Ross McCleary's Post-Irony

While attending the Saboteur Awards 2017, I discovered the intriguingly titled humorous novella Portrait of the Artist as a Viable Alternative to Death. With its James Joyce parody title and the author, Ross McCleary, standing in the crowd dressed as a panda, it was impossible to resist. Experimenting with font size, bold typography, second person voice, motifs of violence, mortality, solipsism and a great surfeit of meta-conceits, Portrait of the Artist as a Viable Alternative to Death is an analysis of what it means to be an artist—in that sense, it has continuity with Joyce. A single conceit, or formulae, structures the book. Each paragraph, separated from its predecessor by a hard break, begins ‘He says[…]’ and proceeds to a statement of some insight from the titular artist, speaking directly to ‘you’ the reader. It has a mesmeric quality: ‘He says it only rains when he takes an Ordinance Survey Map in the shower with him.’

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Last of the Summer Manuscripts

August is not a great time to ‘aggressively promote a brand’—to use one of the corny buzz phrases that parasites into the vulnerable mind of any go-getting freelancer. People are keener on taking vacations than having their novels cut up and surgically stitched back together for the prospective discerning, if brutal, attention of agents and publishers. Nonetheless, it is an undertaking (or, more loftily, vocation) to which I am currently committed.

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Metaphysics & Gossip

Aside from utopias and related genres, the metaphysics of stories is my most enduring monomania—one I can precisely trace to a single influence. During my formative journey through such topics as ontology, aesthetics and philosophical anthropology, the British writer Raymond Tallis was key. And in his incisive early essay ‘Notes Towards a Manifesto for a Novel of the Future’, collected in The Raymond Tallis Reader, he begins with a statement to which I often return, ‘In my more honest moments, I am inclined to admit that I find only two things in the world truly fascinating: metaphysics and gossip.’ It’s an arresting dichotomy that demands unpacking.

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My best (weird) books

For a while I have wanted to do a blog showcasing the best (weirdest) books from my personal collection. I am fascinated by what artists and authors can do when they treat books not merely as dull vehicles for prose, but as aesthetic objects in themselves. Despite not sharing the popular distaste for ebooks, I love the physicality of volumes and volumes of books. The look of text on paper and the playful repurposing of manuscripts. These are examples I evidently loved so much I needed to keep them. I could have chosen a different set and my process for picking was admittedly haphazard and whimsical, but I think this exemplifies a lot of what is possible.

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Writing Tips: Character and Place

Attempts to address setting too frequently focus on description, but if we read a piece on characterisation that stopped at how to evoke X’s roman nose or Y’s greying hair, we might suspect something is missing. Settings and characters make similar demands on the writer, and it is true that a good setting can function structurally much like a character. When you start a novel, short story or play you have to ask how many characters you include (from zero up), their relationships, histories, story-arcs and temperaments. Likewise, will there be one setting or many? That choice can significantly alter the mood of your book. And if more than one, what is the relationship between the different places? What has occurred there in the past? What is the mood of this meadow or that street? What will change there during the course of the narrative?

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Writing Tips: Show, don’t tell

There are innumerable editing clichés, most possessing strong underlying principles, most treacherous in application. The suggestion to ‘show, don’t tell’ is often accompanied by this quote from Anton Chekhov, as it is on the Wikipedia page:

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Leaflets for Rowan Tree Editing

Today's post had a few welcome surprises. As well as a hardback, bound copy of my PhD and utopian novel, We Are Seven, I also received Rowan Tree Editing's first leaflets. They are modelled on the website and were designed by the very talented Adam Craig. He is the commissioning editor of Cinnamon Press's Liquorice Fish Books imprint, a champion of innovative and idiosyncratic writing. 

Retake: Tales from the Greenhills

Yesterday I posted a link to an Amazon review of Terry Melia's wonderful Tales from the Greenhills. Amazon promptly removed my review without explanation or a means of contacting them, as well as deleting another review written by my mother—who runs a publisher in Wales called Cinnamon Press. Today I repost both reviews here. First, Jan Fortune's excellent endorsement:

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Tales from the Greenhills Review & Other Updates

Just posted my Amazon review for Terry Melia's Tales from the Greenhills, a book that deserves to be widely read. As well as adding it to my own list of available edited work. Currently working on new, exciting editing and preparing to release leaflets for the Rowan Tree website. Exciting days. 

Frantic Februaries (Successful Friends)

During an exciting fortnight moving house, attending my mother's book launch for the quixotic This is the End of the Story as well as Adam Craig's oneiric High City Walk and submitting my PhD We Are Seven to Bangor University’s printers and binders, two people I edited have shared exciting news. Terry Melia published his magnificent coming-of-age Tales from the Greenhills (review pending) and Marg Roberts released a new blog-website. The customary January fatigue has given way to a good tumult for everyone. And there is more coming this month: I have a few fresh projects to promote, including a utopia themed writing competition and a return to essaying—as well as lots and lots of editing.

The Courage of Utopia

‘The only safe way of reading a Utopia is to consider it the expression of the temperament of its author.’—William Morris

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Many ideas have coalesced to form my new editing website, RowanTreeEditing. Samuel R. Delany once proposed that ‘it is almost impossible to write a novel any better than the best novel you’ve read in the three-to-six months before you began your own. Thus, you must read excellent novels regularly.’ Delany’s Architectures of Possibility is a book about writing, but it is not a catalogue of clichéd injunctions—show, don’t tell; write what you know—but a prompting to explore and expand literature’s limits. Therefore, between exercises and interviews, he only demands that we read. I hope to accomplish something similar. I will encourage my clients to be bolder, know the histories of their genres, read and then write with greater ambition.

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