Archive | March, 2015

Godspeed You, Sufjan Stevens

30 Mar

On occasion, this blog concerns itself with music rather than writing. And today is such a day. March 30th is a special day – well, for me it is, at any rate.

Music plays a big part in my life. Most music doesn’t interest me. From time to time, though, something catches my attention and I’m hooked. As with literature, I like music that’s a little different, that pushes frontiers. Two such artists are the American singer-songwriter, Sufjan Stevens and the Canadian post-rock band, Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Years pass without a release from either of them and then today, there are new albums out by both. Stevens plays around with time signatures and whispers over acoustic instruments in an angelic croon. He announced that he was working on the ‘Fifty States Project’, writing an album about each of the states of the USA. Only Michigan and Illinois ever appeared. No matter – they’re both brilliant. By contrast, GYBE are loud and dark, their compositions relying on repetition and the development of motifs. Their work is purely instrumental. The music tells the story. On their last release was a track called ‘Mladic’, twenty minutes of raging noise that transport the listener across two decades to the nightmare in the Balkans.

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Jolly cloudscapes floating across the listener’s mind…

I’m on holiday from work, which means that I’ll be able to walk into town and buy both albums. How exciting is that? And it’s very nearly writing den time too…

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Lacking Presence

27 Mar

I’ve been building an ‘online presence’ for seven years now, ever since an artist friend in Vienna told me that I simply had to have a Facebook account. At some point, I browsed through one of those writers’ handbooks in the town library. It said the same thing. So I joined Twitter. I have a Goodreads author page. More recently, I’ve signed up to a number of websites that are supposed to promote writers’ work.

And has any of this cyber-spatial activity brought my fiction anywhere nearer to being published? No. My internet presence has resulted in a total absence of published work. As a consequence, I remain as invisible to most readers as ever, an insubstantial presence. True, I’ve all but given up approaching publishers and agents, for such a waste of time does it seem to be. And to be honest, I’d really rather be writing novels than letters to agents or self-promoting tweets.

All of which might be somewhat annoying if I allowed it to be so. I know that I can write and that I’ve written some works that really ought to be sitting in a bookshop near you right now. That’s not as arrogant as it sounds. I’ve been writing for a long time and I think I’d have noticed by now if I weren’t any good at it. As my regular readers will know, I’ve worked as a music journalist and had a biography published. Fortunately,seeing my books in print isn’t the be all and end all for me. I write fiction because that’s what I do. But it does bring into question whether all of this online activity isn’t rather a waste of time and effort.

Online or in the Cloud, none of it makes any difference...

Online or in the Cloud – none of it makes any difference…

And then, of course, I signed up to WordPress. So here I sit, drafting out another post. This blog supposedly has nearly 1400 followers but I’m pretty sure it has done nothing to raise my writing profile either. But it’s kind of therapeutic and I’ve met some good people through it, so perhaps it’s not entirely a waste of time…

All text and images © PSR 2015

Short Cuts to a Readership

11 Mar

My friend, Mari Biella always writes interesting posts on her blog. Recently, she drew my attention to a writing site called ‘Cut’. It’s short for ‘Cut a Long Story’ (for me, this name evokes uncomfortable memories of Spandex Ballet…). To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what this site is. It says that it carries out an editorial process determining the suitability of submissions for publication. But I don’t know if they just say that to all the writers. The team there converts the Word document of your concise masterpiece into e-book format, though, you don’t seem to be able to view your work without paying for it! I may be wrong, of course, given the legendary limitations of my technical prowess. The site takes half of the proceeds from anything it publishes (another reason, presumably, why it’s called ‘Cut’). I’ve been looking at several of these sites over the last few months. Which brings us to another problem that Mari recently posted about… The more time a writer spends investigating ways of marketing his or her work on the Internet, the less time he or she can actually devote to writing anything. Perhaps it’s a sinister plot. If I spend enough time ‘developing my online presence’ on Twitter, my intellect will be totally eroded and I won’t be able to bother publishers with my manuscripts as I’ll have become incapable of writing anything more than 140 characters long. I’ll have committed haiku-kiri.

Anyway, if you’re interested, I put my short story, ‘Horror Story’ up on the site for a king’s ransom (99p). You can find it here. As you might expect from my writing, it’s not in fact a horror story at all. It’s a little exercise, written as a pastiche of Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’. Here’s the cover image and underneath a short extract from it.

The Horror Story is set here...

The Horror Story is set here…

And so we set off on our voyage.  Quagdyke is about twelve miles out of town and lies in the middle of a salt marsh.  Kitts had supplied Harkness with some rudimentary directions.  Take the road to Chapel-le-Marsh.  Turn right by the chapel.  Keep the dyke on your left and keep going.  Quagdyke is the last village.

“Don’t tell the old girl where she’s taking us,” he whispered.  “She might not like it.”

We chugged out of town in the direction that we’d been advised.  Fifteen minutes later we arrived in Chapel-le-Marsh.  The building that gave the village its name had been turned into a garage.  Each former arch of stained glass had become a servicing bay.  The graveyard was now a forecourt with a row of dilapidated cars lined up on it.  ‘Remoulds and Salvage’ read the sign outside it.  We didn’t allow ourselves to be fooled by this piece of subterfuge.  We took the right hand turn, signposted for Quagdyke.  It seemed that Kitts’s directions weren’t so bad after all.  The road was one of those dead straight ones that used to be built across the marshes.  It soon joined up with the dyke.  Harkness was happy.  Forgetting his previous counsel, he began to wonder aloud about his new acquisition.  And sure enough, about four miles short of Quagdyke the old girl proved that she’d been listening after all, and that she’d taken umbrage.  The lights faded on her dashboard, her engine cut out and she glided to a standstill.

“Shit!” remarked Harkness.  “We’ll never make it by eight now.”

“What do you think’s wrong with her?” I asked him.

“How the hell should I know?”

“Well, aren’t you going to look under the bonnet or something?”

“Whatever for?  I don’t know what’s in there, do I?”

I tried a different tack.

“I don’t suppose you’ve got breakdown cover?”

“Nope.”

“Hmm.”

“Are you sure you want another one of these?” Stimpson asked.

Harkness didn’t answer.  He appeared to be thinking.  There was something of the England rugby captain about him, in his day job as­ an infantry officer (the blubber aside).

“We’ll just have to continue on foot,” he said at last.  “Shackleton’s pony or whatever.”

“Surely it was a penguin?”

Harkness didn’t dispute it.

All text and images © PSR 2015 

Writing Update

4 Mar

At the moment, my writing seems to have ground to something of a halt. I’m not “blocked”. I don’t actually believe in such a thing. “Mentally exhausted” would come much closer to it. It’s put something of a brake on my blogging too. I realise that I’ve been missing some of my blogging friends, even though I’ve never even met them physically. The urge to gain those insights into what’s happening in their lives and writing is manifesting itself again.

The twin-pronged approach to my works-in-progress has seen me through up till now. Four months devoted to one, eighteen months to the other, another month on WiP No. 1 and back to WiP No. 2… However, I seem to have arrived at difficult points in both of them, at the same time. WiP No. 1 is theoretically close to completion. I have 100,000 words and much of the tale has been told. So ahead of me lies the challenge of pulling together the words on the page into some kind of coherent whole. I’m also going through one of those phases that all writers will recognise where I’m questioning the validity of what I’m doing. From this perspective, it’s making my task with WiP No. 1 look Herculean and myself in need of some Christ-like powers of transformation. WiP No. 2 has 34,000 words but now I’m wondering whether the idea is too slight to make a novel…

Stained glass and iconography encountered on a late winter's walk

Stained glass and iconography encountered on a late winter’s walk

My mind isn’t even right for reading at the moment. I’ve stalled for the last three months over Martin Amis’s London Fields. I usually read between 20 and 25 books a year but Mr Amis’s tome and my psychological fatigue are getting in the way of this target. I took it on my recent trip to the writing den and didn’t read a single page. The trip was more about recuperation in the company of a photographer friend of mine, who was also in need of a break. And the writing den provides the perfect location. Good food and drink, walking and conversation were the order of the day.

The best bar in the town close to the writing den

The best bar in the town close to the writing den

On an optimistic note, I start a new job in September. Even though I’ll be yet more broke than I already am – if that’s possible – it should give me more time and energy for writing and to embark on the logjam of projects that I have stored up over the years. For now, though, I’m off to check out some of my friends’ latest musings…

All text and images © PSR 2015