Saturday, 29 August 2009

Blogs We Would Like to Read

Imagine, and I will pick my heros, Descartes, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Simone de Beauvoir, Emily Bronte and sisters, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, the list goes on, what would they be blogging today?

Here are my thoughts for some topics - I am sure there are better:

Descartes: Blogito ergo sum

J-P Sartre: Other people's posts are hell.

Emily Brontë: Heathcliff! You don't e-mail, you don't twitter, you don't post. It's been twenty years and still I haven't heard from you.

Greene: I must confess I wonder if it is sinful to share my thoughts with you.

Waugh: So vulgar!

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Writing Don't Make a Writer

Isn't it interesting the extent to which the blindingly obvious is stated as the brand new. Perhaps it's one's age but so much of what I read is equivalent to the instruction not to light up a cigarette in a petrol station.

So let's blind you with the obvious.

If you are a wannabe writer, if you have dabbled, if your mum loves your school essays, if all your friends tell you to set your stories down, do it.

It is a start. The start. But only a start.

Execute what you write in short, sharp sentences. Forget flowery descriptions, over-puffed analogies, excessive psychological motivations: stick with what happens. It will make you feel uncomfortable, as though you are truncating your talent. You are not. Your talent is not to establish a new set of clichés but to tell an unique story.

Strip all description. Allow the characters to speak for themselves without you interceding on their behalves and interpreting how the reader should understand what you mean them to say.

If he/she is irate, what they say should effect their irritation, not the adverb qualifying the mode of their speech.

"Fuck off" needs no qualifiers; less crude language, suitably crafted, allows the reader to understand how to read the mood of the protagonist.

On that topic, do not, more emphatically, DO NOT, attempt to control the interpretation of the reader. You have no control. To my mind, that is the joy of writing; you never know how the words you have set on paper will affect others; their imaginations, with your prompting, will escape into the night air to dance with moths.

Start simple, stay simple, pretend not to be a writer, i.e. someone you regard as a writer; be as true and honest to yourself and your characters as you can; worry about improving your words as experience teaches you; because you can string words together on a page does not make you a writer or author - years, and I mean years, of work take that. I know, I have written professionally for forty years and am just beginning to feel comfortable.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Is It Possible to Write Like My Heros Today?

I twittered the following: Imagine being a Joyce, a Kafka, a Proust these days – what chance of getting published?

What chance, indeed?

My desire in my writing is to break the lines on the page. As a mature student, I spent four years studying literature and thought, or philosophy if you have to be so old-fashioned.

Ideas have always motivated me as they have the whole of society, whether it wishes to know or not.

I do not wish to write that which has been well written of before: I want to make people think about the whole process of writing/communication and how culturally, socially and, most deterministically of all, economically defined it is, and how contemporaneous all writing is.

I wish to challenge people’s conceptions about their lives, their views of their lives, their understanding of their lives. There are many books that, very worthily, expand our consciousness, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini provides and invaluable insight into another culture as well as dealing with the universal evil of abuse; Caroline Smaile’s In Search of Adam forensically analyses a compulsive disorder brought on by abuse. Both are important works in that they expand our awareness of the conditions of the world; however, they do not expand our understanding of the world, a world dominated by ideas, especially economic ideas, of how it best functions.

Words and pictures achieve fundamental shifts. They may take years to take effect, to alter consciousness, but they do. Recall the uphill struggle faced by the Impressionists, or Joyce, with his Catholic, Jesuit upbringing (I see similarities), struggling to get A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man published.

What sort of individual today will try? Only the young and brave or the old and tired. I fall into the latter category. In music they, the young, are up to the challenge all the time; but such is the era, revolution has been pacified to become a wholly acceptable way to make money. Hurrah! for the angst of the young, they keep the needles/CD players/iPods turning and the money rolling.

I am not cynical about this age: I am cynical about the degree of manipulation that is ever easier with the advent of the digitial age and the usurption of the individual as they are ever more categorsied, classified, compartmentalised, and filed under W for Who Cares.

Those ignorant of Michel Foucault should read Michel Foucault – start with Discipline and Punish.

Given recent circumstances, the wankers in the City waving their million-plus bonuses in the face of us scrabbling to survive, and at it again, having lumbered everyone with a debt which will take years to eradicate, it is time we, writers, artists and the like, seriously assessed the make-up of the way we live.

I am not talking revolution but examination, Our system still favours the few and the fortunate and, for that very reason, has not resulted in La Terreur because, let’s face it, as writers we want to fit in, be part of the system with the hope we will be the next Stephen King or Margaret Atwood. I was part of the system. I earned shed loads when I was younger. I do not regret that but my ignorance of how 99% of the rest of the country lived. Now I have joined them I feel more secure. I still have friends who earn over a million a year – they think I am a joke. But we all die and a fat bonus does nothing to enhance a corpse;


I want to upset all your sensibilties again and talk about depression.

I have been in – the word I would use is shit – but let’s be polite and call it an uncomfortable place that most of you will deal with comfortably.

There has been the ongoing battle with my agent – not so much him, but his aggressive cohorts who feel bethoven to throw out all who struggle to pay their rents, in an effort to prove how efficient they are. My problems are mine, self-inflicted, nonetheless, life, humanistically, should not be geared around an interpretation of capitalism: the West, increasingly the East, view the turnover of money as the only transcendental value – the function of monetary exchange is lost as being a means of idividuals maintaining their value as individuals.

There are other issues that, again, ‘normal’, individuals would deal with without considering them a difficulty.

I have been there, but not now.

If you feel awkward reading about others’ difficulties, leave now.

Because of the wonderful NHS dental service, I have not been able to afford to see a dentist for nine years. So far, I have had to pull out two of my teeth, there is another molar and incisor that are loose and will be out by within the next couple of months. I have lived with absesses in my mouth for the last six months.

Since I broke a front tooth at the age of nine, my teeth have always proved difficult, but I religiously saw my dentist every three months until I arrived in Brighton and the regime changed. Every visit was the equivalent of seeing a barrow boy who was more interested in flogging a set of cheap china than fixing the problem.

This is one issue.

Another, which I share with thousands, is being ‘of an age’.

My brain has not atrophied. My understanding of business and the machinations of office politics remain the same. I am not an idiot. Things change; it takes three and half minutes to catch-up. What person under forty believes that?

I feel totally useless.

My writing is my hope.

The worse of all is I upset all around me, particularly those I love most. I am fortunate in that I can still operate, so have an appointment with my doctor. If this seems a strange boast; admission of a failure is always difficult even if you don’t regard it as failure. I do.

Stupid me.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Do Not Reject if You Hate the Sight of a Grown Man Crying

After weeks of fretting about my covering letter, writing it, re-writing it, having Gary of BubbleCow cast his long-lashed eye over it, the first agent to whom I apply doesn't want that at all. She sets out what she expects in a very precise brief.

Yesterday I sat down and wrote it. It took me a few hours to write the thousand word plus missive, the length it proved to be, and the result was more spontaneous, more engaging, and, I trust, will prove more likely to encourage her to read my submission.

Sending my ms to the first agent has proved an unexpected emotional hurdle. It's not that I fear rejection, I am prepared for that. I know enough from personal experience and have read enough on blogs of authors, agents and publishers that material is often rejected for a wide variety of reasons.

I feel it is the fact, by sending my work off, I will now have to take myself seriously as an author as opposed to a writer, which I have been all my career, and will have to adopt all the responsibilities of being an author, whatever they prove to be.

On the topic of rejection

It would help wannabe writers, or artists of any kind if they understood what they create is an object - a product. When people turn down your request to print, produce or exhibit, they are turning down the object - not you. It is a trick every artist must learn; to separate themselves from what they create.

The most obvious reason why a product is rejected is because it isn't good enough.

You have produced a can of beans that is full of dents. There is no point in getting upset or uppity when your attention is drawn to the defect. It is not a matter of opinion whether or not a can of beans has dents; someone who spends their life studying cans of beans will have a good eye for a dent on a tinned product from fifty yards beyond the biscuit aisle. The answer is to be humble; to listen, learn and invest in a delicate panel beating hammer.

The next reason why the rejection slip may land on your doormat is because, though your can of beans may be perfectly produced and delicious, the market may not yet be ready for beans in oyster and mango sauce.

Alternatively, the person you have requested to represent you may not deal with cans of beans at all, let alone with beans in oyster and mango sauce.

Of course, the opposite can be true; there might be a glut of people producing cans of beans and the market is beginning to suffer flatulence; one more may just get up the nose of the book buying public.

There is a myriad of reasons why an individual may choose not to represent you, some more apparent than others. Rejection does not necessarily mean you have produced a can of worms [you were waiting for that, weren't you?] but if objective criticism is offered consider it as it is meant, not as a personal insult, on the contrary, as a means to improve.

You may wonder at my insolence in writing of such things, being an as yet unpublished wannabe, but I used to lecture occasionally on the subject of Creativity for a couple of years at the London branch of Syracuse University. I attempted in my drole, self-depreciative, always entertaining yet modest style, to teach the students the importance of learning from other people's observations, not to take it personally, and above all to learn how to distance themselves from their work.

[The ultimate rejection letter?]


The very wise, if unfortunately crabbitty, Nichola Morgan explains in great detail why your perfectly formed book may not get the nod from a publisher in her post, 'How to Make a Publisher Say Yes'.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

They Call Me MISTER Blurb.

I reviewed a book for a local freesheet a year or two back by local author, Sebastian Beaumont. It is entitled Thirteen and is based on his experiences as a taxi driver of the night (SFX: hooting of owls) while he studied for an MA or something grander.

Sebastian had already had five, I believe, books in the gay genre published but this was his first non-gay work. (If you want to read the review, you can download the .pdf file here; it is on page twelve. If you're sensible you won't.)

I enjoyed the book as did those to whom I lent it.

Recently, I had reason to call Sebastian in my quest to discuss the ins and outs of agents and how to approach them when he mentioned that the publishers had used a quote of mine as part of the blurb on the back cover of the second edition.

I went deaf for a few minutes as my listening apparatus became detached from my recording apparatus because my head was increasing its volume by a factor of ten.

Me, Mister Blurb!

Here is an interesting interview with Sebastion in the Guardian, Sebastian Beaumont's top 10 books about psychological journeys. He has a new book out, The Juggler, which I promised to review in return for his advice, as it is still in hardback and I brokeback I shall have to wait for the paperback to back my promise.

PS I have only just noted the typo, 'the feeing of otherness'! How much do ghosts and ghoulies charge these days?

Wednesday, 12 August 2009


I have just returned from a long weekend with Rebecca. She lives just off the Bethnal Green Road in the East End of London. She loves it, me too. It remains a bustling confusion of peoples of every colour, creed and background.

And there is a family connection. Her grandfather, my father-in-law, a Polish Jew who emigrated here at the age of fourteen, well before WWII, yet whose whole family went to the gas chambers of Treblinka, (this is my best guess, as they lived in Częstochowa and that was the destination for the Jews rounded up in that city), owned a jewellery store just off Brick Lane.

As an aside, my dear ex, Sue, tells me, as a boy, Mark, her father, was woken in bed by a German soldier who had his bayonet aimed at Mark’s throat. This happened in WWI. For whatever reason, the soldier did not execute his threat but left. This story, if true, and forgive me Sue if I have the details wrong, interests me for two reasons: first, I didn’t know Poland was involved in WWI; second, of all the nations at that time, i.e. before the rise of Hitler, Germany was the least anti-Semitic, so why the assault on a young Jewish boy – or was his religion of no consequence? On both counts I may be wrong and would welcome correction.

The shop still is as was though now sells designer clothes, or something equivalent, reflecting the increasing gentrification of the area.

The weekend was as a result of a promise made to Rebecca to decorate her flat. (I think feminists are correct and God is a female and the only reason She put men on earth was to decorate their daughter’s flats.)

Her living room and bedroom now have that heady aroma of fresh emulsion. And she is a very happy bunny. It is the anniversary of her moving in and, as she said, it is the first time it feels like her own space. So I am a happy bunny too. It is also my early birthday present to her, as my time is cheap and cash non-existent.

I also did a few other bits and pieces, hanging pictures, mirrors, coat racks, etc., - all the things you never get round to when you are single young woman with a busy life. Funny, it is the first time I have felt like a fully functional, grown-up dad. (Rebecca will, naturally, disagree with both descriptors.) Normally I occupy myself when with her by taking the mick out of her friends. I find myself very funny – they search for the address of the nearest funny farm.

PS Gary of the inestimable writer’s fourth emergency service – “Crooked crankshaft, sir? Give us a sec and your plot will be firing on all four in just a jiff” – has given my query letter a BubbleCow four star rating with minor concerns about the marque definition.

PPS This is an odd post - to link the unbelievable with the mundane - my only excuse is the mundane is what keeps us living and hoping.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Wish You Were Here.

I met Richard for a pint and an orange juice - I had the pint. He handed back the hard copy of my MS with effusive apologies for the fact it now looks distinctly aged, the result of an accident with a mug of cocoa. I am pleased with the sepia effect; it makes my work look as though it has been typed on parchment.

I have since installed all his corrections onto my original and, I am pleased to say, while doing so spotted one or two typos that had escaped his forensic eye.

Overall, his comments were confined to correcting my crap spelling and abuse of language - to lay and to lie being verbs I constantly muddle, but only because Richard is continually picking people up on their misuse, and I am now so confused I invariably lay where I should lie and lie where I should lay. Life would be so much easier as a chicken because I could always claim I was laying when I was lying or lying when I was laying.

We still have a problem over the definition of the book. Even he is stumped as how to categorise it. I think I will stick with black humour.

Over the past weeks, as mentioned elsewhere, I have been attempting to write all the bits and pieces necessary to submit to an agent. Give me a brief to sell the benefits of nuclear war to pacifists and I would find it easier.

Right on cue Nicola Morgan, self-confessed crabbit and fount of all knowledge regarding the publishing world, posts on the topic of covering - or query if in the US - letters.

I am now so thoroughly exercised by the weight of responsibility bearing down on this simple missive, I will, in all probability, end up by sending them a post card wishing they were here.

A small plug for a blog I really enjoy, nothing to do with writing, but if you have any interest in flora and fauna, especially the former, you will be astounded by the quality of image and the erudition of Kingsdowner.