Friday, 26 February 2010

All I Have is My Voice

This is one of those posts where I'd love your help. I'm putting an article together for the Year Zero site next Saturday on confessional art, and I'd really like to know where people stand so I can address people's thoughts and concerns. So please be as argumentative as you'd like. Each of the paragraphs of this post starts with a question. please chip in to any of those.

What do I mean by confessional art? Well, I mean the kind of culture where an the artist/author/musician wears their heart on their sleeve, takes us into the darkest corners of their lives, writes the painful and the personal, and lays it bare and in our faces. Tracey Emin's "Everyone I Ever Slept With 1963-1995", for example, or, to use two of the people I know and love personally, the writing of Sabina England and Daisy Anne Gree.

Why does confessional art provoke such a strong reaction? Tracey Emin became an object of revulsion and ridicule when she exhibited "My Bed". Sabina has been trolled off Authonomy twice with Brown Trash. I have two theories as to why people react so strongly. First, I think people find the personal disturbing - they feel like a boundary's been crossed. I remember reading an article about snot in the seventeenth century when I was doing my doctorate - apparently that was the moment we changed our view on such things - looking at the contents of one's handkerchief was unacceptable not because it was gross, but because it was a symbol of self-obsession. I think people don't like the way confessional art breaks those social niceties and seems self-obsessed. I also think many people think it's fake - that is what's really at the heart of the criticism of both Sabina and Tracey - the idea that it's put on for sensation. (I'll say in more detail in the full article what I make of these criticisms - for now I'll just say these arguments are lazy, lazy, lazy)

Isn't confessional art the ultimate self-indulgence? Following on from the above. Well, no. I believe art connects people. But I also believe that attempting too artificially to connect with one's audience creates art that's shallow, and that misses the mark. I've come around recently to believing very strongly that the only art that's truly universal in its appeal is art that's utterly individual. Why/ Well, we are all different in sme respect - if we seek too much to emphasise our sameness, we will be chasing something that's not there. THAT is what will lead us to artifice and construct. If we go right inside ourselves we will end up with something true and something that focuses on the one true universal - our individualism (that's the short version :p)

Shouldn't confessional artists get out of other people's faces? No. End of. Art should be in people's faces. It should describe the painfula nd the true about our lives. "People may freely remove their faces from my art. I will not remove my art from their faces"

"It's not art" is it? Because somehow, autobiography is just that - it's a science, it's just "telling it", there's no value-added. Well, the strongest definition I've heard of art in a long long time came from Daisy "Maybe there is no way to leave the world a better place, and the only thing left to do is tell the truth". Isn't art transformation? No, transformation is wish fulfilment. Of course art tells universal stories, and conveys the strange in familiar terms. But IT DOES NOT MAKE THE FAMILIAR STRANGE.

So why confessional art? My answer is simple - because there have been times when it's been the only thing that's kept me alive. What about you?

Sunday, 21 February 2010


The First Night I didn't Think About Killing Myself

"That razor blade looks rusty," you said. "You wanna watch it."
"What the fuck do I care?" I replied.
You looked at the skin above my wrists.
I clasped a hand over each.
I looked at the skin inside your elbow.
You looked straight back.
"This is clean," you said. "And sharp.
And you won't feel a thing."
I don't know what I did think
But I know I didn't think about killing myself
And when I woke up and looked on the ground beside me I thought
That razor blade looks rusty.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Who Killed (Archie) Progress?

A short, and not particularly sweet, post.

Just over a fortnight ago, on February 1st, I had the pleasure of speaking at a conference on the media portrayal of mental health,thanks to the conference organisers, Social Spider and One in Four magazine, the super aspirational lifestyle mag for those of us with mental health difficulties who don't define ourselves that way (OK, they let me write an article for them so I'm biased in thinking their content's fab). I was speaking as a writer and blogger who's bipolar and has written about mental health issues fairly uncompromisingly as well as using it as the painful heart for some of my creative work (see the previous entry).

Also speaking was the BBC's head of diversity, who spent much of her time being roundly praised (and rightly so) for the BBC's handling of the Stacey Slater bipolar storyline, a superb, amazingly acted portrayal of the horror and unglamorousness of living with this crippling illness.

Two weeks late I feel kicked in the teeth.

Who killed Archie? The bipolar nutjob. Of course. And if you really think people are too nuanced to see it like that, try searching twitter for "bipolar".

I have personal experience of the ridiculous myth that associates bipolar with axe(or bust)-wielding violence (in the form of a particularly hurtful jibe from a work colleague who should have known better). This ludicrous association keeps many out of jobs in the first place, sees us muttered and giggled about, accused, victimised, bullied, without considering the damage it does to our already vulnerable health - or to society as a whole.

Then along comes Eastenders and does a great job of breaking some of that down. Which is why it feels like so much of a betrayal to have this done to us. Better to have done nothing at all! Sure, maybe they're going to use it as a kicking-off point for a HUGE debate that breaks the bipolar/violence connection once and for all. Maybe not :p Maybe it's too late anyway.

Just consider this. In the 70s and 80s black actors were cast as baddies in the media at a time when much opinion on race relations was disgustingly backward. Sure there was no direct statement of causality, just as the BBC didn't say Stacey's illness made her kill Archie. But such casting is easy for us to see as reprehensible, revolting, and doing nothing but contribute to preposterous racial stereotyping. I'm not saying things have got better or worse as far as the way we handle race is concerned, but here's the thing - people will say "but it's obvious those casting decisions were wrong, what are you talking about with mental health, no one's implying a connection" and they genuinely won't see their illogic. And in a way the BBC's unawareness that they've done anything wrong is more worrying than malice - it shows just how ignorant we still are - and will remain as long as such stereotyping persists.

Shame on the BBC; shame on the head of diversity who smiled and talked and took our praise. I am ashamed and embarrassed to have shared a platform with you.

Thursday, 18 February 2010


I lie

Lip-reading the liquid crystal drumbeat.

Red slashes strafe the ceiling;

Hours minutes seconds,

The tick tock triptych

Flickers faces of a pulsebeat promenade,

A pageant scarred

From the egg-pan scraps and rancid lard

Of my life.

One by one they hide their whispers in the roar,

The crowdsourced maw

The thousand mouths

That pound and gouge

Their silent cries

Inside my skull,

Behind my eyes,



Repeating, repeating:


Freakshow plays a nightly Columbine zoetrope tamazepam blur, rejubilant slur, infinite whir, sleep now bullet-hole smack-rush joy lie there the deserving dead and never stir

Freakshow wears a wrist-slit wristlet of his meds, rosary recites and plucks each bead and tongues each name, each holy mother treat me beat me amen

Freakshow has fuck-dream fantasies of Mary Bell, folds her in a skin book blanket to protect her from a living hell

Freakshow prowls the corners of the pheromone cage he constructed in his own front room

Freakshow says if you don’t see the secrets of Gannymede, pulsars, galaxy dust beginnings striated out in Jack White’s riffs then what’s the point, and mashes grandma’s pumpkin chowder cool between air guitar fingers

Freakshow’s life is so important to your lace chintz gimp mask vibrator conscience you waterboard torture throttle each word before it leaves his throat

Freakshow finds stillness in the million iPod ears scrumming a chaos concertina; in the neon thrum the bass and drum, the car horn and hawker, the cortisol scent of slickers bonus-bent and rent boys, hookers, a thousand faces more lost than his in cardboard houses, peeking out from Prada blouses, empty, drawn, transparent, barely bulging the bubble of his self-absorption as they brush by towards their Waterloo nothing

Freakshow harvests cancer daydream sinews, tans and tenderises, chemo anaesthetises them with his keypad club till each page hollers at the star-pricked unpolluted sky grazing the night for kitten candy innocents to scrape, for stopped-up pelmet ears to rape

Freakshow needs a passport to leave the prison of his head, increasingly infrequently collects his border guard refusal stamps and shuffles back to his squalid camp to wait his patient turn

Freakshow lives in a candle joint hotel room darkness world, shrinking down to the wrinkled dragons beyond the body boundary of his collagen-culled and crippled skin

This sicked-on Soho sidewalk night slithers toward amaretto coffee dawn, turns off the torture porn of spooling self-derision, the prophecies, the visions, the pharmacy and fallout from a fissile life, and bares its wrists to the drab diazepam day,

The lithium grey

The fog, the fug, the cigarette-smoke grey

The sacred grey

The damnèd grey

This daylight veil

I wear like dust

This calico skin I push through the pores from an endlessly replenishing stuffcloth innards mind

Is me


Your border control, your lintel lychgate ash-filled heart

The skin that shrink wraps and vacuum packs you

The barcode that tracks you

The pudenda the sphincter that sucks in your boredom excretia

The white sand shore that laps on your drabness

That traps the flab and flaccid slab of your normality.

I’m the cock, the gash

The pox the rash

The stenching slash to your screaming throat, your pleading bleeding hands that wrote their foul graffiti on the wall, the great stone empty hall;

The echoes in your ears, the reflections in your tears, the flea bite fingers that pricktease your skin for eighty seven years



Repeating, repeating


Wednesday, 17 February 2010


Gosh, what a busy time it's been, hence teh humungous apologies for the lack of posting. I hope to make up for it now, with some meaty posts coming up on subjects like censorship and confessional literature. But first some updates!

Has never been easier! I've compiledd a handy guide to where you can buy the physical copies of my two books - either online or from bookshops

The Albion Beatnik, Walton St,Oxford, UK
Rough Trade East, 91 Brick Lane, London, E1 UK
Camden Lock Books, Old Street Station, London, UK
Jaffe & Neale, Chipping Norton, UK

Rough Trade

Rough Trade East, 91 Brick Lane, London, E1 UK

Rough Trade

Not forgetting FREE DOWNLOADS
Songs From the Other Side of the Wall

And from next week To Hell With Books at 10 Woburn Walk in Bloomsbury will be added to that list.

On Feb 4th Year Zero had an amazing gig at Rough Trade East on Brick Lane, with music from the fab InLight, Jessie Grace and To The Moon

And on 23rd Feb YEAR ZERO UNPLUGGED AT TO HELL WITH BOOKS will be our most daring gig yet

To Hell With Books is the bookstore part of To Hell With Publishing, one of the most exciting outfits in literature. Specialising in special editions, poetry, art, zines, and the uber-literary, they are a publishing press we actually love – and that’s like being a beloved carpaccio at a vegan dinner.I even blogged about them.

It’s an intimate setting, and a timetable without constraints, so to do our hosts justice, we’ve put together the following feast of unplugged delights for you. Come, listen, buy:

Dan and Daisy dueting Daisy Anne Gree’s Conversation in a Basement on 17th and Mission, in 1998
Penny Goring reading Bone Dust Disco
Daisy Anne Gree
Dan Holloway performing a world premiere of FREAKSHOW
Marc Nash performing “Non-Smoker” & “Meathook Carousel” from “A,B&E” plus “Mother-Daughter Coagulate”
Larry Harrison
Readings from Ali Cooper’s forthcoming The Girl on the Swing
PLUS: An acoustic set from the brilliant blues singer-songwriter Jessie Grace

Year Zero has a mailing list!

We have no desire to spam you. On the other hand, we realise things can get lost in the blog, and we do like to give you freebies. So, from April 2nd, we will be sending out a monthly newsletter that will contain:

- what we’re up to in the following month – readings, publications, all sorts
- what was posted the previous month, with excerpts
- what we’ve been up to – reviews, write-ups of events, links to videos etc. - where to get hold of our books – in the real world, online, and as free downloads
highlights from our personal blogs

We will probably run a full e-newsletter every other month, with a digest one in the intervening months, depending upon our time – and yours. We may even run some writing comps.
To subscribe, simply e-mail and put “subscribe” in the subject line

We will ONLY send you the monthly newsletter unless you initiate correspondence. We will NEVER divulge or shgare your e-mail address (even with ourselves, as it were – so if you sign up for newsletters from Year Zero you won’t suddenly find yourself on Marc or Dan’s private mailing list). All information will be handled in accordance with the 1998 UK Data Protection Act. You may unsubscribe at any time simply by e-mailing the above address with “unsubscribe” in the subject line.

Some writing by Year Zero Writers may be unsuitable for minors – by subscribing to our newsletter you are affirming that you are of a suitable age to access such material. Year Zero Writers will not be responsible, jointly or severally, if this is not the case.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Hold a self-publisher to account: Month 5



Smashwords: 336 (forecast: 400)


my orders from Lulu: 25

bookshop: 0

direct from Lulu: 11

total: 11 (forecast 5)

(addendum to previous months) - I made two interesting discoveries that may explain previous months' activities. First, I received a positive review from the Oxford information hub "Daily Infornmation" in the middle of November - although there is no obvious correlation to a spike in downloads.

Second, in the last week of December, Songs was listed in ebooksjustpublished's top 10 DRM free ebooks for Christmas - I'm fairly sure that was the reason for the spike at the end of December.

late Dec/early Jan - my old college alumni newsletter went out with a long article on Songs

15 Jan Discounderworld ezine writes a piece on me and on Year Zero Writers

mid Jan - Writers' Forum print magazin carries a follow-up piece on me in Siobhan Curham's self-publishing column


It was always going to be a slow month. I spent every spare second building up for the tour that started on Feb 4th. Two things are of particular note:

1. The efictionbookclub closed down the week before it was due to read and review Songs. Obviously this was a big blow. I wish the people behind it all the best in future, though - the jobn they did whilst the site was running was fantastic, and an excellent model.

2. There was an enormous spike in both Songs' downloads, and those for 13 Shadows, on January 13th. I have absolutely no idea why. As it affected both books I then had on smashwords, I am guessing it was related to smashwords, but I don't know how - it's too early for it to be aggregated first quarter downloads from Barnes & Noble - if it happens that date in a month/quarter's time I will be clearer that it is an automated aggregation of something!

Also worth noting that 10 (but not the 11th) of the Lulu sales were from a single family member for use as presents.

I DO have hopes for February. I've got some significant local news coverage confirmed, and we are on tour, with two big gigs that I hope will kick start sales, or at least downloads. The first, at Rough Trade East, was on the 4th. Next up is To Hell With Books on the 23rd. I'm also hoping we might get some write-ups and general web coverage out fo the tour, and want to make sure the sales and downloads are mentioned there.


downloads: I'll go with what I hope is a cautious 300, in case the web tie-ins don't run as smoothly as they might

sales: 10 - largely from live readings

I HOPE both of these are cautious

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Year Zero Live - Today!

OK, so tonight’s when we kick off our tour of live readings. Seems like only yesterday we were having a casual joke & speculating some live events might be fun – and here we are!!
6pm – 8.30pm, Rough Trade Records (East), Brick Lane, London TONIGHT
To recap, we have the following on offer:
5 writers
And a whole load of super booky, CD, merch stuff, a smattering of which you can see above