Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The Literary Platform

So this lovely, sparkly new website looking at the crossover between books and digital is live now. And here's my piece on apps and art, along with the first public outing for the cover of The New Goodbye.

Also lots of other good stuff on there.


Stress is a word that rhymes with dress and tress. It sounds a bit pathetic and girly. Unlike words such as death, pain and torture, it can’t be taken seriously.

So stress, in a similar way to smoothies, I-Pods and the Liberal Democrats, is a modern invention. Why, then, must it exist at all? What are we getting out of all this concern about working hours, climate change, and quality time? I’ve been trying hard to find the upside of stress, and this is what I’ve come up with: Stress is a pyramid scheme.

I don’t mean that it gets passed to you by other people, and you then pass it to more people in order to make yourself feel better about being involved in it in the first place (although, hang on, that’s a truthful a definition as any). And I don’t mean that it’s made up of useless ideas that you keep telling yourself are fulfilling you on some hitherto untouched deep level (although, yes, that works too).

What I mean is this: stress, when laid out in diagrammatic form, makes a pyramid.

It’s quantifiable, you see. And everyone has the same amount. If we could make it visible and solid, it would be the same size and shape for us all, and it would look like a house brick. Of course, if it actually was a house brick we could throw it into the nearest canal and be done with it, but metaphorically speaking, it’s a house brick of an exact size and shape for everyone.

I’ll give you an example. Let’s visit the beautiful (and entirely fictional, I hasten to add, in case you think it sounds like an appealing holiday destination) land of Womba Tik Tik Land. Womba Tik Tik Land has amazing foliage, impressive infrastructure, and a Death Row inside its infamous High Security Prison built specifically for traitors to King Womba the Sixty-Eighth. I beckon you, dear reader, towards cell number one, where a poor man has a crushing weight on his mind:

-Imminent Death by Firing Squad

That’s a big problem. It’s beyond the word stress. It’s more of a hideous nightmare type problem. Lots to worry about there. But let’s leave him with his nasty house brick and move along to cell number two:

-Probable Death by Firing Squad some time next week
-A Nasty Splinter in Toe that might go septic

That’s not to say that the guy in cell number one doesn’t have a splinter in his big toe too. All the floors in the High Security Prison are wooden and Womba Tik Tik Land scientists haven’t yet invented slippers. But he’s consumed with the hugeness of the worry of imminent death. He hasn’t noticed the pulsing toe, or, if he has, he’s worried out. The toe is of nominal concern.

But the bloke in cell number two has a corner of his brick spare, and splinters can really be very painful. They can cause gangrene, you know.

And so on to the man in cell number three (Womba Tik Tik Land is populated entirely by men: no wonder they commit crimes with all that pent-up testosterone.):

-Quite Likely Death by Firing Squad in the next year, but there’s plenty of time for an appeal
-A Nasty Splinter in Toe that might go septic – when o when is someone going to invent slippers?
-Possibility That Wife is Sleeping with Good Looking Milkman

Or you could rank the wife’s infidelity above the toe, depending on your priorities. The point is that once you’ve made these stresses solid, squelched them down, added mud, thrown in straw, and told your Hebrew Slaves to crush it all together with their feet, you will find all three prisoners are left with identical bricks in size and shape. Apologies for the Hebrew Slave thing but I’ve only ever seen bricks made on the telly in The Ten Commandments.

To continue with the analogy, I personally have three hundred and twenty-eight separate chunks to my brick at present, so you can be sure that in the grand scheme of things none of my stresses are very important. You see, I find the knowledge of the pyramid scheme very reassuring. It cheers me up to think that the good-looking millionaires out there must have thousands of niggles besieging them all at once in order to make up their quotas, such as slightly untidy eyebrows, calorie counting, misplaced toothpaste and a problem with the air conditioning on their private jets. Rather like being covered with a cloud of angry bees rather than being stung by three non-deadly scorpions or bitten by one King Cobra.

Once its in perspective, my stresses are really only the equivalent of one brick’s worth of jellyfish tentacles. That’s not so bad. It’s all relative.

I feel better about my brick now. It’s no longer tied around my ankles or making a start on walling me up. Instead it’s merely stinging a bit. Excuse me while I pee on my legs and then carry on about my daily business.

Uh oh. Stress number three hundred and twenty-nine: I smell of pee. That’s one more to squelch into the brick.

Friday, 23 April 2010

iPhone... therefore I am

For anyone paying close attention, Russell Quinn is the clever chap who’s developing The New Goodbye for me. He also produced the brand spanking new app for Creative Review (if you’re paying even closer attention you’ll know that being a part of the Creative Review team constitutes my day-job). Anyway, this brand spanking new app he’s made for CR is now available on the iPhone and iPod Touch for the princely sum of £2.99. Here’s a demo of it in action.

What of The New Goodbye? I hear you cry. Castles are all well and good but where’s the fiction, people? We can’t all speak Hebrew, you know.

Good point. So to the update. The cover artwork is all signed, sealed and delivered. Nicole has even created a quirky little stop-motion animation of it being put together, which, along with the behind-the-scenes video we have, gives a nice rounded package for that segment. We also have several lovely pictures of some of those women who would be Mila to sit alongside this.

As well as my novel and the Cervantes masterpiece, we’ve decided to include two longish short stories. One is new. Unless you happened to be one of the few hundred people to have a digital copy of the original The New Goodbye, when the title referred to a short story collection, you won’t have seen it. The second is Twenty One Again, which is taken from Elastic Press’s out-of-print The Elastic Book of Numbers, which won the 2005 BFS Award for best anthology.

At the moment, all the text is being typeset by the nice chaps at Mat Dolphin, and the other bits and bobs are being beaten into some form of coherent shape by Russell.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be putting together a Tumblr site which will have all things The New Goodbye on it.

Aside from my own efforts, there’s also a new website, The Literary Platform, going live this Monday, which will focus on the growing crossover between books and digital. There will be far more authoritative and clever people writing for it than me, but I’ll have a piece on there nonetheless.

I also have a feature in the current issue of Web Designer magazine, which looks at screen legibility for long tracts of text, such as those found in a novel. Alongside this I did a little timeline of type which I think is rather nice. I might have already mentioned this. I can’t remember. But either way, I’m mentioning it here. Again, or for the first time, I don’t believe it really matters.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Hello, strangers

Aliya has gone on holiday. To Wales, no less.

I meantime, am trying to bring together all the strands for The New Goodbye. We have a cover; we have a behind-the-scenes video; we even have a bespoke song and a video team to create a music promo.

What we didn't have at the crucial moment was enough coloured card. We were due to receive two deliveries, but only got one, which meant the music video, which was due to be shot last weekend, didn't happen. Now this weekend the venue isn't available for long enough due to--get this--being double-booked with a writing workshop. Damn you writers! We can't shoot after this week due to clashing schedules, and the app submission deadline, so looks like the first iteration of the app may be without a music video. Still, if a novel, two short stories, a novelette by one of the best writers ever to grace the planet, an original music track and a demo, a beautiful cover and some great additional photography and a two metre long illustration aren't enough for you, well, you're just downright demanding!

So everything is under control. Even the press releases which I've been scribbling together like mad for the lovely ladies who are helping me spread the word, but no music video. As yet. Suggestions on a postcard.

In other news, this morning, in a professional capacity, I'm going to get to nose around the archives of Faber&Faber.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Talking tables

Sadie Jones, she of The Outcast fame, talks writing and common sense over on Untitled Books.