Neil Schiller's Blog, page 5
January 26, 2012
If you're reading this you'll have noticed already that I decided to revamp the blog a bit. Don't know why it never occurred to me before but suddenly, this afternoon, 'Neil Schiller's Writing Pages' seemed like the shittest blog title ever. So I've renamed it 'Twenty-Two B' after the Kepler planet. The random stuff I stick on here is pretty much like visiting planet Schiller, so it seemed to fit somehow.
<< NOT Kepler 22b, just what some bloke thinks it might possibly look a bit like…
Anyway, yeah, new theme, new photo from my amateur stock collection. I like it actually, it looks alright…
Had an absolutely great night on Monday. Went to see Dan Holloway's New Libertines show in Manchester. Probably the best venue I've ever seen for spoken word stuff (it was at the 3 Minute Theatre in Affleck's Palace) and a superb line up. I was expecting it to be good, but the atmosphere was just terrific.
Anyway, I came away a bit inspired. I think I needed it. Hinterland has been stalled for a while and I've been kind of avoiding it. I still liked the first four chapters (albeit I knew the very end of chapter four needed some revising), but after that it was just drifting. It was becoming something very different from what I wanted to write. Galvanised a bit by some of the great performances on Monday night, and some nice comments from people on what I'd read out, I came to a conclusion: I had to cut. So chapters five to eight are gone. Amputated. Consigned to the bin. I sat in my hotel room in Manchester in the early hours of Tuesday morning, a bit the worse for wear after too much red wine, and I wrote a new chapter five. Suddenly it's come back to life on me. Thank God. Below is the first couple of paragraphs, the bits that came to me as I was walking back across the city and making my way up to my room in the lift:
'You have to be willing to help yourself.'
Well, that was the problem then. I have never cared about anything less than those sessions I had to go to. The ones I'm still going to. Well, maybe not now.
'Sufferers of traumatic stress often exhibit symptoms of denial at first.'
I didn't get it. I wasn't in denial. There were no muddy waters here, no conflicts of emotional response. It felt like a game, a con. Just switch your perspective and you'll feel well. The guilt can be coped with. Except I didn't feel guilty. I hit a stranger over the head with enough force to damage his motor functions. Fuck him: he had my daughter. I wasn't struggling with any ethical complexities here. Does that make me a bad person? Seriously, who cares? That's the problem right there. As soon as you make morality contextual, you're pretty much screwed from there on in. For me, there was no moral issue. There was something that needed dealing with and I dealt with it and we walked away onto the next thing. That's what being a parent is. That's what being an adult is."
That probably doesn't make a lot of sense outside the context of the story, but what the hell, I'm just happy it's sparked back into life.
Seriously though, if you ever get the chance, go and see a New Libertines show. Dan is a great guy as well as a great writer. And he has a knack of drawing together some of the best new and alternative writers around. Hopefully he'll do something else up North soon, but failing that I'll be looking out for events in Oxford and London and trying to align them to anything else I've got going on that means I could get there…
January 23, 2012
Another post on an album review I did on Amazon. This one is for Joe Pernice's Big Tobacco.
Once or twice to kill my pain, and once to bring it back again…
The first line of the first song sums this album up for me. It's a masterclass in bittersweet songwriting, and possibly Joe Pernice's best record. A bit more stripped back than the harmony laden production of The Pernice Brothers or Chappaquiddick Skyline. But no less infectious.
I discovered this guy by accident while messing about on iTunes, and having heard quite a bit of his music now I've been left wondering why he isn't more of a household name. You can, I guess, throw about the alt-country or Americana tags but his music kind of transcends that. Lovely vintage pop harmonies and melodies, solid musicianship and well crafted songs.
The highlight here for me is 'Bum Leg'. The guitar part has a great gothic alt-country feel to it that reminds me of Wim Wenders films, small town dustbowl America. But for me, it's the lyrics that lift it to something else. Very understated telling of a violent encounter under a bridge. Very gritty and compelling. Clever songwriting too – at one point he gets quite a wordy section to fit the melody and sound like it rhymes even though it doesn't. "Could you walk a little slower/my legs don't work so good in this cold weather". Brilliant stuff.
What does all this rambling tell you about the record? Well, that it's a good one. Joe Pernice should be a bigger star than he is. Buy it, I think you'll like it.
January 20, 2012
I've seen a few book trailers now, some of them quite good, some not so good. However, I think this guy has it in the bag for the best one ever:
If you like that, you have to check out his correspondence with a reader who objected to his sense of humour here. In fact, his site in general is pretty much one of the funniest things I've come across in a long time. I'm especially fond of the CD he made as a Christmas present for his friends and colleagues: David Thorne Hums the Theme from Space 1999 and other Christmas Classics. Genius.
January 13, 2012
Nothing of note to say today, I just love this song…
I put up a review of the album on Amazon (as I do for things I like) and in the absence of anything else to Blog about, I thought I'd put it up here as well:
Left Me Speechless
There's good music, there's great music, and of course there's rubbish music. Every once in a while I come across a record that is something else entirely. And this is one of those records. On the first listen it literally left me speechless. I couldn't explain to my other half what I liked about it, I just knew it was something a bit special. I haven't felt that way since the first time I heard Grace by Jeff Buckley.
This is not an easy listen. It is probably one of the most depressing albums I've ever heard. But there is just something incredibly compelling about it. It's highly original, but that's not what grabs you: it's the honesty, the pain, the sheer intensity of the emotion packed into it.
At times, ironically, there does seem to be the odd musical nod to Jeff Buckley. There are some occasional Nick Cave-esque lyrics about redemption. But apart from that, it's not really quite like anything I've heard before. Looking at the reviews here I'm not overly surprised that it has split opinion somewhat. Because it is a bold and uncompromising album. It won't be to everyone's taste. Bouncy, sing-a-long pop music it certainly isn't. Posturing, riff-laden rock music it certainly isn't. But if, like me, you think there should be music out there that pushes the boundaries a little bit, that delivers something new and worthy of your attention, then this has to be it. I disagree that it's tuneless. The melodies are subtle and are broken up at times, quite cleverly in my opinion, by the more wordy sections of the lyrics. Sometimes the melodies do disappear and are replaced instead by disembodied guitar phrases that I think are just beautiful. It's a clever and unique way to present music. And it fits perfectly the highly personal, whispering confessional style of Pearson's singing.
I suspect this will be one of those records that gets looked back on as a template for all manner of things that follow it. A future classic that is spoken of as being a bit ahead of its time. Seriously, I do believe it's that good. I don't often agree with music critics but they have it right on this one. Wow, what a way to start 2012 for my music collection.
January 12, 2012
About twelve or thirteen years ago now I wrote a dissertation for my Masters degree on Charles Bukowski. With a suitably pretentious title – "Social Mechanics and American Morality: the meaning of nothingness in the prose and poetry of Charles Bukowski" – it focused on the stoicism of his writing, the different social mechanisms by which he appeared to feel trapped. It made it into this book here on the left – Bukowski Unleashed – and generated sixteen Amazon reviews that split opinion right down the middle.
In the space of about eight months I read all of Bukowski's published work. Perhaps not every single poem, as there are so goddamn many of them, but certainly I covered his six novels, his two short story collections, a couple of the chapbook novellas that were floating around, several of the main poetry collections, and the collected essays and newspaper columns Notes of a Dirty Old Man. By the time I'd finished, I never wanted to read anything by him again. Not because I didn't like him. He remains probably my favourite author of all time. But after such an intense period of reading and re-reading, I'd pretty much had enough. I had to go and immerse myself in the imaginations of other people – I would have gone insane otherwise.
A few weeks ago, by chance, I discovered that City Lights had published a second volume of Notes of a Dirty Old Man. As the first was one of my favourites (it provided me with no end of quotations for that essay) I went and picked up this sequel. I'm about halfway through and it's pretty good. Not as good as the first, but taking the law of diminishing returns into account, it's still really interesting. My favourite bit so far has come in a story about the author staying with a temporary landlady while he visits his publishers. "Shirley in her big fat housegown, and me, a bum, playing the role of Charles Bukowski". I could have used that in my essay. It helps resolve the issue some people have with Bukowski, put off because he seemed to be a bit of an arsehole, as it kind of points to him being aware of his assumption of a persona. Although, in all honesty, he was probably also a bit of an arsehole.
In any case, I've now discovered a whole load of other stuff has been published during my decade long abstinence from Bukowski. There are innumerable collections of poetry of course – I'd expect that as he was so prolific in that department I'm sure there's enough stuff hanging around to keep City Lights and Black Sparrow in books for the next fifty years. But there are two collections of early essays and stories as well. Just cost me the best part of thirty quid to get these from Amazon. I'm seriously hoping they are worth the effort and not just scraps thrown out by a publisher riding the wave of his popularity. I'll have to let you know. But if it is a cynical ploy like that of the Tolkien publishers who put out Unfinished Tales, More Unfinished Tales, Half Arsed Tales, Unstarted Tales and The Tolkien Shopping Lists then I'll be less than happy…
geraniums outside a window, trying to be
red and trying to be pink and trying to be
January 5, 2012
And just to prove that this blog is sometimes about writing as well I thought I'd put up a post about this event. Dan Holloway, a great writer and a thoroughly nice bloke, is putting on one of the New Libertines shows he sometimes does – showcasing new writing and underground writing – in Manchester on 23rd January. I'm personally quite excited about this as usually these shows take place down south and I've never made it to one before. But this time they've ventured up North to brave the bracing winds and weather we have up here. Looks like a great lineup, details can be found on Dan's Eight Cuts site here.
I absolutely love this song. It builds into the most angry and vitriolic thing I've ever heard. Probably more so because it's so understated to start:
That is all. For now. I just felt the need to share.
December 28, 2011
Well, my promo is over. It finished on Boxing Day. Total units shifted during the free period – believe it or not, exactly 1,000. Not 1,001, not 999. Bang on 1,000. Bizarre. Interestingly enough, the vast majority of that was in the US. Over 800 in fact. The difference over there, I think, is the number of other sites that seem to take feeds from Amazon and promote the books for you. I found a few that Oblivious was listed on by virtue of it being free. It seems especially that the sales spiked on the first day of the promotion which must mean these satellite sites have a dedicated following that use the free listings every day. I might try the same thing in January then and see what happens the second time around. I suspect the law of diminishing returns may come into play, but we'll see.
Anyway, it has had an effect on residual sales. Not a massive amount, but it's up from where it was. So was it worth doing? Absolutely. I've gotten more readers than I had before. Also, today, I have my first 'borrower' who has taken the book out for their virtual ebook lending library. So that's interesting as well. It entitles me to some miniscule percentage of the $500,000 fund for virtual lending for December. Let's hope hardly anyone borrowed anything. In theory, if only one other book was borrowed, once, I should get $250,000. Somehow, I seriously doubt that will be the case. If a million books were borrowed, I'll get 50 cents, but hey, 50 cents is 50 cents. I've been saving up for a down payment on a Cadbury's Creme Egg…
Also, Christmas seems to be over. Hurray. Now I can get on with the rest of my life until it sneaks up again next year. It's not that I don't like Christmas (although I don't really) it's just that it always seems a bit of an anti-climax. I worked out yesterday that I really am a man of simple tastes. Don't get me wrong, I got some nice presents, it was nice to see people pleased with what I'd gotten them, we had a nice Christmas dinner, had a good time playing with my daughter. But I took Grace to the cinema yesterday to see the Chipmunks (awful film) and it struck me that sitting in the dark eating some nachos with salsa and jalapeno peppers on them was actually up there with the most enjoyable moments of the holidays for me. How sad is that? Not sure yet whether that says more about me or more about Christmas…
What I did get though is two significant iTunes vouchers. I bought 10 albums yesterday and still have half the credit left. Some great music now on my iPod. If anyone is even remotely interested, I'd definitely recommend Big Tobacco by Joe Pernice and The Eventually Home by Right Away, Great Captain! When I've actually had time to listen to some of the others I might be able to recommend them as well. But because I am actually working today, I'd better go and get on with that. And I'll leave you with my track of 2011 (it actually came out in 2006 but as per usual I came to it five years late), They Ride by The Twilight Singers:
December 23, 2011
Well, I said I'd update the Blog on progress of the free promotion. I think it's fair to say it hasn't gone quite how I expected. I thought it may gather a little bit of interest, I might shift a few more copies than I usually do, and it may help raise my profile a little bit.
Yeah, I had a feeling something else was happening as early as yesterday morning when my sales (I'll still call them sales, even though they're technically not whilst the book is free) were up 600% for the month. At the time of writing this, just over 24 hours in, my sales are up over 8000% on the month. More people downloaded Oblivious yesterday than have downloaded it in the entire year since it was put up on Amazon. In fact, it was more than double the amount of downloads in the year. I've potentially tripled my readership in a single day… That was NOT what I expected.
Don't get me wrong, that's great news for me. I'm in the top 5 for short stories on Amazon in both the UK and the US. Top 20 for literary fiction. And that's why I think so many have been downloaded. Amazon does have this snowball effect. A couple of people show an interest, and suddenly you're rising up the rankings a little bit. The higher you are, the more visible you are; the more visible you are, the more people show an interest etc. It's been getting into that cycle that has always eluded me. The free promotion seems to have done the trick.
I'm sure some people may never get around to reading it. Last Christmas I was doing what some of these Amazon customers are almost certainly doing now: that is, loading my partner's kindle with as many cheap and free books as I could before giving it to her as her present. I wanted it to be loaded up for her. (She hasn't read all the books I put on there for her: some of them she may never read, some of them she may get to at some point). I'm also sure that some of the people that do read it may not like it. And that's obviously fine too. Hopefully some will like it, in which case it's achieved what has always been my primary goal with this collection – to get it in front of people and see what they think. Making money from it was never the main concern. I want to be in this for the long haul and there's time for that later. If I could keep the book free on Amazon all the time I probably would. But as it is, it will be free for a couple of days this month and then I'll get the chance to see whether that has any residual effect on sales once the price goes back on. And that, I'm sure, will give me something else to post about.
Anyway, happy Christmas everyone. I'm now going to slink off and do the family celebration stuff. Cheers.