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The summer issue of Garageland — which includes a piece I wrote about Parisian phantom band L.U.V. — is launched today at Transition Gallery in London. The general theme is Nostalgia, the cover is by Alex Michon (who famously designed many of The Clash’s outfits) and you can buy a copy here.

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Susana Medina (pictured below) kindly asked me to read a story on Monday at The House of Fairy Tales which is part of Tate Modern’s Long Weekend. The House of Fairy Tales is a festival for children of all ages curated by Deborah Curtis and Gavin Turk. There will be readings courtesy of Tlon Books, Isabel Del Rio, Salena Godden, Melissa Mann, Susana Medina, Jason Shelley, Clare Stanhope, Jan Woolf and others. As I won’t be able to make it, my story — a bowdlerised version of “Enough Ribena to Incarnadine the Multitudinous Seas” — will be read by somebody else.

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Here’s the child-friendly version of my story:

Enough Ribena to Incarnadine the Multitudionous Seas

Once upon a time my sister baked a batallion of gingerbread men who seemed destined for doughy, doughty deeds so gallant were they. I simply couldn’t bring myself to eat them; had neither the heart nor the stomach to do so. A moratorium was declared by sisterly decree and the spice boys remained in battle formation on the kitchen table pending mum’s final verdict. You could smell the sensuous, exotic aroma from my bedroom, even behind closed door.

That night, I had this vivid dream in which the naughty gingerbread men rose from the baking tray Galatea-fashion. Still under the influence of the self-raising flour, they legged it upstairs to bother the Play-Doh model of the Girl Next Door I had lovingly sculpted and kept secretly beside my comics and sensible shoes.

Breakfast, the morning after, was a truly religious experience. I binged ravenously on the horrid homunculi, tearing away at their limbs, biting off their heads with sheer abandon, and washing them down with enough glasses of Ribena to incarnadine the multitudinous seas.

Heroin Love Songs Interview

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I am interviewed by Jack Henry in Heroin Love Songs 5 Spring 2009: 87-90:

JH: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

AG: My pleasure!

JH: My primary interest is in New Media and what some refer to as New Media Literature. In addition there seems to be a resurgence in writing and poetry. Perhaps this is due to so many online outlets. Also, movements such as the Brutalists and Offbeat Generation owe their existence to the Internet and various online outlets, including 3:AM. I think some of these movements and/or online journals have sprung from some post-punk anarchy reaction against mainstream publishing. I’ve read as much and agree with it.

Some of these questions may seem obvious, but I am sure others are curious, as am I, to your unique perspective.

What is the importance of a movement or school of work? Is it an idea or concept developed from a historical perspective or can it be witnessed in the present, as it emerges?

AG: We never sat down one day and said ‘Let’s launch a new literary movement!’. We sat down one day and realised that we were part of a movement. It was already there and all it needed was a name to gain visibility. It was the Emperor’s New Clothes in reverse. So, to answer your question, we have been observing the development of the Offbeat phenomenon since 2005 when we became conscious of it.

JH: What can a writer gain, if anything, from the inclusion within a movement?

AG: First of all, I must make it quite clear that the Offbeats are a movement and not a school of writing. Offbeat writers are individuals — they all have different styles and influences even though they all share certain values and a certain rebellious spirit. Writing is a solitary activity, so it feels good to also have that collective experience.

JH: What are the unifying characteristics of the Brutalists or Offbeats? What is their historical heritage?

AG: The Brutalists are not a movement; they’re a trio of writers (Adelle Stripe, Ben Myers and Tony O’Neill) who sometimes come together to write under that banner. Instead of forming a band, they write poetry. The Brutalists are very much part of the Offbeat scene.

What unites all the Offbeats is a rejection of a publishing industry increasingly dominated by marketing, rather than literary, concerns. The name ‘Offbeat’ is an obvious nod to the Beats, but punk is perhaps the biggest historical reference. At least for some of us.

JH: In a few interviews I have read, the Offbeat Generation does not exist within a single style or genre, I am curious what the literary influences have been to this group? And, more specifically, any influences from areas outside of writing?

AG: That’s quite right, and since there is no house style, influences are pretty diverse. There’s the Bukowski-John Fante Real McCoy school of writing embodied by Tony O’Neill. There’s the Maurice Blanchot-Francis Ponge-William Burroughs axis led by Tom McCarthy. There’s the Barthelmesque comic postmodernism of HP Tinker. There’s the more quirky Brautigan-tinged world of Chris Killen or Tao Lin. And then there’s all the others with their personal influences.

Music is indeed very important to many Offbeats. Tony O’Neill played in bands like Kenickie or the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Ben Myers is also a music journalist and he even used to have his own indie label. Will Ashon has a hip hop label. As far as I’m concerned, Howard Devoto’s early lyrics are right up there with the works of the greatest writers.

JH: As the Beats of the 50s/60s gained popularity, pop culture turned them into a caricature of their origins. Is there a fear that current movements could be mainstreamed and, potentially, lose their power as a dissenting voice?

AG: Definitely. In a way, it’s already happened. There are lots of young writers who think they’re being Offbeat by spouting clichés about sex and drugs.

JH: What is the goal of a movement? Is it collective? Or individualistic?

AG: Total surrender of mainstream publishing.

It’s both individual and collective.

JH: It is my opinion that America’s “disposable mentality” has migrated to literature and our literary tradition. Publishers rely on a bestseller to support their efforts with other books. In my opinion, a majority of these best sellers are total shit. Writers that repeatedly appear on bestsellers lists utilize formula and structure that will satisfy the widest possible audience, with limited concern for craft, exploration and daring. Subsequently, the wider audience is “dumbed down.” Additionally, marketing departments focus a majority of their budgets on bestsellers thereby limiting marketing funds for up and coming writers. In short, big publishers continue to promote disposable writing in order to earn the quick buck.

Does literature still exist, either via New Media or traditional outlets? What is the future of literature?

AG: I totally agree with your analysis of the state of things. It’s the same in Britain — perhaps even worse because of the presence of a huge middlebrow market. In the States, it’s either total shit or pure genius. But, yes, literature still exists and will continue to exist. I can’t predict what its future will be, but I think the western notion of The Writer may be on the way out. I think there will be fewer career writers in the future: writers who write simply because that’s what writers do. People will write a novel when they really feel the need to do so, but will also have other creative outlets.

JH: Returning to New Media, how important are New Media platforms (blogs, social networks, YouTube, etc.) to writers? Is there such a thing as New Media Literature?

AG: Well, I think you need to make a distinction between e-literature which uses the internet as a new medium and most online creative writing which simply uses the web as a medium. As I wrote here, I get the impression that the future of e-literature is to merge into digital art. That view seems to be highly controversial in e-lit circles.

As for, webzines, blogs etc. I think their role has been essential. The Offbeat movement is the first literary movement of the digital age. Without the internet, it probably wouldn’t have existed in the first place.

JH: 3:AM is a widely admired online journal and has been around awhile now. I have always been impressed with the quality of writing that comes out of it. With the Internet providing a global platform and online outlets (websites, blogzines, etc.) is there a dilution of quality writing? Or, more specifically, is there too much content? Or, perhaps, is it just too easy to get published online?

AG: Thanks for the kind words.

Interesting questions. A band that releases an album on its own label has credibility. Writers who do that are accused of vanity publishing. It’s true that there are thousands of rubbish writers out there who publish themselves on the internet, but there are also stacks of rubbish writers whose works are published by big concerns — just visit any bookshop to see what I’m talking about. Bad writers will give up eventually; the good ones will float to the surface.

JH: How important is marketing to a New Media outlet or, as a whole, “underground” writers and publishers? With my journal I market wholly to give exposure to the writers I admire and feel have talent. The only real cost is time. With the press, I have a different attitude. I want to promote the writer, but I want to have some profit, no matter how minimal, in order to publish more writers. In the age of New Media Literature and the expectation of everything on the Internet should be free or relatively inexpensive, how does a press survive?

AG: I’ve been editing 3:AM Magazine since 2000; we get thousands of unique visitors a day and yet I’ve never made any money out of it. There’s very little money in serious fiction.

JH: Is it more important to publish than publish and profit?

AG: Definitely.

JH: Okay, enough of my bullshit, let’s focus on 3:AM.

JH: Would 3:AM exist without the Internet?

AG: An emphatic no. I’d been toying with the idea of a post-punk literary journal for years, but the logistics just made it virtually impossible.

JH: In researching this project I have read through a number of issues from 3:AM. In terms of quality and content, it is definitely one of the better online magazines available. You have had a long tenure on the Internet, longer than most. What do you attribute that to?

AG: To the fact that we’re genuinely interested in writing and that we don’t expect to make any money out of it.

JH: What are the future goals of 3:AM?

AG: To continue to spread the word.

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Inés Martin Rodrigo mentions me in “Alunizaje perfecto de la armada offbeat” which appeared in Spanish daily ABC on 26 March 2009:

“Alunizaje perfecto de la armada offbeat”
La generación literaria más transgresora de los últimos años acaba de aterrizar en España. Heidi James, Tony O’Neill y Gerry Feehily ejercen ya de abanderados con sus primeras novelas en castellano.

La generación offbeat no tiene reglas y tampoco desea tenerlas. Su desembarco en la industria editorial española, observado con curioso escepticismo (por no decir morbo inquisitivo) desde las alturas literarias, desencadenó una extraña metamorfosis en la que ellos, potenciales alienígenas de la narrativa, se convirtieron en maestros del lenguaje y dejaron su nave espacial aparcada en el bar de la esquina, donde todos terminamos parando.

Heidi James, una joven escritora británica con pinta menuda y una extraordinaria lucidez en la oratoria, ha tenido el excelso honor de abanderar en España el aterrizaje (no forzoso) de una generación que, curiosamente, reniega del sistema al que tanto ha enseñado durante estos escasos días de lecturas y conversación.

Ha recalado en Madrid para presentar su primera novela en castellano, «Carbono» (Ed. El Tercer Nombre), el relato de un personaje que, en palabras de la propia Heidi, «está roto y por eso tiene una sexualidad subversiva, es como el síntoma de una enfermedad». La autora offbeat confiesa que su objetivo era «crear un personaje que se disolviera, que estuviera rompiéndose en pedazos y completamente inmoral». Objetivo alcanzado, pues la lectura de «Carbono» resulta tan explícitamente dolorosa como vehemente para comprender la posición de la mujer en la actual sociedad.

Ausencia de voces femeninas

Una mujer que, para nostalgia (y sucinto cabreo) de Heidi James (feminista confesa y practicante), prácticamente no existe en la generación offbeat salvo en el caso de la propia Heidi y de Adelle Stripe (fundadora del grupo poético «The Brutalists» junto a Ben Myers y Tony O’Neill). No obstante, tras enamorarse de las palabras al escuchar con tres añitos una conversación en la «habitación (nunca) propia» de su abuela y su madre, Heidi decidió dedicarse en cuerpo y sobre todo alma a la escritura.

«Crecí leyendo a Lynn Tillman, Clarice Lispector, Marie Darrieusecq, Angela Carter o Virginia Woolf. Siempre intento comunicar el realismo subjetivo de mis personajes, desestabilizar las modalidades que existen a nivel social, explorar diferentes modos de ser». Exploración que siempre lleva a cabo, con metódica y obsesiva obediencia, entre las nueve y media de la mañana y las cuatro de la tarde, aunque estos días haya visto agradablemente interrumpida su actividad para darnos a conocer «Carbono».
En este paseo literario por nuestro país Heidi James ha ido de la mano de Gerry Feehily, un reciente descubrimiento offbeat de Andrew Gallix (editor de «3:AM Magazine») en Francia cuya primera novela en castellano, «Fiebre», pronto veremos publicada. Sabemos a lo que han venido: «Queremos derribar las barreras que hoy en día existen en el mundo literario y examinar la vida en todas sus formas, lo que significa ser humano. La literatura de masas es decadente e inmmoral, también la española». Y, a juzgar por las señales, lo van a conseguir.

Las señales adecuadas

Una señales que han llegado a oídos de gente tan poco relacionada con la cultura de masas como Matt Elliott (está estos días en nuestro país presentando su último trabajo, «Howling Songs»), Nacho Vegas (recien llegado del «South by South West Festival» tejano), Rafa Cortés (en un break neoyorquino) o el mismísimo José Luis Cuerda. Ellos no fueron los únicos en seguir con atención los primeros pasos de la generación offbeat en España, pues una nutrida legión de no alienados fanáticos de la literatura de calidad escucharon con atención sus palabras, performances y lecturas en Madrid. Todo ello amenizado con música de raíz offbetiana como Primal Scream, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, los Ramones, My Bloody Valentine o The Velvet Underground.

Frescos, demoledores, ofensivos, renovadores, ambiciosos, desaprensivos, sin prejuicios, talentosos, genuinos y enganchados a la más adictiva de las drogas: la literatura. Así es la generación offbeat, privilegiados yonquis de la literatura sin pelos en la lengua. En España hemos sido testigos del aterrizaje de la primera hornada, pero el terremoto offbeat está por llegar.

¿Qué piensan de España el resto de offbeat?

Lee Rourke: «Los offbeats son una masa reaccionaria de disidentes literarios que simplemente quieren escuchar una nueva voz; nos hemos desarrollado, poco a poco, con nuestras propias condiciones y nunca nos hemos plegado a las demandas de los grandes conglomerados (no nos importa lo que piensen acerca de quiénes somos o lo que hacemos). Esto es un nuevo paso hacia adelante, un nuevo rumbo gracias al cual en España podréis descubrir a algunos de los escritores más apasionantes de nuestra generación».

Tao Lin: «Me encanta formar parte de la generación offbeat y estoy muy orgulloso y nervioso ante la posibilidad de que los offbeat empecemos a publicar en España».

Adelle Stripe: «Es maravilloso saber que los offbeat finalmente van a publicar en España. Siempre he pensado que existe un público objetivo para nuestra literatura en otros países y para alguien como Heidi James, una escritora a la que respeto muchísimo, es una oportunidad única a nivel internacional. Espero también que esto anime a otros offbeat españoles a escribirnos en respuesta. Sería un placer que nuestra literatura se leyese, digiriese y regresase a nosotros con pasión y firmeza».

The Socialite Manifesto

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I wrote a short presentation of Christiana Spens‘s The Socialite Manifesto for the Spring 2009 issue of Flux magazine (issue 68, p. 92):

From her publicity shots, Christiana Spens stares out at you with the faraway look of innocence lost. This 21-year-old Cambridge student is the precocious golden girl of our gilded age. Christiana launched her writing career at fifteen when she began filing copy for various arts and music magazines. “The deadlines gave me discipline, the music gave me dialogue and the art gave me ideals — so I was all set to start.” Last year, she published her debut novel which established her reputation as the poet laureate of elegantly-wasted Sloanedom. Reminiscent of Scott Fitzgerald, Evelyn Waugh and Bret Easton Ellis, The Wrecking Ball zeroes in on the existential nightmare at the heart of the consumer dream — a theme that is also central to her latest project.

The Socialite Manifesto — which we showcase in the following pages — is clearly more graphic than novel. “My parents both write art books, so I grew up surrounded by picture books of every kind,” Christiana explains. “In a way, visual books are more natural to me than straightforward novels.” She was also inspired by a recent exhibition of collaborations between French writers and artists as well as a felicitous bout of writer’s block. “I started painting properly again when I had writer’s block in the spring. Painting seemed a more direct and sensual way to express myself, and gave me an elation writing didn’t. I swing from one to the other though. When one brings me down, the other brings me up.”

The Socialite Manifesto is meant to be the diary of one Ivana Denisovich whose name is an obvious nod to Solzhenitsyn. “I was interested in how there are all these Russian oligarchs around who have so much money it’s vulgar — and that that came out of communism. Where Ivan Denisovich was trapped by the Soviet regime, Ivana is trapped in the gilded frame of capitalism.” The writing is kept to a minimum to ensure that Ivana remains largely a blank canvas. “I was thinking of all the visual icons, like models and actresses, who never have anything to say but are stars because everyone projects their fantasies on them. I wanted my main character to be everyone’s personal fantasy, so to do that I couldn’t make her speak too much. If she started talking you might not want her anymore.” Christiana Spens subverts the traditional division between author and reader by inviting us to colour in the artwork and fill in some of the diary entries thus transforming the book into a truly collaborative experience. As for the eponymous Socialite Manifesto, there is not one — “just blank pages and a feeling that something isn’t quite right.”

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