Tag Archive: books

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Enoyable article by Terry Pratchett (who is guest editing film/tv science fiction magazine SFX for an issue) on whether or not the recent iterations of Dr Who still count as science fiction:

People say Doctor Who is science fiction. At least people who don’t know what science fiction is, say that Doctor Who is science fiction. Star Trek approaches science fiction. The horribly titled Star Cops which ran all too briefly on the BBC in the 1980s was the genuine pure quill of science fiction, unbelievable in some aspects but nevertheless pretty much about the possible. Indeed, several of its episodes relied on the laws of physics for their effect (I’m particularly thinking of the episode “Conversations With The Dead”). It had a following, but never caught on in a big way. It was clever, and well thought out. Doctor Who on the other hand had an episode wherein people’s surplus body fat turns into little waddling creatures. I’m not sure how old you have to be to come up with an idea like that. The Doctor himself has in recent years been built up into an amalgam of Mother Teresa, Jesus Christ (I laughed my socks off during the Titanic episode when two golden angels lifted the Doctor heavenwards) and Tinkerbell. There is nothing he doesn’t know, and nothing he can’t do. He is now becoming God, given that the position is vacant. Earth is protected, we are told, and not by Torchwood, who are human and therefore not very competent. Perhaps they should start transmitting the programme on Sundays.

And then in the comments people go at the whole genre definition thing and generally come to the conclusion that it’s all fiction and as long as it’s enjoyable who cares?

On a related note Sky One have adapted another Terry Pratchett novel to TV, this time ‘going postal’, which unless I read it before I watch it will make it the first time they’ve done something I haven’t already read.

GUEST BLOG Terry Pratchett on Doctor Who.


Murakami FTW!

Stories from the ancient world are infused with the fantastic, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses to Beowulf, The Iliad and The Odyssey. Myth, legend, folk and fairytales have fired our imaginations for thousands of years. We have used the fantastic to take mundane reality and transform it, sometimes for escapist pleasure, and sometimes to find meaning in a world that can often seem brutal and purposeless.

But the commodification of fantasy does not mean it must all appeal to the lowest common denominator, any more than the presence of Starbucks on every street corner means you can’t find a decent cup elsewhere. As the recent announcement of the David Gemmell Legend award, and the less-than-positive response it engendered shows, contemporary fantasy is seeking to do more than just entertain the masses. While the Gemmell award highlights fantasy novels at their most commercial and generic, and has been accused of doing little more than rewarding publishers for their marketing strategy, contemporary fantasy is becoming more experimental, diverse and exciting.

With the growing profile of distinctive writers such as Neil Gaiman and China Miéville, and the “smuggling” of fantasy into literary fiction by (among others) Haruki Murakami and David Mitchell, the fantastic is making a comeback in mainstream literature. Acclaimed cult writers such as Graham Joyce, Jeffrey Ford, Margo Lanagan, Martin Millar, Kelly Link, Jeff VanderMeer and many others are taking fantasy in more personalised and distinctive directions. And at the grassroots, short fiction magazines like Weird Tales, Electric Velocipede, Clarkesworld and Fantasy are giving a platform to an emerging generation of writers who are serious about fantasy.

Fantasy fiction: the battle for meaning continues … | Damien G Walter | Books | guardian.co.uk.

Masturbation has always been literary. “Traffic with thyself”, as Shakespeare tuttingly referred to it, is the only sex that takes place purely in the imagination – fictional characters are its livelihood. Better still, there are no rules, all bets are off, and you can get away with whatever you like. But despite being truly democratic – if not downright anarchic – in its availability, masturbation is the one form of sex that writers have yet to truly get to grips with.

Perhaps this is because we’re still hungover from the time when self-love was seen as the cause of everything from insanity to infirmity to an early death. According to one prominent historian, we have yet to resolve our anxiety over this activity, which represents not a social engagement with another, but a retreat into the unbounded world of our imaginations. We still feel deep ambivalence about such unpoliced pleasure, even while most of us are paid-up subscribers. The horror of masturbation – which has no rules and can’t be brought to heel by society – has been handed down to us largely intact. Ninety years after Ulysses was banned for not-very-subtly describing Bloom’s “long Roman candle” joyously exploding in the air, the act of onanism retains a power to shock that no other kind of sex in literature can.

Masturbation: literature’s last taboo | Books | guardian.co.uk.

Epigraphs: opening possibilities

A Piece on the joys of the epigraph and how they can be used to great effect in your writing. Well, other peoples writing really, but you could apply the understanding gleamed here to your own.

When treated with the necessary respect, a well-placed epigraph can work wonders. Even Elmore Leonard won’t dismiss them. In his draconian set of rules for how to write (which is really a set of rules for how to write like Elmore Leonard), he strikes off the prologue, the foreword and the introduction (as well as most modifiers, adjectives and adverbs), but the epigraph he leaves alone. One of Leonard’s authorial dedications itself reads like a sort of epigraph. “To my wife, Joan”, he writes, at the start of Freaky Deaky, “for giving me … a certain look when I write too many words.”

Epigraphs can come in many forms. There is the epigrammatic (“A human being is never what he is but the self he seeks” – Octavio Paz; used by Nadeem Aslam in Maps for Lost Lovers); the prophetic (“And what is good, Phadrus, / And what is not good …. ?” – Plato; which opens Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance); the poetic (“Why so pale and wan, fond lover … ?” – Sir John Suckling; cited in Hangover Square). There are those that are an extension (and explanation) of the title. John Steinbeck’s Burning Bright is a reference to Blake; F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise comes from Rupert Brooke.

Epigraphs: opening possibilities | Toby Lichtig | Books | guardian.co.uk.

Self-Publishing ain’t all vanity, yo

Mcsweeney's quarterly concern

Man, I’m getting frantic. I haven’t even looked at any feeds today, I’ve been posting stuff I’ve had up in tabs since yesterday, and I’m already over my deadline to stop blogging. Plus, I smell, which is probably something i should rectify, and I have some paperwork to do which makes me wonder if I’m even going to get to do any novel writing today what so ever.

There’s been some debate in the comments of this post as to whether self-publishing has any value. Yesterday I stumbled across some things that are pertinant to the arguement.

Aside from the classic stories about famous authors 50 or more years ago who met with success after choosing the vanity press, and the good number of nonfiction books that have consistently sold well over a span of time, you don’t often hear about contemporary books or authors hitting it big with self-publishing. Are writers deluding themselves into thinking they can be successful without a Big House to guide them?

So I went online to identify successful self-published novels. Here’s a starter list of 20 from many I found in a quick search on the web. Measuring success, of course, is subjective, and I’ve not read most of these books, but reviews by way of Goodreads.com, LibraryThing.com, Kirkus and Amazon seem fairly consistent.

Yes, self-published novels can bring in good sales and decent incomes. They can also lead to a writing career for those authors who started out in the self-published arena. Take a look for yourself.

[ Self Publishing: There is a right way and a wrong way]

In the list itself there are two books that I have actually heard of; one being ‘legally blonde’ which was turned into a movie with reese witherspoon (and spawned a sequel) and the other i actually own! A heartbreaking work of staggering genius by Dave Eggers. Now, I know a little of where Eggers went after this book and amongst other things founded a publishing house, mcsweenys, who do a quarterly journal (who produce some truely lovely books, like the one pictured above which i used to own, and has an eccentric online version from which i’ve posted), a monthly journal called The Believer and who does a whole bunch of other stuff as well.

So, from a self-published book he has garnered himself a pretty sweet career. So there.

Also, check out this interview with someone who self-published a book and had some sucess and critical acclaim with it. He goes into, amongst other things, why the book was self-published to begin with.

[ How to self-publish the right way: Here’s one writer’s take ]

Very funny, very interesting, very long. I actually listened to this yesterday and found it a thoroughly engaging and thoughtful presentation shot through with Adam’s trademark wit and sense of irony. It mainly details the conception and journeys of his book Last Chance to See in which he travels the world in search of really really endangered species.

Of course, one of the most insightful things i got out of it for me was that in a pinch you could use a condom to turn a normal microphone into an underwater one.

via boing boing

curious george is dead now...

Sometimes you just don’t want your children’s heads to be filled with wonder and curiousity and unbridled imagination. Sometimes you want them to know exactly how fucked up and pain filled the world can be. Sometimes you want them to be just as broken inside as you are, assuming that you haven’t broken them already or let Uncle Tobias break them for you.  For these times it can be useful to have some literature to further the ‘realist’  indoctrination of your offspring. You need The Most Depressing Children’s Books Ever Written


That silly billy Winnie the Pooh! Lovely pictures of terrible things afoot in the hundred acre wood. Dig that mocked up hardcover. Click your way through to the harrowing conclusion!


via mental floss

the good man jesus and the scoundrel christ

Philip Pullman has written a book arguing that the life & times of jesus christ were rewritten by the apostle Paul called ‘ The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ’ (places he’ll be appearing to promote it). Nice title, I say, although many others disagree. To be fair, they are christians, who aren’t paticularly fond of having their favourite avatar’s demi-godhood being called into question.

The book, out at the end of this month, will argue that the version of Jesus’s life in the New Testament was actually transformed by the apostle Paul. Despite the fact that The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is not yet published, the author told the Sunday Times yesterday that he had received “scores” of letters accusing him of blasphemy and condemning him to “damnation by fire” and “eternal hell”. “Many refer to the title itself, for which there is clearly a passionate objection from some out there,” Pullman said. “The letter writers essentially say that I am a wicked man, who deserves to be punished in hell. Luckily it’s not in their power to do anything like sending me there.”

“Publication of this book was always going to spark debate — books and ideas of note often do,” said sales and marketing director Jenny Todd. “Once people get the chance to read it they will see that Philip has written a thoughtful and considered piece of fiction about the power of stories and storytelling.”

[Pullman] suggested that the Sunday Times article “was making bricks without straw.”

Philip Pullman’s book on life of Jesus prompts letters condemning him to ‘eternal hell’ | Books | guardian.co.uk.

For a change clicking the images takes you someplace interesting.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Over at the Nation, New Weird Wünderkind China Miéville weighs in on the new publication of J. G. Ballard’s complete short stories. The new book spans 1,200 pages of one of the most important authors of our time. What’s to resist?

The publication of any book by J.G. Ballard at this moment—let alone so colossal and career-spanning a volume as The Complete Stories, running to nearly 1,200 pages—is an occurrence that can only be about more than itself. All writers are writers of their time, of course, but Ballard, who after a fight with cancer died in April 2009, feels somehow uniquely, precisely so. This book marks the fact that we are all post-Ballard now: it’s not that we’ve gotten beyond him but rather that we remain ineluctably defined by him. Completists have pointed out that, its title notwithstanding, this volume is not a truly comprehensive collection of all Ballard’s published short fiction. Those few omissions are a disappointment. Nevertheless, they are few, and despite them the book is indispensable.

The volume’s ninety-eight stories (including two written for this edition) are printed in chronological order of publication, which illuminates Ballard’s trajectory. There is something fascinating and poignant about watching various obsessions appear, reappear or come gradually or suddenly into focus: birds, flying machines, ruins, beaches, obscure geometric designs, the often-noted empty swimming pools…

Dangerous Minds – China Mieville on J. G. Ballard: In Disobedient rooms.

nice little piece about giving your novel/short story/film/whatever a title and a few things to avoid.

In short, there seems to be very little correlation between producing something brilliant and the ability to come up with a half-decent name for it. Perhaps it’s a different skill set entirely. I sometimes think there should be professional titlers: Just as we wouldn’t ask a carpenter to tar the roof of our house, we shouldn’t expect writers to work outside their métier. But even if the perfect title is destined to elude us, I do think it’s possible to identify a bad one—even, I think, to lay out some basic ground rules for what to steer clear of.

items from the list provided include “The Faux Poetric but Authenically Meaningless” and “The Alliterative Tongue Twister”.  Each comes with examples and definately worth a click even if your not struggling to come up with a title.

as an aside, I’m still quite taken with the title my novel-in-progress has at the moment. It was the first, which broke at least one of these guidelines, and frankly trickles off the tongue.

(seriously, i will be posting extracts some time soon, i just need more time!)

The Blurb #14: The Land Of Underwater Birds – The Rumpus.net.

via mental floss

Have you ever wished Werner Herzog would write books for children? Really? What the fuck is wrong with you?!? Those are children dammit! They don’t exist so you can fuck with their heads! they’re not social science experiments! People like you make me sick!

Anyway, here’s the next best thing. Herzog reading classics of children’s fiction. American classics, mind you. There’s no noddy here, sadly.

via coilhouse

*snip* *snip*

News of a documentary about the life of William Burroughs sent me scurrying – giant bug-style – back to his most celebrated work, Naked Lunch. Actually, it was more of a tentative crawl, because this was and remains the most difficult book I’ve ever encountered.

Maybe I’m about to commit hara kiri on my intellectual/literary credibility – such as it is – but I must confess: I find Naked Lunch pretty much unreadable. And not in the Dan Brown/misery lit/sleb memoir sense: I could read those if I had to, I just wouldn’t enjoy it.

But Naked Lunch, my God … It’s like someone swallowed the diaries of a hallucinating lunatic and vomited the resultant mess into your ears, stomach bile and all. While I can admit Burroughs was an important and seminal (pun probably not intended) writer, I can’t read Naked Lunch without feeling queasy. And I can’t finish it.

Lord knows I’ve tried. I wrestled with it again just this week. But once more this slim volume defeated me, forcing me to pound the mat and yell, “No more!” I felt as exhausted and brain-fried as someone coming out the far end of a two-week bender, but without any of the pleasurable memories.

Each time I get about halfway through, battling each disconnected sentence, all that disturbing weirdness, trying to mentally force some kind of shape onto these brilliant, demented ramblings, and then … I don’t know. I run out of energy, maybe. Or interest. Or time. Or willingness to engage with the most grotesque and unsettling imagery this side of a prog rock album covers compendium. (The specific line this time round, the literary straw that broke my camel’s back, was: “Mold odors of atrophied testicles quilted his body in a fuzzy grey fog …” I’m not sure which disturbs me more: the horrible vision conjured up, or the annoying spelling of “mould” and “odours”.)

No: for me the best part of Naked Lunch – the only part I can get through – is the pharmacological essay in the appendix. A fascinating explanation of the effects of narcotics on mind and body. And it got me to thinking about drugs in literature; more specifically, fictional drugs.

Inventing a drug gives authors a certain freedom: they’re no longer bound by the known, recorded, provable consequences of real-world consumption. You can’t have a character hallucinate vividly and poetically, for instance, if they’ve injected heroin: it doesn’t have that kind of effect (according to Dr Benway in Naked Lunch, it “affords relief from the whole life-process”). But a fictional drug offers a blank slate. Now the characters can do anything, go anywhere, have any sort of reaction, good or ill – and indeed, make any political argument the author wishes them to make.

Literature’s most mind-blowing drugs | Books | guardian.co.uk.

Is it vanity to self-publish?

Good comments on this article. be sure to check them out.


The phrase “Vanity Publishing” was coined in 1959 – a derogatory term aimed at publishers whose main source of income was derived from the writers whose work they published rather than any projected sales of their books. But the commodification of the written word goes way back and has always been a contentious subject. The Venerable Bede published his own book longhand and he didn’t need an agent. Mark Twain was originally self-published and DIY operators like William Blake, Oscar Wilde and Virginia Woolf have also shifted the odd copy over the years.

My friend Martin Bedford has recently paid good money to have his book printed up. Martin’s posters for the Leadmill nightclub were a bright feature of grey 1980s Sheffield, and he self-published his book in response to lots of requests from people who wanted to see all those posters collected together and in print. He saw an opportunity and he took it – although he says he did have a horrible moment, a real self-doubting wobble, as he loaded the entire print run of 1,500 copies into the back of a mate’s estate car and wondered how on earth he was going to fit them all into his flat, and more to the point, if anybody would actually want to buy a copy.

Is paying to see your work in print always vanity? Was Martin just ego-tripping? I don’t think so. That’s self-publishing, albeit still based upon a degree of vanity or at least self-belief. But surely that’s a business model, a standard template for ambition? The conviction that what you’ve got is good enough to release into the wild and stands a reasonable chance of selling is at the heart of launching any new product. And in Martin’s case, it worked. The first print run of his book sold out and it’s into its second printing and still selling well. Martin cracked it. He found his market all by himself. He did all the work, and now he gets to keep all the money.

Is it vanity to self-publish? | Books | guardian.co.uk.

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