One of the things I repeatedly tell my pupils and tutees, and their parents, is that there’s nothing I can teach them that they can’t learn by reading books. Occasionally, this backfires and they tell me not to bother coming again, but mostly they nod in agreement… and then go straight back to their iPads the minute we finish our lesson.
When I look at photos of Chris Cornell—especially those from the early nineties—I’m immediately struck by two things: one, how handsome he was—how tall and handsome and robust-looking—and two, how happy I was listening to his music. In the case of the latter, of course, the passing of time, coupled with the sudden sting of a tragic event such as the one that occurred last Wednesday, can cause us to over-tint the glasses through which we view our memories. In this instance, however, I’d say my vision is pretty clear.
So. I’m just about done with the first draft of the latest WIP. It’s no longer a WIP, exactly—more like a WAD. A Work Almost Done. Long road ahead, I’m sure, but right now it feels good to have reached this stage. It’s taken a lot longer than I expected, and there were definitely times when it felt like I would never get there. Adding to that sense of never-gonna-get-there was the fact that, throughout the process, I watched as other writers finished their projects. Writers who had started at the same time as me, or even after. I read their posts on social media, noted their word count, tracked their progress—even saw some of them get their books published.
- Make ‘in fact’ one word. See also: ‘at least’. In fact, fuck it, any two words you want to join together, go ahead. See if I care.
2. Change the spelling of ‘were’ to ‘where’. And vice-versa.
3. Get rid of all punctuation, except full stops and commas. Even then, don’t worry about using them correctly. Just whack ‘em in wherever. you want,
4. Capital letters? Fuck ‘em. Your parents don’t use them in their Facebook posts, so why should you?
5. Make it a rule that every paragraph has to end with ellipses.
6. When using ellipses, add as many as you want. Yep. Just hold the period key down for as long as you can. Again, your parents do it in their Facebook posts, so go ahead……….
7. Change the definition of a pronoun to that of a proper noun. Because, really, who gives a shit what these words mean?
8. Add the letter ‘h’ to ‘with’. Along whith any other word beginning with ‘w’.
9. Make the words ‘over’ and ‘other’ completely interchangeable.
10. Use more ‘ajectives’. You can never have too many in one sentence. The more random and irrelevant the better. If anyone questions you on this, say, but my short, brown-eyed, dapper, sarcastic, weird teacher told me it was okay.
New year. The time for resolutions and goal-setting. Clearing the conscience and wiping the slate clean. Fresh starts. Blah blah blah. And yet, as fake and false and contrived as all that may seem, there’s something undeniable about the urge to reset.
Yesterday, in the spirit of such things, I tried to reach out to someone with whom I had once been close. All I received in response, however, was bland cheer. At first, it bummed me out and I vowed never to do something so sentimental again. Screw them, I said. Leave the past behind. But then I thought: No, hang on. You’re being unfair. He’s just keeping it civil. Besides (I thought) he may not be in that place yet.
Keith Buckley’s Scale was the first novel I finished in 2016; The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride was the last. I loved them both. In between, I read—and loved—an entire novel (finally!) by Nabokov—namely, Bend Sinister—having previously failed to appreciate the man’s genius—as well as The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll; The Sick-Bag Song by Nick Cave; Albina and the Dog-Men by Alejandro Jodorowsky; Reel, by Tobias Carroll; and Monica Drake’s short story collection, The Folly of Loving Life. I also dipped into a couple of collections of poetry, by Carol Ann Duffy and Leonard Cohen, and non-fiction by Jon Ronson (The Psychopath Test) and Dan Fox (Pretentiousness: Why It Matters).
The general consensus is that 2016 sucked. And it did. For so many reasons. To paraphrase the great Nelson Muntz, it sucked and blew. On top of the deaths of an alarmingly high number of cultural icons, humanity disappointed me on a global scale. Hatred, racism, xenophobia, ignorance, insularity and stupidity reigned supreme—and look set to do so for a long time to come. To wit: the people who voted for Britain to leave the EU will get their wishes—whatever the heck they were… eventually… maybe—and, come January, the United States has an unhinged narcissistic cyber-bully for a President. Worst of all, though, Joel Dommett didn’t win I’m A Celebrity, and, instead, a girl who’s famous for watching television is about to become a millionaire.
They call it noir—or possibly neo-noir—which, of course, is the French for black. However, if there’s a word, in any language, for the colour darker than black, well, then that’s the word I’d use to describe Pike. Because Jeez-us Christ, this is dark. And violent. Ohhh, my God, so much violence. Brass-knuckle beatings… shotgun blasts to the belly… slit throats… You name it, Pike’s got it. Fortunately, it has a whole lot more besides, making this one of the most impressive, affecting debut novels I’ve read in a long while.
I want to talk about sensitivity—or, rather, more specifically, so-called “sensitive types”. Partly because I am one, and you know how I just love to talk about myself. (I’m clearly also a massive egotist.)
Some books, you actively seek out. Others find you. Some you read on recommendation—just hearing the title, and the way someone says it can be enough. A single adjective. Hell, sometimes even an Amazon algorithm turns out something special.
How I came by this book, I really can’t recall. It just appeared by my bedside one evening. But as soon as I picked it up, I knew that it was one I wouldn’t put down until the very last page. It just had that feel, you know?