Wednesday 21 December 2011



When you fail, you cry
Because you believed the lie
That if you try
With all your might
If you pursue a single line of sight
Looking neither to the left nor right,
Ignoring the distractions and delights
There is no height
You cannot reach
So when you don’t
You’re the failure, right?
Not them.
Your dreams provide their alibi.

But I know there are things I’ll never achieve
And I deceive myself if I believe I will.
My limitations are a bitter pill
Of stillborn expectations
And thrills I had to leave behind
But I was too blinded by stories
Of glory, fame and wealth
To see that I had whored myself
To the lie that I’m alone.
You see the only dream that counts
Is that we all count,
That every voice is heard
Every hope, anxiety, despair
Every tear you shed that no one saw
Because you turned away
And every desperate word
That you were too ashamed to say.
And I can’t do that on my own.
And that’s

Do not comply
With what they tell you to desire.
Defy the boundaries
They place upon your mind
And start a fire
That will not die
Until your whisper
And that of every brother, sister
Mother, father, lover,
Every angry fist in history
Unclenches and becomes a kiss
And every pair of lips becomes a choir.

Don’t let your dreams provide their alibi.
Make them accountable for every crime,
For every voice that they deny.
Look them in the eye
And let your rhymes and passion fight them.
Unite and let your love and the fact that after every disappointment you still believe in this sorry species indict them.
When you embrace humanity in its broken condition,
When ensuring those who cannot speak are spoken for’s your mission
And you chase the truth till every eye is open,
Every sleeping conscience woken,
Then your vision can incite them
To a revolution.
So take a moment, and your dreams,
And write them.
Go out into the alleys and recite them
And if humanity evolves
Sufficient to resolve
To make a reckoning
Of those who were involved
In lifting us from the mire
And those who just devolved
The choice to someone down the line
You’ll stand absolved,
Your head held high.
Their dreams,
The ones that you made fly,
With a whisper, quiet as a lullaby,
Those dreams will be your alibi.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Play Pit - do you have a tumblr?

In the light of my previous post, I've made myself a playpit in which to do all that playing. I'll keep it updated as much as I possibly can, full of jottings and scrawled ideas, flashes and photos and manifestos that never get kept and the like.

Anyone out there with a tumblr, do post the URL in a comment so I can follow you. I am
for no better reason than that I thought Last Man Out of Eden might look good on a hoodie :)

Thursday 15 December 2011


(yes, I know that's Porcelain, but it's from the album Play :))

It's that time of year again. The reflective one. Last year I brought you both contemplation and a simple message: live. I've been thinking a lot about what to say this year. So much has happened from the extraordinarily good (Blackwell's favourite Oxford novel! Sell out show at Stoke Newington Literary Festival!) to the almost unbearable (my mother getting diagnosed with cancer, my best friend withdrawing altogether from the literary stage). Maybe there's a place for it all.

But that place isn't here.

Last year brought a simple message that remains as true now as it was then.

And this year's message is equally simple.


The best, and possibly the only valid, response to a year that might have left me (often did) more jaded than a Chinese art warehouse.

Last month I wrote what I imagined to be a provocative piece where I, um, might have not so inadvertently called pretty much every author on the planet a soulless hack. In fairness, my point wasn't to dismiss what writers spend much of their time doing so much as to encourage them to do something else. This was the core of it:

"Forget keeping your nose in “how I sold a gazillion copies of my ebook”, forget the endless round of commenting on everyone’s evangelical how to be an indie revolutionary blogs, forget the ambition to “get out, get anywhere, get all the way to the FBI” (but if my references seem just weird spare the time for a quick read of The Silence of the Lambs).

Spend a month remembering that nothing matters but the storytelling. And with that in mind, forget the words on the page and go find yourself an open mic or a bookstore near you and Read. Out Loud. To a group of real people. It’s how stories have been told for tens of thousands of years. It’s the most rewarding experience a storyteller can have. And if your kdp reports really mean more to you than following the whites of a person’s eyes as you drag them through hell and back again, for pity’s sake have the decency to call yourself a hack like any of the rest of us working 9 to 5s to make rent and don’t pretend to be a storyteller."

Now that's all pretty limited in scope. A month. Reading out loud. I want to open that up and get you to make a resolution with me:

In 2012 I will not think, not once, about how to make a single penny from my writing. In 2012 I will devote myself to playing.

There, that was easy, wasn't it!

But wait wait wait. Why why why? Well, think of it as a sabbatical. Or a gap year. Or, go on, why not, think of it as just plain fun!! But you need to make a living out of your writing? Wow, you're making a living out of your writing, fabulous! The 0.2 people I know who can do that may be duly excused and head back to the desk job their writing has become. You see, that's one of the problems with setting out to have writing as a career. It may seem so much better than spending 40+ hours a week tied to a whatever and getting home knackered having to do all those other things you do at home and desperately trying to squeeze in a few minutes at the laptop - but the moment you make writing your day job money *has* to be your focus (unless you're lucky enough to have independent means, of course). And whilst that may incidentally involve all sorts of other fun things to make your writing more likely to sell, there's been a fundamental shift. Which is why I'll stick to the poorly paid job that almost covers my bills and not bring my writing into it.

If you're honest with yourselves, I think you'll find that most of you are in the same boat as me. Writing is your passion. You do it because you have to. Because you have a truth you have to express. A story you have to tell. Something you just have to lay before the world. Your aim. Your goal. Your dream. The thing that stopped you sleeping all those yeas and makes you catch your breath when you think about it. That's not "to bank some pounds from my writing in 2012." Is it? Really?

So, what I want you to do is write down what that was. That thing. That made you feel like a lovesick teenager whose hand has just been grasped, sweatily and expectantly for the first time. And devote 2012 to that.

Only make your devotion loose. Experimental. Have a kind of Bloomsbury-ish relationship with your goals. Be willing to consider anything once. Or twice. Out of curiosity that it may be useful. Last year, for example, I stumbled on cell phone novels and slam poetry and had a fabulous time. As well as learning things about editing and rhythm. And little handmade booklets. Whcih taught me about care and craft and space. And were fun.

Play at least once a month. Write something you wouldn't have considered writing. Go to a part of the web you wouldn't have considered visiting and say hello. Go to an event you wouldn't normally go to, or a gallery you wouldn't usually be seen dead at. Try teaching someone something writery (for free). Try volunteering for someting writerly. Try making something. Try leaving cards with a haiku and a URL on tables in bars.

Just try it.

Without expecting anything but fun and that goosebumpy anticipationy what-might-happen-nexty kind of excitement. By all means tell the world what you're doing. And by all means put your work out there on sale. Charge $100 a paragraph on Kindle if you like, but don't try and sell it.

Play not pay. There. Simple. Now, shall we have some fun together?

Tuesday 13 December 2011

It's Cold Outside

About 18 months ago I put on a show at Oxford's OVADA Gallery called Open-Armed and Outcast. Its description was simple:

"Have you ever KNOWN that you’re just a stranger in your life? Not known where your place is except that it’s elsewhere? Then much of the work we’re offering tonight is for you; very different accounts of what it’s like to be an outcast in your life and in the world. And to find your home elsewhere."

Around the same time, I was sitting in the Albion Beatnik bookstore half reading and half eavesdropping on the table next to me (there's always an interesting conversation going on there - it could be the spiritual home of competitive people-watching). They were talking about deserts. Great topic (so good I once held an exhibition called Into the Desert). One of them made the very interesting point that she didn't like using the word "desert" because it implied a space that was "outside" - the desert outside the city walls, the space beyond the fertile land. In other words, calling something a desert, just like calling yourself an outsider, has the effect of defining a space by its relation to the thing it is not.

That got me thinking. I'd always thought of myself as an outsider. I'd always *been* an outsider. I'd always been laughed at, shunned, ignored, excluded from "regular spaces". That made me an outsider, right? Well, sort of. It certainly gave me a name to call myself, and that matters. It's the same feeling as finally being diagnosed with depression - the feeling, "thank goodness for that, there's a reason I feel this way."

On the other hand, I got to thinking more and more that my identity was about what I did, who I was, not what I didn't do, not what I wasn't. And over the spring and summer that thougt began to mature, and found an outlet in a couple of places. I was asked to contribute to a great collection of urban writing called Urban Feel. My piece, "My Feet Are Wet I Must Be At The Beach" (about the way water and associated metaphors are used as mechanisms of control in urban spaces), contains the passage:

"The punchbag lad in the cardboard box; the smackhead’s hollow skin dropped down through the pavement floor; the free-runner jumping the skag-iron rooftops a hundred feet above the mossy park. The young don’t leave our world; they build their own"

I was aware I didn't agree with a lot of the implications of that. Most homeless people are homeless because they are running away from an alternative that's unbearable. Likewise denying the escape that drugs offer would be banal. But I couldn't help thinking the passage should stay. It made a point, however inexpertly articulated, that needed making. Society's outcasts, its outsiders, are not just the detritus from something normative. "Outsiders" are a parallel, a world of our own, with our own codes, our own structures, often our own very rigid rules of engagement and moral codes.

And equally to the point, we are as diverse as any regular office space or suburb if not more so. Maybe we *are* all outside of something, but to make that what defines us is so limiting when we are so much more, and so many different things.

That sense of being more than someone who "doesn't belong" wherever finally found its expression when I started up eight cuts gallery, in particular in this section of the manifesto:

"we are rats

we live in our own space, build our own communities, societies, foundation myths and bodies of work.

we share some of your doorways, and sometimes you will see the traces we leave behind. traces like this. often they are strange, unfamiliar, and consequently seem frightening, but they are doorways onto a whole world that exists, fully formed, in parallel with yours.

for too long we have been expected to push at these doors, and gaze around them in wonder and admiration, dreaming, cap in hand, of one day entering the world beyond them. we think maybe it’s time for us to offer an invitation the other way."

Again and again I find myself being pulled back to the idea of being an outsider. I guess in a way it's romantic. Which is wholly the wrong reason - that's the kind of empty nostalgia and posturing I so dislike in the so-called mainstream. I wonder also if it's an excuse. I've not done abc because I'm not xyz. Which is probably true. But it's not helpful. It won't help me get on and do pqr!

The fact is I'm not an outsider. I'm an insider in a world that not many people inhabit. It may be a world that's unrecognized or unvalued by the paymasters, which means I can't spend all my time there - but who can spend their whole lives "at home"? But I'm not a perpetual traveller, I am not a man in diaspora, or if I am, then it's only because that's the place I always come back to - not because I'm running away from somewhere else, but because it's my haven, the source from whcih I draw my strength, the spring that nurtures my creativity. It is where I can do what really matters, and get on with life.

How do you think of yourself? Do you feel like a stranger in your own life? And if questions of outsiderdom and identity strike a chord with you, you may be interested in my novella Black Heart High, which you can download for free here.

Saturday 10 December 2011

Not the Oxford Literary Festival 2012

Tomorrow The Oxford Literary Festival announces its 2012 programme. So I thought we should probably get there first for the most exciting literary event in Oxford next year, Not the Oxford Literary Festival

(Lucy Ayrton and Penny Goring at the 2011 Not the Oxford Literary Festival)

Two years ago, a few of us at Year Zero wanted to put on a gig at Oxford's (and the UK's) best bookstore, The Albion Beatnik. We were at the same time rather frustrated by the high admission prices at The Oxford Literary Festival, as well as the lack of representation of the incredible underground and spoken word scene Oxford has. So we decided to put on our own show. The first Not the Oxford Literary Festival, held the week of the festival on March 24 2010, lasted about an hour.

But it was a fun, fabulous hour. And it went down in history as the reason I wear a red glove every time I gig. A Year Zero fan had come over form Germany for the main festival but wanted to see us as well. But he didn't know where the Albion Beatnik was. He spied my glove through the window, came in, and since then the red glove has been my lucky charm.

Last year we decided to do it again and we had an even more fabulous, diverse line-up including slam poetry and electronica.

And people started asking about 2012. So 2012's Not the Oxford Literary Festival is spreading. This time there will be two days, March 27th and 28th, both based at the fabulous Albion Beatnik, and promising some of the very best, diversest literary fabulousness, just like you'd expect from eight cuts gallery. Watch this space - and if you're interested in reading something leave a comment!!

2012 Schedule (with more events TBA - if you have fantastic ideas for events do leave a comment!!)

Tuesday 27 March - Verruca Music (evening)

(Stuart Estell and Haiku Salut perform an extract from Verruca Music at Pow-Wow Literary Festival)

Writer and musician Stuart Estell performs his novel Verruca Music in full for the first time. Music, words, lyricism, tears, humour, and delight as Stuart takes us into teh world of a man who tries to battle depression by picking his feet. Accomplished on half a dozen instruments, Stuart, who has performed with The Fall, is one of the most entertaining spoken word performers around today, and this, we believe, is the best novel of 2011. The performance will last 2 and a half hours in total but you are free to come and go at will.

Wednesday 28 March - Poets vs Proseurs (evening)

some of the best writers of poetry and prose duel it out for your delight to decide which format lends itself best to live performance. Featuring Not the Booker Prize winner Micahel Stewart, Hammer & Tongue's Lucy Ayrton, Anna Hobson and many more - and open mic

And don't forget our all night think-in/drink-in on March 30th

Thursday 8 December 2011


First, apologies for the temporary radio silence. I'm now well and truly back.

Some of you will know that for the past two years I've run Not the Oxford Literary Festival, an alternative to the regular festival showcasing the fabulous, and local, creativity that never usually gets a look in. It's been such a success that in 2012 we're making a whole week of it, and first and foremost this is an invitation to come and enjoy the wonderfulness - even if you're in Oxford for the main festival, come and join us for a night.

Second, it's a call for ideas - we have three nights spoken for at our amazing venue, The Albion Beatnik Bookstore, but if you have something you're burning to put on let me know - the more creative and outlandish the better.

Finally, I want to say a bit about the thing I'm most excited about. Oxford closes too early. As a city, and as a creative venue. For a while now The Albion Beatnik has made a stand against this and helped to remind people in what is supposed to be one of the UK's leading cities of culture that there are, in fact, not 8 or even 16 but 24 hours in a day, and that these are all equally available for creative purposes. And we want the festival to embody that.

Whether your night is just beginning, or you are heading home from the mainstream festival in search of something more stimulating, drop in to our all night festival of wonders, a place where manifestos will be written, thoughts pulled to their breaking point, performances honed, old favourites murdered on the guitar, films screened, and research, er, researched. Highlights include:

Gin Soaked Sheets

join performer and poetry workshopper Lucy Ayrton as she carries out the world's first scientific study on the effects of gin on creative output

zine workshop - by the end of the night something wonderful will be created that you can take away in your hands

improvlog - creative juices flowing? Let them run then upload the results as part of a global online creative think-in

guerrilla poetry - wouldn't you love to walk into work one morning and find that your route was full of poems? Wouldn't it be better still to make that happen for someone else?

This is your part -have a talk you want to give, an idea or poem you want to share, something you want to teach people how to do, or just want to be part of something fabulous: this is where I add your name and links

Tuesday 25 October 2011

I have a new book! Ode to Jouissance

£0.86 in the UK

$0.99 in the US

The cover photo is by the wonderful Veronika von Volkova. The model is inspirational Katelan Foisy. You can learn more about both here.

An ambitious scientist plots alone in her flat in 1930s Berlin. Her experiments, stolen from colleagues she has sent to their deaths in the madhouse and concentration camps, are sure to impress the new Minister of Propaganda. But a lifetime spent learning to control those around her is about to come back to haunt her as for the first time she falls under the spell of a more skilled manipulator than her.

A Spanish civil servant drives through the heart of the country to his mother’s home town where he must build a car factory to stop the town sinking into the desert. His companion on the journey is the Chinese businesswoman sent to finalise the deal. The woman who had been his first lover, decades earlier.

An elderly lady sits among friends in a care home. Together they remember the loves of their distant past. But Catherine has no interest in the past. She is certain a young Polish man is on his way to marry her.

Ode to Jouissance is a collection of three full-length (5000 words) short stories that explore nostalgia and eroticism in the fragments of modern Europe. From the youthful Ilke, through the middle-aged Ignacio to the elderly Catherin, these stories weave together to form a tapestry of desire that grows stronger and more fulfilled with age. With echoes of Kundera and Murakami, a gentle but insistent theme of hope amidst the ruins builds to a heartbreaking but uplifting crescendo.

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Mobile Phone Novels

One of the things that’s surprised me is just how successful Kindle and other e-readers have been. I figured mobile phones made much more sense as the home of electronic reading. I still do. During one such conversation a month or so back on Authors Electric, I happened to mention mobile phone novels, and a couple of people suggested I write a piece about them. As it happens, the time is perfect for me to do so now.

Mobile phone novels (keita shousetsu in Japanese, where they are incredibly popular) are very different from regular novels that you might read on your smartphone with a Kindle app. They’re a completely different genre. I first became aware of them in early 2009 when I was just starting to write The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes as a serial novel on Facebook. The novel is about internet forums, YouTube, modern art, Japanese culture, and I wanted a format that would go with the subject matter. A serial online novel was perfect. And it lent itself to short chapters with not much description and regular cliffhangers. The kind of thing you’d read like a series of blog posts.

It was inevitable that I’d come across the Japanese cultural phenomenon the mobile phone novel. I did so through a site where you upload novels chapter by chapter and readers subscribe to new chapters by e-mail or text. Many of the novels are “regular” novels, but I was inexorably drawn to the proper hardcore mobile phone novels.

Mobile phone novels aren’t just read on phones, they started off being written on them and uploaded one text at a time. Because there’s a limit on phone text length (or there was in the mid 2000s when the phenomenon took off), chapters are very short – often under 100 words. And often written in text speak.

It’s a genuinely new form, written in a new way. And I know next to no English authors writing them (OK, I know of none, but I’m sure there must be many, though one feature of the mobile phone novel that befits its milieu is the anonymity of authors). So now I’m writing one. It’s called What There Is Instead Of Rainbows (you can subscribe by e-mail or text here ). And each chapter will be a maximum 200 words (probably around 100 chapters, though it’s a story that, if I were to write it as a novel, would be around 70,000 words).

Now this might sound a bit faddy and low culture (though I’m not sure why that would matter), but I must say I’ve never had so much time writing a book, and it’s completely cured a massive case of block with a book I was really looking forward to writing.

And I haven’t learned so much in a long time. I’m not yet writing text speak though I intend to rewrite The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes in the full format after I finish Rainbows. But the 200 word chapters are both liberating and instructive. Gone in one swoop are those awkward linking passages, those extraneous words you put in “because you ought to.” And that thing about making every scene contribute something? OH yes!

You’d think that voice, originality, beauty would suffer. They don’t. It’s no surprise that the format originated in Japan, of course, where there is an aesthetic of sparse elegance and heart-tugging minimalism. And it’s an aesthetic I love, which is one reason I’m so drawn to it. But the seeming restrictions remind me of another of my heroes, Jack White (of White Stripes, Raconteurs, and Dead Weather fame). The White Stripes (see and is a two piece band – one guitar, one drum kit. And all their merchandise and branding is restricted to white, red, and black. Self-imposed restrictions Jack decided upon that he finds have enabled his creativity to flourish as he works within and pushes at those limits.

It’s the same with voice in a text novel. Chapter 1 of What The Is Instead of Rainbows is below. I can’t remember the last time I wrote something more me.

The world and I have had very little to do with each other in my 19 years, and if I died now I doubt it would remember me. I certainly wouldn’t remember it. That’s what I was thinking as I sat at Simon’s table drinking Simon’s beer.

It wasn’t a maudlin thought, and it certainly wasn’t going to spur me to suicide. It was just an observation.

Have you ever had that thought? Of course you have, only straightaway you realise that old film was right. You know, the one where the black and white guy throws himself off a black and white bridge and an angel shows him how different the world would have turned out if he’d never been born. Different and shittier.

So anyway straight after the self-pity you think of all the tiny ways your life’s touched all these other lives and how the traces are everywhere.

Which is where I was different from you. Because I didn’t feel any self-pity, and my life hadn’t left any traces. And I was fairly sure of that because Alice’s letter was on the table and I’d read it five times since I found it in Simon’s drawer.

And chapter 2 is just 14 words. A suicide note:

Please. Find a way of telling Steph because I can’t.

Sorry. Goodbye.


No context, no introduction. Every word counting. Forcing myself to get rid of those adornments made me realize how little I ever needed them.

Now, all I need is to find a way of making my blog posts shorter!

Saturday 24 September 2011

The Most Powerful People in Publishing

(The first of a few articles I'm cross-posting here and on the eight cuts blog as I start to migrate opinion pieces from here to there - I hope you'll come and join me over there)

Yesterday The Guardian published its list of the 100 most powerful people in books. The list was, as lists are, problematic in several ways. But it will do its job in stimulating conversation. I want to have two such conversations here.

First, the list’s remit is confusing. Rather, the way it has been both acted upon and spun is a little slippery. At most points, The guardian tells us this is a list of the most influential (on reading habits) people in the book business. Fine. Nice and narrow and easy to follow. But at another point, the header copy states these are “the people exercising the greatest influence over theUK's reading habits.” So which is it? The two are clearly not co-terminus. The days in which our “reading” was confined to books is over. Only, of course, it never existed. Would anyone actually argue that written news media do not form an important part of our reading habits?

The list clearly embraces non-storytelling – Jamie Oliver is at number 8. Yet newspapers have gone walkies – and the likes of Huffington Post, The Onion, Mashable, and Wired. Well, they’re as absent as Heat and Hello. And the way the list is handled is confusing. The CEO of Google is at number 3 – fine, but in his Google Reader capacity? Really? And if it’s because we use Google to find reading material, where are Facebook and Twitter? Google’s plans may well revolutionise how we read, but this is about what influences how we read now (Google are good at this – spinning a future idea and having us believe it’s more important than it is *now*). And going the other way, Stephen fry as tweeter in chief? This time last year maybe, but things have moved on.

But let’s allow that talk of “reading” is simply the kind of editorial hyperbole newspapers may allow, and look at this as a representation of the books industry. A little aside first. I'm intrigued how different this looks from how it would have done 2 years ago when Seth Godin, Cory Doctorow and Chris Anderson would have been no-brainer choices to sit alongside Malcolm Gladwell, and maybe Richard Nash too. There's a real feel that digital pioneering and experimentation has been subsumed within the existing structures. And seriously, not a single blogger on the list? If you'd said that 2 years ago no one would have believed you.

But what is most obvious are the demographics of this list, in gender, age, and ethnicity. I commented, in accord with others, “if these are not the 99 [in a piece of populism that further confused what the list is for, the Guardian placed ‘us the public’ at 100] most influential then this list is a stinging reproach to its compilers. If these *are* the 99 most influential then this list is a stinging reproach on a way wider scale”

One of the list’s compilers, Lisa Allardice, asked whom I would include instead. Given the narrow remit, I realised that’s actually a very difficult one. Which means that actually, the problem is a very big one. This is an industry that serves the wole of the public (ostensibly) yet is representative of just a tiny fraction. I actually can’t think of anything I would want to change from an article I wrote two years ago, which attracted a little attention (and some comments that completely missed the point – and this worries me most of all, when people just don’t understand the problem let alone start talking answers), called From Pitch to Perpetuation of Privilege. I think I’ve mellowed a little from the position of the last couple of paragraphs. Or maybe I’ve hardened, I don’t know. And I don't any more think the problems will kill the publishing industry - but in a way I think that's a bad thing. I think if the problems persist the publishing industry should die, but it probably won't. But I’ll reproduce it in full here. Most of the points directly address this list.

The pitch is the publishing Industry’s equivalent of the University Entrance exam, a selection system that perpetuates disenfranchisement, and serves to narrow the pool of available applicants to a point where the literary world becomes nothing more than the chattering classes talking among themselves. As was the case for hundreds of years in our universities, no one has really noticed this until now, because the people the literary industry marginalise had been marginalised from other forms of communication. Worst of all, they have gone unnoticed because they have until now had no expectation or belief that literature is their world.

But as wider and wider portions of society become cultural consumers, so their hunger for stories by and about people like them grows. Television, through initiatives like the BBC’s My Story, is beginning to take notice, but the publishing industry is standing back and does not, it is my firm belief, even realise there is a problem.

This is just another example of an introspection that will in the not too distant future kill the industry off if it doesn’t do something. The fact is the internet is making culture by and for previously unrepresented voices (be they inner city teenagers, battered sex workers, refugees fleeing from, and would-be refugees trapped in, the world’s war zones, or the women of the world’s shanty towns) widely available. And it’s great. Millions of voices are being heard that would never have been heard before – hope that “I am not alone” is being offered to millions more who never heard culture spoken in their own voice before.

It’s a WONDERFUL thing.

And it’s a phenomenon that is going to kill publishing dead. Or rather, pass it by on the road whilst publishing kills itself. Unless the industry does something serious and soon.

There are many thins the publishing industry needs to look at if its isolation from the consumers of the majority world is not to prove fatal, and I’ve got time to talk about them all eventually. But today I want to focus on the flagship ridiculosity: the query.

This is NOT a piece about higher education. I am merely referring, in passing, to an allegation levelled at the entrance exam (because it IS true of publishing, and it’s a good analogy). The problem with the university entrance exam, the argument goes, like the problem with the 11+, is that you do better if you’re coached for it. Which means you do better if your parents have the money AND the inclination to pay for a tutor. Which means two children of equal “ability” will finish with very different marks. Which means, finally, that if selection is based on entrance exam performance alone children whose parents lack either the money or the inclination to pay for coaching will be disadvantaged when it comes to getting a university place. And to add to all this, the privilege this perpetuates means that those from marginalised backgrounds expect not to get places, so they don’t apply, furthering the divide.

That may or may not be true of universities, but I’m sure you get the logic. And if you don’t get where I’m going, then frankly, well, I can’t say in polite company.

At the moment (and especially in the US where you don’t submit ANY script with your query), whether you get an agent depends on the quality of your query, and a huge part of that is the synopsis and, even more, the query letter. There are many wonderful websites and books devoted to polishing your pitch, and I have benefited immensely from them (and still do). But the system reinforces the status quo in a way that is both shocking, and seemingly invisible to the industry.

How are those who do not currently read their voice in books, written by people like them, and who have stories to tell, and a talent for telling them, get published? They must submit a query – for which they have no training – not just because they have no access to the great query sites and books out there (they may well HAVE the internet), but because they are not surrounded by people who know about sites like this. They may not even know what the “application” method is. It is a mystery. So what happens? They don’t send off their stories – “people like them don’t write books”. And the divide is reinforced.

So what? Well one, it’s just wrong that people be denied a voice for their story – and the notion that the vast swathes of people underrepresented in publishing are underrepresented because there is no talent is just nonsense. Systemic barriers are wrong. Full stop.

Two, these are groups of society for whom the internet allows, more and more, instant access to the consumption and production of culture by and about “people like them”. Whole groups are realising that culture is for them. But books aren’t – and THAT is the problem for the publishing industry. A vast swathe of ever more powerful cultural consumer is ignoring books because books are irrelevant to them.

So what does publishing need to do? Well, more than anything else, what it needs to do is what the “Russell Group” of universities (the UK’s “old elite”) sort of tries to pay lip-service to doing. It needs to stop talking to itself. It needs to stop telling would be writers about “show not tell”. It needs to stop focusing on how to write a query letter. Stop focusing, mind, not stop doing – there is, and always will be, a very large, commercially and culturally important group who like books done that way. What publishers need to wake up to is the fact that this is a segment of the population – a segment whose share of wealth, purchasing power, and access to culture, is shrinking.

What the publishing industry needs to do is not try and “help” people on the “outside” to get to the “inside”. People don’t need it. They have other ways of telling their stories. IT needs THEM. And that is something I have NEVER heard someone on the “inside” admit. So what SHOULD the industry do? It needs to find ways to convince the new generation of storytellers that books are a good medium through which to tell those stories. It needs to think like an “outsider”.

Sadly, I really don’t think it can. Which is why more and more of us who would, ten years ago, have been part of the “trying to get inside” crowd, are ignoring it, letting it slowly eat itself to death, whilst we get on and enjoy the exciting future.

Half of me thinks it’s a tragedy. The more so because, like an animal walking to the abattoir, or a patient slipping gently from a coma, I really think most of the industry doesn’t recognise it. But half of me thinks that systems which perpetuate divide and exclusion SHOULD perish, and wonders if we shouldn’t offer a helping hand.

[addendum - one good thing about self epublishing is that it will prove markets exist. Publishers are locked into a vicious evidentiary circle - they will publish what has been proven to sell, but that proof can only come from things that have bene published in the past. It's about carving up an existing market not finding a new one. This is something self-epublishing *can* do]

Sunday 31 July 2011

Verruca Music and The Dead Beat in line for major prize: please help


As you know, I run a small press, whcih publishes three amazing books. Its fans did a simply amazing job showing your love for Penny Goring's The Zoom Zoom and getting it called in by the judges for the Guardian's First Book Award (we now have to wait to see what they make of it). Now, if you love one of our other amazing books, Cody James' The Dead Beat and Stuart Estell's Verruca Music, you can help them go all the way in the Guardian's Not the Booker Prize.


In order to vote, you need to post a 150 word review of the book (you can do this now), and then link back to that review from your vote WHEN THE VOTING OPENS IN A FORTNIGHT. The Guardian has some problems coping with our ISBN-free books so you will not be able to post on their review site. Nonetheless, they have very kindly agreed that you may POST YOUR REVIEWS ON THE COMMENTS AT EIGHT CUTS (CLICK HERE FOR LINK), and link back to it WHEN VOTING OPENS.

NOTE: Please use the same e-mail when posting your comment as you used/will use to set up your Guardian account. That way, if required, I can take a screenshot from the backroom to verify the review comes from the same address as the vote - please note, therefore: posting a review here, you consent to my taking such a screenshot (only for the purposes, if requested, of sending it - in strictest confidence - to the Guardian judges) I will not give your e-mail addies to anyone else or make them public and will only pass them on on the condition that the Guardian agrees to the same.

Remember, voting will open on Wedneday 3rd August, but to make it as successful and easy as possible, please post your reviews now. Many of you have posted reviews on Amazon or Goodreads already. I think it's perfectly fine to paste those over if that's the case.

And most important - THANK YOU

If you don't yet know our two eligible books, here they are:

The books with the most votes from the next round will go through to the shortlist where they will be read and discussed and reviewed in this widely-read forum. Let's make it three out of three and show the world the amazingness our writers have to offer!

(Go here to see and buy all our books!)

Sunday 24 July 2011

Edited to add: why the best thing about self-publishing is NOT editing your books

Go on Whisper it. Self-publishing is becoming almost respectable. And it’s hardly surprising. Mark Edwards and Louise Voss’s 6 figure deal with Harper Collins (who, after the pair occupied the number 1 & 2 spots in the Kindle charts, admitted they might be onto something) is only the tip of a growing iceberg (one which I’m lucky enough to be somewhere at the base of, with my thriller The Company of Fellows selling 5000 copies and getting me invited to take part in a Rising Literary Stars panel at Blackwell’s bookstore).

But it’s a very particular (and inevitable) kind of self-publishing. And whilst I welcome it, it also makes me sort of hang my head in despair (the bittersweet ironic smile kind of despair I feel at the honour of being supported by Blackwell’s for my thriller two years after self-publishing my debut, the literary coming of age novel Songs from the Other Side of the Wall, that got stonking reviews wherever it *was* read but didn’t even make half a column inch in the local paper).

The warning signs were there a while back. Self-publishers are a marmite-y kind of bunch. Half of us are belligerent “dead tree books are screwed and legacy publishing’s dead” types. The other half are desperate to show we’re just as good as regular-published books (and half of those say it because they want a regular contract, whilst the other half want to control the process but compete for the same market).

But what almost all seem to have in common is an insistence that their books are just as good as regular-published books. And just as good almost always means edited to the same standard (most aren’t, of course, but their authors are buying into the game that they should be). And they have a point. 99% of books are better if they’re edited professionally. Because 99% of self-published books would like to be like regular books.

Now when it comes to self-publishing statistics matter. Every media essay I’ve seen on the subject of self-publishing has been about a number – copies sold, Kindle chart position, size of advance when the author went mainstream. I’ve yet to see one that talks intelligently and critically about the quality of a self-published book (oh, wait, there was a particularly dumbass piece somewhere sniping at John Locke’s books). But in the world of dumb-ass number crunching (I may need a bigger thesaurus because when it comes to the media’s treatment of self-publishing I find myself wanting to say dumbass a LOT), ignoring that 1% takes the dumbass-ness biscuit.

Because that 1% of books is what self-publishing was made for, and what will, ultimately, once Amazon has squeezed the regular “indie” authors back into the New Model Mainstream, be the ultimate reputation-saver for self-publishing.

Editing is the making of a commercial product and the breaking of art

That’s the simple thesis, and I’m not getting into a “what is art” debate.
Now editing in art can be a whole spectrum of things. At one end you have the watercolour painter who goes into the field behind their home and paints them, then sells or hangs the pictures as is. At the other end you have Phil Spector producing records with the unmistakable wall of sound signature stamp. Editing falls somewhere in the middle. On the one hand there’s copy-editing that’s rather like hiring a studio complete with sound guy so your download sounds polished (I hope even that simple analogy will show the flaw in the assumption that editing is always good – the “in your front room” acoustic or “on a dodgy amp in a grotty pub” plugged-in sound is different from studio production and *some*times people prefer it – depends what they’re looking for). On the other hand a great editor working on your book with you can be like having Mark Ronson produce your record.

The thing about spectrums is that for any given genus, there are usually species at each point on it. And that’s what I want to say about writing. There are works that are right at the watercolour end. Writers who are so distinctive and original that editing their work is like giving it lithium – you knock off all the troughs, but you take away the peaks with them, and it’s impossible to do one without the other.

On the Guardian Books Blog this week, John Self started a fascinating debate that went so viral it spawned a popular twitter hashtag #famousforthewrongbook. The piece, which asked for examples where an author was famous for a piece of work that actually wasn’t their best, confirmed what I’ve been saying for a long while, and what’s very pertinent here: when you get a game-changer of a writer, their best work tends to come later in their career, but their “great” work comes at the start. The numbers of diaries and letters included in the 600+ comments on the post further gets the underlying message across. Editing polishes what’s there, makes it “sing”. But the actual step-change, what *is* there to start with that a person spends their whole life perfecting, that is most visible when the editorial hand is most distant.

And this is where self-publishing can do what regular publishing can’t. Regular publishing is a business and can’t be run other than as a business (don’t even get me started on Arts Council grants for small publishers). It’s not just inevitable that it will dole out large doses of cultural lithium to pull things towards accepted norms, that’s its job. Self-publishing doesn’t have to. It doesn’t have to make money, and can do pretty much what it wants on a zero budget.

So not only is it not obligatory for self-publishers to edit “to professional standards”, I would say we should positively embrace not-editing, and where we find great art in the self-published ranks that’s full of flaws and fragility, rather than seeing what could be done if it was given a good polish (I’ll tell you what will happen – you will discover that inside every great book there’s a very good one waiting to get out), we should celebrate it as it is.

And I can’t help but finishing with a note to the cultural media. I understand why you talk about the numbers with self-publishing. That’s not dumbass. Talking *only* about the numbers *is* dumbass.

And here’s what’s really dumbass. The cultural media portrays itself as wanting to make the distinction between commercial art and art that has no commercial reference. And yet it will only review books from regular publishers. Discussions of merit will range as far as obscure and forgotten *regular published* works and no further. That’s all fine and I’ve heard the arguments about how you *have* to talk about “event” books (I don’t buy the argument for a minute but I hear it and I’ll run with it) – just don’t pretend you’re talking about the fullness of art if you’re going to run that way.

An addendum. I’m going to do something that will shock and disturb. I’m going to say congratulations to the Guardian for opening up the First Book Awards to *all* books, however published. Fantastic. I really hope they follow through by offering reviews of the merits of the books readers suggested.

So please, stop judging self-published books on how well-edited they are, and start judging them on how good they are. The two are not always the same. And in rare instances they can be opposites.

Wednesday 20 July 2011

I must be Mad to do this: writing, living, and mental health

I’ve been planning this post for months, and to be honest I’ve been dragging my heals. There’s an apposite reason – I’m bipolar my own mental health hasn’t been tip top the past few weeks. There are good reasons, as in yippee good – I’ve just finished touring a fabulous words and music show with a host of other great writers that’s played to a set of sell-out crowds.

And there’s the real reason – I don’t really know what to say. Well, that’s not true. I would like to go off on a rant about the ridiculous perception that having mental health issues is glamorous. Or that bipolar people are predisposed to be creative. But I’d just get too angry, and I’ve done it before. Many times.

So I’m not going to hobbyhorse you. Well, I am but not in a down your throat and make you gag kind of way. Hardest and most counterintuitive, I’m not going to talk about me, me, ME. I’m going to talk briefly about three remarkable artists and how mental health relates to their art. Then when I’ve got that out of the way I’ll talk about me! No, really, I won’t.

Cody James, author of The Dead Beat and Babylon, is the best novelist of her generation. She also has schizophrenia. She is also and has been also many many things – meth addict, Satanist, punk, opening act for Marilyn Manson, consumer of ludicrous quantities of noodles, zinester, photographer, my best friend. And just about the funniest person I’ve ever met. She’s taught me two things about mental health and writing. Well, the first is more about writing in general. Back at the start of last year, she made a brilliant video advertising our first big live show, at Rough Trade Records. In it, she read a passage from Babylon in which the central character, Daniel, tries to kill himself, something Cody has done 4 times. The video was deleted from Facebook after being reported and a massive debate followed. Cody’s contribution crystallised everything I feel about writing. She explained how an English teacher told her once she should try and make the world a better place. Her take – “maybe there is no way to leave the world a better place, and all we can do is tell the truth.” Simple, and all-encompassing. The truth doesn’t mean facts or autobiography. Telling the truth in your writing means peeling your skin off and poking down through the layers to reach the innermost part of yourself, then smearing it all over the page.

Which leads to the second thing – life, the truth, everything to do with this glorious and messed-up world, is complex (and mental health is only one very small part of it). It has more than one side. There is always hope in despair and despair in hope, humour in depravity and depravity in humour.

In a wonderful interview she did for me Cody said:
“What upsets me more than anything in novels and movies in this genre (Selby Jr. I’m looking at you) is that they seem hell bent on portraying only the moments of shock and depravity – they rob the reader and the viewer of the full experience. Yes, we were really fucked up and yes, we did bad things, but we were still trying. I still spent some Sunday mornings eating cereal and watching cartoons with a 7ft tranny. And, even though you’re all jacked up and your apartment has no furniture, you still try. Even though the person cooking the turkey has been up for three days and can’t remember how to work a stove, and your guests keep going to the bathroom to shoot up and then keep falling asleep in the mashed potatoes, you’re still there celebrating Thanksgiving. There are still moments of utter joy and there is still so much laughter. If, as an artist, you don’t portray that, you’re nothing but a cheap hack.”
I can’t really add to that.

Katelan Foisy is the author of Blood and Pudding. It’s the book that has influenced my writing and performing more than any other. It tells the story of her bipolar, heroin-addicted best friend Holly. Specifically it is a transcript of tapes Katelan made when one Xanax-fuelled teenage day the pair of them decided to get in a car and see where they ended up (another lesson from Katelan – record everything. You never know when you’ll want it). The transcriptions, full of idealism and energy, form the book’s bones, which Katelan has fleshed out with stories from the years between that trip and Holly’s death from an overdose just a few years later. I have never read such an uplifting celebration of a life. Or of Life. Holly’s was a life cut short, a life shadowed and tarred and tarnished, but it was a Life. Damn, it was a life. Blood and Pudding opens with the wonderful words “Wherever we end up, we end up,” and urges the reader to “go out and live. And live. And go on living, because you never know when it’ll stop.” There are two things to say about that. Mental illness is not a death sentence. Don’t treat it as such. In yourself, or in others. And make sure your writing contributes to Living. Because anything else is as good as being dead.

Dave Griffiths is the former frontman of the band Witches. He’s the writer and musician behind the fabulous Grey Children project. He’s using the project, which combines his considerable musical talents with his equally considerable literary ones, to raise awareness for Pure-O, the form of OCD he has. In a recent interview I did with him one of the things we discussed most was the role music plays in managing his symptoms. Music provides a total immersion that draws his mind away from everything else. I realised how similar what he was saying was to the role writing plays in my life (and listening to music), to the experience of so many people I know with various mental health problems. Sadly, sometimes the things we use to engulf our minds, to drown out the noises in our heads, are things that do us as much harm as the illness itself, if not more – drink, self-harm, drugs. But art is something that can improve both our mental health and our wider lives. Maybe even the lives of others.

There we have it. Three amazing writers. Three amazing people. Three ways mental health and writing intersect. And a single strand running through the whole thing. Life. And the importance of living it. Without apology and without restriction.

Thursday 14 July 2011


OK, so Lulu, where our eight cuts gallery press books are printed, are having a 20% sale, which means that our three fabulous books (see here for details) are, until the end of tomorrow, July 15th, no longer £8 but £6.40 each - when you get to checkout, just enter the coupon code BIGUK for UK customers, or BIG for overseas and you'll get the discount.


The Dead Beat is £6.40

The Zoom Zoom is £6.40

Verruca Music is £6.40

and if you're interested, my books are also on offer :)

The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes for £4.80

Songs from the Other Side of the Wall for £6.40

(life:) razorblades included for£4

The Company of Fellows for £8

All over the place

It goes like that sometimes. You're quiet as a church mouse and then all of a sudden you're everywhere. This week I am lucky enough to be appearing at not one, not two or even three fabulous places, but four! And five if Mark Williams decides to put my piece on mental health and the arts up this week. Make that five/six!!

So what am I doing, and where?

Well, it's a right old mix of topics so I hope there'll be somethingf or everyone. Two pieces are already up, which is why I'm posting now, so you can join in whilst the debate's still young.

Over at Nicola Morgan's fabulous Help I Need a Publisher, I get to rant about whether looks matter for new writers in a piece called "You say fat ugly bloke I say channelling Ginsberg" It's a soap box column and as might be exected there's a real bruhaha brewing, and it's led to a fabulous follow-up piece from Catdownunder, reminiscing on meeting Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti.

Today I am guesting at India Drummond's site, talking about how and why I made the switch from experimental fiction to YA paranormal romance with my latest book, Black Heart High.

JUST POSTED! On Friday I am interviewed about life and art at Hannah Warren's Place. It's the most detailed and candid interview I've given.

And stll to come:
On Saturday it's the 16th, which means it's my day at Kindle UK Authors, where I'll be talking about the advantages and disadvantages of writers' critique groups, collectives and collaborations in a companion piece to the post I made here.

And on Sunday, in Crossing the Line, I'll be making my contribution to a month-long series of pieces on the subject "the relevance of sex in literature" over at Suzanne Burke's fab Soooz Says Stuff. I'll be opening many worm cans with a frank discussion of transgressive fiction, whether there are any lines left to cross with sex, and my own personal battles with writing transgressive material that's nothing to do with sex.

So come and join one or more lively debate!

Monday 11 July 2011

Let's Talk About Sex

Go on. You know you want to. But wait! Wash your mouth out. This is a nice clean, family friendly place. You know that.

So head over to the fabulous Sooz Says Stuff blog where there's a whole month of debate on the subject of the relevance of sex in literature with guest posts on all and every aspect of the topic from writers of every stripe who do, or don't, write sex in their work. And that includes me - on July 17th.

There's a full schedule here.

Oh, OK. Feel free to talk about it here. Let me start with a simple question. Is there a difference between sensationalism and important questioning of stereotypes? In what does it lie? The content? The intent of the author? The perception of the reader?

If you want something get your thoughts started take a look around the Sensation exhibition from 1997, and google some of the discussion around it.

Saturday 9 July 2011

Fear and Self-Loathing in Writersville

I’ve just written my monthly post for Kindle UK Authors . It’ll be up on the 16th. It’s about writing groups, and I think it’s distilled the double-edge of collaborative working for me. What you’ll get there is a take on the positives and negatives of working creatively with others. What I want to share briefly here is more personal. Very much like Cody’s wonderful (and no longer available) piece about the highs and lows of her time at Year Zero.

I’ve made no secret of my recent problems with the recurrence of my bipolar. It’s probably been clear that these issues with the chemical screwed-upness of my head have fed into some serious creative issues for me, which regular readers of mine will know is nothing new . Self doubt is like an old sparring partner, the perpetual Holmes to my Moriarty.

First the ups. I can’t imagine not collaborating having tasted what it can do. Some of the most extraordinary experiences of my life have come through collaborations with those head and shoulders more talented than me – and they have opened creative doors and pushed ideas around in my head that just couldn’t have happened on my own. From spending the day working intensely with Katelan Foisy on Lilith Burning to producing Penny Goring’s The Zoom Zoom, talking typography with Marc Nash, and performing a candlelit duet with Cody James, working with my betters has raised my awareness of what is possible to places no one has a right to expect.

But there are also downs. They can never cancel the ups, but they can be immensely damaging. To say this year they nearly killed off my creativity is an understatement though, to be fair, the utter dank skull-scraping greyness I’ve felt at times has been more the cause than the effect of creative doubts, however it may have felt at the time.

There’s a quantitative and a qualitative component to it. First there’s the sheer sense of drowning. I know it’s selfish, and that compounds the sense of worthlessness in my head even more – how dare I want the time to write when there are so many people who need my time more? I know that having the time to create is a luxury, and wanting it when I could be working to promote the million projects more valuable than anything I could produce is just plain wrong. But I do want creative time. I haven’t sat down with a straight head (without guilt at not answering the 10-20 important e-mails from wonderful creative people I get a day, or the feeling I should be doing more for everyone at Year Zero, for my writers at eight cuts) to work on one of my projects for over two years now, and I want to so much. But even having those thoughts makes me want to cut them – physically, literally – from the inside of my stupid head.

But worse is knowing you are second best if that. Art isn’t a competition. I know that. But there *is* art that changes people’s lives, and I work daily with people who produce it. That’s a privilege no one has the right to expect and I am ridiculously grateful. But every day it shows me the gaps. It shows me what I know I can never produce. I tell people jokingly that I feel most of the time like Ferlinghetti, only it’s not really a joke. Ferlinghetti was a really good poet. Exceptional even. But who really thinks about his poems when they hear his name? Ferlinghetti will always be the man who published Howl. And quite right too. I know that I am in a uniquely privileged position to work with people every bit as talented as Ginsberg. And one day maybe just maybe people will hear my name and think “yeah, he was the one who published Penny Goring’s first work” or “wasn’t he the ringleader of that group Cody James used to write with.” And that’s more than I have the right to ask for.


That brings me to the last cause of self-loathing: arrogance. I didn’t start writing to be a Ferlinghetti. I wanted to be a Ginsberg. I still want to be a Ginsberg. It’s something 99.9% of writers must face on a daily basis – how to keep going in the knowledge that you will never be a game changer. Now of course I love writing most of the time – as hobbies go it’s a pretty great one. And it’s taken me to places and introduced me to people who have changed my life infinitely for the better. But still, that dark place remains. That crowded room where you find yourself alone with yourself and the inescapable truth – this is a hobby, at wildest-dream best a career. And yet for the people you work with every day it may well be so much more.

Most of the time it’s a place I can deal with, or at least ignore. But when my brain has decided to swallow a few wappy pills it’s a burning desert of a testing ground, the sun of self-worthlessness roasting me alive, and the realisation of the sheer arrogance, selfishness and stupidity even to consider it a problem provides the extra fat to baste me.

I was going to leave it there, but thankfully just writing it down has helped me to move a little beyond self-pity to trying to get some understanding. A week or so back a friend of mine, the concert pianist James Rhodes, wrote a great article about the 0.2 second rule. It's about how in many areas of endeavour, someone will spend the majority of their career trying to make the almost imperceptibly small progression that takes you from being very very good to being superlative. Is writing the same? I've already said it's not competitive - but then neither's being a concert pianist. I'd always thought that in the creative arts a great work would come right at the start of someone's career, before they had the edge edited off. But if writing is like sport, like being a pianist, maybe that's not so. Maybe greatness waits at the end of the journey not the beginning. But that raises further questions. The time and focus needed to hone your work that extra amount - how do you live with yourself being that selfish? Especially if it may come to nothing? At what stage do you accept that you will only be good at something at which you were desperate to be great? How do you cope with that realisation?

I hope you'll join in the questions at the end, maybe share your experiences of extreme self-doubt, maybe just tell me I'm a dick, but do share. And accept my thanks for allowing me to be so self-indulgent.

Friday 1 July 2011

Verruca Music

You've downloaded it from Amazon (.com and UK - just $0.99/£0.70)

Well now here it is in all its glory. The special edition paperback of Verruca Music, just £8 here. The first 30 copies come complete with the score of the wonderful accompanying soundtrack, composed by the remarkable Stuart Estell. AND bundled in is the ebook for free.

Verruca Music is absurdist comedy of the very blackest kind, informed by a love of James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Peter Cook and The Goon Show. Featuring the Fibonacci sequence, floors that open up without warning, a powerful laxative, and a duvet that periodically changes colour, Verruca Music charts the narrator’s emergence from a state of fearful near-immobility assisted only by entertainments of his own devising.

Monday 27 June 2011


Pieces of broken bodies fall around me

Like funeral petals

Fallout from friendships

Faced with the nuclear option of my madness

I gouge through gobs of flesh

That were once lips dribbling easy promises

Scouring for something so solid

As a splinter of bone to support my soul

I laughed and you loved it

And then I laughed too much and in the wrong places

And I could not stop

I cried and you loved it

And then I cried too much and in the wrong places

And I could not stop

Down I dig through gristle hair and teeth

Scratching at sinew for a single fingerhold of empathy

There is a solid something


There is a neon dawn a strobing sunrise


There is a noise that is not the scraping of my skull


But not here

Saturday 25 June 2011

Write to Reply?

This post has been brewing for a while. How appropriate that today I woke to find not one but two um, less than shimmery shiny reviews on Amazon.

For several months now, as you’ll have noticed from posts like this one on the Self-publishing Review , I’ve been equal measures delighted and disillusioned by the increasing mainstreaming of indie writers through Kindle sales success. Now there’s no way I’m going to kick off about how terrible it is that indie writers are being taken seriously, how awful it is that the bestselling indie books on Amazon are indistinguishable in genre from the bestselling mainstream books anywhere. After all, I put a thriller out, I’ve got bonkers-lucky and sold 5000 copies of it, and it’s opened doors for me. I have a love-hate relationship with The Company of Fellows and the response to it but that’s my problem, and moaning about being forced into the mainstream would be disingenuous. Besides, I have far more problems being sucked centrewards with my live shows and eight cuts gallery projects.

BUT. The thing’s this. There are things about the mainstream publishing world that really really suck. And one of the reasons I self-publish is because I want no part of it. But a lot of what I see from self-styled indie writers (with whom I get lumped whether I like it or not and whatever the definition of indie may be) is exactly what I went “indie” to get away from. And as is always the case, it always makes you crosser when your peers do something stupid than those to whom you have no connection at all.

And nowhere is this more the case than in responding to reviews (I won’t even go there when it comes to eliciting reviews). It’s been a hot topic in the blogosphere ever since *that* review of Greek Seaman on Big Al’s site. The best take I’ve seen on the subject, by far, was this from the fabulous Susanne O’Leary. Says it all, and in the best way.

I don’t really know what the best protocol is. I think it depends on who you are and all sorts of contextual details, but the basic principle I operate by is if you do nothing the reviewer looks like a dick. Say something back and you look like a dick. Only it’s not just responding in or out of kind to negative reviews. I can understand that in a way. We all get cross. Most of us write out the response in Word and then delete it. Or shout it in the shower. But I can understand if someone accidentally hits submit. It’s the calculation that bothers me. The gaming. The systematic downvoting of negative reviews and upvoting of positive ones, the pointed pointing out that really bad reviews are by reviewers who’ve not posted anything else (that’s a good thing if it *is* a conspiracy, right? It means you’ve got people worried) whilst, in the wake of the bad review one or more heavily upvoted 5-star reviews will appear by – you’ve got it – someone who hasn’t posted a review before.

Yes, it might get more readers who fall for the gaming. It might even have a positive effect in the long run. But that doesn’t make it OK, and it doesn’t make it cool. OK? Think of it like this. Two years ago we "indies" were callingb out for a less patronising system of gatekeeping. Out One. Big. Beef. with the status quo was that readers were being patronised and told what was Good For Them. We wanted to give readers the freedom to make up their own minds what they wanted. To bastardise the immortal Rolf Harris, can you see what the irony is yet?

Friday 24 June 2011

You said "Pitch", right?

So, pitch can mean many things, but one of the many is musical. As I love music as much as if not more than books, and as it's an open secret that I would have been Jack White if it weren't for the fact I can't string two notes together and someone else got there first, here's the thing. I won't tell you what my books are about. You can read that elsewhere.

Anyway, because it's Glasto time and when I look at the shops full of festival wellies I really really wish I was there, and then I realise they're wellies and I'm quite glad I'm watching on TV, but anyway, this is my own personal literary pyramid stage.

These are pitches with a difference. Three songs per book that taken together pretty much give the feel of the book exactly. Like that feel and I almost guarantee you'll like the book. Don't like the music and that's no guarantee you won't love the book, of course. Links are to Kindle editions - remember, you don't need a Kindle to read Kindle books - simply download the free Kindle aopp on the book's page and in about 30 seconds you can read Kindle books on your iphone, Android, Mac orPC

Black Heart High
Kindle .com
Kindle UK

The Company of Fellows
Kindle .com
Kindle UK

Songs from the Other Side of the Wall
Kindle .com
Kindle UK

The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes
Kindle .com
Kindle UK

(life:) razorblades included
Kindle .com
Kindle UK