Work in Progress: An Excerpt

It’s been a while.

Music reviewing, the day-job, life… all of these factors have conspired to halt any ‘creative’ writing for some time now. The novel and sort story I had been working on ground to a halt, and a certain torpor set in, while I found myself running just to stand still during practically every waking hour. But I decided I needed to get my shit back together and resume writing. It wasn’t easy at first, but I did. Resuming work on the dystopian short story, with the working title ‘Retail Island’, it soon began to expand toward novella territory. In the space of three weeks, 3,000 words has expanded to almost 10,000: it’s a fair way off being finished, and it’s still very much a work in progress in every sense.

To give too much context at this juncture would likely to be to spoil it, and even the plot is still evolving. However, the structure – yes, there is one this time – is something of a return to the episodic form of my work before things shot off the rails in 2008 when I ‘assembled’ THE PLAGIARIST. So, the bare bones: Robert Ashton is hired as a consultant to work on a project at a pharmaceutical company whose office is located on the edge of a large out-of-town retail park. He soon becomes suspicious of the nature of the project and the company’s practices, and things swiftly turn strange and ugly.

An Opening

Saturday, the immense Primark store that had been under wraps and swarming with construction workers and fitters when Robert had landed at the retail park opened its doors to the public. The event was distinguished by queues not only at the checkouts, but in the aisles, on the forecourt as eager shoppers crowded and jostled to gain entry to the vast warehouse packed with sweatshop-manufactured clothing, and in the car parks as shoppers arrived in droves. Long before midday, the retail park’s parking spaces were all occupied, as were those of the neighbouring Asda and Sainsbury’s superstores, and many had simply abandoned their vehicles on the access roads, pavements and verges in and around the development. Robert had only ventured out to WH Smith to purchase a magazine and newspaper in order to sequester himself away in his hotel room for a day of rest, but even this brief excursion swiftly evolved into a major operation as he was forced to navigate by a wildly circuitous route and battle his way through the crowd which had spilled out to occupy a large area of the park.

“Hey!” a large woman in grey sweatpants and a voluminous T-shirt bearing the slogan ‘Whatchoo Lookin at…. Bitch?’ barked as Robert tried to inch his way through a conglomeration of milling shoppers. He glanced up automatically. She seemed to be staring straight at him, but assuming she must have been trying to get the attention of someone behind him, Robert glanced over his shoulder. “Yeah, you,” she said gruffly. “Where d’you fink you’re goin’?”

“I’m sorry?” Robert blinked.

“Yer will be,” she growled in response. “We been ‘ere fuckin’ ages waitin’ t’gerrin, so instead o’ pushin’ frough y’need t’wait yer turn.”

“Oh, right, I see,” Robert said. “In there?” he pointed toward Primark.

“Yeh. We was ‘ere first.”

“Of course. I was just trying to get through to get to WS Smith, I’m not going in there, so…”

“Yeah, fuckin’ right. I’ve ‘eard all kinds of excuses to push frough. ‘Meetin’ a family member. Lost kids. Member o’ staff. One guy even said ‘ee were a fuckin’ medic attendin’ a ‘mergency ‘cause someone’d passed out. As if! Cheeky fucker. So y’reckon I’m gunna buy that you wanna go to Smiffs?”

“But I do,” Robert protested.

“Yeah, fuck off out of it,” the woman snarled, bearing her teeth and revealing numerous gaps.

A burly man wearing similar attire – an England football shirt stretched over his gut – tattoos and shaven head stepped up, bristling. “You ‘eard the lady. Get the fuck out, you cunt.” Robert wasn’t so sure about the status of his antagonist as a lady, but didn’t have time to dwell on that as the thug stepped forward and shoved him hard in the chest. Robert stumbled back and was just able to keep his footing, but knocked into a woman who was trying to steer a pushchair through the dense forest of bodies.

“Excuse me!” she shouted coarsely in a 40-a-day voice.

“I’m sorry.”

“You will be,” she snapped. “You need to look where you’re going!”

Robert tried to explain, but had merely stammered a few unintelligible syllables before another man stepped up beside the woman and began berating him for being a ‘posho cunt’. Before he knew what was happening, Robert found himself knocked to the ground, and a tempest of fists and trainer-toed feet rained blows about his body. He curled himself tightly into a ball, and before long, following a foot to the skull, lost consciousness. The sound of the crowd faded as everything faded to black.

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On Promotion, or This Blog is Fucking Stupid

Christopher Nosnibor interviews Christopher Nosnibor about his latest novel, This Book is Fucking Stupid.

CN: So, another book out. How many’s that now?

CN: This is number six, although two are collections of short stories, there’s one novella and a collection of essays and miscellaneous prose works. This is only my second novel proper.

CN: You’ve also published a number of pamphlets and things too, haven’t you? You wrote over 400 music reviews last year, conducted a number of interviews, and still found time to produce several short stories. How do you maintain that kind of work rate?

CN: Yes, there are half a dozen pamphlets with my name on them. I just sit down, shut up and type. I’ve never lacked ideas. So for me, it’s not about ideas, it’s about discipline. Basically, I organise myself to produce something on a daily basis. It’s less about the creative process and more about the production, I suppose. I really am a writing machine, as advertised. It’s no mystery. I have a full-time job, too, but when I get home, rather than piss about and toss off to the telly, I knuckle down to some serious work. Hardly enigmatic or mysterious, I know, but that’s how it is. And if I need a break, I just set the clones to work in my absence. No-one ever seems to notice.

CN: Tell me about the clones.

CN: Like many people, I often wish I could be in more than one place at any give time, had more hours in the day, could do several things simultaneously. It’s one of the less overt themes in From Destinations Set. Cloning myself a little over a year ago eased the burden a little.

CN: The title of your latest novel, This Book is Fucking Stupid seems like a complete non-starter in commercial terms. Why did you pick suck a self-defeating title?

CN: There’s a certain valour in consigning oneself to failure, and a degree of glory in crashing and burning in a most spectacular fashion. But it has to be truly spectacular. Limping along and failing half-heatedly is the most pathetic of things to see. People are so competitive, it’s a cultural trait. I’ve seen shows on television – not that I’m big on watching television – where the parents in American families tell their children ‘there are two kinds of people: winners and losers, and no child of mine is going to be a loser’, and that kind of mentality really riles me. It’s not a uniquely American thing, though. My idea of rebellion is to devise strategies against this perpetual one-upmanship, which is also a key theme of the story that’s submerged within the book. So rather than make any attempt to compete on the same grounds as everyone else, I set my own objective, namely, if I can’t be the best, I want to be the absolute worst, and truly spectacular at it. With a title like This Book is Fucking Stupid, I’m giving myself a head start toward achieving the kind of commercial failure most losers could only dream of.

CN: You make it sound like you want to be the Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards of the literary world…

CN: To an extent, that’s exactly it. He wasn’t an athlete and never had any expectations beyond calamitous failure, yet he’s better known than most gold-medal winners, simply by virtue of being the absolute worst. So This Book is a double-bluff. The difference between me and Eddie is that while he couldn’t ski for toffee, I actually can write. I mean I’m a technically competent writer, I have a degree in English and the job I do to pay the bills is writing-based. The stuff I’ve produced like THE PLAGIARIST and This Book are written the way they are through choice, but a lot of people don’t seem to get that. I had a story rejected by a magazine not so long ago because they had issues with the way the tenses switched, completely missing the point that the (unreliable) narrator was wrestling with reflections of the past in the present. I’ve always maintained that a writer should learn the rules before breaking them. I know the rules and have produced work that follows them to the letter. In actual fact, the stuff I’ve done that I can’t get published or otherwise gets slated is the most technically correct, but because I’m using the rules against themselves, people just assume I’m clueless. This Book sidesteps all of that by shooting myself in the foot – repeatedly – before even leaving the house.

CN: You say that This Book is a double-bluff…

CN: Absolutely. And it’s working. By pitching it as the worst book ever – which I should point out is certainly isn’t, and despite what’s been said abut it by myself and various reviewers, it’s infinitely better on both a technical and conceptual level than the bulk of recent bestsellers – it’s almost guaranteed to arouse interest. People want to see the worst, or what they’ve heard is the worst – almost as much as they want to see the best. It’s a strategy that seems to be working, too. Only a month after publication, it’s already outsold its predecessor, From Destinations Set.

CN: The hype – in lieu of a more accurate word – seems to have been building for a while, and all seems to have been perpetuated by yourself. Was this an integral part of the strategy too?

CN: When I began promoting This Book is Fucking Stupid, the book didn’t exist, in that it was still very much a concept, and even as I began to post excerpts in my blog, it still didn’t exist as a book because it was far from complete. There was of course something appropriately and inherently stupid in the notion of promoting a book that didn’t exist, although this strategy meant that I had a real incentive to complete the work and get it out into the public domain to save face (the irony being that the finished work would be an act of commercial suicide that probably wouldn’t actually sell even when it did come into circulation. And so the layers of irony continued to build. And so eventually, This Book was published and the promotional machine at Clinicality kicked into overdrive and I went even more overboard in my labours of self-promotion. But being an ebook, we were still promoting a book that effectively didn’t exist, and in material terms, that’s still the case now.

CN: You posted a number of blogs explaining the writing process and the book’s function, and those blogs have in turn been incorporated within the text itself. Do you think you have a tendency to over-explain your work?

CN: Most definitely. I’ve written a fair few pieces explaining my works, probably in significantly more detail than most readers want, let alone need. I have an educational background in English Literature and it’s become second nature to examine text from a theoretical perspective, and my own texts are no exception. Besides, a lot of theoretical work informs my writing, but I’m aware that this isn’t generally all that apparent. Since no-one else is likely to analyse my output, there’s a sort of logic in doing it myself.

CN: Doesn’t that seem rather like a punk band sticking in a jazz number in the middle of a set just to prove they can play? It’s almost as if you feel the need to justify or defend your writing…

CN: I like that analogy, and maybe I do feel that need. Is it a lack of confidence? I dunno. Sometimes, perhaps. I think it’s important to differentiate between writing that intentionally transgresses the established boundaries of literature and writing that’s just plain bad, and it pains me when I’m accused of being a ‘bad’ writer when there are technical elements that are integral to what I’m doing that people miss. Take, for example, a story I wrote a while ago that was, essentially, about the way memory distorts time, and how a recollection of a past event, when experienced in the present, shifts the temporal position of that past event in some way. I tried it round a few on-line journals and zines and no-one would take it. One editor sent me a fairly lengthy email explaining the problems he had with it, the biggest being the way the tenses switched. It left me feeling frustrated because he’d completely missed the point. He’d also assumed that I simply didn’t ‘get’ tenses, rather than purposefully fucked about with them to achieve a specific effect.

I appreciate that some readers will find my technical focus and self-explication irritating, and in some ways, that’s one of my objectives. So I decided with This Book that I’d make the whole theory / practice thing not only explicit, but the subject of the text – or one of the key threads of the text, at least.

CN: Conceptually, it sounds extremely grand, but doesn’t it rail you into something of a dead end?

CN: Yes and no. The scope to expand the book with supplementary material, commentary and straightforward revisions is essentially infinite. That’s the whole point. Because of the nature of the text and the publishing arrangement, new editions can be pushed out as and when. Ten years hence it could run to five or six hundred pages in theory. Plus I’m not averse to new intros and cover art, numbered signed editions, anything else you care to name. Serialisation, a special hypertext edition, audiobook, film, a ‘making of’, anything, everything. By the same token, the point’s already been made simply by virtue of the book’s (virtual) existence, and the book is a dead end as of and in itself. Every book I’ve done to date is a dead end: THE PLAGIARIST was a dead horse long before I started flogging it. Burroughs said he’d taken the cut-ups to their limit by the end of the 1960s: Kenji Siratori effectively produced the same text more than a dozen times in a couple of years, and then I came along ad rehashed the whole thing with some third-hand theory mashed in. I’d dabbled with dual narratives – something already explored by John Giorno in the 60s, 70s and onwards, right into the 90s – again, with my own slant, and by the time I’d finished From Destinations Set I really don’t think there was much scope to take the form further. But at the risk of completely contradicting myself everything I do is concerned with pushing narrative in different directions, I’m not anti-narrative, and I’m not anti-plot, believe it or not. I’m just preoccupied with trying to find new and different ways of writing, and the form and content of my work is invariably intrinsically linked. There will always be new modes of narrative, it’s just a matter of exploring them. I consider that my role as a writer, not because I’m not a story-teller but because I want to render storytelling exciting again, and not in the obvious, conventional ways.

CN: This may seem like a really obvious question but isn’t interviewing yourself completely ridiculous?

CN: It is a really obvious question, and yes, of course it is. Again, that’s the whole point. It comes back to the fundamental premise of the book, that self-reflexivity and self-negation, and the idea that I’d rather provide the academic analysis for my own works – since I’m more than qualified to do so – rather than wait until I’ve been dead twenty years for someone to do it and make a hash of it – or not do it at all. I find it difficult to generate media interest and despite my best efforts, there queue of people waiting to interview me about my latest work never really builds up. And so interviewing myself seems the logical way to go. Plus, I can rely on myself to ask relevant, sensible questions, and if the questions I field aren’t relevant or sensible, I really have only got myself to blame.

CN: The self-interview does feel a little schizophrenic though…

CN: In Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari theorise that a schizophrenic mindset is the only same approach to capitalism. I’m inclined to agree. The only way to maintain a thread of sanity is to give oneself to madness.

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