Monday, 26 March 2012

New Me

The smart serious new me is now over at

and there are details up about the redux version of Mean Mode Median, my story and interview for Smokelong, and some other exciting bits. So if you're looking for me, me is there. Come on over and sign up to my feed.

Okay, not that serious. Just a bit more serious. And definitely no vegetables. Apart from one aubergine that snuck in there.

Monday, 20 February 2012

And That's That

Writing The Veggiebox has been lots of fun, but now I'm done.

Lots of things are changing. I'm no longer writing stuff like Light Reading and Three Things About Me. I don't produce articles as the blue pootle. I have an inkling that my writing future lies in a different direction. And I really can't scour one more book for mentions of vegetables. It was a niche market at the best of times.

I'll still pop up on the MNW blog with writing-related news.

And so all that remains to say is thanks for reading. I've left up some of my favourite posts, including the Veggie Books, in case you fancy a trawl through the archives. I wish you lots of love, luck, and happiness. And the occasional interestingly-shaped carrot. Cheerio.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Veggiebooks: What was I scared of?

It's been a good while since I did a veggiebook post, but whilst reading to the sick scratchy Munchie I came across a story that's long been a favourite of mine, and is now a favourite of hers. I had forgotten that a vegetable was involved. Okay, it's not a pivotal role in the story, but it's there, and it gives me the opportunity to quote Dr Seuss, so let's do it.

In The Sneetches and Other Stories, you get the star-bellied Sneetches. You get the North-going Zax and the South-going Zax. You get Mrs McCabe, who named all her sons Dave. And, finally, you get to the best story in the collection, to my mind - What Was I Scared Of?

You're out walking at night, because you're not the nervous kind, and suddenly, there they are.

A pair of pale green pants with nobody inside.

This might be funnier for UK children, because they're all picturing floating Y-fronts, but the pictures show us floating trousers, and that's pretty good too.

It's a scary experience. You run home. But there comes a time when you must leave the house again....

Well, the person and the pants continue to bump into each other until things reach a climax and we discover... I won't spoil it, in case you don't know it. But how could you not know it? It's an absolute classic. Still.

By the way, Dr Seuss, and particular his take on things you find in the park in the dark, influenced my poem on Resident Evil that will be published in Coin Opera 2 at some point. I'll let you know more details when I have them.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Why aren't Vampires Earthy Any More?

When Bram Stoker created Dracula, he made a monster that needed its native soil. Images of Dracula crouched in his soil in Carfax Abbey are disturbing ones. Yeah, okay, Francis Ford Coppola's film isn't always the greatest, but showing Dracula as a kind of white maggot as he crosses the ocean, pupating and writing in the earth... brrrrrrr. And I like that connection to the soil, to power, to the animalistic side of the vampire.

Modern vampires are usually not so big on soil. Christopher Lee's Dracula wouldn't have got his fingernails dirty, and since Anne Rice made vamps sophisticated they tend to be more ethereal creatures. Like in Poppy Z Brite's Dead Souls - they don't have a particular connection to nature. In fact, their powers are mind powers. The poor women in that novel - they just have to glance at vampire Zillah's green eyes and they're shedding their underwear. He has psychic abilities, see, that overwhelm all reason, to the extent of being prepared to have vampire babies that will eat your womb while they're still inside you. It would have to be one hell of a mind-trick to make me sign up for that.

I'm not keen on these monsters who are all head and no feet. I want rooted, natural vampires. I want their connection to be with the earth. I want DH Lawrence vampires.

So here's my attempt at a DH Lawrence vampire story. Well, two paragraphs, anyway:

She held her loosening face to the full moon, felt the moon inside her, filling her stomach, her womb, ah! The joy of the fecundity, the ripeness, as his teeth came to her throat and she spilled her blood into his mouth. He forced her down to her knees with his beast strength, overpowering, and yet he could not master her, could not bend her backwards into the ears of white corn, could not break their stalks. She was beyond him yet, even as he sucked at her, demanded her attention, and he was no more than an annoyance between her and her moon; she reached for it, begged it to claim her utterly, and fill her emptying veins with its light.

He took his teeth away, like a calm wave of the sea, a careful retreat in the face of her indifference. 'Do you not want get bit then, lass?' he said. 'Shouldn't come out t'field at night, then, should ee?' Every word hurt her more deeply than he could have known, and yet, how could he not know that they were locked together in this war, a war against her sex, and he was utterly intent on winning.

Actually, I quite like it. Throw in a rainbow and a miscarriage and I might be on to something.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Death of The Author. Again.

The author is a modern concept.

We read a book, particularly a literary book but it applied to all sorts of genres, and take what we know about the author as our starting point to reading. This is why people read everything by Ian McEwan. They have an Ian McEwan starting point in their heads when they pick up his new novel. They have ideas about what they're going to get, and they like that comforting feel. An Ian McEwan book says - I am an intelligent reader. I am sensitive, yet I do not shy away from hard issues.

This is why being an author is so seductive. People want the sanitised, clever written version of you. They want your brain. They'll read anything you write in an attempt to make you rub off on them. Being an author is like being a God. It is, on one very important level, a social status activity. Sorry, but there it is.

It never used to be like this. It really didn't matter who wrote something. Nobody wrote anything. Homer sang some amazing stories, and Shakespeare created some amazing poetry, but others applied their voices to them. The voice wasn't pure. It was open to translations by those that sung or spoke them, and the writer/creator didn't get the kind of adoration they get today. I think maybe the novel changed all that. As soon as you were subjected to words that came purely from the novelist, you stopped thinking about what you thought of the experience and started worrying about what the author thought of the experience.

Is this a good thing? Well, it's something that I think is in jeopardy. Because now there are more writers than readers, and more free words than bought ones. Why spend £14.99 on Ian McEwan's latest when you can download a freebie for your Kindle? Why buy at all? Besides, nobody can see the spine of your McEwan, so they don't know you're reading it. All they know is you're reading on your Kindle.

The internet is awash with excellent stories and novels, and the truth is that the people reading all these stories are writers too, generally speaking. We're all writing something, and if you want to charge for your hard work, someone else will be willing to give it away for free. And so the concept of the author has been devalued. That's why, when you go to a party and tell someone you're a writer, they ask suspiciously, 'Properly published?' And soon they won't even ask that. In ten or twenty years' time, when the big publishing houses have been put out of business, you won't write to make money at all. It won't make money. You'll do it, if you do it, because you love it. And nobody will read it because you'll be one person in a vast sea of people all doing the same thing. All producing, nobody listening.

We all want to be authors. I guess that's what killed it.

Ah, apologies. I really shouldn't be allowed to read Barthes.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The Unhappy Galvanic Tale of George Forster

I might be alone in really liking Kenneth Branagh's version of Frankenstein. But then, I like all film versions of Frankenstein (that I know about). Not so much for the monster, as for Frankenstein himself: in love with science, with electricity, with the coming of a modern age in which death can be overcome by the application of knowledge.

Here's Kenneth Branagh as Victor, sweatily delivering his new-born monster:

And here's my favourite Victor, and one of my favourite actors, the brilliant Peter Cushing:

There's something about cerebral, brooding blokes who get excited about electricity, isn't there? I also find Nikola Tesla to be very interesting, and quite dashing in this photo, too:

He's a bit Ralph Fiennes-ish, isn't he? I'm so up for a film version of Tesla's life with Ralph Fiennes. Although Bowie made a cool Tesla in The Prestige.

Anyhoo, on to George Forster. The real-life Frankenstein's Monster. Hanged for the murder of his wife and child, his body was passed over to one Professor Aldini, who practised Galvanism upon him. It's a pretty horrible business, but at least he didn't come back to life, because then George Forster would have been hanged all over again, as this newspaper article from 1803 points out quite gleefully at the end. Go have a read.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Making the Reader Feel

I've been thinking a lot about how much harder it is to make a reader think than to make a reader feel.

Making our audience emote is usually considered to be a great thing, whether you're an artist or a filmmaker or a novelist, but recently I've become very aware of how much feeling I'm being asked to do when I could be taking something more from an experience. And once I started noticing this tendency in all modern entertainment to try to wring tears or laughter from me, I began to really resent it. For instance, someone recommended the American TV series Bones to me. It's quite entertaining. It has a lot of incidental music and close-ups and moments of angst-ridden meaning when we're reminded that the protagonist's parents disappeared and she NEVER SAW THEM AGAIN. Last night I watched an episode in which the protag. finally opened the Christmas parents her parents had left for her before their disappearance, fifteen years ago. I cried. And then I felt really stupid. I'd just been manipulated into crying, once again. I'd wasted emotion on that programme. By the end of the day, after all this being poked into emotion-emitting, I'm a dried-out husk of a person.

I'm not saying I want to just watch and read intellectualised art. I'm just saying that when we have been made to really consider a situation, a character, an event - that's when we are truly immersed in the experience. Then just the slightest emotion can have huge resonance. We don't need disappeared parents and rousing music.

A good example of this has to be The Course of the Heart by M. John Harrison. Three students get involved in some sort of mystic rite and it has repercussions throughout their lives. Not obvious, demon-chasing repercussions. There's no pentacles and big fat devils (although I haven't quite reached the end yet). There are constructions of realities that nobody can escape. They live quiet, scared lives as a consequence.

It has been hurting my brain to read this book because I had to do some thinking about it. What's the last book that really made you think, rather than feel?