Friday, June 29, 2007

a story is a moment in a writer's life

I've been reading the latest collection of stories from Haruki Murakami, and I must admit I'm a little disappointed, despite my early eagerness. The first couple of stories were indeed very good, there was a good one in the middle somewhere and one or two at the end, too. Nevertheless, as he tends to do, he got me thinking. It was this quote about one of his character's writing process in one of his Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman stories and why he only writes shorter stories. And it really struck a chord with me. I'll paraphrase liberally:

He had tried several times to write novels. He would start out convinced that he was going to write something special. The style would be lively, and his future seemed assured. Gradually, the early momentum and free-flowing prose would dissipate as an old man loses focus on reality.

This is why I only write in 40,000 word bursts - I think a true, honest, unscripted piece of emotional writing can only survive about this many words. After this, the roses of allure have faded and the reason for writing in the first place have withered, leaving only thorny twigs. That's the best way to leave books, in my opinion, unfinished. Never ceasing. Each short work, a moment in the writer's life. Nothing more.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Mellstock House, Combe Martin, Devon - holiday photo report

...our first time in Devon (updated for photos). We stayed at Mellstock House, a family-friendly B&B run by recent owners Samantha and Paul situated in the coastal town of Combe Martin (just 5 miles east of Ilfracombe). Weather was great all week, the pictures don't lie.


arrived in the late afternoon, wandered around Combe Martin.

coastal path, west - 10 miles walk to Ilfracombe and back.

coastal path, east - 15 miles walk to Linton, back on the 17:30 bus.

restful final day in Combe Martin, got to see more of the town's walks.

sigh ... homeward bound.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

PERFUME the movie

A gorgeous book by Patrick Suskind ... and now a beautifully rancid film by Tom Tykwer (who also did the excellent Run Lola Run), co-starring Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman in excellent roles. Trainee perfumier turned murderer Jean Baptiste Grenoille is very well portrayed by Ben Whishaw and John Hurt does a crackin' atmospheric narrator. Basically, I've just sat there for two hours in blissful horror at the delicious potency of this gem of a movie.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Stephen Hawkings writing YA fiction.

...what? George's Secret Key to the Universe, the story of a young man's computer-driven adventures, will be published this fall by Simon & Schuster.

So you've all been fished in by the nonsense ideas of the-man-in-the-chair? You all truly believe that all that you are 'came from nothingness opened up in a trillionth of a second'. Even the conventional God-freaks believe it took a week or so.

Anyway, I was in the library yesterday. Stood in the sci-fi section. Browsing alongside me was 'an old woman'. And I'm a funny guy, right, so I says to her, "Picking books up for a male friend?"

And she gives me this look.

I add, "You very rarely get 'ladies' reading sci-fi. What are your favourite sci-fi authors then?" When she opens her mouth, I find out she's an American - we get lots of those in Oxford. And she's looking for, wait for it, "...more sci-fi that deals with math."

And I go, "What? You're joking right?" She goes, "No. It would be great to read a good sci-fi story about Quantum Mechanics, you know."

I goes, "But that, by chaotic definition, would be the most ludicrous, random, barely strung together narrative you could ever dream up. Oops, narrative thread. Oops, character duality. Oops, not enough content in the book to force the narrative implosion at the end...."

She goes, "You're a cynic." and walks off.

That is what capitalism needs more of, believers in the dream.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

US author Mike Philbin

...yeah, that's what I thought. I know it's not the first time that someone has mistaken me for an American - there was this 'fan' who introduced himself to me at a BFS convention in Birmingham a few years back. I spoke in my usual accent and he goes, "Eh? I thought you were an American."


Well, here's a newer version of the same delusion - a review of my story "Twelve O-Clock Shadow" in Dark Animus #8. I mean, it's funny, even if the reviewer didn't appreciate the ironic ending. This has to end.

Once and for all, for the record, I am an English man, northern born and bred.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Haruki Murakami's AFTER DARK:

...but it's, like, half a novel!

Not only is it only 200 pages long (very short for some of my favourite Murakami novels) but also the story seems to be the first half of a bigger book. Didn't Murakami do this with his first novel Norwegian Wood? Wasn't that released in two halves? Anyway, I really look forward to the follow-up (or the last half) of the AFTER DARK story when Harvill Press decide to pay a translator (hopefully Philip Gabriel) to put the follow-on into the English language. I wanna know what happens to the evil guy, I wanna know what happens with the lad, I want to see how wrong the Triad thing goes... so much still to read from that book.


Actually, there's a silver lining to this review of doom ... after waiting for more than a year for the paperback version of Murakami's BLIND WILLOW, SLEEPING WOMAN short story collection, I decided to plump for the local lending library version and I'm so glad I did.

Haruki Murakami openly confesses that he prefers the short story format to the novel format in his introduction. And boy can the reader feel the joy. There are some truly amazing short stories in this collection. Genius, once more.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

the reader writer:

...we've all read his stuff. He's a fawning genre man to the bitter end. He knows his material. Hell, he's been reading this shit since he was a kid. He then realises there are publishers out there and he wants to be a writer too. So, he sends his stuff in. And you know what? The publisher is stupid enough to believe that what sold last year will sell this year.

It's called the Law of Diminishing Returns.

It's happening in the movie industry, too, but that's a side issue I don't wanna address in this post - but I will use one term, REMAKE. Anyway...

The reader writer, what's so wrong with him? Don't they say "write what you know"? Well, yeah, there's nothing more convincing than a doctor writing a book about his exploits in the surgery, there's nothing wrong with a builder writing a book about his life up in the scaffold, etc... There's nothing wrong with that sort of specialisation, it adds to the suspension of disbelief but there has to be more to it than that.

Take the zombie-writer. I mean, what is he doing? Zombies have been 'done to death' (pun intended) so why is he churning out the same shit over and again? Why is the publisher selling this shit to his readers? Well, Mike, there's obviously a market for it. I know but it doesn't make it a worthy subject for a creative's exploitation. Just because stories about Footballer's Wives sells copy right now doesn't make it a worthy subject for a writer's attention.

Unless, one writes off-genre or genreclectically.

In the same way that our dreams filter our specialisation through our psychological make-up, so a book should filter the reader through our home-brewed genre. The world of the reader must be a world of non-genre. Of esscapism. Of horror, real horror, where he's not just on some funky-faced cynical roller-coaster ride of genre-compliant product. The reader shouldn't know what the genreclectic writer is about to unleash. He should be wary of the genreclectic writer's intentions. He should never trust the genreclectic writer.

The reader must be physically afraid to pick up a book.

This is what's missing from the dull, grey (not just the horror genre with its tropes and conventions, its zombies, vampires, werewolves, cellphones and pet cemeteries it goes for sci-fi and fantasy and murder mystery et al) genre product of mass appeal publishers. Should mass appeal really mean cultural compliancy? Should mass appeal really mean churning out the same colourless butter? Should mass appeal really mean nothing dangerous, unconventional or radical.

Shouldn't the reader experience be about the conflict between writer and reader? Shouldn't the reader experience be about worlds as yet undiscovered? Roads as yet untrodden? Places one's never been taken? Emotionally, psychologically, structurally? Only the writer who reads off his chosen genre can bring that refreshing 'new angle' to the table - otherwise, you're nothing more than a lacky to the corporate machine and you deserve nothing more than death by Law of Diminishing Returns - a sad (but fitting) end for any gutless cog in the money-making propaganda wheel.