Archive for December, 2011

The weird questionnaire

Posted by on December 21st, 2011

Which is here. I saw M John Harrison’s answers on his blog, which I found interesting. And I was bored, so – despite the obvious cynicism anyone with any sense feels to something like this – I did it in the background anyway, and I did it honestly.


1 – Write the first sentence of a novel, short story, or book of the weird yet to be written.

It happens like this.

2 – Without looking at your watch: what time is it?


3 – Look at your watch. What time is it?

I don’t have a watch, so I cheated. It’s totally 6pm, according to the clock in the corner of my computer screen. I don’t have a watch because it’s usually easy to tell what time it is by phone, or by clock, or by what point you’re at in the day, the latter of which is probably best.

4 – How do you explain this — or these — discrepancy(ies) in time?

Well, no need.

5 – Do you believe in meteorological predictions?

Yes, to an extent.

6 – Do you believe in astrological predictions?

Not at all. I used to be full-on about this – I thought astrologers should be prosecuted for fraud. Now, I don’t care quite so intensely. Although the whole thing is clearly bollocks, maybe it makes life more interesting for some people, I don’t know. I sort of fall in with Feyerabend, to an extent, in that truth might be one virture of a theory, but it’s not the only virtue – that if something’s true, that doesn’t necessarily make it useful or beneficial. When my grandfather was dying, he believed he was going to Heaven. I don’t think it would have benefited him much to be faced with the brutal truth (as I believe it). So my general philosophy is that you can happily believe anything you don’t have to rely on, especially if it makes life interesting, so long as you don’t expect me to believe it as well.

7 – Do you gaze at the sky and stars by night?

Not as such. I go outside to smoke, so I see it as and when.

8 – What do you think of the sky and stars by night?

I know a few constellations and I can pick them out. It doesn’t really make me feel small, or anything. What strikes me more is how they don’t look like what they’re supposed to – when I see a visual map of a human image of a hunter over Orion, say, I tend to wonder how anyone put that together in their heads and how it got cemented in history. I think it’s interesting how we’re primed to look for patterns. Not even that, really, as the pattern is obviously there, but how we’re desperate to make the patterns match our own experience when they don’t.

9 – What were you looking at before starting this questionnaire?

M John Harrison’s answers on his blog.

10 – What do cathedrals, churches, mosques, shrines, synagogues, and other religious monuments inspire in you?

It varies. Sometimes awe, sometimes disgust, sometimes nothing at all.

11 – What would you have “seen” had you been blind?

Well, nothing. The absence of one type of privilege maybe. I think it’s a shit and vaguely overly-romanticised question.

12 – What would you want to see if you were blind?


13 – Are you afraid?

Not as a general rule. Sometimes.

14 – What of?

The usual things. Death of a loved one, my own death. Most of the time, when I dwell on whatever it is, it inspires sadness and melancholy rather than fear.

15 – What is the last weird film you’ve seen?

I never know what to make of ‘weird’. Whatever its technical definition, I tend to think of it as I think of Queer Theory – not just to do with the furniture, although that’s obviously a part, but also about a general messing with conventions and norms and what you expect going into something. Plus, I don’t get to watch films as often as I’d like. I’ll go with Lake Mungo. It presents itself as a straight-to-DVD “found-footage” Horror movie, but is actually much, much more interesting and affecting than that.

16 – Whom are you afraid of?

Nobody really. I don’t really get afraid of people or physical confrontation, or anything. I get more afraid, I think, of some nebulous idea of “confrontation”. Most people are more scared of the anticipation of something than the thing itself, and I’m no different.

17 – Have you ever been lost?

Yeah. It can be fun and interesting, or it can be fucking scary. Sometimes all of those at once. Often, it’s just irritating.

18 – Do you believe in ghosts?

Not in the supernatural sense.

19 – What is a ghost?

I believe that loss, regret, unresolved circumstances can affect the present. I suppose – boringly – that’s what a ghost symbolises to me.

20 – At this very moment, what sound(s) can you hear, apart from the computer?

My son drinking his bedtime milk.

21 – What is the most terrifying sound you’ve ever heard?–?for example, “the night was like the cry of a wolf”?

I can’t describe it, really, but the moment when the birth of my son went wrong: there was the beep of the equipment, the people rushing into the room, the shouted instructions that had nothing to do with me, my wife and I talking very quickly and faux-calmly to each other.

22 – Have you done something weird today or in the last few days?

I don’t think so.

23 – Have you ever been to confession?

No, and I never would.

24 – You’re at confession, so confess the unspeakable.

Again, I never would. It’s more important to admit these things to yourself. Saying it to someone else – the act of confession – seems like escapism, to me, childish, like wanting a nanny.

25 – Without cheating: what is a “cabinet of curiosities”?

I wouldn’t know how to cheat, so I probably don’t understand the question.

26 –Do you believe in redemption?


27 – Have you dreamed tonight?

In an awake-way, I guess, same as always. But I haven’t been asleep yet.

28 – Do you remember your dreams?

Bits of them. It depends. I tend to meditate – careful, now – before going to sleep, and try to lucid dream, induce sleep-paralysis, etc. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes it’s interesting. When it’s vivid, the details stay with you.

29?–?What was your last dream?

Last night. It involved black, glass corridors in a kind of museum. I was wandering round, conscious-ish, talking to the people that were there. It all made sense at the time, but, like most dreams, the backstory evaporates when you wake up and it just seems silly.

30 – What does fog make you think of?

Nothing specific.

31 – Do you believe in animals that don’t exist?

No. I don’t know how I would do that.

32 – What do you see on the walls of the room where you are?

Damp, cracks and a Rothko print. I’m not a massive fan of Rothko; it was just here when I moved in.

33 – If you became a magician, what would be the first thing you’d do?

Keep the secrets to myself. I know how a fair amount is done, and really, really admire the effort and technique that goes into it, but nothing beats the simple pleasure of seeing something unbelievable that you know has an explanation you can’t work out.

34 – What is a madman?

I don’t know.

35 – Are you mad?

No. I suffer from depression, and I take medication for it, but I’m not mad. I don’t have it very bad, in the grand scheme of things, and I get pissed off with the word, actually. When I see people in online arguments, or hear them in real life, blindly and stupidly saying things like “you need to take your meds!” (etc), I think of good friends who genuinely need to and lose my fucking temper. It’s a serious issue, and we should be fighting the stigma around it, not adding to it.

36 – Do you believe in the existence of secret societies?

I’m open to the possibility, but I don’t believe in them with any conviction.

37 – What was the last weird book you read?

Again, I’m not sure. Maybe The Islanders by Christopher Priest.

38 – Would you like to live in a castle?

Not particularly.

39 – Have you seen something weird today?

Not that stands out.

40 – What is the weirdest film you’ve ever seen?

I don’t know. Surely one thing weird should do is resist quantification and ranking?

41 – Would you like to live in an abandoned train station?

No. I’d like to visit one, but I imagine living in one would be fucking horrible. However you paint it, the circumstances would be ugly.

42 – Can you see the future?

Assuming I carry on living, I can see aspects of the future. I’d be massively surprised if I’m not making my son breakfast tomorrow, etc. Other bits, who knows? Most of the defining, life-changing things that have happened to me have come out of the blue, through no work or special effort on my part.

43?–?Have you considered living abroad?

Not seriously.

44 – Where?

I suppose I’d like to live in Italy. But is that serious? I don’t know. Maybe I’m confusing liking a place with wanting to live there, which are two very different things. There’s no country I’ve not enjoyed visiting. But I feel very at home in Leeds.

45 – Why?

Well, see above.

46 – What is the weirdest film you’ve ever owned?

Mystified by this question.

47 – Would you like to have lived in a vicarage?

No. But it wouldn’t have been much of a vicarage when I finished with it, etc, etc.

48 – What is the weirdest book you’ve ever read?

I don’t know.

49 – Which do you like better, globes or hourglasses?

Globes, without a doubt.

50 – Which do you like better, antique magnifying glasses or bladed weapons?

Bladed weapons. I’m not a violent person, but to me a katana is one of the most beautiful made objects in the world.

51 – What, in all likelihood, lies in the depths of Loch Ness?

Water – but we c0me back to the astrology thing again, where it doesn’t really matter. I was in Scotland for a wedding recently, and the minibus driver was talking about it. He said (along the lines of) “These are stories we tell, that have been told for years, long before other forms of entertainment like TV shows.” And, you know, who am I to piss on that? I don’t believe there’s a monster in Loch Ness, but I think there’s no harm in imagining it, and – in fact – a lot of pleasure in doing so. Your life’s the same either way. So why not imagine that, and believe it, if it makes life more interesting?

52 – Do you like taxidermied animals?

Not much. I don’t see the point in them.

53 – Do you like walking in the rain?

It depends.

54 – What goes on in tunnels?

That’s too vague to answer. But one of my childhood memories is lying on a patio with a friend, both of us stoned to fuck, debating what the difference between a tunnel and a hole is. I’m still not sure.

55 – What do you look at when you look away from this questionnaire?

There’s a cat asleep on a suitcase. The same suitcase, in fact, that I brought back from Scotland.

56 – What does this famous line inspire in you: “And when he had crossed the bridge, the phantoms came to meet him.”?

Nothing at all. Maybe I wonder why the phantoms didn’t cross the bridge the other way in the first place.

57 – Without cheating: where is that famous line from?

I don’t recognise it.

58 – Do you like walking in graveyards or the woods by night?

Not especially, but I like walking at night in places that are usually busy. A city centre at night – totally empty and silent – is interesting. The contrast makes it enjoyable. At night, graveyards and woods are usually just darker.

58 – Write the last line of a novel, short story, or book of the weird yet to be written.

And that was how it happened.

59 – Without looking at your watch: what time is it?

9.37 pm.

60 – Look at your watch. What time is it?

It’s 9.37 pm. No, I didn’t do this thing in an hour. But fuck it, honestly, I have a two-year-old son.

black flowers links / my best of 2011

Posted by on December 18th, 2011

Just a few me-related things. First off, Elizabeth White provides a totally lovely review of Black Flowers. There are also links at the bottom of that piece to the earlier reviews, etc, from when she very kindly hosted a week dedicated to me last year. The review is really nice, and much appreciated – thank you very much, APMonkey!

In related news, Luca Veste – a man who’s exploded onto the crime scene this year, and is the brains behind the Off The Record charity eBook you’ve all already bought – has picked his top 5 novels of the year, and Black Flowers is there, amongst lovely company. You can read the list here.

And finally, Luca – again – is hosting various writers’ ‘top 5s’ on his site. So you can read what I thought were the best 5 books of 2011 here. (It’s not true about the kitten, by the way).


And so it comes to this – enormous, rigorous facepalming, basically – regarding Lenore Hart’s blatant plagiarism and St Martin’s Press’s continued la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you response to it.

It’s annoying, because it seems so inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. But it does matter, in its own small way. I’m someone who makes their living from writing, and it fucking pisses me off no end that a major publishing house – the kind of company I occasionally waste my time arguing remains worthwhile and relevant in the digital age – appears perfectly and cynically happy to profit from material they must know full well is plagiarised for as long as they can get away with it.

You assume they’d be unhappy if you suggested pirating their material – derr derr derrrrrrrr! – but, as things stand, they certainly wouldn’t have any moral high ground to argue that from. Unless, I suppose, their argument was that profiting from stolen material is acceptable so long as the victim of the theft is dead.

If you’ve been following it, you know the details. The latest is that Jeremy Duns has some comments from Lawrence Block here. The posts below that one explain the background, and I suppose you can read them and judge for yourself how warranted my frustration and annoyance is.

In the meantime, if you’re interested and want to have your say, St Martin’s Press will totally fucking ignore your comments here on Twitter and here on Facebook.

Although that’s obviously no reason not to make them.


Dear Mr Clegg,

Posted by on December 7th, 2011

… I am not writing to ask you to do everything in your power to obstruct this monstrous proposal.  Even if it never comes to fruition, that will not be enough.

You may have prevented or mitigated some Conservative predations. But your presence enables them to do far more.

Recover some dignity. Show there are some depths to which you will not sink. End the power of this vile party to ravage the vulnerable.

When are you going to leave the coalition?

Sophia is on the money. More here.


So here, finally, is St Martin’s Press’s response to the accusation that one of their authors, Lenore Hart, plagiarised Cothburn O’Neal’s “The Very Young Mrs. Poe” in her novel “The Raven’s Bride”. I say finally because they were made aware of it several months ago. I say response even though it barely warrants the word. And I say accusation despite the fact that … well. We’ll come to that.

The background is that author Jeremy Duns seems to have found himself investigating a number of cases of plagiarism this year, with Hart’s being only the latest (see also Johann Hari, Q R Markham and others). Jeremy has put a frankly heroic amount of effort into pursuing these cases, and – although I’m only privy to a part of it – from what I’ve seen on Twitter and Facebook he’s been stonewalled, ignored and even outright patronised by St Martin’s every step of the way.

Let’s be clear – it is not the fault of a publisher if one of their authors is a plagiarist. It’s a difficult thing to catch. (Jeremy knows this as well as anyone, having initially blurbed Markham’s book). Fault can only be attributed to the publisher on the basis of their behaviour after the plagiarism is brought to their attention. And St Martin’s – to the eye of a casual bystander – are currently failing miserably.

You can’t read many of the discussions between Jeremy and St Martin’s and Lenore Hart on Facebook, as they have been deleted. You can, however, read Jeremy’s blogpost here, and the comment trail below, where passages from the two novels are compared, and make up your own mind as to how inevitable and coincidental it was that Hart ended up writing pretty much the exact same things in the exact same ways. This is also well worth a read.

So – what’s behind the statement?

It would be cynical to point out that Hart is married to a bestselling author with the same publisher, or that dead authors can’t sue – and yet radio silence all but forces us into these awkward contortions of conjecture. Surely St Martin’s can’t really expect people to be satisfied with that, or for the whole thing to just … go away? I mean, they must have a solid, detailed defence lined up. But, if so, why not go into that detail now? If not, if it’s plagiarism and they don’t want to admit it, is it embarrassment? A kind of child-like “if I pretend I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it” attitude? Is it arrogance – holding readers, basically, in contempt? I find the latter hard to believe. I’m sure the vast majority of people working at St Martin’s are decent people who love books as passionately as everyone else in the publishing industry I’ve encountered. So what’s the mechanism for what’s happening here? It’s genuinely mysterious.

In the meantime, I suppose, there is one thing the casual reader can do when presented with Lenore Hart’s novels. Move along.

Jeremy Clarkson

Posted by on December 1st, 2011

It’s not offensive that he said striking public sector workers should be shot in front of their families, because that’s obvious hyperbole. Let’s not go overboard. What is actually, genuinely I want my money back offensive is that he said they should be going out and working for a living.

So we have this sad, pathetic old man, whose sole contribution to society is driving cars that are too expensive for most people to buy, and writing cynical and mostly  stupid newspaper articles that occasionally get ctr-v’d into a book by a publisher that should be fucking ashamed of themselves. That’s it. That’s all he does. For that, he’s paid a fortune, and a substantial portion of it comes from my and your pocket.

This is a pointless man. One who, if he died tomorrow – or was shot in front of his own family – would not be missed by society as a whole, because he has no important effect on it aside from as a parasite. A man who enjoys canapes with Cameron and Brooks. A man who tells nurses and teachers – people who do good, decent work for an awful fraction of his income – that they should stop complaining and go out and work for  a living.

And do you know what? Those people – you and me, and the people he looks down on who contribute to society in ways he wouldn’t be skilled enough to even if he felt the urge – they pay his wages. They pay to see him squat there and dispense his irrelevant opinion on things he knows nothing about. That’s what’s offensive. His sarcasm, his disapproval, his sense of self-importance when he means and does nothing to and for the world … that’s what’s really fucking offensive.

Let him say what he wants. I just don’t want to pay for him anymore. Not when poorer and vastly more important people are striking.