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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Paul McKenna, Gnostic Bastard – The Power of Persuasion and the Great Hypnotic Con

Since the new year, there’s been a large poster on the bus shelter where I catch the bus to work each morning advertising Paul McKenna’s latest book, Hypnotic Gastric Band. The first time I saw this poster, bleary-eyed at 7:45 on January 7th, I misread the title looming out of the darkness at me as Gnostic Bastard. Having made this rather curious error, I’ve since had to force myself not to read it as such each subsequent morning. In order to do so, I’ve found myself staring long and hard at the hoarding, and each time with growing consternation.

The poster itself is fairly bland: a large image of McKenna’s book, with the title and subtitle (‘The New Surgery-Free Weight-Loss System’) at the top, and at the bottom, the deal-clinching information that there’s a ‘free CD and DVD’ with the book. This is the same text that appears on the book cover itself, meaning the same words appear twice on the poster. Since repetition is the most basic but often effective form of brainwashing, I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t some form of brainwash to make people go out and buy the book – beyond the overt premise of the poster being an advertisement and therefore designed for that explicit purpose, I mean.

The book’s cover itself is interesting. On the face of it, it looks like any other crappy mass-market self-help book. The typeface is plain and bold, clean white lines on a darker background. It says ‘empowerment’. McKenna’s face stares out of the cover. But whereas most self-help gurus wear an expression that shows tranquillity, assurance, confidence, trustworthiness, in a way that say ‘I understand your problems and your pain. I’ve been there. I’ve turned my life around and I can help you to do the same. Have faith. I’m not going to lie to you or fob you off. I’m happy with my life now, and with my help, you can be too’, McKenna’s gaze is focused on… you, of course. He’s looking into your eyes, into your very soul. It’s not a calm look of inner peace. He’s lasering straight into your brain.

You’re so engaged in eye contact with Paul that you don’t really notice that nebulous cloud of lights, a little like a cut-out-and keep magazine rendering of an astronomer’s chart, over his shoulder. It’s a little fainter than McKenna’s image and the strong text above and below.

Within this two-dimensional representation of a multi-faceted polygon, fainter still, is a pale blue sac with tubing above and below – a representation of a stomach, no less, with something resembling a belt pulled tight like a noose just above the top of the bulbous mid-section. This, of course, is a gastric band. Because you need to visualise that band, drawing tight around your intestine, restricting your capacity for food. You’re not hungry, you’re full, and if you eat any more that band will draw so tight and constrict your internal organ that you’ll die.

The image itself is curious and compelling in equal measure. On the one hand it’s quite obvious what its purpose is, there on the cover of the book. On the other, it’s rather weird. I mean, in short that it looks odd. Compositionally, representationally. A sanitised, pseudo-scientific representation of a bulging pouch of muscle in the lower reaches of the intestine in the middle of something not dissimilar from an architectural sketch of the done from The Crystal Maze. What is it saying, and precisely to whom is it speaking when it issues forth those enigmatic utterances?

The kind of people who don’t really consider what they’re consuming to the extent that they may require a gastric band are the kind of people who struggle to associate images of life-threatening obesity, enlarged organs and stupendous amounts of fat when they’re shown on television with their own ruined bodies. But this image on the cover… As I stand, waiting for my bus to arrive, music injected into my ears through my in-ear phones attached to my MP3 player, I find myself mesmerised and wondering as I’m drawn into the billboard, is the gastric band itself hypnotic?

Never mind how the ‘system’ works (note, it’s not a ‘diet’ – largely because any food intake is a diet and we’re looking specifically weight-loss diets here, but more to the point, ‘weight-loss system’ is a perfect example of pseudo-scientific meaninglessness), I find myself totally absorbed by the image. And then I remember it’s all utter bollocks. If it was as easy as all that for the people this book is aimed at to exercise mind over matter to lose weight or otherwise remain at a size that’s considered healthy by the medical profession, then there’d be no need for the book, with or without the ‘free’ CD and DVD. And while only an idiot would believe that the CD and DVD are actually ‘free’ rather than incorporated within the purchase price (CD and DVD cost pennies and the cost of producing a book that’s a mere 144 pages in length (at least in the quantity of print run this is indubitably produced in) is negligible against the RRP of £12.99 which is approximately 9p per page), equally, only a complete cretin would buy into this crap. Let’s face it, The Hypnotic Gastric Band is another way to shift responsibility from the lazy and the weak-willed: which plus-sizer wouldn’t want the results of a weight loss diet without actually dieting? When it comes to mind over matter and the power of persuasion, the only trick here is getting desperate and gullible chubbers to part with their cash. But it’s a massive market (in all senses), which probably explains why the book’s sitting comfortably in Amazon’s top 10 right now….

 

Hypnotic Gastric Band

Paul McKenna: Gnostic bastard or con artist?

 

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Smooth Salsa and Jizzy Jazz: The Great Corporate Crap Giveaway

I recently lent a friend of mine, who works for a large financial organisation, a handful of CDs. When he returned them, there was an extra disc. it’s not unusual: he often lends me music. On this occasion, said disc was housed in a gaudy digipak decorated with segments of primary colours and it was still in its shrinkwrap. A gift? Or an accident? No. Entitled ‘A World of Discovery’, the album was a compilation that promised ‘a journey through the world of jazz, soul, funk and blues’, and it had been ‘specially compiled’ for another financial firm by Jazz FM. The bastard! He’d offloaded this piece of corporate crap on me, knowing full well how much I despise jazz, soul, funk and corporate crap because he didn’t want it. And who could blame him?

There’s something that makes this kind of corporate crap particularly abhorrent. Sure, I get the idea of a ‘global’ corporation doling out promotional gubbins that reflects and encapsulates the spirit of their ‘brand’ (or what they hope is the way their brand is perceived), and a compilation of music from around the globe says ‘multinational’, ‘global’ and ‘inclusive’, and music supposedly transcends all borders of nation (the fact I think this is utter bollocks is something for another time). But it’s about as credible an image of global culture and a celebration of diversity as a Benetton ad. United colours? One world together in music? One world under the cosh of capitalism pretending to be friendly would be closer to the mark. Does anyone actually buy this idea? Do the creators even think that this is the face of finance, or are they laughing up their expensive suit sleeves and steaming up their Rolex watches?

There’s another thing, too. I appreciate that some would accuse me of being narrow-minded musically at loathing jazz, soul and funk, and while I’d strongly disagree, the point is that I do loathe jazz, soul and funk and I’m certainly not alone or even in a minority. I daresay that in attempting to associate themselves with the artists concerned (I’m assuming the artists all gave their consent and were paid handsomely for selling their music and souls in such a way), the company in question think they’re being ‘hip’ and presenting a ‘cool’ image to potential clients and partners. But in producing and distributing a compilation such as this, they’re making a huge assumption regarding people’s musical tastes. Either that, or they’re hoping to dictate people’s musical tastes, in which case they should be sponsoring something on MTV or Radio 2. But Jazz FM? What does that say about the company, really?

Sidestepping that question and letting it serve as a rhetorical device, I’ll admit that I haven’t actually played the CD at this point. But then, do I really need to hear the ‘old school raw soul quality of Australia’s Electric Empire on their number ‘Baby Your Lovin’’, or ‘Let me Show Ya (Funkhaus Sessions)’ by Jazzanova of Germany?

Against my better judgement, I bung the disc in the player. It’s fucking hideous and sounbds exactly the the way you’d expect it to. A flicker of flamenco, a splash of salsa, with the horrible drum machine backing favoured by the Peruvian pan flute bands that play on the high streets. Laid-back Latina grooves smoothed to slick perfection transports the listener to a forgettable restaurant where the wallpaper, food and music all melted into one beige blur not even worthy of a smiley snap for Facebook. The ‘United Kingdom’, incidentally, is represented Escala, with their multinational smash, ‘Feeling Good’. Er, yes, quite. Escala, the ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ finalists covering Nina Simone. What in? Well, in keeping with the jazzy jizz of the rest of the material here, stringy sonic spunk.

In a time of recession, I do understand that companies need to find new promotional angles, and even when times are tight, it’s necessary to speculate to accumulate. But surely that’s all the more reason to ensure that promotion is effective – and cost effective. Even if the clowns who cooked up this cack-handed codswallop campaign genuinely believe that most people do like jazz, soul, funk and blues, what do they expect the recipients of these discs to do with them? Play them on an evening or at dinner parties to show how sophisticated they are, while subconsciously deciding they ought to do business with the company who gave them out? But as we’ve established, not everyone likes jazz, soul, funk and blues – so then what do you do it you’re the recipient of one of these dodgy discs? Landfill seems horribly wasteful. There’s the local charity shop, but who would buy it and would you want to be seen donating it? And while CDs make great coasters, it’s not everyone’s style. Which means the best option is to pass it on to your mate who happens to write music reviews and ranty blogs about pointless causes of irritation.

 

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A substantial stack of crappy unwanted CDs, not unlike the one in my house.

 

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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.

It’s good to talk…

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

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

 

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Spin on this! When the Machines Take Over

So things are starting to happen where the publication of the paperback edition of my novel, From Destinations Set is concerned. The publisher have the first batch in hand – I’ve seen one, and they look great – and are starting to mail out review copies. They’re circulating press releases, too, and from what I can tell, these are beginning to generate traffic already.

Stuart at Clinicality Press has penned some very nice press releases and made use of the rather tidy synopsis / blurb he did for the book. I was amused, then, to find a version of the press release that didn’t remotely resemble those Clinicality have issued, not least of all because one of the threads of James Well’s book, Hack, that Clinicaliy will be putting out later in the year, is concerned with word-spinning.

Unsure of precisely what this entailed, I conducted a spot of research, to learn the following:

Article spinning is a search engine optimization technique by which blog or website owners attempt to manipulate their rank on Google and other search engines. It works by rewriting existing articles, or parts of articles, and replacing elements to avoid being penalized in the Search Engine Results pages (SERP) for using duplicate content. The original articles are often plagiarized from other websites and can often also be copyright infringements if the original article was used without the copyright owner’s permission.

Website owners may pay writers to perform spinning manually, rewriting all or parts of articles. Writers also spin their own articles, manually or automatically, allowing them to sell the same articles with slight variations to a number of clients or to use the article for multiple purposes, for example as content and also for article marketing. There are a number of software applications which will automatically replace words or phrases in articles. Automatic rewriting can change the meaning of a sentence through the use of words with similar but subtly different meaning to the original. For example, the word “picture” could be replaced by the word “image” or “photo”. Thousands of word-for-word combinations are stored in either a text file or database thesaurus to draw from. This ensures that a large percentage of words are different from the original article.

The spun version of Stuart’s press release is a brilliant example of automated article-spinning 9and why it doesn’t work). The words substituted so inappropriately that much of the initial meaning is lost. Nevertheless, it’s highly amusing, and while it’s great to see my work continually cropping up in unusual and unexpected places, I very much doubt that this piece will do much for the sales of From Destinations Set. Ah well….  http://42.cm/clinicality-press-push-the-boundaries-with-a-book-of-two-halves-coming-march-28th/

Anti-Everything: A Blogger’s Dilemma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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