal in a sealed room.”


Oli can’t stop reading Deleuze, only it doesn’t seem to make any sense. And he can’t stop thinking about suicide. And Camus. And that sort of makes sense. But only sort of. And then he meets a seventeen year-old girl on the internet and they meet regularly for mindless sex. Only it’s not enough to stop the anxiety. And the obsession with suicide, although he knows he’ll never kill himself. And then there was that Korean model, the one who killed herself in Paris. And that writer, the one he met online. The one who said she’d tried to kill herself three times. The one who wrote that book…

Sunday 15 August 2010

Sabina's Wedding Night

Back in April, I wrote about the amazing writer and filmmaker Sabina England's project Wedding Night. Sabina was looking to raise money to film the 15-minute debut short. She raised the money she needed, and the film was cast and shot, and those of us following Sabina's progress have been having a great time keeping up with it on Facebook. Asbina is now looking for funding to work with some of the best post-production people in the business, and first and foremost for entry fees to festivals.

I almost never get involved in fundraising, but for Sabina I'd make an exception to pretty much every rule - she's one of the most talented people I've ever met, passionate, single-minded, unique, and brilliant. And I have a vested interest in this one, as I'm hoping to arrange some special screenings in Oxford and London.

As before, Sabina has made a video to go with her appeal, which includes on set footage from the shoot and is - as always with her brilliant Velma Sabina channel - worth watching in and of itself.
Do click on the link below, watch the video, offer any support you can - and even if you can't support financially, which I know most of my readers can't, spread the word on.

Thank you

Here's the link!! Click here!

Friday 13 August 2010

The Chris Al-Aswad Prize

Some of you will know that I have recently started a new venture. More of that in the next week or so. More important things for today:

it is an honour to announce, as one of the very first things I do with that venture, the inaugural

chris al-aswad prize for outstanding contribution to breaking down barriers in the arts

for the person, organisation, website, community, whatever that has done most to promote brilliance, diversity, and the breaking down of barriers in literature over the preceding twelve months. it is a genuine honour to be able to award this prize in the name of chris al-aswad, one of the most brilliant, farsighted, innovative, generous, and supportive people in the arts. chris, the genius behind escape into life, one of the most wonderful places in cyberspace, died in july 2010 at the age of just 31. his contribution and spirit will be sorely missed, and are irreplaceable. it is a privilege to be able to do something that will in some way perpetuate his name and his values.
the award is intended to recognise outstanding people striving to break down barriers, and to provide practical assistance to its recipients in furthering their work. to that end, it will not be awarded by demonstrable quantitative achievements, or to a job fully done.

we are really keen to hear any and all recommendations – e-mail eightcutsgallery@googlemail.com by september 15

full details here

and the really important bit for you

to make the prize as helpful as possible, i want to make the actual prize both useful and symbolic of what chris believed in so much, the values i completely share with him. so i want as many people in the arts or media in any capacity to think about what they could offer the recipient. something very small, the equivalent of an hour of your time.

  • if you're in the media, it might be a column on the recipient
  • if you're onilne it might be giving over a guest post
  • if you have a venue it might be a brief show
  • if you have a shop, it might be a prominent place on your shelves for a period

put together, these little pieces can make a huge contribution to the recipient's work and, as a result, to breaking down barriers in the arts in general. offers gladly taken in the comments here as well as at the above e-mail address.

of course, the first thing everyone here can do is blog about it, and send people over to escapeintolife.com

Wednesday 11 August 2010

Tight

Robert James Russell (aka @robhollywood ) is an inspiring writer, and the newest member of Year Zero Writers. He has just finished taking in the submissions for a fascinating project, unambiguously titled "Sex Scene Anthology". Contributors had to submit a sex scene, disconnected from any context, and preferably not lifted from a longer work, but compiled specifically for this anthology. What's so intriguing is how difficult it is to decontextualise in this way (which, in turn, casts some fascinating light on the (dis)integration of sex in human life), so many of us have ended up creating more of a short story than a scen. Me included, I'm afraid. This is it.

Decided content warning (and not just for erotic content - severely transgressive material)!!!


Her skin’s so tight, I think as she leans on the sideboard with a juice. Stretched on her like a canvas.

I’d paint her with my cum.

I thought the same the first time she showed up in that half shirt, slapped The Birth of Tragedy on the table and said, “So, for Nietzsche, you’re the man.”

The man. The fucking ubermensch all uber those tight fucking tits.

“I guess,” I said, and our Wednesday night ritual began. Tammy got Nietzsche 101. Sarah got a babysitter and the comfort of some father time for Alice while she yogalatesed away her pregnancy fat. And I. I got to score the taut contours of Tammy’s skin on my cortex, storing it away till she left and I sat, still stiff, and closed my eyes, and imagined it on my fingers. On my cock.

We talked about the ubermensch and Tammy said the idea of a superMAN is just ridiculous, everyone knows a man’s will is in his willy and I thought she’s got a point but damn those tits are so fucking pert.

We talked aesthetics and the pursuit of pleasure and by our fifth session we got to wine, and how to blend the senses and how to separate the senses, and I said let me show you, and got out a bottle of ’47 Cheval Blanc and rested it in the cradle of my corkscrew, slowly cranked the angle, and lowered the screw into place, cutting with delicacy and precision to disturb nothing, and let the wine rest and brought her two glasses, and made her drink the first with her eyes closed and said, describe the difference between these different wines.

Two weeks later she caught my glance and she looked straight back and now she says wait here, and I wait and I can feel my body going into contractions each one pushing my cock harder against the cloth and the door opens and she says, watch, and I start to touch myself and she says no, later, separation of the senses, and walks across the room, my eyes following the path of her tits tight beneath her top, and she removes my clothes one by one, and stands and takes off her stockings and ties one around each of my arms, holding me cruciform to the sofa.

She repeats, watch, and I watch her fingers, and I watch her clothes, and I watch her skin, and when she removes the final pieces of lace the contractions through my body are so strong they lift my spine right off the sofa, and I watch the tips of her fingers and the deft circles she makes, and only one finger from the other hand sliding in and my whole body echoes the thought, how fucking tight, and when her body shakes in orgasm there’s not a sound and she leaves a finger, slowly swirling on herself and says, OK, separation of senses, and stands and picks up my shirt and twists it into a rope and walks over there’s one last sight of her tits closing in on my face and I open my mouth, and she leans over and I go blind and feel the pressure on my skull, and then something smooth, and firm, and tight.

See, she says, laughing because see is the one thing I don’t do but fuck I can feel it, and I strain upwards.

One more moment, she says, and there’s nothing, and I wonder if I hear the sound of her footsteps but I can’t be sure and my mouth’s open and my body’s spasming, again and again, and finally, I hear her say, OK, and there are her tits again, circling on my face, a nipple stopping and lingering against my outstretched tongue, and she repeats, OK, and says, now

and lowers her cunt onto me and it’s so fucking tight I explode before she’s fully down, and this time I hear her scream as well, and she sits there, massaging me gently with her cunt till the last ripple has subsided.

There, she says, the pursuit of pleasure, then there’s only the sound of our breathing and she raises herself off me, and there’s silence, and maybe the sound of cloth, and slowly the thought creeps in like a toothache.

What have I done.

As if she reads my mind she says “It’s OK, no one will ever know I was here.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure,” she says calmly, and I feel her untie my hands.

“Sarah,” I say.

“I know, she’ll be back any minute.”

I pull my shirt from my face and she’s in the doorway and she smiles, and slowly pulls up her skirt and I see her cunt glistening at me. “Always remember tonight,” she says, holding it there and I set my brain to burn the image in my hard drive, and she flattens her skirt down and smiles again, and I look around and

Oh Jesus fuck.

Alice, I think, seeing the swaddling on the floor, and her small, pale feet. “You let Alice see that?” I say, and she’s motionless.

And then I see the wine cradle, the metal of the screw stained dark. “You’ve been drinking my goddamn wine?”

Guilt. And anger.

I look again. Not just liquid. Deep, coagulated drops, and something. Not cork. Something.

Stickier. Messier.

Alice. Motionless. Alice’s head peeking out from the cloth. A dark, coagulated stain. Something sticky seeping from the top of Alice’s head.

The metal of the wine screw dark.

My balls still aching.

“Like I told you,” says Tammy from the door, “no one will ever know I was ever here.”

Friday 30 July 2010

The Honesty of Bodies

My WIP has been a troublesome, tricksy beast. Originally going by the title A Life Drawn Freehand, it started as a tale of a grieving 50-something mother comng to terms with her grief by pursuing the career she put on hold in her 20s. I have struggled and struggled with the voice but I finaly think I have it, in the context of a very different story, but one with the same heart, the relationship of mutual discovery between an older woman and younger man.



This is the new chapter one. The book is now called The Honesty of Bodies, from a line in the beautiful poem of Kirsty Logan's, Ways of Making Love.



It should probably come with a content warning - but you probably all know that by now :)

--


“It’s not like I’m not hungry,” she says. “I just can’t eat. It’s like eating is a memory my body knows it has but can’t ever reach.”

A distant memory, I think, looking at her. She has so little energy her head’s just lolling back in the pillow and she can’t even look at me. Not that it matters, I guess. I shift in front of the sun coming in the window and her eyes are unresponsive. She’s shutting down.

“And I don’t even know if I want to remember. You know?”

“Yeah.”

“No you don’t.”

“I guess not.”

“I keep trying to figure it out.” Her speech is slow now, and she’s not looking at me and she’s not looking at the ceiling and she’s not looking anywhere else, so I find it hard to place the words at all. “This thing. This whatever it is that made me forget how to eat. Where did it come from?”

“Who knows,” I say, but the question’s not for me.

“I just don’t know. Am I killing myself? Or is someone, some thing doing this to me? Or did I just get sick?”

Her breathing’s as loud as her words by now. I look at her chest to see the rise and fall but there’s nothing there.

Eventually she says, “Kiss me.”

I bend over and press my lips to hers, leave them there a second, and pull away, half expecting the room to be silent when I do.

“That was nice,” she says. “I always thought it would be.” She runs the tip of her tongue around her mouth and I think I see a movement in her throat.

“You thought about us kissing?”

But she’s already somewhere else.

Lifting her into the chair is so easy, even though I haven’t worked out in months. I fix the drip like I was shown, and wheel her down the ward.

“Just getting some air,” I say to a nurse, who smiles back at us.

I put her in the front of the car, leaving the drip and the chair, pop a couple of warfarin, and take her back to mine. She’s still alive when I place her in the bath, because it’s been an hour now and she feels as warm as the water I’ve run for her. I wash the smell of hospital from her skin, dry her down, and smooth oil on her and in her, leaving it slick on the surface of her sores.

The silk falls over her and she’s so slippery I make sure I have a good hold of her as I carry her downstairs, and back into the car.

We’re driving for half an hour and I haven’t heard anything from her since she left her bed. I don’t carry her far from the car. The trees are tight and the summer growth is thick.

The silk slides off her as easily as it slid on, and in the sun, Bella’s skin, her whole body, is almost transparent. And cool, even in the heat; my hands warm the oil and its scent merges with that of the leaves. The light tricks me and for a moment I think she’s becoming solid, like she’s drawing the sap into her.

I remove my clothes slowly, and lie on top of her, and even when I come the only sound is the grass underneath us.

I lie beside her, reach out, feel the cloth, and take out the blade. I slide it through the skin on each of her arms, leaving lines of red that seem to rise and then hover, the fluid as still as the summer day.

I draw the same lines on my own arms and watch as the warfarin pushes my blood.

I take Bella’s hand and lay my head on the forest floor, and I wonder if the scent of blood will draw foxes or badgers before the insects come, or maybe someone will follow their dog through the undergrowth, or maybe a gamekeeper tracking his gundog after a kill, or maybe Julie.

Maybe Julie.

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Authors on Show

Lorraine Holloway-White first came to my attention on Harper Collins' site Authonomy for the very silly but very obvious reason that we share a surname (you can read more cool stuff about Lorraine and her really rather good writing at the end of the interview). I soon realised how much more there is to a person than a name, and it was no surprise when, earlier this year, she announced she was setting up the website Authors on Show, a showcase for talented writers seeking representation (there's also a super Facebook Group and a great blog that's constantly full of informative, fresh material). Utterly unpaid, and by sheer force of will, hard work, generosity, and passion for her writers, Lorraine has attracted a super team around her on the website who work tirelessly to expose their writers to the people that matter, and shine teh spotlight each month on a few of their finest.

As I've just started my own press, the site is now even more of interest to me, and I was delighted to speak to her about the site and how it can benefit writers, agents, and publishers. Before you take a closer look at what Lorraine has to say, why not go and look at this month's featured writers on the site:
Margaret Callow
SueAnn Jackson Land
Craig Saunders

1. How and why did Authors on Show come about?
My agents said I needed to be seen and get my name and books known. It made me think about how other authors had to do the same and I thought we could help each other with that by me promoting their book, them promoting mine. The snowball effect if you like.
That isn’t what happened though is it? I don’t think this is what my agents had in mind. My book is rather lost on the way somewhere in all this, but I love what we’re doing for others.

2. What do you offer authors that other sites don't?
Well for one, our authors can’t dump their books and walk away. We expect more off them than that. We offer a quiet, friendly, calm place to visit where everyone supports, promotes and encourages each other.
There is often voting, which readers can take part in
We hope to get agent interest for our authors and have already been working on that for one author in particular.
We are mailing all agents and publishers informing them about the site and hope the fact we have so few books to look at each month means they can spare the time to look at them. The big sites have so many there, that it takes forever going through it all.
By keeping it select, there is more chance someone will be ‘spotted’
We promise to promote those we showcase as much as we can and wherever we can in order that they may be seen further afield. We hope those showcased at any one time will do the same for each other as well. That way, word spreads and more people see them.
We offer editorial advice, competitions, interviews from authors, publishers and agents, help and advice where able and there is more planned for the future.

3. As a writer, you must have an elevator pitch for your book. So what's the elevator pitch for the site?
Authors on Show is THE site for all agents and publishers to find their next big best sellers. Small enough to look through quickly, but big enough to make a huge impact in the literary world. Come to Authors on Show if you want quality not quantity

4. You describe the site as a showcase. To whom are you showcasing, and how do you go about reaching them?
We are showcasing to people around the world, fellow authors, readers and more important agents and publishers. As I already said, we are contacting agents and publishers to ask them to visit and take a look from time to time. We know this has already been done by some, but we want to make it THE place for them to come first when looking for new talent.

5. Could you say a little about the website networking principle you operate? How do you get around the usual problem sites have of being by writers and read mainly by writers?
Mainly because, we aren’t a site where anyone can upload their books and then walk away hoping someone will read it. It is by submission and selection process only and judging is very strict and rigorous.
Also one of the conditions of being showcased, is that our authors use their social networking sites to help promote us as well. Instead of just other authors looking, we reach their friends, family and work colleagues. In other words, people who buy and read books. Even authors do that you know. They in turn tell others and so it goes on. Again, the snowball effect. On our FaceBook page I know there are quite a few following Authors on Show who aren’t authors themselves but are readers. Also we have agents and publishers following us, which is rather good

6. What is the unifying factor for the work on your site? Are there any kinds of book or material that you wouldn't have? And is there a kind of book you're looking for?
We accept all genres and hope to have a good mix each month. We wouldn’t show outright pornographic material or needless violence, but are willing to look at all submissions with an open mind.
Like any agent and publisher, we are looking for books where the quality of writing stands out from all others, but we especially support authors who promote and help themselves. Books we are likely to turn down would be from authors who expect to dump their book, walk away and expect others to do their work for them. That is something Authors on Show won’t accept or tolerate.
Show us you’re serious about yourself and us and we’ll be serious about promoting you.

7. How do you ensure that all your authors get coverage whilst maintaining quality levels to keep people looking?
By keeping the numbers down of those we showcase it is easier to be more selective. Each month we aim to showcase six authors and they are chosen by the three main team members of AOS. We each like different genres, which helps tremendously when it comes to reading. One thing we all agree on though is to only show the books that are well written, edited properly and have an author willing to work hard to achieve success.

8. You would be most happy in one year if...
On the personal side good health is the most important thing to me as mine has been pretty bad for the last 2 years and I’m just coming out of it all. On the writing side, to see my book accepted for publication.
Professionally, I (and the team) would be thrilled beyond belief to have one or two of our authors from Authors on Show get representation or a publishing deal from having been on our site. That would be incredible. Finding a way of getting paid for all our hard work on the site would be nice too.

9. How do you think the publishing world is changing, and how do you see what AOS offers fitting into the new landscape?
Things are changing a lot in the publishing world, but I firmly believe books with pages will never stop being very popular. That said, I think some of the ways forward now are excellent and we, at AOS, will be offering advice and having people from all aspects do articles and give interviews where they can advise our authors on all aspects of publishing..
We are even looking at maybe acting as literary agents ourselves at some point and maybe arranging publication in conjunction with others, such as yourself, for those who want it.

10. Can, and if so how, do people approach you to join?
There is no membership or signing up necessary to be a member of AOS. All you need to do is follow us on Facebook, Twitter, our blog or Authors On Show.com and promote us wherever possible. If anyone wants to be showcased, there are Q&A’s on the main site, which talk about submissions, how to contact any of us and what is required.

11. As a new publisher, how would you suggest I go about using your site to find great writing?
We would be happy to see you there and hope you will be from time to time. If there were specific genres you were looking for, we would be willing to mail you when those were due to be showcased. Likewise, if a publisher/agent contacted us asking if there was anything in particular we thought truly stood out in a field they were looking for, we would be happy to keep an eye out for them and notify them when we found something we thought fitted the bill (as we have already done).

--

Lorraine Holloway-White is an author of two books and is presently working on her third. Becoming well known throughout the world for her mediumistic photographic readings and absent healing, she is also the Founder and main Team Leader of Authors on Show, a writing site showcasing authors from around the world. In only two months, the site is already very popular and is being viewed in over 60 countries. That number is growing steadily each day.

Within a couple of months of placing her first book, A Guide’s Guide to Mediumship and Healing on a well known writing site, she secured a Literary Agent. Her book is presently with a well known publishing house under consideration.

Her third book, and editing of her second, is presently on hold as she works full time now promoting others on Authors On Show. She is joined by permanent team members and fellow authors, Nicole Scheller (editor) and L Anne Carrington (blog and entertainment news). As well as these permanent members, there are also AOS helpers and friends, Robert Dean (Bobby’s Blog), Louise Wise (Interviews) and Sessha Batto (Ongoing Flash Fiction Competition).

It says something about Authors on Show, that these people give their time free of charge and willingly work so hard in order to help promote their peers. It is the combination of this team, which makes Authors on Show such a success. Lorraine hopes that they too in time will achieve success with their own books and hopes by working on the site, it helps their own exposure.

Work by the Team Members can be seen on the AOS Blog

More can be seen about Lorraine and her books on her private blog

Tuesday 27 July 2010

Valve Works

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing Rob Sherman's Valve Works, a collection of illustrated poems published online for free by the really rather excellent Philistine Press. There were one or two things I didn't quite "get" on first reading, so it was a pleasure that Rob was prepared to take the time to talk to me about Valve Works. The illustrations are by the fantastic Sarah Ogilvie.

Rob will next be working on a few plays, including one of King Arthur's bowel movements. He is moving back to London to continue writing music and producing as much material as possible. These are a few of the ways he can be found online.
Twitter - http://twitter.com/robshermanmusic
Tumblr - http://bonfiredog.tumblr.com/
myspace - www.myspace.com/robshermanmusic

1. Why did you choose Philistine Press?
Philistine Press was recommended to me by one of those circular emails that come around and you pay very little attention to; however, I had been reading a lot about Creative Commons, Fair Use Licenses, censorship and ownership in relation to the internet. It was something I was passionate about. And Philistine seems to be somewhere that artists can produce and publish their work without compromise, for the joy of it, for the exposure; when money is removed from the equation it is quite liberating. Obviously money would be lovely, but poetry, as a singular product, makes very little money nowadays anyway. Philistine seemed to share my philosophy, and I was happy to work with them.

2. Can you tell me about the introduction, and how it fits with the rest of the collection? That's something that didn't quite click. It felt very contemporary, yet the collection feels like it has a very 18/19th century sensibility. On the other hand if the electricity reference were tied in to Frankenstein, that would make perfect sense... (um, and what do you say to people who say steampunk to you?)
The introduction, I will admit, is a bit of a strange thing; on its own, it is entitled "A Theory", because that is really all it is; a theory of behavioural constructs and human biology, albeit put much less professionally than that! I can understand the feel of different centuries at work; I guess that the introduction is fulfilling the role of an introduction like in any other form of media. It is the voice of the author, or the editor, in a much different voice than the poems, espousing the philosophy of it all. The body for me is terrifying and wonderful, and its baser elements are not to be ignored; the electricity compels us mentally and physically, to both reproduce and create. I suppose the metaphor was pleasing, rather than a concious choice. I would not go as far to say that it is steampunk, though I am a huge fan of the genre and it certainly informs my work.

3. The chimpanzee - Basement Jaxx?
Haha! Do you mean the drawing or the poem? It didn't come into my head; perhaps it came from Sarah's (the illustrator's) imagination. It does look similar though, doesn't it? Perhaps not as grumpy; I think he's quite cheery, with his gargantuan plug socket.

4. How did the illustration process work - did you simply hand over the collection, and take what you got back, or was there toing and froing?
Well, Sarah is my girlfriend, so it is a close working relationship to say the least! The poems were written a long time before the drawings were produced, and I was really starting to see what she was capable of as an artist. I asked her to do them, and we both benefitted, as they were part of the portfolio that got her a place at Camberwell art school. But yes, I pretty much left her to it, to let her put a mark on it herself. Her drawings are quite nightmarish, quite warped in a beautiful way, and I thought it suited the whole aesthetic of the piece. I also paid her back with fancy meals and flowers, so I think business was done properly!

5. Tell me a bit about the fascination with medical textbooks
I am a huge fan of technical language in poetry; one of my tutors, Andy Brown, is an ecologist and a poet, and the beautifully onomatopoeic technicalities of the various disciplines of science work so well; they should not just be kept for dry lab reports. Though it sounds clichéd, the human body is a fascinating subject for poetry, and the body of knowledge mankind has in relation to it can only aid creativity.

6. The actual poems felt at times as though they were almost like Keatsian odes. Is that fair?
I am not that knowledgeable on Keats, so I will just nod my head slowly... though I know what you mean. There is a grandeur to it, especially in "Hypothalamus"; I particularly enjoyed it there as the hypothalamus is such a vital yet obscure part of human anatomy; it has a hand in almost every bodily process, and yet is hidden under the brain, about the size of a pea. Such a poetic opportunity couldn't go to waste!

7. I see you are also a musician. Could you explain a bit about your approach to combining different arts in your work? Do you see boundaries between arts that you are blurring, or do you see it all as essentially aspects of the same?
To be honest, there is no method to it. Most artforms work very well together, drawing from similar themes, tropes, traditions and ideas. There are definitely boundaries; without the boundaries there would just be a huge mess of unprofessional, amorphous ideas; wonderful, raw stuff, but with no discipline they are of little use or importance. Music is music, and should be its own discipline, as well as writing, or theatre; but when they encroach on each other, whether slightly or massively, interesting things happening. They are aspects of experience, but it is important to me, that they remain distinct, and any blurring remains just that.

Friday 23 July 2010

Not for (self/vanity/e/un)published writers

I've just started a small press. All very exciting and more anon but this post isn't about publicising that. Rather I wanted to focus on the primary reason for setting up eight cuts gallery press. I want a pplatform for creating some hoopla about the amazing writingout there that will never be a sure fire enough mass seller to land a mainstream deal without being substantially rewritten. And part of that platform creation is entering amazing books for top literary prizes.

That's a bit extreme, isn't it? Setting up a whole press so books can be entered for prizes? Afetr all, the Booker Prize, for example, is open to the best novel published in the UK, so people can just send their own in?

Well, no. It's awarded to "It will be awarded to the author of the best, eligible full-length novel." And in taht sentence is a whole world of things the literary world frankly needs to get its act together about.

Most writers will have entered a competition at some point, and will know that, in general, they are for previously unpublished work. The Bridport Prize, the acme fo the short story and poetry comp world, defines entries "must never have been published, self-published, published on any website or public online forum, broadcast nor winning or placed in any other competition." OK, no one wants recycled stuff wandering off with top prizes (er, I guess, though as an author who regularly posts my work online and on critiquing sites I find the rule perplexing).

Fine, so if we've put our stuff out there at all, we're published. We no longer have first rights, blah blah, end of. So, whatever we put out there we can enter for a competition for the best book that's been published, right? Wrong. The Booker rules state "Self published books are not eligible where the author is the publisher or where a company has been specifically set up to publish that book."

So published means something different in each case. You can see the Booker Prize's point, though, can't you? They don't want every Jane, John and whoever entering their precious pile of crap. After all, other competitions designed to find the best of the best have similar restrictins. You can't just enter your local football team for the FA Cup. Or pitch up as a golfer and hope to qualify for he Open. Oh no, wait that's wrong. You can.

So what's going on? Well, I'm not going to claim there's some kind of cabalistic conspiracy to keep us alternatives out. There isn't. Aside from anything else that would be to attribute to "the mainstream" a level of organisation it's just not capable of. Rather, it's systematic of an inbuilt prejudice that runs so deep it's barely even noticed.

The fact is it's just assumed in the mainstream that we know what publishing is (and assumptions are illustrative of the worst kind of prejudice). Only then us slippery awkward independent types come along and point out that means we're published, and we can play in the playground too. And each time that happens, a new lock is put on the gate to keep us out.

So we have two choices. We can either simply play in our own playground. Or we can keep breaking the locks and point out that something is amiss. I am greatly greatly in favour of the former. It's what I do at Year Zero, and what I'm doing at eight cuts gallery. But it's not entirely fair on the reading public at large for them not to be aware what's happening, unseen, to keep books away from them (admittedly most of them are awful, but that's not the point, the point is they are not being told they are there at al).

Which is where eight cuts gallery press comes in, a press set up for the express purpose of not hiding exciting alternative books under the carpet, and making our literary elite, our gatekeeping judges, not just ignore but actively reject them. Or, of course, say that after all they might actually have some value. But surely that would never happen...

Charcoal by Oli Johns and The Dead Beat by Daisy Anne Gree will be appearing at major competitions near you in 2011.

Friday 16 July 2010

Beautiful Photos









































Here are the first pics from last week's amazing gig at The Good Ship. With huge thanks to everyone who took part, especially


Tuesday 6 July 2010

Beautiful Things that Happen Today!



It's here at last! The biggest Year Zero Live event to date. We have three amazing bands and four fantastic writers, and we have the complete run of one of the fabbest venues in London all night. Sarah was just fantastic last Wednesday, even after 30 sleepless hours after setting off from California, so she's set to be even more awesome tonight.

Here's our running order for the night:
7.30-8 doors open to a set from Rabid Gravy

8-8.15 Beautiful Things - Sarah, Dan, Marc reading pieces chosen by Sarah

8.15-8.50 Rabid Gravy running straight into

8.50 Dan Holloway reading SKIN BOOK



10.00 Marc Nash

10.15 Sarah E Melville reading her own set


11 (or thereabouts) finish

Here is a little something about Becca, whom we're delighted to be welcoming for the night:
Becca Fenton likes words and playing with sounds and likes you too, for coming to listen to hers. She used to run the 'wordPLAY' spoken word night at The Good Ship and is very excited about the current spoken word and new writing scene in the UK. her favourite cheese in Lincolnshire Poacher and her favourite film is Truly Madly Deeply.