The Funny Thing About Research

 

Ahhhh, research…

Arguably it’s the most important part of the writing process. How can you write about something if you know nothing about it? That old writing tip “write what you know” is always apt — you don’t want to look stupid, do you?!

But how about other ways you might look in the age of the internet and having access-all-areas? If I were to go through the things I’ve looked up in the name of research it could paint a pretty messed-up picture…

For one short story I had to research the job of an embalmer, how a cadaver appears and feels, how the process of embalming works, etc. For my work-in-progress novel American. Porn Star. President. (about a porn-addicted journalist), I’ve looked up almost every genre there is on major porn sites, and what the world of the porn industry is like, from on-set slang to bloody company rivalries. (Think that’s commitment? Some writers have acted in adult film for their stories — now that’s dedication!) For a short story about a disgruntled employee of a corporate giant, I delved into self-immolation, and came across some deeply harrowing images, and incredibly tragic cases. For my screenplay Let’s Talk About Sex, I researched the most comic and weird sex-related injuries (thinking about it still makes me wince).

JG 1

One, like Jake Gyllenhaal above, could look at this and reach the conclusion that I’m a sex-addicted, cadaver-infatuated nutjob who’s about to set myself on fire in a protest against my exploitative employer (must… crush… capitalism…).

So, is all this research essential when it comes to whatever project it is that you’re working on?

Well, yes… It’s like the method actor approach, although how far an actor — or a writer — would go is another thing. If I’m writing about a murderer I’m hardly going to go out and hack someone to death. But I would likely go to our all-knowing, omnipotent friend (or, arguably, foe) the Internet, and read about individual cases and the perpetrators… What was their mindset? How did they rationalise doing something so abhorrent? Did they even rationalise it? What was their background? How were they raised? What did their day-to-day look like?

I think it’s a part of us, though — this curiosity, this need to know… We’re voyeuristic… Or, as David Fincher said: people are perverts. We’re forever curious about the private (or not-so-private) lives of others. We obsess over individuals like Charles Manson and Ted Bundy. We make celebrities out of some of the craziest people who’ve set foot on this planet. We create sensations around porn stars (Jenna Jameson, Linda Lovelace, Ron Jeremy, John Holmes, James Deen, to name a few). Not that I’m saying porn stars are monsters like Manson and Bundy, of course. To be clear, that’s not what I’m saying at all! I admire adult performers for having the balls to do what they do… pun possibly intended.

But what do they have in common? Well, they’re the outliers, right? And we’re always interested in the people who go against the grain of “normal” society, be it by doing something awful (Manson and Bundy) or something unusual/outrageous (adult performers). We’re forever fascinated by the ones who don’t do the “normal” thing, because, for the most part, we’re surrounded by normalcy; the mundanity of everyday life.

CK1

But coming back to research and writing, what does it all mean for the writer? The one who opens the doors to the often excessive, regularly fucked-up realities of this crazy world? Speaking from personal experience, my research has led me to having some odd, some adventurous, and some deeply disturbing dreams (including being pulled across the bed by a demonic spirit flashing before my eyes. And yes, I do have night terrors… I scream in my sleep sometimes. It’s ridiculous, and a little embarrassing, but it has scared my girlfriend in the middle of the night, and that’s definitely a consolation. It’s okay, she thinks it’s funny)…

Anyway, the great F. Scott Fitzgerald said this of the writer:

Writers aren’t people exactly. Or, if they’re any good, they’re a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person.

For me, that’s a perfect — and profound — way to describe a writer. The first time I read it, it simply made sense. I’ve definitely found myself feeling not-like-myself after writing a certain scene or a specific character, and that’s sometimes difficult to shake off immediately. Haruki Murakami has made reference to this in an interview with The New Yorker:

When I’m writing a novel, I wake up around four in the morning and go to my desk and start working. That happens in a realistic world. I drink real coffee. But, once I start writing, I go somewhere else. I open the door, enter that place, and see what’s happening there. I don’t know — or I don’t care — if it’s a realistic world or an unrealistic one. I go deeper and deeper, as I concentrate on writing, into a kind of underground. While I’m there, I encounter strange things. But while I’m seeing them, to my eyes, they look natural. And if there is a darkness in there, that darkness comes to me, and maybe it has some message, you know? I’m trying to grasp the message. So I look around that world and I describe what I see, and then I come back. Coming back is important. If you cannot come back, it’s scary. But I’m a professional, so I can come back.

HM1

Coming back, even if it’s from the “real” world, is imperative. And, as Murakami alludes, it takes skill: he’s a professional, he can come back. He’s trained himself to come back. As made evident by my dreams, clearly I’m still in training.

But to end with Fitzgerald’s above quote in mind, maybe being good has been made easier today with the existence of the Internet, which allows us to do more research without having to leave the house or office. We’re not restricted to our first-hand experiences and our sometimes limited imaginations or book collections; we can delve into these worlds and mindsets instantly using the collective consciousness that is the Internet.

We can write what we know, although we might have preferred life when we didn’t know it.

 

Anyway, I hear the call for last orders again.

Until next time, I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar . . .

Header image by Becca Tapert on Unsplash

Six Morrissey B-sides

 

Football. If you had to choose only one sport to represent the working class, surely it would be the beautiful game.

I played myself. I was pretty good – not good enough to go pro, but decent enough to win a top-goalscorer award and play at the top level as a kid. A striker, I banged in plenty of goals in two seasons playing for Irish team Shamrock Rovers, and I went on to play for Home Farm F.C. before returning to Rovers again, where I spent a couple of seasons before hanging up my muck-covered boots.

How does this relate to Morrissey and B-sides, you may be wondering?

Well, most Morrissey fans will know that he was born in Manchester to a working-class Irish migrant family. Working-class life permeates Moz’s oeuvre. He was (and probably still is – I don’t happen to track his TV-watching habits) a big fan of the soap opera Coronation Street, which focuses on the daily lives of working-class Mancunians. You’ll also find many references to working-class life on the covers of Morrissey singles, such as a photograph of two boys used for the single Roy’s Keen (see below), taken by Roger Mayne, a photographer famed for his documentation of people on London’s Southam Street.

As for the football connection – there’s something about B-sides that reminds one of substitutes: back up, a suggestion of not being good enough for the starting line-up. But what about the substitute who pops up with a last-minute winner having only been on the pitch fifteen minutes? Substitutes complete the team and have an invaluable role to play. Plus, some players who regularly feature on the bench are often exceptional, even better than some in the starting eleven (think of super-subs like Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Chelsea’s Tore Andre Flo).

The same can be said for B-sides. You’ll find some gems accompanying singles, some that are arguably better than the A-side.

With that in mind, here are six Morrissey B-sides from over the years.

 

1. Have-a-Go Merchant

Moz Boxers

Have a go when the pubs all close, and have a go when they open. So begins this boisterous B-side to Boxers – Morrissey’s ode to pugilists everywhere, released in 1995. Have-a-Go Merchant would also show up on the compilation album World of Morrissey, released the same year. It’s been claimed that this song was written about Natalie Merchant of 10,000 Maniacs, in response to her cover of Everyday Is Like Sunday, which Moz utterly despised. There once existed a very charming fan-made video for this, featuring handheld footage of families from years gone by. Alas, I can’t find it, but you can still listen to the track by hitting the link below.

A-Side: Boxers (16 January 1995)
Listen to ‘Have-a-Go Merchant’ here.

 

2. Get Off the Stage

Moz PP

This biting B-side takes aim at aging rockers whose time, in Mozzer’s opinion, has come and gone: move on, ye old rockers, and make way for the youth of today. Many have opined that the song was originally aimed at The Rolling Stones, who, for better or worse, are still rocking some 29 years after this track accompanied the Piccadilly Palare single release. Of course, this very song could be aimed at Morrissey today, something he surely knew would happen someday. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if it appeared as a self-deprecating inclusion on the setlist for his next tour.

A-Side: Piccadilly Palare (8 October 1990)
Listen to ‘Get Off the Stage’ here.

 

3. The Edges Are No Longer Parallel

Moz Roy's Keen

My only mistake is I’m hoping, laments Morrissey in this guitar- and strings-driven ballad. Making its appearance on the single Roy’s Keen, the track features familiar themes of hopelessness and loneliness, before launching into a snare-pounding, upbeat outro that contradicts the lyrical content. Surprisingly, this excellent B-side has never even made it onto a compilation album. It did, however, show up on the 2009 remastered version of studio album number six, Maladjusted. In a word: magnifique!

A-Side: Roy’s Keen (6 October 1997)
Listen to ‘The Edges Are No Longer Parallel’ here.

 

4. A Swallow on My Neck

Moz Sunny

A Swallow on My Neck was the B-side of the single Sunny, released in 1995. It went on to feature on the compilation album My Early Burglary Years. For me, this track is stronger than the song to which it played second fiddle. It’s rumoured to have been written for Jake Walters, a long-time friend of Morrissey’s, and features the wonderful opening lyrics I have been smashed again with the men from the Old Valhalla Road Crematorium, and You have been telling me that I’ve been acting childish . . . foolish, ghoulish, and childish. But I don’t mind, I don’t mind. When the result is a song like this, we don’t mind either, Moz.

A-Side: Sunny (11 December 1995)
Listen to ‘A Swallow on My Neck’ here.

 

5. Munich Air Disaster 1958

Moz IB,EH

Returning to the football theme, Munich Air Disaster 1958 is a tribute to those who lost their lives on British Airways Flight 609 – including members of the Manchester United football team, nicknamed the Busby Babes. This gem was a B-side on the single Irish Blood, English Heart, before showing up on the albums Live at Earls Court and Swords. The mournful lyrics speak of keeping the memory of those players alive: We miss them, every night we kiss them. Their faces fixed in our heads. A beautiful tribute song that’s been embraced by United and City fans alike.

A-Side: Irish Blood, English Heart (4 May 2004)
Listen to ‘Munich Air Disaster 1958’ here.

 

6. Good Looking Man About Town

Moz YHKM

A B-side with a brilliant bassline, Good Looking Man About Town showed up as a support act for You Have Killed Me – the first single from Morrissey’s eighth studio album Ringleader of the Tormentors, released in 2006. This one reminds me of some of David Bowie’s jazz- and drum-and-bass-infused efforts like Little Wonder, and ‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore, but that could just be this writer. Anyway, go forth and listen – it’s a treat that’s best served with a healthy dose of narcissism.

A-Side: You Have Killed Me (27 March 2006)
Listen to ‘Good Looking Man About Town’ here.

 

There we are – six Morrissey B-sides. Share some of your favourite Moz B-sides in the comments below if you’re bothered.

Until next time . . . I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar.

Six Morrissey Cover Songs

Cover albums: a waste of time, or a rare treat for fans?

Really, it can be hit and miss (arguably it’s mostly miss). But take Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Kicking Against the Pricks, or Metallica’s Garage, Inc., and you’ll find that there is evidence of successful cover albums hitting the shelves of our favourite music stores.

Throughout his career, Morrissey has dropped some brilliant cover songs into our laps for infinite consumption. And with the recent announcement that he’ll be releasing an album of covers in May (charmingly titled California Son), I thought I’d list six that have found their way onto a set list or two over the years.

1. It’s Over

Morrissey California Son 1

Original artist: Roy Orbison
Listen to it here.

Morrissey has followed up his splendid cover of The Pretenders’ Back On the Chain Gang with a gorgeous rendition of Roy Orbison’s classic ballad first released in 1964. This one features sublime, goosebump-inducing backing vocals from Laura Pergolizzi, better known by her stage name LP.

2. You’ll Be Gone

Morrissey You'll Be Gone (Jacky)

Original artist: Elvis Presley
Listen to it here.

It’s Over, followed by You’ll Be Gone — this all seems a tad depressing. But it isn’t, because this cover of The King’s 1965 release from the Girl Happy soundtrack has Morrissey in top form, delivering a devastating vocal to rival the original. This live performance featured as a B-side on the single Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on the Stage, taken from Moz’s most recent album, Low in High School.

3. That’s Entertainment

Morrissey That's Entertainment 1

Original artist: The Jam
Listen to it here.

This cover of Paul Weller’s love letter to London originally appeared as a B-side on the single Sing Your Life, taken from the-man-who-put-the-M-in-Manchester’s second solo album, Kill Uncle. Many of Morrissey’s covers have been very faithful to the originals, often being a tone-for-tone, word-for-word remake. For this one, Mozzer slowed the tempo, which gives the listener more time to consume the lyrics, and which arguably better complements the song’s reflective, appreciative nature.

4. Satellite of Love

Morrissey Satellite of Love 1

Original artist: Lou Reed
Listen to it here.

Lou Reed wrote Satellite of Love in 1970, while still a member of The Velvet Underground. The track would turn up on his now-legendary debut album, Transformer. Although relatively unsuccessful as a single, reaching a lowly #119 in the charts, it went on to become a regular feature on his set lists and compilation albums. Moz’s live cover of this track was released on 2nd December, 2013, as a tribute to Reed following his death less than a couple of months earlier. This writer is happy to report that he owns a copy.

5. Drive-In Saturday

Morrissey Swords 1

Original artist: David Bowie
Listen to it here.

David Bowie reportedly refused to give Morrissey permission to use an image of the pair together for the artwork on the repress of The Last of the Famous International Playboys. Was there bad blood between the two? Possibly. Possibly not. I haven’t investigated, and I don’t really care. What I do care about it Morrissey’s cover of Bowie’s 1973 track Drive-In Saturday. You’ll find it on the compilation album Swords.

6. Redondo Beach

Morrissey Redondo Beach 1

Original artist: Patti Smith
Listen to it here.

This rendition of Patti Smith’s classic was featured on Moz’s excellent album Live at Earls Court. Possibly this writer’s favourite to feature on this list, it’s similar to That’s Entertainment in that it’s slowed down and given extra room to breathe, allowing the listener to grasp and visualize the tragic story being told. A truly great cover version, this one.

There you are — six glorious Morrissey covers. Are there any songs that Moz has performed over the years which have stood out to you, or that you saw live? Add a comment and share a cover or a story if you like.

Until next time . . . I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar.

Six Morrissey Lyrics

My first full-time job was in a toy store. I was just out of school and was yet to go to college, because I had no idea what I wanted to do. And a full-time gig with a weekly wage sounded good to a working-class boy like me, who just wanted a few quid to go out and buy CDs, DVDs, and spend time with friends.

The store was, and still is, named Smyth’s. Now, judging by the title of this blog post you might be thinking “Okay, that’s the connection: Smyth’s Toy Store / The Smiths — Morrissey’s original band. Duh, we get it.” Well, that is one quasi connection to my favourite pop musician. But it’s not why I’m mentioning the store. The actual reason is because I only discovered Morrissey while working there.

The man who played Suedehead: The Best of Morrissey on repeat and pretty much initiated an irreversible re-shaping of my personality was one Paul “Jolly” Rogers, who I’m proud to call my friend to this day.

But it wasn’t an immediate romance; it certainly wasn’t love at first sound. You see, in my opinion, Morrissey is rather like the great Irish stout Guinness: it’s an acquired taste — you’ve got to train your taste buds. When it came to Mozzer, I needed to give myself time to get used to his unique sound.

Despite us not hitting it off straight away, it quickly grew into a full-blown passionate affair, and, like so many others, I was hooked for evermore.

One of the reasons I admire Morrissey so much is his unparalleled powers as a lyricist. I could’ve listed loads, but I don’t have all day, and neither do you. So, here are six brilliant Morrissey lyrics (excluding The Smiths songs) that pack plenty of wit, a good helping of poignancy, and a healthy touch of self-deprecation.

1.

“I wish you lonely, like the last-tracked humpback whale chased by gunships from Bergen. But never giving in… Never giving in.”

Track: I Wish You Lonely
Album: Low in High School (2017)

Moz Low In High School

Let’s begin with a recent track. Can you picture a lonelier figure than that humpback whale? The last of its species, being hunted by gunships no less! Emphatic, powerful lyricism that touches on Morrissey’s bête noire: man’s “war” on animals. Overall, the song, and this line, could be interpreted as a celebration of unapologetic individualism.

2.

“When you sleep, I will creep into your thoughts like a bad debt that you can’t pay.”

Track: The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get
Album: Vauxhall and I (1994)

Moz The More You Ignore Me...

Who knows who this track is directed at? Could it be his old foe the NME, who’ve waged war against Morrissey for years? Could it be Mike Joyce, following the legal disputes over The Smiths royalties? It was a toss-up between the above and the line from the same track “Beware, I bear more grudges than lonely high-court judges”. So, knowing that Moz is one to hold a grudge, it could be about quite a few people. Anyway, isn’t it quite brilliant?

3.

“It’s not your birthday anymore. Do you really think we meant all those syrupy, sentimental things that we said yesterday?”

Track: It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore
Album: Years of Refusal (2009)

Moz Years of Refusal

Moz is not only one of the greatest lyricists of all time, he’s also one of the funniest. And he doesn’t like to beat around the bush, either: “Seriously, we don’t like you that much.” Pure gold.

4.

“You have never been in love until you’ve seen the dawn rise behind the home for the blind.”

Track: First of the Gang to Die
Album: You Are the Quarry (2004)

Moz First of the Gang 1

Morrissey came back with a bang in 2004 with the release of his first album in seven years. The lyrics above are from the album’s second single “First of the Gang to Die”, and I’d struggle to find a more powerful way to describe the gift of sight. Again, it’s playful, but also particularly poignant.

5.

“The woman of my dreams, she never came along. The woman of my dreams – there never was one.”

Track: I’m Not Sorry
Album: You Are the Quarry (2004)

Moz You Are The Quarry

There’s been an air of mystery around Morrissey for decades; something the man finds strange since he considers his work to be rich in autobiography. Unfortunately, in this celebrity-obsessed world we live in, people’s sexuality is often a hot topic of debate. It’s been said that Mozzer is a frustrated heterosexual, a homosexual, bisexual, asexual . . . One of the more popular and persistent rumours is that he’s celibate.

There were a few revelations in his book “Autobiography”, which was published in 2013, and you may read what you will into the lyric above. But at the end of the day, who cares? It’s no one’s business but Morrissey’s.

6.

“One fine day – let it be soon – she won’t be rich or beautiful. But she’ll be walking your streets in the clothes she went out and chose for herself.”

Track: November Spawned a Monster
Album: Bona Drag (1990)

Moz November Spawned a Monster 1

Who else in the world of pop music would write a song about the plight of the disabled? Apparently this memorable track tackles the underlying pity and discomfort that is supposedly felt by many in society towards individuals with disabilities. The hopeful lyric above — the final lines of the song — wishes for this particular individual to find her independence and be released from the shackles of such ways of thinking.

There we are. I could list many more Morrissey lyrics. But for now, it’s last orders again.

Until next time, I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar . . .

 

Photo in header by Samuel Gehrke, borrowed from this Billboard article.

Six Short Stories

 

 

There’s a good chance you’ve heard the following well-travelled quote many times:

“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

You’ve likely seen it attributed to Mark Twain. Until recently, I would’ve thought that was correct. It was, in fact, originally written by French mathematician, physicist, inventor, and writer Blaise Pascal (thanks for that nugget of knowledge, Eric).

But let’s get back to the quote…

What does it mean when it’s applied to writing short fiction, as it regularly is? Well, if it isn’t obvious, it means short stories take a lot of time to perfect — they’re difficult. You need time to trim the fat, or kill your darlings as the literati like to say. Some of the greatest novelists who’ve put pen to paper didn’t, or don’t, have the skill (or, perhaps, the temperament) to write short fiction. Many authors over the years have said writing a short story is far more difficult than writing a novel; there’s less room to play, there’s certainly less time to say all that you want to say — basically, you’re more restricted in the short-fiction world.

I’ve been writing short fiction on and off for a number of years while working on a number of screenplays and a novel. Am I near as strong as I’d like to be when it comes to the shorter work? No, but the more I write the better I get. And I’m putting together a short story collection that I hope to publish in the future (out of all the titles I’ve created over the years, this one is my favourite).

I’ve also been reading short stories for a long time. Some writers I’ve been reading for years, some I’ve only discovered, and some I’ve known about but have only gotten round to devouring recently.

With that in mind, I thought I’d list a few short stories worth reading written by American writers. I won’t go into much detail, as going in blind is always better. Of course, I do recommend buying the collections in which these stories feature.

So, here they are:

 

 

1. Nathan Englander — The Twenty-Seventh Man

From the collection ‘For the Relief of Unbearable Urges’ (1999).

Englander 1

Nathan Englander made an immediate impact on the literary world with the release of his debut short story collection ‘For the Relief of Unbearable Urges’. The first story in the collection, The Twenty-Seventh Man, is an allusion to the Night of the Murdered Poets  the execution of 13 Soviet Jews on the orders of Stalin, on August 12, 1952.

The short story isn’t available online, but you can read the script for the play based on it here. Or, you could go buy the collection in your favourite second-hand bookstore (for you Irish readers, it’s gotta be Chapters on Parnell Street).

 

2. Jennifer Egan — The Stylist

From the collection ‘Emerald City’ (1993).

Egan - Emerald City 1

Jennifer Egan is probably best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning work of fiction ‘A Visit from the Good Squad’. I say ‘work of fiction’ because the book has been characterised as both a short story collection and a novel — Egan herself has stated that she doesn’t consider it to be either of the aforementioned.

What is unequivocal about her first published work ‘Emerald City’ is that it’s most definitely a collection of short stories. The Stylist, the first story in the collection, focuses on a divorced fashion stylist on a shoot in Africa with a photographer and three teenage models.

Read it here.

 

3. Raymond Carver — Errand

From the collection ‘Cathedral’ (1983).

Carver - Cathedral 1

Raymond Carver has inspired countless short and long fiction writers since he became one of America’s best-loved writers with the publication of his collections ‘Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?’ and ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’ (the latter of which has had its title borrowed by a number of writers, including Haruki Murakami and Mr. Englander mentioned above).

One of the greatest influences on Carver was the great Russian playwright and short story writer Anton Chekhov. In Errand — a tribute to his idol — Carver re-imagines the final hours of Chekhov’s life, but brings the focus of attention on a young bellboy.

(Note: This idea has prompted me to develop a short story about Carver’s final hours, the same way he wrote about his idol. I’m still working on it…)

You can read Errand here.

 

4. John Updike — Pigeon Feathers

From the collection ‘Pigeon Feathers’ (1962).

pigeon-feathers

The American heavyweight John Updike is considered by many to be the greatest writer of the 20th century. He’s most famous for his ‘Rabbit’ series, which centres around the life of former high-school basketball star Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. Two novels from the series — ‘Rabbit Is Rich’ and ‘Rabbit at Rest’ — won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

In Pigeon Feathers, a young boy adjusting to life at the farmhouse he’s recently been moved to with his parents and ailing grandmother, faces a spiritual crises after reading a work by H.G. Wells.

Read it here.

 

5. Stephen  King — Premium Harmony

From the collection ‘The Bazaar of Bad Dreams’ (2015).

Stephen King 2

Stephen King. He’s probably the most famous author around; the man who’s seen countless stories and novels he’s written find their way onto the big screen, who’s been on the bestsellers list more times than he can remember. He’s not someone this writer has read very often (honestly, I just haven’t been able to get into his books), but he has written a short story in a similar vein to Raymond Carver, which is probably why I like it so much. In his introduction to Premium Harmony in the collection, King confesses that he’d only discovered the work of Carver shortly before writing the story, which is quite surprising since the work was published in 2009 — some 21 years after the short-story master’s death.

In Premium Harmony — which is unquestionably a pastiche  a car ride to a birthday party takes a turn when a couple stop off at a gas station to pick up a gift. This one is darkly comic, and hugely enjoyable.

You can read it here.

 

6. S.J. Coules — Photographs

From the collection ‘You Can Call Me What You Like as Long as You Don’t Call Me’

photographs-3

You’re damn right I’m plugging my own work.

My short story collection ‘You Can Call Me What You Like as Long as You Don’t Call Me’ is definitely a work in progress. Out of all the short stories I’ve completed, four, maybe five will feature in this collection. The rest are to be written  many have been fleshed out and partially developed, some I haven’t even thought of yet. Of the completed works that I plan to include in the book, one has been published, the others have either been submitted to literary magazines, or are sitting on the laptop, eagerly waiting to be read.

In Photographs — my first published short story  a crotchety man who’s found himself old and with nothing but pictures, alcohol, and television to pass the time, encounters an irritating local kid.

You can read it here.

 

Anyway, last orders have been called.

Until next time, I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar . . .

 

Thoughts on the Work of Book Cover Designer Chip Kidd

When I was a kid my brother would regularly draw football (soccer) kits: jersey, shorts, socks — the works. With him being older, I would usually copy whatever it was he was doing (including asking for the same Valencia CF home jersey one Christmas, which understandably infuriated him – “We’re not twins, dickhead!”). So, I picked up a variety of colouring pencils and began to draw (or to be more accurate design) my own kits. (Yes, brother, you and I were in fact practising fashion design.)

Alas, my designs weren’t up to much; there was a subtle art to designing a football kit — get too carried away and you’d wind up with something more appropriate for an LSD trip than the football pitch (although some goalkeepers jerseys over the years have definitely sparked thoughts of tripping balls).

My desire to draw didn’t end with football kits: extraterrestrial sketches, bubblified cartoons, watercolour paintings… I would attempt to tap into the creative well that existed on my mam’s side and show what I could do (for the sports genes, see the old man’s side)… which, clearly, wasn’t very much. My brother, however, certainly had a talent which he never fully pursued (although he’d tell you he wasn’t very good, which is inaccurate to say the least).

Anyway, I had tried my hand at it, and I learned early on that I definitely wasn’t going to be the next Edward Hopper, Ilya Repin, Todd McFarlane… or Vivienne Westwood.

Which leads me to the following statement: I’m hardly an authority when it comes to the visual arts.

But I do have an uneducated opinion I can share, kind of like someone on the TV who has zero understanding of basic economics talking about minimum wage and price controls — it’s an opinion we really shouldn’t take too seriously.

But if I may indulge myself, I’d like to share my unqualified thoughts on the work of someone I greatly admire, the one and only Chip Kidd.

Now, when I say share my thoughts, I mean I’m gonna share some of my favourite works by Mr. Kidd — i.e. his book cover designs I admire most — and scribble a few words underneath each design, basically something like, “I dig this because the colours are nice. Isn’t the picture he used here really impactful? Don’t I sound like I know what I’m talking about?

Chip Kidd is probably one of — if not the — best-known graphic designers around, and he’s created book covers for major names in literature including Haruki Murakami, Cormac McCarthy, Bret Easton Ellis, Michael Crichton, Jay McInerney, Donna Tartt, Michael Chabon, John Updike, and David Sedaris. His designs have also graced the covers of the perennial publications Rolling Stone and TIME.

So, let me share my most-loved works by this master designer, complete with uninformed thoughts on a subject I know nothing about…

1. Imperial BedroomsBret Easton Ellis

BEE Imperial Bedrooms

The rather disappointing sequel to Ellis’ debut novel Less Than Zero, Imperial Bedrooms was released in 2010 to mixed critical response. Apathy, narcissism, violence, and debauchery are regular features in the author’s work, and this novel doesn’t shy away from delving into hedonistic territory. Kidd’s design does a good job at capturing the superficiality and overindulgence that permeates Ellis’ oeuvre.

2. Jurassic ParkMichael Crichton

Chip Kidd - The Lost World by Michael Crichton

Every now and then Kidd takes a minimalist approach to his designs. For Michael Crichton’s sequel to his now legendary Jurassic Park (arguably thanks to Spielberg’s blockbuster adaptation), Chip’s minimal execution works quite effectively: Black, white, red. Unglamorous font. Menacing T-Rex gonna bite ya… Simples.

3. FasterJames Gleick

Chip Kidd - Faster by James Gleick

This one speaks for itself. So clever. One of my favourites beyond Kidd’s work, that’s for sure.

4. The Dark Knight ReturnsFrank Miller

Chip Kidd - The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

Maybe it’s because I purchased Miller’s iconic graphic novel years ago and it’s been on my bookshelf since, but this cover instantly screams “You know you want to read this. You know it, you bastard. Now OPEN ME!!” Mr. Kidd has designed many graphic novel/comic book covers over the years, including Watchmen, Before Watchmen, Rough Justice, and All-Star Superman.

5. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Chip Kidd - The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

I could have included this purely because The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is my favourite Murakami novel. But there’s something mysterious, magical, and alluring about the cover, prompting the potential reader to pick up the book and become a curious cat. (Murakami fans will appreciate that last line).

6. Villain by Yoshida Shuichi

Chip Kidd - Villian by Yoshida Shuichi

Various human bones positioned to form the shape of a pistol + hot pink. I’m sold… Even the position of the text feels right.

7. Reporting by David Remnick

Chip Kidd - Reportings by David Remnick

The long-time editor of The New Yorker and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer David Remnick published Reporting in 2007 — a collection of his writings from the aforementioned mag. Again, Chip’s execution is simple and, in my opinion, perfect in its simplicity.

8. The Little FriendDonna Tartt

Chip Kidd - The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

Oh dear God — Kill it! Kill it!! (Now that’s an effective book-cover design).

9. GulpMary Roach

Chip Kidd - Gulp by Mary Roach

It could be down to this cover bringing out my inner perv because it reminds me of the poster for Inside Deep Throat, or it could be that it’s simply pretty cool.

10. Seek My FaceJohn Updike

Chip Kidd - Seek My Face by John Updike

This is just one of a number of pieces Chip Kidd has designed for the late American great John Updike. This painting-style (if it isn’t actually a painting), brush-stroke cover implores us to — as the title asks — seek a face. It’s somewhat suffocating, almost haunting, certainly striking.

11. What I Talk About When I Talk About RunningHaruki Murakami

Chip Kidd - What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Okay, so maybe I’m a little biased towards this one for two reasons: 1) it’s Murakami, and 2) he took the title for his memoir on long-distance running from one of my favourite collections, What I Talk About When I Talk About Love, by the hugely influential short story writer Raymond Carver. But besides all that, Kidd’s once again simple design finds a way of being effortlessly striking: The formidable font towers above the minuscule figure of the Japanese author on one of his many runs, giving us an idea of the mammoth tasks he regularly faces when tackling marathons, triathlons, and ultra-marathons, even well into his sixties. Which is all the more impressive when you consider he was a heavy smoker until his early thirties. Oh, Haruki, we’re not worthy!

12. No Country for Old MenCormac McCarthy

Chip Kidd - No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

The great American author Cormac McCarthy originally wrote No Country For Old Men as a screenplay (which begs the question: Did the Coen brothers read his draft before writing their own for their faithful 2007 Oscar-winning adaptation?). Anyone familiar with either the novel or the film will know the pickle Llewelyn Moss finds himself in having stumbled across the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong — and a bagful of cash. They’ll also be familiar with the seemingly unstoppable monster who pursues Moss, the truly terrifying Anton Chigurh. For me, Kidd manages to convey the feeling of helplessness — of being hunted — as the lonely silhouetted figure traverses the red-hot, baking terrain, as the sun goes down… possibly for the last time.

There you have it — some of my favourite Chip Kidd book cover designs. And now I’m hearing the call for last orders.

Until next time, I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar . . .

Expressionism #1 — Liquid Pills

Anyone familiar with Jack Kerouac will know of his ‘spontaneous prose’. His method was well developed and it had its rules laid out in his “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose”. For his ‘set-up’ he compares it to an artist before they put pencil to paper, or a brush to canvas: “The object is set before the mind, either in reality, as in sketching (before a landscape or teacup or old face)  or is set in the memory wherein it becomes the sketching from memory of a definite image-object. . . .”

I took that idea of a blank canvas and the brush, but without a clear object or idea. I opened a word doc and jotted down whatever arrived in an attempt at writing a very short, somewhat coherent story. I suppose you could call that ‘spontaneous prose’, or ‘subconscious prose’. 

This is how many writers approach the first draft of their works, with nothing really in mind. Then they take that first draft (or ‘vomit draft’ as some writers call it), and refine it from there. But here I wanted the vomit to remain; there’d be no clean up on aisle five. So I’ve called it Expressionism, and this is my first effort. No edits, no path — just words that flowed out onto the page.

 

Liquid Pills

Liquid pills.

Take them, slowly.

Take them in a few mouthfuls.

Down them like there’s no tomorrow.

They’ll dampen the thoughts but liven the spirit.

I pass through the narrow, rain-speckled, rouge-lighted laneway with a stumble and a fumble. I curse — cunt — who? Anyone. Whomever. And I fix my long cashmere coat and I will an argument with someone, but no one’s here.

5am.

Who’s around then?

Some taxi tarts. Some residual rodents of the night before. Some of those without a home to go to. Some of the heroin heroes and the wannabe di Neros waiting for the moment to pounce.

I’m classless — that’s lacking class, not a class. Gauche. Inelegant. Ungainly. Graceless. I do have a class. A working one. But I’m not stateless. Of which I’m not a devoted fan — not a centralized, expansive, militarized Europe. Who decides on the situation when Theresa, Jacob, and co. set sail? Us? No, the Junk, that’s with a ‘yuh’ —  Here, you! Piss off!

I don’t want to get into that, though. Who wants to? We’re all tired of it. All we want to do is to be left alone. Let us be. Let us do a bit of work and live life to a decent standard. Let us work and play. Let us live and love and let us not be drowned by the greedy and the corrupt.

We’re drowning. A stretched arm from the icy wall of water. A gasp, an open-mouthed cry — a raw caw, caw, caw. Can’t… breathe… Help… No help. No, we don’t need help, we need release. Release from your cold, stifling, suffocating grasp.

You. Corrupt. The Corruptors. The parasites. But enough of that… Because I’m loaded. I’m loaded on liquid pills and I’m looking for some new thrills. Some cheap thrills. Something that will let me forget… something… someone…

I approach The Beast. I don’t notice him at first. He’s the man with the plan.

   ‘All right, Beastie,’ I slur.

   ‘Sebastian,’ he purrs. ‘Sebastian, you’ve looked better.’ His voice. That voice. The Beast, a paradox. He’s a gentleman — a cock-hungry gent who speaks the Queen’s English as well as Hitchens the Polemicist did.

He chuckles, does The Beast. He laughs giddily like a schoolgirl.

He’s big — boisterous belly; nosey navel peeking through his partially unbuttoned shirt.

   ‘Sebastian, be a darling and give me your lighter. Mine… lost its way somewhere earlier in the night. I can hardly be held responsible for everyone and everything.’

I fumble around in my pocket and find the lighter. I rev the engine — the flame greets the ciggie.

   ‘I’ve got work in the morning,’ I tell The Beast.

   ‘You mean in a few hours?’

   ‘Yessssss.’ I stumble. ‘I’ve got work and it’s for the devil.’

   ‘The big C…’ he nods his head.

   ‘Tell me, Beasty boy,’ I say, attempting to stand up straight, with dignity — whatever that is. ‘Do you think we’re headed for the big bang of the nuke? Europe… Balkanization… China… The T Man… Where are we headed?’

   ‘Oh,’ The Beast says. ‘Oh, my sweet little Sebastian. That’s not for me to say… I’ve got a date with Mister Junk and The Elephant’s Whiskers — they’ll decide your fate… they’ll make the call on the Big Bang…’

   ‘What’s the way to go? I don’t want the big C…’ I say, half moaning… ‘I gave myself to It…’

   ‘It doesn’t matter,’ says The Beast, dropping the fag and twisting his foot on the concrete. ‘It’ll all be over soon.’

   ‘Soon,’ I say. ‘Soon I’m in work… It won’t be over by then…’

   ‘I’ve got to go,’ says The Beast. ‘I’ve got a lot to devour.’

   ‘So…’ I hiccup. ‘So, does the big C,’ I say.

   ‘We’re not so different, then,’ he says as he paces down the street — giant, meaningful steps.

I lean against the wall. The Beast left a half-empty pint behind.

I reach for the liquid pills.

I drink it.

We all drink it, in some way.

                                                                                    – 20th September 2018 — 8:19pm

A Significant Nothing

 

I wrote A Significant Nothing (originally — and, you might say, oddly — titled Cow Goes Moo) back in June. It’s a short script about human behviour and relationships in the age of social media and increasingly invasive, ever-absorbing, frequently distracting technology.

Our protagonist — an introverted doctor who lives a life removed from the hustle and bustle of the city in which he works — has found it difficult to make genuine connections with people for most of his adult life. And despite being quite romantic at heart, he has become disconnected, resigning himself to a life on his own. But when he treats an odd, overly anxious patient, he gets that inexplicable feeling in the pit of his stomach, and he’s hopeful for the first time in a long time that he has found someone with whom he can connect.

The problem is — has he found hope in a hopeless person?

You can read A Significant Nothing here: A Significant Nothing

‘It’s Ours’ by Charles Bukowski

It’s Ours

there is always that space there
just before they get to us
that space
that fine relaxer
the breather
while say
flopping on a bed
thinking of nothing
or say
pouring a glass of water from the
spigot
while entranced by
nothing

that
gentle pure
space

it’s worth

centuries of
existence

say

just to scratch your neck
while looking out the window at
a bare branch

that space
there
before they get to us
ensures
that
when they do
they won’t
get it all

ever.

You know how I was gonna self-publish my novel?

Well, if ever I felt like a liar . . .

Earlier this year I excitedly announced that I would be self-publishing my debut novel, Leaving Sadie, in June. Then, as the month approached like a freight train bombing along the tracks towards our tied-up hero in an action movie, I realised that I needed more time to free myself from those restrictive ropes; i.e. I needed to make additional changes to the story, let alone finalise the book-cover design (wonderfully executed by Chloë Keogan), get an ISBN, and prepare the final manuscript for digital and physical publication.

To be crude about it all: I’d blown my load.

So I said I’d aim for an autumn publication date, with October being the definite deadline. I’d even contacted Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin over at writing.ie about promoting the work on the site, as I had promoted my old blog Sounds From a Dublin Cafe. And Vanessa — wonderfully supportive of emerging writers as she is — was happy to offer me a slot on the site. That was that: I was certain I’d self-publish the novel by October at the latest.

But.

I had some thinking to do: Had I truly exhausted the traditional road to getting a novel published? Definitely not: Off the top of my head I would guess I’ve approached around six or seven literary agents — 10 max. Now, most people interested in literature know the famous J.K Rowling story, and how her Harry Potter manuscript was rejected time after time: The road to publication or landing an agent is a long one, and for that you need patience — like waiting at a railroad crossing for that freight train to pass by.

Now, I’m someone who has plenty of patience when it comes to writing a novel; I know it takes a lot of time and isn’t something that should be rushed. I know that landing a publishing deal is incredibly difficult and that these things take luck and time; and the world of literature can be kind to the aging process.

Despite my patience for the writing and publishing process, I had decided that Sadie was what it was: my first effort writing a novel. Completing the first novel is the real achievement, I’ve read umpteen times; it means you’ve got what it takes . . . when it comes to the next novels. Many authors don’t see their first completed novel published, and many of those who do wince and shudder when asked about that usually inexpert-though-rich-with-potential first novel (think Haruki Murakami and Hear The Wind Sing).

Sadie was sitting on my computer; a learning process that instilled in me the confidence to go and write my next novel. There it would stay, in the dark, left untouched, without a reader to heap praise upon it or tear it to shreds. And that to me felt . . . wrong. I’d poured a lot of energy into that work. And more importantly I loved my characters, for their talents and their flaws, for their courage and their cowardice, for their demand to be brought to life on paper — to be heard by someone.

It was the characters screaming from the laptop or the cold, dark desk drawer, who prompted me to decide to self-publish. If the work wasn’t up to scratch — if it was clearly the work of a novice; a writer experienced in film and advertising but not experienced enough in long-form fiction writing — then I’d learn that through the feedback of readers, the most honest critics. Why not put it out there? It would be a valuable learning experience.

And as explained above, I made that decision and had planned on publishing the work by next month, following that premature release date.

But then something else happened.

An early draft of Sadie was given the editing treatment by a young, recently graduated editor in the U.S. back in 2016. The feedback was mostly helpful and informed the future rewrites of the manuscript. But the story had changed so much since that first edit that I had to consider whether or not to have another editor take the story apart and find the flaws and inconsistencies.

Originally I’d said, ‘No, no, this is what it is. I’ve rewritten and rewritten and it will go out in its current state.’ That was a tad naive of me, but I knew that: I knew it would be a risk to self-publish without the final draft getting the editor’s touch. But then I was contacted by a fellow writer and copywriter, who informed me that their published-author sibling was now editing as well, and would possibly be interested in looking at Sadie before I put it out there, at a very reasonable fee.

At first I said it was okay; I had made the bed, tucked in my plot and characters and kissed them on their way into the unknown. I could no longer protect them, they were ready to be unleashed and whatever was to come their way would come; I could only hope that I’d equipped them well enough to deal with it. Then panic sat in: what if the work is awful? I mean, I knew the work wasn’t awful: I’d had plenty of feedback (no, not just from the mother and girlfriend!), and when I compared my work to other emerging writers on workshop sites I knew there was real strength in my writing. But the structure, the character growth, the conclusion — these aspects of the story could benefit greatly from the eye of a published author and editor.

I had to pause the self-publishing plan and send it over to that editor.

And now?

Now I have the editor’s invaluable notes.

Now I see where the story needs work: it needs more work.

And now I have the belief that Leaving Sadie could very well find itself a home by going down the traditional publishing road; the feedback definitely suggests that.

So now I have to get back to work.

The novel wasn’t ready for self-publication, I have to accept that.

But it could be ready for a traditional publisher very soon.

I’m going to go down the road of finding an agent, because while there was great appeal in self-publishing the work, and while I spent money and time on preparing for self-publication (cover design, ISBN, etc,), and while I know I had input from people on WordPress and Facebook on the book cover (for which I’m forever grateful), I shouldn’t self-publish until I’ve fully exhausted every option available to me when it comes to finding an agent and a publisher.

And if I fail to find one after all this?

Well, I guess I’ll self-publish; only this time I’ll be driving the freight train knowing the cargo is in the best possible condition.

Anyway, the call for last orders has sounded. I’m off .

Until next time, I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar . . .