Retail Island: an excerpt

The office’s chemistry provided a source of fascination as Robert whiled away many long hours wondering how to fill his time. In between reading around the various reports on strategy he had been passed, and browsing for reports on Medico and their operational methodology, he found himself contemplating the sexual dynamics of the workplace. Something about the office workspace was in itself erotic to a certain extent, albeit in an abstract sense. The crisp, linear clinicality of the office space, despite its open plan, seemed to gleam with erotic potential based around a sense of wrongness and incongruity. Another factor was the austerity of the requisite work attire: this somehow had the opposite of the desired effect, namely in that rather than providing an asexual uniformity, the suit, the skirt, the shirt, the blouse, seemed to accentuate physical aspects in a semi-unobtainable light, likely to create both a mystique and a certain frisson. This was common to many working environs. But while one would likely expect pockets of sexual tension in any office, Medico seemed to practically steam and crackle with pheromones and musk. Perfect strangers engaged in casual acts of frotteurism and Toucherism as Robert noticed colleagues subtly and not-so-subtly making physical contact, brushing past one another in tight spaces, even overtly making excessive and unnecessary contact while passing in corridors. Krafft-Ebing would have had a field day observing the interactions as groins surreptitiously rubbed against buttocks, hands swept against hips and breasts brushed backs and chests.

Ordinarily, these behaviours were merely alluded to in the workplace. At Medico, there was nothing simmering or beneath the surface: the kinks were rampant and rife. Was it something in the air – or the air-conditioning – which provoked this endless demonstration of sexual psychopathies and perverse paraphilias?

Retail Island is available now, published by Clinicality Press.

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Sellout! Notes Reflecting on Retail Island

I’m at a stage where promoting my writing feels beyond me, and I certainly don’t expect there to be a plethora of reviews and interview requests surrounding the publication of my new book, my first proper work of fiction and first output of any sustained length in a full five years. This explanation, apology, dissective reflection, whatever it may be, is likely to be as close to getting under the skin of a book that developed in two distinct but equally difficult phases as will happen.

Not so long ago in real terms – two years ago, maybe – I was working on three projects simultaneously: a concise but monograph-length academic work on postmodernism, a long, long exploratory novel, and a story that was partly inspired by JG Ballard’s later works, but primarily by the bleak landscape surrounding the office space my job had recently located to. Within a few months of the relocation, the inspiration for the latter work proved to the cause for all three projects to ultimately halt.

The venue depicted in Retail Island as The Orchard Carvery was the place where a number of sections, particularly in the early stages, were written, and the mind-numbing dialogue I found myself transcribing in the name of making art that was credible and close to life proved to be a major contributor to my creativity – such as it was – drying up. Having transferred from a town-centre office close to my home, to an out-of-town office in a location almost identical to that in which the book is set, a full hour’s journey away, I found my mornings starting earlier and my evenings starting later, but, worst of all, whereas I had once had access to pubs and coffee shops where I could write, there was only the carvery as an option for lunchtime writing. Increasingly, I found myself either walking to Asda or WHS Smith or Sainsbury’s for something to do over the course of a 20-minute lunch break, or otherwise failing to leave my desk or taking any kind of break at all.

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At what point does enlisting a friend to help cross the boundary into an abuse of power? This was a question I began asking myself after I received a promotion. Finding myself managing a team, I charged one of my staff with the task of making sure I took a lunch break. Was it wrong? This question would ultimately resurface in the writing, which, in hindsight, only became possible once enforced lunch breaks came into effect. I’m aware that assigning ‘tasks’ is in a different league from parading one’s cock, but in a climate whereby I’ve been subjected to the opinion that performing a piece about suicidal self-loathing without a trigger warning is more or less the same as committing rape, I’ve found myself questioning even my most basic assumptions. Given the graphic nature of some scenes – and again, given events over the course of the last few months – I even began to doubt whether it was right to publish. But the function of art is to challenge. Art that does not challenge is merely entertainment. As such, I make no apologies.

Retail Island is in no way autobiographical. I cannot stress this enough. As with many of my works, it’s an exercise, and an idea taken to its (il)logical conclusion. A serious, Ballard-influenced dystopia set in a parallel present on the one hand, it’s also rich in irony and parody, and is not a work designed to be taken as seriously as its surface suggests. The ‘love interest’ strand is simply my exploiting convention, and the apparent lack of irony in its execution is, in fact, a double irony.

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Initially, my new job made writing impossible. I was exhausted, anxietised, immersed in the job. The new role brought with it a lot more stress and anxiety for minimal financial reward. With lunch breaks resumed, I ultimately returned to writing, both lunchtimes and evenings, and the project which had stalled at around the 3,600 word-mark began to flow, and I chiselled out the remaining 27,000 words in under three months. During this time, I found myself again, at least to an extent. I stepped back from the precipice of being a corporate machine, and reclaimed my mantle of being a writing machine. But the elation of production was tinged with the guilt of advantage.

On resuming writing, I remembered that I tend to work best when I have an audience, someone – or some people – I can sling chunks of text to by email, as they emerge. It’s less about feedback (and certainly not about validation) than about targets in some vague way. Most of the books I’ve written have been produced to tight, self-imposed, constraints. THE PLAGIARIST had to contain 200 pages of text and be completed inside three months. Because. A number of other works evolved because I promised – half-joking – to send various people either a page of text or 500 words a day. Perhaps it ties in with my other jobs, as a corporate whore and a music reviewer: give me a deadline and I’ll work to it. And I’ll deliver. So, on finding a willing recipient for regular instalments of my work-in-progress, Retail Island grew quickly. I spent less time thinking, and more time writing. And more time writing meant less time focusing on the causes and symptoms of my stress and anxiety – something else which fed into the book as the protagonist finds himself increasingly tormented by anxiety.

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This again is something that’s played into my daily life. I’ve suffered from stress and anxiety. I still do. It’s become apparent that a number of people I now manage do, too. I’m increasingly aware of everyday mental health issues, and I’m also one of the worst at dealing with my own. But, moving on…

Retail Island is in no way autobiographical, but the characters and locations are real. Or versions of people and places which are real. I find it easier to write people and places I can visualise.

A large portion of my posts on various websites, including my own, as well as on social media and the sites of lit zines who interviewed or published me in the past have disappeared without trace over the last decade, but those that remain will likely attest that I’ve long advocated the practise of ‘write what you know’. This isn’t a stance against imagination: it’s just that personally, I find it easier to acquire details of a dismal office location while working in a dismal office, and to decorate a low-budget, lowest-common-denominator carvery with detail while frequenting a low-budget, lowest-common-denominator carvery.

For me, life will inevitably inform my art, and it was ever thus. So, for better or worse, a number of characters – a couple in particular – resemble people I know or otherwise work alongside. Their physical characteristics and various quirks, not to mention other details only they will recognise, have been woven into the fabric of their fictional counterparts. This is something I have done throughout my writing career, and no, the subjects aren’t always aware, often for reasons apparent. But Retail Island is a sci-fi novel, at least in the Ballardian sense. As such, the characters are largely ciphers and cardboard cut-outs: they are vehicles and tropes, and not designed to carry emotional resonance. As such, even those based on people I know and like are subject to a distancing, a detachment. These are not the people I know: these are characters, and delineated, two-dimensional ones at that.

To return to the question of power and its abuse: this has long been a topic of interest: having never had any tangible power previously, I’ve always been at the receiving end of any abuse – not ‘bad’ abuse, but the kind of abuse which keeps a person down. I now have a small degree of power. I’m mindful not to abuse it, but there’s always a risk – especially in the current climate – that an off-the-cuff comment could lead to trouble. What do you do?

For the record, I do not work at a pharmaceutical company. But I do work in an office, and like any office, it’s riven with sexual tension. This, paired with the power debate, prompted one of the narrative threads before the whole Harvey Weinstein thing broke. I don’t know if it now looks like I’m trying to cash in on the zeitgeist here, or simply being exploitative. But some of the interactions I have witnessed – none nearly as extreme as the majority of scenes depicted in Retail Island – have made me scrutinise what goes on in workplace environments, and what people accept despite feeling uncomfortable.

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I have a broad guideline for writing: observe everything, then leave 85% out. I adhered to this while composing Retail Island. The omissions provided space for the fiction. And beneath a more serious, genre-sculpted work than my previous efforts, all of the elements which featured previously are still present, just in a different form.

The use of repetition is much more subtle than in several of my previous works: instead of replicating phrases and scenes wholesale, a la Stewart Home (in turn appropriating Richard Allen) the repetitions are more narrative-based, with scenes and ideas seemingly looping, with a view to creating a sense of temporal dislocation. Think Alain Robbe-Grillet, perhaps. In keeping with the way the central character, Robert Ashton, feels he is constantly stonewalled and making no progress, so the narrative continually returns the reader to appoint of stasis and frustration.

As with all of my works, despite possessing a linear narrative and adhering broadly to many literary conventions, genre trappings and all (I’ve completely avoided any form of cut-up here), the ultimate aim of Retail Island is frustration (to a greater or lesser extent). But hopefully, the brutal violence, gratuitously detailed sex scenes (which are actually integral to the plot as it happens), and explosions will provide enough entertainment to counter the frustration.

Retail Island is published by Clinicality Press on 1 January 2018. It’s available to order now via THIS LINK.

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2016: A Year in Books

When I’m not writing, raging in public or watching live music while supping beer, I like to read. For those who care, and also those who don’t, and for my own posterity, here’s a list of the books I’ve rad or re-read in the last 12 months.

 

Derek Raymond – The Devil’s Home on Leave

Chuck Palahniuk – Beautiful You

William S. Burroughs – The Electronic Revolution

Nicholson Baker – The Anthologist

Mickey Spillane – The Long Wait

William Gibson – Neuromancer

Ed McBain – Axe

Joseph O’Neill – The Dog

Paul Scott-Bates – Hitting the Black Wall

Edward Bunker – Stark

Douglas Coupland – Girlfriend in a Coma

Richard Stark – Parker

Peter York Dictators’ Homes

JG Ballard – Kingdom Come

Derek Raymond – How the Dead Live

Chuck Palahniuk – Make Something Up

John Niven – The Sunshine Cruise Company

AD Hitchin – Consensual

Colin Wilson – The Mind Parasites

Charles Bukwoski – Ham on Rye

J S Gordon – Life Pervert

HP Lovecraft – Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre

Dennis Lewis – The Fevered Hive

Ellis Johnson – Peep Book

David Peace – Nineteen Seventy Seven

Michel Houellebecq – Submission

Derek Raymond – A State of Denmark

David Peace – Nineteen Eighty

Dashiel Hammett – The Maltese Falcon

Ed McBain – Give the Boys a Great Big Hand

Laura A Munteanu – Street Dog Music

Harry Harrison – Wheelworld

Brett Easton Ellis – The Informers

Ed McBain – Cut Me In

Glen Taylor (ed.) – More Exhibitionism

David Peace – Nineteen Eighty Three

Underground / Overground (Again): Taking the Rage Off the Road

I’ve spent most of the last three years purpsefully avoiding publication. It may seem perverse, but there you have it: the idea behind the Rage Monologues was to work on an open-ended project which was about immediacy.

The pieces were penned to be performed in public, and not really to be read in private. The nature of the material and the performance fed into one another synergetically: I wanted to create visceral, raw material to be performed in the most uncompromising, uncomfortable style: each performance was different, with edits being made before each show, meaning the monologues were not fixed, but in constant development, and performed in a fashion which would have an impact. I wasn’t concerned about that impact being positive, and over time, I’ve lost any anxiety about being poorly received: I would rather people walk out in disgust than be impartial or disinterested,  or simply find myself amongst the infinite spoken worders whom audiences would likely consider adequate but forgettable.

Not publishing and keeping the monologues as something which existed only in the moment and in the ether was a deliberate act of rebellion: going offline and making the work available to only a limited audience was  intended to be subversive, a middle finger to globalisation, and ‘the process’: write, publish, tour, or similar. The fact the pieces weren’t published meant the only means by which they were aailable was at performances. A sense of exclusivity so often builds anticipation and can the the key to a cult reputation, and I took the monologues to some substantial audiences at respected – and packed – spoken word nights, wth some major highlights being in Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester.

The rock concert analogy is a fitting one: band shift more merchandise after a strong show: the punters have usually consumed booze and are ‘in the moment’. But ending a set and shuffling off with nothing to sell proved problematic, especially given that as an individual (and , as a writer, a relative unknown) with a full-time job and a young family, my touring actities were – and remain – limited to spoken word night slots in places I could reach, and return from, by train on an evening – and a sale or two afte a performance can go some way to mitigating travel costs, not being a writer who commands ‘guest speaker’ or ‘headline’ slots (and I like it that way, and find ‘guerilla’ appearancs to unsupectin crowds are generally more effective than spouting to a crowd already familiar with my work, which is no way for an author to grow a readership).

And so, while the primary objective of the project remains unchanged, I’m aware that making my work unvailable to practically the entire world is self-defeating. While I would love to perform at evety spkoen word night in every city around the globe, it’s not going to happen. And while going underground as an artistic statement is fine, and keeping things clandestine is cool, rendering one’s work inaccssible and unavilabe can be, to an extent, self-defeating. So this happened: a proper book and e-book, published by Clinicality Press – available at spoken word performances and globally for those who can’t attend live events in the north of England (click on the image to purchase).

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And if you’d like me to bring the rage to a spoken word night near you, then of course do get in touch…

Rage on the Road: Updated

As mentioned in my previous post, I don’t intend to make a big deal of my spoken-word performances this year. I’m not trying to drum up support among those already familiar with my work. Taking turns at spoken-word nights where I can get them is a strategy for reaching a new (unsuspecting) audience. And no doubt scaring / irritating / offending people. But for those familiar with my work who do like the idea of seeing a bloke rave like he’s having a breakdown in front of an audience in the name of entertainment / performance art, prospective dates are as follows:

27th April 2016: Leeds: Verbal Remedies @ Verve Bar, 19:30

29th April 2016: Sheffield: Scribble @ The Shakespeare, 19:00

13th May 2016: York: Speakers’ Corner @ The Golden Ball, 19:30

29th June 2016:Manchester: Bad Language @ Castle Hotel, 19:30

 

Hopefully there will be more to announce shortly. Meanwhile, here’s a taste:

 

Closing the Floodgates: 5 Days and Counting Down

So, the 29 days of February are inching to a close.At midnight on the 29th, my 29 Days of February project will be terminated, and the pamphlet / ebook containing the short stories ‘Something Must Break’ and ‘Dream of the Flood’ will be deleted. There will be no republication, so the number of copies in circulation will be limited to the number of copies sold during the 29 days.

Here’s a brief excerpt from ‘Dream of the Flood’. Purchase links are at the bottom.

 

As the car alarms squealed and wailed outside under the cover of darkness and following earlier reports of power outages, the lack of contact with the outside world began to gnaw at me in ways I had not anticipated. I was ok, my home was safe, as was my immediate family, but my family and friends further afield had nothing to go by but the news media, and had no means of reaching us, nor I they.

I made my way out, for the second time that day, into the street. It was unusually quiet, although I had to remind myself that Christmas often brought a strange silence to the streets. The traffic was minimal, and I passed but a handful of pedestrians as I took my circuitous route to the river, rediscovering a mobile phone network on the way. It wasn’t until I drew near the approach to the river than I encountered any density of people: groups were hovering at the end of the road, and they had clearly made their way there with the intention of observing the floods, just as I had. Clusters of three or four, all wearing wellington boots, stood at the edge of, or even waded into, the water which had crept beyond the point at which the road ended and the fields began: the bollards, with their reflectors, were largely submerged, and the famed Millennium Bridge, opened in 2000, began some 30 metres away from the edge of the expanded river edge.

 

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The blurb:

‘Something Must Break’: A dissonant tale of mental fragmentation and duality.

‘Dream of the Flood’: A meditation on climate change and possibilities of the near future, of human interaction and solipsism.

Together, these two pieces represent Christopher Nosnibor’s more literary side as he continues to explore narrative forms and voices.

The links:

Purchase the print edition here.

Purchase the e-book here.

Something Must Break (Excerpt)

Did he jump or was he pushed? The suicide continued to play on his mind. Not because he cared, but because he couldn’t help but wonder. What could possibly drive a man to take his own life? Could things really be that bad? Steve opined that this question was an absurdity, knowing full well that they could, and often were. Ever since university, Steve’s perspective on self-immolation were subject to a questioning, a cynicism that he didn’t like to rationalise. Back in uni, he’d shared a house with some dropout waster who’s succeeded in becoming a raging alcoholic by the second semester of their second year. They’d started out as friends in the first year, but Adrian had become increasingly erratic in his behaviour, and at some point entirely gave up on sobriety. Before long, he had almost ceased being human. He had probably needed help, but Steve was in no position to offer sympathy. He had his own troubles, for starters. So when Adrian went into the self-pitying mode, sobbing about how no-one loved him, about how he was a loser and a waste of space, and how he might as well be dead, Steve hadn’t bothered to contradict him.

‘Why don’t you just fucking kill yourself?’ he had hissed venomously.

‘You’d fucking love that, wouldn’t you?’ the twat had spat through a veil of tears and saliva during many of his drink-induced crying jags. ‘One day, I will, and it’ll be on your fucking conscience.’

‘Fine. As long as I don’t have to look at you in this state, or listen to any more of your self-absorbed, wallowing, self-pitying bullshit or step in any more of your fucking puke around the house, I can live with the guilt,’ Steve had replied on more than one occasion. He’d been ice cold in his delivery. He’d fucking meant it.

Eventually, after repeated instruction to fuck off and die, Adrian had done as he had been bid. It had been Steve who had discovered him, slumped in his room, a bloated mess of vomit and early decomposition. The housemates had all gone home for reading week. Steve had been the first to return and was perplexed to find the front door unlocked. Everything had seemed normal, other than the house being vacant, or so it had appeared. Shrugging, he had unpacked, prepared himself some food and watched television for a while, before growing curious.

On discovering the corpse, he had been fascinated and repelled in equal measure. Pity hadn’t entered his emotional range, and the sadness he felt in his chest was no more than a fleeting pang. He had called the police, and then poked a boot into the dead fucker’s ribs. Waster. He was no real loss.

The coroner had concluded a verdict of suicide on account of there being no sign of forced entry or anyone else present, and vast quantities of alcohol and barbiturates residual in the bloodstream of the deceased. Steve had snapped a handful of photographs before the services had arrived and removed the body from the premises.

 

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Something Must Break / Dream of the Flood are available in print and e-book format from 1 February 2016 to midnight on 29 February 2016.

The blurb:

‘Something Must Break’: A dissonant tale of mental fragmentation and duality.

‘Dream of the Flood’: A meditation on climate change and possibilities of the near future, of human interaction and solipsism.

Together, these two pieces represent Christopher Nosnibor’s more literary side as he continues to explore narrative forms and voices.

The links:

Purchase the print edition here. (Enter code LULURC at checkout to receive 25% discount and free priority shipping on qualifying orders)

Purchase the e-book here.