The eggs, the thyme in the salt and the chopped spring onions are all from my garden. It’s a clear, bright, cold late autumn day. The Pending board in the office is filling up, the main board is half full, and I need to wipe down the To Do board and the Status board. But today I’m taking a thinking day. Newsletter will go out on Sunday as normal.
WARREN ELLIS LTD Articles.
November 2, and I just pulled my first ripe tomato from the plant I started from seed in, I think, late June. This is a little victory. As was getting my executed contracts this morning from the publisher I’ve signed a two-book deal with for a new graphic novel series. Onwards.
I finished out yesterday with filing first drafts of the first two episodes of the next podcast serial on the slate, and rewarded myself with some sleep. Today is going to be clearing up, reading over outlines, making notes, starting the Sunday newsletter and prepping for a call with a production company set for tomorrow afternoon.
I’ve been listening to this record a lot:
READING: ROOM TO DREAM, David Lynch and Kristine McKenna (link)
INBOX: 123, fuck it, I give up
Alan Splet worked with Lynch to create a wildly original audio-scape for Blue Velvet. When Dorothy and Jeffrey make love, we hear a groaning roar that morphs into the sound of a guttering flame; Frank Booth erupts with rage and we hear a metallic screech; the camera journeys into the interior of a rotting human ear and the sound of a sinister wind seems to deepen and expand.
“David has a wonderful handle on how to combine images and sound,” said Elmes. “There’s a scene where Kyle wakes up in the morning after being beaten, and the first image you see is a close-up of his face in a puddle. All you see is dirt and water and you hear this strange repetitive sound, but you have no idea where you are. Then you pull back and see he’s in a logging yard and that the sound you’re hearing is a sprinkler keeping a stack of wood wet. The quality of that sound is magical. If it had been the sound of birds it wouldn’t have given you anything, but there was something about that mechanical unexplained sound that made it special. David has an understanding of how things go together that’s purely sensory-based, and he knows how to play with sounds and images until they sort of ignite each other.”
ROOM TO DREAM, David Lynch and Kristine McKenna (link)
Trees have been removed and chopped up. Some will become winter firewood, some will be laid down as overwinter wildlife habitats, a few may get dropped into trenches as basis for hugelkultur berms if I have time over the dark months to build the berms and dig the swales. Parts of the garden don’t drain and get mossy, parts get parched in summer. It’s all problem solving.
Like the two scripts I’m across today, which are short and have holes in. I’m going to wrestle them both into zero-draft state by the end of today. The zero draft is the draft you will never show anyone. It’s the draft you know is wrong but which contains the bare bones and meat-scraps of the story you’re trying to write. Get to the end of the zero draft, wait a day, and then go back and make it readable to other humans and fix all the egregiously wrong stuff, and that’s your first draft. Zero drafts are always too short: they fill out in the process of revising into a first draft. Stop thinking about your first draft as a first draft, call it a zero draft, and you give yourself permission to just slap everything you’re thinking about on to the page, knowing you can fix it before you have to inflict the draft on some other poor bastard.
It’s all firewood and burying the rotten bits.
The art of Gene Beery.
Fascinating and unreleased before music by Otto Sidharta, pionneer of Indonesian electronic music. Electronic compositions that integrated natural sounds and urban sounds to this extent were extremely rare at the time, which gives them a unique form of intensity.
British crime fiction can be, in the ancient phrase, much of a muchness. Especially the television versions. “Cosy crime” is a term we have here, and on television that can extend to, say, John Simm as the faintly concerned civil servant that is Roy Grace, or Stephen Tompkinson wearing the head of a giant traumatised baby in DCI BANKS. Even Ann Cleeves’ enduring creation, the disappointed gargoyle Vera Stanhope, is sweetened by the excellent Brenda Blethyn’s invincible twinkle in the VERA tv show. A thing common to the majority of them is that they have That Single Terrible Event In Their Past that defines them. This Single Terrible Event tends to deform the plot towards their awful compasspoint. So, when I began THE HOPE THAT KILLS by Ed James, with its Single Terrible Event up front for Detective Inspector Simon Fenchurch and its milling-around of barely-engaged quotidian plods, I figured I was in for a slog.
The second thing I noticed was an attention to detail. Both detail in police procedure, which is a good way to convince the reader that something of import is happening, and detail in setting. It’s all set in East London- which is where half my family comes from — and it felt authentic. Set in 2015, I could absolutely relate to the atmosphere. I was on those streets, right there and then, and it rang true. Nice job, I thought, but I’m definitely settling in for some grey crime fiction with lots of frowning people.
About a quarter of the way in, it starts to get odd. Halfway through, you realise that there may be something wrong with Ed James, because this is batshit. The real plot, when it emerges, is kind of grand guignol in its conceptual grotesquerie and hysteria. I was not expecting that. Nor was I expecting the arc of character development in Fenchurch, which – not to spoil it, but — does the thing these books never do. It brings some warm peace to the Single Terrible Thing and takes away its defining power over his personality. I was impressed by that.
If you’re in the mood for a bit of London crime fiction that takes a swerve into horror movie plotting, THE HOPE THAT KILLS is a surprising pleasure.
THE HOPE THAT KILLS, Ed James (link)
One August morning in 1986, a 25-foot shark became stuck in the attic of a terraced house in Headington, a suburb of Oxford. The fish appeared to have plunged head-first from the clouds, although there had been no reports of a freak deluge of cats, dogs and chondrichthyes the previous night. Like all sharks, it snuck up without asking first.
LIMBO, by Dan Fox, is a short book about limbo. It is, in essence, a series of lists and connections that one writes down when one has “writer’s block,” which is the condition of not feeling able to write the thing you’re supposed to be writing so you write something else instead. LIMBO, in fact, was supposed to be another book entirely, but he wrote this one because he couldn’t write that one.
Don’t all writing projects careen off course and digress themselves towards new destinations? Possible exceptions: car user manuals, medical texts, protocol for deploying nuclear missiles. Best to stay on topic in those genres.
There’s a lot of free association. Dan Fox wants you to think it’s unstructured, a performance of procrastination hypergraphia.
If only I could write myself out of my funk, like Anthony Trollope, who claimed to start each day at 5.30 a.m. and write 250 words every fifteen minutes, for three hours. I was too old for the live-fast methodology of Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote 60,000 words of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde in a six-day cocaine binge.
And he calls himself out on it, several times, intertextually:
For Kafka, the experience of writer’s block was having ‘to see the pages being covered endlessly with things one hates, that fill one with loathing, or at any rate with dull indifference.’
But it’s more like a guided meditation, a consideration of his history with his older brother, who left home to become a sailor and never really came back. It’s a book about writing: the act of writing, the way we think about writing, the associations we make, the connections we perceive and curate. It’s also a book about family: perhaps, more correctly, the stories that a family accrue. Anyone with an interest in writing, the mechanics and method of writing and how a writer’s mind works will love this book. Also, anyone interested in limbo.
LIMBO, Dan Fox (buy)
And, yes, this is yet another Fitzcarraldo Editions book. Fitzcarraldo have only been going eight years and have already published three authors who went on to win Nobel Prizes. If you love books and you haven’t been paying attention to them even through all the damn times I’ve mentioned them, it’s time for you to take a look.
…something about the nature and character of Britain, its uncategorisable people and its buried histories. Among the salient features and persistent themes are tensions between the past and the present; fractures and injustices in society; magical and occult notions; and presences and buried memories released from the earth.
THE MAGIC BOX is a personal journey through a period of British culture that left indelible marks on all of us who lived through it. “A telemetric folklore of the British Isles.” The above quote is probably as clear an explication of my own formative influences as you will find, and also the below:
What’s unique in Britain’s case, though, is the way these genres slip and smear into one another. Sci-fi is more often about the past returning to haunt us than about gleaming visions of the future. Horror frequently implicates itself tightly with the British landscape and its eerie, unsettling atmospheres. History invoked via period drama may be scattered with ghostly apparitions. Stories set in the realist present can acquire a mythological underlay. Britain’s self-image as a moated, ‘sceptred isle’ recurs time and again in fascist dystopias and speculative invasions.
I have, on occasion, shown my daughter parts of the things I grew up with — to share them with her, and also, if I’m honest, knowing her sensibilities… to horrify her. I am rarely disappointed, and a constant refrain in this house was the yell of “how did you even live through the 70s and 80s?!?”
This is a book about many of the things that made me, and many of the things that made me a writer.
It covers some cinema too, as Young makes the excellent point that terrestrial tv of the era screened a lot of films. More than it does today, in this time of streaming services and pay per view. There used to be entire themed seasons of films on tv, and curated strands like Nick Jones and Alex Cox’s excellent MOVIEDROME.
(Talking of Alex Cox, there’s a film of his I first saw on tv – it was made first for the BBC, and then expanded for a cinema audience, and it’s exactly the sort of film he would have presented on MOVIEDROME — an adaptation of Borges’ DEATH AND THE COMPASS starring Peter Boyle and Christopher Eccleston. One for you to hunt down.)
Young does a lot on the Hammer horror films, all of which I saw on tv. Hammer horror was, as I’ve mentioned before, my way into CASTLEVANIA when I was asked to adapt it — I understood that material as Hammer horror, and saw it as a way to write “my” Hammer horror films. I mean, if you ever wondered why most of the people in eastern European was speaking with an English accent…. now you know.
The book ranges quite far and wide, but hits the expected touchstones, like the terrifying nature of children’s television in the period – most notably, THE CHANGES, which disturbed the shit out of me as a kid, especially the first episode, but also the Cormac McCarthy THE ROAD-like scenes of refugees pushing carts and shopping trolleys down an empty motorway while the electricity pylons on the adjacent fields emit a haunted hum.
The full opening of THE CHANGES used to be on YouTube, but I can’t find it now. However, this trailer for a DVD collection from the BFI gets some of the flavour across.
For me, this was about revisiting memories and learning a few new things. It’s also a fine introduction to this weird facet of British culture if you know nothing about it. Great book.
‘Television archives store millions of images of the dead, which wait to be broadcast … to the living … at this point, the dead come back to life to have an influence … on the living … Television is, then, truly the spirit world of our age. It preserves images of the dead which then can continue to haunt us.’
THE MAGIC BOX, Rob Young (link)