Review: Playing Chicken With Thanatos by Díre McCain (Apophenia Books)

I had the great and rare privilege of reading a manuscript version of this book some time ahead of its final draft and subsequent publication. Then, it had a different working title and a number of changes would follow which made tracing some of the identities of the real-life characters who populate the book rather more difficult. But even in its not-quite complete stage, I was struck by a number of things, not least of all the vibrancy of the narrative, the immediacy of it all, how relatable and accessible the narrator was.

Now, I’ve known the author – virtually, at least, and over Skype – for a number of years: under the auspices of co-founders Díre McCain and D M Mitchell, Paraphilia Magazine generously published my work from the very first issue at a time when no-one else would (a situation that continues, if the truth be known) and have been immensely supportive through the years, long before I clambered aboard as a contributing editor. Díre also graced the Clinical, Brutal anthology I edited for Clinicality Press in 2010 with a piece that was stunning, not to mention truly brutal. So I had an inkling of her abilities as a writer, and indeed of her turbulent formative years. But none of this could have really prepared me for her autobiographical novel.

It’s everything you want from a novel: the narrator drags you along on the journey: at times you sympathise, at others, not so much, but that’s how it is with friends, you take the rough with the smooth. It’s the raw honesty of Díre’s narrative, delivered in a strong, individual voice, that’s so compelling and so human that means you forgive, and you worry about what will happen, you’re there in the moment.

It’s also the fact that however bad things get, however badly she’s treated and however low she sinks, she never plays ‘the victim’, and herein lies the book’s greatest strength: she just tells it straight, and never uses sensationalism to detail sensational events. In this way, Playing Chicken With Thanatos doesn’t sit with the contemporary vogue for memoir, but instead belongs to a strain of classic American autobiographical reportage: Bukowski’s Post Office springs to mind; Jack Black’s You Can’t Win; Burroughs’ Junky, and from over the pond, Colin Wilson’s Adrift in Soho and Terry Taylor’s Baron’s Court, All Change. What all these books share is an episodic approach to storytelling and a lack of pretence.

There are moments that are utterly terrifying, and the happy-go-lucky easy rollin’ of teen experimentation with whatever substances are on offer takes a turn into extremely dark territories, and the later sections of the book are indeed harrowing. But it’s by no means a depressing book: even through the bleakest sections, the way the words simply flow is a joy, and the author’s sharp intellect and extensive vocabulary set Playing Chicken With Thanatos leagues apart from any drug-addled confessional. And, despite placing a clear distance between her past and present, at no point does Playing Chicken With Thanatos become a vehicle for anti-drug rhetoric, high moralisation or preaching: the fact Díre doesn’t insult the reader’s intelligence – or mar the narrative – with such interjections is another aspect of what makes this book such a great read.

It’s from a purely objective mindset that I say that this book is special, bursting with life and emotional resonance and that for these reasons I give it my strongest recommendations. So do as the preface bids: ‘fasten your fucking seatbelt and hold the fuck on….’

 

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Link: http://www.paraphiliamagazine.com/diremccain/playing-chicken-with-thanatos/

 

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

Too Busy to Blog!

For many writers – both accomplished and aspiring – a common obstacle to productivity is inspiration. Most people run dry at some point. It’s not a brag when I say that this isn’t a problem for me: no, my real problem is time. There simply isn’t enough, and there are only so many ways to stretch it.

Over the past few years, a fair few people have asked me how I manage to maintain my output, how I find the time. The answer has always been that I make time, and type quickly. But then, every now and again, it becomes insustainable, and when it does, something’s gotta give.

I didn’t set out to become a music writer: it was something I once dreamed off, made a few stabs at and did on a very part-time and voluntary basis for a couple of local and regional papers back in the early 90s before giving it up. My applications to music papers for paid work had been unsuccessful, to the extent that none of them had even bothered to reject me, and I decided it was simply too competitive for me, a person who’s not particularly competitive by nature. Moreover, not given to being all that outgoing, and steadfastly refusing to suck up or otherwise ingratiate myself, I decided music journalism wasn’t the career for me. I was 25, working full time and studying at the same time, and in my spare time, attempting to carve out a novel. I was going to be a proper writer!

It took another five years to get my first book, Bad Houses out into the world, and the novel I had been working on, Exiled in Domestic Life, along with its sequel, Rusty Bullet Wounds, remains languishing, unpublished. Still, a lot’s happened since then, and while I have received some help and support – not to mention invaluable exposure – from people who I’ve encountered along the way, my weekly blog on MySpace did contribute considerably to whatever readership I achieved.

People are always going on about the importance of maintaining a blog as a means of building and maintaining one’s profile, and at the time, it seemed that they were right, but when the MySpace community dissolved before my eyes, so the hits to my blog plummeted. Rebuilding a readership from scratch just felt like too much effort for questionable reward, and by this time I had begun reviewing for Whisperin’ and Hollerin’, something I had fallen into quite by accident, but it felt good to be reviewing again. It had been noticeable that the reviews I had posted on my blog had been the least successful by miles, receiving half the hits of my rants. Having a proper outlet for the reviews was an extremely positive thing, and besides, it meant that even if I wasn’t being paid, I was getting free CDs and entry to gigs – plus being able to say that I was a writer for a recognised site meant I was able to approach PR companies directly and have them add me to their mailing lists. This meant even more freeness.

At present, I’m managing to review approximately half of the stuff I get sent, and given that I’m kicking out an average of one to two reviews per day, you can get an idea of just how much the reviewing gig’s grown in the last couple of years. But I don’t want to be known simply as a music writer: I do still write fiction, after all, and have some pretty hefty projects in the works, with the story ‘Corrupted from Memory’ which appears in the new Paraphilia anthology A Dream of Stone being the first of a new wave of fairly dense pieces penned recently.

Then there are the interviews. I’d be daft to turn down the chances I’ve had to meet up with various bands, or to conduct email interviews with Malcolm McNeill and JG Thirlwell. They’re once in a lifetime opportunities. None of them came about because of my blogging, though, and finding the bile to spew out a weekly rant in a blog just wasn’t something I had in me.

The discipline of maintaining a regular blog is healthy for a writer, primarily because it’s so easy to procrastinate, defer and postpone: a commitment to produce a piece each day or week can be a great motivator and can provide the impetus to knuckle down to writing and attempt something new. By the same token, it can all too easily become an obstacle to producing anything else, with the main work becoming sidelined by the thing that’s supposedly a mode of liberation and promotion. Moreover, in churning out pieces on not only a regular but a frequent basis, it’s easy for the quality of output to suffer and to find yourself saying the same thing. If it gets boring to write, it’s going to be equally boring to read: if and when that moment arrives, it’s time to quit.

I had other reasons to quit, or at least cut back though: well, something had to give. I’m no longer studying, but am still working full-time and then some. I can’t not: there are bills to pay, and very few writers actually get to make a living from it. Besides, getting to teach English Literature to undergraduates, albeit on a part-time basis, is often rewarding, but make no mistake, it’s hard work, especially in conjunction with holding down another job at the same time. So how do I find the time to write? Make time, and type fast, of course. But without blogging, at least as often. Has it damaged my readership? No, I don’t think so, and while I receive more hits to my site via searches for ‘Christopher Nonsibor reviewer’ and Christopher Nosnibor Whisperin and Hollerin’, I still get the same number who arrive at my site having searched for ‘Christopher Nosnibor writer’ or for one of my books (more often than not THE PLAGIARST).

But then, I’ve recently found myself wondering if maintaining a blog is as important as it used to be – not just for me, but in general. I still read voraciously, but the number of blogs I read has diminished, and I instead prefer to read a small number irregularly, rather than a large number regularly, partly because many of the blogs I follow tailed off around the same time I allowed my blogging activity to become less of a feature of my writing output. Is the golden age of blogging over? Does it really matter? A world in which everyone has a blog is a cluttered one, but shouldn’t be mistaken for a well-informed one. Knowledge may well equal power to an extent, but with no shortage of blogs brimming with ill-informed opinions and even outright hateful propaganda receiving ample traffic, it would equally appear that misinformation is power, and besides, who cares about what you’re saying as long as you’re popular. The interest in celebrity blogs and Tweets remains unabated. Ok, so bloggers like myself (i.e. the authors of the blogs I like to read) are never going to be in competition with these ‘celebrity’ retards, and never were, but there comes a time when pissing in the wind stops being fun and simply becomes a thankless slog.

For me, the blog always served a dual function: to vent or to comment on the things I had no other outlet for doing so, and, if I’m honest as an indirect means of promotion. Now, I have other channels for both promotion and venting, and besides, I’ve come to the conclusion that the world only needs so many producers of culture and of comment, given that there are only so many consumers. Personally, I try to do both, but it’s hard to consume while producing. It’s simply impossible to read an article and write one at the same time. So, while I continue to work on the job of perfecting a clone or two to enable me to multitask more effectively, the blogs will remain on the back burner while I crack on with the real work…

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

A Dream of Stone (and Other Ghost Stories), edited by D M Mitchell and Dire Mccain is out now in the US through Paraphilia Books.