Archive for April, 2010

Excuse me, there appears to be some politics in my fiction – I’d like to lodge a formal complaint!

Posted in Delicious Morsels with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 25, 2010 by plumbobrainier

Ah, politics – love it, or hate it, you can’t ignore it. It’s everywhere, like science making gases, like people sniffing on public transport, or like girls who wear leggings with no skirt or shorts. Yes, just leggings. It’s a fetching look. I am drawn to recall Mr. Bowie’s famous words on the subject: “no, beep-beep, beep-beep, oop bop, do do do do do do do do, fa fa fa fa fashion.”

Where was I?

Ah, politics. That old horse chestnut. Now, I’m no politician, and my understanding of politics is pretty limited. I’m a writer (no sniggering!) and so my interest in politics extends to how politics interacts with fiction. One question that contains a small kernel of interest is the question of whether fiction should address politics explicitly. Should it? [shrugs] Presumably all fiction addresses some aspect of politics subplicitly, or imptextually. I’ve read my own work (as well as having written it) and I see little to no political content. But, just wait till a Marxist gets their hands on it! Then they’ll be prosecuted for breaking and entering, presumably. You see, I was making a joke there about my not having been published, which means that my work is not publicly available. Jokes are always funnier (a) when they need to be explained, and (b) when they don’t need to be explained, but are explained regardless.

Anyway, this has all been playing on my tiny mind this week for two reasons.

The 1st of these is that the General Election is coming up (mark it in your calendars! May the 16th! Isn’t it?) and whilst I was writing a story about two cats who become very close friends despite their opposing views with regard to capital punishment, abortion, and the social benefit system, I realised that I had, without even realising it, named the cats David and Gordon, and that next door there lived a small wood pigeon called Nick. It’s inescapable!

The 2nd reason is that, last week, I was clicking my way quite happily through the Guardian Bookclub pages when I stumbled upon, or rather, actively sought out an article written by a certain Ms. Lorrie Moore, American humorist. In it she mentions a story of hers called ‘Debarking,’ about which she had the following to say:

In “Debarking” I was interested in making two incongruous things intersect, or at least interested in making them sit side by side: post-divorce middle-aged dating and a shocking war beginning on the other side of the globe. All that these two subjects have in common is that they are American and create high levels of anxiety within the protagonist. Making public events coexist with private ones in the consciousness of a fictional character is not usually recommended by anyone (not editors, not teachers, not other writers, not even me). Incongruous subjects, or subjects asymmetrical in proportion, often compete and cancel each other out – and I did anticipate and in fact receive editorial feedback to that effect. “What is the war in Iraq doing in this story?” was the gist. “Well,” I thought, “what is the war in Iraq doing in the world?”

Now, I know that the war in Iraq is far more than just a political issue, but it is, in political terms, a piping hot potato nonetheless. To cut a longish story shortish, I was intrigued, and so I booked a flight to Wisconsin, discovered that Ms. Moore was actually in New York, met her there (see photographic evidence), borrowed a copy of her collected stories off her (note to self: remember to send copy back to Ms. Moore and apologise for having taken it), and proceeded to read the story in question whilst she sat opposite me in a New York deli, silently drinking a flat white coffee.

Lorrie and me. She might not be showing it, but she's just as excited to be meeting me...

The story, which you can read and judge quietly here, is, in my underinformed and underread opinion, very funny and fabulously well written. That’s the norm for a L. Moore story. But it’s also interesting for the way in which the main character’s reactions to the onset of war in Iraq colour certain scenes. I did at times think, “hold on, what is the war doing in this story?” The characters in the story take a definite line when it comes to the war, but aside from indicating the contemporaneity of events depicted, does such commentary add anything to the story of a divorcee dating a woman, also a divorcee, who is rather weirdly obsessed with both statues of naked boys and her own teenage son? The threads of the story are as Moore puts it, incongruous. Incongruity is a theme, or even the mode of the story. It is perhaps a fallacy to think that mentions of the war have no place in ‘Debarking’, that they ought to be edited out. Of course, fiction, or at least, realist fiction (whatever that is! Aggghh!), is life, edited down to a few points of interest. Moore’s story posits that the war in Iraq, in all its horrible magnitude, was and is too big to edit out, even if it serves no purpose in the story’s plot. Politics encroaches!

Although I wouldn’t write an overtly political novel myself, I wouldn’t purposely avoid mentioning politics in my fiction simply because I fear to be branded POLITICAL. Politics is like anything else: it’s there, in your face all the time. It’s like Facebook. Or bodily functions, one’s own and those of others. These things will make it into fiction. And, perhaps, (perhaps!) they have to be there.

CLUNK!

What do YOU think?

On a side note, I’m thinking of killing off the two cats in my story.

P. R.

Top 10 Writing Tips in the World… Ever! Vol. 42 (expressed as pushy, exclamatory imperatives)

Posted in Delicious Morsels with tags , , , , , , on April 10, 2010 by plumbobrainier

I’m not exactly current. The Guardian of our moral consciences published the top ten rules for writing of many pen-wielders about half a century ago and now I’m jumping on the station wagon, even though my opinions on the subject are of little to no consequence, and probably entirely derivative of others laid down previously. Feel free to agree with religious fervour, or disagree vehemently.

Here they are:

  1. Read anything! Don’t fill your head with nothing but highbrow stuff. Wikipedia, for exemplum, is a writer’s bestest friend, and is a useful model for anyone who employs elaborate digression. Don’t forget to write though…
  2. Don’t settle on one place/time of day/sitting position to write! Defamiliarise yourself from the process – write on a bin in the street, write whilst standing on one leg, write in landscape layout, write in different colours, type in a hideous font, write whilst listening to the same song on repeat, write when very tired and when very hungry.
  3. Don’t neglect presentation! Make your writing look like it would do if it were published – respect yourself and your wordy extrusions. Admire it smugly. A little dreaming never hurt… but…
  4. Don’t expect too much! Chances are that, like me, you are not a genius, so your writing isn’t always going to blow the top of the world’s cap off.  Wade on through until you’re sailing again. Sentences are like the changing views from a river – pretty mediocre most of the time, but with passing sublimities. & Good metaphors for sentences are like interesting parts of a parade: non-existent.
  5. Don’t get too attached! As much as you love a word, a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a story, a novel, a life’s work, if it isn’t doing its job properly then it’s got to go.
  6. Find someone you trust to read your stuff! Chances are you don’t have the gift of the gab and the (more important) gift of a fully-functioning bulls**t detector – so find someone who does! I have. And I married them so they’d never get away! Muuuhahaha!
  7. Redraft! But not lazily. Write it all out again! Touch up jobs on Word are just pushing the dust around.
  8. There is no number eight! Take a breather once in a while. Go on Wikipedia. Look up your hometown.
  9. Be ambitious! Just don’t get single-minded about those ambitions. Would it really be that bad if you don’t win the Nobel Prize at twenty-nine? That would be a pretty silly thing to kill yourself over…
  10. Don’t forget that not everyone’s a writer, but everyone’s a reader! Don’t talk too much about writing, concentrate on giving people excellent stuff to read!

How’d you like them apples?

Much love,

Canada, Canada-da-diddy-doody-da!

Posted in Reviews of the Kind of Thing You Wouldn't Hear in Lifts with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2010 by plumbobrainier

Thing: Owen Pallett (w/ Next Life) @ The Deaf Institute, Manchester, 28/03/2010

ETA: 20:30

ATA (Actual Time of Arrival, because I was so excited I walked much more quickly than anticipated): 20:05

Company: My better half (who else? who better?)

It’s a tiny place, is the Music Hall atop The Deaf Institute. The disco ball hanging from its ceiling is comically oversized for the space – a great, reflective, kitschy-camp planet.

We were stood in the centre of the room, gradually finding out that we were amongst the oldest in the growing crowd. She was, in her own words, a granny, and I made the inevitable gag that soon I would find rock concerts too darn loud.

I got the drinks in.

She said to me, “I think I’ve just seen him.”

“Who?”

“Owen. Owen Pallett.”

“Oh yeah? Where?” (I said this whilst trying to hide my boyish excitement)

“Has he got long hair?”

“No.”

“Oh, it wasn’t him then.”

The pretend Pallett with the long hair turned out to be a member of Next Life, the support act. His bandmates were a skinny, shaven-headed Southeast Asian-looking guy wearing an Assuck tshirt, and a very large-chested man with long black hair and a goatee, who looked like he had just retired from international football, playing for Italy, in order to take up the drums.

Next Life are the kind of band you’d expect to play at the Deaf Institute if, like Alanis, you like to sing “well, isn’t it ironic” to yourself. Their’s is a brand of ear-splitting electronica-inflected vocal-less death-sludge-metal-core (they’re concertina-ing train wrecks are genre descriptions) played with drums, electric guitar, a keyboard contraption, and two MacBooks; although I suspect that the guitarist’s showed him the musical score – it would have been necessary, so complicated was the stop-starty barrage of major chord, tombstone-slab riffs and squiggly keyboard lines.

My reactions went as follows: this is loud, this is hilarious, this is a joke of Owen’s, this is great, this is samey, this is I-don’t-know-what. But by the end, Next Life had won a special place in my heart. Their guitarist and keyboardist spent their 20 minute set head-banging around, doing the best impressions, respectively, of a mute pitbull terrier and a horse’s fly-swatting tail I’d ever seen. & yet, the guitarist nodded with sweet enthusiasm between songs, and explained so very much with the words, “We are from Norway.”

Next Life are a band of paradoxes. Despite their metal-heaviness (which is no bad thing), I could see why Mr. Pallett had chosen them: their music was intricate, expertly played, yet deceptively simple, and contained snatches of childish innocence and playfulness amongst its holocaustal hammering. Their guitarist’s parting words: “It was nice to play here. You are a nice audience.” Subject your own ears here.

Owen appeared without fanfare, at the side of the stage. I darn-near swooned. His last brace of albums are probably my favourite two records since records began (I’m sure I’ll put a very masculine list of all me ol’ faves up on here soon). He was looking serious, he was, staring at the stage. He has a small chin, I noticed. A perfectionist’s brain was mulling over the elaborate setup. A young man approached him and handed him a tupperware tub of homemade biscuits. Owen looked bemused and smiled, gratefully. It would be another half hour until his set began.

Owen Takes His Shirt Off

I’d read about Final Fantasy gigs before, and seen clips on Youtube. If you’re reading this (and have read this far), you probably know that Monsieur Pallett plays the violin and uses a loop pedal to build songs up layer by layer. I hadn’t quite realised exactly how fascinating and impressive this would be until I saw and heard it for myself, in reality itself. It is absolutely enthralling, and inspiring in its ingenuity. It looked difficult; and the refreshing thing was that Pallett didn’t make it look all that easy. In fact, the look of satisfaction that crossed his face when he pulled off the timings said it all: this was tricky stuff – like musical juggling. You could almost accuse the plucky Canadian of showing off, if it wasn’t all just so incredibly, sublimely beautiful.

He had a friend along with him called Thomas Gill, who played the guitar, provided percussion (as well as backing vocals and some mightily impressive whistling) and seemed generally quite in awe of Mr. Pallett. Much like everyone else in the room then.

Having someone else on stage meant that O.P. had a foil for his witty banter (delivered in a supremely sarcastic, deliciously camp voice). T.G. left the stage for one song and as he walked off, O.P. cooed “love you,” before explaining that T.G. was disappearing for a biscuit break because there was nothing for him to do during the next song, and it was therefore boring for O.P. to have T.G. sitting up there. Apparently T.G. had taken to providing an accompaniment of interpretative dance, but this had disturbed previous audiences. […] Well, I thought it was funny at the time.

Of special note were three songs I didn’t recognise. I have since discovered these to be an original called ‘The Man with no Ankles’ (Owey Pally’s favourite song from ‘Heartland’ which didn’t make it onto ‘Heartland’, apparently) and two covers (both of which had me expel an instance of an amused alarmbell cackle); the first: ‘Interview‘ by Simon Bookish, the second: ‘Independence is No Solution for Modern Babies’ by Sylvester Boy. Don’t know anything else about either. Songs were good though.

I left the gig elated, truly happy I’d had the chance to witness Canada-da-diddy-doody-da’s finest floppy-haired son do his stuff. It was all over too soon. And the cherry on the already well-iced cake? My better half loved it too!

I realise that this post long ago became a grossly fanboyish gush. I’m sure that it has been of little-to-no-interest to anyone who isn’t inclined towards Senor Pallett already. But if I have any modest ambition for this article it is that I hope it piques the curiosity of those who haven’t yet heard his audio-outpourings, and earns the bon hombre one or two more fans.

Of course, less than (or equal to) two people per week read this thing……

……. BUT! if those two or fewer people listen to, enjoy, and go see a live performance of Owen Pallett’s music, then our planet will be a minutely better place, and I will have played my part and have gone some way to becoming the change I want to see in the world!

That was a trifle overblown, wasn’t it.

[N.B. What’s great is that I delayed writing this review for so long that some internet-habiting person had the time to put the whole gig up on YouTube… Mr. Pallett is made for sharing. Enjoy!]