A Field in Evening

They say: “you are what you eat”, which basically means, in the context of this post: ‘you get out what you put in’. That’s true for most folk – unfortunately, or not as the case may be – I am not ‘most folk’. I’m writing still, but life has a way of making that a bloody hard thing to do at times. External pressures, commitments and worries all combine into some ‘ultimate-force’ doing its best to scramble my creative whims before they’ve even flashed across the dank, echoing space behind my eyes and become a ‘thing’.

 
They say: “destruction breeds creativity”; or something like that, at least. They also say: “think outside the box”. They say…lots of things. I don’t need a ten-step check-list from some coffee-morning-mummies writing group to realise that at the moment my writing is starting to suck. I’ve fallen into the old self-made trap of spending too much time and thought on ‘the one’ project that is my main focus – to it’s detriment. In my last post, I wrote about the need to keep applying myself – this is still true, I just need to alter the dosage a little – and maybe have some less serious, or time-consuming things to tinker with on the side as a distraction.

The internal critic at work.

The internal critic at work.

I’ve decided to set myself the task of posting at least once a week about things that I’ve come across on the internet; using them as prompts for writing exercises where I just go with the flow, as it were. I hope by allowing myself to throw something up now and then – that’s not some intricate piece of punk mythology – but disposable in nature, and that my internal critic won’t brutally assassinate before I’ve even finished writing it – I can increase and enhance my productivity (recently that guy has been holding far too much sway over my work; it’s time to take the power back). That seems to be the main issue at the moment: concentration. On a good day I’ve written maybe 2000 words in the past, which, for first draft quality are pretty bloody good (even by my draconian standards). On a bad day I’m almost retching as I force out a meagre handful of corruption in vile-looking strands that are something akin to sentences.

 
So, what I’m seeking is some sort of middle ground between the highs and lulls, where I’m in a productive mind-set, able to bang-out 1000 words at a time. That shouldn’t be too hard to nail – this little enforced exercise I’m undertaking will, I hope, lubricate some of the blockages, sharpen me up and help to snare the unexpected. So – let us throw wide the doors of perception…


 

This is what I hit first:

http://pitchfork.com/news/58479-death-grips-share-surprise-performance-video/

An article about on/off post hip-hop crazies Death Grips, and some grainy live footage they’d recently released.


 

That started me off; I followed up with, and then settled, on this:


After which I wrote this, the first (hopefully) in a series I’m dubbing ‘Behind My Eyes':

The sonic assault mind-fucks me. My brain is jack-hammered into submission beneath a tattooed crescendo of industrial brutality; techno-terrorists have cracked into my safe thoughts with their crazy, discordant thunderous fuzz – this blitzkrieg of sound…duh…duh…duh. My consciousness wobbles violently beneath the undulating walls of noise, my gut lurches and I drape a hot cider and chow mein sock over the shoulder of some teeny-bopping pop queen – all flowers in her hair, tanned skin and shuffling feet. This is not her space to degenerate. She was not born for such audio carnage. Why then, does she wail so loudly when the barbarians of noise fuck her shit up? All I can think of is Carrie, the Stephen King film; a girl covered in blood – and I realise I have no mortality (or morality) left; drained of all being, energy and seemingly, of substance – I float out of the pulsing, throbbing reeking warmth cocooned beneath the great carapace of the tent, out into the cool, cool, deep cool dark of the evening, to drink it all in.

 
I settle by the wayside as the feckless, the mindless, the shirtless and the shameless stream past on their stunted, shambling mud-blessed pilgrimages to who-knows-where? A gibbous moon swells in the sky above me and I slink back into the welcoming grass, on the fringe of all things, blinking out of the darkness like some feral creature, semi-aware that any number of wordless horrors may have been discarded beneath me by the fluttering, gurning, grinning insects swarming across this enclave of youth. I care not, and stare instead at the moon’s pulsing filament, insects battering against its scuffed plastic sheen. The bass from the tent throbs through the air, seeking me out; side-winding through the strata of tightly packed aromas and vapours coalescing into something viscous; cooking foods, dope smoke and the prevailing undercurrent of raw sewage that lingers close to the ground. A bittersweet melange, I reflect, as I draw it all in.

 
The moon above has begun to bore me – so I launch myself in the direction of a string of planets whose sonorous luminescence reverberates with the drainpipe-twang of electric didgeridoo; beneath them strange space-folk of many colours, twist and throb like a happy throng of Keith Haring characters. Whistles whittle at the air, which has assumed the properties of plastic – everything vibrates as one – the sound moving so seamlessly along through it that it strikes everything in unison. I stumble into a grassy shadow sprayed with glowing blooms of cow parsley, swaying in the breeze behind an ice-cream van; oblivious to this mad, wonderful schism of unbridled sensation and connection somewhere in England at the solstice of summer. This little patch – my ink-blue oasis in a sea of sound – becomes sovereign territory. History unfolds beyond its borders, in the nightshade shadows of a field in evening, I watch from outside time: the space strung with snake-lights, writhing and jostling above trails of bright grottos, people surging to-and-fro like the blood and chemicals within their veins. The ice-cream van is all to me; a bastion of sobriety. The cool of the earth rises up through my body, infusing with me, talking me out of the clouds back down to the good, moist earth. Travellers lost – and emissaries from far-away places hail me – King of the little hill – as they stride past towards ghettos of pleasure within this grand sway of vespertine revelry.  I wave them by; on they go, unbridled. The rattle of the ice-cream van’s generator and the rhythmic nocturnal sigh of this ancient Isle help solidify the scenes before me. Seconds later I’m standing, blowing out Silk-Cut smoke thanks to my silver tongue; smiling and thanking unknown Samaritans with sun-scarred bodies peeling away at the shoulders; eyes pooled like liquid satin – and they slowly rove away – him leading her with frail tattooed arms into the night, smoke and throbbing aethers.

 
I turn on a six-pence; my Converse squeak like bats on the cellophane blades of grass beneath, spun into dirt. The madness is behind me now; the pulse and throb warps over the heads of ten thousand people, pushing the sound higher as the heat from their bodies rises into the stagnant sky. The melody is worn into separate threads, distorted by the distance, teased-out tatters reassembled beyond the mass into ghosts of song and sound. It follows me, for a way – as I flirt along the inside of a hedge, towards a blot of trees daubed across the silver screen of the sky – and then it floats away o’er bovine fields and dusky woods, towards some foreign star, to be sometime forgotten, yet happy, a memory. I fall into the welcoming stillness of my tent, and sleep the sleep of a god on earth.

 

 

 

Lock & Key

It’s one of those days where the brain refuses to get into the magic zone. I poke it with cups of tea and atmospheric music, but it remains immobile and oblivious to my need to write; a bad-tempered slug that has taken up squatting in my head and refuses any attempt to get it moving again.

 
There are different levels of operation within this ‘zone’ – this one I’m currently in now resides below the one I want to be in, by two or three levels. I normally operate near the scratchy, half-arsed places at the surface; the superficial or impulsive. Here the neural pathways are wide, sunlit places, where thoughts mingle carelessly; milling around as they potter to-and-fro, some even slip away for an early, liquid lunch, as its Friday. These thoughts are no good to me. They are smug: they think they’re happy; their overfed and boisterous – quite happy to rudely ignore, talk-over or simply shout-down the quieter introverted sorts who, occasionally, surface for a look around, like country-folk who’ve popped into the city for a beer on a Friday night, only to disappear again for six months; realizing why it is they live in the country.

 
It’s this type of person (or thought) I’m hunting for now. I need to get off the beaten track, away from all these day-trippers, shoppers and tourists meandering along the promenade and get lost in the darker and quieter side of town. I need to disappear into my own head. It’s possible! I’ve done it before (maybe for too long), and hopefully I’ll do it again – just at the moment I can’t find the way off these bustling highways down into the murky, older places; half-forgotten and ill-lit. That’s where they live, see – ‘the good stuff’, as they’re known collectively, but – they’re a fickle bunch and bloody hard to locate when they don’t want to be found. They’re never in the same place twice. They often conflict – so that as you try to give each one equal precedence – you suddenly realise that as you were listening to them and trying to make allowances, they’ve both slipped away into the shadows –after picking your pocket and tying your shoes together.

 
Sometimes the doorway to this ‘other side’ can be impossibly narrow to squeeze through, yet the warm syrupy light trickling through the keyhole is as infuriating in its seduction as the crooning whisper promising treasure that lays just beyond out of reach. At the moment, after a good few solid days writing last weekend, the early morning and evening sessions since have proved to be awkward, stunted affairs. I’ve decided to keep flogging the dying horse as opposed to letting it slump to the floor, however. Sometimes it’s good to just leave things alone for a few days or so, but not this time. There’s a lot bubbling away on the stove at the moment and if I don’t keep an eye on each thing then I’ll lose the handle I’ve got on them; there’s nothing worse than having to lay and strike a fire, before you can reheat the grey gloop gone cold in the pan just to get the creative juices flowing again.

 
The thing that’s got me in a quandary is a fleeting image of a character. His name is Shadwell, a ne’er-do-well who frequents an area by the river that once was busy; full of longshoremen, sailors, fishmongers and whores. Shadwell is a … oh wait… I’ve unlocked the door. Bye!


I’ve been reading a lot about London’s past recently. I go here for my fix:

http://spitalfieldslife.com/

 

Justice Has A Price

The realm is in turmoil: the trailer for the fifth season of Game of Thrones has ‘leaked’ like a bad Direwolf-pup all over the internet and the heaving masses clamour for it, thirsty for more; a shrieking, squawking, mildly-hysterical, tweeting mass. Magazines, fan-sites – even reputable publications such as The Telegraph, seem to fall over themselves in a rush to publish something about a piece of dodgy pirated footage. Throneheads worldwide will be compiling their fangeek responses as we speak – in darkened bedrooms, offices and wherever there is free wifi they gather – slaves freed by the Mother of Ratings, to join the fray, awaiting her return. But why – what’s it all about – this need to attach ourselves to some credible, fashionable phenomenon – and to be the first to tweet, retweet, or even post to an (old skool) blog about it, while the ‘buzz’ is still hot?

 
I’m even doing it myself, and at the same time trying to cynically distance myself from the act of simply posting my first emotive response – by constructing some sort of (oh, seven hells!) ‘critical analysis’ – I’m attempting to get one-up on the slavering masses, by observing events as they unfold from a slightly more elevated viewpoint than your average Westerosi peasant. I’m not sure which sickens me most, however; rolling around with the great unwashed, or claiming the high ground, and at the risk of being branded a cultural snob. I’m neither really – walking a precarious line between consumer and consumed, at least I hope I am. I’m as big a fan of Game of Thrones as I have been of anything I’ve truly adored. The whole saga caught my attention after I became disillusioned with the realisation that Star Wars had become just a fucking whore. I’m hoping it’s changed its ways in the light of The Force Awakens – but I find my disturbing lack of faith for that ancient religion – entirely justifiable.

Paradise Lost - Gustave Doré

Paradise Lost – Gustave Doré

So, what’s the deep, dark, dirty secret I’m about to whisper in your ear? Well, I’m slightly worried that dear ol’ GoT might go the same way as Whore Wars if it isn’t careful. The writing is brilliant, the casting is brilliant and the acting is brilliant – is it possible though, that Game of Thrones might get a little too cocky up there, looking down at us from its Iron Throne? It’s not really made of iron is it? It’s gold-as-fuck, that throne; George knows, as does HBO. Lord Tywin doesn’t shit gold, Georgie Martin writes it. I’m not knocking him for his success; I love his books, I just hope GoT doesn’t get too big for its boots. The production budget for each season seemingly quadruples each year, as well as the scope of its artistry and vision – not that there is anything wrong with that. At the moment GoT is poised like some titan, bestriding the past and future of the entertainment industry, offering a viewing experience that is currently unheard of in televisual history. After the undoubted success of the recent IMAX recaps of the forth series (where the trailer footage was apparently obtained) it’s almost unavertable that future episodes will be screened in cinema alongside domestic broadcasts; and will probably make George R R Martin a gazillion times richer than JK Rowling in the long run. It’s a large crown to place on the shoulders of one TV show – though I’m happy that something I love is so popular, and so relevant, I don’t want it to falter under the weight of its own success. It’s like when you’re a teenager and your favourite band goes global, distended beyond all proportion by the media machine and its feeding-frenzy, to the point that the lead singer/guitarist blows his head-off, unable to cope. I hope the team behind Game of Thrones doesn’t forget what made us all fall in love with the show in the first place, or how it ‘GoT’ where it is today – not caught up in believing and living their own hype. Hubris offended the gods of the ancient world; they struck down those they deemed too proud, or boastful, and always at the height of their power. We used to love another George, once – what happened to him?


Grimdal

Eyes from above,
look to below,
watcheth, watcheth,
‘ere, ‘yond the wind blows.
Electric wizards of the wasteland
gather;
grim hordes of men –
cometh
unto
eldritch thing,
in•fer•nal of purpose.
Tyrant.
King,
of no thing.
Misery within
darkness; him.
Cloven, hewn
by ensorcelled steel,
handled by doom –
gobbets
on gobbets,
his flesh and spume;
thus: waste layeth.
Poor old thing from before –
unspeakable sin,
nameless hoar.

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/fireside-chat/

 

On The Boil

I’m currently reading On Becoming A Novelist by John Gardner – Michael Swanwick put me onto it, after replying to a comment I’d posted on his blog – about struggling for recognition and such like. I’ve been writing, with serious intent, for over a decade (small fry); no one else in the publishing/literary world has dispensed any other advice to me in all the years I have been writing, apart from Michael, who recommended this book. I found On Becoming A Novelist to be a god-send at a time when I’ve become incredibly disillusioned with my writing. John Gardner died thirty-odd years ago in a motorcycle accident – yet this text is without doubt the most relevant, affirming, and encouraging thing about writing I have so far read. There seems to be little, if any, nurturing afforded to up-and-coming writers grappling with their art these days; unless one is lucky enough (and can afford) to attend a workshop such as Clarion, it’s likely you will fade-away unnoticed; wondering and worrying on the pitfalls within your fiction, without ever knowing why another of your short stories has been rejected. I’ve read many such books about writing before: Stephen King’s On Writing is oft touted by other writers as a good place to start on the subject – but this is merely coffee-table fodder for anyone with a spare half-hour on a Sunday afternoon to indulge King in his reminiscential anecdotes about how he ‘made it’ (which is fine). Any outcasts, exiles, lone-wolves and wandering rogues, looking for help or advice on creating art, but who instead find themselves drawing blanks, should seriously consider reading John’s books; especially in an age when style is so often sold over substance. To write is to walk a long, bloody lonely road. It seems even less forgiving these days than it used to be; anyone starting out, or anyone who’s perhaps even halfway there  you would do well to read this book: it’ll help you when the rest of the world is too busy, as usual, to care.

img-john-gardner_154552304309John Champlin Gardner Jr. (July 21, 1933 – September 14, 1982)

 

John also wrote a book called Grendel, which happens to be a great accompaniment to study alongside On Becoming A Novelist. It’s a fine example of what true fiction should and can be; as opposed to the glut of mindless, derivative pap served up under genre umbrellas these days to keep the publishing houses in lattes and cats.

I also found myself watching Pearl Jam 20, the documentary by Cameron Crowe, again today – makes me think sticking to your guns in the long run, is better than selling out in the short-term, and that doing what you want, your way against the odds is truly, what success is about. So – keep on rockin’ in the free world…


Mad for Max

 

madmax-furyroad-interceptor

This summer Mad Max fans will reach terminal freak-out point when the fourth film based on George Miller’s Max Rockatansky, “Mad Max: Fury Road”, crashes into cinemas sometime in May. Max is a former Main Force Patrol officer (traffic cop), forced to wander the Wasteland after the world goes to shit. Essentially, it’s unlikely to differ much from previous forays into the irradiated Outback – except of course that Mel Gibson is no longer playing the title role. This time that honour falls to Tom Hardy, which shouldn’t dishearten Mad Max fans too much (Hardy has proved himself a capable, charismatic tough guy – having played Bane in The Dark Knight Rises and Charles Bronson in Bronson); as franchise reboots go Mad Max: Fury Road is surely one of the most anticipated of all time. The teaser-trailer itself is a work of viral-art; spawning myriad proclamations of fangeek love for the adrenalin-fulled cinematography.

 

So it would seem that the perverted imagery, ideals and full-on, far-out insanity of the original films haven’t been scrapped; running as smoothly as a well-oiled V8: George Miller is directing again, Nick Lathouris who was on board to write the original Mad Max script returns, and the bad-guy – Immortan Joe – played by the actor Hugh Keays-Byrne (Toe-Cutter in the original), is also along for the ride. So what can we expect when the fourth instalment is released early this year? It’s possible the creators have used story elements from the three previous films to create Fury Road. The teaser trailer begins with various doomsayings about the fate of the world relating to war for water and gasoline – much like Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, it also appears that Max is captured by a gang of punks, crazies and motorheads who force him to ride one of their rigs muzzled and bound to a pig pole, in scenes again reminiscent of The Road Warrior. It’s likely he’s had dealings with them, in some form or another, in events that currently remain unclear: “Haunted by his turbulent past, Mad Max believes the best way to survive is to wander alone” – this might be a reference to the previous films and a way of tying them in; perhaps the gang have had some bearing on the death of his family (as in Mad Max), or they’ve simply crossed-swords with him before in the eternal hunt for “juice”? – At some point, however, they all run into Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron and it’s at this point that things seem to rev-up a gear. It’s possible that she may be a former member of what appears to be a harem – referred to as ‘The Wives’– belonging to bad guy Immortan Joe, or perhaps she’s simply a concerned member of society who decides to liberate them from his oily clutches. For whatever reason, a rescue – of-sorts, ensues –  ending in what appears to be the mutant-mother of all car-chases, tearing across the desert (à la Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome) into a humungus (wink, wink) sandstorm where the men are sorted from the boys, and undoubtedly, Max from the men. It’s my guess that it’s not only gasoline the road-killers want, but also human body parts to prolong their leaders life (Immortan Joe).

 

Is this just another dying earth scenario then; another grim trek into the future? Well yes, and no. Mad Max was originally a cult hit: the speed of its frenetic, frenzied, kill-crazy car chases and the explosive pile-ups they resulted in thrilled audiences at the time. Yet, there is far more to Mad Max than just carnage on the tarmac. It single-handedly defined the visual style for post-apocalyptic science-fiction: medieval mixed with the post-nuclear. In much the same way as survivors at the end of the world as we know it would scavenge for essentials – the original film was held together on a meagre budget, made use of stolen props and used real biker-gang members as extras – paying them in beer; it’s humble, low-budget origins perfectly complementing the dystopian vision of Miller’s world. Before directing, Miller had originally been working as a doctor in a Sydney ER ward; the mangled victims of car crashes serving as further inspiration for the films gritty, visceral style. Gibson himself tagged along to a casting call with mate Steve Bisley, who landed the role of Goose; Gibson was still bearing the brunt of a bar-fight he had been involved in the night before; his face a purple-pulp – one of the agents spotted him and asked him to return when he was patched-up – three weeks later history was made.

mad max face

It’s this flavour – carried throughout the first three films – that made them stand-out. There’s a harrowing, guttural realism inherent to Mad Max’s world; created partly out of the films’ bleak themes and style, but also by the knowledge that such a scenario isn’t all that hard to imagine – perhaps not even that far down the road – where once abundant resources become suddenly scarce, even prized; so much so that they are fought over.  Fury Road looks well set to ultimately overtake its forefathers: the deranged denizens of the post-nuclear desert are all there; the mix of the once-familiar turned into ephemera; of machines butchered and cannibalized to create the Frankenstein-esque monsters which depredate the slow and the weak up and down the lawless highways stretching towards horizons baked the colour of oxidized-iron – where everything is made of steel or leather and covered in dust, rust or blood.

mnstr
Compared to the gathering force that is the Star Wars reboot, also arriving this summer, Fury Road doesn’t have quite the same level of expectation laid upon its shoulders; yet the Star Wars franchise has been skippered by almost as many directors as there currently are Star Wars films. That’s the artistic equivalent of putting sand in the gas tank. Mad Max still has the same driver behind the wheel, nor does it appear to have had its fury diluted, or tampered with. Difficult to see, the future is; but chances are The Force Awakens will polarize the galaxy much the same way the banal ‘prequels’ did. Mad Max: Fury Road is going to be the one to watch this summer.

Mad Max: Fury Road stars Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Zoe Kravitz, Adelaide Clemens & Riley Keough.

 

Son of Skywalker

Empireendshot


 

That scene at the end of The Empire Strikes Back: Luke’s new hand cups his sister’s arse cheek whilst robot slaves shuffle awkwardly, pretending not to notice — ESB as it would have been were it filmed in more recent times — darker, perhaps even, viler. Superheroes, Fantasy and Sci Fi characters have all received this makeover recently. Christopher Nolan’s Batman films are often bandied around by critics as the cultural metaphor for the post 9/11 world — but murky political themes aside — Batman’s supposed to be bloody dark. He witnesses the murder of his parents, he lives in a city called ‘Goth’-am, he bases his disguise on the bat — a creature sharing archaic folkloric associations with the nocturnal and the supernatural. Clark Kent would have never got the job. In Fantasy and Science Fiction the doomsday scenarios of dystopian fiction are now ten-a-penny. Game of Thrones has shaken fantasy up a little, but there’s currently a plethora of imitators paying homage to Martin, in much the same fashion as they have to Tolkien for the last seventy-odd years or so; albeit under a slightly different guise.

 
The struggle between good and evil still exists, but good is trampled to death these days, like so many daisies beneath the boots of an army. Naivety has its pale smiling face bludgeoned unrecognisable with a shield pommel, and is left spitting blood and teeth; innocence is dragged away kicking and screaming, its saviors butchered. Just ask the Starks. I adore Game of Thrones and ASOIF, but it’s the characters and their experiences in a world ravaged by civil war that makes the story so enjoyable – rather than the infliction of things in a contrived, cynical manner simply because it sells. This is what elevates Martin’s writing (most of the time) above the current glut of #GrimDark that is modern Fantasy: Tyrion Lannister is perhaps one of the greatest fictional characters of modern times.

 
The director Matthew Vaughn recently argued that we are seeing a shift in taste away from Nolanesque material towards more light-hearted entertainment, with films such as Guardians of the Galaxy supposedly signposting the way. One could counter-argue that he has a vested interest in promoting this train of thought: he himself directed Kick-Ass, a superhero spoof; whilst his latest effort Kingsman: The Secret Service, is out later this month, and appears for all intents and purposes to be Kick-Ass sans the superheroes — switching them in favour of spies and suchlike instead. Whatever Hollywood’s current spin on what we should be watching might be, or indeed — that of the publishing industry, and its coffee-quaffing, cat-pandering elite — the world itself has changed since I fell in love with stories, a long time ago. Star Wars was my first foray into fantasy, and I still have a reminiscential fondness for the first three films: for the themes and mythic-stories they took their cue from. Ultimately however, a story — whether it’s a one-off, or a bloated box-office trilogy — will rise and fall on the success of its story; the integrity of its players and the realism of its stage. It is not — or at least it bloody shouldn’t be — about genre or style over substance. It should just be: beginning, middle and ‘The End’. It should also be, as Neil Gaiman would have it, ‘good art.’


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