Monday, 19 October 2009


Writing and depression. Not easy bedfellows, even though artistic endeavour does seem to have some connection with extreme states of mind.

Depression is a dark cloud muddying the waters, all the filth that you hoped was lying undisturbed on the bottom, compacting into immovable layers, gets swirled up by some passing thought or incident. There is no real way of knowing what is going to do it. It’s not always the large things that disturb the detritus. Small things flitting past, inconsequential things that flip their tail and loosen just enough to set of a landslide that gathers speed down some subterranean slope and before you know it vast clouds are swirling up to choke you and the beautiful waters of your existence.

Yet in all that garbage, all that filth, all that choking misery, are the diatomic particles that provide food for the ever hungry imagination. I was swept away recently by just such an upsurge. I live in a fragile world. Poor physical health means I cannot do many of the things I would love to do; cannot be many of the things I would love to be. Like financially independent.

And trying to make something of an artistic talent (well, I think it is a talent) means you are climbing out on a thin branch over a long drop. Magnificent view. Great potential for a world of hurt. Artists are dependent on others. Not for their talent, but if they want to put food on the table, a roof over their heads, and contribute to a decent standard of living for their loved ones, other people have to like and buy their work.

That involves other people. Most of whom don’t give a shit about you, your talent, or your desire to live an unassuming life somewhere warm, dry, and with food in the pantry. These days the situation is more difficult. Not only is publishing largely in the hands of bean counters, but there is an increasing number of people who have grown up thinking books, music, movies, TV, and the like should be free; that the people who create their entertainment shouldn’t actually get paid for the hard work they put in.

At the same time, artists who try to go it alone are looked down on. If you self-publish, it is considered a ‘bad move’. Can’t think why. It’s the ultimate test. Writers are increasingly expected to do all the work. Not just write to the best of their ability, but spend time that could be spent writing another book on marketing, publicity, writing blurbs and press pieces, organising events. All of that out of their ten per cent (sorry, nine per cent, because if they have an agent, they will be taking their cut).

Can you blame a writer for getting tired of this and deciding they will do the lot and take all the proceeds? Easier, of course, if they are already well known and have a fan base. But they sink or swim on their own efforts and do not have to rely on others, especially all those others who don’t give a shit.

Now, I am well aware that there are plenty who do care, who work hard to get good books into the book shops and maximise sales. I’m not sure they’re on the winning side at the moment.

Like banks, publishers have approached the recent financial crisis with that always useful approach of: more of the same! Which is obtuse. I talk to people about books and like me they are hungry for new, good writing. It doesn’t have to be heavy, literary stuff. But all we seem to get from the world of entertainment at the moment is an incestuous mix of celebrity produced/endorsed ‘reality’ (like any of them know what the real world is like). There are good books, films, plays, works of art, and so on. But do we really have to pay the price we are paying to get them? Do we really have to sift through all that garbage to find something nourishing? Maybe we do.

So what has this to do with depression? No idea. I’m trying to write myself out of one at the moment. It isn’t helped by seeing trite garbage paraded and lauded as the next best thing since the last best thing; by successful people forever telling me I can live my dream (it’s only materially successful people who say that, isn’t it); by having to rely on others who really don’t care (because many of them are fighting the same battles as you – whatever happened to good old socialism? how did we let those few greedy bastards get away with it?).

Often, the only way I can do it is by venting the same old arguments and asking the same old questions. Maybe one day I’ll find some answers. If I do, I will share them. I could keep them to myself and get rich on the back of them. But I’m not like that. I’d rather spread the happiness around a bit. Because that’s what I really want. The security that brings happiness. Nothing more. Nothing less. Somewhere warm and dry. Food on the table. Loved ones safe and protected.

OK. That was one step up toward the light. Thank you for indulging me.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Reading habits

Well, that’s another short ‘review’ over on grumbooks. And while I was writing it, it struck me that my reading habits go through cycles. Sometimes, as now, I have several books on the go. I read a couple of chapters of one, move on to another, read a bit of that, then pick up yet another book. They are invariably variable. If I have three or more on the go, one will be non-fiction, one a children’s book, and the other something for adults.

I haven’t been reading a great deal of non-fiction recently, and what I have been reading has fallen into the vague category of research. I’m dipping into several tomes of late Anglo-Saxon history at present to refresh my memory (with the possibility of using this as a historical setting for some stories). Prior to that, I had read a lot about the home front during the Second World War. And now I am beginning to bone up on the period between 1955 and 1975.

Fiction… well, most of what I am reading is re-reading, and has been for three or four years now. I read new stuff, but that is mostly from authors I already know. I also try new work, but I have to say I find the vast majority of it that is classed as ‘literary’ to be dull, self-absorbed, and occasionally pompous. Anything exciting, anything that has something insightful to say about life, anything that plays with language, tends to be genre based or arrives in translation.

Perhaps it comes from having read so much, but I often pick up the latest sensation and think, ‘Oh yeah, so and so did that in the ‘50s, or someone else did something similar in the 60s – and they were so much better.’ In large part they were better because they were shorter, punchier, and not afraid to experiment. These days, books feel bloated. And safe. But maybe it’s just me. Perhaps I read too much (gives that two seconds thought and decides the answer is ‘no’).

Other times I can only read one book at a time. Which suggests there may be a larger cycle to my reading and that when I have had my fill of re-reading I will go in search of new stuff (or maybe there will be new stuff out there to suit my taste). I think my real problem is I like books that do something new. Genre, style, subject… But once they establish a trend, the books that follow rarely have the energy and sense of excitement of the ones that take the first steps (even if they are flawed).

That is why it amuses (and saddens) me to see something like ‘slipstream’ cited as a genre. Perhaps it is now. But the whole point of ‘slipstream’ was that it applied to books that had no genre. Now it is defined and people set out to write slipstream books. And they fail. Pretty much like any arts movement that starts with or develops a manifesto. The moment they do that, they kill themselves.

Art, writing, music, theatre – these are dynamic. OK, a finished product is a finished product, but even a piece of writing can, if it hits the spot, continue to evolve in terms of its relevance and interpretation. But that sort of writing (or other art form) does not come from a formula. It may use or subvert a formula, but what gives it a living core is its transcendence of what has gone before.

I’m not saying that books that stick to a formula cannot be and are not well written. Some are. Some are excellent, make you weep that someone is so talented. These are the swans. Their work glides sedately and gracefully along because of all the hard work they have put into it. I admire that. Which is why I admire the risk takers even more. Because they do all that hard work on something that has no easily reached audience because it is new.

Anyway, I’m rambling. Procrastinating as well, as I should be working on something else.

A story.

All the bits are there, but I can’t see, yet, how they fit.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009


Goodness. A new keyboard (one of those compact ones that does away with all those numbers on the right hand side you never use) and a new monitor stand that puts the monitor at a comfortable correct level. The trouble is, I have become so used to leaning my head forward to look down toward the monitor, I'm getting a neck ache by sitting in the correct position. Plus, it's further from the keyboard to the screen, so my neck is also getting tired with all the swivelling. Perhaps I will finally dig out that touch-typing course I have on disc somewhere. Then I'll be able to type like Fran Katzenjammer.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Would you look... the state of this place. You leave it alone for a few weeks and what happens? Dust, damp, colonization, the growth of civilizations, empires, conflict, war, mutually assured destruction. Carbon dust glows in the dark. A breeze blows some of it into the air revealing the remains of a city. The particles spark in the dim light like stars, swirling, slowly coalescing. I decide to withdraw as I see the dust beginning to collapse into its own gravitational well. It could go either way. New star. Black hole. Whatever the outcome, I'd rather watch from a safer distan