Thursday, 30 May 2013

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

24 Hour Party people - 10 'party' songs

I know it's Tuesday and that friday & the weekend looks a long way off, but here's something to look forward to: 10 songs around the themes of partying.

1) Beastie Boys - "Fight For Your Right To Party"
The granddaddy of all party songs, or perhaps the snotty grandson might be more appropriate. Crass, crude and a killer guitar riff sample, this one should get them flocking on to the dancefloor, fists pumping the air. The video even has custard pies to underline its schoolboy level. There's a wonderfully fey version of this by Scottish indie band BMX Bandits and a typically mournful & lugubrious version by Coldplay on the occasion of Beastie Boy MCA's death from cancer last year.


2) Velvet Underground - "All Tomorrow's Parties"
From the ridiculous to the sublime... Art noise Velvets with the uninflected emotionless vocal of Nico, is anything but inviting. I used to get stuck in a corner at parties with dead-eyed men or women like Nico trying to extol the virtues of whichever god they followed. I don't go to parties anymore...


3) Bob Marley And The Wailers - "Punky Reggae Party"
Bob Marley recognises the kinship between the 1977 punks and reggae, as punks like Johnny Rotten and Joe Strummer acknowledged their love of reggae and DJ Donovan Letts spun reggae tunes before the bands at London punk venue The Vortex Club. He was a bit late on the bandwagon, as reggae band Culture had already released "When Two Sevens Clash" (two sevens as in 1977), which is a far better song that this pretty lame effort. Can't see the punks pronouncing it as 'par-tay'


4) Minutemen - "Maybe Partying Will Help"
Punk-funksters Minutemen slice up another slice of jerky rhythms to set the hips in motion. God I loved this band and was one of my regrets that I never got to see them play live before lead singer/guitarist D.Boon died in a road accident.


5) Black Flag - "TV Party"
Black Flag with Henry Rollins at the helm were always regarded as this intense hardcore punk band, but they had a sense of humour too, as this witty ditty suggests. Sort of Frat Boy level like the Beasties, but done with a little less leaden satire I feel. When I was growing up, America seemed to have a slightly different take on partying to us in the UK. There it was sex, cocaine and weak beer. In the UK it was sexual repression, heaps of booze and maybe a spliff or two. Times have changed and we've caught up.


6) Nelly - "Party People"
I don't have this song in my collection, but YouTube didn't have the Parliament song of the same name so you're stuck with this piece of audio and visual dreck. How hard can he be, he's got a girl's name for flipssakes! Parliament's song is much better believe me...


7) Beat Happening - "Pyjama Party In a Haunted Hive"
I'm really surprised this is on YouTube so low-fi underground were this band, but delighted all the same. Very off the wall and with those deep, deep vocals, bliss!


8) Lesley Gore - "It's My Party (And I'll Cry If I want To)"
You just knew this was going to appear right? Well it was either this or that godawful Whigfield song. Pop music just wasn't made to party... You need something a tad stronger with all those emotions flashing around!


9) Cool Kids - "Basement Party"
Restoring the cool quotient a tad, Cool Kids are a contemporary hip hop that only do old school stuff. And more power to their oscillating elbows I say


10) Happy Mondays ' "24 Hour Party People"
For the ultimate hedonistic dance band, this sentiment summing up everything about them is actually pretty terrible. But what's interesting to me about it is how trained and all played out Sean Ryder's singing is on this track. Like it's all caught up with him and left him on the precipice. We all have to come down eventually.



Bonus Track
Tupac Shakur - "California Love"
Doesn't have 'party' in the title, but the lyric says it all, "California knows how to party"



Friday, 24 May 2013

Quaternary Life - Friday Flash's Fourth Anniversary Blog Hop

                             


Friday Flash Dot Org, a body I owe a lot to in my writing development, is 4 years old having started in May 2009 (I first contributed in November 2009 and have since written about 140 flash stories). I've tried to kick the habit a couple of times as I return to writing novels, but always I come back to writing flash. Once the bug has bitten you...

So in honour of FFDO's 4th anniversary, they have organised a blog hop among their contributors and I am proud to be one such. A 400 word story (or thereabouts) on the theme of a 4th anniversary.

Thanks FFDO for all your tireless efforts on behalf of us writers and happy 4th Birthday!

*


The scrawny dog was lapping the water that had collected in the cracked tarmac. And thereby initiated the foreshortening of its life expectancy. Not that anyone was collating statistics and calculating averages anymore. Mutations were accelerating at a furious rate. New species, or variants on an old one at least, being created with every mouthful of toxic water. Evolution had never witnessed such a rapid turnover of progeny. All of them dead ends. With the emphasis on dead. As in extinct.

Dogs used to be aged in a calendar of their own. A multiplier of seven to equate to their human masters. Those who had betrayed them now. Telescoping seven years into seven days at the genetic level, as amino acid and protein whirled their totentanz tango with one another. Half-life? Existence wasn't even granted that bare fraction of life now.

The dog shook its head to banish those uningested droplets clinging to its maw. The fast growing tumour had already squatted in its jawbone, so that on the return swing of the skull, the protuberance interfered with its own proprioception. The dog lost its awareness of its own dimensions in space and toppled over under the alien weight. It pawed the air, swatting away the imaginary blowflies of Hell. The real cadaver flies having perished from earth, after their unremitting modern diet of irradiated flesh.

Humans too were stricken with the radical changes to their physiology. While their bodies managed to hold their overall integrity even with the cellular buboes, their brain chemistry fared less well. Memories in particular were sorely afflicted. Hence any human being barely maintained a sense of their own continued existence. Each new lesion or bone-sprouted contortion of their anatomy, combined with the loss of recollected self-image to mean humans couldn't remember themselves from the previous day. They were born anew each morn, though still possessed of the basic impulses to feed themselves and evacuate the waste.

Day may have followed interminable day, but there was no annual cycle. Crops and seasons had been outblasted and blighted by radiation. Sun and snow had slithered out of chronometry behind a wall of industrial fug. Day and night had split their differences and settled on a lugubrious energy saving greyness.

No human had the powers of recall to mark today as the fourth anniversary of the start of the war that had so spited the earth. Historians had been the first to lose their calling.


Why the murder in Woolwich was not a terrorist act

one has to be very careful when bandying around the term 'terrorism'. In the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, President Obama was careful not to immediately dub the act one of terrorism. For so associated in the Western mind is Islam with terrorism (pace Bush & Blair), that to announce any act as one of terrorism conjures up in the general public an image of a radical Muslim and that can lead to reprisals on innocent Muslim members of the population. The Oklahoma bombing was not Islamic. And a Spanish government lost an election when they were so ingrained with the perception of Basque Separatist terrorism, that they accused them of the Madrid train bombings rather than wait for the evidence that it had in fact been homegrown Al Qaeda sympathisers.

The definition and purpose of terrorism is to cause terror in the general population. It is a method of conducting an asymmetric war, by applying pressure on a population to change a government policy. It's asymmetric, because the terrorists know they can match the state's military force, so they seek other means to wage war by. Because of the disparity in force available to a state and to the terrorists, it's exceedingly rare that the terrorists can defeat their enemy. If there is an upswing of popular support for the terrorists, then it may veer into an uprising or revolution, (such as developed in Algeria in the 1960s), but at best the terrorists can get some concessions from the State around the negotiating table. The histories of the State of Israel and more recently Northern Ireland show this.

So some terrorists have political objectives, while others are more motivated by sheer criminality, be it money or the love of mayhem equating to death cults. There is a difference between ideology that is a mere patina gloss over criminal behaviour and that terrorist activity which emerges solely out of the ideology and the ideology informs the precise nature of every terrorist act, such as the nature of the targets. Some terrorist groups will only attack police and army. Some, such as the Angry brigade in the UK, would not target people, but only property. (of course the nature of the beast when dealing with explosives is that some people still die however unintentional).

Events in Woolwich yesterday did not constitute a terrorist act. Yes ideology and political objectives were spouted, but the act was a) too small scale and isolated an attack to constitute an attack on the state b) the perpetrators overtly did not target the civilian population, thus they did not seek to cause them terror and even engaged in conversation/discussions with the citizens there.

You could argue that they wanted to terrorise the State, maybe make government think it was the start of a larger, more sustained campaign and indeed Cameron rushed back from a diplomatic trip abroad and gathered the emergency panel of COBRA. But while flying 5 airplanes into the White House & Pentagon (as intended) as well as the Twin Towers can be rated as a direct attack on the State, the brutal slaying of one soldier is a token and symbolic act and no more. It is so pathological a modus operandi, even to the point of waiting for the police thereby ensuring no sustained campaign beyond this one act by the perpetrators would be possible, that it could not be part of anything strategic or tactical. It was to send a message and the message was the attack on a soldier (Crusader), the attempt at ritual beheading and ensuring that social media spread news of their deed. One murder changes the array of forces not one jot. But the recruiting drive of spreading the evidence of it, as with footage of suicide bombers or IEDs (improvised explosive device) ensures others will aspire to similar acts.

This has been the horrific genius of the Al Qaeda legacy. It provided a way of operating, a loose ideology that meant any local person with their own set of grievances could easily adapt the loose credo to justify their actions, while providing the practical means of making bombs or other hostile acts. There is no defined political ideology or agenda, it is whatever the local perpetrators decide upon. There is no endgame. It is more akin to death cults, killing for the love of killing and to kindle a low-level but ongoing war against an unspecified target. But these are essentially criminal acts, a perceived way of 'getting even' for whatever list of grievances and injustices, a lashing out and a striking back, but little more. It feeds itself and damages its own community who get smeared by the image of radical Islam, which in turn provokes the reprisals that can harden attitudes on both sides.

You've heard the term have a go hero, well this is sort of the inverse of that. Have a go anti-heroes, people full of personal fury, given the outlet for murder by a seemingly justifying ideology that is absolutely only a gloss on a criminal mindset.

Woolwich was a pathological act, dressed up in the symbols of an ideology. Don't be fooled that it was anything else.





Thursday, 23 May 2013

Twist and Shout? - The literary twist considered

To stick or twist with your story ending? It's something I've always had strong feelings about, but I was delighted to see a writer friend of mine Mary Papas sticking up for the view contrary to mine. So I thought why not post both sides of the argument? Like me Mary also write flash fiction, so at least we are comparing like with like. Her two collections are "Take Off Your Mask" and "14 Twisted Tales To Enthrall" (shared with Ray Tullett) are both available from Amazon Kindle store.

My con argument is first, followed by Mary's pro-argument.



Is there anything quite as clichéd as a twist (or sting) in the tail (tale)?

Personally I recoil from both writing them and reading them in books. I say recoil, maybe that's a bit strong. Besides, it depends on how exactly you define a 'twist'.

At the level of a dictionary defintion, a twist is an altering in shape, usually through coiling or spiralling. Winding either the two ends of the same thread around one another, or interweaving two discrete strands together.



So either the key element is the altering in shape. That somehow the twist takes a story and contorts it into a whole new shape through its ending; or that two completely separate strands are woven together, that may in fact not bear the weight of being brought together at all so you get distortion.

In both cases, I would make a distinction between a plot twist in the resolution of a story and an undercutting of the preconceptions laid by the rest of the story to take the reader's perception on to a whole new plane. The former, a twist in the plot of the "Phew, it was all a dream" type, or "it wasn't Smith who had died, it was his twin", are the twists that don't really interest me. Expectations may have been confounded, but the story is wholly resolved. All tied up with a bow.

Whereas with the latter, the reader may have to completely go back and reconsider every line in light of the new perspective called upon by the denouement pulling the rug from how the story had been read up until that point. They may even have to read it again in the new perspective. The story keeps resonating with the reader beyond its conclusion, because there are reverberating layers supplied by the mechanism of the ending acting upon the reader's comprehension.

As an example of this, in my new collection of flash stories "Long Stories Short" I have a tale where the narrator is walking behind someone and is fascinatedly describing the ripple in the tights and the contraction of the muscles beneath in the gait of the pedestrian. It definitely has the feel of male gaze voyeurism, but the ending as the identity of the pedestrian is revealed- and which I won't spoil here-  turns the whole set of perceptions and why these motions are being described, utterly on its head. It's not a resolution of plot, but a vertiginous, spiralling into a whole new way of envisioning just such a scene from the perspective of the narrator.

But I would like to go further in this. For me the issue is the very notion of endings, together with beginnings and middles too! I know Aristotle posited that stories required beginnings, middle and ends, but I think the writer's palette is potentially far richer than that.

I write flash fiction stories. Stories of 1000 words or less. There is no space for introductory exposition. You are launched right into the world of the story within line one. And to an extent, this is true of any piece of fiction of any length, since the reader has to find their bearings in the fictional world established by the author. However, in a flash story, there are even fewer words to help convey the reader into the world of the story, since the ending is fast approaching.

Nor is there any room for a saggy middle in flash fiction. The action/character development has to begin with word one and continue apace throughout.

And so on to endings. In the same collection I have a story called "A Series of False Endings", which as its title suggests, instead of a beginning, has a series of end scenarios. When the story reaches its conclusion, there is no twist, but the ending of endings in this story chockful of them. It is the complete finality, because of the context of what has gone before. It is the only ending possible that banishes all the prior endings offered up in the story.

                                          

DNA molecules are helical, that is they twist and spiral around their twin strands. And that's an apt structure for such a metaphor, since endings ought to emerge organically from what precedes them. That doesn't mean you can't veer away in a surprising direction with your denouement, but it must be of a consistency with the rest of the story. That is it must be in proportion to what has gone on before. The transition doesn't have to be seamless, but it must be credible. It must have its roots in what has occurred prior, and not seem to lurch out of left-field.

And this would be my issue with the twist ending. If the structure of the story is conventional beginning, middle and end, then the emphasis is on this fairly rigid structure being faithfully rendered by the story's plot. That is the ending tends to take on more importance in its own right, rather than emerging organically from the story leading up to it. It has to have an ending, that ending probably has to be surprising and unseen. These external demands on the device of the ending I think too often risk dissociating it from the tone and flow of what precedes it. Twists can seem tacked on, or are asked to carry too much weight in taking the whole story in a different direction. If the story is one permeated by love, but ends with a sudden, unexpected murder between two lovers, then the tone radically shifts. Unless there are hints throughout the story of the incipient murderousness between them, I don't think such a twist works - it's too radical and abrupt a shift in tone and mood. Twists can't be abrupt. The story is the ending and the ending is the story, but only if it prompts further reflection after the ending of the story. If the story remains frozen by the ending, twist and all, then it's probably failed to some degree.

The opening story in my collection "Love Net", contains about as traditional a twist as I have ever approached. It's about dating, the search for love and the ending sees this reversed for its polar opposite. But I hope the words throughout are written so as to hold both the romantic motivation, but also on second reading, to suggest a far darker search too. The two strands of language's DNA coiled tightly around one another and informing each other.


In favour of the twist ending - Mary Papas

I am in favor of using twists in flash fiction because:

1) A Twist Makes The Story Memorable

It is hard for readers to remember every single one of the flash fiction stories you have written. However, if your flash fiction stories end with a surprising twist, the chances are higly increased. People tend to remember things that impress them the most and the same goes for readers; a twist at the end that will leave them speechless can help them remember your stories if not forever, at least for a long time. And you, as an author, want your readers to remember the stories, in your books so that they will in turn remember to buy more of your books. It is a tough competition out there and if you don't manage to stand out from the crowd somehow, why should readers pick your books over millions of others? 

2. A Twist Leaves The Readers Wanting More

A twist at the end of your flash fiction story is a great way to trigger enough interest, which is perfect if you write sequels.  In order for readers to want to buy ''Part 2'' they have to be interested enough in ''Part 1''. If ''Part 1'' ends in a way that leaves them wondering what could have happened next, then mission is accomplished. You are ready to launch ''Part 2''. 

3. A Twist Which Is Not Really A Twist

What seems to be a twist, is not always one.  Sometimes what is perceived as a twist is actually a destination in alignment with the character's journey. In such a case, that twist is an opportunity for the readers to re-read the story and look for signs they missed the first time. If the story is written well, the signs are there, discreetly, but they are there. In my book "Take Off Your Mask" the most popular story so far is "Who's The Boss", partly because of the killer twist at the end... the male lead turns out to be gay. It was not really a twist for me, more like a revelation of a dark secret. The readers could have suspected it however, because of the man's total lack of affection towards the woman he he had been  dating for a long while. It's not necessarily the first thing you might think about in such a case, but it is not the last either is it?




Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Music Can Be Murder - songs about killing

Rock and roll lifestyle eh? It's one thing throwing a telly out of a hotel window, but the business sure is obsessed with songs about the ultimate crime, that of killing and murder. Here's 20 of the best.

1) Roberta Flak - "Killing Me Softly"
The grandmammy of them all, Roberta's purring delivery slays me every time. So sweet, there's almost no hint of the menace behind the lyrics.



2) MC 900ft Jesus - "The Killer Inside Me"
This guy was so criminally overlooked as a performer that it kills me (see what I did there?) Lots of dark undertones in his delivery have jaunty, half really sinister. Genius.



3) Talking Heads - "Psychokiller"
Can't remember if this was their debut release, but what a song to announce your arrival with. New York art-punk, with French in the lyrics just to underline the artiness of it! From when they were still you know, like good.



4) Neil Young - "Cortez The Killer"
I was never a big Neil Young fan, his voice a bit too reedy for my tastes. But plenty swear by him so I honour that. An American singing a song about imperialism, what are the chances?



5) Barrington Levy - "Murderer"
This has the uncanny feel of someone discovering a body, and screaming murderer, murderer into the air to announce it to the whole community so they come running. I love it so much, I used it in my novel "Time After Time". The French call and response audience aren't really up to the challenge!



6) 999 - "Homicide"
Another overlooked minor classic, this is a rare British example of the genre. Musically pretty sophisticated for what was essentially a punk band. Don't you just love the scratchiness of the video? Ah punk nostalgia...



7) Mekons - "Kill 1980"
Actually scrub that, as the next few show, there are plenty of British examples of the kill song genre. Post-punk-turned country-folk-punk Mekons this song saw the introduction of the violin to their line up and to good effect I can't help but feel.



8) The Cure - "Killing An Arab"
This song gets into many of my charts, as it was seminal to both my musical and literary development. An older cousin of mine suggested that I listen to this song and then read Camus' "L'Etranger" both of which I duulky did and was blown away by both. The 'cool' points at school I was initially seeking after from consuming both just no longer seemed to matter...



10) Robert Cray - "Killing Floor"
Classic blues, there are lots of versions of this from Howlin Wolf to Led Zeppelin, but most weren't live & in colour!



11) Bodycount - "Cop Killer"
Yup, that song that caused all the furore in the US. A very average bit of thrash metal, elevated to legendary status by the outrage. Will the authorities never learn? As John Lydon once sung, "Ignore it and it will go away"



12) Dead Kennedys - "Kill The Poor"
... or the other way is to do it with lashings of humour and irony. Mind you I think this still managed to upset some folks who thought the sentiments were real.



13) Angelic Upstarts - "The Murder Of Liddle Towers"
Liddle Towers was a minor professional boxing trainer who died after being arrested by the Police. Two different bands (The other being Tom Robinson Band) penned songs demanding the truth about his death to be investigated, possibly something of a record, but one of those moments when music tries to advocate for something useful.



14) Adam And The Ants - "Killer In The Home"
When Adam Ant suddenly hit on the formula for chart success in both music and look, this song was the only one from that period that I actually liked. Mind you he still slipped in one of his trademark pirate/red Indian/highwayman references in that trite way of his.



15) Carter USM - Midnight On The Murder Mile
For a duo, this band sure made a racket. They signed my copy of their album when they did a set in the record shop I was working in. Since all their songs were paeans to South London, I asked them to sign it 'to a North Londoner'. Nice chaps.



16) Muse - Assassin
The idea of Muse being angry enough to kill anyone makes me snort! Still, fair song musically.



17) John Lee Hooker - I'm Gonna Kill That woman
... unlike blues singers who you entirely believe they're capable of murder. Awesome. One of the few songs Nick Cave hasn't been able to do justice to in his cover versions.



18) The Bug - "Murder We"
Lots of The Bug's songs are exceedingly angry no matter who the guest vocalist is. An angry man clearly. And dubstep is usually so mellow...



19) Rage Against The Machine - "Killing In The Name Of"
I dunno, I always found this song a bit too bloated to get its sentiments across, but when it was hijacked to prevent some crappy UK TV talent show winner becoming the Christmas chart topping number 1 that was just fine by me. Still didn't go out and buy it though.



20) Snoop Dogg -  Serial Killa
Hima so bad he drop 'is 'aitches when  he raps. Can't take this seriously though I probably should












Saturday, 18 May 2013

Just Aphasia Going Through - Kinetic Typography Video

A kinetic typography telling of my flash fiction story "Just Aphasia Going Through"



For a some thoughts on the current relationship between literature and kinetic typography, my post here

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Guest Post - Vivienne Tuffnell

"Kissing Moths Not Frogs"




I'm delighted to be hosting friend and wonderful writer Vivienne Tuffnell on the occasion of her latest book, a collection of short stories called "The Moth's Kiss", several of which I had the privilege of reading as they were being written.

Viv and I share the imperative to interrogate life and our surroundings, to really dig deeper under surface appearances, although we take different stylistic approaches in our writing. But while I content myself with sitting at home and processing everything as thought experiments, Viv has a huge wealth of knowledge and experience in many different fields which she brings to her writing and being. Deeply spiritual, she has a wonderful blog about all things to do with the human psyche, both the things that damage it and the things that help heal such assaults.

Viv never veers away from dealing with deep, deep emotions and she doesn't sugarcoat the darker things in life whenever she happens to be discussing them in her writing. I can't recommend her writing enough.

Over to Viv-



Folklore fascinates me, and it's younger sibling, the urban myth comes a close second. Once you start looking at them both, you realise there is a hoard of inspiration for writing but also they're something that thread through much of modern consciousness. When it comes to superstitions, most people claim to be above it all, but there are things that seem to undermine that.

The tear-drinking moth is one of those things.

I thought it was a myth and I casually asked my brother to confirm this. His area of expertise is lepidoptera, and I grew up with bugs of all sorts so I'm deeply grateful that he stuck largely to butterflies and moths as his primary interest. He's had a room full of tarantulas since I left home, and would like to breed scorpions too. When I mentioned the moth that drinks tears he surprised me. It exists, and he sent me links to some photos of it. It looks harmless enough until you realise that this moth does not merely wait patiently for tears to spill from sleeping eyes, but rather it provokes them. It uses its sharp proboscis to poke the eye and make it water, causing serious irritation and spreads various disgusting diseases. Creepier still is the evolution of a moth that drinks not tears but blood: http://news.nationalgeographic.co.uk/news/2008/10/081027-vampire-moth-evolution-halloween-missions.html

I'd be lying if I said I set out to write a story about the tear-drinking moth. I didn't. I'd got to a part in a novel I was writing where I needed to step back and look at the narrative from the outside. The novel in question is the third in a series, the first of which is The Bet, and I was trying to create a penetrating sense of menace, of that creeping sense of being watched. So I stepped outside and in a number of pieces, I became the observer, watching and waiting and plotting. Most of it is liable to sit on my hard-drive, unseen but the short story I named The Moth's Kiss for its reference to the tear-drinking moth was obviously capable of standing alone as a story in its own right.

I enjoy writing short stories; it's a very different discipline to that of writing a novel. As a result I write a few in bursts and often do nothing more with them. I've published one collection of shorts, with a theme of ancient deities interacting with the modern world, and I wondered if among the many stories stuffed onto my computer I had sufficient to produce another collection with a theme.

That's when I had the idea of The Moth's Kiss as first tale in a sequence of stories with related themes. Initially I thought of it as scary stories, but on reflection I realised that each of the selected tales dips into some well-embedded folklore and urban legends. A Devil's Pet visits the abiding belief that cats are uncanny and evil. Black Hole is entwined with some quite new beliefs, made widespread by such books as The Secret, that we can draw to ourselves what we need or deserve by merely focusing our thoughts on our goals with sufficient confidence; I took this so-called Law of Attraction and had a little fun with it. Both Green Willow and Bitter Withy  incorporate both ancient folklore of the willow tree being the champion of the discarded lover and other more recent legends, such as the oracle of iPods on shuffle.

Each of the ten stories links to some abiding belief whether ancient or modern or a combination of the two. I have heard that Einstein is said to have recommended that for intelligent children you should read them fairy-tales and for more intelligent children, read them MORE fairy-tales. I'm not convinced about the intelligence bit but fairy-tales, folklore, urban legends all emerge from various strata of the collective unconscious and point not just to our primal needs but also our collective primal fears. This is why we can be transported back millennia by a good story well told; it takes us back to a time when that prickling feeling of being watched was worth heeding for it may have meant that Smilodon or other ambush predator was lurking in the long grass licking its lips. Such a tale reminds us of our fragility even in our technological bubble and there's really nothing like being shocked by a brush with death (even fictional) to make us feel vibrantly alive again.   

The Moth's Kiss is available from Amazon UK:  USA: 



I tweet as @guineapig66

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Visual Literature

So, just what can the new digital technologies offer literature? Embedded links so that you can choose the precise path through a text, such as the collaboration behind Kafka's Wound, with archive photos, documentary, audio and an essay by Will Self. Or there's Nick Cave's vook "The Death Of Bunny Munro", a book with music videos and author readings embedded.

But these are really extras around the text, 'the making of' equivalent in movie DVDs. They do very little with the original text itself, other than frame it with these frills. The urge to click in "Kafka's Wound" kept talkin me out of what was a very sophisticated central essay by Self that demanded full concentration, so managed to work against the text.

I have always been interested in delving even further into a text, beyond that of the words and down to the very DNA of written language, the letters themselves.

I have commissioned visual literature that embed the words & letters in a visual representation. Examples can be found here, where coherent sentences emerge from the primordial soup of a jumble of letters, the play of image and words reinforcing one another.

But there is an art form that I believe offers even more to maximise the significance and contribution of the typography to the meaning of the text itself. And that art form is known as kinetic (or motion) typography. I'm not sure how well known it is, as the entry explaining it in Wikipedia is pretty skimpy. The best way to demonstrate it is simply to watch some of the videos. There's a dedicated part of the Vimeo video site to kinetic typography.

I studied them in my search for a designer to collaborate with. And I was disappointed. Not with the look of the videos, which are fantastic, but with the lack of imagination behind the choice of texts, which unfortunately in my opinion served only to widen the gap between text and representation through motion typography. The texts are often film dialogue snatches or song lyrics, and accordingly only serve to show off the art (Vimeo is after all a shop window for artists, so this is partly understandable).  Then there is the other main use of kinetic typography, in advertising and marketing videos, where the text is often dry and target-led rather than artistic.

Finally there is the example of perhaps the most viewed of all kinetic typography films, Stephen Fry talking for 6 minutes about the wonders of language, all represented by the visual echo of his spoekn text made to move. I use the word echo, but directly parrot might be more accurate. I'm not sure in this case that the visuals add anything to Fry's rich vocal rendition. Apart from movement for movement's sake, I don't think the visuals advance the text in any meaningful way that bring out new or different shades of meaning to the oral.

Writers have to think what might be the case for animating their text. Rather than that dreaded term 'added value', the reason for it must exist within the text itself. And that means thinking about the words, what about them demands to be sparked up and shoot across a screen. But it also means thinking about the letters making up those words. For kinetic typography morphs, mutates, reverses, spins, rotates, severs, disappears, magics letters in its very being.

So I have this text about dementia. A gradual loss of language ability, where words mutate into close sounding but otherwise unrelated by meaning other words as letter blindness and problems of recall set in. The perfect medium for representation in kinetic type. The text informs the animation and the animation gives extra edge and depth to the text.



So writers, please think about your texts and whether kinetic typography can serve to give depth, resonance and complexity to them. And graphic designers, please think about collaborating with writers for some interesting texts to bring alive. Texts that may even have been written with animated typography in mind.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

La La La London I Love you - 10 London songs

I posted a music video chart of songs about specific London locations, but there are plenty of songs that name London itself in the title. And as someone born, living and probably dying in this great capital city, I wanted to honour that. So here's 10 songs honouring (in most cases) my beloved city.


1) "London Calling" - The Clash
No surprises with this choice, THE London punk rock band from under the Westway, calling out London's first legitimate claim to lord it over Manchester and Liverpool as being the centre of a music force in the form of punk rock. It couldn't have happened without London's pub rock music venues, art colleges and certain clothes emporiums. Didn't last long mind, as power soon returned up North, to Manchester and even Sheffield for a while. Maybe Dubstep will reassert primacy for London music once again.



2) "London Girl" - The Jam
Imagine the provincials from satellite towns to London, travelling up to the capital every weekend to spend their pocket money in the boutiques, coffee shops and seeing their favourite bands for every post-war generation. The Jam were just such as they pilgrimaged to the capital of Mod "Carnaby Street" to stock up on Parkas and sharp It"In The City"alian suits. This early track of theirs is quite endearing two-dimensional Mod homage, nothing like the more sophisticated band they later went on to become (probably why no live footage of it on youTube). A B-Side of theirs went on to criticise the commercialisation of Carnaby Street in the same way punk bands sung about the standardization of punk through merchandising.



3) "Funky London Childhood" - T-Rex
If there ever was a better example of the rock star made by London than Marc Bolan, them I'm unsure as to who it was. Born, bred and died in London, Bolan was perfectly placed to tread the well worn path of London's Tin Pan Alley of agents, producers, record labels and itinerant musicians until he hit upon the right formula for success, in his case the Glam Rock of the 1970s. For a very good treatment of the history of London as administrative and commercial hub for modern music, read Paul du Noyer's excellent book "In The City". The irony being that most of the musicians who end up in London making their living, are not Londoners by birth. Bolan was unusual in that respect.



4) "LDN" - Lily Allen
Unless, you've reached the 21st century and by now qualify for the generations born to celebrity. Lily Allen, daughter of venerable punk comedian and now classic actor Keith, looks for her own way to make her name. So she's hooked up with some established session musicians, hits on a jaunty London-Caribbean sound and produces a feel good summer album. The start of this video was shot in my old workplace, with real staff members, at London's premier independent record shop Rough Trade Store. A couple of hit singles and promptly her music career takes a nose dive as she reverts to the celebrity persona and lives her entire life out in public via newspapers and social media.



5) "Londinium" - Catatonia
Well if you don't like it, you know what you can do Cerys don't you! You there with your baby voice. Can you tell I wasn't a fan? Personally I find London invigorating...



6) "Dark Streets Of London" - The Pogues
And still on the Celtic fringe, Shane Macgowan's Pogues duly honour their adoptive country while preserving the best of both their Irish and London roots. Macgowan truly is a rock poet of London similar to what John Cooper Clarke did for Manchester.



7) "Hold Tight London" - Chemical Brothers
The thing about capital cities, is that they have both the best and worst quality drugs. I will leave you to decide which are in evidence here. Some nice background shots of the city though.



8) "The Streets Of London" - Anti Nowhere League
See we can laugh at ourselves, as this beautiful folky song by Ralph McTell is given a right good duffing up by a band, the best thing about which could be said, was their name.



9) "City Of London" - The Mekons
The Mekons were from Leeds, but do a rather fine job here and reference Charles Dickens so can't be all bad!



10) "London Bridge" - Fergie
Hilarious and seemingly another American to confuse London with Tower Bridge: "going down like London Bridge. And no bad teeth on show anywhere in the entire video...




Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Friday Flash - Flash Video Bonanza!

For this week's Friday Flash, I've uploaded a home-recorded version of a flash reading I did in public, talking about the art of flash writing and reading 11 of my stories and talking about where they came from.

Hope you enjoy!



Thursday, 2 May 2013

Tendering Her Resignation - Friday Flash

She gingerly lifted the soiled bandage from her shin, but still her mother winced with the discomfort. Even the faintest friction from the lint must have caused her pain, while the sting of fresh air inroading against the denuded skin could only ratchet up the agony further. She glanced at the bandage and saw the telltale red corona imprinting the white cotton. She averted her gaze and for a moment commuted it in her mind's eye as a white napkin bearing a fresh lipstick kiss before a date.

She refocused her vision and saw that her mother's ulcer was weeping again now that the compression bandage had been lifted. She started massaging her toes for her. It was the closest locus away from the wound she could caress without prompting further suffering in her mother. Tears were welling up behind her own eyes.

Gazing upon her leg it seemed as though the sore was boring through the layers of skin. But she knew the opposite dynamic was at work. Failings in the blood supply within, had starved the skin of oxygen and thereby corrupted the integrity of its tissue. A parochial suffocation.

She tore her gaze away from the suppurating wound and instead scrutinised the veins and arteries around her mother's ankles. The red and blue capillaries were raised right to the surface of her skin, like oxygen starved fish in a waterhole receding under a fierce orange sun. The reds and blues put her in mind of a road atlas, the major trunk routes and motorways out of the city. A spaghetti nexus of escape arteries that she had never taken. Held here in place by her mother's immobility and venous constriction. Her mother splayed out on her bed there, like a catafalque. Yet it might be she herself having her coffin drawn along by hearse to the cemetery at the city limits. Her body undertaking the longest journey of her life and breaching the confines of the city only once in death. As she disposed of the soiled bandage, she apprehended that it could never be lipstick, only ever blood and purulence.

It hadn't always been like this she was certain. She had seen the family portraits. Delicate colour photos sweated behind the dividing wax leaves of an old fashioned album, that suggested it was consonant with the days of sepia tints. But the evidence was still there in place. A porcelain skin so alabaster white, that the lens managed to pick out the filigree blue veins in all their delicacy. Her mother had assuredly been a beauty in her youth.

But that white skin was now bruised, burnished and livid out of all recognition. She wiped the moisture from the corner of her eye with the heel of her hand. She didn't want to get any germs on her fingers that would soon have to reapply the bandage shroud. But her good intentions were undone when she reflexively scratched her own lower leg, bringing her skin up in a chalky sheen, though there was no eruption of any efflorescence.

"Hold on Mama, I have to wash my hands clean."

As she squirted the antiseptic soap into her palms, she mused on whether the condition might be genetic. Her mother had been invalided for as long as she could remember. Certainly at an age younger than she was herself now, so that it seemed unlikely to be stalking her own vascular system. And yet her circulation had also furred up, since she rarely exercised save for errands after fresh food, clean bandages and repeat prescriptions.

Anti-septic was right. She had allowed herself to be contaminated by the stasis of her mother's plight. Caring and tending had made her utterly dependent on her mother's stagnant rhythms. She was actually the sore and her mother the lint pressing her down. She didn't mean to, but when she applied a new bandage, she pushed it with a bit more force than normal. Her mother cried out.

"I'm sorry Mama, so so sorry."



taken from the Flash Fiction collection "Long Stories Short" available on Amazon Kindle free to download 3rd-7th June