Long Read: The Female (And Male) Myth in Beauty And The Beast

One of the advantages of having daughters is that one becomes extremely well-versed in the canon of Disney movies, and particularly Disney Princess flicks. As a cornerstone of modern culture, this is no bad thing (though upon watching Frozen for the forty-seventh time this assertion does buckle somewhat), and the fact that many of the Disney stories are invariably based upon older, and in some cases very ancient, stories inculcates oneself with a sense that there is an eldritch wisdom at work in them. And it does tend to be the Disney movies that have a longer storytelling pedigree that tend to perform best culturally (the banging songs help, of course).

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Resurgam: Chapter 4

Last time Vivienne turned her back on Ignatius and his strange shenanigans, but when he made her a scoop interview with the billionaire Aton Petrowski, she sparked back into interest. This time Ignatius talks about space, time, and fire, and gives Vivienne a history lesson that turns her understanding of London – and the world – on its head.

“What is your instinctive reaction towards fire?” Ignatius asked when they were once more sitting in his tetrahedral fire room.

“Honestly, I want to put it out.”

“I know. Here, take this.” He passed her a glass of water. “You don’t have to drink it.”

She looked at the water suspiciously, before placing it by the leather pouffe at her feet. She remained utterly sober, and vowed to remain so. It was bloody ridiculous that she was back here, but if she got close to Anton Petrowski through putting up with the ridiculous charade again, it’d be worth it. She wanted to be back on the science brief more than anything, but she’d be damned if she did it on the back of a failure. She’d stick it out. “Forgive me if I don’t drink it.”

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The Ten Year Plan, And A Podcast.

As I’ve set about organising my thoughts and reassessed how and why I write, and how and why we publish, I’ve thought about different ways of reaching an audience. What strikes me about writing is that, even though by the very nature of writing something long-form like a novel, or a screenplay, or whatever, is that not many people view it as a long-term endeavour. I should probably be a little more precise here. I think most authors are guilty at some point or another of fantasising about ditching their Real Life career as they’re making so much money from writing (the fact that so many authors choose to capitalise Real Life indicates just how fantastic these thoughts really are!), and of making long-term gains out of writing. But that’s not a very satisfying (or useful) exercise.

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Resurgam: Chapter 3

Last time Vivienne was shown things by Ignatius Von Brandt that she could neither understand nor explain. In the heat of the night she extricates herself from his triangular penthouse and gets back to work. The sceptic in her tries to reason away what she’s seen, but there’s another part of her that’s warming to his secrets.

Somewhere – in the building foyer, in the panicked walk along Fleet Street, on the tube train filled with the shit-workers, the crazed and the drunk, in the taxi home from her suburban station – she calmed down and tried to assess the evening more logically. She reckoned the dark liquor must have contained some mild hallucinogen as well as a generous slug of alcohol – diphenhydramine, perhaps, or even mushrooms. Even nutmeg concentrate might do the job.

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The Organisation Of Thoughts

In resurrecting this blog I’ve managed to get down a few thoughts I’ve been having recently about writing, and about what I want to get out of my writing. And in returning to the blog I found that this site is a very useful means of doing that, and that the function of the blog, to me, has changed somewhat since I first started it a few years ago.

I started it to try to boost my own profile, and also to try and share my own expertise, understanding, and experience about the writing process and business. The single most illuminating thought that this has brought about in me is that I don’t know a great deal. Actually, that’s not strictly true – I still think I know how to write a decent book, and I do have some limited experience that may or may not be valuable to others, but I don’t think that I’m really in a position to dole out pearls of wisdom.

Instead, I’m now using the blog in a more diaristic sense, as a means of organising my thoughts and figuring a few things out. It does help, and I suppose if I were to offer any advice on writing these days, it would simply be to write things down. That sounds rather trite, but I do sense that writers are better at writing down their fictional narratives than the ones they’re living. I’m finding it quite conducive to structuring my thinking, or working through an argument, and also motivating myself more for my fiction writing.

There’s a sense that when starting a blog that you’re going to very quickly receive comments and interactions with large amounts of people, and that’s never been the case for me, probably owing to the sporadic nature of my posts. It seems at this moment in time much more sensible to use a blog for more selfish reasons; to organise my thoughts relating to writing, rather than anything didactic, which is assumptive and possibly a little arrogant. I’m enjoying posting my work here, starting with Resurgam; to be honest I should have started doing it a lot earlier. Most writer friends of mine decided that publishing fiction via a blog just wouldn’t be of any value, but I disagree; just having it out there is of tremendous value.

I still have one submission out there in the wilds, but I have a feeling I know which way it’s going to go. If that feeling is assuaged, then I’m done with the rigid rigmarole of subbing to literary agents for the time being. And I’ll return to the realm of writing simply to write. Just flicking through WordPress the other day brought to my attention a poetry blog, a mad science fiction blog, and a cool lit-fic blog, and I realised that people are getting their work out there in so many ways. It feels like going backwards – no, that’s not quite right – it feels like coming around a small circle, back to the starting point, but having been changed by the process. And that’s pretty cool, because that’s a fairly fundamental mythic narrative in itself.

Resurgam: Chapter 2

Last time, science reporter Vivienne met an unusual man called Ignatius Von Brandt. This week he takes her to his apartment and shows her something that her enquiring, analytical mind cannot fathom. Things are heating up…

Viv and Ignatius slipped out just as the rich and fabulous were brandishing their chequebooks. It seemed typically ostentatious that they still actually used chequebooks. Ignatius remained tight-lipped as he led her away from the fundraiser party. Part of her thought he was simply using this as an awful ruse to steal a kiss – and maybe more – once they were away from the crowd, but he never even once looked at her with anything approaching desire – unless he thought that hawkish glint was some sort of weird come-to-bed look. If he did, he’d be disappointed. It might work on the airheads, but she’d brushed off more appealing men than this one in the past. When they got to the lifts, Ignatius hit the “Up” button. That surprised her.

“We’re going up?” she asked. “What’s up? The roof?”

“The penthouse.”

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Long read: Drowned Books

“Use the Force, Harry!” Gandalf aka Patrick Stewart does a marvellously terrible Prospero piss-take in the comedy show Extras.

At the end of my as-yet unpublished novel The Green Man there is a sort scene that echoes one of Prospero’s final lines from The Tempest, “I’ll drown my book.” Prospero (and the character from TGM) realises that investigative rationality (symbolised by his book), and the ability to control aspects of the world with the resultant knowledge, is not enough to attain contentment. Propsero’s book is magic; with it he controls his world; Ariel the sprite, and Caliban the monster. But he is able to assert control only on his small patch of land, the island. As soon as others inhabit the island (as a result of the tempest he had Ariel create) then his magic book is not sufficient to deliver him the results he wants. In other words, Prospero’s book represents the tendency to look at the world in terms of rational understanding, the world-as-laboratory. In isolation, perhaps he’s able to do that, but as soon as other people arrive, the world-as-laboratory is no longer a sufficient observational tactic. As soon as the others arrive, Prospero is plunged into the world-as-stage, which is much vaster and more complex than that which mere books can explain. In other words, looking at the world in purely rational terms, or even empirical terms, is constrained by a very finite set of limitations bordering it. A book may unlock a small part of the world, but the world explains all books.

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Resurgam: Chapter 1

Resurgam is a novella told in eight parts, plus an epilogue, which I’ll release on Fridays. In the first chapter, Vivienne, a science correspondent for a London newspaper, is tasked with reporting on a charity fundraiser – not her usual gig – but she’s drawn to a mysterious individual who seems to burn just a little bit brighter than everyone else.


What a vulgar party. It was only 9pm, yet Vivienne was already hot, sweaty and ready to leave these folks to their orgy of mutual self-congratulation. She fished a bottle of water from her shoulder bag and took a long, delicious swig. She bit at her nails and thought about the article. The bloody article. She’d been here an hour and her notepad remained virgin white. So she hovered, trying to celeb-spot and wait for a glimpse of Anton Petrowski, the billionaire philanthropist host, but he was nowhere to be seen.

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I’m A Failed Writer – God, That Feels Good!

Yeah, I am a failed writer. And not just once. Several times. A multiple failure, I suppose you could call it. I’ve submitted novels, novellas and short stories to various agents, publishers and publications over the years. And if I totted up all the rejection emails I’ve received then it’d probably be the length of a short story itself. That’s a whole lotta failure, folks.

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A Reason to Write – Wrestling With the Truth

Jacob wrestling with an Angel, a messenger of God.

The truth is a tricky thing to pin down. It’s a bit like water. It’s sticky, it’s slippery, and it’s fluid, refusing to conform to, or remain in, any one shape. You can immerse yourself in it, but you can also drown in it. And if you stand at the edge of the ocean, it can be utterly overwhelming. You can’t drink it all in, or tame it. You can’t even see it all. The best you can do is make sure you’re in control of the patch of water that’s immediately around you or your vessel. Sure, you can freeze it, into a shape of your choosing, but then it’s not the truth, only an image, a photograph of it. It’s its shape-shifting liquidity that makes the truth true.

We’re all seeking the truth. But if the truth is like water, we can only seek out a small piece of it in which we can float and manage it. The arts are the means by which we seek the truth. This is the principal point of the arts, and why we value it so highly in various different ways. We value it capitally: the creative industries are worth billions and billions of dollars, and even drive technological change through moviemaking and theatrical innovations. But the reason it holds such monetary value is due to its other, arguably greater value, that transformative, transcendental power that stories contain.

I won’t go into the clichés of the transformative power of stories here. Suffice to say that in my view, the cliché holds great truth. For me, I try and attain truth through what I write. There’s something strange and dangerous in telling a story. As Bilbo says in The Lord Of The Rings, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

But we want to be swept up. As a writer, I certainly do. And it puzzles and delights me when I can surprise myself by reaching a conclusion or an event through a story that I didn’t not foresee when I started out. Jung said (and I’m severely paraphrasing here) that thoughts can be like a table in a room. You walk into the room, and the table was always already there. The great thought that you have, or the apparently revelatory instantiation of a thought in a story, was always already there. All you did was happen upon it, like Columbus discovering the Americas – he didn’t really discover it, he just happened upon it. The concept of that – that all the ideas are already within us – staggers me, and yet it does make sense; it’s a reaching, fluid sort of sense, which makes me want to understand even more. So I write.

When I started TGM I imagined that a certain character would have a redemptive arc. That, when faced with an empirical certainty (or what seems like one) that somebody would reject the suppositions that they’ve held close to their heart and accept that they were wrong about the world. But I found that, sadly, that’s not how people react at all to being poked in the axioms by the world. And so the redemptive arc, at the point when it was ready to become manifest in the text, never came. It disappeared into the frosty Northumberland air of the mid fourteenth century. When people are shown empirical proof about the folly of their beliefs, they don’t dispense with them. They double down.

I actually think we’re seeing something similar to that in the culture wars that we’re suffering presently; there’s something risible about the lack of willingness to have a conversation – a real, dancing conversation, rather than a soundbite-riddled argument – in a mutually agreed attempt to pursue greater wisdom, utility, and truth. But I’m not dipping my tow into that particular vat of toxic waste. I can only try to articulate what I’m thinking, and explore as I type. It’s a little like a stream of consciousness, I suppose. We can puzzle things out just by writing about them. I tend to do this via fiction, but in returning to my blog I’ve found that one can do this through this journal means as well.

I recently found out that Israel literally translates as “we who wrestle with God.” And in Islam the concept of jihad – or struggle with God (a term so obviously bastardised and co-opted by wicked people in the earlier parts of this century) – is also well known. So Jacob – who wrestles with the Angel – founds a country whose people wrestle with God. That gave me such a brilliant moment of clarity! To write is to wrestle in the same way, to fight with yourself in order to attain some higher level of reasoning or understanding. That wonderful quote I’m so fond of from 2666 also makes the connection between writing and wrestling – “combat” is how Balaño describes it, and he’s not wrong. TGM felt like a wrestling match with myself at points, as did The Hole In The Sky, and Man O’War. In contrast, those short stories posted up here on my blog are exercises, experiments, vignettes. Sparring sessions.

I’d love to know whether other writers – or people generally – have this method of writing as a means of having a conversation with oneself, to try and figure things out and wrestle towards a truth?