Tuesday, 29 April 2014


I'm not quite sure of the of the origins of this series, but I was flattered to be asked to contribute by esteemed Manchester blogger, novelist, and dapper man-about-town Greg Thorpe, by way of Emma Jane Unsworth I think (and also somehow Zoe Lambert, who've I've never met but who seems like a very nice lass judging by the writing on her blog).

Greg's answers are here. My nominees are sensational cultural critic/fiction writer Rhian E. Jones and music critic, poet, and all-round literary renaissance man Darran Anderson.
What am I working on?

At the moment I'm waiting for a couple of books to come out, and tying together some other ideas in the hope that they'll coalesce into a new project. There's an essay for Glasgow quarterly The Drouth about the Anglo-Scottish borders which will hopefully come out around the time of the independence referendum: a Yes vote is looking increasingly likely so I think we have to start thinking seriously now about what will happen to the North of England after Scottish secession. Aside from another, more academic essay about Ezra Pound's late poetry, I'm trying to work out how to corral my willfully disparate output into a single book about something or other. I've done two short-ish books now so something a bit bigger would be good. The poetry is ongoing too, and sporadic, as poetry tends to be - the latest accretion is here.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Following on from the last question, I think one of my biggest preoccupations is trying to work out what genre is best for saying the things that need to be said at this moment in time. I think it's quite a strange period for art in general and countercultural art in particular - lots of the old forms and genres are a bit lost, a bit enervated, and we're awaiting some sort of social development that will re-organise culture in a way that will give a bit more shape to the way we experience art collectively. At the moment the culturescape is a kind of Darwinian sludge pit, with lots of competing individuals and not much agreement about the underlying point of it all. I think that both the big strength and the big weakness of my writing is that it's not yet quite committed to one genre, but hopefully interesting because it's trying to think about how you might create a new genre that's responsive to the spirit of the age and anticipatory about the big societal bang - whatever it may be - that's just around the corner. Maybe something like lyric criticism or lyric non-fiction would be a good term for it. And I think with poetry, similarly: lyric realism or something like that.

Why do I write what I do?

Look, I'm just doing what I'm doing do and if anyone else likes it ... Only joking. I'm trying to say a handful of things that I think are important - I don't really have a problem with that fundamental bedrock. It's more the stuff about genre and form and positioning, and of course trying to persuade people to publish that's the hard part.

How does my writing process work?

I don't really have a set method, partly because, like most people, I live and work pretty precariously with very little routine or long-term job security. When I get a book project to work on it's quite liberating, and I try to work for five hours a day, morning to afternoon, five days a week, until the book's done, if I can. More than that and your concentration starts to slip. I tend to write in short, closely worked-on chunks of 500-700 words at a time and keep the editing at the end to a minimum. Poetry is obviously very different - short bursts followed by continual revisions, sometimes over many years, mainly tied up with the issues of publication and cultural positioning outlined above.

Thursday, 17 April 2014


With Easter approaching, here's a short, obliquely religious reading of Live Forever by Oasis (pruned and abstracted, as you might imagine, from the 33 1/3 book).

Whatever else Oasis were, there is no doubt that they embodied, in their early days, a kind of religious fervour, channelling a quasi-spiritual urge Sigmund Freud once characterised as oceanic consciousness (a “feeling … of being indissolubly bound up with the whole of the world outside of oneself”). Oasis’s great achievement was to advocate a spiritualised form of collectivism in a neoliberal society where such practices had been outlawed. Just ten years after the Miners’ Strike, Definitely Maybe suggested that maybe, just maybe, the spiritual core of working-class identity had not been purged completely by Thatcher and her radically individualist regime, that solidarity and towering hope could be put back at the centre of British pop culture by a heroic project of melodic forcefulness and blind belief. The tragedy, of course, was that Oasis quickly became paid-up members of the Thatcherite music industry establishment they had once reviled. But this makes their original mission statements all the more poignant – indeed, sometimes unbearably so.

Live Forever condensed Oasis’s radical working-class spiritualism into a raggedly glorious pop song about eternal life built around one of the most affecting lyrics in pop history: “maybe you’re the same as me / we see things they’ll never see / you and I are gonna live forever”. Buried in this fragment is a kind of Christian Marxism – it is easier, after all, for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. But perhaps more important than Live Forever’s impassioned belligerence is its belief in a visionary togetherness that can unite people when they realise, in a moment of leaping bewilderment, that they are unequivocally the same as each other. This special kind of grace has many epithets – comradeship, friendship, solidarity, brotherhood – but perhaps its most familiar name for religious believers and humanists alike is love.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014


Right folks, the campaign trail for this here Oasis book is starting to stammer into life, just as the 20th anniversary season approaches a point of scarcely creditable hysteria.

Apparently some North American readers are beginning to receive copies. Here's one pictured with a first edition of Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov (thanks to the estimable David Soud for this):

(By the way, this is uncannily apt, as there's a quotation from the Brothers K on my epigraph page - if that seems incongruous, well, it's not, and I will tell you for why if you ask me.)

The media campaign is also up on the rails ...

Here's a comment piece published in the Guardian this weekend, which gives a hyper-condensed summary of the book's argument.

Meanwhile, a handful of speaking events have been scheduled, with more to follow. At the moment these are:

26 June, 2014, Rough Trade East, Brick Lane, London. Q&A with fellow 33 1/3 authors Pete Astor (Richard Hell's Blank Generation) and Darran Anderson (Serge Gainsbourg's Histoire de Melody Nelson).

14-17 August, 2014, Green Man Festival, Glanusk, Wales. Q&A with Agata Pyzik (author of the excellent Poor But Sexy). Details tbc.

1 October, 2014 (exact date tbc), Foyles, Charing Cross Road, London. Legacy of Britpop panel discussion featuring Owen Hatherley (author of Uncommon: An Essay on Pulp) and Rhian E. Jones (author of Clampdown: Pop-cultural Wars on Class and Gender).

More details as and when they come in. And if you'd like a review copy, or want to open high-level negotiations for an event/reading, do get in touch via the email address on the sidebar.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014


Reading Sterne's Sentimental Journey, I'm struck by how much its ethical guidebook for the haute bourgeoisie resembles our own RaceSexualityGender doxa. In both cases, morality is abstracted - and pseudo-systematised - through a series of jargon terms for the initiated. Whereas we have PoC, intersectionality, trigger warning, mansplaining, brocialism, the eighteenth century had sentiment, sensibility, nature, decorum, sympathy, etc.

In both cases, ethics becomes a kind of manneristic exercise to be perfected if one is to acquire maturity and attain the degree of cultivation required for social advancement (in the eighteenth century - the church, the court, the judiciary, the army; in our own time - academia, politics, the commentariat, and indeed any profession - ie. the vast majority - in which social liberalism is preached while the most punitive form of neoliberal economics is practiced).

The weakness of both systems is their largely performative aspect - using the appropriate terminology and adopting the correct standpoint today with regard to, say, sexuality, is precisely equivalent to eighteenth-century displays of sensibility (the gentleman doffing his cap or handing the young lady his handkerchief at exactly the right moment). The point is that these are what we might call courtly gestures - largely superficial acts of performance that attract applause and approbation in the short term and in the social foreground but do not extend substantially into the realm of actual social organisation. Indeed, in most cases, the former actively stands in for the latter.