Sunday, 19 February 2017

Third Annual Report - Flash Fiction

The Directors are delighted to report continued year on year increase on production outputs. Not accounting for unbranded live stocks in progress, units delivered for export have increased in volume by 123%. Consolidating our reception suite with the processing facility has brought about efficiencies and reduced the production time significantly. The liquidation of the original reception site has been flawless, with no discernible depreciation of any of our assets.

However if has to be noted we still face procurement challenges, principally that of sourcing raw materials in any area without thinning out the supply in a manner that proves deleterious  to our enterprise and risks attracting unwelcome attention from hostile competitors. We have to cast our net wider and be prudent as to not over-mine any one site.

Blood stock derivative remains a gross inefficiency when it comes to waste processing and the research and development budget will be redirected to tackle this task in the upcoming year. Though this report itself looks resplendent written in the sanguinary red ink we have repurposed from the waste material, clearly the volume employed would not be sufficient to expend our veritable plasmatic seas of surfeit by-product. As to the adipose offcuts, initially we thought we had come up with a dissolution of the inhibitory bottleneck, when we moulded the tallow into candles. However, we found the attendant raiment to be largely of synthetic manufacture, highly combustible and therefore of no efficacy for serving as the wicks, accordingly we have suspended the enterprise. However, for the modest investment of a tanker as our second vehicle there on the balance sheet, plus some hosing and pressure valves, we have hit upon a rather elegant recycling initiative. We operate a service insulating cavity walls with our unwanted suet. This has afforded us the status of corporate social responsibility being conferred on us, which means prying eyes are less likely to be directed towards us. We further remain hopeful that with the appointment of the new leader in America, environmental protection rigour will slacken and not present a problem for us into the future. However the proposed physical wall on the border with Mexico may affect our raw material supply lines from Ciudad Juarez.

Accordingly the Directors would like to commend to you this report and additionally are pleased to announce that they will be issuing the first dividend payment to preferential shareholders on their investment a year ahead of schedule. To that end please be sure to declare this our honourable gift in kind of thirty fresh prime human steaks and fifty kid shanks, a veritable palate-cleansing delicacy I’m sure you will agree.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Fightback Art - Flash Fiction

Hollywood had fallen as easily as a stage flat. The troops of the AltRight turned their attention to New York. The President was equivocal about any assailing of Wall Street, but they had carte blanche on the deviant lawyers and artists housed in Gotham. They were also encouraged to hunt down radical Islamic terrorists (born and bred in Carolina and Kansas) who were assumed to have gone to ground there, since they seemed to be pursuing their own strategic targets, although the exact numbers of their forces couldn’t be determined. Militias from Idaho and Montana were dispatched to de-core the Big Apple and root out every last maggot. 

The campaign was started with simultaneous attacks on MOMA on 57th St and the Guggenheim on 89th. Sculptures were attacked with box cutters, though the first contact transformed them into harmless palette knives. Tins of house decorating paint were hurled against paintings mounted on the walls, but some magical force bunched the paint splashes like Hokusai waves, before sending them slithering to the concrete floor where they proceeded to reproduce any of a variety of Jackson Pollock canvases. The only blow these sap squads landed was successfully shooting up several Jasper Johns’ “Target” paintings, scoring perfect bulls’ eyes, but the museum curators only felt this added to the paintings’ interactive spirit of the familiar, though art critics felt it merely demonstrated their own two-dimensional literalism. The discourse raged on, though this first wave of shock corps were oblivious to their part in the debate. An Islamic Anti-Blasphemy' squad came across them at the upper echelons of the Guggenheim, threw a copy of their "Taliban and ISIS Guide To Perfidious Art" into the gallery they occupied and then fled. The manual had just a sole page, a photograph of a stick of dynamite. They mined the top storey, but their hoped for Helter Skelter failed to materialise, instead they were thrown off balance and tumbled all the way down the Guggenheim’s spiral incline and were bounced out by their own philistine perspective, followed by all the art their blast had liberated. 

They took their war to the streets, but New York’s awakened soul defied them at every turn. Broadway itself turned “Boogie-Woogie” and seethed and pulsed with animated light and colour that refused to offer itself up for landmarks by which the militias could orient themselves. Other Mondrianic effects warped and disarrayed the Grid pattern and plunged the troops into anomic motion homesickness. The mid-Westerners didn’t trust themselves or the solidity of Joseph Stella’s “Brooklyn Bridge, so Brooklyn remained unmolested. When Koons' creations walked the streets, these supermen thought them to be real cartoon characters derived from their memories and halted their operations to sit down and enjoy their progress and relive their own bucolic childhoods. The sexualised scents emanating from the O’Keefean blooms that bedecked New York’s flowerboxes made them sick just below their paunches and scores fell away invalided from the campaign with inexplicable erections. Many saluted Lichtenstein’s “Flag” and were frozen in patriotic Old Glory immobility. Quartermasters tried to secure rations from Warhol’s “One Hundred Cans”, but there was no nourishment to be derived, nor was there enough to go round. The image of Leutze’s “Washington Crossing The Delaware” which they employed for their banners, mysteriously transformed in NYC’s rarefied air into Colescott’s version and saw them jumping up and down on their own cloth and setting fire to it, the only art they managed to burn throughout the whole campaign. In NYC’s neon lighting, the vanguardians were forced to finally see the subversive poetic and aesthetic symmetries within their own iconographic “American Gothic” which they had taken for the standard of deviation against which to winkle out any New Yorker who didn’t conform. Finally, crosstown was crouched a man in leathers, with a whip protruding from his rectum, at which point an Islamic terrorist cell fled for their lives at this visitation by Shaytan himself.  

The Young British Artists pledged their support for their fellow American BoHos. But no matter how exhausted the New York resistance were, none could bring themselves to resort to Tracey Emin’s donated bed for rest and recuperation. While the leering death imagery of Damien Hirst’s jewelled skulls was felt to be a hex, though the diamonds did prove useful in supplementing their lasers and machine tool production in the fight against the white supremacists. They did wheel out Hirst’s dead shark into a New York thoroughfare, opened up its case, but the formaldehyde just pooled in the gutter before disappearing down the sewers, while the shark lay forlornly in the street holding up traffic, but no one consider this the least bit surreal or out of place. 

The Neo-Nazis retreated from Manhattan, but they had successfully liberated Marsden Hartley’s “Portrait Of a German Officer” from its museum and managing to overcome their own vertiginous revulsion at its bewildering Cubism, at least they could centre themselves in the insignia of the German army at its heart. Thus they regathered themselves to storm Brooklyn, bolstered by reinforcements from Ohio and Florida. The one thing they shared with the Islamists was an antipathy for Jews, so the two groups put aside their own mutual antagonisms to plot a joint onslaught. They dug themselves in for a siege, erecting a series of gas ovens at their perimeter in order to sap the will of the besieged. However, Rothkos appeared everywhere and at every angle like a Roman Army tortoise formation in direct opposition. The AltRight couldn’t get their ovens to work, the gas to flow, the flame to light. When they sent in their engineers, they observed how the oven doors were indistinctly and imprecisely rendered, being of poor fit and allowing the gas to escape. The gas itself too had condensed into many thick pigmented layers, being too dense to ignite. Rothko’s hues opposite sucked the heart and space out of them, demanding a crepuscular meditation they just could not offer up and many jumped inside their own ovens and begged for combustion to take them completely away from this claustrophobic Hell. And so the siege was lifted and the retreat from New York begun back to the snowy wastes of the Heartland. 

*author's note This story was inspired by reading the first 16 pages of China Mieville's latest novella "The Last Days Of New Paris". Since I have not at the time of writing got beyond the first 16 pages as I became swept up in the creation of this story, I have no idea if I am doing a disservice to Mieville's book through a misreading of his intentions, or whether I have unconsciously ended up ripping off his ideas totally. I hope in either case he will forgive me, since time is pressing in which artists need to respond to the threat of Donald Trump, both to them and their freedom of expression, but also to societal values and liberties at large. 
This short story is my 3rd 'Fightback' response to Trump's early days in the Whitehouse. You can read my Letter to America here and view my cartoons here. 

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Advice For Reading Live

For me the best thing about being an author is reading to a live audience. But I know a lot of authors are nervous about reading publicly so I thought I'd offer my advice to nail a live reading.

There are two main aspects to consider, the first is what you read and the second is how best to prepare.

Dealing with the latter first, the simple advice is rehearse. If I'm doing a piece I've performed before, I'll practice it twice every day for the week ahead of the reading. If it's a new piece, then I will do that for at least a fortnight ahead. The length of the reading slot can also effect these timings.

Why rehearse? Well there are three advantages I can think of:

1) Familiarising yourself so that when you come to read live there are no surprises in your own text that catch you out. This may sound a bit odd, after all it's your own text. But you'd be surprised, you may have written it quite a while ago because the publishing process can take a long time. Or just as significantly, when you were writing it, you weren't likely to be writing it with reading it out aloud and there are things that translate differently from page to voice. For example, I wrote a pun on 'greased lightning', with 'greased' written as the country Greece'd. Rehearsing I realised there was no possible way that this would come over to the audience and had to factor that in. Rehearsing and you may come across tongue twisters, difficult words to pronounce or alliteration that ties you up in knots, so practice and you can conquer them.

2) Which brings us to timing. Apart from a rehearsal allowing you to time the length of your reading if you have been given a time limit (which you always will in any open mic, but even often when you are on the bill as a named performer), rehearsing is vital to help you pace yourself. With the adrenaline running once you get up on stage to stand by the mic, it's the most natural thing to speed up and belt through your reading. Rehearsing maximises your chances for keeping the reading speed under control. The more measured the pace, the more chance the audience have of taking in your words. The more comfortable you feel up there, the more rehearsed, the less the tendency to tear through your piece.

3) Bringing the work alive. There is nothing worse than a reading which takes the audience back to listening to a dreary schoolteacher just reading to them from a textbook and making no eye contact. While you probably won't be making eye contact with individuals in the audience if the lights are low, it's still advisable to look up from the text and look out at the audience. It helps establish a genuine two way relationship and a rapport. I wrote the opening to a short story that went

"What is the ideal length for a suicide note? Asking for a friend".

When I read this story, I always look up from the text when I deliver the line 'asking for a friend'. It not only establishes a connection, it actually puts me and the audience together in a complicity - they realise that the character is not really asking on behalf of someone else, but trying to disguise the fact he's talking about himself. So the simple action of looking up actually helps establish the parameters of this story within its opening two lines. Again, I had no idea of any of that when I was writing the story, but through rehearsal its importance emerged.

It's not just about looking and connecting with the audience by sight. If you're feeling confident, you can enhance the story with gesture or an expression thrown out to them. You  are to some extent acting out the story, albeit with one hand since the other is occupied holding the book. Rehearsal does not mean you have to learnt the text by heart to free both hands -  poets can learn their poems because they have compression & specialist rhythm to help them master their work. It's not the same for prose writing, even though rhythm is important for us as well, it's not necessarily designed for projecting through voice, more structuring the reader's journey through the sentences. If you don't feel confident enough to do gestures and expression when you're starting out that's fine, but in time you're very likely to reach such a level.

Finally rehearsal allows you to accent certain words or phrases that again may enhance the meaning of the piece. I don't have much variety in my voice and can't do other accents, but you might have this ability which may contribute to your work aloud. It's because I don't have a terribly interesting voice that I adopt a lot of gesture and performance in my readings to compensate.

How to choose what to read. This is a harder one to be definitive about. First it depends what options you have. In all likelihood you are talking about your debut book, so you're restricted to that. Especially if the reading is mainly aimed at promoting that book. I'm going to assume it's a novel, since short stories and flash fiction are much easier to do live in that unlike an extract from a novel, with these the audience are getting the whole piece and therefore require less contextualising. For the past 4 years I have mainly been reading my flash fiction, but with a new novel coming out this summer, I'm going to be switching back to reading extracts and so what follows applies to me as I make my selections in the next few months.

Firstly what type of book have you written? Action thriller, literary fiction, romance, horror? This will inform your thinking as behind what you choose to read. What are you hoping to convey with what you read? Are you after conveying the style of the book? Or give a taste of the main characters and their relationship? Do you want to convey the atmosphere of the book (such as in Horror or Supernatural)? Do you want to read something that ramps up the tension in the room, then leave the audience on a cliffhanger? Maybe you want to make the audience laugh, or perhaps present yourself as a storyteller par excellence. All of these are valid but always derive from the book you have written. If you have a long reading slot of course you might be able to present a couple of different ones of these impressions. So these are the thoughts you ought to consider when choosing your piece. A descriptive piece may convey the atmosphere and the style of writing, but the downside is it may be hard for the audience to picture in their minds coming to it cold. Dialogue heavy extract may best convey the relationships and characters, but can you carry off the different voices to make them distinctive enough to the ear no matter how distinctive they are on the page.

If you can read the opening of your novel it is always useful as it is doing the job of providing context, rather than if your first extract is somewhere further inside the novel when you will almost certainly have to offer a preamble of how the plot got to that point. A general rule is less explanatory preamble and more reading of the actual text if you can possibly manage it. The preamble, or bits in between the extracts are your chance to talk about the book as a whole and do a selling job on it, sort of pitching it subtly and the extracts will hopefully show that off to the best manner. In the bits between the extracts you can talk about all manner of things associated with the novel, such as where you got the idea from, or which writers inspired you, these are nearly always more engaging for an audience than them trying to grasp your novel summed up in a few sentences. When I come to selecting my pieces (and I won't be selecting the opening of the novel), I may stick with my flash fiction approach and give minimal 1-line preamble and trust to the extract itself doing all the work and conveying to the audience what it's supposed to convey. The novel's structure has the advantage that it is episodic and those episodes occur out of sequence within the book itself, so they are fairly self-contained chapters. Having said that, one of the three main voices I can't read aloud at all, since there are visual cues and ideograms in the book that I just couldn't reproduce in a reading.

So there you have it. I wish you all luck with your live readings and please feel free to ask me any questions in the comments and I'll answer them.