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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True Journalistic Integrity: Keeping it Real

Occasional Guardian writer and former Melody Maker journo Everett True says it best on his website profile, which reads as follows:

“My name is Everett True. I am a music critic. This is what I do. I criticise music. The clue is in my job description – music critic. I do not consider myself a journalist, as I do not research or report hard news. I do not consider myself a commentator as I believe that everyone should be a participant. I criticise people and in return I am not surprised if other people criticise me. It is part of the whole deal of being in the public arena. I am Everett True. Believe in me and I have power like a God. Quit believing in me and I no longer exist.”

 

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Everett True: the man who ‘discovered’ Nirvana knows how to be critical 

 

It was reading Melody Maker from around 1987 and onwards through the early 90s that made me want to be a music writer (not a journalist per se, but someone who writes about music)I always preferred MM to the NME because the writing always struck me as being far superior, more intelligent – and when it wasn’t overtly intelligent, its parodic columns and humour amused me no end. I owe a great deal to the paper’s contributors for introducing me to or piquing my interest in so many bands – and also for making me realise just how many ways there were to dismantle a release with an all-guns-blazing slating review.

The first time I tried out as a music reviewer, I submitted a sample piece to the Lincolnshire Echo who were looking for a contributor. A live review of a local band that very weekend, it was pretty brutal. I got a call from the music editor within days. He loved it. I got the ‘job’ (I say ‘job’ because it was unpaid). It was unlike your regular local paper review: it wasn’t pedestrian or polite, and instead took is cues from the national music press, and I’d gone all out to show could write and be critical and creative at the same time. I’d never expected it to land in the public domain, but the editor loved it so much he ran it that very week. For the first time in the paper’s history, a music review received letters of complaint, as well as compliment. Some found my brand of music criticism refreshing. Others thought it was simply horrible and nasty. I was torn between a sense of guilt and gleeful delight. It was awkward and uncomfortable, but I soon came to terms with the fact that what I had written was the review I had wanted to write. There was little point in writing if not to be read, and I’d have to deal with any consequences of that. Besides, it would be shameful hypocrisy to think a critic should be above criticism themselves.

It wasn’t the first time something I had penned had stirred things up. During first year of GCSE studies, I had come up with the idea of writing a gossip column based on my schooling peers: a friend with a computer had helped facilitate the publication, which was distributed by hand to select individuals. The second or third issue of The Parish News was produced during the summer holidays, so I decided to post them to people. Unfortunately, one recipient shared an initial with her mother, who on opening and reading the little zine, took umbrage to references to her daughter’s ‘tight jumpers’ and called the police, who came round to my house to give me a ticking off and insisted I cease publication.

I didn’t, of course. I was simply more careful about my distribution methods from thereon in. it seemed ironic, though, that of all of the things that could have caused offense, what got me into trouble was someone reacting disproportionately to something extremely minor.

And so it’s been throughout my career (such as it is) as a writer, and in particular as a music critic. On one occasion, a ‘find and replace’ typo error on an artist’s name prompted the artist to declare me a ‘moron’ on Twitter and resulted in a deluge of comments from fans decrying my piece ‘the worst review ever written’. I doubt they’d have been quite as bothered if I hadn’t been giving a 5-star review that described the songs as ‘contrived’ and ‘twee’.

Another less than complimentary review of another act provoked a single reader’s one-word comment: ‘cunt’, while parodic pieces penned on the death of Michael Jackson and the evolution of Linkin Park’s sound elicited a tidal wave of declarations of how dumb I was, with the former article bombarded by irate commenters telling me that Michael wasn’t really dead.

But more often than not, as was the case with the ‘contrived’ review, it’s the criticisms of the lesser acts that cause the greatest antagonism. Maybe it’s because in some cases, niche / cult acts have the more ardent fans. In other instances, I can’t help but wonder if it’s the friends and parents of those little bands who can’t believe anyone would have a bad word to say about them.

And so it was when I received an email from a harassed editor, who’d had to fend off some heavy threats from a certain label / management company in light of a less than complimentary review I’d penned of one of their bands’ releases.

I’d said the production was lousy and the songs generic. I’d said they’d be huge, at least for a while. But what sealed it was that I’d referred to them as ‘fuckers’ and ‘dismal twats’. The complainants wanted the review pulled. My editor, thankfully, refused. But what they seemed to object even more than the grim two stars were my chosen descriptors, and they threatened to take the matter further. Needless to say, said review was hurriedly cut and all the rest and a crisis was averted.

I have no difficulty is understanding why they were unhappy with the review, of course. But was a crappy review by a reviewer who very few people pay attention to on a small indie website really likely to damage the band’s sales or reputations? It wasn’t as though I’d written anything genuinely damaging. Their many fans, if any of them bothered to read my review, would likely dismiss me as a grouchy crank.

The heavy-handed threats and forced retraction, then, were tantamount to censorship. And this is where things get difficult. Matters of ‘free speech’ and ‘free press’ are hot topics in the wake of the phone hacking scandal and in light of the recent rise in right-wing extremism and rising tensions amidst religious militants around the globe. I understand that with freedom of speech comes responsibility, and I would never incite hatred or violence, even in jest. To do so would be dangerous and irresponsible. But to slam a band… that’s another matter entirely. By putting their music out there, they’re automatically opening themselves to critical analysis. Let’s also be clear here: they – the band’s ‘people’ who are acting on behalf of the band and therefore represent them and their interests – saw that their music came my way, which is essentially asking for my opinion. And I gave it. This wasn’t some unprovoked attack and it wasn’t exactly ‘personal’ in the true sense. It was just a rather fiery review in which they opinion I gave was negative, i.e. not the one they wanted to hear. While I doubt – or at least like to believe – they wouldn’t have been too affronted by negative comments on a forum posted by the member of the public, as a music critic it’s surely my prerogative to criticise, at least provided I justify my criticism, which I did, with reference to the material and production, amongst other things. So why the furious reaction? It wasn’t as if I’d fallaciously accused them of being Nazi sympathisers or paedophiles. I would challenge them to prove in court that they’re not ‘dismal twats’.

I therefore feel we’re on dangerous ground, not with the ‘free speech’ debate (here, at least, although those who use it as a means of justifying sending threats of death and rape on social networking sites are over the dangerous ground and into the domain of the prosecutable) but in terms of media manipulation through fear. Little zines and zero-budget websites can’t afford lawyers. But if the threat of litigation means it’s possible to ensure only positive reviews are published, what of free speech and journalistic integrity then? Moreover, have we really come to this? Where will it end? I expect if I stick with it long enough, I’ll find out… Meanwhile, whatever happened to simply sending a turd in the mail?

 

Criticising the Critics Criticising the Critics: An Exercise in Infinite Reflexivity and Getting Hip

So I recently stumbled upon a piece that was ostensibly a review of a gig I’d attended and reviewed, but with the secondary purpose of dismantling my review.

The writer, one Patrick Lee attacked my write-up from a number of well-considered angles, but it seems that the primarily provocation, to which he took particular exception, was my observation regarding the number of trendy hipster bozos in attendance (in fairness, relatively small) and the fact they talked incessantly (thus more than compensating for their number in terms of volume and level of irritation caused).

What I actually said, in the middle of a glowing review of all 4 acts performing that night, was, “Granted, a band as hot as White Firs are going to attract more than their fare share of hipster hangers-on, and the duffel-coat wearing popped-collar brigade are out in full force tonight, standing right at the front talking loudly and posturing hard. Forget ‘em. it’s all about the music…”

His response – suggesting he didn’t read the entire piece – was to get uppity about the duffel coat diss (I’d add that I was wearing a fleece under a jacket under a leather coat, because it was cold and I need the pockets to carry my pad / camera / beer / ego, but of course, I like to be inconspicuous at gigs and so not only to I keep out of the way but I keep my trap shut) and to defend talking throughout Bull’s set (I wouldn’t know if he jabbered on through the headliners’ set because I moved to get away from the hipster bozos who’d been standing directly in front of me).

He begins by saying ‘I think I might have been (depending on the time of the paragraph taking place) one of the “hipster hangers-on”, and whereas I am, I think, borderline complimented by this, I do take exception to the duffel-coat criticism, wanting to take the chance here to express admiration both for the duffel coat itself, and for those daring enough to wear it inside at a gig as “hot” as the one The White Firs produced.’

I’d also note here that neither of the places which have published Patrick’s piece (in Vibe as ‘Notice the form, or, Looking up at music culture from the underground’ and One&Other under the more descriptive and succinct title ‘Review: White Firs at Nichely Does It’) include links or even proper credits to my own original review which appeared at Whisperin’ and Hollerin’ and this, it has to be said, is poor form. But what’s considered good etiquette clearly isn’t a part of his agenda and may not even feature in his cognisance.

More pertinently, only a narcissist of the highest order would find any way of converting my criticism into a commentary, and then to admit to a) being one of the ‘characters’ so depicted b) being complimented (borderline or otherwise) transcends narcissistic egotism and borders on sociopathy. But then, such is the arrogance of the hipster. Pretentious, moi? I’m so cool, of course he’s writing about me… At this point, Patrick turns my criticism around a full 180 degrees to reveal that in fact, it is I who is in the wrong for being so misguided as to complain about their incessant chatter, writing,

‘to criticise those voicing an opinion during bands like Bull and The White Firs would be an error. Daring to pursue, tackle, render lifeless and then begin a post-mortem on this error is, as noted, daring, as splitting open an ugly error of such bizarre and complex proportions is likely to result in being covered in surgical smelling entrails; but, dragged here as we have been, we might as well cover ourselves in the grizzly innards of the thing, and hopefully be left cathartically and metaphorically cleansed by the end. A crucial question has been left unasked by the typical, cliché-ridden reviewer of music: What do The White Firs do?’

What do White Firs do? I think I covered that, actually, because I make a point of providing objective reviews that actually say what bands sound like and what they ‘do’ on whatever level people who’ve not heard the band may be interested in knowing about. Again, this furthers my theory that Patrick’s protracted exposition was a knee-jerk reaction to the second paragraph, and he was so incensed and overwhelmed he was compelled to spill his effusive verbiage instantaneously without taking the time to read on.

I feel a degree of empathy here. I too sometimes struggle to contain the urge to splurge when it comes to committing words to the (virtual) page, although I do think it’s poor form to dismantle a piece of writing without having read all of it. There’s a grave danger of appearing reactionary and ill-informed, after all. More importantly, my piece doesn’t have any pretence of being anything other than a review. It’s a short article, not a feature. I produce over 400 reviews a year. There isn’t the time to pick apart every fibre of every band’s being, and nor would I wish to even if there were. I don’t care what White Firs ‘do’ in terms of their being some kind of mega-influential cultural phenomenon. Not yet, anyway.

So when I wrote that ‘During their blistering set that ratcheted up both the volume and intensity of the night, they proved themselves to be in a different class altogether. With a rock-solid rhythm section (drummer Jack Holdstock occupied the stool for now-defunct but hotly-tipped garage noisemongers The Federals) providing the pulsating heart of the sound and the essential foundations for the fuzzed-out guitar attacks, they’ve got the swaggering Stooges sound absolutely nailed,’ I think I gave a few hints about what they ‘do’.

In fairness, hipster wordsmith Patrick Lee is writing with a different purpose. His angle, while writing on music and culture, in this piece, is to consider the nature of music reviewing, and there are many who believe that reviewing is a frankly pointless exercise. Fair enough, but in my experience both as a reader and writer of reviews, I’ve found that people come to respect the opinions of certain reviewers, and discover a lot of new bands they otherwise wouldn’t have because of the acts those reviewers provide exposure to.

It’s notable that a number of people have complained that they’ve never heard of any of the bands I review. As far as I’m concerned, that’s precisely the purpose of my reviews. Everyone already has an opinion on U2, Radiohead, Madonna, Coldplay, the household names and acts they have heard of, and there’ll be no short of coverage of their latest album in everything from The Guardian to the NME via The Sun and Q, not to mention every last website you might care to look. I find it much more gratifying – and culturally useful – to put word out about unknown and lesser known bands. And it’s for this reason I place such emphasis on description. Again, by way of example, another excerpt from my review of White Firs.

Danny Barton’s vocals have a nonchalant drawl about them, but still carry a melody and delivery some tidy pop hooks. Meanwhile, brother James churns out thumping basslines as cool as you like, while occasionally throwing in some shouty backing vocals. For all the overdriven noise blasting from the amps and the PA, it’s clear they’ve got a keen ear for a tune, their appreciation of Big Star shining through the squall of feedback.’

I’d also add that I tend to keep my style simple and direct, not because I’m incapable of flourish-filled purple prose, but because, well, who needs it? I love seven-line sentences and paragraphs that extend beyond three pages more than most of my work reveals, but by the same token, I do make every effort not to produce slabs of text so sense with descriptors as to lose even the most articulate of readers – an my own meaning – before the first semicolon. Postmodern society’s alienating enough without needlessly alienating the bulk of any potential readership before you’ve even said anything. Moreover, a good reviewer knows that their job is to convey what’s exciting about the band – and it’s all about the bands, not pushing my own agenda of convincing a publisher that they should indulge my literary aspirations by signing me up for a five-book deal which will see me rubbing shoulders with Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie and other heavyweight purveyors of literary fiction. Again, Lee’s reference points – Hemingway and Brett Easton Ellis – are telling in that they’re suitably literary (by which I mean they’re worthy namedrops for anyone with a casual interest in 20th Century literature) but reveal the author to be lacking in real knowledge of the field (Stewart Home makes for a much more pertinent and credible alternative to Ellis, and Lee could do far worse than acquaint himself with the exploratory prose of my own recent anti-novel, This Book is Fucking Stupid, if only to demonstrate just how firmly he’s got his finger on the pulse of the literary zeitgeist).

I’m practically bawling into my beer when I read his incisive summation of Bull, which pisses all over my my ‘tepid, cliche-ridden’ descriptions (being a typical music reviewer, I’m completely incapable of moving beyond such abysmal prose, while yearning to achieve flourishes comparable to his Paul Morley-esque circumlocution, brimming with esoteric verbosity dressed in endless frills. So when Mr Lee writes of ‘splitting open an ugly error of such bizarre and complex proportions’, it’s worth remembering the context. He’s writing about talking at a gig. And what’s more, he’s trying to defend it by pointing out that he was only saying good things about the bands. Good, clever things, too, unlike my simplistic, witless cliché things – which I at least had the decency to keep to myself until I’d left the venue. Put simply, Lee is making a pathetic and utterly misguided attempt to excuse the inexcusable and defend the indefensible by means of absurdly overinflated and exhausting prolix.

Of course, it all amounts to no more than pleonastic posturing. Fair enough. But please, next time you’re watching bands play, just shut the fuck up.

 

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A hipster at a gig, minus duffel coat. He’s so cool he’s hot and doesn’t need any tepid descriptions, dude.

 

 

 

Patrick Lee is a graduate from Goldsmiths College, University of London. He has written for Mint Magazine, International Relations, The Vibe and continues to write and edit fiction for Shabby Doll House. He enjoys music and film, and reading contemporary fiction, non-fiction and philosophy.

His profile pic features him, with a chick – thus illustrating his popularity and appeal to the opposite sex – with a paper or polystyrene beaker held in his mouth. What a bozo.

 

 

Christopher Nosnibor is a writing machine. He doesn’t feel the need to justify his existence by including his superior educational background in his biography and has written for more publications than her can be bothered to list.

He doesn’t have a profile picture, so no-one can identify him and beat the crap out of him when he’s dished out one of his more critical music reviews.

 

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

Who Are You Calling Stupid?

It’s probably fair to say I’m better known as a music reviewer than anything else. That isn’t to say I’m at all ‘well known’, but everything’s relative. The fact is that my ‘bread and butter’ writing emerges in the form of music reviews. This is primarily on account of the fact that I always wanted to be a music journalist and my first published pieces were reviews which appeared in local and regional inkies in the early 90s when I was in my late teens and early twenties and now I’m living the dream of getting more free music than I can listen to. I might not actually be getting paid, but that’s rather beside the point. I’m doing something I enjoy, which is something very few people can say with absolute sincerity, and consequently it seems daft to stop. Nevertheless, I’m also a writer of fiction, and have had stories published here, there and, well, perhaps not everywhere, but I’ve also written a handful of books, to varying degrees of success. Again, success is a most subjective word, and again, everything’s relative.

My current project, which should emerge into the public sphere in the Summer, is entitled This Book is Fucking Stupid. It’s a surefire hit: of that I’m convinced. Of course, I’ve been equally convinced with previous works, but am at the same time aware that none of my work has even the remotest mainstream appeal.

My most successful book to date – by which I mean the one that’s sold the most copies – is THE PLAGIARIST, a book inspired by William S. Burroughs and Kenji Siratori. Sitting somewhere between Nova Express and Blood Electric, the book was billed as ‘a riot of experimentation’ and reflected my preoccupations with time, space, the limitations of conventional linear narrative and issues of ownership, copyright and ‘originality’. These same preoccupations provided the foundations for From Destinations Set, which explored the possibilities of presenting simultaneously occurring events and pushed the formal style of some of John Giorno’s poems to an extreme within a more overtly narrative context.

This left me with the question ‘what next?’ It isn’t that I won’t or don’t ‘do’ linear narrative, because I do, but it’s impossible to shake the feeling that I need to be pushing in new directions and to challenge myself and the conventions of ‘the novel’.

Inspiration hit around Christmas. Stewart Home had just posted a blog on the reader reviews of his books on the Goodreads website. One of the reviews of his novel 69 Things to Do With a Dead Princess proclaimed ‘this book is fucking stupid’. Now, sidestepping the samples of the atrocious fiction this ‘reviewer’ had available, I found myself further considering the difficult space that exists between author and reviewer that not only this review, penned by an ‘author’ highlighted, but which provides a core element of the novel in question. However, before these thoughts had begun to evolve in any tangible sense, I posted a comment that ‘this book is fucking stupid’ would make a great title for a book. Stewart posted a reply in agreement, saying ‘let’s see who can write it first!’

It doesn’t take much to get me going when the planets are correctly aligned, and while this may not have been a genuine challenge, I elected to set the writing of this very book as a challenge to myself, and the idea very soon fell together. I’d already written a novella that was languishing on my hard-drive. Destroying the Balance had been kicked out during an intensive spell immediately after I’d completed THE PLAGIARIST. Having completed it, I had felt it lacked something, being all too conventional, and so shortly after began chopping it up and rewriting the text to produce From Destinations Set, which rendered the positions of the two characters more explicitly separate and distinct. Although I was pleased with the result, if not the reception, which was the review equivalent of tumbleweeds blowing through the last one-horse town before the eternal Nowheresville desert, I felt that there was still something to be done with Destroying the Balance.

Like a number of works written around 2008-2009 – including ‘Corrupted from Memory’ which began life as a novella before being trimmed down to 17,000 words for publication in the Paraphilia Books Dream of Stone anthology late on in 2011 – Destroying the Balance took its title from a Joy Division song, namely ‘Passover’ from the second album Closer. It seemed fitting for a story that was centred around the uptight and carefully managed life of a suburban thirty something on the brink of a premature midlife crisis, given that the full lyric is ‘This is the crisis I knew had to come /Destroying the balance I’d kept’.

So, despite having used the text as the basis of From Destinations Set, I could still see scope for another radical overhaul within the context of what I had in mind, namely a book that was the absolute extreme of postmodern information overload and experimental, but in a different way from the books I had produced previously. After all, it’s very easy to write oneself into a cul-de-sac, and also to become stuck in a rut – not to mention becoming typecast as an author of inaccessible or difficult works of limited appeal. I was therefore conscious of a strong need to reign in the wild experimentalism of THE PLAGIARIST in order to repackage the dilemmas of the Postmodern Condition in a more broadly accessible format.

As with all of my works to date, the result is, in many respects, an abject failure. Yet this failure is equally a measure of success. While segments continue to circulate amongst reviewers and to be touted to periodicals to largely negative responses, the final version of the book continues to expand, and the project’s incorporation of all of the pre-release responses – the more negative the better – means that the book is creating its own anti-cult. This is precisely the inversion of all things – from literary tropes to the commodification of literature – that I had aspired to. Put simply, the whole purpose of This Book was (and I intentionally speak of it in the past tense despite the fact it remains to be completed) one of self-negation.

The premise of the avant-garde was to destroy all that preceded in order to create anew, and subsequently, postmodernism has devoted considerable time and energy proclaiming the death of practically everything. My objective was to create a work that killed postmodernism by beating it at its own game and producing a text that was entirely self-collapsing, and, more importantly, self-contained. Postmodern criticism has (arguably, contentiously) written itself into a self-negating web of endlessly cyclical (self-)analysis, while postmodern novels have taken self-reflexivity to a point that seemingly cannot be exceeded. And that was precisely my plan: This Book needed to not only contain everything that had and could be said about it, but to preemptively comment on it.

This book will eat itself. There really is no success like failure.

 

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

 

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