Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Collected Bloggings of A.N. Author

Been thinking (easy now) about blogs, blogging, and bloggers. More specifically, writers who blog. All bloggers are writers by definition, but there are a few who are also "authors of note".

Once upon a time, we looked at authors via a couple of sources: Their Works (novels, plays, poems, etc); their collected letters; their diaries; and published interviews. Some authors write some great Works, but if you want to really get them best of them, you have to go to the less formal scribblings and outpourings.

But now that's all changed. Because we have these blog things.

Authors who blog are going to share a lot more of themselves with the world, on a much more regular basis, and with little or no delay whatsoever. Back in the day, you often had to wait until the guy popped his clogs before you could see his letters and find out what he was really about. But now you get it in real time. You can read the novel one minute, click on the blog the next, finding out what A.N. Author had for dinner last night. A bit confusing, no? Fiction on one hand, fact on the other. All of it going into your brain at once...

Look at Neil Gaiman. As far as I know (and I probably don't know very far), he is the most high profile author who has a regular blog. He posts a hell of a lot there on his blog, telling you about his world travels, different projects, sexual peccadilloes, cultural interests, family stuff etc. (Did I say "sexual peccadilloes"? I meant "menstrual armadilloes".) (Did I say "menstrual armadilloes"? I meant, of course "letters from readers". Jesus, you've got a sick mind.) Anyway, you get to know a lot more about Neil Gaiman.

This means, of course, that he can no longer be the mysterious creator of the strange, fantastical stuff he puts out. We never really believed he lived in a garret in the middle of a forest, writing by night with a feather quill on parchment. But, without the blog, any lingering doubt is removed. On the other hand, if the Work is all that you see of an author, the mystery remains.

But does that help? Does "the mystery" add to the enjoyment of an author's Work?

Now look at Magnus Mills. He has published four great novels, and a couple of short story collections. Elsewhere, there are few cursory interviews, and a lot of hype at the beginning of his career, with all the "bus driver gets huge advance, longlisted for Booker" malarkey. He has no web site that I know of, definitely no blog, and you don't really get much of him in the media. (There are hundreds of authors this applies to, but I'm only picking on the authors I like mostest.) Sometimes I wish he did a blog, or had a website with some more (non-fic) material on it. His novels seem to come from such a strange place, I want to know more about it. But would it really add to the reading of them, knowing that he's doing a book signing at Burnley Waterstones on July 15th, and it would be great if you turned up?

No, it wouldn't.

It wouldn't help if he went on at length about his influences and interests either, or what film he saw last night. The work stands alone. And do you know what? I think blogs, websites, and maintaining any kind of high media profile probably takes away from it.

Nevertheless, I find myself sitting here, doing a blog. Hmm............

OK, here's my conclusion... (Because we need closure, right?) You have blogs, and you have books. They are two separate things. Some are great authors, some are great bloggers. Sometimes you have both. And sometimes you have a great author who is also a great bricklayer. Does his bricklaying add or subtract from his writing? No. Does it have anything to do with it? Not really.

Then again, I bet Neil Gaiman builds some mind-boggling walls, when he gets the old cement and trowel out.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Real Mangel

That's "Real" pronounced Ray-al. Yes, Spanish rights to DEADFOLK are being sold to the Madrid publisher Factoria de Ideas. This means that, shortly, Royston Blake will be walking the same streets as these two. Man, they just wouldn't get past the door, with Blake on it. Look at those necklaces on him, the big ponce. Actually she would get in. Blakey would definitely let her in, looking like that. But the ponce? Forget it.

These guys would get in too. In fact, anyone with very little hair (and no beads).

Anyway, this is great news. I'll be knocking back the cervezas tonight!

Monday, June 27, 2005

Touch my base

Don't you just hate the phrase "touch base"? It's a horrible, horrible phrase. It's right up there with "proactive" as one of the most hateful pieces of business-speak ever to be uttered in air-conditioned, open plan environment. "Let's touch base next week," they say. Euurghh. You want to touch base with me? You can fuck right off, mate. Go and touch someone else's base, you fucking weirdo.

Anyway, I don't really have much to post about, so I thought I'd just, you know, touch base. And while I'm here, how about a spot of keyword analysis? These keywords have been leading people (thankfully anonymous) to

brown pages
home desine
mangel wheel
hillman imp
informer song
bollocks tied up and gagged
what is wrong with the youth today
my favourite song
fucking with a pigg
mangel wheels
And moving over to, this one stands out:

charles williams standing in the way
That's a bit ominous, isn't it? Maybe I should be watching my back. Maybe I should be on guard next time that guy goes "Hey, let's touch base"...

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Review Embargo

As I said, no FAGS AND LAGER reviews here. That includes the one from The Big Issue, which includes the nugget:

"The phrase 'chav lit' would be a disservice to this novel - there's real depth to the characters, but anyone familiar with small town life will appreciate the pitch-black sense of humour."
Chav lit? I spot a movement.

But fair's fair. If I ignore the good ones, I ignore the bad ones too. Such as the Bristol and Bath Venue Magazine, which previously slated DEADFOLK. As you can see, they're sticking to their guns:

"Williams doesn't seem to know whether he wants to be David Lynch or 'Viz', so he ticks both boxes, chucking in 'The League Of Gentlemen' for good measure. But 'Fags and Lager' is much too lightweight to be 'Blue Velvet', not funny enough to be 'The Fat Slags', and completely lacks the ability to evoke the kind of queasiness created by the League's genuinely repulsive parade of grotesques."
Hmm. Why would I want to be any of those things? What if I had succeeded in "being" Lynch or Viz? Then I'd just be a clone. Fair enough, though. I will defend every man and woman's right to slag me off.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

"Dios mio, man. Liam and me, we're gonna fuck you up"

Yeah, right.

The Jesus is gone from the top of this blog. Instead we have, on the left... ah, I'm not going to tell you. And there's NO WAY you'll guess. Not ever.

By the way, I hope you like the new green trim. Green in a soothing colour, they say. This is why you see it a lot in operating theatres. You're going through a traumatic experience on the table, so the green walls etc make it a bit easier on you.

Same idea here.

Lovejoy turns the airwaves blue

Anyone else listen to Midweek on Radio 4 this morning? I'm pretty sure Ian McShane said "cunt". He did, didn't he? Fair play Ian. DEADWOOD has turned you into an old gutter-mouth.

(That's got to be a first for Radio 4, no?)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

If you're going to A-ber-tawe...

Just had word that the Swansea event is cancelled. Reason: only one ticket sold. What can you do?

Many thanks to the lone punter who bought a ticket. For what it's worth, I know who you are. Catherine Zeta Jones, right? Look, I understand that you really want to meet me, and that this was your opportunity at last. But there'll be others. I promise. And I know how Michael is a big fan of the Mangel books, and really wants to play Royston Blake in a movie version. Could you just tell him from me, gently, that he's a bit too old? I don't want to hurt his feelings or anything. Thanks.

"Yeah, but he's a pervert, Dude"

I want to replace that shot from The Big Lebowski up there at the top. It's a nice shot, but it has to go. Its time is not now. Maybe later, in a year or so. Expect it to be gone by tomorrow, replaced by something more... more... Ah, you'll just have to come back and see. (I really want to use a shot of Marv from SIN CITY, but it's too current. I live in the past, and things only really sink in with me once they've matured for at least five years. Preferably twenty-five. (Case in point - RAGING BULL.))

Meanwhile, remember I said I wouldn't report on any FAGS AND LAGER reviews? It's just not in my nature. Anyway, here's another one I refuse to report on (from Tangled Web):

300-odd pages of squalor, f-, s- and c- words, extreme violence and drugs, the odd hint of perversity, monstrous sly humour and all with no redeeming social message whatsoever.

You should see my mum. She's so proud.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Ageing Bull

Watched Raging Bull last night. I've watched it now and then over the years, but it's been a while. What strikes me now is that the message I got from this film on previous viewings - that boxing (or rather "raging bulling", as opposed to boxing clever and fighting defensively) ruins you - financially, emotionally, physically.

The timeline of the movie, as we all know, ends with LaMotta in 1967 or so, washed up and fat, an aging, punch-drunk doughball doing a desperate "an evening with Jake LaMotta" caberet routine. It's one of the most depressing things on celluloid, especially after seeing everything that came before it.

Which is why I'm shocked to find that today - nearly forty years after that - the guy is still knocking about, getting ready to turn 84.

What's more, he's doing pretty much the same thing:

Today, LaMotta does many tours across the United States to banquets and lectures he holds, and a series of books about his life, his fights with Robinson and other matters about his life have been published. LaMotta is also an avid autograph signer.
Moving sideways slightly, but what is an "avid autograph signer"? How can signing autographs be something you do avidly? Does that involve going around soliciting people to ask for your autograph, and then giving it?

- Hey - I'm Jake LaMotta. I wonder if--
- Excuse me, but I'm in a bit of a--
- What? What? You don't got time for Jake LaMotta? What?
- No, I'm just--
- So what's the fuckin' problem? Gimme a piece of paper.
- Look, sir, I really--
- What is this? I'm Jake LaMotta, former middleweight champion of the world, the only man to knock down Sugar Ray Robinson. You want I give you a demonstration, son? Huh?
- Heh heh, no...
- You laughing at me now? You laughing at Jake LaMotta? How 'bout I knock you down right here? How you like that. Huh?
- There's no need to--
- Shut the fuck up. Gimme a fuckin' piece of paper.
- Alright. Here's your piece of paper.
- OK... What's your name, son?
- That's OK, just--
- I said what's your fuckin' name, son?
- Joe.
- Joe?
- Yeah, Joe.
- You shittin' me?
- No.
- You shittin' Jake LaMotta? How 'bout I knock you down and shit on your face, huh? How you like that?
- Not at all.
- Gimme another name.
- Alright. Tony.
- That's better. Tony. I like that. That's a good Italian name.
- I'm not Italian.
- You're not Italian?
- No.
- You shittin' me?
- Not at all. Actually I'm Jewish.
OK, I should stop there. I only meant that to last one or two lines anyway. I'll probably get sued now.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Get Shorties

I've put up a new page on my website for short stories. There's three full ones there, ones which have appeared in print form in the past. They were just hanging around, and it didn't look like they were ever going to be read again, so I might as well.

I've also listed all the stories I got published, plus a few thoughts on short story writing in general and the small press in particular. It seems like decades since I wrote most of these. Part of that is probably because I seem to have moved genre. I started out writing horror and generally weird stuff. Then I moved to crime and generally weird stuff. These days I dunno, maybe it's just weird stuff. When the weirdness goes, it'll just be stuff.

That's a strange thought, moving genre. It was a conscious thing on my part. Not only was I reading more and more crime, but it was looking more and more unlikely that I would ever get a horror novel published. It happens, of course, but the glory days of that genre are gone, for now. At least in publishing. (Not so in movies, it seems.)

Mind you, I've never been that attached to any genre. I do like them. I like the sense of community (AAARRRGGGHHH! Who was it who said "people who truly live in communities never actually use the word "community"? They were bang on...) it brings, and the feeling that you are carrying something on. But ultimately, I just write whatever comes out. I know the kind of format that suits me, and the kind of narrative I can do. But once you bring in your own personal wallpaper (characters, setting, language... obsessions) it becomes your own.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

"Strangest damn things. They're man made. Little damn things. Smaller than my fist"

As you can see above, I've followed through on my resolution. So it's goodbye Tony Montana, hello Henry Spencer. I'm sure you all know where he's from.

In case you're ignorant, thick, or just don't know, the other two shots are from An American Werewolf in London and The Big Sleep. Oh no, sorry.. The Big Easy. No no no... its The Big Breakfast. Er...

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Reach Out and Touch Me

Depeche Mode were fucking ACE in their heyday. See You, Enjoy The Silence, Personal Jesus, Policy of Truth, Never Let Me Down Again, Enjoy The Silence... even pap like Somebody was truly exceptional pap. AND that guy managed to look like a sexually aberrant poodle through thick and thin.

So, Depeche Mode were fucking ace in their heyday. And slightly canine. Discuss.

No, do not discuss...


So Long, Al Pacino

My brother came round my house the other day wearing a black T-shirt with that Scarface picture (above) on it. So now I have to find a new picture.

But why?

I don't know. This is the way it has always been, and always will be. We're not allowed to like any of each other's things. Not unless I steal it off him, so it becomes mine and not his. (And vice-versa.) I made a fatal error last year and went to my mum's house wearing a grey "Network Records" T-shirt. Of course, bro had to turn up. "Hey," says he, pointing at my chest. "That's my Network Records T-shirt. I've been looking for that for sixteen years."

Luckily I had a jacket.

(It was a shit T-shirt anyway.)

Friday, June 10, 2005

A Great New Charles Williams

Duane's cool post (linking me with my more illustrious namesake) got me thinking. It got me thinking about Charles Williams's. There are quite a few Charles Williams's here and there (if you include the more casually-monikered Charlies), and while doing a quick Google for the most famous of all (in noir circles), I found this guy.

How could I go all this time without knowing about him? I'm no art expert (though I did get an "A level" in the subject, don't you know), but I think those paintings are fucking great. He goes right into my all time top ten artists, alongside Bosch, Vettriano, and Chris Garratt. I hope he doesn't mind, but I feel I must put one of his paintings right here:

Great article on Serpent's Tail

In The Indie.

In other news... a Serpent's Tail title overtakes a Dan Brown novel in the bestseller list (positions 9 and 12).

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Melody Maker

I was listening to a CD by James Blunt the other day. As I listened, tapping my foot, sipping espresso, and blowing perfect smoke rings into the air, my thoughts turned to writing. Fiction writing, not song writing. See, this Blunt geezer has the gift of making you think you're listening to something deep and heartfelt, and loving it. And by saying that, I don't mean to take anything away from the feller. The songs might well be genuinely deep and heartfelt, but they're all veiled behind a curtain of deepness and heartfeltness, so you wouldn't really know.

What I mean is, he has the populist touch. He feeds you misery and deep reflection in a very pleasing, easy way. The lyrics are what they are, but the music (and his voice) tells you all you need to know. And what I'm getting at here, in my unfocussed, sleep-deprived way, is melody.

So, like I said, I started thinking about fiction. You want to write something, right? You might have an theme you want to explore, so you work out a premise and create some characters to fit around it. Or maybe you work the other way (like me), and you start with a character and see where he wants to go, and leave the critics to work out the theme. Whatever, your novel is going to go nowhere unless you know how to write it. It could be a great story, but a bad novel. It could be a great story, and a great novel. And the difference there is........


Maybe melody isn't the right word. But you know what I mean, right? It's the X factor (and I don't mean these wankers), the mysterious ingredient that makes you turn the pages like a bastard, or that makes you sit back and think like a... er... bastard. Hamlet was a story that had been knocking around the pubs and snooker halls of Stratford for centuries, raising the odd eyebrow here or laugh there. But it was the Bard himself - Shaky - who tarted it up and set it to the right tune.

And back to old Blunty. Satorially challenged he might be, but he's putting out some good stuff. It's got a good beat and you can dance to it, you know? (If you're on heroin.) But it's not about the lyrics. It hardly ever is. These guys put out some of the most interesting lyrics ever, but it took the right guitar, bass and drum mix to make the songs great. Look at the lyrics on their own, and you'll surely go barmy. You'll end up turning to the Birdie Song.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

We Need to Talk About the Orange Prize

Congrats to fellow Serpent's Tail author Lionel Shriver for winning the Orange Prize with her novel We Need To Talk About Kevin. She wins an orange.

Interesting that the BBC - supposed champion of good reporting - has this to say:

It is Shriver's seventh book and was originally published by the small US company Serpent's Tail after being rejected by a string of agents and major publishers.
Since when was Serpent's Tail a US company? They had a US office once (I think), but the BBC of all people could have mentioned that it was a London publisher. Not only a London publisher, but the publisher of the Nobel Laureate.

And why the hell aren't men allowed to win the Orange Prize? Eh? Imagine the stink if they launched The Banana Prize For Men.

But that's for another day. Again, big congrats to Lionel.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Thoughts from a one-year veteran

Deadfolk came out a year ago, give or take a day or two. During that time, a lot of things have happened. A lot of things have changed. My novel may not have set the world alight, but it has perhaps found its place in the pantheon of interesting debut novels, somewhere near the remainder bin. But most of all, of course, it has provided me with a few secondary thrills...

1. Readings

For me, most of these have been festivals. For some strange reason, I was able to appear at posh ones like Hay and Bath, and a couple of music festivals like The Big Chill. This is a very, very strange experience. You get treated like you're important, just for a couple of hours. You feel like telling them that they must have made a mistake, that the real guest author is probably wandering around outside somewhere, lost. (And the sad thing is, they're going to agree with you.)

And then the best bit happens - you get to sit down and deface copy after copy of your book (soon to be owned by a valued punter) with your child-like, keyboard-corrupted scrawl.

2. Other authors

I knew one or two published novelists before I became one myself. I kind of held them in awe, of course. (It helped that I liked their books.) But it's only natural that you get to know a few more, once you're amongst their ranks. And the cool bit is that they don't laugh at you and make jokes at your expense anymore, once you're one of them. Instead they confide in you, telling you about all the wild shit that goes on at publishing parties. (I swear, you wouldn't believe...) And then they get all lachrymose and start telling you about their problems, about how they can't seem to reach the heights they once reached, or how this reviewer panned them because of plain old jealousy, or how their wife just doesn't understand that when your sitting quietly like that, staring at the wall, you're working.

3. Walking into shops and seeing your book

I must admit, this was always going to be the big one for me. Go to any town, walk in off the high street, and BANG - there's your baby sitting right there. Trouble is, you have to search high and low to find a bookshop these days. And when (if) you find one, you have to search high and low to find your book in it. And when (IF) you find it (after two hours) there's only one copy. And it's not face-out. It's not even spine-out. It's loose-leaf-out (ie: some fool has put it in the wrong way round).

4. Reviews

Getting great reviews is great. But getting shit reviews? You guessed it.

The best bit about getting a great review is the feeling of being reassured, for the brief moment it takes to read the thing, that you're not some mad, weird, embarrasing excuse for a human being after all, despite what your family and friends tell you.

The best bit about getting a bad review is letting things lie for a few weeks (while your family and friends have a good laugh), then tracking the reviewer down and beating the shit out of him in front of his family and friends.

UPDATE: It has been pointed out to me that the above example of "late night" humour may be open to misinterpretation. Let it be known - I do not assault reviewers. I seek no kind of retribution whatsoever for personal injuries suffered in the name of literary criticism. I am a lover, not a fighter. Etc. (Jesus...)

5. Saving money

Visiting that cheap bookshop in Hay-on-Wye, seeing your beloved, priceless debut on sale there for ONE POUND A COPY, and buying up the lot of them. Bargain.

The cheeky bastards.

6. Getting recognised in the street

"Oh, hello there."
"You're that..."
"You know - the feller..."
"Well, yes."
"Boris Becker."
"Fucking hell, Boris Becker."
"No, you're making a..."
"Blimey, you can talk English better than me. Well done, Boris. See ya."

7. Checking your bloody Amazon ranking

Bloody bloody bloody bloody bloody bloody.

8. Having something to blog about

You think this is something to blog about? This is the act of someone who is awake at 1:00AM on a weekday, waiting for a flipping file to arrive. (Day job. Yes, it's the middle of the night, but... Ah, never mind.) This is the product of sitting here, drinking tea, asking myself "Hmm... what can I blog about?" and not having an answer.

9. Equating the number of blog "comments" you get with literary success

I am a writer, not a blogger.
I am a writer, not a blogger.
I am a writer, not a blogger.
I am a writer, not a blogger.
I am a writer, not a blogger.

10. Looking up at your shelf, in your own home, and seeing your book there

Because at the end of the day, when everything else has gone, that's all you're left with.

(Until the house fire.)

He asks, he gets...

(see prev post)

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Embarrassing orange jackets

Is this a good review or a bad review? (Page down to bottom - where I belong.) Personally I love it. "Bloke lit gone bananas" - nice alliteration there. Shame it's not really bloke lit. (Or is it?) (Who cares?) Anyway, it was enough to make my day.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Hay Joe, where you goin' with that crate of champagne in yo hand?

Well, Hay came and went (for me, anyway). We arrived. We met the crew. We drank. We chilled in the green room, hanging out with William Hague and Elvis. (Hague was on 14 pints of lager.) I did my bit on the stage, bringing Royston Blake and Mangel to life for the good folks in the audience, whether they liked it or not. (They probably came for James Hawes, but I refuse to sit quietly.) My wife took a photograph (right). I scrawled my name on some books. We went off into the seedy, dangerous world of Hay-on-Wye after dark. We did some more drinking. We got completely lost in the countryside surrounding Hay, sobering up fast. We got back to the digs at 4am, getting about three hours sleep. We got up. We went back into Hay and I collected my crate of champagne. We went home.

There you have it - my big day at Hay.