Not in it for the Money: Getting Aggro

I was faced with a dilemma. Back in 2008, having written a couple of largely unread music reviews on my MySpace Blog, I started writing as a reviewer for Whisperin’ and Hollerin’. It came naturally: I’d written music reviews for a few local and regional papers and so on in the past. And so before long, I was cranking out a review a day on average, and sometimes more. Landing more reviewing slots for other websites alongside, I independently built up a substantial PR network over the next few years. While continuing to receive streams and CDs and all other gubbins for review from editors and various PRs, and moving up to an average of two reviews a day, I couldn’t help but feel I was holding back on occasion. That isn’t to say I wasn’t loving my work, and the various sites are all outstanding in their ways, commanding respect and a decent readership.

But the reviews I was holding back on were more journalistic, essay-like pieces which felt appropriate for some of the releases I was receiving, but posting the 450+ word pieces I wanted to write didn’t feel entirely right even on the sites I had free reign on.

For a long period of time, I deliberated running my own site, and laid claim to Aural Aggravation in 2013 with a view to launching my own site devoted to covering the niche bands I liked but felt warranted a more specialist review space over sites that covered everything. I had a sense of how the site should look, feel and navigate. I suppose you might say I’m a control freak: I’d argue against that, but sometimes feel the need to impose my creative ideas on the world – albeit usually only a very small corner of it.

It was listening to the new Philip Jeck album while simultaneously reading Mark Fisher’s Ghosts of My Life that spurred me to write a very different kind of review. More contemplative, academic, even. And much longer – somewhere between a longform review and an essay, you might say. I immediately realised that this was the kind of review I wanted to write. Not always, but sometimes.

And so Aural Aggravation was born and the site went live – public – with a couple of album reviews, a single review courtesy of James Wells, and a couple of audio / video streams. Boom.

I’m not ditching W&H or S4M any stretch, and I’m most certainly continuing to work in my various fiction projects and build The Rage Monologues (more of which very soon). But I am branching out in the reviewing world.

Aural Aggravation won’t be for everyone. And I’m happy with that. It will never reach a huge audience, either. The aim isn’t to be a mainstream site, either in the music if covers or in the way it covers it. Both aspects of the site are purposefully niche, and the fact that reviewing difficult music in reviews that will take more than a minute and a half to read, and don’t even use any kind of rating system runs completely contra to everything that’s going on in the media right now, from the ‘net to the debased print version of the NME. And that is precisely why I’m doing it. There’s a gap in the market, so to speak. Small and specialist it may be, but it’s one that I’m looking to step into in some way – for the love, not the money.

Aural Aggravation Website: http://auralaggravation.com/

Aural Aggravation on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuralAggravation?fref=ts

Aural Aggravation on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AAAAggravation

Christopher Nosnibor’s Guide to Working as a Music Reviewer – Part Two

We live in a visually-orientated culture. Pictures are more immediate than words. And yet I still don’t get the idea of reviewing a gig in pictures alone. The images convey so little of the experience, and besides, after a while, people with guitars or standing behind synths all start to very much resemble one another.

Similarly, I don’t get the whole deal with people posting photos of their food on social media sites, but did recently suggest that my refusal to subscribe to this trend was proving an obstacle to my achieving mainstream popularity.

So I figured I should document my day – yesterday – in images. Of food. It seems vaguely apposite, as I was assigned to review Black Bananas at the Brudenell in Leeds last night.

I got up a bit before 7am having squeezed in about 6 hours sleep, dressed, guzzled down a mug of tea and was out the door around 7:40. I breakfasted at my desk while wading through emails.

 

IMAG0073

Breakfast

I managed to nip out to grab a bite for lunch, again consumed at my desk.

 

IMAG0074

Lunch

After work, I legged it home, dropped my bag and changed my boots before heading straight back out for a train to Leeds. I had my evening meal in Foley’s on The Headrow before trekking out to the Brudenell.

 

IMAG0075

Dinner

 

I needn’t have rushed as the first act wasn’t on till around 8:30, but the beer was cheap and good and I always carry a paperback in my jacket pocket in case I find myself killing time.

The show was ultimately enjoyable, but I was aware of the train times and, being knackered, decided to slip out during the last song for the 11:16 train. This meant I had to run all the way from The Brudenell near Burley Park to the train station. Consequently, I was even more knackered but I arrived back in York in good time and arrived home around midnight.

Today, having woken up with heartburn and a head full of things I needed to do at work around 5am, I managed a full half hour lunch break, during which I managed to find a quiet pub and knock out the first 409 words of my review. I can’t very well call myself a writing machine if I don’t get on and write now, can I?

 

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

Nutjobs, Pissheads and Pains in the Ass

I don’t know what it is about me that seems to draw the crazies. I certainly don’t go looking for them, but they spring out of the woodwork and in an instant decide that I’m the kind of person who wants to converse with random strangers. In actual fact, little could be further from the truth. I’m a fast walker and I habitually avoid eye contact with people in the street. Wearing tinted glasses makes this easier, I find. More often than not, I have earphones in, too, just to create more of a barrier between myself and the world. But where the crazies – and drunks – are concerned, this exterior seems to send the opposite message. Or perhaps they’re just oblivious.

So I was walking back home after watching The Yawns play at The Basement. It was a little after eleven. I was more or less sober, having only consumed three and a bit pints (it would have been four, but while trying to photograph the band, I’d managed to spill the majority of my last pint, much to my extreme annoyance), but feeling buoyant because it had been a good show, and I’d had the chance to catch a few words with Joe Coates (the man behind Please Please You, and the majority of decent gigs in York), and Mark Wynn, cool music scene people I don’t see nearly often enough. I had just parted company with my mate Big Sam, the Balaclava Boy, and had not yet plugged myself into my MP3 player to create my hermetic space. I was, however, wearing a black Thinsulate hat pulled low to the bridge of my nose and felt pretty sealed off.

I’d clocked a guy leaving Sainsbury’s with a carrier bag as I crossed the road, and had seen him remove a bottle of wine from the bag, crack the cap off and take a long slug from the bottle. I thought nothing of it, and wasn’t concerned by the fact I’d probably have to overtake him. Up ahead a way, he stopped to roll a cigarette, and it was at this point I came to pass him.

“’Scuse me, mate.”

I should’ve walked on by and feigned deafness. But I’ve tried that before, and been harangued all the way down the street for ignoring such people. I figured he was going to ask me for a light. It happens a lot. I simply explain I don’t have a lighter because I quit smoking and that’s that. So I stopped and looked at the guy.

“Do you like heavy metal?”

Shit.

“I hope you don’t think I’m, like, stereotyping or making assumptions, but I thought you looked a bit alternative and like you’d be into different stuff like heavy metal. I hope you’re not offended or anything.”

“Not at all. It’s not my first choice of music,” I professed, “but I like some metal.”

“Yeah? Like Sepultura an’ that?”

“Not so much,” I replied.

“No? What then?”

My ears weren’t only ringing from the gig – I’d left the house in a hurry and irritatingly forgotten my earplugs – but from the clutch of upcoming Southern Lord releases Lauren at Rarely Unable had recently put my way and that I’d spent the afternoon getting my lugs round. These were still fresh – and loud – in my mind and represent, to me, the only kind of metal worth listening to. The really heavy, abrasive stuff. The nasty, gnarly stuff, the full-throated sonic annihilation of grindcore and crust is far more my bag than the overblown fretwankery of the ‘big’ metal acts. I attempted to explain this to him, although as succinctly and as accessibly as possible.

“So, like Slayer an’ that?”

“Not really,” I said. This really wasn’t going anywhere and I rather hoped my less than leading response would leave the conversation as extinguished as his poorly-rolled ciggy.

“No-one listens to metal,” he moaned. “I mean, I don’t want to blow my own trumpet, but I’m a shit-hot guitarist. You probably think I’m just a drunk wanker, and I am drunk, but I can play all the songs. Metallica, Iron Maiden. I’m 40 years old and I’ve been playing guitar for 20 years but I just can’t find a band to play in. Do you know where I could go to find other people who are into metal who’d want to be in a band with me? Do you play?”

“Nah. I play guitar a bit and can move a bar chord around in time but it’s pretty basic. I gave up on playing music and now I write about it instead.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m a music writer.”

“Like a journalist?”

“Yes. I review stuff. CDs and live music. And I can tell you that a lot of people do listen to metal. It’s a huge market.”

“Yeah but I can’t find anyone. There’s nothing I’ve ever found that I can’t play. I can do all the solos, even. But no-one’s interested. It’s all DJ this and fucking MC that and… you know what I mean? You’re not a DJ are you?”

“Hell no. I’m a writer.” The guy was beginning to get on my wick and I was pleased to arrive at my turn-off from the main road. “I’m off down here,” I said.

“Me too.”

Shit.

“I know you’re probably thinking I’m some drunk twat, and I am drunk, but don’t worry, I live round here, I’m not trying to stalk you or follow you home or anything. I am a bit drunk, but I’m a decent bloke, y’know, and I know I’m a good guitar player. I mean that. I don’t like going up to people and saying ‘I’m a shit-hit guitar player, though.”

“Maybe you should. If you’re serious, you need to get out there.” I believed he wasn’t going to stalk me or follow me home, and I doubted he was about to turn and knife me, kick me head in or smash the now half-empty wine bottle over my head, but figured it was still wiser to humour him – because he was clearly a drunk twat – than risk it by tying to shake him in an obvious fashion.

“Is that what you’d do?”

“Yes.”

“And you’re a DJ?” There was a broad hint of incredulity in his voice.

“No, a writer.” There was a broad hint of weariness in mine.

“So how does that work?”

“I get sent music and I review it. I go to see bands play and I review them.”

“Where? Who do you write for?”

“Various websites.”

“Websites, eh? And you’re a journalist? But you don’t know where I can go to meet people who’d give me a chance? How do I find people that are into metal? I’m a fucking awesome guitar player – and I’m not just saying that, and it’s not just because I’m drunk – although I am drunk – I can play everything and I love metal. Satriani, you name it.”

“Maybe you could go and see some bands playing. Talk to them. they’ll know other musicians, people in bands who are looking for a guitarist.”

“And they’ll be into metal? I mean, I’ve got a band in theory – like me, and a bassist and a keyboard player but we don’t need a fucking keyboard player.”

“No, that’s a bit 80s hair rock, I’d have thought.”

“Yeh, exactly.”

And so it went on in this way until we reached a junction where our routes diverged, much to my relief.

“It’s been good to meet you,” he said. “Thanks for listening. A lot of people wouldn’t have done.”

“That’s the kind of guy I am.”

“You’re a good guy. What did you say your name was?”

“Thanks. I’m Chris.”

“Right, yeah. I’m Steve. And you’re really a DJ?”

 

drunk-guy

Some drunk bloke I found on the Internet

 

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

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.

‘Pretentious and Dull’: Celebrating Ballard’s Lone Stars

Negative reviews have long been something of an obsession of mine. Having grown up reading Melody Maker and the NME in the late 80s and early 90s, it was the out-and-out slatings that I found made the most entertaining reads. In many ways, these reviews were a leading factor in my deciding I wanted to become a music journalist. For the first reviewing job I applied for, which happened to be at my local paper, I sent a deeply scathing review of a recent gig I’d attended, because I felt it provided the best means of demonstrating my flair for description and finding creative ways of saying the bands were shit.

I was elated when the section’s editor rang me to tell me I’d got the ‘job’ (I say ‘job’ as it was unpaid, an ongoing feature of my reviewing career which now spans the best part of twenty years). My elation was countered by no small degree of horror when he went on to tell me he loved my submission so much he was going to run it.

It was a vital lesson in writing, and at a relatively tender age (I was about 18), namely that if you’re going to write something, you have to be prepared for people to read it. The paper received a number of letters of complaint, the first review to have elicited such a reaction in its entire history.

Still, it wasn’t the first time my writing had received complaints. A couple of years previous, during the summer holidays, I had produced a newsletter of sorts, a parodic ‘gossip column’ type affair about people from my school. It went by the title of ‘The Parish News’, and I simply printed up and posted out copies to various friends and people I knew. Unfortunately, one (female) recipient shared initials with her mother, who opened the correspondence, and, taking offence at the references to her daughters breasts, decided to call the police about this ‘offensive’ publication. They turned up at the back door while I was cleaning the porch for pocket money, and delivered some stern words. They couldn’t tell me who’d complained, of course, but I spotted one of the, coppers was holding the envelope they’d been handed by the complainant and read the address, and made the simultaneous discovery that bobbies aren’t always the brightest. They also told me in no uncertain terms that I was to cease the publication of ‘The Parish News’ or anything similar. I gave them my word and they went on their way. I was a lot more careful with the distribution of the subsequent three issues of the quarterly A4 one-pager.

Since then, very little’s changed in many respects. I learned quickly to develop a thick skin when it came to comments regarding my work, and for every detractor there are many protractors, and besides, I’m of the opinion that it’s better to be slated than ignored – although that doesn’t stop me bailing in, feet first with all guns blazing when I receive a particularly feeble or otherwise irksome CD in the mail. It’s good to let off steam to flex my muscles that are primed for serving up vitriol, and I still believe the bad reviews are the best.

Unfortunately, many reviews on the Internet, be they reader reviews or fan reviews or little blogs or zines, are extremely poorly written, and the one-star reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, etc., are nowhere near of the standard of the scathing reviews penned by good journalists who possess wit, humour and an extensive vocabulary. It was this strain of review that was a key inspiration for This Book is Fucking Stupid, and long before I decided to write / assemble the book, I’d developed the habit of skipping straight to the one and two star reviews of books or CDs I was considering buying. Sometimes I’d find myself embarking – unintentionally – on extensive one-star journeys, reading all the terrible reviews of books I’d read or by authors I like. And really, most of them are truly terrible. Invariably, it’s abundantly clear that the reviewer is only semi-literate, and needless to say they’ve generally missed the point of the book completely.

I’ve recently been on something of a Ballard trip, and it’s perhaps not surprising that despite the glowing critical reception his works have received, many ‘everyday’ readers have been less impressed. tvpunter’s comments on Amazon.co.uk concerning High Rise – a book I found powerful and quite affecting – are in many ways typical:

1.0 out of 5 stars WE-1984-, 8 May 2011

By tvpunter

This review is from: High-Rise (Paperback)

That kind of novel that potrays the middle classes in turmoil as oppossed to the state controling the masses..a metaphor for today in 2011..did’t work for me.

Clearly, spelling ‘dos’t’ work for him either, and reviews like this reveal more about the reviewer’s deficiencies than the shortcomings of the book. The point is, I’m aware that Ballard is guilty of the occasional lumpy sentence and sometimes the action scenes are so hastily sketched it’s difficult to discern precisely what’s happened. Consider these features endearing, small imperfection that are essential to the unique style of Ballard’s writing. Therefore, while not all of his books have had the same effect on me as The Atrocity Exhibition, I nevertheless find myself marvelling at the way in which he constructs his narratives, and I’ve not once – thus far – found a Ballard book to be ‘disappointing’ – unlike Thomas Hunter of Banbury:

1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 11 Nov 2011

By Thomas Hunter (Banbury, UK)

This review is from: Super-Cannes (Paperback)

This book started so well, painting a great picture of a realistic brave new world on the French Riviera, and setting up an intrigue that promised to blossonm into an exciting mystery. But then it all went wrong as implausibility piled on top of implausibility. JGB thought he was building tension but instead he was building incredulity, finishing off with a pathetic ending that made me think the whole experience had been a waste. My first Ballard and probably my last.

The one thing that’s always struck me about Ballard is his ability to signpost the future. The London Riots of August 2011 immediately brought to mind High Rise and Millennium People. But the trouble with writing the near future is that for many, it will seem far-fetched and improbable, in much the same way Smellgrovia finds aspects of Kingdom Come ‘silly’.

1.0 out of 5 stars Pale Imitation, 21 May 2007

By Smellgrovia (Blackheath, London)

This review is from: Kingdom Come (Hardcover)

I am a huge Ballard fan and so am sorry to say that I really did not enjoy this. I agree with other reviewers in feeling that Ballard has done this so much better in other novels such as Cocaine Nights. I thought the shopping mall run riot was silly at best, and I just could not get involved with the characters or plot. By the end I was skim reading just to finish the damn thing – never a good sign.

2.0 out of 5 stars gratuitous, 17 Nov 2010

By biskit

This review is from: High-Rise (Paperback)

i knew this book was supposed to be alarming, thought provoking etc., but i didn’t bank on the feeling of impatience and horror. never one to abandon a book half way, i kept on through gritted teeth. I have since passed dwellings that have made me think of this book, but that can be its only legacy. a fear that the hell within this book could become reality is what makes one read on, but beware the same is true for other stories of the horror genre. this is not a convincing tale, people going to work as normal and then setting up war zones in their own block of flats? i dont think so!

We live in silly times. I suspect many inhabitants of inner city areas would liken their tower blocks to war zones. Many considered 1984 absurd in its day, and no one got Nova Express, yet these books are now very much reflections of the society in which we now live. It’s a pity the authors weren’t around to witness recent events – or perhaps it’s a blessing. Sometimes, it’s not pleasant to find you were right all along.

I wrote This Book is Fucking Stupid as a means of addressing the dichotomy that runs through the whole field of reviewing as it’s emerged in recent years. Readers rarely seem to agree with critics, yet purchase books on the strength of the reviews its received – and then complain, feeling that they’ve been in some way misled by the critic’s positive assessment of any given text.

1.0 out of 5 stars One for the Daily Mail readers, 28 July 2008

By Bryan (Newcastle)

This review is from: Millennium People: Novel (Paperback)

If it’s a satire, it’s lacking wit, insight and humour, and if it’s not satire it betrays a staggering naivete. Characters are poorly drawn, but even in their one-dimensional state manage to be either wholly unsympathetic or downright offensive, and the world they inhabit is one seen by the most blinkered Daily Mail reader, where school fees are an important economic indicator, and the death of Jill Dando can shake the country. (The inclusion of a version of the Dando murder is so bizarre it’s almost funny, but not quite enough). The point of the book, such as it is, is facile – professionals have a function in society – but by presenting their closed world as the entirety of society, and not giving us any shade, or any tension, against their short-sightedness, the book’s never going to work unless you can actually sympathise with their views. And if you can, then I pity you. There’s also a nearly quaint 1960s radical feel – the giveaway line for me was a reference to a ‘shared lover’ – the uneasy balance between permissiveness and misogyny bringing the bearded conservatism of 60s student to mind. (The idea of overpriviledged revolutionaries obviously chimes with the theme of the book, but I don’t think that’s a deliberate echo).
There are some nice prose flourishes, but a handfull through the book, which mostly reads somewhere between plodding and clunky, while the dialogue is risible. If I’d not read some early Ballard, I’d say his editor hadn’t paid attention to an esteemed author’s manuscript.
Overall the book is a re-tread of High Rise, and suffers that book’s problem of a fundamental misanthropy based on a wilful acknowledgement only of the most venal side of humanity, that expressed in the broadsheets and world cinema of the London middle class. That could work if it was sufficiently stylised (and much as I disliked High Rise, it nearly worked through the conceit of staying within one building), but this wants to operate within a real world, but completely fails to acknowledge one exists.
If you like your writing dull, your authors solipsistic, and your themes akin to being battered over the head with a rolled Telegraph, then fill your boots on this one, but otherwise, there’s nothing to see.

Another key aspect of This Book was recycling. In these times of austerity and while green issues remain to the fore, I’m still the keen advocate of recycling I was a decade or more ago. I was raised to waste not, want not, and I’ve spent most of my writing career working to this ethos. Just as William Burroughs cut up Naked Lunch to create much of what would subsequently become the Nova trilogy, so a large proportion of the material that became THE PLAGIARIST and From Destinations Set began life as a novella entitled Destroying the Balance. This novella became my ‘word hoard’ so to speak, and I decided it was a more than fitting text to recut, re-edit and reconfigure in order to produce This Book. And why not? By reworking a pre-existing text, I’m joining a lineage of great authors who did precisely the same. Of course, not all readers appreciate what could be considered formulaic plotting, although no-one seems to complain that the bulk of crime, horror or romance novels all follow the dame formula.

1.0 out of 5 stars A waste of time and effort…, 4 Oct 2001

By deborah.daley@marshallcavendish.co.uk (London, UK)

This review is from: Super-Cannes (Paperback)

I bought this book as I was going on holiday and needed something to read. It was a haste decision based on the rave reviews and the fact that this book had won an award. I did not find this book to be exciting, tense, thrilling, visionary, etc. This story of a man tracing the footsteps of another man’s killing spree is written in such a way that I wasn’t immersed in the story – I didn’t care about any of the characters, the plot was unbelieveable, long winded and consisted of twists that I had been guessed early on. It was only when I got to page 371 that I felt the story had some real feeling or was exciting – this isn’t a good sign in a novel.

Another thing was that there were too many poetic terms for describing things throughout the story. This is a talent of Mr Ballard’s that he utilised to the nth degree. I challenge any potential reader to open a page in this book and read – you’ll see that it’s difficult to keep track…

Why is this author praised as some kind of genius? Reading the synopsis of his other books it looks suspiciously like he rewrites the same story over and over again – perhaps he is a genius…

There is of course a fine line between genius and insanity, and if dumb is the new smart and the rewriting of the same story over and over again is the height of creativity, then This Book is Fucking Stupid is the very definition of a work of genius. What’s more, I’ve long said that plot’s overrated, and while a substantial number of truly important works of literature dispense with plot completely (again, The Atrocity Exhibition, Naked Lunch are obvious leading examples), while others relegate plot to a secondary or even tertiary position (I’m thinking instinctively of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s work here, although again, there are many others) but of course what I really mean by this is that a truly great book needs a lot more to it than plot, and readers who read for plot alone are missing out on vast portions of the experience reading can provide. How often does plot as of and in itself make a reader pause for thought to assess their own lives, beliefs and the world around them? Still, even a good plot is wasted if the readership’s incapable of following it without it being spelled out. Perhaps more complex novels should come with plot-line summaries, and, better yet, a diagram with the key events in sequential order, just to make sure no-one gets lost along the way.

1.0 out of 5 stars Pretentious and dull, 24 Mar 2008

By A. Auburn (Cambridgeshire, England)

This review is from: Millennium People: Novel (Paperback)

This is among the worst books Ive ever read. I couldnt follow the plot,and the language was over pretentious and unexciting. I have heard alot about J.G. Ballard but he is highly overrated and dull.

Ultimately, any writer has to accept that they’re not going to please everyone, and in fact, few would want to. I’ve made my decision: I’m going all out for the one-stars. I want to produce an entire oeuvre of ‘worst books ever’ than crush my soul churning out potboiling bollocks about knights or espionage. Let’s face it, the paperback fiction chart is grim and endlessly samey. Where’s the variety? Where’s the writing that challenges the reader and the status quo? I’d rather sit with Ballard in the ‘pretentious and dull’ corner of the literary world than be adored by the masses who loaf around on the beach reading Shopaholic or dross by Dan Brown. Stupid? Career suicide? Perhaps, but then so’s the idea of writing to become rich or famous. Fame and fortune are even more overrated than plot, but again, you’d have to venture off the bestseller list and read something other than celebrity autobiographies to find that out.

 

J.G.-Ballard-at-home-in-1-002

The late, great J G Ballard and his untidy bookcase

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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

 

More than Music….

Believe it or not, I never set out to be a music reviewer. Ok, well, I sort of did, and back in the early 90s, while in my late teens, I did a few reviews for my local newspaper, but even then, I was working on fiction. I stopped writing completely for a couple of years or so, but some time in 1999 I began work on a novel and made fiction my main thrust.

Cut to 2007 and my first collection of short stories, Bad Houses is about to be published and so I decide I need an on-line presence and decide that posting short stories in my MySpace blog is the way forward for promotion.

The book didn’t really sell, but over time the blog grew and a few music reviews began to filter in. Generally, these were the least popular blogs, so when I was offered the chance to write for a proper music site – Whisperin’ and Hollerin’ – I jumped at the opportunity… I’ve since realised I can’t say no to free stuff or new music and the chances are I’m now better known as a reviewer than a writer of fiction or anything else.

However, I do still occasionally produce other kinds of writing, and in the last month, got to interview William Burroughs collaborator Malcolm Mc Neill for the brilliant Paraphilia Magazine, and to provide the introduction to Antony Hitchin’s contemporary cut-up masterpiece, Messages to Central Control, published by Paraphilia Books.

Meanwhile, I’m keeping on with the fiction, with From Destinations Set being my latest novel, and a sort of satellite text, published in pamphlet form and distributed by various divers and subversive methods, now available on-line.

There’s more to life than music you know, but not much more…

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