Archive | April, 2013

Why Iain Duncan Smith is a Fucking Cretin

29 Apr

A while ago, in a post about the BNP, I explained how I never wanted this blog to be about politics, a) Because I’m not particularly political and b) Because ranting about politics can get awfully undignified. Well… I tried. God knows I tried. But today I have failed, and if one man is to blame for that it’s Iain Duncan “Fucking” Smith.

This fucking idiot.

This fucking idiot.

Yes. Iain Duncan Smith. A boiled egg with delusions of grandeur.

He was on BBC Breakfast this morning, extolling the virtues of Universal Credit. Now, when it comes to the changes being inflicted on the benefits system in this country, there are vast swathes of the argument I would avoid, simply because I don’t know enough to argue persuasively in any direction, but with Universal Credit, I can say with some confidence that Iain Duncan Smith is a great big pair of fucking clown shoes.

These, in semi-human form.

These, in semi-human form.

First, there’s the fact that payments will be monthly and – as has been tested in several parts of the country already – claimants will receive their housing benefit directly. Monthly payments, as anyone who’s tried to scrape by on a meager income will tell you, are a terrible idea, as you end up overspending straight after “payday”, buying all the stuff you’ve gone without for the last fortnight. Weekly, or even fortnightly payments make an enormous difference when you’re budgeting and haven’t a pot to piss in. In those areas where direct payment of housing benefit has been tested, including several councils in South Wales, rent arrears have rocketed.

There’s also been a shift, in recent years and in regions across the country, towards an almost exclusively online benefits system. Rather than go in to their local job centre and fill in a form with the help of a human being, claimants now have to do everything online. Using a computer. And the internet. These are some of the poorest people in the country, and Iain Duncan Smith is working on the assumption that they have both home computers and the internet.

Pictured: 5-6 weeks' worth of jobseeker's allowance.

Pictured: 5-6 weeks’ worth of jobseeker’s allowance.

When asked about this (by the lovely Susanna Reid), IDFS replied, “80% of claimants have the internet, via their PC’s and phones…” (or words to that effect.) The important words here are “and phones”. He expects claimants for the new Universal Credit to do all the paperwork on their mobile phones. Because, of course, that’ll be a walk in the fucking park.

I’m a reasonably bright person, I like to think, and I have a university degree, but I find filling in forms using a PC a right royal pain the arse. Reduce that screen down to the size of a Top Trumps playing card and it would be a fucking nightmare.

What I would like to know is, once you’ve removed all those who only have internet access via their mobile phones, how many benefit claimants have decent access to the internet?

“Ah, well,” said IDMFS (and again, I’m paraphrasing a little here), “Then they can go to their local libraries and use the computers there.”

Pictured: Something Iain Duncan Smith thinks is happening in another country. Or possibly Narnia.

Pictured: Something Iain Duncan Smith thinks is happening in another country. Or possibly Narnia.

Yes. Their local libraries. The same local libraries that are closing in their droves, as local councils struggle to meet the draconian targets imposed on them by Gideon Boiled-Testicle-For-A-Face Osborne as part of his based-on-some-wackadoo-and-since-discredited-study austerity measures. Not only that, but this ingenious plan means turning library staff untrained in helping people fill in benefit forms into a kind of auxiliary benefits support service, on top of them doing the actual job they’re paid to do.

“But of course,” said Duncan Smith, “96% of jobs these days involve working with computers, so they should all know how to use computers anyway.”

"Let them use Chrome."

“Let them use Chrome.”

Now, there are so many assumptions, jumps in logic, and rhetorical twists in that suggestion, I’m surprised Iain Duncan Fucking Smith didn’t strangle himself to death with his own pancreas.

“96% of jobs involve working with PCs… Therefore people should know how to use them… So it’s their fault if they can’t use PCs. Or afford them. So mnyaaah.”

I should be clear, I don’t think anyone is going to lose out financially or starve to death as a result of Universal Credit. I just think it’s a badly thought-out scheme that the government will call a “pilot” before skewing the figures to claim it a success, while in the real world people who shouldn’t have to – i.e. library workers – will take up the slack. Like Workfare, it’s a shining example of how this government in its ideological posturing against the public sector refuses to see the benefit in  understand how vast swathes of the public sector actually works, or join the dots between removing services in one area and replacing them with fuck all.

I’d love to have some witty way to tie this post up, some retort aimed at IDS that would make me look clever and him a fool, but I don’t. All I’ve got is this:

Fuck you, Iain Duncan Smith. Fuck. You.

Panto Gore – The 2013 remake of ‘Evil Dead’

22 Apr



Before discussing the remake of a popular movie, I’d like to trot out a couple of the cliches that get brought up every time we talk about remakes.

  • Remakes have been with us forever. Most of Shakespeare’s plays are based on pre-existing works.
  • Some remakes are good, sometimes even great. Look at The Wizard of Oz (filmed originally in 1910), The Maltese Falcon (filmed with Ricardo Cortez, 10 years before Bogart, in 1931), and Oceans Eleven.
  • Some remakes (Michael Mann’s Heat, Joss Whedon’s TV series of Buffy) enable writers and filmmakers to perfect their vision after abortive or sub-par first efforts.

And so to Evil Dead. Not The Evil Dead, you’ll notice. Just Evil Dead. Based on the 1981 film by Sam Raimi (which did include the “The”), and directed by Uruguayan filmmaker Fede Alvarez.

Just who, I wondered, during one of several odd lulls in the first 20 or 30 minutes, is the new Evil Dead – whose budget is almost 43 times that of its namesake – aimed at? Is it aimed at folks like me, who loved the original movies, youngsters who haven’t seen them, or both?

Seriously, though, if you haven't seen them... What the fuck?

Seriously, though, if you haven’t seen them… What the fuck?

You see, that’s the trouble with remakes. Unless they’re based on a novel or comic book (in which case you can argue that it’s not a remake but a new adaptation of the novel or comic), there’s something quite brazenly cynical about the whole exercise. Sure, special effects have come along in leaps and bounds since 1981, but is there really any need to give us a more polished, bigger budget version of The Evil Dead, when Sam Raimi more or less did that in Evil Dead 2 (1987)? What does the 2013 version bring to the table that the previous movies didn’t?

The answer, apparently, is gore. Buckets and buckets of gore. Did I say buckets? I meant tankers. Follow the paper trail back, and I reckon it’ll transpire that the film’s producers (Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Robert Tapert) have shares in a company that produces fake blood. Not that there’s anything wrong with this. If anything, the film’s abundance of over-the-top gore is the main thing it’s got going for it. And I genuinely mean that as a compliment.

Pictured: Gore.

Pictured: Gore.

Now, at some point, if you or your friends are fans of the original movies, you’ll hear somebody say, “Yeah, but it’s not as good as the original.” To which you should reply, “Shut up. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead is good, but it’s not great. Most of the time, when people are waxing lyrically nostalgic about an Evil Dead movie, they’re thinking of the sequel.

Yes. This one.

Yes. This one.

That’s the movie with surprisingly effective special effects, a comically hyperactive turn from Bruce Campbell, and its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. The first film, viewed more than 30 years on, is more “creaky” than “creepy”, and can only have cost a six figure sum to make because it was shot on film, rather than video.

The new film is better made than Evil Dead ’81. The acting, on the whole, is better. The special effects are (as you’d hope from a film that cost $17million) significantly better. The script, while often very scrappy, is inarguably more polished than the one Raimi churned out when he was just 22 years old. So, on all those fronts, this new version is a better film.

Where it stumbles is in its almost admirable refusal to acknowledge anything that’s happened in horror movies in the 32 years since the original’s release. For one thing, it’s now impossible to watch this kind of movie without imagining Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford running around behind the scenes making it all happen.

"Hey... They went with the spooky book." "Didn't that happen in 1981?" "Yep. Same thing. Almost exactly the same." "Spooky." "You're telling me."

“Hey… They went with the spooky book.”
“Didn’t that happen in 1981?”
“Yep. Same thing. Almost exactly the same.”
“You’re telling me.”

You can’t blame Alvarez, Raimi and Co. for that, and I wouldn’t suggest giving every by-the-numbers horror movie a postmodern lick of paint to make it work, as that would become stale. I just wonder if there isn’t, perhaps, a new kind of horror story we can tell, to replace this rather ropey old format that’s been with us since at least the 1970s.

The other major problem with Evil Dead 2013, especially when we’re comparing it with the original trilogy, is the Bruce Campbell-shaped hole in its heart. A tiny, barely-worth-mentioning cameo aside, Campbell isn’t in it, and while it would probably have been a mistake to shoe-horn his character into this reboot-sequel-remake-whatever, they should at least have tried to fill that gap with the same blackly comic, manic energy. Without it, this doesn’t feel so much like All New Evil Dead as Cabin In The Woods (Sans Irony). In fact, The Cabin in the Woods felt more like an Evil Dead movie than this does.

Congratulations, Whedon. You out-Raimied Raimi.

Congratulations, Whedon. You out-Raimied Raimi.

The script, as I’ve said, is a little scrappy in places, and the plot goes through a series of patience-testing contortions in its penultimate act, but overall the film is entertaining. The gore is very gory, the chills occasionally creepy, and the last 20 minutes hilariously over-the-top, like a pantomime of blood and guts. Jane Levy and Lou Taylor Pucci both turn in performances of the “better-than-this-movie-deserves” variety, with Levy in particular excelling both as a recovering addict and a bile-spewing, demon-possessed harridan.

In conclusion: Evil Dead 2013 is entertaining enough, but no classic, and while arguably more polished than its forebears it can’t hope to make anything like the same kind of impact.

The ‘Ding Dong’ Ding-Dong

12 Apr

Ding Dong

As I type these words, mere days after the death of Baroness Thatcher, the song Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead from The Wizard of Oz is climbing our charts, as the result of an online campaign. That’s what happens when people can buy a song for 79p with the click of a mouse. What’s 79p? That’s only a little more than a can of Fanta. So Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead is climbing the charts, and the Right Wing press are up in arms, because if it stays in the Top 40 that means it may get played on Radio 1’s Top 40 Countdown, and Radio 1 is the BBC, so that means the BBC are biased towards the Left and endorsing the whole ugly spectacle of people dancing on Thatcher’s grave.

That said, the Daily Mail thinks 'Antiques Roadshow' is hardcore socialist propaganda.

That said, the Daily Mail thinks Antiques Roadshow is hardcore socialist propaganda.

Meanwhile, many on the Left are saying, “But if they don’t play the song, that’ll show that they’re politically biased towards the Right.”

This isn’t that complicated. As Evan Davies pointed out on Twitter, if Nelson Mandela had died and a white supremacist group launched a successful campaign to get Black is Black charting, how would the Left feel about it being played on Radio 1, despite it being an innocuous and innocent song?

"It was that or Black by Pearl Jam."

“It was that or Black by Pearl Jam. Man, I love Pearl Jam.”

Or, to extract it from the poles of Left and Right, what if an online campaign resulted in a song called Big Fat Throbbing Donkey Cock reaching No.1? Would anyone, Left or Right, expect Radio 1 to play it? Of course not. Some people – many people – would find the song offensive, so it wouldn’t get played. Same goes for Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead. I wouldn’t be offended, maybe you wouldn’t be offended, but many people would, and it’s disingenuous of the Left to pretend otherwise.

The Right are demonstrating how truly absurd they are by calling for a ban, when if this was something that offended anyone but themselves they’d call a ban “political correctness gone mad”. What’s more, and this is nicely ironic, Ding Dong is only in the charts because it’s selling so well. Market forces, the very linchpin of Thatcherism, put that song there. Meanwhile, true to form, the Left are showing themselves to be weasily and dishonest by citing “freedom of speech” (even though this really isn’t about freedom of speech) when so many of them seem to spend their every waking second scouring the internet for things that offend them, and then crying out for bans and boycotts.

The BBC aren’t “duty bound” to play the song, even if it gets to No.1. If they don’t play it, that isn’t evidence of sinister Tory influence; rather, it’s just the BBC playing it safe. If it does get to No.1, it’s not because of some terrifying BBC Marxist plot, and Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead (recorded by MGM in Los Angeles in 1939) is not a “BBC witch song”, nor is it a “tasteless protest single” (as the Daily Mail phrased it). It’s just a lot of silly people making a pointless and redundant statement. So can everyone calm the fuck down?

News-wise, next week is going to be exhausting. I may hibernate.

The Tubes, The Twenties and Mrs T

8 Apr

Tubes 20s Mrs T

In recent months I’ve been working on an audio adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray for Big Finish productions. This follows on from their series The Confessions of Dorian Gray – the brainchild of the annoyingly talented Scott Handcock – in which Dorian survives, thrives and cavorts his way across the 20th Century.

Pictured: Literally the first image that came up when I Googled 'cavorting'. Featuring Milton Berle (far right).

Pictured: Literally the first image that came up when I Googled ‘cavorting’. Featuring Milton Berle (far right).

Adapting the novel itself was a very different task, not least of all because it involved producing 4 times as many words as an episode, but I’ll write more about this closer to the release date. The reason I’m mentioning it all now is that last weekend was when we recorded it, at The Moat Studios in Ladbroke Grove.

A day at The Moat is always fun, and as anyone who has worked there will tell you, the lunches alone – put on by sound engineer and kitchen whiz Toby – make any visit worthwhile.

As one actor, on a previous production, noted: “You don’t get this on The Archers.”

Being there on Saturday meant I finally got to meet our Dorian, the brilliant Alexander Vlahos (Mordred in the BBC’s Merlin), along with Marcus Hutton and Miles Richardson (who, I can confirm, were born to play Basil Hallward and Lord Henry Wotton respectively.) But enough of this loveydom. The day went well, everyone was marvellous, and the food was lovely.

I’d like to say I spent that night (a Saturday) carousing my way around the tangled streets of Soho, but sadly, having had far too little sleep the night before and having left the house at 5:30am to catch my train, I was in bed by 10:30 and fast asleep by 11.

Artist's impression.

Artist’s impression.

On Sunday morning, after my attempt at bankrupting my hotel by eating all of the breakfast, I strolled down to Covent Garden and the London Transport Museum. I was there specifically to see their exhibition of Tube posters, celebrating 150 years of the Underground, but the museum itself is a treat. Even the lift taking you to the second floor was exciting, and the examples of classic railway stock and buses were lovely. What’s more, once you’ve paid the £15 entry fee (which may sound a little steep) you can go as many times as you like for a whole year.

The exhibition itself was wonderful; a joyous reminder of how “on-the-nose” vintage advertising can be. Sure, some of it can look a little Orwellian these days, but it was surprising how applicable many posters still are.

This is from 1944. They should reissue it.

This is from 1944. They should reissue it.

 What stood out for me was the inventiveness, and the artistic daring that you see in poster art from the 1920s and 30s compared with later decades that we tend to assume were more adventurous. The earlier tube posters showcase vorticism, cubism, and plenty of other isms from early 20th Century art. The ’60s posters, in comparison, are surprisingly conservative, with only one example reflecting the city’s “swinging” reputation or offering so much as a nod to Pop Art.

In the afternoon I met up with my friends Hannah and Michael, former Cardiffians now living in London, and went to the exhibition of Man Ray’s portraits at the National Portrait Gallery.

Tubes 20s Mrs T

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “You didn’t go to Pompeii and Herculaneum at the British Museum?” Or, “You didn’t go to David Bowie at the V&A?”

No. No I didn’t. And I’ll tell you why. Firstly, it was a Sunday. Pompeii and Herculaneum would have been crawling with Jasmines, Tasmines and Olivers whose parents should have taken them to Thorpe Park or – at the very least – London Zoo, racing about the place and shrieking at each other while their backpack-and-papoose-carrying parents nodded thoughtfully at mosaics and plaster casts of terrified Romans. As for David Bowie, I love Bowie, but I’m not a massive costume enthusiast. I’d rather see those outfits on the man himself, either in concert or in concert footage, than on mannequins in a museum. Just not my bag, I’m afraid.

So… We went to Man Ray, and I wasn’t disappointed. Much like the Tube posters exhibition, it was a strange reminder that the ’20s, while acknowledged as being creative and decadent and all the rest of it, were so much more creative and decadent than the 1960s. Man Ray’s portraits are of dancers from the Ballet Russes, European and Asian nobility, American socialites, androgynous trapeze artists, writers, composers and – of course – Ray’s fellow surrealists. Sandwiched between the austerity of the World Wars, they illustrate a world infinitely more raucous, witty and adventurous than anything that happened at Woodstock.

"I don't know about you girls, but I am tripping my tits off right now."

“I don’t know about you girls, but I am tripping my tits off right now.”

After the National Portrait Gallery we retired to the ever-classy Retro Bar, just off The Strand, where Michael, Hannah and I discussed the eventuality of Baroness Thatcher’s death. We all agreed that while she may very well deserve a state funeral, everything should be tendered out to the private sector, from the undertakers to the security, in keeping with the spirit of the great woman’s politics. Within 24 hours the woman had dropped dead, but we have yet to learn whether we’ll see her coffin emblazoned with Cinzano and BP stickers, as she’s taken from Westminster Hall to her final resting place in the back of a G4S Transit van.

"And so the carriage carrying Baroness Thatcher leaves London, joining the A1 at Edgware..."

“And so the carriage carrying Baroness Thatcher leaves London, joining the A1 at Edgware…”

On a slightly more serious note, though, I’m actually surprised by how little of a reaction I’ve had to Thatcher’s demise. My Facebook timeline is full of people pulling virtual party poppers and raising online toasts, and I can understand that. There will be plenty of left wing apologists in the coming days, telling the world how tasteless they find it, because to celebrate anyone’s death is undignified and tacky… and that’s all true. But there can be few people who grew up in industrial and post-industrial regions of this country who can’t at least identify with those dancing a merry jig right now, however tacky or tasteless they find it.

As for those penning the hagiographies, well… This is the moment they have long been waiting for. A pageant of conspicuous cap doffing and forelock tugging sycophancy. The Daily Mail will be as happy as a pig in shit. A pig wearing a black lace veil, of course.

Just one thing. If they are going to broadcast wall-to-wall Thatcher-themed programmes for the next month, can I ask that we get the excellent drama Margaret, starring Lindsay Duncan in the title role, and not the performance-wasting bobbins that was The Iron Lady?

My Top 5 New York Films

5 Apr

New YorK

I’m going to New York in September (trust me, I’ll be mentioning this in an increasingly excited tone of voice more and more often as we near the departure date), and this got me thinking about New York movies. Like no other medium I can think of, films allow the city to become practically a character in its own right, and few make their presence felt on film more forcefully than New York.

Here, then, in chronological order, are five of my favourite New York movies. These aren’t just great films set in New York – there are plenty more of those. These are the movies that simply couldn’t be set anywhere else.

1) King Kong (1933)

New YorK

Until King Kong, horror movies were set largely in cobwebby, Gothic castles bestruck by lightning and crawling with bats, rats and women who wore too much eye shadow. King Kong, while not strictly speaking a horror movie, really changed all that. Here was a movie following in the tradition of exotic adventure (like Conan Doyle’s The Lost World or H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines and She) and given a monster movie twist, but its greatest innovation was its modernity. Sure, the Skull Island sequence could be set in any era, but the minute the action moves to New York we are right in the here and now of the 1930s.

Famously, the film’s climax takes place atop the Empire State Building, then only 2 years old, and it gave us the iconic and unsurpassed image of a prehistoric monster scaling one symbol of the modern age and battling another – the aeroplane. Semiotics and symbolism aside, King Kong is a cracking adventure and touchingly poignant, and Willis O’Brien’s stunning animation heralded a whole new era of movie special effects that would last until the arrival of CGI more than 50 years later.

2) Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

New YorK

Ealing veteran Alexander Mackendrick (The Ladykillers) may have made an unusual choice of director for this acerbic, noirish drama, but it’s arguably his greatest film. Sweet Smell of Success pits Tony Curtis’s sleazy PR man Sidney Falco against tyrannical newspaper columnist J.J. Hunsecker (a career-best Burt Lancaster), in a dark and twisted tale of corruption and blackmail. The script is by playwright Clifford Odets, and based on a short novel by Ernest Lehman (North by Northwest), so as you may expect, the dialogue is to die for. One critic – I forget who – said this isn’t how New Yorkers actually speak, it’s how they wish they spoke, and it’s razor sharp throughout. Sweet Smell of Success is a remarkable, near-perfect film with an astonishing score by Elmer Bernstein and crisp, expressionistic photography by James Wong Howe.

3) Taxi Driver (1976)

New YorK

Arguably the greatest New York movie of all time, and certainly one of the bleakest, Taxi Driver gives us a vision of the city as Hell on Earth. Vietnam Vet Travis Bickle (an incredible performance from a very much pre-Fockers Robert DeNiro) works nights driving his cab around the city. Slowly he begins to envision himself as an avenging angel, sent to “wash the scum off the streets”, and ultimately launches a one man mission to rescue underage prostitute Iris (an amazing Jodie Foster, then only 14) from a small army of pimps and gangsters. Almost 40 years after it was made, this remains one of Martin Scorsese’s finest and most powerful films. Michael Chapman’s gritty photography ensures New York never looked more beautifully seedy, with Travis’s yellow cab gliding through a haze of steam, neon lights and rain-drenched streets, and though Bernard Herrmann’s score (his last) may seem a little bombastic on first viewing, it suits the film’s heightened, infernal atmosphere to a tee.

4) The Warriors (1979)

New YorK

Walter Hill took Sol Yurick’s reasonably gritty and realistic 1965 novel about gang violence, and turned it into a cartoonish, dystopian and larger-than-life riff on Xenophon’s Anabasis, the semi-legendary story in which an army of Spartans battle their way home through hostile territory. Here, the Spartans are replaced by the titular Warriors, a gang of Coney Island street toughs in (vaguely homoerotic) leather waistcoats, pursued by such bizarre themed gangs as the Riffs, the Turnbull ACs, the genuinely eerie Baseball Furies, and the murderous, all-female Lizzies. Much of The Warriors was shot on location, and although set in the “near future”, it’s a similarly grimy, hostile city to the one seen in Taxi Driver. The climax, on the bleak, dilapidated Coney Island seafront, is the stuff cult movies are made from.

5) Ghostbusters (1984)

New YorK

It almost feels unnecessary, spending a whole paragraph telling you why Ghostbusters is an amazing film because, dear reader, you are human, gifted with a human heart and soul, and therefore fully aware of how amazing it is. For those of you born too late to have appreciated it at the time, Ghostbusters heralds from an era when film studios funded family-friendly, comedy action films that weren’t based on pre-existing novels, comic books, movies or TV shows. Ghostbusters’ only pedigree, when the script landed on some studio head honcho’s desk, was that it would star Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd as likeable schlubs who rid New York of its ghosts, operating out of an old downtown fire station, and driving around in a converted, beat-up old ambulance. And somebody green-lit that. The 1980s were an amazing time. (See also Gremlins, Back to the Future.)

One of the things that makes Ghostbusters work is its setting; it really couldn’t be set anywhere but New York. The plot hinges on a spooky old gothic skyscraper, and New York has them in spades. The scenes of city folk cheering on the Ghostbusters as they head off to challenge Gozor the Gozarian just wouldn’t have worked in, say, Los Angeles. What’s more, I can guarantee that if you love Ghostbusters as much as any sane person should, you will spend at least 2 hours of a holiday in New York looking for the locations, just so you can pose in front of them doing your “scared” face while a friend Instagrams that shit. I know I will.

Purple is "Spook Central", green is the Library, and "A" is the firehouse. You're welcome.

Purple is “Spook Central”, green is the Library, and “A” is the firehouse. You’re welcome.

NOTE: I know. I didn’t pick any Woody Allen. How dare I? Well… If it wasn’t for the last 10 minutes I’d have happily put Manhattan on this list, but seriously… The minute Allen married his step-daughter that movie became intensely creepy.

"Age ain't nothing but a number..." Woody Allen (44) and Mariel Hemingway (18) in Manhattan. Made 13 years before Allen began a relationship with his 19-year-old stepdaughter.

“Age ain’t nothing but a number…” Woody Allen (44) and Mariel Hemingway (18) in Manhattan. Made 13 years before Allen began a relationship with his 19-year-old stepdaughter.

The Art of Recycling

1 Apr

Shining Typewriter

There’s a kind of hubris that can kick in when you’ve had something published, and when a publisher asks you for a second or even third book, whereby you assume you’ll never produce an unpublished manuscript ever again. Gone, you think, are the days when you’ll toil away at something for weeks or even months, and nothing will come of it. Those days are consigned to the dustbin of The Difficult Years.

"Weirdly, though I'd grown up my life was still narrated by the guy who narrated my 1960s childhood..."

“Weirdly, though I’d grown up my life was still narrated by the guy who narrated my 1960s childhood…”

Well, to put it bluntly, bollocks.

I’m sure there are probably full time writers out there who don’t throw away or abandon as much work as I have in the last couple of years, the ones lucky enough to have too many commitments and deadlines to waste time on anything that isn’t going anywhere, and when I’ve been at my busiest I’ve thrown very little away, but the more time and freedom you have, I can almost guarantee the more scrapped and abandoned work you’ll accumulate.

"Hmph. This pirate porn is going *nowhere*."

“Hmph. This pirate porn is going nowhere.”

It isn’t fashionable, among writers – or among anyone who works freelance – to admit you’re in a fallow patch, or that you’re not all that busy. Like Peter Gallagher’s character in American Beauty, we believe that in order to be successful we must project an image of success, so for pity’s sake DON’T ADMIT YOU SPENT THE WHOLE OF YESTERDAY IN A ONESIE, WANKING AND EATING CHEERIOS FROM THE BOX.

It's tough producing that tricky second album.

It’s tough producing that tricky second album.

But I’m pretty sure most people get them. The quiet spells. In fact, those quiet spells are probably the luxury (and they are a kind of luxury) of two types of writer: The ones who are doing okay (I fall into that bracket), and the ones who are ridiculously successful and only have to write a book every three or four years to keep afloat. If you fall into either group, you have time, and having time means you have the time to make mistakes.

"Wait, I've got it. Pride & Prejudice 2: More Proud, More Prejudiced."

“Wait, I’ve got it. Pride & Prejudice 2: More Proud, More Prejudiced.”

I first realised this when I went from working full time for an Evil Bank (coughcoughcoughLloydscough) to part time, back in 2009. Before then I’d written everything I’ve had published (which at the time consisted of four novels) in the evenings and on weekends. If I had a particularly challenging deadline I might book a week off work and write the bulk of it then. In 2009, much to my enormous relief, I was awarded a bursary that enabled me to work on a single project for half the week, while still keeping one foot in the Evil Corporate Puddle.

The resulting novel was a 150,000 word behemoth; bloated and patchy and not particularly well written. I took the writing of it very seriously, but put all my effort into the wrong things, like research (I even travelled to New York to research some of it), rather than character and story. I sent it off to a few agents far too early when it was still very much a work in progress, and got nothing but (perfectly justified) rejections in return.

I say "rejections". Some weren't so kind.

I say “rejections”. Some weren’t so kind.

Feeling a little wounded, I filed that manuscript away, and in the summer of 2010 began work on something else, and that “something else” ended up being Ibrahim & Reenie, which is published by Seren Press this autumn. (Yes… The shameless self-promotion starts here.) Though the first draft was written in a couple of months, I spent maybe 18 months reworking it until I was happy, my confidence a little shaken by having previously produced 150,000 words of almost pure rubbish.

Since then, and having found a publisher for Ibrahim & Reenie, I’ve written two more novels, one fairly long and the other very short, and it’s doubtful either of them will ever see the light of day, because they – like that 150,000 behemoth – just aren’t very good. They’re better than the behemoth, but both too flawed. They were more writing exercises than serious projects; me trying out a few new things and challenging myself. In between writing those abortive novels I’ve also written a few short stories, and they too will never be published, because they’re just not good enough.

Oh, Robin Hood 2086AD... One day your time will come.

Oh, Robin Hood 2086AD… One day your time will come.

In total, since 2009 I must have written close to 400,000 words that will never be published, at least not in their current form, and that would be the most depressing thing I have ever heard (other than, you know, stuff about plagues and war) if it weren’t for the fact that I didn’t throw those manuscripts away or burn them, because there never was a manuscript, at least not physically. Those unpublishable novels and short stories are saved on the hard drive of my PC, just sitting there like so many rusting Ford Cortinas in a junkyard. And the thing is, even though the engines may be shot and the wheels are missing, there are still parts that can be reused.

One of the short stories, for instance, has formed the basis of a novel that I’m working on right now, a project I’m quietly confident about and which is going very well so far (he said, touching wood-effect formica). There are whole chunks of it that I can copy and paste into the new work, amending character names where necessary, and polishing it up a little. It feels weirdly fraudulent (almost like plagiarism, even though it’s my own work), but also insanely satisfying, knowing that the time and effort didn’t go to waste, and I suppose if there’s a moral to this story for any struggling writers out there, it’s just that:

The time you spend working on the stuff that goes nowhere is never wasted.

If something didn’t work, ask yourself why it didn’t work, and bear it in mind next time. If something only works in part, remember it exists, file it away, and strip it down for parts at a later date. Maybe there’s a scene you really liked, or a character who was great, or even just a sentence or a description that was a diamond in a hill of dung. Either way, if it wasn’t published you can use it again and no-one will ever know.

Wait just one goddamn minute...

Wait just one goddamn minute…