The Novel is Under Threat….

For some time now, the status of the novel has been under threat, not just from technological developments like the Kindle, but from self-suffocation and overanalysis. In attempting to break free of the shackles of conventions, authors of contemporary fiction have pushed the novel to breaking point. Readers of modern literary fiction can often find themselves baffled by bewildering texts, devoid of plot or characterization, so-called novels that aren’t really novels and aren’t clear about what they are. Sometimes, it seems as though even the writers don’t know. So desperate are they to create something new and exciting, they’ve lost sight of why most people read books in the first place, and end up creating some weird and horrible mish-mash of documentary and memoir along with social commentary and whatever else comes to hand, all in convoluted plots about writing the book you’re reading that disappear into thin air midway through. These are the most frustrating sorts of books – and they’re not really novels, and to market them as such seems disingenuous.

Book reviewers in the press and on-line tend to be no help, and if anything compound the problem. Most of them are wannabe writers themselves, and use their reviews to show off their writing skills. And of course, they wouldn’t want to lose face by admitting they didn’t like a book that’s supposed to be clever, or, that the unthinkable happened and they didn’t get it. So the parade of books dressed in the emperor’s new clothes continues. For my money, the reviews posted on-line on Amazon and Goodreads by real readers who aren’t pretentious and who don’t have opinions that are clouded by self-interest are far more reliable and more easy to read too.

Then there’s academia. Academic writing makes the guff the reviewers spew out look positively straightforward. The analysis gets so bogged down in theory and the minutiae that all relation to the book that’s under discussion is lost. The prevalent style of academic writing seems designed primarily to obfuscate any trace of logical, linear argument, and for no other reason than to bewilder mere mortals with the density of language that says little more than ‘look how clever I am’. The emperor threw these clothes out a long time ago when they became threadbare and unfashionable. Stuck in its ivory tower with its head up its superior, self-satisfied ass, academia has failed to realise that the game’s up.


It’s for this reason that a recent crop of pseudo-intellectual smart-arse writers who think they’re ahead of the game by combining elements of criticism and commentary within their ‘novels’ – and I use the term loosely given the negligible semblance of plot and the general absence of characters you can believe in, let alone identify with – really are fulfilling their own prophecies regarding the death of the novel by spewing out such atrociously smug, self-indulgent, meaningless drivel. I mean, if you’re going to kill the novel, atrocious dross like these self-referential treatises are bound to do the trick. And, quel surprise, marginal as these authors may be, they’re getting noticed and building up cult followings because the critics are lavishing their abysmal turgid texts with gushing praise and their bands of cronies corralled together via social networking sites – first of all MySpace, and now Facebook – are on hand with sycophantic applause.

 

Nosnibor’s latest novel – the ironically (or perhaps appropriately) titled This Book is Fucking Stupid – is probably the worst offender of all the books I’ve seen to date. The story is bland and bot very well written with really dull characters who go nowhere, and it’s largely buried beneath endless pages of insertions, including reviews, academic criticism and lengthy passages of pointless commentary from the author. Some of these begin like memoir, and look like they might offer some useful insight into the mind of the writer, but they invariably descend into rants or a platform for something else, and the reader is left none the wiser as to his motivations. Consequently, I ended up with the opinion that the author is even more delusional and moronic than I had thought before, and any interest I may have had in him as a person had completely dissipated. I sincerely hope I never find myself stuck in a lift with this tedious, self-interested egotist who hides having precisely nothing to say behind endless layers of artifice and façade. The most pointless and pathetic attempt at a novel you’re likely to read. If you can honestly say you find something good about this book and can find the ‘point’ to it, you’re smarter than me. Or, more likely, you’re a pretentious asshole and you’re just pretending.

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at christophernosnibor.co.uk

 

The Changing Face of Consumerism VIII: State of Independence, or, All’s Well at The Inkwell

The seven ‘Changing Face of Consumerism’ articles I ran on MySpace in 2008 and 2008 all shared a common theme, namely lamenting the sad decline of the real – both in media and commodity, with ‘reality’ television being a pisspoor ersatz approximation of any reality I’ve ever known, and ‘real’ shopping experiences being slowly subsumed by the virtual marketplace.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for progress, and have long been a big fan of on-line shopping, being one who doesn’t cope well with crowds or endless hours of pavement-pounding in search of goods, but by the same token, I’m a strong advocate of consumer choice. Despite what the global marketplace on-line tells us, we as consumers do not have infinite choice, not least of all because while some niche outlets fare well on-line, many have gone to the wall because the same kind of corporate giants that slowly erased all of the small independent stores from the high streets of each and every town have steamrollered the little on-line traders out.

As city centres everywhere become identikit clones of anywheresville, so our sense of location becomes diminished: the only thing to differentiate, say, Leeds from Lincoln, isn’t the choice of shops, but the size of each branch, and after a mooch round M&S, Boots, Game and HMV, stopping for a uniform coffee in a Starbucks or Costa before going on to… well, it doesn’t matter. I mean it really doesn’t matter where you are, the experience is pretty much the same. Fine, so you know what you’re going to get, but the experience of discovering a little specialist shop tucked away somewhere is radically different and appeals to a whole range of senses. However hard Amazon try to replicate the browsing experience of specialist independent book and record stores with features like ‘look inside’ and the song snippets you can listen to, in addition to the list of recommendations based on what you’re looking at and what other shoppers have also purchased or viewed that functions as a mimesis of the friendly and enthusiastic guy behind the counter who just loves his books or music and knows everything there is to know, like a living, walking encyclopedia, it just isn’t the same. There’s no substitute for browsing.

And so it was that I was practically skipping when The Inkwell opened in York a few weeks ago. A little shop stocking secondhand books, records (with a few selected new titles), CDs and cards, it’s the kind of shop you used to drop into, rummage around and find something wonderful you didn’t even know you wanted. The owner, Paul Lowman, is clearly an unashamed enthusiast first and a businessman second, and while such a venture is the kind that will never make him rich, and would make many lenders and entrepreneurs alike squirm in discomfort, it’s a shopper’s delight. Perhaps not surprisingly, The Inkwell is aimed at a niche market (by which I mean discerning shoppers: Paul’s philosophy is according to the website, “COOL STUFF FOR ALL!” Popular Culture is about democracy – inclusivity, not exclusivity) specialising as it does in books on music, film and pop culture, with sections on the Beat Generation, Art, Philosophy and a noteworthy – not to mention impressive – selection of pulp paperbacks, all in remarkably good condition (yet reasonably priced, with titles marked up at between six and ten quid).

The vinyl, too, is all in great nick, and the range, though limited, is all about quality and catering to a particular kind of discerning alt/hipster customer. There’s no mainstream pap to be found on the racks: instead, there are sections devoted to Garage, Psych, 90s Indie, Spoken Word / Comedy, and even Burlesque. Yes, if you want the kitsch sleaze of yesteryear, then the range of sexploitation titles in both audio and written media is exceptional.

It’s a tiny little place, made all the more cramped by there being a pair of school desks in the middle of the room, upon which a choice of books are casually laid. It’s all about the browsing experience (they serve coffee too), and an eclectic mix of music is spun – at high volume, and all on vinyl, naturally – on the turntable in the corner by the counter. Of course, it’s simply one’s man’s vision, one man’s obsession made manifest… but what’s wrong with that? But equally, why should a shop such as this succeed in a climate where major chains are going to the wall? The answer, I believe, is simple. In attempting to appeal to everyone, the major chains ultimately cater for no-one. In aiming to cover a vast market based on some kind of assumed generic average consumer and broad populism, the chains become Xerox copies of one another: reliable, perhaps, but ultimately forgettable and wholly impersonal. A shop like The Inkwell isn’t about conquering the world or trying to cater to all tastes: it knows its market and knows it well – because by being the shop its owner wants it to be, it’s catering for like-minded individuals (there’s that word again!). It’s unique in every way, and every item in stock is essentially a one-off. It has the personal touch and is memorable. And that’s why it has a better than average chance of success.

So, on the opening day I left with a brand new hardback copy of Brion Gysin: Dream Machine (a bargain at a tenner given that it retails at £25), a read but respectable copy of The Dark Stuff by Nick Kent (£3) and a vinyl LP – a copy of Fade Out by Loop, again in top condition (EX as Record Collector would have it), for a fiver.

I returned this week and was pleased to see some of the stock had gone and new stuff had taken its place, meaning I was able to add a copy of the original 1971 Olympia Press edition of S.C.U.M. Manifesto by Valerie Solanas to my library. The tenner asking price was more than fair, especially given the condition.

Does The Inkwell represent the vanguard of the counter-revolution in the world of retail? Perhaps not, but I’d like to think that other independent stores will begin to pop up, not just in York, but in every city, and soon. It’s unlikely that this is how the economic situation will be recovered, but being able to rifle some good books and records in a pleasant environment certainly makes these dark times a lot more bearable.

The Inkwell Online is cool – www.ink-well.co.uk – but not nearly as cool as being there.

 

Inkwell

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

Book Review: Allegorical Beasts by Leo Schulz

It’s oft said – not least of all by me – that it’s important to learn the rules before breaking them. Otherwise, it’s not subversion, but plain ignorance. On reading the sonnet sequence that occupies the first half of Leo Schulz’ Allegorical Beasts, it’s clearly apparent that the author knows his way around a sonnet.

That Schulz has actually produced a sonnet sequence is in itself extremely telling: in vogue briefly during the Elizabethan period, it’s hardly the verse form of choice for contemporary poets. Not that the forty-five poems that comprise ‘Sonnets of the Sea’ contain any half-arsed doggerel, sixth-form scribblings self-consciously imitating the Petrarchan or Shakespearean form: this is sonneteering 21st century style, which dispenses with the fussy rhyme scheme and the restrictive metrical dictates of old convention to produce a series of poems that pack some real punch. Schulz certainly doesn’t dress things up in draperies of poetic euphemism. Yet at the same time, ‘Sonnets of the Sea’ does follow the principles of thematic unity, and fills the lines with magnificent imagery, some contemporary, some timeless, and succeeds in doing so without being overtly self-conscious or revelling in the author’s own cleverness, a feat also achieved in the three-part ‘Imitation of Dante.’

If ‘The Devil Writes to a Woman Who Loves Him,’ the first of the three prose pieces, seems a little weak despite its twisted psychology and cunningly-devised scenario, it’s only because it’s overshadowed by the final story, ‘Love: A Confession’. The direct, first-person narrative drags the reader through the emotional wringer as the speaker (who I would hate to align with the author, although its raw intensity is so specific and detailed it makes it more than just a little tempting) picks over the scabs of a defunct relationship. Occasionally amusing, always observed and detailed with a stunning precision, the story is delivered with a vivid sense of tormented humanity, making t one of the most engaging short stories I’ve read in a while.

‘Allegorical Beasts’ is an intense and intelligently-written book that marks Schulz as a unique and remarkable literary voice.

Allegorical Beasts is out now on Königreich Böhmen and is available via Amazon.

 

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And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

When is a gig not a gig? When it’s a multimedia performance art display…

Viewer / Bastard Structures / Beaumont Hannant – Bar Lane Studios Basement, York, 13th May 2011

The walk through town was hell as I cut my way through drunken weaving tossers in shiny suits and smashed bimbos who’d fled the races in search of more booze, food and amusement. The races might be good for the local economy, but that’s about it. As I headed up Mickelgate through the teaming hoards of plastered fuckwits, I encounter a familiar face. it’s the bearded eccentric techno wizard Tim Wright, one half of York techno should-be legends Viewer.

‘You’re going the wrong way,’ I tell him.

He explains that he needs food and is on a mission, so I wish him luck in his quest and continue onward to the venue. The Bar Lane Studios was, once upon a time, York’s Sony Centre, and I purchased my current stereo, including turntable, from there, back in 1998 or thereabouts. It’s now an art gallery and studio setup, beneath which there’s a basement that’s home to live music, theatre and more. At the door, there’s a cluster of people smoking and chatting, and there emerges a skinny guy with some wicked chops and a bad shirt. it’s AB Johnson, the other half of Viewer. He greets me, but can’t stop: he’s looking a bit vexed, and not without reason. He needs to find Tim to sort an issue with the projectors. Sometimes, there are things even a hundred yards of gaffer tape can’t handle.

I make my way down into the basement, a brilliant space for such an event. It’s a plain and solid rectangle, with bare-brick walls, flagstone floors and not a lot else besides a PA and a temporary bar with four different varieties of Roosters beer on pump. This definitely gets my vote, and by the time I’m halfway down a pint of the Mocha Stout at 4.7% ABV, I’m less concerned about the prospect of one of the projectors stuck to the ceiling falling on my head. There are a fair few people I’m acquainted with present, so I mingle and talk bollocks at them while superstar DJ Beaumont Hannant creates a pleasant ambience.

It’s around 9pm when Tim Wright and his collaborator Theo Burt take up their stations behind their laptops stage right and the venue is plunged into darkness for their Bastard Structures show. It’s not ambient, and nor is it entirely pleasant, and that’s a good thing. Put simply, this is multimedia art at its most absolute: the visuals drive the music, with the shifting shapes actually triggering the sounds, and it’s neatly arranged to alternate between pieces by each artist, interspersed with truly collaborative crossover pieces. Wright’s works are stark and brutal, Merzbow-like walls of noise and dark, penetrative frequencies assailing the aural receptors while harsh strobe effects and black and white images flicker scorch the retinas in the most abrasive, unforgiving fashion. Burt’s pieces contrast well, being lighter, playful even, easier on both eye and ear and more clearly designed for amusement, and the crossover pieces bring the two styles together to dizzying effect. A chap I know later remarked that he enjoyed ‘the fun ones’. Needless to say, I preferred the ones that inflicted pain on my senses and fucked with my head.

Bastard Structures

 

Time for another pint as I’m working my way down the bar and around the people I’m familiar with, and then Viewer are up. The projections – more brain-bending optical shapes that hypnotise in no time and completely suck you in – provide the perfect backdrop to the duo’s sassy, savvy brand of pulsating techno indie pop.

 

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When I say that Viewer are cynical, I don’t mean calculated or contrived: the lyrics, penned by AB, to songs such as ‘Dumb it Down’, ‘White Noise’ and ‘Sunrise’ are sneering swipes at society, at conformity, at, well, take your pic. Johnson’s vocal style – which falls between Mark E. Smith, and, as another reviewer has suggested, Lou Reed – seems as much at odds with the music as his image and lyrics, and it’s precisely because of these contradictions that Viewer are such an interesting proposition. AB is also a great front man who looks entirely at home on stage – again, in complete contrast to Wright, who lurks in the shadows, hunched over his laptop and remains seated. He knows exactly what he’s doing, of course: namely controlling the thumping beats and solid basslines that provide the foil for Johnson’s quirky delivery and showmanship.

 

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All the while the geometric patterns roll endlessly, searing their shapes into the retinas of the onlookers. It’s a groove alright, and by the time they closed the set with a reprise of ‘Suicide Girl’, my senses were tripping in overdrive.

 

Viewer – All the Pretty Young Things

Back up on street level, the world had gone mad, with the racegoing revellers wreaking drunken carnage in a shiny-suited remake of one of Hogarth’s scenes. Somehow, as I weaved through the inebriated shouts and squawks, the men standing in shop doorways pissing over their own snakeskin shoes, and the flashing blue lights of approaching police vans and ambulances, the unsettling juxtaposition of two very different sides of life on the same street seemed perfectly apt.

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

It’s good to talk…

With a new book forthcoming, a little bit of promotion goes a long way. Stuart, who runs Clinicality Press, suggested we have a chat about From Destinations Set. With the prospect of a couple of free drinks and some free promotional coverage, I wasn’t going to turn the offer down.

The resulting piece, which covers the writing process and the aims of the book, as well as a whole heap of other literary topics and writers who have inspired and influenced Destinations, is an edited, expanded and manipulated historical record of the event. Don’t believe everything you read here.

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk.

Anti-Everything: A Blogger’s Dilemma

I greatly admire Kathy Acker’s writing, and I greatly admire the attitudes she espoused. I admire her writing because it’s exciting and unconventional and bursting with ideas. I admire her attitudes because she was antagonistic, awkward, challenging and non-conformist. Acceptance for Acker was extremely hard-won. I recently revisited an interview with her, in which she explained her early motivation:

“I took a lot of writing courses when I was in college… They were just torture… I reacted in this kind of this radical anti-authority stance, anti-right rules of writing. I started off by saying ‘no’ to everything. My whole identity as a writer was in saying ‘no’, in reacting. So in my first books I refused to rewrite. I wrote as fast as possible. I refused to have any consideration for proper grammar or proper syntax.”

It’s possible to react without being ‘reactionary,’ and Acker’s opposition to all things ‘establishment’, all things ‘conventional’ is something I’ve long been able to identify with. The establishment and the conventional frustrates me. The world frustrates me. I abhor the herd mentality, the misguided and broadly accepted notion that something must be good because it’s popular, the fact that so much ‘culture’ and so many ‘norms’ are simply accepted because that’s what the masses get fed by the various agents of dissemination. Our education system is flawed because it teaches people what to think, rather than how to think for themselves. Or, as Acker contended, “universities have peculiar transmission problems: they transmit stupidity.” It’s a pretty radical view, but it’s not difficult to see what she was driving at. 

As I’ve grown older, my views haven’t softened: I’ve simply found more evidence to substantiate them, and more cogent ways to articulate them. I’m frustrated at every turn, and as such, my writing, in all its forms, is writing of protest, it’s anti-something, if not absolutely anti-everything. Am I a nihilist? No, because I think that such negativity can be channelled for positive ends.

To return to a favourite analogy of mine, that of literature being the new rock ‘n’ roll, I find it irritating (you’ll probably be seeing the pattern by now) when bands plead with the audience to buy their CD at the merch stall between every song. Sure, plug it by all means, but ramming it down people’s throats is bad form. It’s overkill. It stops the set being about the music, and becomes a sales pitch. The set is an advertisement for the CD in itself. Do writers give readings and break after every page to ask the audience to please please please buy their book so they can get the bus home? Well, perhaps, but it’s rare in the extreme.

Writers do tend to be a lot less shameless by nature, to the extent that many come across as being quite apologetic. This can be similarly frustrating for audiences and people who meet them, for they seem shy, nervous or aloof. In the main, I’m no exception to this rule although I do try to speak confidently when reading in public.

This isn’t something I’ve done a great deal of. I have, so far, based a career on upping the anti, so to speak (yes, that’s wordplay, creative misprision, not a sign of limited literacy). I’ve refrained from using any mugshots on any social networking sites, and divulge very few personal details. I guard my privacy fiercely. I like to think it adds to the mystique, but it’s also a deliberate strategy. On one hand, it means my personal life remains just that, and on the other, it means I’m able to create a persona based around the invisible author. I’m the anti-author, if you like. I’ve done the anti-novel, in the form of THE PLAGIARIST, which is also a statement against originality, authorship and copyright. While producing music reviews ahead of release date, I’ve also written articles against music reviewing, and promoted the concept of retrospective reviewing as a means of combating the popular hyping processes. I’m against organised religion, I’m against CCTV and the countless infringements on personal freedoms. I’m against large corporations taking over the world and I’m against idiots cycling on the pavement. Yes, I’m pretty much anti-everything, to the extent that I’m quite averse to endlessly plugging my writing. Being anti-everything, I’m operating a strategy of anti-promotion.

After years of refusing to give public readings, I recently took a slot at an open mic night and read a couple of short stories, in the interests of (self) promotion. Only, I couldn’t bring myself to reiterate my name at the end of my performance, and I didn’t plug any of my books. Needless to say, I didn’t sell any.

Is this strategy of anti-promotion self-defeating? Perhaps. The trouble is, I get fed up of writers who post three blogs a week about their books, but never actually give anything away. Now, I have posted the odd snippet and link to my published works, but work on the premise that my blogs are separate from my fiction and other writing, and live in the hope that the blogs will pique the interest of readers sufficiently that they might feel compelled to investigate further. It works to an extent, but perhaps not as well as I would like. I’m so averse to plugging my work that many occasional readers probably won’t even realise I have books in print.

So, to redress this, for those who don’t know, I have a number of books out. Earlier this year, I edited Clinical, Brutal… An Anthology of Writing with Guts. It’s choc-full of brilliant works by some truly outstanding contemporary authors. A couple of months ago, Clinicality Press published my novella, From Destinations Set and a booklet, The Gimp. The former is conceivably one of the most progressive and innovative works of the last decade, while the latter is pure, unadulterated in your face (anti)literary filth. They’re all available from Clinicality Press at http://clinicalitypress.co.uk. Go buy ‘em.

(And yes, the title is a Mansun reference…)

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk.

Less is More: Judging a Book By Its Cover

From Destinations Set was a bitch to write. I set out to tackle the problem of presenting two separate yet interweaving simultaneous plots. It was something I had touched on before, in ‘Heading South’ and A Call for Submission. You could say that I was obsessed with simultaneity and pushing the limits of the dual narrative technique for a good year or more. I came up with the idea for From Destinations Set in the summer of 2007 as a submission to Bookworks’ Semina series, and knocked out around twenty pages and roughly planned the rest.

It made the 2008 shortlist in the Spring of that year. Realising that to produce anything like a complete working manuscript would take a lot of time and effort, I pushed on with putting some meat on the bones of the remainder. In the end it wasn’t commissioned (I can’t really grumble: the books that did come out are brilliant), but I was committed to seeing the project to completion. It was seriously hard work. Not so much the contents – although some of that was also extremely challenging – but the formatting. Having previously only produced short bursts of simultaneous narrative, inserted within the main body of the text within text boxes, for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to use the columns setting in Word (and I’m still running 97).

Given that the two stories were to run continuously in left and right columns, it meant I had to write both stories at the same time, and any additions / deletions in one narrative meant I had to match them, almost character for character, in the other.

I was explaining the arduous nature of the process to a friend over a few pints the other week, who asked why I’d not just written the stories separately and then pasted them into two columns in Excel. Now why didn’t I think of that?

So, having completed the manuscript, I touted it round a few publishers who looked like they might take such a brain-bendingly unconventional book, but without success. And so the manuscript languished: I had no desire – nor the technical know-how – to reformat it, and assumed that was that, until Stuart at Clinicality, who I’d mailed a copy of the story to, said he’d cracked it and wanted to publish.

The cover design looks unlike anything my earlier work has been wrapped in, but I do rather like it. While I’m less than keen on minimalist art, as a cover design it’s undeniably striking, and also appropriate, not only to the contradictions of the narratives inside (penned in places in a rather minimalist style, while in others more expansively, and not necessarily confining either style to only one of the two stories), but also the challenges the visual aspects of the text present to the reader. The bold rectangles are very literal representations of the twin columns of the text, and serve as a reminder that Destinations is a very visual text. The placement of the words invites alternative readings: from set destinations, for example. How should the reader approach the physical task of reading the text? One story at a time, a page at a time, cross-column to create a real-time cut-up in the mind? Any and all of these are quite viable options. There are more than simply two stories, and more than two readings here.

To further the sense of variability, the pages in the printed version are unnumbered. As such, the text is complex enough, without the need for a busy or complex cover. Moreover, ‘modernism’ and ‘futurism’ are now historical, and the cover lends it something of a ‘vintage’ feel (I’m personally reminded of Breakthrough by Konstantin Raudive, published in 1971, a remarkable book in every way: http://www.colinsmythe.co.uk/books/brere.htm). Given that Destinations is in many ways concerned with he ‘future’ of narrative and issues of (dis)location in time / space, a cover that drew inspiration from retro representation of futures now past, seemed particularly appropriate. The book is both retro and of the future, and therefore not of any one time, or of any time other than that of its own making.

And in case you’re wondering, the title is a line from the song ‘Double Dare’ by Bauhaus, which is fitting not only because of the ‘double’ narrative, but because a key element of the stories is the sense of the characters’ actions being ‘steered.’ Ostensibly, someone else is writing – and rewriting – their scripts. As such, the writing process is a part of the story: but who is writing the writer? ‘Don’t back away just yet / From destinations set.’ As if they had any choice in the matter.

From Destinations Set is out on Clinicality Press on Monday 2nd August. Here are the opening pages by way of a taster:

http://christophernosnibor.co.uk/Documents/From%20Destinations%20Set%20-%20Section%201.pdf