‘For a Kiss’: a postcard poem

Another poem written for my penpal, inspired by a vintage book cover postcard, though drawn from a real experience that lingered with me. There are tons of these postcards in my local Amnesty bookshop, for 30p each (or 5 for £1), which makes me happy. I go foraging there in my spare time with another writer friend.

I am currently really enjoying writing just for the fun of it, for myself, and to make someone smile briefly, and with no pressure to be technically (or at all) perfect, but letting go and writing anyway.

kisskiss

You can have it for a kiss, Miss
That rare, special issue of National Geographic
from the year and month of her birth

For a kiss

All she wanted was to hand over some change
in return for this treasure; a simple exchange

She looked at the grizzled banterer before her
She had not expected a challenge
to be noticed
to be put on the spot

Go on
urged her friend
It’s only a kiss

She shook her head
ready to turn away defeated, hands empty

The man relented in mock hurt
and gave her the treasure for nothing

An exclusive interview with Alexander King, author of It Looks Like You’re Writing a Letter

itlookslikeyourewritingaletter_cover

Cover graphics by Andy Curry. Click on the image to buy the book.

Recently I was privileged enough to get an early glimpse at this debut novel from author-musician Alexander King. If that wasn’t exciting enough, (it was) he agreed to tell me a bit more about it, to share with you all on here (below).

I had a great time with this book. It’s a fast-paced, gripping social-media-social-commentary thriller. I liked it as a detective story, and a road movie, and as everything else it was, because it’s so much more. King paints affectingly the exhilaration of unexpected moments of human connection, and other poignant reminders of the sad state of modern-day interaction.

It’s full of cheeky, fun, clever uses of language and tasty characters. I can see it working really well on the big screen should we be lucky enough to see an adaptation. The world-building was immediate, natural and effective. It had terrifying parallels with our own reality. The ending was very satisfying, which is a big thing to say of any story, though I was hungry for an extension of time in this world when I finished reading.

Fun, thought-provoking, insightful and poignant. And fun. Looking forward to a second read, and to sharing it with my friends and family.

Anyway, enough of what I think, let’s hear from the man himself.

1.1 What’s the book about?

It Looks Like You’re Writing a Letter is a sci-fi/detective story set in the near future, in a world where one social network knows everything about everyone. It follows Henry Thorner, a consultant who specialises in missing persons cases, trying to track down a young hacker called Tanner Griffen. The ubiquity of Ora, the world’s largest social network, makes his job harder as he’s “off-grid” and he’s trying to find someone who is an expert in manipulating the online world. There are twists and turns, murders and double-crosses and an explosive denouement.

1.2       What does the story mean to you?

On the one hand, it’s a way for me to pay homage to all my favourite literary and cinematic tropes, but on the other I’m exploring a subject very close to me, which is our digital life and how it’s changing, and whether these changes are a good thing or a bad thing. I had a friend who died young, and his social profiles lived on without him and it got me thinking about how much of our ‘soul’ is contained in databases owned by huge corporations.

1.3       Describe the route to this debut novel being published…

I took part in NaNoWriMo last year (2013) and wrote the first draft of 50,000 words in the month of November. I wrote 1600 words every day without fail which was tough but a huge achievement personally. The book went through a long editing process, I think I did nine or ten drafts, with the help of an editor friend of mine. Once I considered it complete I had a cursory attempt at sending it to a few literary agents and had a few rejections before deciding to self-publish digitally. I figured I could bang my head against the wall of the literary establishment for a year while my story withered on the vine, or publish and be damned and have real humans actually read it. It was a no-brainer.

1.4       How do you feel about the cover graphics?

I love the book cover. Andy Curry has done a great job both on the concept and the execution. I like it because like the book title, it doesn’t really make sense until you’ve read the book.

1.5       Any chance of an adaptation?

I hope so! I’d love the story to be made into a film. When I wrote it, I basically played a film in my head and wrote down what I “saw”, so I think it would suit that media. There’s enough action in it and colourful characters to make it something I think people would watch. I’m also realistic enough to accept changes to the characters or stories if the book was turned into a screenplay by someone else.

1.6       What’s your Thing? Do you lean toward a certain style/theme/time?

I love stories with an interesting concept or premise. Something that makes a reader think and maybe see life in a different way. Quite lofty ideas but why spent months of your life on something if you don’t want to change a little corner of the world, or people’s perceptions? This book is an action/adventure novel and exploration of the human race as data in equal measure.

1.7       Why do you write?

It’s just another creative outlet really. I also write music for theatre and film, draw and paint and play guitar in a rock band. I often start with an idea then determine what media best suits it. I’ve got an idea for a play, for example, that I think is pretty strong, but that idea wouldn’t work as a novel. I’ve never written a play before, but it would be exciting to try.

1.8       Who/what are your influences/inspirations?

I love Philip K Dick, Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Bret Easton Ellis, Ray Bradbury and all the big Sci-Fi writers.

1.9       Favourite writers?

See above!

1.10  What are you reading?

I’m currently reading I, Robot by Asimov and the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. I listen to audiobooks in my car when driving to and from work every day, and have a paper book on the go at home.

1.11  Describe your writing routine/ritual

I read a lot about the first hours of the day being the most productive and this has proven to be true. I get up an hour before my family (very early when you have a 3 year old!) when the house is quiet and nobody is asking me to do other things. An hour is usually enough.

1.12  Do you have an agent? Why?

No. It’s a bit early in my writing career and I feel I have to prove myself before I can seriously approach people like agents and publishers. I’m really hoping that the interest in It Looks Like You’re Writing a Letter will create a bit of a buzz around what I do.

1.13  What were your biggest learning experiences or surprises throughout the publishing process?

How easy it was. I paid a company to format the ebook to the acceptable technical standards, then used SmashWords to push it out to most of the online bookstores. Amazon and Google Play had to be done manually, but even they were just a case of filling out a few online forms and bingo – you’re published.

1.14  Would you have done anything differently if you could do it again?

Knowing what I do now? Everything! I pretty much learned how to write in the process of writing this book, which sounds a bit melodramatic but it’s true. I thought I knew a bit about grammar and punctuation but when you actually sit down and analyse your work word-for-word it’s a real eye-opener. The plus side is that I feel more at ease about the idea of tackling another book.

1.15  Something personal about you that people may be surprised to know?

I teach Wing Chun Kung Fu, which I’ve trained for 16 years.

1.16  Would you identify yourself as a writer, or something else?

I would like to! I think having written a full-length book that I’m very proud of should qualify me. It’s not all I do, but I’d like to add it to my list of skills if that’s not too presumptuous.

1.17  What are you working on next?

I think I’m going to do NaNoWriMo again this year. I’ve got a half-baked idea for a novel with a lot of depth, probably a lot less action-based than It Looks Like You’re Writing a Letter and more psychological. Plus I’m writing music all the time for some York based film and theatre companies and trying to be a good father and husband at the same time!

1.18  What’s your ultimate goal, writing or otherwise?

To be happy. I think that should be everyone’s goal. Everything you do should go some way towards making you a happy person. If you’re doing something that makes you miserable, stop doing it.

AK

You’re welcome.

You can buy the book here, which you should, like, now, because it’s currently an absolute steal at £1.83.

Check out Alexander’s own website here in time for when you’ve finished reading the book and developed a totally healthy celebrity obsession.

Book Review: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

My first experience of this story was the 2007 film, which I watched a number of years ago when there was still enough of a World Cinema section in HMV to browse and buy interesting new gems from the world outside Hollywood.

I recently read the graphic novel for the first time, it having been given to me as a really thoughtful gift quite a while back and subsequently sat on my shelf for a criminal length of time.

The film, despite adding some nice depth and (somehow, using a majoritatively black and white palette) colour to the illustrations of the book, originally left me feeling a bit flat, and since reading the book I think I can see why: the book is just so rich and expansive, and while it’s a worthy story to develop into multiple mediums, a traditional feature-length animated film just can’t communicate in the same way that the book can. The snaking headscarves are one element that really do work on-screen; adding a sense of urgency and real threat to their confrontational appearances. It’s worth a watch, maybe even before you read the book, because the book was, for me, a more enjoyable experience.

Anyway, enough about the film.

The book is a treasure. I cannot recommend it enough. It’s been a while since I read anything so full of perfect snapshots of humanity. Having never visited Iran, it felt quite special not only to learn a tremendous amount more about its history than I ever did from the news or from school, but also to feel connected to the author, an Iranian woman with whom I had no idea I’d have much in common with, but who seemingly went through a lot of the same personal and social feelings and ideological questions that I did growing up. And, while emotionally universal, it’s a unique and landmark book. It’s not every day you read an illustrated autobiography detailing that a young girl has tried to pee standing up to understand someone’s point. ‘Marji’ maintains this objective curiosity (portrayed wonderfully by a kind of blank, alert look penned by the author herself) throughout the years the book covers, making her the perfect empathic window of a protagonist to vessel her experiences to the reader. She also illuminates little mental games she used to play to keep herself occupied, for example guessing the shape of a woman under her scarf, which is just joyful.

Ostensibly the story is about growing up in Iran during a time of war, change and unrest, and the events of the period are inextricable from her personal experience, but actually on finishing the book I was left with an overwhelming focus on the feeling of being human. Of connecting to someone halfway across the globe, born two decades before me. For that, I have Satrapi’s integrity and continuing self-belief as a spokesperson to thank.

Marji compressed into cartoon form, in her early years at least, is kind of like Bart and Lisa Simpson combined. She’s mischievous and fun-loving, passionate and philosophical. Throughout the comic-strip chapters we get to know her through dialogue with her friends at school and her family at home – mainly the latter, where her emotional and philosophical forming seems to have undergone the main course of its development. It is clear that Satrapi’s family was a strong community of which she was an important, comfortable, accepted part. She also delivers us informative asides detailing specific terms, making the story further accessible.

She moves on into an independent young-adulthood abroad and continues to travel and take in new experiences, until heartbreak drives her to homelessness, and subsequent illness, before she returns to Iran to reconnect with her family.

Of course, the subject matter could and does no doubt provide enough of a unique selling point for most publishers, but quite aside from the backdrop of the Iranian revolution and the Europe of the 1980s, I really enjoyed Marji’s company.

Find more book-related thoughts on my Goodreads.

Back to Books with You #2: City Screen Sky Lounge

There are some very good films out right now. I urge you to go and see them, and get there early so you can spend some time reading in the Sky Lounge while you’re waiting.

Granted, I have more time in there than the Average Joe (although we have one of those there too, and I’m sure he’d agree with that description) and you might argue the elitism of this choice. However, it is not out of your way to fit in two different creative feeds in an afternoon, and the ambience of the sky lounge is perfect for the avid reader. If, like me, you are easily distracted, you might have trouble here; however if you pick something exciting to read that you can easily drift in and out of, you will be perfectly suited to this little haven of peace that overlooks a wide stretch of the River Ouse, and howls and flutters in the rigorous wind that we’ve had so much of recently. With the elements (and pidgeons) so closeby, there is a comforting, cosy kind of freedom felt in this space.

Here, on a dark night, with the wind battling the huge glass panes next to me, I enjoyed this story for the first time.

Picture courtesy of www.york360.co.uk

And if you need a hand deciding what to go and wait for, I would highly recommend The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Progress progress

Listening to Grizzly Bear. Thank you friend. Still having lucid dreams but not waking up early enough to have them close to hand anymore. I am lying in and never wanting to get up or do anything. I spent most of this weekend in bed, only getting up for a few hours to have a family meal. The other day I felt a panic attack coming on at work for the first time in at least a month. It didn’t come to fruition, but it was scary enough. Last night I freaked out because I realised I won’t have my boyfriend for a full day in at least three weeks, because of his assessments and such. I started to panic again that this is what I’m really in for, the long run may prove no different and I may always be waiting for him, playing out the sad old movie of the deserted housewife. It isn’t that I don’t think he loves me or doesn’t want to spend time with me. He just isn’t here. We are essentially carrying out a long distance relationship, and I never knew what I was signing up for. I want him to know I am committed to it, and I am sorry for using it in arguments in unintentionally uncool ways, against the rules, making it seem like I’m waiting for it to go wrong. I am not. I said some things I shouldn’t have, knowing again that it would be taken more seriously than I intended, but still needed to say them because it’s what I was feeling. I hate doing this to myself and to him. I am not fixed. When I choose to be with someone it’s to be with them, see them, touch them, hear their voice, cuddle, do things together. It feels like I make it up sometimes. I want him to know he does right by me and that this feeling isn’t his fault, but still convey to him (because he is my best friend, after all) that I’m down because I miss him, and this is a good thing, a thing of love! But here I am breaking us down again. Feeling awkward after a night crying and making him feel guilty, not knowing whether to send him messages about my trivial thoughts during the day as usual. Will they cheer him up or make it seem like I’m grovelling?

I still need help. I was starting to feel the benefits of the meds but I am not there yet. I need my friends.

I think I never get anything done because everything overwhelms me so much that I want to concentrate hard on each thing, and maybe build it up more than I should, but feel there is not the time deserved to spend, like read that book or watch that film. I am pushing everything worthwhile to the sides while I sit at home and deal only with comedy I don’t care about, snack foods, temporaries. The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama sits next to me, intimidating me.

I feel no creative flow. My head is an absolute mess. It is all I can do to get these sentences down right now.

I have left my creative second job for the time being, perhaps to go back ocassionally as a volunteer, but the pressure was too much for me right now. I am aware I am destroying myself, but doesn’t it feel so right.