I thought I’d experiment and make a recording of one of my short stories – ‘A Steak For Don’. This story was originally published in the 2008 Flax anthology Before the Rain, and it’s always gone down well at readings and live lit nights etc. Just click on the Soundcloud thing below if you want to listen to it. It’s downloadable, so if you want to save it to listen to at a more convenient time, or on an mp3 player or whatever, you can do that too.
I hope you like it. I don’t know, I might do some more.
We drove through the countryside to pay a visit, listening to Pink Floyd and trying not to talk or even think about money. The car badly needed a wash and the tyres needed air. We drove past gigantic empty barns and emaciated cows, past dead trees and small rows of terraces stained with wet. Four-by-fours drifted leisurely across the road and turned off without indicating. Convertibles, tops down, cruised along in the middle, their occupants wearing huge sunglasses against the sharp winter sun. It was spring. In the back seat, our toddler son sang along to something. We counted England flags as we went; whoever spotted the most by the time we arrived would win.
I need to either change the way I use Twitter or stop using it, for the following reasons:
a) Things I don’t care about are starting to take up too much headspace, due to me seeing lots of tweets about them
b) My attention span is definitely getting shorter
c) I look after my son during the day, and spend too much of that time smartphone in hand, checking Twitter
d) I check Twitter out of habit, not actual desire, and each time end up feeling like I’ve entered a room for a reason I can’t remember
e) I’m trying to find a job, and a real-name Twitter account could be detrimental
f) It inhibits my writing. I find it difficult to write honestly as long as I’m ‘plugged in’ to a stream of writers and readers talking about what they like, what they don’t like, giving advice, etc
g) It’s making my brain feel cloudy, in ways connected to points a) and f)
None of these are criticisms of Twitter itself, or the people I choose to follow. People can tweet whatever they want, of course, and it’s up to me to decide whether or not to consume their output. (As it were). And so I could change my experience of Twitter by changing my follow list. But that wouldn’t fix everything – I don’t think it would fix the larger issues at all.
So I’m thinking seriously about leaving Twitter, at least for a while. I feel as if it will help me clear my head, in a very real way.
A novel is a circuit that the reader completes. It is a machine that doesn’t work until the reader plugs it into their brain. Some books don’t suit some readers; the interface is imperfect and the reading is unsatisfactory. That’s not a fault of the book or the reader. It’s just a mismatch.
I’ve blogged about escapism before, perhaps too stridently:
Because although there is nothing intrinsically wrong with pure escapism, it is inherently a way of ignoring life, surely? I mean – what else can it be? It is escape. It is closing yourself off from those experiences that you don’t want to think about. Even more extremely, it is closing yourself off from your world. Wouldn’t it be better for a book to actually explore and illuminate the fantastic in life, or cast the mundane in an extraordinary light (i.e. change your life/the world a little bit by being relevant to it/discussing it) than just enable you to ignore it for a while? It’s perfectly possible for SFF to do this as well as any other kind of fiction.
We can’t on one hand be proud to be escapist and then on the other complain that we’re not taken seriously by the literary community. Personally, I think all genres should be regarded equally, but to me that requires SFF (as an entity) to drop the whole ‘escapism is great’ thing. There’s nothing wrong with escapism, but it is the opposite of cultural involvement.
But really, now, I think that I just don’t believe in escapism. I don’t think there really is such a thing. The reader is reading in this world; the book is read in this world. This world shapes the reader’s reading of any text, whether it is intended as escapist or not. The book is completed only by the very real-world mind of the reader. It doesn’t matter how appealing or comforting or escapist the book is; it only exists in the context of the reader’s life, and can only be experienced as such. A novel is a circuit that the reader completes. The reader does not escape into the world of the novel; they bring the world of the novel down into themselves, into this world, and the contrast between the two worlds – the reaction, the alchemy that takes places inside the reader’s mind – is what generates the effect of the novel. It all happens inside the reader. And although that means that the reader cannot really escape their life – which we all know, deep down, anyway – it also means that they are changing their life. There is no escape, but there is change, which – in my opinion – is better.
I’ve always read fantasy and science fiction. These were the genres that inspired me to start writing, so I’m very (VERY) excited to be able to announce that my new agent, Euan Thorneycroft at A.M. Heath, has sold my first SF/fantasy trilogy to Jo Fletcher Books.
The Factory Trilogy is going to be set within the gargantuan Factory of Gleam – an ancient, hulking edifice of stone, metal and glass ruled over by chaste alchemists and astronomer priests. As millennia have passed, the population of Gleam has decreased, and so now only the central district is fully inhabited and operational; the outskirts have been left for the wilderness to reclaim, and have become the haunt of outlaws, loners and stranger things. This decaying, lawless zone is the Discard; this is the home of Wild Alan, the series’ protagonist. Clever, arrogant, and perpetually angry, Wild Alan is a protest singer who is as loved by some of the Discard’s misfits almost as much as he is loathed by the rest of them. He’s convinced that the Gleam authorities were behind the disaster that killed his parents and the whole mining community of which they were a part; his ambition is to prove it. In his attempts, he’ll uncover a lot more about Gleam than he bargained for.
My intention is for these books to be raucous, exciting, strange and otherworldly – more Gormenghast than A Song of Ice and Fire, more Alice in Wonderland than Lord of the Rings. Anyway, I’ll keep this short, because I can’t wait to get on with writing the first book – GLEAM.
In the afterlife your home is a labyrinthine amalgamation of all the places you lived during your life. Every house, flat, bedroom and bedsit is there, connected by new doors and passageways. The floorings and curtains and furnishings are as they were when you really lived in these places. In wandering from room to room, from home to home, you move from the deep past to the more recent past, or, alternatively, further backwards, depending. The more places you live when alive, the bigger your home in the afterlife will be. I am twenty-eight and so far I have had sixteen different homes. I struggle to remember them all – in my memory they are layered up like drawings on tracing paper, each obscuring the others – but that’s OK. I know I will get to explore them again. I will be profoundly moved upon encountering this standard lamp – broken in real time, but whole here – or that old wallpaper from the terrace in Frodsham that we lived in when I was a child.