the reason

I keep forgetting I have a blog. I’m sure I read somewhere that one of the first rules of being a blogger is to remember you have a blog. I expect there are lots of other rules, too, such as updating blog on a regular basis, being interesting about a variety of stuff, telling funny stories about my (non-existent) cats and so on. But I imagine the main rule about blogging is that you’ve got to blog.

A bit like writing in general, then. The big difference for me is that I have gone for most of my life without blogging. (In fact, for the best part of my life, there were no such things as blogs. There weren’t even computers for the first few years. I vividly remember wondering what the hell this ‘world wide web’ thing was that everyone was going on about. For me, blogging is a futuristic activity that makes me wonder why I’m not wearing a jet pack and eating my meals in tablet form.) In the entirety of my pre-blogging existence, I never once wished that there was a way for me to share my personal experiences and private thoughts with every single person in the whole wide world.  I was more of a heavily-padlocked-diary-hidden-under-the-loose-floorboard-guarded-by-dragons kind of a person. Blogging is a whole new world for me.

Writing, on the other hand, is central to my existence and always has been. I feel like I was born knowing how to read and write. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t doing both every day. If I don’t write much for a while, I get symptoms. My mental and physical health deteriorates rapidly – I become ill and unhappy and more or less want to die. It’s not an exaggeration to say that writing is the activity that gives my life meaning and purpose.

And yes, I realise that blogging is a form of writing. It’s not one that I feel completely comfortable with yet. There is something alienating about writing directly to a reader. When I write fiction, notes, poems or anything else, I’m writing for myself. Even when I’ve got a potential market in mind, the thought of sharing and selling my work is not foremost in my thoughts. It’s just me and my imagination. Unlike a blog, where I have to think about the reader and what is and isn’t appropriate to say to you, in my writing I am free to say everything, no matter how bizarre or humiliating or painful or even boring it might be.

Which is not to say that I love writing all that much, either. When the ideas and the words flow through you, it connects you up to the universe and fills you with joy. But that is rare, and the rest of the time? Not so great. I sometimes see quotes about how writers are supposed to adore writing above all things and how if you don’t spend every waking minute obsessed by writing then you’re not a real writer. And then I worry that I’m not a real writer, because I do have other interests and loves, and quite often I have to force myself to sit down and write when there are several million things I would rather be doing instead. I don’t know if I’m a real writer or not. I wish that I loved it more, that I was less lazy, that I didn’t have to keep kicking myself into action. I’m jealous of writers who have a constant passion for writing.

I don’t know if my passion is constant. I only know that when I don’t write, my life is meaningless. So that’s why I do it. So that I don’t die.

Why do you write? Do you make a distinction between ‘writing’ and ‘blogging’, or do you think that’s just a transparent attempt on my part to divert attention from the fact that I’ve neglected this blog for weeks on end? Have at it in the comments.

dead girls don’t cry

I will say upfront that I’m not really a huge fan of ‘urban fantasy’ – that genre which mainly consists of sparky young heroines with tattoos going about their everyday business only to discover that their local cupcake parlour is run by a whimsical faery. Or something. Okay, I may be slightly prejudiced by a particularly awful example of the genre that it was my misfortune to read last year. But even so, fairies and cupcakes and elves and family prophecies and late-blooming magical powers? Not really my thing.

So it may be that I am entirely the wrong person to take on this subject, and perhaps in ‘urban fantasy world’, all of what I am about to say would be considered ridiculous nitpicking about nothing at all.


If someone is dead – I mean, dead – If a character in a story dies and is dead, and the author kind of bangs on about how weird it is to be dead because you don’t have to / don’t want to / actually can’t:

a) sleep

b) eat

c) urinate

d) crave a crafty fag

If this is the basis on which a character is dead, then how the hell can said character have their breath knocked out of them? How can they cut themselves and BLEED? What the whatty-what, people?

I can just about suspend my disbelief to accept that a dead person could still have a body that is a projection of their spirit or a handy visual aid/symbol of their former life. It would be awkward to be dead, yet still be conscious, and unable to walk around and do novelly stuff. I guess I can accept (even if for no other reason than I’m a willing reader and literary convention demands it) that desire and fear and other basic, bodily emotions can survive in a person who no longer has a body with which to feel these things. It’s a bit rubbish, but if an author writes about someone’s spirit continuing and being able to feel emotions and think and stuff, I can go along with it for the sake of the story.

But don’t tell me, Charles de Lint, don’t tell me that a person has no need to eat, drink or do any of the other things that sustain a physical body, and yet that person can still somehow bleed. How is she bleeding? How is her body making fresh red blood, when she no longer eats or drinks? How is she breathless, when she no longer breathes? How does her body heal from the cut? How come she can feel pain, but not hunger? How does she make tears?

And this bleeding thing. It’s not like it was just some throwaway line I could ignore. It was the engine that powered the resolution of the entire plot.

‘The Mystery of Grace’ was certainly not the worst book I’ve ever read. In places it reminded me a bit of Jonathan Carroll’s writing. I kind of liked the sparky heroine with tattoos. And I’ll even admit that there was one hell of a good idea buried in there. But this dead people bleeding thing is just STUPID.

Am I wrong? Obviously not. But feel free to disagree if you can.


the city and the city

For some reason, my book love has grown huge again of late. It may simply be a symptom of my gradual return to decent health after a few years of battling with various conditions that left me depressed, depleted and utterly exhausted. My brain has started to work a bit, my neurons are getting sparky, something is going on… and I have more excitement and enthusiasm about reading than I’ve had for years.

At the same time, some of the authors I’ve clung to with fierce loyalty over the years now seem a little… well… Dull. Jejune. Unoriginal. I’ve always read widely and in all genres, but it’s still been difficult at times to find books I really care about. Books that I want to live in and eat and make clothes out of. But right now (thanks to your recommendations) I’ve got a stack of eight new books in front of me and I’m excited about all of them.

One of them is  Un Lun Dun by China Mieville. I have high hopes for this novel, mainly because I just finished reading The City and the City. Which blew my mind. Talk about a book I want to live in! I found it such a startling and remarkable idea, such an extraordinary metaphor for what it is to be human. How we unsee and unhear and unsense that which doesn’t fit comfortably with our understanding. How we live in fear of ‘breaching’ the standards of normal behaviour, going too far. And how almost everything interesting and meaningful in life happens in the interstices, the places inbetween. The setting is the story in this novel, in a very direct way, and if you haven’t read it, I don’t want to give too much away. But you must read it. It is wildly brilliant.

It made me think a lot about setting in story, something I’ve blogged about before. In The City and the City, the story could only happen in that particular setting. In other words, the setting is integral to the plot, characters and narrative, and provides much of the imagery and language of the novel. A genuinely well thought out setting can do all that and more. In this case, it delivers a profoundly satisfying and coherent narrative. Although I felt the novel had some faults, some boundaries it wouldn’t breach, so to speak, it still worked beautifully, meaningfully, on every level. I found myself thinking about it for days, captivated by the oddness of the ideas, and wondering how on earth it would unravel. That was all because of the extraordinary setting (and, of course, Mieville’s great skill and talent at putting it to work.)

I think that setting is a rather under-appreciated element of storytelling, and one that we ignore at our peril. I am inspired to try a story that depends on its setting for every aspect of plot, character and language. It’s something I’ve got close to before, but this time I will be making sure that the story is a direct product of the setting – something that could only happen then and there.

What about you? What are you reading at the moment, and what is it teaching you about your own writing/art/life?