Friday, December 29, 2006

American Mythos

I've been thinking alot about the lure of the American "mythos" - the web of stories and underlying narrative that seems to inhabit so much American art. It's there in the wandering troubadour that was the young Bob Dylan; there again in the songs about cars and girls of the Beach Boys; and there in the deep musical and mythical certainties that seem to inhabit songs by contemporary artists like Midlake and the White Stripes. Clearly there are lots of different stories here; but the sense of space - the sense of escape - the sense of exploration - the sense, I guess, of freedom are key to all of this. This week, with both James Brown and Gerry Ford passing away, we see it again. The latter seems like from another distant age; perhaps because he was an old man - the oldest president - and that the other faces from 1974 are either dead or ageing; whilst James Brown seemed still with us to the end - he was due to play another concert on New Years Eve - and the music has its own mythos about it. Anthemic, rhetorical titles help, of course, but art, in this sense, ages, but doesn't grow old. Yet is it merely distance that makes me think that America has this underlying narrative that is worthy of constant exploration, whilst we have none? Writers like Jake Arnott and David Peace have tried to construct their own recent histories - yet its notable that whilst Peace's major influence, James Ellroy, weaves the Kennedys, Cuba and Watergate in his stories, Peace's latest book is Brian Clough, Don Revie, Leeds United. Arnott has said in interview that he wanted to find a different kind of gay history, in his approximations of sixties gangster homosexuality, and again, in the adrogyny of early seventies Bowie. You can see these writers looking closely at their own mythos, and where it's not there, creating it, but using the archetypes that they can relate to: working class culture, hidden gay history. What if you're neither gay or working class? Or for that matter Scottish or Irish - other "mythos" that writers are not afraid of plugging into? There's a great Catherine Tate scene where its a support group for ginger-haired people, and after fighting amongst themselves, they bond and sing a song of togetherness, before the camera goes outside the hall, where a KKK style hate-mob is converging on them, about to raise it to the ground. I could, I guess, try and uncover the hidden ginger history of these lands - but I don't think it's exactly what I'm looking for (and that sketch is funny if only because the colour of your hair isn't something that draws people together in any real way.) Given this - and given the difficulty of untangling class from English literature - it seems that my tradition, my mythos, is one of "dissent" - the tradition of Tom Paine, Wesley, the Chartists on the one hand; Coleridge and Southey's utopias - Aleister Crowley, Oz Magazine and CRASS on the other. Yet, here lies disappointment - magazines like Citizen 32 and Dreams That Money Can Buy, as well as online zines like 3AM Magazine, would probably put themselves in that tradition; yet there's something prosaic about good intention that doesn't always lead to good art (never mind the problems of dismal collections such as Poets Against the War). And besides, part of the allure of a mythos is the shorthand it provides for readers, audiences, magazines and publishers. I'm increasingly fed up with the commodification of literature (see previous posts on just about everything), but aren't nearly all literary bloggers? Yet are we part of a dissenting tradition when we've not yet matched rhetoric with art? It is one thing to kick over the statues, but another to replace them with something equally glorious (and art is nothing if it doesn't aspire to glory as well as the utilitarian). There are artists, of course, Dante or Faulkner come to mind, who formed their own mythos from what was their in their own personal life and circumstance - but how to do that? How to find that? I'm looking through my work wanting to find the sense of connectedness, which I know is there, and the essential way forward. Partly, my fiction is stalled, in ideas that I'm finding it hard to write except through very matter-of-fact prose; and tired with the lack of wonder in so much that I read, I'm reluctant to add mere stories to the pile. Yet, there's something honest about the story - it is a connection between reader and writer and doesn't require much in the way of pyrotechnics. Besides, without a shared mythos, where can find a connection?

Over (and under) production

Katy at Baroque in Hackney has an interesting post on the New Yorker cartoonists and compares it with the lot of poets and poetry. It got me thinking about under and over production of work - poetry in particular - but other stuff as well. Whichever way it falls I write about 20-30 decent (i.e. finished) poems a year. And "decent" is a difficult one. My quality control's better these days; I don't write nearly so many pointless poems - in the past I guess I'd sometimes try and write poetry even when the muse (or the idea) wasn't there. There's a lot of this overproduction goes on these days of course - a friend who is recently finishing an MA in poetry has to submit something like 30-50 poems; in other words two years of my work, and that would be in a good two years. I don't think there's many current poets we'll be looking forward to the "complete" as opposed to the "selected". Yet, what is a "good haul" these days? Katy says she manages about 10 "publishable" a year - a New Yorker cartoonist can submit 700 and get 5 accepted. Obviously some poets get in a verbal groove, which appears to lead to book after book, poem after poem, all equally good or bad depending on your viewpoint, but for the rest of us each poem is a struggle, each page is blank, and - though I'm fairly sure that in 2007 I might manage oh, between 20 and 30 okay poems - there's always the possibility that I may not.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Can people be right, when they're so wrong?

I'm amazed when someone doesn't like a book (or film) that I think is a masterpiece. Mainly because I think my standards are pretty high, and I don't overhype that many things I've read. Yet, its admirable to admit when you don't get something. Scott Pack's blog lists his books of the year, but also the ones he didn't like - and I guess its amazing that someone whose read 132 books in a year hasn't read Philip Roth before, given the classic run of novels since "American Pastoral". Having said that, I've not read his latest "Everyman", it sounded a little unappetising, a meditation on death more than anything else. I thought "Pastoral" was an unassailable masterpiece, the style of writing impeccable and uncopiable, and the breadth unheard of elsewhere in British and American fiction. "I married a communist" was sloppy in comparison though still captivating; "The Human Stain" both brave and foolhardy in its premise (and probably the one people should choose for their book club) and "The Plot Against America" ambitious, but overlong. These faults, of course, are all virtues! I've a lot of earlier Roth I'd like to read, but have only got round to a couple. "The Ghost Writer" - one of the Zuckerman books - is a stunning novella that, like all his novels, keeps you thinking long after you've finished reading it. As for Pack not liking "Catcher in the Rye", reading it in your thirties for the first time, must be similar to trying to understand what the Sex Pistols are about if you'd somehow never heard them until now. I've re-read "Catcher..." later in life and it still packs a punch, though I think you need that coming-of-age empathy that you get from reading it early. That said, I don't think Salinger's other work, the short stories - predominantly about the Glass family - should be read UNTIL you're in your thirties. All the stories are worth reading, but I particularly like the story-novella paring of "Franny and Zooey." (The Wikipedia writer seems to think its a I've not linked to it!) It still reads very modern, although the crises of faith in both stories is a little rarified for contemporary readers, and I still think the Glass stories as a whole are one of the touchstones of 20th century literature. That Salinger himself ran out of road as the last stories came out, is hardly surprising - since in trying to determine a truth about human existence, they inevitably become more and more inward, so that by the last Glass story (published in the New Yorker, but never republished or collected), "Hapworth 16, 1924", there's nowhere left to go except into silence. So, going back to Pack, can people be right when they're so wrong? Yes, indeed, "Everyman" may well not be for everyone, and "Catcher in the Rye" is certainly not for us thirtysomethings, at least not the firs time. I've worked it out with film - I do like a particular type of stylised movie that some people simply hate, and I'm not adverse to a little sentimentality. With books, its somehow different. I do still believe that some writers are better than others, that some books are better than others, and some books/writers are so stunning that if you don't appreciate them (even if you don't like them), then you need a good reason why. And it works the other way, of course, elsewhere on the blog is a list of books Pack does love. Admittedly I found Jasper fForde, both unreadable and charityshopdonationable; but I'm tempted to try and find time for a few on his list, Brad Listi, for instance. That's the good thing about people who read 132 books a year, they can sort out wheat from chaff for the rest of us! One Christmas TV moment of literary note - in the otherwise mindnumbingly predictable "The Vicar of Dibley" - at Geraldine's book group they all sit down to read Zadie Smith's "On Beauty", and none of them have read it. Zadie shouldn't worry too much about this - I think being seen as the obvious book group choice on something as safe and uncontroversial as the Christmas special of Vicar of Dibley, means she's really up there with the greats!

The Novelmaker Wizard for Word 97

(I just came across this short piece, whilst I was doing a bit of "housekeeping" of my PC. Not sure when I wrote it, but it seems a suitable end-of-year piece.)

The Novelmaker Wizard for Word 97

This wizard is compatible only with Microsoft Word 97. Earlier versions were not supported by the wizard and for later versions you are advised to download the appropriate upgrate, such as Novelmaker Wizard for Word 2003.
This read me file is supplied in addition to the online help function, however, the wizard has been designed to take you directly through the novel writing process without any further necessary knowledge.
The wizard was developed after it was discovered that many people were using Microsoft Word and associated products to produce novels. This ad hoc approach to writing indicated a demand for a product that would help standardise novel writing, to the benefit of all. Novelmaker Wizard is not currently available for other platforms such as Macintosh OS and Linux, however it is hoped that developments in the future will use the proprietary standard developed here.
The Novelmaker Wizard makes use of existing computer skills such as word processing, drag and drop, cut and paste, and style sheets. It is expected that your novels will benefit from being spellchecked and grammar checked and autocorrected by the standard functions in your word processing package. It is not the aim of Novelmaker Wizard to write the novel for you, simply to make it easier for you to do so and to introduce standards that mean your novel, once completed, will be of a publishable quality and similar to all other novels published.
Although other platforms (e.g. pen and paper) have been used for writing novels in the past they had obvious drawbacks. The lack of a word count in particular meant that some novels (e.g. Moby Dick, The Fountainhead) were far too long and some (e.g The Great Gatsby) were a little short. This causes problems for novel buyers who are increasingly likely to demand a standardised product. Novelmaker Wizard is fully customisable however it is recommended that the proper length of your novel is between 60,000 and 100,000 and these are the default settings. To change these, please see the online help.
The chosen font for your novel is Times New Roman, 12 Point. We realise you may want to change this, but it is has been proven that manuscripts written in this font are more likely to be taken seriously by overworked publishing executives.
The Novelmaker Wizard has several "Chapter" options that can be set at the outset. Because the contemporary reader is likely to be put off by long chapters the default setting for Chapter Length is four thousand words. Within this there are also defaults for Section and Paragraph. Clearly, there are novels that do not adhere to these standards, but frankly, who'd be interested in reading them? As always, there is a manual mode, but it rather defeats the object of using the wizard in the first place. Don't worry if your first draft overruns the suggested Paragraph, Section and Chapter lengths - they will be automatically adjusted to fit. (There are 2 options available: either split into 2 or more Paragraphs, Sections or Chapters or use the Novelmaker's extensive summarize functions to remove extraneous lines.)

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Overdoing it

I know Christmas is the time of overindulgence, but now I've signed up beyond the free trial period for eMusic, I'm at risk of having more music than its ever possible to listen to, to go with the more books than I'll ever get to read. I love hearing new stuff, but it's also important to hear familiar music as well - and not just "Merry Christmas Everybody." So for now other reason, than the need to remind myself, here's my favourite tracks, in no particular order, from the and albums I've listened to this year. I might even burn a CD of them to listen to during the Christmas period.

So my tracks of the year would have to be…

1. Kona Coast – the Beach Boys (MIU Album)
2. A Fond Farewell – Elliot Smith (From the Basement to the Hill)
3. Amoreena – Elton John (Tumbleweed Connection)
4. Crash Street Kids – Mott The Hoople (The Hoople)
5. Sleeps with Angels – Neil Young (Sleeps with Angles)
6. Miss Black America – Curtis Mayfield (Curtis)
7. Major Leagues – Pavement (Terror Twilight)
8. Fake Tales of San Francisco – Arctic Monkeys (Whatever I say I am...)
9. Beautiful – Christina Aguilera (Stripped)
10. Standing in Your Shadows – Puressence (Only Forever)
11. Roscoe – Midlake (Trials of Van Occupanther)
12. Mucky Fingers – Oasis (Don’t Believe the Truth)
13. Loose – The Stooges (Funhouse)
14. Can’t You Hear Me Knocking – Rolling Stones (Sticky Fingers)
15. Lets Go Together – Jefferson Airplane (Blows Against the Empire)
16. Shining Star – Earth, Wind & Fire (That’s the Way of the World)
17. That Summer Feeling – Jonathan Richman (I, Jonathan)
18. We Need a War – Fischerspooner (Odyssey)
19. T-Shirt – Destiny’s Child (Destiny Fulfilled)
20. Better to Have It – Bobby Purify (Better to Have It)

Happy Christmas

Friday, December 22, 2006

271 Chris Moyles books and counting

I was in Waterstones in Manchester earlier looking for poetry magazines when my friend pointed out that the radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles had a book out. I'm only vaguely acquainted with Moyles but know that he is loud and shouty, and very radio. What on earth could he have a book out for? On page eight of the book he says something along the lines of, "I'm on page 8, who'd have thought I'd have got this far?" Its basically written by an illiterate 10 year old, albeit one who is published in hardback at £16.99. Bearing in mind it was in the arts and literature section of the shop I couldn't resist asking the assistant if they'd actually sold any of this absurd piece of publishing industry rubbish. I expected him to say "no", but diligently he looked it up on the computer. Waterstones in Manchester has sold 271 copies of this piece of illiterate shit. It's 304 pages are currently number 39 in the Amazon bestsellers chart.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Preview: "Loosely"

The last two years, I've collated recent poems in small pamphlets, "2004" and "The Question." This year I wasn't sure whether the poetry I'd written was finished enough for this treatment - yet two sequences I'd written earlier in the year, along with a smattering of individual poems - mean that I'm just putting the finishing touches to a 3rd pamphlet, "Loosely." I guess the poems are "loosely" connected in style and subject, and besides, I like the word. You can download the previous collections here, as a PDF, and I'll make the new collection available in the same way. However, if anyone would like a hardcopy - it should be available by the first week of January - then just email (adrian dot slatcher at gmail dot com) your name & address, and I'll put one in the post.

The contents page, subject to minor change, is here....


Part 1: Last Lines

To thaw the freezing in our hearts
Twenty Years Left in the Rain
Changing Colours Over Time
The Fear of Sight to the Long Since Blind
We Were Never Good in Water
Of Love and Death in the American Novel
Making out I am grateful after all
In Any Garden But Eden
As the day, so the night
Drinking and Eating All on My Own
Tending the garden for your return
When Every Photograph is Packed Away
But Something Isn’t Loving

Part 2: October

1: “Clusters of birds are making their way south – “
2: “Damn life continues in some unholy way – “
3: “Could I have done things better?”
4: “Where I was when the mood struck – “
5: “Did the tragedy happen offstage?”

Part 3: Other Poems

Stay Here
I, Conservationist
Dog Clouds
The Dream with the Butterflies
The Decemberists
The Ordinary is not Necessary
The End of the Story

...and the most recent poem, "The Decemberists" is below. Happy Christmas

The Decemberists

The year has been the warmest yet
    and we notice the signs -:
It is December, yet half the trees are dressed;
    late autumnal browns amongst the evergreens –
And the late afternoon red sky
    acts as a banding of lights
Blinking through the impatient leaves,
    lighting a runway for birds.

Last week, I woke to find
    a carrion crow -:
Strutting with a Salford air,
    its bright eyes and tongue-beak
Daring the world to approach.
    The city is returning to nature,
And nature returns to the streets –
    gaunt foxes out looking for twilight rucks.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Books of the Year? Not a chance.

It's traditional to give a list of ones books of the year, but so patchy is (a) my buying and (b) my reading that it's near impossible to think of something I've actually read that came out in 2006. I did enjoy Tobias Hill's "Nocturne in Chrome & Sunset Yellow", a collection of poetry mostly about living in London, yet finding the pastoral in the city, rather than merely the everyday. A welcome romanticism that also finds room to namecheck iPods, and is contemporary enough to let the outside horrors of the Asian tsunami in. And I've just received from the very handsome "Up is Up..." about the downtown New York literary scene - the size of the Argos catalogue but infinitely more inspiring its a single-book archive, featuring artwork and photographs as well as the literature. An exemplary work from the always excellent NYUP. Its been a year when we saw the wonderfully diverse Verberate nights come to an end, and magazines like Transmission, the Quiet Feather, Citizen 32 (I've a short article on self censorship in the latest issue), and Parameter consolidate themselves. (See links on the side of the page for these and other magazines.) In other words; our very own downtown literary scene is going very nicely. Interesting, as well, that now magazines like Unquiet Desperation and Libertine are using Myspace as a way of growing their audience. (Blogs are so last year, don't you think?). I have some concerns, of course. The blog and the Myspace - and the internet in general - seem to be good at potting, concising, anthologising, cataloguing. They are quickly read, half-read, hardly read. Great for journalism (and indeed for "journal"-ism such as this) and for informing and selling, but the art, the culture remains elsewhere, in the book, the film, the album that we're writing about or selecting from or pointing to. Perhaps its because its so difficult to monetarise the web - that any good art created on it, soon moves off it - to the book deal, the record deal, the film deal.


I've talked before about the difference between British and American novels/novelists - and its interesting to read that the American's like our writers, yet according to novelist Benjamin Markovits, "England, as it appears in the US bestseller charts, is the country of Oxbridge and public schools." The thing is, he's not wrong is he? Our Ian McEwans and Zadie Smiths and Kazuo Ishiguros are all happiest in "traditional, elitist, class-ridden" England. There's many other Englands, yet our most successful writers ignore them, or only acknowledge them when set against the status quo of the establishment. Whilst these writers are our most successful exports, what chance that publishers will look elsewhere?

Monday, December 11, 2006

This story must have a valid ticket and cannot travel before 9.30

It is with mixed feelings that I draw attention to Virgin Trains' Short story competition. I would suggest you avoid writing it on a weekend, before 9.30 in the morning, or, if in London, during rush hour. The subject is "time" with a certain amount of irony, I hope. I have lost more time on Virgin trains than I'd like to think about. However, although that lost time could be well used, (a) if you've got a pen and paper/laptop (b) you've actually got a seat. I actually wrote the first chapter of my short novel "The Badger Farm Report" longhand on a trip to London, and several poems; and I wrote a very dark short story called "Last Train from Euston". There is a prize for the winner, and since nobody actually has time to read these days, it's a 500 word maximum.


Perhaps because I spent a dozen years recording synthesizer-based music, people sometimes expect me to be listening to a non-stop diet of Depeche Mode, Gary Numan, and Kraftwerk, with a smattering of Aphex Twin and Chemical Brothers for when I'm feeling a bit more modern. Yet, I've rarely done so - and those artists feature only marginally in my collection - but with it coming to the end of the 2006, what have I been listening to? This year it's been many things, but the artists I've kept coming back to are the Beach Boys (particular their 70s recordings), Elliot Smith, Mott the Hoople and Neil Young (his 90s stuff mainly.) All very melodic stuff, but with a bit of a rhythmic spine to it. That said, I've also a bit of a thing for synth/rock crossover at the moment - Tackhead, Fischerspooner, George Clinton and Armand Van Helden. Electronic rock often gets as bad a press as funk-rock; but when it's done well...

Saturday, December 09, 2006

A Christmas Present from the Poetry Society

The poetry society website has been so bad, so ugly, for so long, that I'd given up on thinking that someone there might ever notice. Even as Poetry Review changed editors, or redesigned; even as schemes came and went; and national poetry days sped by; the Poetry Society retained the worst website around. I even used it as an exemplar of a bad site, (I advise on websites, particular to the creative sector) and compared it with the easy to use Poetry Book Society site. Well, its a very welcome Christmas present to see that the new site looks nice and fresh, and is relatively simple to use. It would be interesting to know how much they paid for this one - any more than £10,000 and they were robbed! It's a straightforward website for a straightforward organisation, and my only criticism would be that they've tried to squeeze a couple of things - a calendar and an online shop - into what is little more than a standard content managed template. It will do for now, and as any website like this is only as good as its information, its far better than they find it easy to use and keep up to date. A qualified well done; but I do wonder why it took so long?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Borges v. BBC4

Just reread Borges' classic story Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius. It's been a while since I've read it, but it repays every re-reading. In the past I've been drawn by this idea of a parallel world, that's been created and can only be seen through a few scraps of writing about it; but this reading, its the end of the story that really got me - that it's the ideology of that world, the systemic certainty of that world, which makes people in this world start to take it on as their own mythology, their own language. Clearly it has resonance with the Nazis, but it's more than that, in the current day and age - you can look at it two ways; the "year zero" of the internet, the alternate reality of reality TV, where these people are our friends, our families, the weddings to which we're invited; and, much darker, I guess, the reliance on a partial "made up" text to guide our life. I'd not quite thought through the religious significance of that; but serendipitously, I was watching BBC4 tonight about the lost gospels; and how the gospels of Thomas, Peter, Philip and Mary Magdalene were excluded from the Bible. There's radicalism in these other testaments - the gnosticism of Thomas, a set of aphorisms which may be older than the ones we know; the idea that the man Jesus was inhabited by a spirit that then left him before he died on the cross; the separating of the vengeful God of the Old Testament from the New Testament Jesus. All of these things seem more plausible for our current age than the one's we've grown up with. Is it any more frightening than the idea that we can turn into the imaginary Tlon; that we can rely on this imaginary Bible? Fascinating stuff, and I'm still not tempted to read "Da Vinci Code." (Besides, I've got a lot more Borges to revisit.)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The difficulties of writing a sandwich

One of these days, I was going to write an essay comparing American and British fiction which will be called "How to Write an American Sandwich", because, whilst a character in an English novel will generally have "a sandwich" or if a particularly show off of a writer "a cheese sandwich" characters in an American novel will have something that lasts at least a paragraph, never mentions the sandwich, and will at some point mention "pastrami" and "rye". It seems a particular kink of our linguistic differences that English writers generally accept some things as being so obvious ("sandwiches" "doors" "Baronets" etc.) that they don't bother to illuminate them for the reader; whilst the American writer is aware, that without having a class system to help define his/her characters, he needs to give a little more information, and that inevitably includes a detailed description of what they eat. I was reading about American food for years before most of it made it into our supermarkets, and I could at last find what they were talking about. I even parodied/homaged this with a sandwich recipe of my own (yet to be made flesh), in a story, "Bat-She-Bop." So I can't say I was that surprised to read that McDonalds' is trying to patent making a sandwich. Charles Bukowski would be proud.

Poets as novelists...

Scott Pack has enlisted his readers' help for an article he's writing on the rash of poets as novelists. I guess its not a new rash - I wrote a similar article in 1999,(originally for PROP magazine, but never came out - you can read it here) noting how many were going down this route. It's strange, though, since most of the writers I know personally are either/or - they simply don't "get" the other discipline. I guess its more acute for fiction writers, who generally don't even seem to read poetry, never mind write it. Yet, there's quite a few poets I've met, mostly doing MA in poetry writing, admittedly, who can't imagine being fictionalists. Of course, many of these might stretch to the odd short story - and Comma Press, for instance, has often encouraged, not always wisely, this multi-tasking. Historically, the crossover has been minimal - at least amongst the successful ones - and this is probably the main point: if someone's successful at something, they'll keep at it, or if they're asked to do it, they'll keep at it. I've no doubt that a lot of the "brand name" contemporary poets, have simply decided to write novels as an alternative "day job" no less palatable than teaching or reviewing. The example of Nick Laird, who issued a debut novel and debut poetry collection in days of each other, is rare, but perhaps shouldn't have been - he's been around the literary edges for a while, and both a novel and a poetry collection take time. I'd be very surprised if he gave up writing novels until writing novels gives up on him; (i.e. he doesn't get a deal); whereas poetry is always possible as a glorified hobby with smaller publishers than Faber willing to take on board those ditched by the bigger publishers. From my survey a few years ago; the type of writers who thrive at both genres are those who've got a unique sensibility, and the form - poetry, short story or novel - hardly matters. These writers are usually more innovative - modernists or beats - their muse more important than the format, which has yet to be codified. At their best, they expand and join together the genres. I fear that many of the contemporary poet/fictionalists are merely moving their main subject into another genre, sometimes with less than sparkling results. So, there was something quite refreshing about Sophie Hannah's chick lit bon mots in her poetry, but turned into novels, she was suddenly in a very crowded field. Her latest successful book, is a thriller, a genre that, if successful, can be a career for life. Perhaps she's found her true calling? As for Simon Armitage his engaging poetry seemed to address a certain angsty working class male sensibility that you rarely found in poetry - yet in a novel, what is left, other than the plot and that predictable masculinity? Interesting that the more successful poet-novelists of late, Gerard Woodward's two autobiographical novels for instance, David Constantine's short stories, Jackie Kay's "Trumpet", have found subjects that translate well between the genres. Yet, Kay aside, they've perhaps been more "poets' poets", less known outside of the specialisms. It's perhaps too early to judge whether any of these writers will last - yet its interesting that Carcanet, the poetry specialists, has recently published poetry collections by writers more known as novelists, Anthony Burgess and Muriel Spark. Perhaps the lesson here, as with Plath, Lawrence, Joyce or Carver is that where a writer's sensibility is strong enough to be worth re-reading, then whatever they've written is worthy of investigation. Poets' beware, your "day job" novels could wreck your date with posterity! One thing we really encouraged with Lamport Court, and I'm sure will continue, was writing that didn't easily fit into the poetry or fiction (or even art) boxes. Artists like Tamzin Forster were as likely to be writing poetry or fiction for us as providing an art piece, whilst published poets like Togara Muzanenhemo and Chris McCabe were given room for longer pieces that were in many ways more narrative than poetry. Prose poems, and poetic pieces of prose rubbed shoulders with more traditional work.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Prematurely Reviewing the Year

Now its December I think I can offer a little reflection on my creative year. A little early, but I know how December pans out, and time for reflection goes by the wayside. I doubt anything particularly exciting is likely to happen in the next month, anyway. I've not had as much time for reading, writing, watching films, going to galleries as I'd like. I managed a couple of days with work in Brussels, and a couple of trips to London, one for the modernism exhibition at the V&A. I was trying to remember when I last went to the cinema - it might even have been Ken Loach's "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" when I was over in Liverpool. A long hot summer put me off being indoors more than was necessary. Creatively, I seem to have been hardly awake at all: yet I finished the first draft of the novella I started in 2005. There's been a couple of decent short stories as well, but I'd wanted to write more - or at least complete more; there's a number I've started, and perhaps the one thing I might find some time to do before the end of the year. Not that it matters that much; since outlets remain limited - my stories tend to be over 3000 words in general, so a lot of magazines look for something shorter. I've also almost completed a 3rd poetry pamphlet, with around 25 poems, more metaphysical than usual, probably more consistent in tone. But need to spend a little more time on it before I make it available. Collation - of my music in particular - has taken up more energy than creation; it's not a bad thing to do, but I always wish I'd more time - or was able to create more time - to make some new music as well as new fiction/poetry. There's clearly a limit to what I can fit in. It seems a year of treading water; and though this blog has kept me a little connected in a literary sense; I've not had time or inclination to hobnob that much. "Verberate" was a nice regularly literary evening out, and I read at it earlier in the year; more nervous than I'd been at past readings, for some reason. Though I think I'm a good reader, I don't think I'm that disposed to reading - or that my work's particularly suitable for it. That was poetry of course. I've read a few books this year, and tried to fit in more than usual. I liked Sebastian Barry's "A Long, Long Way", but was as likely to read genre fiction - Asimov, Paretsky - as contemporary literature. The literary prizes haven't seemed particular exciting - or even consistent this year - and I think we're suffering a little from a new voice, or a new way of seeing things. Politics, so often out of the frame, has made some little comeback, but inevitably its non-fiction books rather than the increasing number of novels referencing "the war against terror" that most of us turn to. I don't seem to have either the patience, or the routine, to embed reading into my life in the way that I'd like, and whether I get a new job or stay where I am, improving that equilibrium seems a key one. I've got time - as time spent writing this blog proves - but haven't got the focus I used to have. That said, the one longer story that I did write, which I'm still waiting to hear from one of our slower magazines about, is as good as any I've written, I think. I believe I'm somehow sharpening my own political intent in the things I am writing, and effectively. The sometime ephemera of contemporary life seems to get more ephemeral as time goes by; whether its the Z-list celebrities of reality TV shows, or the bitesized commentary of so many blogs. I'm writing a new story this weekend, which is about the ephemera of success/popularity - how the opportunities it can sometimes provide often squeeze out the original reason you were doing things. Its thinking about the designer Peter Saville now creating a "brand" for Manchester; and what that sort of corporate commission might do to a creative's muse. "YouTube" and "MySpace" for instance, despite their estimable worth as "connectors", seem to create an endless clickable nothingness. I'm perhaps at an age and time in my life, where I want something with a little more depth - and yet contemporary culture seems less willing to provide it. I end up on little annoying crusades, like that which Patrick Ness has joined today in the Guardian, complaining about the poor quality of most books these days. Its ironic, that at a time when the "physical" product - whether book, CD or film - is under an assault from the "virtual", the care that once went into that physical product seems so much less. Its not just the yellowing pages of non-acid-free paper, but the seeming lack of interest in creating a product that will last beyond the season. In the next few weeks, I'm going to start early on new years resolutions: read more, write more. The blog still helps more than it hinders, but I'm wondering for how long?

A story

I haven't been too bothered about the kerfuffle started by Rachel Cooke in the Observer, dissing online reviews in favour of newspaper ones. For me, the Guardian/Observer have long ago stopped being an essential cultural lead. But I've always had a bit of a disdain for journalists anyway. This is not me being bitter that I'm not a writer for the 4th Estate - in fact I've hardly ever tried to get anything in a newspaper, and then its been against my better judgement. What I've found is that journalists I've had some dealings with are almost always very disorganised; unreachable when you want to speak to them; but insist on an instant response when they want to speak to you. A few years ago I was asked to contribute to a debate on the digital opportunities for writers, for the defunkt City Life, and after a phone conversation, also sent it in an email. The misquoting was ludicrous, lax, lacking sense. And there was no excuse for it - my words were there in order, ready to cut and paste. Another time, I almost did some writing for Janet Street Porter when she was editing the Independent on Sunday. I'd come up with some story ideas; they'd been passed on to a particular editor, who rang me up desperate to get in touch - having presumably been told to by JSP - and then, when I fleshed out the ideas and sent them through; nothing, despite repeated phone calls. "Did you get them?" "Oh yes, they're here, I've got your email but I've not opened the attachments." "So, you've not read them?" "No." "But you asked for them..." etc etc. But my worst story, I'll leave till last. In 1999, having completed my MA in novel writing, and combining finishing of the book with some voluntary work, I was, for a period on the dole. I'd paid my stamp for a good nine years, so was totally entitled to this "Job Seekers' Allowance." I found myself, rarely, at a rather high-brow (and low drinking) literary party in Clapham. Imagine how lucky I thought I was, when, in the kitchen, I got talking to someone who was the then new fiction editor of the Observer. How fortuitous!. "I'm writing a novel," I said. "But what do you do?" she said. "Like I said..." "But where do you work..." "I'm actually unemployed at the moment." "That's just diabolical," she said. "You're scabbing off all of us paying our taxes." "I'm finishing my novel, I'm doing voluntary work, yes, I'm going to get a job when I've finished..." I spluttered. "That's not just good enough," she said, and left to chat up my mate. It was quite amusing to think of her, a few years later, when this journalist moved on to one of the few well-paid jobs in British poetry! I wondered what she said to all the poets she was now meeting. "What do you mean? You've never wonderfully bohemian!" Despite my day job's being anything but ideal; I don't think I'd ever have had the appropriate levels of shamelessness to be proper journalist.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Lame at Fast

Crumbs. I'm now RSS fed into the wonderful "Britlitblogs" which now has a new autumnal look, your one stop shop for people like me making ill observed but well intentioned comments about things that may or may not be literature.


I've been enjoying "The State Within", BBC's American Ambassadorial drama, but mainly for the editing and the acting. The script, though riveting in the way it sets up its conspiracies, is actually one of the worst ever. Until this week's episode the whole farrago could have been overturned if the ambassador had found out that the "internal mole" was his MI6 trusted agent. Everything in the plot went through this guy, who just so happened to sleeping with his US equivalent. None of the leaks or anything else would have happened if he'd told Mark what was going on. But this week, oh god, despite him betraying the ambassador's new girlfriend, and destroying evidence of his wife's death, as soon as this duplicitousness is out in the open, Mark's treating him like trusted best buddy again. The ridiculousness of this has ruined my enjoyment of "The State Within" from day one. The multiple conspiracies, the unconnected strands, I don't mind that; but the whole thing been easily seen through if the secret service guy actually did his job rather than just shagging his American mate. Even though "24" and "Spooks" are far less realistic than this, neither of them is quite so dependent on such a bad plot point. Now that it's out, and Mark knows who the internal enemy is, they've become a bloody double act for chrissakes! Yes, I still enjoy it, but such terrible scriptwriting has come close to scuppering it entirely.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Future!

I'm thinking of something post-blog; apres-blog; uber-blog; something that is less about the bad spelling mistakes of the moment but the considered spelling mistakes of poor proofreading. In other words, a blog like magazine or magazine like blog or some combination of those words that I've yet not made. Not that it makes one iota of difference. Iota is a great word isn't it? You only ever get "one iota" never two or zillions or none. Yet iota never stands alone either, it requires that "one" in front of it, or at the very least "an" which is near enough the same except with one less letter, and a different vowel. It's one of the world's great mysteries how there's never, to my knowledge, been a band called "one iota" or even "iota." I think the former would be a bit post-jazz, whilst the latter a little Slipknot. Then again it might be because Slipknot had a number one album called "iowa" which is one letter away from being iota. It's a funny old world.

The End of Rock and Roll

It's long been prophecied, but surely this week is the end of rock and roll?

Not only are "Take That" number one in the singles chart, but here is the album chart top 8...

1. The Love Album - Westlife
2. Stop the Clocks - Oasis
3. Love - the Beatles
4. u218 singles - U2
5. Twenty Five - George Michael
6. High Times - Jamiroquai
7. The Sound of Girls Aloud
8. Overloaded - Sugababes

In other words, everyone is a greatest hits, apart from the Westlife album, which is a covers album.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Never been a better time to buy books from America, with virtually $2 to a £1. I've used it as an opportunity to get Borges' Collected Fictions and even more interestingly, Up is Up, but so is down, New York's Downtown literary scene 1974-1992, a 500 page illustrated tome, that's title alone is excitement itself. I've also been fascinated by the seventies crossover in New York of music, poetry and fiction. The 70s was a strange time for literature, a relatively few English-American books of real note - but a lot going on under the surface that I think the future (i.e. now) will reckon as important; a period when more minor authors are actually more important- the real deal. I've always been blown away by Kathy Acker's writing, for instance, yet she never really wrote a satisfactory novel; somehow that doesn't matter. I guess my occasional rants about bad avant garde writing, are based on my appreciation of good avant garde writing, and also a sense that 2nd-rate Acker or 2nd-rate Burroughs shouldn't be worthy of our attention. A musical equivalent would be all the sub-Stooges bands out these days - its made me go back to Iggy Pop himself, and pick up some of his forgotten 80s and 90s albums for a few pence on eBay. With a new Stooges album due in March with Steve Albini at the helm, I'm definitely regressing. I've had an incredibly busy week, 12 hour days at work because of evening events, a stinking cold, and some other personal stuff, so I'm just coming up for air. I looked out the window this morning a saw a giant black bird stalking the back of the flats. After a few moments thinking a raven had come for me, (perhaps bringing me a message from Odin!), I located my RSPB book, and I'm pretty certain it was a carrion crow, it indeed had a "a bold, upright stance and confident, long-striding walk." I will have to leave out some carrion, next time I leave the house!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Names have been changed

Although one has a little sympathy for Jake Arnotts having inadvertently used a real persons name in his latest novel - and one in the similar line of work to his character (Though would a Tony Rocco be anything else other than a nightclub singer?) - I did find it funny as well. After all, Jake Arnott's novels are heavily modelled on the real world of the sixties and seventies, with thinly veiled versions of some real life characters. A name's a different thing of course, since you can't change it. There's no doubt a George W. Bush somewhere in Gateshead that curses the day the American judges found against Al Gore; and I'm sure there must be a peace activist Anthony Blair somewhere in the home counties. Luckily there's a ready made pool of useful names available free of charge to all novelists. Just check the "spam" folder of your email, and see what the randomly generated names that spammers use appeal to you: Sven Brown and Hussein Mercier would make a great pair of dodgy small time crooks, whilst Aileen Otero must surely be an octogenarian activist; and as for Sallie Stringer - nightclub singer anyone?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Oh no the Beatles

There's been a lot of hype about the Beatles Vegas mash-up "Love." I've always felt every few years we get the Beatles we deserve. In the 70s it was the reverential, but selective red and blue albums. In the 80s it was shallow retread collections, "The Beatles Love Songs", "The Beatles Rock and Roll Music", or Stars-on-45 style Beatles Movie Medley, then it was the re-issue everything in the vaults of the Anthologies, or get the whole collection on CD, for those who don't like any chance or mystery in the collection. Come the millennium we had the "if you only get 1 Beatles disc get this" of the number ones - just like any other band - and now, mashed up soundtrack to a hit show. When they finally remaster everything and put them on to iTunes we'll no doubt get our own personal Beatles albums, synchronised to our personality and mood, and I'll never have to hear "ob-la-di ob-la-da" again. I think its very hard to love everything they did unless you were there at the time - but they were so prolific and varied that you almost create your own Beatles from the debris. So, they were my favourite band when I was 11, but have long since been superceded by others - yet they still hold an interest; I think they'll survive "Love" the same way they survived "Free as a bird", "Beatles Love Songs" and "Magical Mystery Tour."

Roger & Out

We were going to go and see Roger Mcgough reading in Liverpool last night, but left it late to get tickets and unfortunately he'd sold out. He's got an autobiography out from Century, called "Said and Done". I've missed any reviews of it, yet he's one poet whose autobiography I'd certainly pay to hear read. I saw him ten years ago in Croydon reading poems - but in between anecdoting with the best of them. If I sometimes seem a bit dismissive of "funny" poets its probably because I've got so much time for McGough who is, of course, so much more than funny. His "Blazing Fruit" selected poems is a continually great read. I recently picked up a rewarding anthology, Penguin's "British Poetry Since 1945" which was published in 1970. When I was at college we studied the contemporary poetry scene through "the Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry." Reading Edward Lucie-Smith's 1970 summary, highlights how pernicious the Blake Morrison/Andrew Motion anthology from 1982 has been. I hated the book then, and hate it more now, for the way it restricted not just the number of poets in the "contemporary canon" but the range. In essense the Motion/Morrison book excludes those featured in Alvarez's "New Poetry" published in 1962 so has 20 years to play with - compared with the 25 years that Lucie-Smith has. It is not just the number of poets that is different but the range. The final chapter of the 1970 book "New Voices" finds room for Tom Raworth, Lee Harwood, Barry Macsweeney, Brian Patten, Adrian Henri and Roger McGough - all absent from the later book, onlly the 2 Irish writers, Heaney and Mahon making the cut. It seems now, more than ever, that Motion and Morrison's influence over the direction of English poetry, so codified in this book, has been nothing but disastrous, through both the exclusion of some of the poets listed above, but also through what followed. There's something of a private club feel to their book, that hasn't served us well since. It's notable that Morrison is most famous for a memoir, and that Motion's latest book is one as well. I think I'll be searching out Mcgough's instead.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I was walking down the road the other day

I'm giddy with excitement at the re-emergence of the funniest man alive, Ted Chippington. Not only has he a Myspace but in a bizarre move, usually reserved for those who are dead or paraplegic, there is a fundraising tribute concert in aid of getting a 4CD boxset produced and released, at the Bloomsbury theatre in London. I'm not entirely sure what this bunch of talentless no-marks think they can achieve, and the news that "Ted Chippington will not be performing or attending the event" is a reminder of comedy's loss. Ted, for those who don't know was and possibly still is the funniest man alive. Dressed like Jack Dee (who certainly stole his suits) and with pithy jokes more deadpan than er... a dead pan, Ted was also a bona fide popstar on the classic "Rockin' with Rita" Vindaloo Special EP ("you sure can't beat her, oh no".) Luckily the power of th' internet offers a chance to catch up with Ted's illustrious history. I first saw him supporting the Fall, and he certainly shared something of Mark E. Smith's unique take on the world. All together now, D.I.S.C.O.....

By the Sea

I've been in Whitley Bay for the weekend seeing family, and, last night, at Sage Gateshead, Herbie Hancock, which was a remarkably good three hour set including classics such as "Watermelon Man" and "Chameleon." I didn't know what to expect, having never been to a jazz "gig" before, but the musicianship - they were just a four piece - Herbie's crowd friendly banter, and a smattering of great songs that I knew showed how to do it. So this year, I've seen Public Enemy, George Clinton and Herbie, its like an all time soul hall of fame all to myself. Otherwise, I've still been recovering from pernicious bug, and though I'm now better, its like I'm now recovering from the convalescence. Take it easy, chicken, in other words. I've begun reading Martin Amis's "House of Meetings." Whilst his last novel "Yellow Dog" was a good book, sometimes shockingly written, the writing here is so far exemplary - I'd go so far as to say, the best he's done. Too early to say if the book lives up to the prose but its a promising start. And a promising start was all I managed in National Write a Novel Month or whatever its called, derailed, by sickness after 2000 words or so. Good luck to those, like the Manchizzle, who are continuing. For what its worth, I found the bit I did do, a little liberating, piling words on words rather than some higher purpose, and, if nothing else, I've the start of a new piece. In the week I gave a presentation to a number of artists/creatives we had at a drop in event with lots of other arts support agencies. "Ten ways for a creative to go digital" or some such thing. Get a Myspace, write a blog, buy a digital camera, start selling on eBay, investigate Creative Commons, post a video to YouTube, tag everything, use Adwords, set up a remote office and publish on demand. I've only done 4 out of 10 myself, but you get the idea...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Shelve It

A formidable response to the Guardian's question, "How do you arrange your books?" - as many answers as bookshelves I guess, clearly a hot topic, and the shelving advertisers at the backend of Weekend must be making a killing. I can certainly see the appeal of alphabetical for large collections, but somehow it always seems a little arbitrary. From being stacked perilously at my last place, to all over the place, but somewhat ordered where I am now - I'm particularly pleased of my poetry bookshelf, my literary biography bookshelf (they're all TOMES so it needed to be big), my reference shelf, and my "favourite authors" corner. Other things are in boxes, albeit alphabetical-ish and thematic-ish. One of these days I'll move to somewhere with perfect shelves and will be able to decorate them perfectly. I think I'm aiming for the feel of an exciting, but adventurous bookshop. Unlike Waterstones - 90% of my books would fit into the fiction/poetry/lit crit/letters departments - with my cookery books in a messy pile in the kitchen (where else?) and my music books strewn by the stereo and next to the CDs.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

You Know You Should Like Them, But...

In David Lodge's "Changing Places" a parlour game between Eng. Lit. lecturers is about books you should have read but haven't. Poet Steven Waling has come up with a new variation on this, on "not liking Auden." "Admitting you don't like someone that everyone else thinks is great feels like letting out a great secret" he says, and its pleasing to have some a poet openly admitting to defeat when it comes to other poets. As it happens, I do like Auden, but kind of agree that its hard to read him. I think its partly because there's not really a good anthology. The little Faber books that introduced by to Pound and others, selected by another poet, falls flat in the case of Auden where a poem is chosen from every year. It's almost as if John Fuller was throwing up his hands and saying "There's so much of this stuff how am I ever going to choose?" and the classic "Selected" is a hard read. My favourite Auden collection is the lightest, "As I walked out one evening" - ballads, songs, lullabies and limericks - and at least it includes "Night Mail" which neither the Selected or John Fuller's collection does. I'm always amazed, reading Auden, he can seemingly do ANYTHING, but that almighty talent is a bit overwhelming. Every time I think about buying the "the collected longer poems" or "the English Auden" I groan a little and go back - perhaps like Waling - to my favourite Macneice poems. I can't say I've been shy about the two poets that I don't like that everyone else seems to, but they tower so much over the last three decades of English poetry that rejected them, also means rejecting much that follows. Like Waling with Auden, I kind of know that I should find more of value in Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney, but they've just never done it for me. I'm not sure if it was a bad experience as an undergraduate being forcefed "Digging" and "View of a Pig" or is something more profound. But I liked "Birthday Letters" and you can't not like "Beowulf" so perhaps its something I'll get over? But I think Waling has hit on something, the poets that you don't like being perhaps more illuminating than the ones you do. I know that in both Hughes and Heaney I don't find the emotional response that I get in the poets I like; why is that? Be interesting what other pet hates people have. I guess since poetry lovers are so passionate about their likes, its more meaningful than disliking prose writers. Sure, I don't dig Rushdie or Carole Shields, but there's plenty more literary fish in the sea - poets, for good or for bad - do bestride their art; and sometimes the literature of the age. Without Hughes and Heaney in my pantheon, there's clearly a couple of missing "giants".

Lunar Park

It's been a strange, unsettling week, laid low by a stomach bug for much of it, and so finding a little time on the couch to read "Lunar Park" by Brett Easton Ellis. It's a book that deserves a proper long essay - the sort Mary McCarthy used to write - but I'll stick to a few paragraphs. One of the reviews says its "John Cheever meets Stephen King" and that's very true, for in one sense, whereas "American Psycho" was a horrific story, "Lunar Park" is partly a horror story - set around Halloween with all the necessary acroutements - a house, missing children, demonic toys. It's always been difficult to see the similarities between Brett and his contemporary at college, Donna Tartt, but here it's explicit for the first time. This is not a subverting genre book, more a book that uses genre - here horror, as Tartt used the mystery - to set the narrative for the wider point. I guess Ellis has always liked edifice - think the Huey Lewis and the News chapters of "American Psycho" - but here, more explicitly than ever before, its clear thats how an essentially autobiographical writer creates a "veil" between him and his material. Here there are almost seven veils, and in dancing with them, Ellis doesn't always pull it off. The self-narration - by a character called Brett Easton Ellis - is one barrier - in that when the ghostly activity increases there is none of the foward tension you'd get in a better King, because he's already told you about it, highlighted what goes next. As a reader, I think this is the book's main failing, that it doesn't take the "horror" seriously enough to make it truly work. There are two many things going on, and though he does a valiant job of pulling them all together - or apart - by the end, there's a lot of words before you get there. But that's the only negative really - after all, if you wanted to read a horror story about a writer you'd be far better with Stephen King's exceptional "The Dark Half". For Ellis is here writing about himself, yes, but also his dead father - and also about fathers and sons in general, his own in the novel "Robbie", the missing boys... typically, the grand satires that have previously played out around Wall Street and the fashion industry are here diluted, but still potent in dealing with American suburbia - surely, when you think about it, his real subject all along? I remember when he visited Manchester asking the question whether - in the wake of the novels that were then current ("Cold Mountain" et al) American writers were leaving the cities and the city's concerns. This was before 9/11 - he shrugged and didn't want to answer for anyone else - but he was probably already writing or thinking of writing "Lunar Park." That "tour" actually occurs in the hilarious, appalling, brilliant, self indulgent (your choice) first chapter, a potted and somewhat accurate autobiography of Ellis "the writer." I learnt a couple of things - that my favourite book of his "The Informers" was actually written before the others - and that "American Psycho" was actually about his father. That is this book's subject, and its painful and playful, with some astonishing writing - and occasionally, some banality. Unlike his other novels, this one has a definite heart. In the past it has been the intensity of Ellis's dark satirical vision which has astounded - but you'd have had to be a fool (or one of his early reviewers!) not to be impressed by how consistently and relentlessly that satire was written down. Here, the book's sometimes much sloppier - but books are quite sloppy these days, aren't they? - and there's a pulsing, human heart. There is still the darkness of his earlier work, and occasionally the dazzling pyrotechnics of his prose, but its more subdued. In one sense, he's just another writer now. There are echoes of Paul Auster's trickery here, and surely the "children's crusade" of Michael Cunningham's recent "Specimen Days" is mining the same "loss" as Ellis's missing boys. Yet, we can go back to Jay Mcinerney's debut "Bright Lights, Big City" to find a fascination in newspaper articles about lost children. America is a land where the missing appear on the morning milk cartons. Its hard to know whether "Lunar Park" will appeal to his normal fans - now older - and those who've stayed away to date, will probably remain distant, but they should take a look. American fiction is losing some of its "can do everything" feeling - and becoming more interesting as a result.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Me and my poem

Monday, October 30, 2006

Listening In

Being at home all day, and reading/writing/administering I've had the stereo on full blast all day. (Do people even call it the stereo these days? I've been playing both CDs and records - so its either that or Hi Fi.) The day began quite raucous, and stayed that way. I was clearly for blowing out the cobwebs; Neil Young "Sleeps with Angels", Ian Hunter's eponymous debut, "Don't Believe the Truth" by Oasis, "Rocks" by Aerosmith and "Use Your Illusion I" by Guns N Roses. The last obviously cured me since I mellowed a bit in the afternoon: "Madman Across the Water" by Elton John, "From a Basement to a Hill" by Elliot Smith, "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain" by Pavement (so good I played it twice), and now, winding down with "The Drop" by Brian Eno. I'm obviously going through more of a "classic rock" than "indie" or "soul" phase at the moment. I've wanted everything to be solid, and uncomplicated. "The Drop", a recent find, the soundtrack to a film about Derek Jarman's garden, is the first bit of uncertainty I've let into the day - I think because I had "things to do" I needed a good robust soundtrack. Other days, I like edginess, or soul, or funk. I've not really thought about the "whys and wherefores" just know that I sometimes put something on and think, "nah, not in the mood."

Last Hand Books

I rarely post up photos on this site, lack of "material" and I'm a bit luddite when it comes to photography (though hoping to change that shortly.) Anyway, this was taken when I went to Hay-on-Wye when I went in August, the outdoor bookshelves by the castle, not so much secondhand as last-hand books.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Long Haul

There's a certificate on the wall of my old bedroom at my parents which says "Lineage - a novel by Adrian Slatcher, shortlisted for 1995 Lichfield Prize." I missed the ceremony because I was in America though I came down to a small promotional film for it - which I don't think I've ever seen. This was my autobiographical novel, albeit mixed in with a made-up plot. I guess it was the first time anyone who didn't know me had read my work and liked it. I always think I was a bit of a late starter - only going to college to study creative writing when I was 30, but "Lineage" was my second novel, and I wrote it when I was 28. I guess it surprises me that it never lead to anything - it was deliberately a provincial book and the couple of agents I sent it to were clearly of that opinion as well. I was, as well, constraining my style - which could be a little too American - and just "writing properly" - I've always retained a tension here. At the debate a couple of weeks ago, there was a lot of comments about writers being internationalised, and writing mid-Atlantic. Although I like "The Life of Pi", I think its a good example. A Canadian writer, published in Scotland, set in India, and in a style that is the current American vogue - sentences honed, perfectly workable, perfectly understandable, but somehow lacking local colour. How could they after all? Its an international book. Jane Smiley's probably the best example of this kind of writing, her books are all utterly different subjects, genres, but her language is this honed non-style. I'm not saying its always wrong - its just that you have to wonder what's being lost when those individual differences go. I'm just reading Bret Easton Ellis's "Lunar Park" its first chapter an "autobiography" about Bret himself. Its literature eating itself, but as always with him, utterly fascinating. Its got a looseness about the writing which seems very "now" as well - this is raw, unedited stuff (yet, edited), reminds me of "The Crack Up" or "Seymour: an Introduction" or John Cheever. He talks about his first lines - how they've changed over time, from one-liners to convoluted and how the new book is about going back to that simplicity. When I've time I might go back over my own "first lines" see where they're at! I spoke with a friend the other week who I'd not seen for a long time, she's just finishing a scriptwriting course, fitting it in between work, family, life etc. and we kind of compared case notes from the trenches - and I realised, yeah, you go down this route and you're in for the long haul, success or no success.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Cornish Pasties

I've just made my first ever cornish pasties. Things to do before you are 40 or what? A colleague - ex-Cornwall - gave me the belt and braces version - and I think next time I'll add a little bit more spiciness, but otherwise, they taste good. How do people make pastry though? The whole house is in a total fog like a Fields of the Nephilim gig! Do you need cold hands for pastry? Yes, I think so - it sticks to me like a glove, however much flour I use - but then, come to the "rolling" and I'm brilliant - big palms you see - who needs a rolling pin? a palm sized ball is just perfect for a single pasty. Of course, I've now got 5 cornish pasties. That would keep a village going for a week!

In praise of Low Brow

I've always liked pop - low brow as well as high brow - much preferring Madonna to Coldplay, for instance - but then again, I've never really seen the distinction. The pop I like is intelligent, feisty, meaningful, fun. So is the high brow stuff. So I was pleased to see that Sophie Coppolla's "Marie Antoinette" film is frothy enough to have "I want candy" and "Aphrodisiac" by Bow Wow Wow on its soundtrack. Bow Wow Wow are probably one of the ultimately great low brow bands - they were cynically manufactured by Malcolm Maclaren from the detritus of Adam and the Ants v.1.0 with the addition (after rejecting Boy George), 15 year old singer Annabella Lwin; were always too clever a concept to be as big as other "pop" bands of the time, but got big in America as one-hit wonders with "I want candy" and had enough about them to make their fans (I count myself one) cherish them even a quarter of a century later. What I don't like is earnest stuff - whether in literature or music or art. I'm not sure I'll ever get round to W.G. Sebald, too stern seeming, and I've a particular dislike for those furrowed brow poets who don't ever seem to be having fun (usually, they're academics.) I've far more time for a T.S. Eliot - old sourpuss being light enough to give his book of practical cats (never mind some of the music hall scenes in the Wasteland and elsewhere). But just as there's room for fun, and frivolity in even the most austere of lives, there's room for seriousness in the most frivolous - so though I don't expect Sophie Hannah or Wendy Cope to start doing blank verse a la Geoffrey Hill, its always nice when people surprise you. I once put together a cassette (it was a long time ago!) of "Cheesy Hits" on the assumption that even the most serious bands in the world had their cheesy moments (for instance, Velvet Underground's "I'm Sticking with you" or the Cure's "Caterpillar"). The only bands - even then who didn't have a comic side were Joy Division and U2. Probably the same, with Joy Division, you can probably let them off, but I'm not sure U2 ever had a cheesy moment - and they'd probably be better for it - you never know, Sophie Coppolla might use them in her next film. So far more exciting than compilations by Oasis, U2 and George Michael this Xmas, is the news that Girls Aloud have a best of coming out. But I suppose television is the best place to find the truly great low-brow in that in some eyes, its all low brow. And it can go very low. But I loved the first 2 episodes of Torchwood, the Dr. Who spin off (and how thick was I? I didn't even realise it was an anagram until someone told me), and not just cos I've always had a bit of a thing for Welsh girls. The second episode was, I thought, a little reminiscent of Harlan Ellison's classic sci-fi story, "How's the Night Life on Cissalda?", my favourite short story of the seventies. In Torchwood, an alien being is in gas form and inhabits a Welsh girl who works for a fertility clinic - it lives off orgasmic energy, the only catch being that whoever shags her, turns to a pile of dust on orgasm - Cardiff's make population was looking a bit thin on the ground at the end. In Ellison's story, a man returns to earth being made constant love to by an alien creature with many penises and vaginas. The alien telepaths to its fellows "we've got a live one here" and soon everyone on planet Earth is being shagged to death by aliens - except the original guy - who having been pulled off the alien, is the only being ever to reject the advances of the Cissaldan! What with Torchwood and Spooks, I've decided I definitely want to be a spy when I grow up. Definitely.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Heroine Addiction

Howard Jacobsen, writing in yesterday's Independent, talks about his "heroine addiction" - particular in relation to Jane Eyre's recent television adaption. I only caught the last two episodes, wrongly believing this would be BBC costume drama by numbers. I don't know the actress Ruth Wilson, who played Jane, but she was perfectly cast. Jacobsen talks about the importance of punctuation in Jane Eyre: that Bronte uses semicolons and colons to bring us closer to Jane, creating that closeness of empathy that grips most readers of the novel, and that we should revel in the novel's language, not wonder at its strangeness. "There was a time, you see, when a writer's being educated was not considered an imposition on the reader, or a hindrance to enjoyment," he comments. Indeed. He also says that the he remains "in thrall to the literary imagination of this country, which is in all essentials, female." I've not heard it put quite like that before - but its worth pointing out that the writers' education here, was homemade, auto-didactic, wide-ranging, not curriculum bound - the female daughter of a country parson's education.

Saturday, October 21, 2006


The week before last I was fractious, pissed off, in a foul mood, this last week I've been positive, confident, optimistic. Yet its also been a bit of a rollercoaster, too much on, not enough time to think, and zooming from one thing to the other without a thought. One of the writers at Decapolis yesterday made the various obvious point that writers need silence, stillness, but then again, having moved from Athens to Berlin, she'd moved from one frantic place to another - silence, stillness were possibly another "ideal" that in reality we never get. F. Scott Fitzgerald could never write when he was drinking, yet could he live when he wasn't? There's two sides to Fitzgerald's drinking, early on he was poor drinker, a fall down after two glasses drinker. He couldn't hold his beer. Later, he died of his alcoholism. I guess he must have been a heavy drinker then, able to drink past the pain. So this week's been convivial, yet I've also had the daylight to return to, so I've stopped at a point. And I'd be happy to have a time off from it. Something is heightened - that optimism perhaps. I realise that I've not been talking about what I've been writing. Not that I've been writing that much, but some poems. Untitled ones. Full of Dickinsonian dashes. Some phrases I like, "the terrifying forefront of life", "I am the slave of twenty tribes," - and a metaphysical side to them. They're creating a language of emotion from the detritus of life. Do I mention "persons unknown" because I was listening to Crass last week? No matter. Language is not negotiable. Yet, something else David Constantine said yesterday, was that in translation you realise that every word counts, since it can only mean what it says. Yet, my poetry is both tentative and speculative. I'd like to think Dickinson was both those things - I can't quite put my hand on my copy of Harold Bloom's "The Western Canon" but that inveterate overcompensator seemed a little absurd in his gushing essay on Dickinson, something about her having the finest intellect of any American poet, when - to me at least - it is to the emotion that Dickinson appeals, most of all. And thats what I mean by tentative and speculative - that she was tentative because her subjects, God, life, death, love, are too large to be certain about, and speculative because in trying to make sense - or even engage with them - that's what she was doing. In a sense, I'm in disagreement with Constantine, for though I believe every word counts, it is not that every word is perfect, in the perfect order, rather that our tentative-speculative writing creates a case that that is the case. In other words, the act of creation is what creates the perfection. An early Keats poem that remains a favourite, "On first looking into Chapman's Homer", is very far from perfect, yet it is Keats putting down this homage, and making that tentative-speculative stab, that gives it quality.

MUCH have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told 5
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne:
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken; 10
Or like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Friday, October 20, 2006

So much information

Its always the paradox of any sort of diary that the more you have going on in your life the less time there is for reflection. Shall we say its been a busy week, and a busier day. The Manchester Literature Festival made its way to my place of work today, with the Decapolis writers, an architect and an artist discussing interpretations of the city. It was fascinating, and everything that the "original modern" discussion with Peter Saville on Tuesday wasn't. I think I'm in love with Berlin's Larissa Boehning, but everyone was fascinating - and the only down side was that you had to remember the last time you'd been to "reading" rather than a "debate" that was this interesting. I think all of us think that fiction is more important than all the other stuff, yet here we never really talked about writing, and certainly never heard any of the fiction. David Constantine made the point that some writers (I'm assuming he's meaning Kazuo Ishiguro who has said this) are writing for an international audience nowadays, and as translator he finds this lessening of "difference" a worry. We're getting Starbucks writers, I guess. Yet there's no sign on the behalf of publishers that they're encouraging anything other. So "language" is a negotiable I think. And it shouldn't be. Later...rather than go to the Burgess project thing at the Whitworth, which I'm sure was fine and dandy, I went elsewhere and got into a conversation with a group of pissed air traffic controllers in Bar Centro. If anyone's flying tomorrow, they're on earlies.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Other people will be far better than me at attending the lit fest. I went to the Manchester Blog Awards/Verberate on Monday, which was mostly very enjoyable - as always I'm left a little cold by the Speakeasy types who did the second set. I felt the blog readings were an enjoyable take on this whole thing. Blogs aren't books, and neither is necessarily good read live, but both the Airport Diaries and 43 bus readings were done well. Its coincided with a busy week at work, a conference on Monday, then a workshop on Tuesday, both involving Peter Saville, once Factory Records cover designer, now Manchester's "brand" manager. I get the feeling the city council wanted a logo, and what they got instead was a dialogue. They may not realise it, but the city has got the better out of that deal. Dialogue being hard. I felt quite inspired - but also a little cynical - in that working for that same council you get to see how far the rhetoric is removed from the reality; its a totally hierarchical organisation, that can at times seem opaque in the extreme in how it decides things. Factory records, as he reminded us, happened without the great and the good even realising it was around; and I'm not convinced that anything has changed - at times the city seems determined to develop the world's biggest bar crawl, and sod anything that gets in its way. But at other times - with the Manchester Food and drink festival, the literature festival etc. - one is more optimistic. I still know I'm far more likely to find the future in the Northern quarter or in an independent dive venue like the Britons Protection, Big Hands or the Star and Garter than anything badged with the words "Manchester International Festival", and that is a gap that needs to be bridged. As my homework from the Peter Saville event I'm meant to send a "viral" email out to three or four key people about the city's dreadful "official" websites. Not entirely sure how I phrase that one. But then again, you have to commend those who have raised expectations in this way; and only hope that they are capable of meeting them. As Saville said, a brand is about values, not a logo, and if you don't live up to the values you espouse then all the money in the world won't make a difference. I've not had a chance to "listen again" to Radio 4's "original modern" stories yet, but that's the other thing about festivals - half the year you are sat in wondering what to do, the other half you're frantically trying to catch half of the interesting things going on.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

One Day in history

If you only write one "blog entry" this year than today's the day - a record of "one day in history."

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Good Poem

I enjoyed "I'm in Love with a German Film Star" by Todd Swift in the latest Jacket online magazine, (its the 3rd poem down) particularly the line "I’m filled with an unbearable urge to be 32 always and to marry a chick named Miss Miss. " It reminds me of Ashbery in its pop-love of American culture, particularly the movies. It's got a couple of levels of the nostalgic in it, the reference to the Passions song of the title, which means something to people around 40, (and in itself was a nostalgic paeon), but also in the language, despite the reference to Bush and Cheney, in the poem, it harks back to more innocent times. Nostalgia's not always bad, you see, its just recognising it's there.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Swimming or Drowning

I've been a bit out of sorts this week, slow fuse, little things making me annoyed, and I seem to be making all the wrong kind of choices - mad ideas, that seem just plain stupid the next day. I guess you make poor judgements when you're feeling tense, or stressed, or simply frustrated, and its a combination of all three really. The warm glow of my 3 weeks off is in the distant past, and I think I need a few short weeks before Christmas. Maybe I just need to get away - I've only had a couple of short breaks in the last couple of years. But you also make poor decisions when you don't understand how the world works: and I think that's part of it - I'm a bit isolated creatively, this blog aside, and I guess every creative person sometimes thinks "why am I doing this?" I think I began an odyssey when I started my creative writing course in 1997, but its one that's left me no nearer land than before, and, I don't think I've learnt that much from the journey either. Ho hum. Perhaps I'm destined to remain in this state of flux, maybe its my natural state? Whatever...but making the correct decisions artistically, as well as commercially, is kind of critical. Any project's going to take time, effort, energy. My latest on the bus wheeze was to write an autobiographical novel/memoir, "Comprehensive", about my last year at a school that didn't really have much idea what to do with someone bright and creative. I could name the chapters after the timetable "General Studies" "Home Economics" "English Literature" rather than go through things chronologically. Then, I thought, lets call it "Incomprehensible" - which my last year at school pretty much was - but that would kind of ruin the earlier conceit. Perhaps I should get lofty - and ironic - and call it "A Comprehensive Education" - and then what does this say politically? I do agree with comprehensive schools, just not the crap, dumbed down, well meaning but useless one I went to. And would it have to be a memoir? I don't really like them. I'd prefer to write it as a novel. You can play around with things a bit more - but there wouldn't be much point in me making things up. And then again, I hate nostalgia, I see how bad it is. I don't think Manchester's had a successful breakout band since it was codified on screen in "24 Hour Party People" - falling foul of Liverpool's disease isn't really what the "original modern" city should be all about, is it? I'm only mentioning this, because I'm going to a couple of events next week where Peter Saville will be talking about his vision for the city. I get the feeling he wants them to look deeper, whereas they probably just wanted a "logo." Yet, the first thing to be badged "original modern" at the literature festival, stories written in and around odd locations, for broadcast on Radio 4, seems, on the surface, an entirely nostalgic idea, with some rather predictable choices of writer. But catch them on Radio 4 next week, or "listen again" here for 7 days after.I'll be interested to see whether Saville's "original modern" idea will survive the work that attaches to it. I have my own idea, but in a week of poor judgements its probably not a good idea to run with it, which is to commission a range of local bands to produce a piece of "experimental" music for an Original Modern Music CD. What I mean by "experimental" I'd leave up to them. It could be an interesting concept. Or it might just be another bad idea. I wasn't asked to contribute to The Burgess Project, but anyway, I'd already written my piece, a few years ago, a poem for a projected series of poems about "heroes" (I think I got as far as Anthony Burgess and Yoko Ono before abandoning it...) In the spirit of not knowing a good idea from a bad one here it is...

Anthony Burgess

The novelist is Mancunian
And he spits out the words
Takes tea with Lew Grade
And agrees to "do" Jesus.
He'd get a kick from the sanskrit
And papyrus, this linguologist,
Gasping for a beer on the road into Burma.
We look on at our life, make do with the naming -
But not the great writer,
Has still to wrestle posterity down
Finger reputation before the last breath.
I would burn all the books, burn them -
Let him stay on in memory
Kicking and screaming his way from the music
Ornating his pages with Joycean flourish
Out with his droogs drinking moloko
And never in need of rhyme for orange.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

How I Write

Films show how writers write in a formulaic way - witness "Sylvia" with draft after draft of poems thrown over the poor girl's head, most missing the waste paper bucket. I kind of think a writers' writing methods are a little like a confessional, between him/her and their maker. Yet if God had not wanted writers to talk about their methods, he wouldn't have invented literary festivals. The Cheltenham Festival is celebrated in todays Times, with the secrets of the writing room. What a wonderfully weird bunch they are! Mainly, I confess, because they use pens, in Helen Simpson's case, an £8 a bottle-of-ink, Mont Blanc, THAT explains why she's never written a novel, too darn expensive. There are quite a few long suffering spouses (and, one presumes, employees) hidden a little off stage, from Marina Lewycka's "lovely husband" bringing porridge, to "that wonderful woman" who types up John Mortimer's incomprehensible scrawl. And they use a strange array of paper as well. Say what you want about Microsoft Word, but its a great democratiser. At least William Boyd is honest enough to say he's too old a dog to be taught new (word processing) tricks, though I'm pretty sure that before I wrote direct to screen, I'd sometimes write direct to typewriter. Simon Armitage is only a little bit older than me, so I was a bit surprised that he's "awestruck" by his computer, and has real problems when it doesn't. But then, even I write (most of) my poetry on paper. You kind of still need to see the crossings out, I think that's what it is.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Football Crazy

I like the Guardian's ball-by-ball commentary of sport; and this is a gem, referring to tonight's performance against Croatia as a "team of plucky but technically inept autobiography-writers." How right he is. All this extraneous activity, of course, isn't supposed to affect their "main thing", yet even someone so at ease with the media as Beckham, didn't see the footballing heights in the end. So, what can you say about Wayne "Five Book" Rooney? Has his stumbling form coincided with the book deal? Yes, its true, you can say its got nothing to do with it; but its like when a club, company or council are in strife, its the small things that make a difference to "morale" and "application." However, I may break the habit of a lifetime and buy a sporting biography, that of Paul McGrath; not only was he the most consistently good play ever to wear an Aston Villa shirt, but he was the tormented soul's tormented soul. Of course, McGrath, who has had more in his life to write about than most, waited until after he retired before he hired his ghost writer. I think what tonight's game highlighted was an old footballing truth, that decline can be disguised, but never ignored. I think England have probably been in decline since Beckham moved to Real Madrid and Paul Scholes retired, yet with the emergence of Wayne Rooney we had the perfect teenage diversion. Wiser commentators at the time said that Sven was a little brave putting all his faith in a teenager, but wiser than we knew, perhaps Sven realised that was all we really had - that and the discarded Beckham. England, for some reason have never taken European Championship qualifying all that seriously - after all, how valuable can a tournament be that we've never won? Tonight's result was part of a pattern that began a long while ago, but was cemented with that defeat by Northern Ireland, and confirmed by the performances in the World Cup. The Chelseafication of the team probably hasn't helped either - since this club of millionaire heroes has created its own new elite system, without, perhaps, the much undervalued austerity methods of Alex Ferguson. England, 4th in the world in Fifa's ridiculously inept rankings, is a team in decline. Publishers take note.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Wanna watch the Booker? Think again.

Its always been a rare guilty pleasure for me, watching the Booker Prize, the one unadulterated bit of TV-lit all year, you sit down with a glass of red, throwing olives and pringles at the tv screen. With multichannel TV, the old "rush" to meet the TV deadline shouldn't be a problem for the BBC, just bung it on BBC4. So what's going on tonight?

"The announcement of the winner of the 2006 Man Booker Prize for Fiction will air on the BBC 10 O'Clock News. This will be followed by coverage on BBC 2 Newsnight, BBC News 24 and BBC Radio 4 as well as interviews that will air around the world. BBC Radio 4's Today Programme has been airing pieces on the shortlisted authors throughout this week."

What went wrong? What happened to the live show? And god forbid there's some real news tonight. The TV ceremony WAS the Booker in my mind. Otherwise what's the point of the rest of the country getting all worked up? As it stands its just a black tie do for the publishing industry. I seem to remember that everything from the Orange to the Turner gets a tv showing these days, leaning on the Booker example. So, I don't know who decided to pull it - but it's a shame. Remember, BBC, you're still angling for an increase on your licence fee...

But if I was a betting man, I'd not have a bet on the Booker this year, the best book will win, I guess, but whether it grabs the attention of the public is another matter. And that's got to be bad news for the retailers. Tower Records, a "long tail" retailer of American legend, is no more, and if it's gone, with its knowledgeable staff and wide-ranging back catalogue, what hope for HMV etc? The Oasis greatest hits apart, there's not many "big" records due this Christmas, and back catalogue exploitation has probably now reached its ultimate: a 2CD "Deluxe Edition" of Abba's "Arrival" album. The bottom of this barrel looks thoroughly scraped. Reading Simon Reynolds enthusiastic history of post-punk, Rip it Up and Start Again, he makes the point that in the late 70s, early 80s, albums were deleted so quickly by the majors, that you always had to look forward. Indie singles could sell 20-30000 copies, creating a genuine alternative to the mainstream. The massive availability of music via the internet doesn't really mean that much - nobody's pushing the envelope anymore, or if they are, its only their acolytes who are buying. And where music has gone, you'd be a fool, or a shareholder in HMV, not to think that books and DVDs will follow. Is YouTube, bought today by Google, the MTV? Or could it morph into a paid-content Chain-with-no-name? It's certainly an alternative distribution medium, as is print-on-demand for small presses. Just as the record industry of the late 70s required massive budgets, advances and sales to make money, the current film and publishing industries are wedded to the same. If this Tower is Babel, then can you hear the lapping of the waters all around?

CODA: Kiran Desai is the winner.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The best novel of the last 25 years is...

The Observer has asked 150 writers for their best novel in English (excluding Americans, how very Booker!) since 1980. "Disgrace" by Coetzee is a good winner, (though his early "Life and Times of Michael K is surely the more adventurous book) and with Amis's "Money" second, and Burgess's "Earthly Powers" third, I can't really complain about the list. Fascinating that Ishiguro's least loved novel, "The Unconsoled" makes the list, and a sense of recentness might explain why McEwan's greatest achievement is seen as "Atonement," the most likeable of his novels, but not his best. Alan Warner's "Morvern Callar" and "On the Black Hill" by Bruce Chatwin seem conspicuously absent from the longer list. I'm interested in what the top ten says about what makes a "lasting novel"? History... in the case of McEwan, "Remains of the Day" and Penelope Fitzgerald, big sweep books in Burgess and Rushdie, and, in different ways, the writing in the John McGahern and Martin Amis; and perhaps, a little more nostalgia than is good for us overall.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Connecting Things

I bumped into Andrew Biswell in the Cornerhouse last night, his very readable biography of Anthony Burgess is just out in paperback he tells me. He had a story in the latest Lamport Court, which I enjoyed, though its probably fair to say its straining to be part of a longer piece. Typically, another alumni of Lamport Court, Max Dunbar was also there. Its not that Manchester's such a small town, just that the Oxford Road provides a perfect cultural strip from the town hall and library at one end, down to the university's and the Whitworth at the other. Either that or I go out for a drink too much. I'd just been reading what Martin Amis had to say about Burgess in his essay collection "The War Against Cliche"; I think Amis, probably uniquely amongst that generation of writers, saw Burgess as some kind of kindred spirit. Burgess was never that clubable a writer; perhaps being published later in life, he had grown out of a peer generation. Its somewhat odd coming up against Martin Amis as literary critic rather than literary titan, though the first at Oxford and the job as literary critic on the Spectator were obviously as important in his literary development as the real and adopted fathers of Kingsley and Bellow. Last week's Observer had an interview with him, and it was good that these days they occasionally send a woman to interview him, rather than the young turk male wannabes. Rachel Cooke teases out a few of his contradictions. "Mine aren't the sort of books that produce a consensus. It's why I don't win prizes", he says, which is one way of deflating the annual debate of the eighties and early nineties about whether Martin would be on the Booker list. (It happens with Scorsese and the Oscars even now.) I like the ending of the piece, where Martin has difficulty opening a screen door and his wife does it with practiced ease; if only because in comparing his books and his fathers, Martin always said that he felt his fathers books had too many people opening doors and his father thought his books had too few. Now we know why - don't write what you're not very good at! My copy of "The War Against Cliche" is a handsome American hardback - an increasing option when the quality of paper and binding in UK paperbacks is so abysmal. Last week was a very quiet National Poetry Day, as if the original idea has run out of steam. Can we put it to death, please? I was wondering if Andrew Motion had still some life in his laureateship, (it was for ten years if I remember correctly), but it goes on till 2009. More interestingly, I guess, the first Manchester Literature festival rolls in to town next week. Next Saturday's pairing of Nicholas Blincoe and Palestinian writer, Sahar Khalifeh, sounds interesting, and the Manchester Blog Awards with Verberate on 16th at Urbis should be as well. Highlight of this week was a musical one, Public Enemy at the opening night of the Warehouse Project. Though it wasn't probably like seeing them back in the day, for at least two thirds of the gig they were a still awesome sonic assault, playing classics such as "Fight the Power" "Don't Believe the Hype" and "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos." The gig was a little late for a school night, the place only letting people in from about 10.30 and Public Enemy coming on well after midnight. Its a superb venue, though, even if the sound was a bit muddy - with two rooms and a genuine chill out area (its called outside!) It was a mixed crowd, thirtysomethings, serious clubbers, and scallies. Let's say I imagine Collyhurst was a little empty on Thursday night. It had the genuine feel of somewhere edgy, and one can only imagine the vibe when they've 2000 clubbers getting down to some serious drum 'n' bass. I'd forgot how many great songs Public Enemy have got, just look at last year's Greatest Hits. Mine's mostly on vinyl, naturally. Manchester's always been a hip hop town, and the audience seemed pretty knowledgeable whatever their age.