Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Oh, and it is. Hilariously - part two - if I were to delete the previous post, it would probably trigger the self same problem that led me to post that post and so it is with this one and, from there, we launch into the heady vaults infinity.
Gulp, sir. Gulp.
Technorati Tags: puppy
Do not adjust your screen
Hilariously, blogger (the wonderful but maddening service that hosts this blog) persists in displaying two copies of the previous post. While I wrassle with this gator, you might want to know that the most recent post is the one without the typos - if that makes sense.
Technorati Tags: I hate blogger right now
This Reading Life
In some respects, it's been a depressing week. Why? Well, I've hit a tranche of dodgy books. You know how it is. You get half way through a book and decide that it's very poor. So you skip to the next in the queue, and that one turns out very poor too. Then you skip to the next, and the next, and, before you know it, a week has gone by without any good reading. For me, that's a wasted week, and makes me sweaty.
Monica Ali's Brick Lane
A huge disappointment, this one. As a rule, I try to avoid hype, but I could not help but read the scintillating book reviews and witty interviews. So when I saw this book in a charity shop a few weeks back, I picked it up for a reasonable price. Now I want my fifty pence back. How can I describe my reaction to this book? It's a feeling of disappointment mixed with disbelief and, frankly, shock. On several levels the book is adequate - short sentences, only five or six typos that I could spot, and humdrum conversations that are often revealing - but I could not escape the mediocrity of the work. It contains virtually no artistic flair. There's no rule that says a book must exhibit virtuosity, of course, but I can read dishwater-dull prose of this calibre every day in any given newspaper. The sentences in this book feel like they've been submitted to a committee and changed by vote until they are smoothed into weathered, pointless structures - whose subject tends to be minutiae. Again, nothing wrong with minutiae, particularly when these things - cutting a husband's corns, washing the children in Fairy Liquid - build to delight the reader, but this doesn't seem to happen.
Another problem is a conscious anti-narrative force. The first half of the book is constructed in the manner of a memoir from a person whose life is not interesting enough to be put into book form; and this person has failed to apply the natural remedy to this force, which is narrative. There are genuine moments of anguish (e.g. the scene where the new-born baby is taken for washing, and readers of the book will know what I mean) but these are often stifled by bizarre cuts to an epistolary section bursting with letters from a character in whom the reader has zero investment and, therefore, doesn't really care about. When this section ends - blessedly, because the erastz ungrammatical Bangladeshi is wearing - Ali breaks the first rule of writing (write) by jumping ahead by several years. So the impact of a climactic scene is deleted from the narrative. Why? I just don't know; I only know that if the scene was included, the book would have been strengthened. This peak scenes should be a mountain range across which the story is strung - on the proviso you want to grip the reader. You can avoid these scenes if you wish, but, so doing, I think you run the risk of rendering your story impotent. From there, the only thing that will keep the reader interested will be, perhaps, your scintillating (I know; word of the week) style or your astounding insights. When you have neither of these, your book is in trouble. The trouble reached a crescendo for me around the middle of Brick Lane, when a new character was introduced who would invigorate the story. In pencil, I wrote, 'This is where the book should start', and closed it forever - gurning with rage. OK, not gurning with rage, but disappointed. Overall, the book is adequate and undemanding, and I can see why some readers would like it. But it left me drowning, and solid ground appeared only when I opened Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian and read the first sentence. Phew. Rescue.
Later, after breathing into my special paper bag
Reading this post a second time, it does sound as though I paint Ali as some kind of literary criminal who breaks into houses and urinates on bookshelves. Well, I don't. Apparently, she's a very nice lady, and one of her interviews made me laugh. But when I read her book (to the halfway point) I learned a valuable lesson that, while obvious, bears repeating: don't believe the hype. Just because an author 'gives good interview', that doesn't mean she can write a book to match. As for the glowing reviews of Brick Lane, these can only add to my growing sense that reviews - including this one, natch - might be better destroyed, gathered into a smouldering pile, and destroyed again.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Scott Spills A Bean or Three
The Waterstone’s board were shitting themselves about margin and market share. Both were down. The two M’s have accounted for many a pair of executive underpants in the history of retail and this was no exception. The debate about what to do lasted weeks and got quite heated. Eventually the decision was taken to reduce the size of the Summer Reading 3 for 2. It was slashed from over 700 titles to just 200. The master plan was to sell less of this lower margin stuff and thereby drive sales of the higher margin backlist up. Oh, and Offer Of The Week was pulled as well.
I'd get over there and read the full article, if I were you. You'd be mad to miss it.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Scott Pack Attacked by Pacifist Guerilla
At the risk of going interview-crazy (cf. the weekend Millington interview servings one and two), I've conducted another interview with Scott Pack, former Buying Manager for the UK's book chain Waterstone's. Scott has always been approachable and, following his departure from Waterstone's, consented to answer some questions about the UK publishing industry, print-on-demand publishing, the Richard and Judy bookclub, and websites frequented by 'those on the inside'. Scott's brain emissions can now be found at his new blog, Me and My Big Mouth, which his hosted by (but does not necessarily reflect, etc.) his new employer, The Friday Project.
The interview, incidentally, is published on a blog called Pacifist Guerilla run by the redoubtable Neil Ayres - author of the moving Nicolo's Gifts - and the inimitable Aliya Whiteley, author of the Macmillan New Writing title Three Things About Me.
In case this post has boggled your mind with its number of links, you can read the interview here.
Sunday, August 06, 2006
Things Mil Millington and I Have Talked About (Part 2)
Interview Part II: In which the topics aestheticism, word patents, the writing process, and Higgins from Magnum get more attention than they deserve.
This from my girlfriend: "What was written on the bottle of the stuff you dyed your hair with?"
"May kill your sperm, and your neighbour's sperm."
For reference, you genuinely can't buy the fire engine red two-part dye that I use in the shops. I get it from a contact in the hairdressing underground.
I could say that it's because I created the look of the Apology Homepage, whereas Mr Nash piloted the design of The Weekly. But that would be a laughably superficial analysis that you'd rightly reject as crude and despicable. The fact is that I want my site to look dreadful. I want it to look like what it is: Some Bloke's Homepage. I've had many Web design people offer (sometimes 'beg') to make the site look presentable, but I politely decline them all. Its very amateurishness gives it a feeling of intimacy, I reckon. It is, not by a looooooong way, a glossy, business-minded site. I also turn away people who ask if they can buy advertising space on it or have banner ads, and I choke at the very notion of selling Things My Girlfriend And I Have Argued About mugs and T-shirts. I've nothing against commercial sites, you understand - not at all: I urge everyone to buy a Splendid from The Weekly Corner Shop - it's simply that my site isn't commercial. It lists my books, in case people think, 'I am laughing. I would like to laugh more,' as not mentioning them would be bizarre and, in a way, rude. That's the single aspect that's not completely Some Bloke, though. There's a fragile beauty in awfulness.
What progress on your attempt to patent the word 'meh'? How was it defined in your application?
I'm sure this can be found in cuneiform, along with 'Pff' and 'Gah'. My sense is that lots of people write these things, and have done so for aeons. "Reader, I married him. Tch." I wouldn't dream of claiming captaincy of such a thing (let alone having initiated it), I'm merely a foot soldier.
You're a cyclist, I gather. What's the point of the Tour de France?
Well, I cycle; I wouldn't call myself a cyclist, really. I don't have a beard and go on touring holidays of Norfolk nor do I own a single piece of Lycra. I just like thrashing about down tracks a bit, and town is ten minutes away by bike, but over thirty minutes on foot (or, it being Wolverhampton, including waiting for one to turn up, an hour by bus). I can't imagine why anyone would do the Tour de France. And my brain fairly ruptures at the idea that anyone would watch someone else do the Tour de France.
With regards the writing process, how does it work for you in terms of planning, letting others view the manuscript at an embryonic stage, that kind of thing? How long do your books take to write?
I plan on paper, initially, then - when it's eighty per cent there - type it up. Sometimes I type it in Final Draft. This is a script writing prog, and has a 'scene view' mode which is useful even if you're not doing a script. Each scene is really a very brief note saying what it's there for. The first one in the nov I'm doing now, for example, says, "1) Root Chris's character. (At work?)" It tells me that the first thing I want to do is establish what kind of person the protagonist is - not exhaustively, but fix a few key things there and make him solid; details and subtleties can be introduced later, gradually. And that, perhaps, at his work might be a good place to do this. I have another crib sheet listing the characters, by the way. This list doesn't give much in the way of 'character sketches' - I just remember what they're like as people - but lays down facts: age, eye colour, number of siblings, etc. I try to avoid giving much in the way of physical descriptions (I think it's far better if the reader creates the images they feel most comfortable with) and it's very dull indeed to recount unnecessary detail about histories. "I have a sister, Jane, who's four years older than me, and two brothers, Paul and David who are younger by three and two years respectively. I grew up in Leicester, starting school - - in Miss Baker's class - two days late, because I'd had the measles and..." CHRIST. Still, it's best to have a reference so that someone's eyes don't change colour halfway through the book. Relatedly, I also date and time each scene. It's very easy to write a Monday morning, have someone appear at work for a couple of days, then start talking about it being Saturday unless you keep track.
All the above done, I write the book. I'd love to sit down and write from beginning to end, smoothly. Unfortunately, Real Life kicks me all over the place. The longest I ever get to write on one thing is perhaps three or four hours. Often it's more like thirty, fractured minutes, and very, very frequently it's no time at all that day. With Love and Other Near Death Experiences I actually calculated it: I wrote the book in 82 days - by which I mean that there were 82 days when I managed to find the space to do at least something (perhaps only 40 words, but something). So, it took 82 snatched and hugely variable periods to write; if you combined them into full, eight hour, days then it's probably more like 30. But - due to interruptions - that was actually stretched over 502 days.
This niggled, staccato, harassed way of writing a nov is hardly the best method of working, and is epically irritating for me to boot. I can't whine too much, however, as I'm hardly the only person who has suffer it. You, for example, Hocking, surely have to find fleeting moments to write after spending all day reading articles in psychology journals and wondering if any of them aren't based on faked research.
To jump back puckishly now - to the very beginning of what we'll lavishly call The Writing Process - I generally let things evolve in my head until they reach a critical mass that means I can 'actively' start working on them. I always begin with an idea. This might sound staggeringly bleeding obvious, but what I mean is that there's a 'idea' I want to explore. A mystery writer might begin with, 'Hmmm... if a murderer did this thing I've just thought of he'd give himself a great alibi,' and work out from there. Equally, someone who writes thrillers could start with, 'What if a terrorist group hijacked a nuclear submarine?' Others might even have a basic plot - perhaps triggered by something they've seen in a newspaper story, say - and weave details onto that framework. I always have a pure idea I want to play around in. The problem is how to do that as a novel. So, for example, with A Certain Chemistry the idea that interested me was the very slippery notion of freewill - we believe our choices and actions and feelings are our own, but to what extent are they actually governed by something as basic as our biology? How do I tackle that in a book? Well, the thing that's always cited at most personal, ineffable, and human (meaning mysterious and impossible to dissect - "What is this thing you call a 'kiss', Captain Kirk?") is love. A standard technique for debate is the take the biggest argument the opposition has and refute it; thereby implying that, if their best shot is a misfire, then all the lesser ones must be at least as weak. So - look at freewill in the area of love: win that case and you win all the others without even having to fight them. But how do you look at love? The story of a forty year marriage or something? Nope, it's better to compress everything as tightly as possible if your going to make it into a novel. How do you have love on fast-forward, with the emotions heightened as much as possible, then? You look at an affair. Refine that a little more, cast Joe Pesci as God, and I'm ready to start on A Certain Chemistry. That's the way I go about it. Love and Other Near Death Experiences is the same: 'Existential angst - the old, "Why am I here?" question. How can I create a situation where that is magnified and speeded up?' Or, with the book I'm writing now, 'Nature/nurture - that's interesting? But how do you deal with that in novel form? I mean, with nature/nurture research, there's always that problem of how can you have a control in the experiment, isn't there? Hmmm... wait a minute...'
You'll probably have noticed that nowhere at all in that do I think about 'funny things that I could write.' I never 'pre-arrange' the comedy, and I really believe that's the best way: it should come, perfectly naturally, from the characters and the situations. So, with the scene note from my plan - that will say something like, 'Introduce Brian and establish he needs a place to stay' - I ad lib, and ad lib having put on a comedy hat.
Then, two words in, I'll get a phone call telling me that I need to be in Manchester in three hours or something.
Your books strike me as sitting at the extreme of masculinity. You know, like Higgins from Magnum. And yet you've said that you get most of your feedback from women. Do you think there is something uncomfortably true in your work that puts 'lads' off?
I look just as good in shorts as Higgins from Magnum does too. The fact is that the vast majority of fiction is bought by women aged between 18 and 35 (not sure what happens after 35; perhaps they join a library). That's the demographic publishers go for, because that's the demographic. (You'll note that even the most vapid, sparkly-things-and-diets women's mag will have a little 'Books of the Month' page.) I've had chaps tell me that they've wanted to read my books, but their testosterone would not allow them to hold such covers on the Tube. My covers aren't even all that bad either. And my editor is practically a man in a dress, and is very conscious of not having girly covers. Still, though publishers might pull back from making them too womb-targeted, they will never do anything that could end up putting women off, or even not appealing to them enough. They will always err on the female side of caution. So, covers are an issue. Also, I didn't want 'love' in the title of 'Love and Other Near Death Experiences'. It's not about love (there's some love in it, of course, but it's not the theme of the book, not remotely) - my working title was 'Not Quite Dead'. But... well, the book's on the shelves, and it's called Love and Other Near Death Experiences, and I bet a good few fellows have seen that 'love' and lurched across a shelf to the safety of 'SAS Blood Feud' or 'Killing Sharks By Hitting Them With Bears'.
The main problem is, though, that the majority of men simply don't read many books. And are stupid. And unpleasant to look at. I think we'd see an improvement in all sorts of areas if the world were peopled by just six billion women, and me.
What would be the title of your autobiography?
I'd probably call it something like, 'Actually, That Wasn't What I Meant,' but the publisher would insist on it being called, 'Love, Love, Love, Flowers, Babies, And Love.'
There are some fantastic comedy writers out there. On the proviso that all writers are a boiling, maggoty mass of influences, can you think of one or two - dead or alive - that have contributed most to your fiction?
That 'influence' bit is always tricky when it comes to this question. Milligan, for example, fell into my life like a wonderfulness bomb (with the AH:MPIHD, mentioned above) when I was about nine, but I'm not sure that he's had the slightest influence on (cough) 'my style'. Wodehouse is also fabulous and you
The list of comic writers I love is large indeed - Mark Twain, Douglas Adams, Mark Leyner, to lazily name but three. However, I'd say that the biggest influence on my writing was actually American TV sitcoms - the ones I watched when I was young: Soap, Taxi, etc. As befits an English working class house, I spent a lot of time watching the TV. Back then, British comedy relied a great deal on puns and innuendo and music hall-style acting. The Americans were all one-liners, snappy dialogue and pseudo-realistic delivery (while each British gag was highlighted with much flapping about and gurning, it seemed effortless and natural - almost invisible - that everything everyone who worked for a New York taxi firm said was funny). That's possibly where my liking for lots of snappy talk comes from. As for my narrative side, God knows. I can't believe that came from anywhere outside me. No one in their right mind would have that many subordinate clauses.
Having watched a few episodes of Channel Four's The IT Crowd, I was struck (thinking about the IT gags in TMGAIHAA) that 'Millington' would have done a better of job of this, starting with the title. Any plans for a sojourn into sitcom land?
I watched the first one, maybe one-and-a-half, episodes of TIC and thought it poor. Then suddenly got into it and liked it lots. Impressively, I'd watch it with my sons and - despite a span of almost eighty years between us - we'd all laugh at it. So, thumbs up Graham Linehan. Wait - I omitted a comma to disastrous effect. "So, thumbs up, Graham Linehan."
Anyway, I'm fairly often asked by the mouths of TV producers if there's a sitcom I fancy doing. The problem is, there isn't. It's largely to do with that being motivated by examining an idea aspect I mentioned earlier. I like to get something that intrigues me, lick it all over, then, done with it, move on to something else. I don't want to have to lick it again the next week. And the next five weeks too. And for another five series. One-offs are far more attractive than series. I did write and then get commissioned to write a one-off for Granada TV (genuinely that way round: I wrote it - because I can't pitch, as I'm unable to express an idea in under 10,000 words - they read it, liked it, then they paid me to write it - as if the script they'd read was actually a pitch), but I reckon that's now officially in Development Hell. TV is much the same a Film in having the way to suck the life right out of you down pat; the only difference, really, is that Film companies generally have nicer offices.
What next for Millington?
Some ironing, obviously. Other than that, it falls into four categories:
- Standard, day-to-day stuff. Features for magazines, columns, putting my rambling gob out at 'events' (literary festivals, etc., possibly promoting the paperback release of Love and Other Near Death Experiences in October), putting my rambling gob out in the standard rambling gob spots on radio or TV, odd bits and bobs (such as, I've done a short story for an anthology called 'Paint a Vulgar Picture' that Serpent's Tail are publishing an inexplicable age from now), the constant war of attrition with my email, and so on.
- Stuff that's 'at a stage'. For example, Mr Nash and I are Involved, in Things. Words have been written, events have moved, results have resulted. It's not merely the two of us having written things that, maybe, one day, someone might take an interest in: it's progressed well beyond that. However, neither of us will be even slightly surprised if it comes to nothing in the end. That's forever happening.
- Stuff that's not at a stage. This might, conceivably go somewhere, and demands work and attention, but is currently 'air'. An illustration of this type of thing is the film producer bloke with - he's pretty confident - access to a budget who's just asked to meet me to talk about my writing a script for him. Sounds almost straightforward to young ears, but my old membranes can hear that it's actually just a truckload of Ifs.
- The next nov. Due to publishing cycles and a pregnancy (not mine), this probably won't be out until late 2007 or maybe even 2008. However, I'll have finished it long before that, obviously. Yes: obviously.
Friday, August 04, 2006
Things Mil Millington and I Have Spoken About (Part 1)
Alright, it's an obvious title for this reason. Simmer down. Particularly you, Millington. Everyone else - i.e. Dad - allow me to briefly introduce Mil Millington: British comedy author, red hair, German girlfriend, rose to attention with his website Things My Girlfriend And I Have Argued About (TMGAIHAA), which was plagiarised by a UK newspaper and subsequently became the book of the same name (though the book deal was in place prior to the newspaper shenanigans). Mil's fiction is just about the funniest novel-length stuff being produced at the moment, as far as my experience goes. I've reviewed Love and Other Near Death Experiences for Spike Magazine (and you might be interested Debra Hamel's reviews of TMGAIHAA and the LAONDE). In this interview, I asked Mil about his fiction, some thoughts on the writing process in general, and - it goes without saying, almost - that red hair of his. (Hyperlinks added by me.)
Part I: In which the film industry is considered, Germans girlfriends discussed, and gadgets dribbled over.
Reports abound that Things My Girlfriend And I Have Argued About is being developed for film production by Working Title, the scamps who brought us Four Weddings and a Funeral. Douglas Adams said - several times - that making a movie is like trying to cook a steak by having a succession of people coming into the room and breathing on it. Are you involved the development? If so, is it fun?
I'm deeply involved in the process of replying to the emails when my agent writes to tell me that Working Title has contacted them to renew their option again. However, a less gittish reply might be that I have been involved in the development - I've had 'meetings' and done three drafts of the screenplay - but I haven't been involved for a while now. I'm fine with that. With films, the director and the producer have clout, as do the stars (if they're big enough names). If you're the writer and have the ludicrous notion that you're going to 'bring your vision to the screen' then you're simply delusional - and, moreover, storing up heartache for yourself. I think you have to regard it like a translation. I'm perfectly fine about A Certain Chemistry being in Russian, or Things My Girlfriend And I Have Argued About being in Japanese, but I accept that those versions will be, to a great extent, the work of the translator, not me. It's in the nature of the game: you can't say, 'Right, I've been studying Japanese in the two weeks since I signed to give you the rights, and now think that the line about roofers would, in fact, be funnier with this ideogram.'
As for the, 'Is it fun?' bit... no. Writing scripts is fun. It's writing, but with a different set of opportunities, and restrictions, compared to novels. It's playing in another toy box. But the actual process of doing movies, or TV, is wearing. It's slow, frustrating and, worst of all, idiots can make idiot suggestions - and you have to treat these idiots seriously, rather than your possessing the civilised option of having them drugged and then bundled into a furnace.
I, too, am honoured by the presence of a German lady in my life. It has been observed that Anglo-German relationships (particularly where the lady is German) are oddly frequent. Random error (statistically speaking)? Or is there something connecting German women with English men?
I given this one years of thought already, and no clear answer has presented itself. I mean, obviously, you can see why German women would want to do better than German men. But why they would then choose English men as an alternative is a tad baffling. That's akin to someone who is hit in the face every hour with a shovel suddenly realising that it doesn't have to be that way, and opting to change things so that they are hit in the face every hour with a trowel. I suppose English men prefer German women over their English counterparts because they are more attractive, erudite and serious-minded. Also for the slight sexual frisson of their partner dressing like a 70s lesbian. I'll tell you, though, that I've always thought that, in this matter, there is much to be said for the feeling implicit in Principal Skinner's line when he's wooing Ms Krabappel and says he admires her, "ability to be personally offended by broad social trends."
Where did you learn German?
From watching the dubbed versions of The Real Ghostbusters cartoon and The Streets of San Francisco on TV when we lived in Germany. That's not a joke. Other than that, I've merely 'picked bits up' from being around Margret/other Germans. It should be made very clear that my German is risible, by the way - but it is far, far, incalculably far better than either my non-existent Spanish (had to do it at school for two years) or my four words of French (had to do it at school for five years). I think this pretty conclusively proves that watching television is better than secondary education, and we should perhaps replace the GCSE syllabus with episodes of Ren and Stimpy.
This from my girlfriend…
OK. Hold on... what's that ticking noise?
"Would you be where you are today if you didn't have a German girlfriend?" Please be careful. My sex life might depend on your answer.
It's refreshing to have someone else's sex life depend on my answer.
Well, I could be glib (unlike me though that would be), but the honest reply is, 'Yes. Unless you don't mean what I suspect, then it's No.' Counterintuitive as it initially might seem, the whole TMGAIHAA thing doesn't need Margret in the mix for it to work. There are some 'German bits', yes, but they are few and far between and, in other circumstances, would be replaced by different things. Though the webpage is based of real stuff, it's very stylised, edited, elaborated, etc. Assuming it's merely transcripts is like believing that Spike Milligan fought in the Second World War and his faithful record of this naturally becomes - almost without his intervention - the hilarious collection of anecdotes that is Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall. Because, you know, WWII was just funny - ask anyone who was there. Also, I've argued with all my girlfriends - as does everyone (with their girlfriends, not with mine... probably). That's the basis of half the humour: it's recognition comedy. If it were dependent on Margret's specific Margretness, then people would read it and huff, 'Well, I must say that I can't relate to any of this whatsoever.' Yet another point is that once we move away from my idly amusing myself with the Webpage and talking about actual work then the TMGAIHAA book (as I repeatedly say, at every opportunity) is entirely fictional: Margret and I have had none of the arguments that appears in there, they're simple the kind of arguments couples have. On the other hand, I definitely wouldn't be where I am today without lots of other things. The Internet, for example. I wasn't submitting things to publishers, or even thinking about do so, after all. I was, ahem, 'plucked' by commissioning editors, purely because the Internet meant my doodling was public.
If I've misunderstood, however, and you mean would I be - emotionally, spiritually, whateverly - essentially where I am today without Margret, then that's an interesting philosophical question. And one I pleased not to have the opportunity to answer, because I'm hugely happy and grateful that I am with Margret. I'm vastly pleased that chance didn't chance differently and see my winding up with, say, Kate Winslet. She has a weird mouth.
Would I be right in thinking you're a jazz man?
Eh? Oh - Rob in Love and Other Near Death Experiences. Nope. It felt right for his character that he'd be into jazz. It was one of those things that says something about a person, without shouting it, and also just 'fits'. Unfortunately, I'm not a jazz buff myself, so I had to research it. This writing lark, eh? They don't tell you about having to research stuff when you get into it. Bah.
Somehow, you've swizzed a nice spot in the Guardian Weekend where you get companies to send you the latest gadgets. In return, you write about your girlfriend. Were you tempted to blow the scam by pinching one? If so, which?
Yeah, the first thing people say to me nowadays is, 'Do you get to keep all those gadgets?' No, I don't. This writing lark, eh? They don't tell you about having to give stuff back when you get into it. Bah. The one I'd most like to have kept was the projector (whack in a DVD - TV signal, feed from an X-Box, etc.) and it turns your wall into a cinema screen. Imagine Alyson Hannigan in her leather, Vamp Willow outfit filling your entire field of vision.
Wait... just give me a moment, will you?
Your correspondent enjoys the sensation of someone ironing his trousers while he's still wearing them, so he writes his fiction on a MacBook Pro. What kit do you use to weave your masterpieces? Feel free to geek-out on the details.
I use unimpressive laptops, mostly. My desktop grew too ancient about four years ago, so I ripped the hard disks out, put them in external cases for access/back-up drives, and left the shell there. I haven't got rid of it, though, because... well, you don't, do you? Anyway, since then I've used laptops - plural, as go through about one every eighteen months or so: I just work them to bits. I'll also sometimes write on my PDA - again, nothing special (a Packard Bell Pocketgear - I think they're about £50 on eBay now). This is below fabulous because, with either the erratic IR keyboard or the built-in letter recognition util, it's so frustrating and laborious that doing even five hundred words is like building the cathedral at Charte from toothpicks while riding a horse into a gale. The battery lasts eight hours, though, and at least you can do something while you're waiting at a coach station, say, or attending a wedding. Oddly, when I'm planning novs, I always use a pen and paper. Perhaps there's something about trying to arrive at a form and develop a flow that prefers to leave the keyboard to one side and use lots of scribble, arcing lines and crossing out.
As a former professional IT guy who has harnessed the beastly power of the web to get his writing known, do you have plans to employ other technologies to air your writing, such as a podcast?
Well, as I say, I didn't mean to. I was simply amusing myself - I didn't think anyone else would take any notice. And then, when they did, I still didn't regard it as a career opportunity or anything so... so... so American. As an aside, I get lots of email offering to increase the traffic to my site, in various ways. I have no interest in increasing the traffic to my site - why would I? I have a bicycle. I got it from Halfords for about £100, in a sale. I've put a reasonable amount of care and effort into making sure it's a good bicycle - I've changed the saddle, done things to the tyres and so on - and that it works well. If people see my bicycle as I go by, and take a look at it, and like it, that's fine. If they actually call out, 'Hey - like your bike! I'm pleased I saw it,' then that's nice, I suppose. However, why on earth would I feel the desire to have my bicycle seen by every person it was possible to gather round? It's my bicycle. I have it because I like riding it (and I don't have a car); I don't have it because I want people to know I have it, and gaze at it longingly.
Obviously, publishers want to sell books and magazines want to have big circulations - and they're the ones who pay me, so I have to be aware of the reality, or I'd be a dolt. That's fair enough. But, personally, every single photon of pleasure I get comes from writing something I (I) like, not from the thought that however many hundred thousand others will read it.
Which is a long way of saying, 'Why do a podcast? What's in it for me?' If I want to write something short and/or scatological then I do a Mailing List Mail. I'd do a podcast only if I wanted to write short things that could only work, or would work best, in audio format. (We do have some of those things at The Weekly for example.)
There's also, I think, a danger in too much content. It's the old 'Viz isn't as funny as it was' notion. This is generally said by people who haven't read Viz for ten years. They actually mean, 'I've stopped reading Viz.' And why did they stop? Because it was there, again and again, endlessly. Eventually, however good the quality, it just becomes a background noise. On the other hand, is it a much-commented-on problem that they made only 12 episodes of Fawlty Towers?
Thus, I feel best sending out Mailing Lists from time to time, publishing novels at erratic intervals, and writing pieces for obscure magazines that no one has heard of.
To be continued on Monday...
Thursday, August 03, 2006
Ghost in the Shell
What, my friends, to make of Ghost in the Shell? A film directed by Mamoru Oshii and based on the manga art of Masamune Shirow, this Japanimation effort recalls the existential pain and ambiguity of 1988's Akira. The plot of Ghost in the Shell is not something one can easily summarize because it exists in a kind of anime hyperspace to which only the creative team by Ghost can travel. In other words, it has more folds than a katana, but emerges equally sharp, and beautiful.
OK, that won't do. Let me snip this plot set-up from Wikipedia:
Ghost in the Shell is an existentialist search for meaning set in the 21st century. Superficially, it is a futuristic spy thriller dealing with the exploits of Motoko Kusanagi, a member of the covert operations section of the Japanese National Public Safety Commission, Section 9, which specializes in fighting technology-related crime. Although supposedly equal to all other members, Kusanagi fills the leadership role in the team, and is usually referred to as "Major" due to her past rank in the armed forces. She is capable of superhuman feats, and cybernetically specialized for her job; her body is almost completely mechanized, save her brain and a single spinal cord segment.
Ghost abounds with shoot-from-the-hip visuals reminiscent of Bladerunner. Indeed, it draws upon some of the cyberpunk classics - Neuromancer, for a start - and flogs its central with gusto: artificial intelligence as a dehumanising force. What are the implications of mimetic beings that, we know, do not contain biological matter, but do exhibit the properties we associate with humanity, such as language, emotional behaviour, and so on? Ghost chicanes around these issues even as it dips into the strange wells of manga-strength nudity and violence. It does not suggest any answers, but that's OK. There might be no answers. And it ended somewhat abruptly. But I'd recommend the film as an intelligent stab at the back of humanity.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
My friend and yours, Roger Morris, author of the very interesting Taking Comfort (my review of which here) has taken the step of producing a snazzy 'trailer' for his book. There isn't any throaty American narrator saying stuff like 'This year' and 'Worst fears', but it's still good. Roger has more info in this post. The trailer is available on SelfCastTV here: http://www.selfcasttv.com/Selfcast/playVideo.do?ref=s/52/140.
I love the idea so much I've decided to follow in Roger's footsteps, so watch out for a Flashback trailer soon. For other authors interested in following this route, I'll probably post a quick 'how to' later this month.