June 30, 2009

Ewan Morrison - "Ménage"

I was lucky enough to get sent a copy of this and would recommend people checking it out - I believe it's published this week. It's described on the back as "a Jules et Jim for thejJilted generation," but I think the latter bit is only there for the alliteration. It is, unsurprisingly, about a menage a trois, the story of Owen, Dot and Saul, set in the early days of the YBA art boom, remembered from the crash of early 2009. So it manages to combine a fair amount of Withnailesque debauchery, a whole slew of Morrison's trademark fucking and sucking ("Penises are everywhere!" as Dot puts it), some digs at the art world ("it was rumoured that Saatchi was looking to buy online Islamic web porn as art") and much more into a quite genuine, if unconventional, love story which keeps you gripped right up until the end. And that actually sells the book a little short. Morrison uses his various trinities to explore the nature of art, relationships of power, friendship, mental illness and all that BIG SHIT without ever making the reader feel as if it's being forced down his/her throat. It's a novel about late nights, best read late at night, a strangely redemptive book which, despite a sly ending, is more about what can be than what might have been.

If you want more information about the book and what Ewan is up to, check his site.

p.s. I kind of know Ewan in that we worked on a short story with some other folk and he gave me his top tips for last year, but we've never met and I wouldn't have written anything at all about his book unless I'd enjoyed it. We are not the metropolitan elite. For one, Ewan is Scottish and for two, I'm a liability.

June 26, 2009

Michael Moorcock on Arthur C Clarke

I'm off to the woods for the weekend for a 48 hour vegetarian survivalist school run, but I leave you with this delight - Michael Moorcock remembering Arthur C Clarke. I was talking to Jimmy Cash (fresh back from the Ozarks or some such and sporting a "Guns, Trucks, Gurls" tattoo) about Moorcock's reminiscences of Ballard, wot I posted the other day and it reminded me of this piece from last year, which is very, very funny. Enjoy!

(Picture taken from efanzines.com)

June 24, 2009

Eggers On The Brink

I sent my treatise of despair to Mr Eggers and got an immediate reply! Unfortunately it was an automated reply:

Thanks for writing to this address. I set up this new email account about three weeks ago to answer what I thought would be a handful of messages from attendees at a recent Author’s Guild event. Since then, this address has become far more public, and the volume of mail sent to this address has been a bit too much to handle. So as not to imply that this is a frequently checked address, we’re closing this email address down. But if you have questions about the upcoming issue of McSweeney’s (that which will be in the form of a newspaper) email Jesse Nathan at _________. If you want to send a message to me, best to send it to Michelle Quint at __________ (I’m a slow emailer so she’ll make sure I get back to you promptly). If you have questions about 826 National, write to Ryan Lewis at ___________. And if you’re in the mood to send anything on paper, our address is 826 Valencia, San Francisco, CA 94110.
Thanks again for writing,
Dave "

So what I feared has come to pass. The outpourings of horror, fear, self-loathing and doubt from the literary commonwealth have pushed Dave to the very edge. Poor lamb. I picture him lying, spent, on his therapist's couch, a print-Pangloss overwhelmed by electronic letters of DOOM.

(I took out all the email addresses cos I don't want to be responsible for some evil spambot blocking the collective McSweeney's/826National inboxes with messages about how you can "Gaive youur waife all the esex eshe ne-eds and desreves"... If you want them - the email addies, not the esex you desreve - well, email me)

June 23, 2009

Tom Phillips - "A Humument"

I was looking at my copy of "A Humument" last night. Back in the mid-sixties an artist called Tom Phillips bought a copy of "A Human Document" by W.H.Mallock and began drawing and painting on the pages, leaving chosen words intact to make strange poetry across and down the pages, embedded in the pictures he built around them to illustrate, comment on, decorate or attack those words. Since he finished the first edition in 1973, various volumes have been published and he has gradually replaced his original pages with new versions. Anyway, I wondered if there was much about the project on the internet and, lo and behold, I found Humument.com, Phillips' rather slick and informative site, including a slide show of the complete 4th Edition.

June 22, 2009

Norwich (and Sebald)

Somehow I happened across this rather good W.G.Sebald blog and was a little shocked and surprised to find that its French equivalent (with posts on Jacques Roubaud and others), goes by the name of Norwich. I'm not being a snob or a Londonist. Some of my best friends live in Norwich (honest!). I just thought it was funny. Blame Steve Coogan.

June 19, 2009

Cor Blimey - Vintage UK Hip Hop Stuff

Got all nostalgic today and began looking up classic UK hip hop on YouTube. Really, how good is this stuff..? (The answer is VERY GOOD, smartarses).

Sindecut - "Live The Life". The Sindecut were just so good. Here, Crazy Noddy rips through his verses and all is right with the world.

London Posse - "Live Like The Other Half Do". Pure class, though overshadowed for sheer rarity value by London Posse - 1987 live

Gunshot - "Social Psychotics". Never one of my favourite acts, but a good representation of what would become Britcore.

Demon Boyz - "Rougher Than An Animal". Not their finest moment (which must be "Glimity Gamity") but fun...

Blak Twang - "Queen's Head" - From a later era than the rest, but Tony Twang and early Roots Manuva verse, plus guest cameos from Sean T etc... 1995? Seems like yesterday...

American Chutzpah part II - Eggers, Nice Books and Brand

After the fine feelings stirred in me by Concord Free Press, I came across the latest example (or maybe an earlier example) of US publishing chutzpah, you guessed it, the one and only Dave Eggers. Eggers recently offered sweet succour to the US publishing industry, giving out his email address and saying that "if you are ever feeling down, if you are ever despairing, if you ever think publishing is dying or print is dying or books are dying or newspapers are dying... If you ever have any doubt, e-mail me, and I will buck you up and prove to you that you’re wrong."

So Ron Charles of the Washington Post wrote to him and printed the reply. This morning I wrote asking further questions, but haven't actually sent the mail. It's hard not to sound sucky without sounding aggressive (for me, anyway). But here is what I thought of sending, or intended to send, or thought anyway, without sending:

"Hi Dave -

"No rush to reply to this (I'm not on the roof edge), but I read first the blog of your speech in the New Yorker and then your response to Ron Charles from the Washington Post, in which you said, 'My faith in print is buoyed by our own experiences at McSweeney's, for one thing. Our sales haven't really dropped off in the last few years, and of course we spend no money on ads or promotion. So my weird theory, or one of them, is that we need to invest in print, instead of cutting away all the value of print over the web.'

"It's an argument I've come across a lot in the music business - that in order to survive we need to be adding value over the the basic ones and noughts which make up the delivery of the music. Although I think it's easier to apply to books, which are still an analogue product, making the choice similar to that between downloading an mp3 or buying vinyl (CDs really muddy the argument as well as looking ugly).

"But I was interested in this because I thought it could be just as easily claimed that the success of McSweeney's rests on the strength and clarity of its brand rather than people finding any intrinsic value in "nice books and magazines" (and don't get me wrong, you do produce nice books and magazines). This brand in turn, relies to a large part, on your fame/celebrity (which, once again, I'm not denying you've put to good use). That being the case, though, doesn't the success of McSweeney's rest on your high profile as a mainstream published author whose books have been heavily promoted and marketed by those giant publishing conglomerates who are now laying off staff and indulging in the small joys of despair - the weeping and gnashing and pulling out of hair?

"That being the case, is there really a broader lesson that other people can take from what McSweeney's have done? Or are you an exception, much like Radiohead giving away an album (lauded for revolutionising the music industry but a useless model for mere mortals)?

"Here's hoping that you can strongly argue the opposite and convince me that all is, if not right with the world of books, then not entirely wrong either. Sorry to add to the mountain of despair you are no doubt wading through. Hoping above all that it isn't starting to get to you. You seem like a basically upbeat individual and it would be awful if you drowned in the outflow of other people's shit.

"All the best

Maybe I should just send it instead of printing it online? Oh well, too late now...

June 17, 2009

Concord Free Press

I ordered a free book yesterday. Concord Free Press (based in Concord, Mass) are currently shipping out copies of "Push Comes To Shove" by Wesley Brown for free to anyone, anywhere in the world. All they ask in return is that you make a "voluntary donation to a charity or someone in need" and that, when you've finished the book, you pass it on to someone else who might be interested so that the process can repeat.

It's a fantastic idea. The 2000 copies of Brown's book are almost guaranteed to go, and get passed on, generating much more interest and many more readers than most novels can muster, plus some Good Causes get some money. The cover looks great (as does the site) so now I just have to hope the contents are excellent as well. The whole thing seems rather marvellous - it's like getting a present.

My only slight bugbear, is the quote on their site from the Independent on Sunday who, in an article on novelist and Free Press founder Stona Fitch, said that it is a "project that could revolutionize the publishing industry."

I love this idea but I'm struggling to understand how it can transform the publishing industry because I'm struggling to see how the books and the postage get paid for. I understand it's not-for-profit and that the people involved give their time for free, but print runs of 2,000 books still cost, as does postage, especially to countries on the other side of the world. Maybe I'm just being a spoilsport. I am looking forward to getting my book and making my donation and taking part in something different, anyway. As Fitch puts it, "publishing books is not hard, it's making money from publishing that's really hard. We're blessedly relieved of the burden of profitability."

June 16, 2009

"Turn It Loose"

Alastair Siddons, who has worked on some storming documentaries in his time as well as directing Roots Manuva videos for us (and for The Streets, Kano and various other folks), finally has his documentary feature debut coming to cinemas very soon. It's about the World Breakdancing Championships in South Africa in 2007 ('08?), but, from what I've seen, it's more "Spellbound" than "Save The Last Dance" - an exploration of how hip hop has impacted on and inspired people all over the world. It's also quite sumptuously shot. You can watch the trailer here.

June 12, 2009

Friday Links

Download a brand new Anti-Pop Consortium track for free!

Look at Abebooks most expensive sales for May...

Gape at the most expensive Thomas Pynchon title on Abebooks...

Read an already-old tribute to JG Ballard from Michael Moorcock (found while thinking about Stewart Home's comment that Moorcock is better than Ballard, anyway...)

Chortle with delight at Dilshan's bizarre but effective scoop shot (this is one for the cricket buffs).

Stare at Chris Ware.

Befriend Marcel Duchamp on Facebook (just don't think about it too hard...)

Watch "Please Say Something" by David O'Reilly, winner of the Golden Bear for Best Short Film at the Berlin Film Festival (stolen from Marginal Glossagain, but what the fuck? He should stop putting up such good stuff...)

June 08, 2009

The Horrible Truth About The Internet (and Everything (and me))

It occurred to me after I wrote my cheerful piece about the futility of my blogging in particular, that I was nudging towards a wider point about the internet in general. Once again, maybe it's just me, but don't we all spend our time on the internet - making friends on Facebook, watching people jump into frozen lakes on YouTube, tweeting about our breakfast cereal - in order to be doing something? Partly to fill the gaps when we're bored, but more importantly, to feel like we're doing something significant, or that we're involved in something important. We're constantly being told that the internet is revolutionising our lives, our culture, our social relations. Like most parties, everyone else seems to be having more fun. So we hang round the edges of these various virtual dancefloors hoping that someone - Fate, Celebrity, Sex, Friendship - will notice our unique character, our Inner Light, and invite us out onto the floor.

Is this profound or insightful or just more internet bullshit, more striving for significance? The latter, probably. In which case, why post it? Go back to the top and start again.

June 05, 2009

This Is The Life

I maybe don't write about music enough (and particularly hip hop) as it's probably the only thing I have any right to claim any feel for. So... The best doc I've seen for quite some time, "This Is The Life" tells the story of the Good Life cafe in Los Angeles. In the early nineties, in the aftermath of the LA Riots, and in a situation where public space was being increasingly privatised and young Black men and women had nowhere to meet, this wholefood cafe in South Central started a Thursday night hip hop slot which acted as a crucible for acts like Abstract Rude, Volume 10, Chillin Villains Empire, Jurassic Five and, most importantly, Freestyle Fellowship. It's an incredible document, fuzzy VHS footage of the nights mixed in with extensive interviews with all the key players. It reminded me how good these performers were all, how innovative, how technically sharp and daring. These were great technicians of word and rhythm, beautifully brave and idealistic people and, as such, anyone interested in the huge input into world culture emanating from the African-American diaspora should watch this film - even if they don't think they like "rap." No, especially if they don;t think they like "rap."

June 04, 2009

The Discrete Lameness of the English Novel

Good post from Mr Gloss on Tim Lott's recent "Why-oh-why-are-English-novels-so-shit?" piece in the Independent. He is cleverer and younger and spends more time thinking than me (and Tim Lott) so I have nothing to add...

June 02, 2009

The Horrible Truth About (my) Blogging

I was asked today by another writer how I found the whole blogging thing and whether it was bringing the punters in. Below is a slightly revised and expanded version of what I wrote. I only post it up because I can't think of anything else to post, which kind of proves or at least reinforces my theory:

As for blogging, I'm not sure it does any good at all beyond the palliative effect of feeling like you are doing something. I guess I get about 4-500 people a month looking at my blog and probably less than ten of those people are actually there because they're interested in "Will Ashon". Most of them are interested in Roberto Bolano. A quite staggering amount are interested in dog sex (having a post with those words in definitely boosts your hits from Iran*).

Certainly, sales of my books support the idea that whether I blog or not makes no difference at all, but then I've only really done it seriously (i.e. frequent posting) since last September/October, by which time both of my published books were already dead in the water. I think overall I would say it's pretty pointless, but then that's how I feel about the whole book writing business at the moment. So I think the truth is that my attitudes to blogging mirror fairly accurately my attitudes to writing as a whole - or at least to that part of it which involves selling a book as opposed to making it.

In fact, overall, I think the internet is a perfect mirror. It doesn't create, it reflects, or perhaps, at best/worst, amplifies. If you have a big rep and people know who you are then your blog will probably be a great success. If you're as obscure as I am, then it will probably be a complete waste of time. There doesn't seem to be any middle ground. Which, once again, makes it very much like publishing.

So really, as I started by saying, the only reason to do it is to feel like you're doing something. It goes some way to filling those moments of panic when you can't write and no one seems to be interested in what you're doing and you can't imagine that any publisher will ever take on another of your books. Though, of course, with time, the blogging or the lack of blogging becomes part of the panic itself, only on a toned down, less abysmal level. A more manageable and slightly less painful form of panic, in fact, and hence, as a result, that lesser, misdirecting panic becomes a reason to do it (and not do it) in itself.

*I'm afraid this is true.