Tag Archives: the fall

long time, no blog / disney’s dream debased

28 Nov


how have you been?

i’ve been writing, though you wouldn’t know it from the lack of activity on this blog.

it’s taken over six years (yes, i know), but i’m finally approaching the end of the first proper edit of my novel, the tracks…, and i’m hopeful that it’ll be in a fit state to be unleashed soon.

writing and now editing the tracks… has left me with no time to write anything else, which explains why nothing new has been added to the blog. but i recently realised that, when i was actively updating the blog, i never got round to posting some of my short stories.

so, though i’ve not got anything new to upload, i’m going to start uploading some short stories i missed first time round.

to start with, ‘disney’s dream debased’. i’m really pleased with how this one turned out. i hope it pleases you too.



words and music

9 Feb

here’s a guest post i wrote for sue howe’s awesome blog a couple of weeks back.

it’s about music. and writing. weirdly enough.


words and music

It’s not easy to write about music.

I realised this as I put the finishing touches to my shamefully biased and narrow-minded account of 2011’s finest music. After all, there are only so many times one can describe a guitar riff as “soaring”, a bass line as “brutal”, a chorus as “anthemic” before inspiration fades. Luckily, I don’t want to be a music journalist. I just want to write about music.

I should explain. My obsession with music predates my obsession with becoming a brilliantly successful novelist by several years. Before I ever put pen to paper, I applied plectrum to string and decided to be a brilliantly successful guitarist. It was not to be; I was – to use a technical term – fucking awful, and soon settled on another way to express myself.

But, even once I started writing, the music wouldn’t leave me alone. It probably didn’t help that I always had some tune or other playing in the background when I wrote, but the songs I adored kept weaving their way into my narratives. Characters shouted to be heard over Blondie’s hits at discos; fights kicked off to the sound of The Clash; drunken, hazy sex was soundracked by…er, Fugazi. Music was all around me, and hugely influenced the words I wrote. Sometimes, I incorporated the sounds I heard well; at other times, my overwrought attempts fell flatter than the bummest note.

Nothing’s really changed; I’m still a sucker for a song. But I’ve been thinking about this unhealthy addiction a lot recently, as the current novel I’m writing, the tracks…, features a character who is near-reliant on music. And I wonder: can a song soar within fiction? Or – like punk and stage musicals – should the two never mix?

The desire to include music within a narrative is easy to understand: the right song can create another world. It could be the words, the sounds, or simply the feelings it evokes, but suddenly a whole new reality exists which – to the listener – was inconceivable three minutes earlier. Individual songs have inspired scenes, characters, plot developments…entire stories for me. That’s usually why I write them in to my fiction; I struggle to separate the sounds I hear from the story I have to tell.

I’ve never incorporated music into my writing to show off how impeccable my taste is. It’s always simply been a case of loving a song, and believing it fitted in with what I was writing, especially if the track in question helped me create a particular scene. At best, I hoped that somebody somewhere would tap their feet in recognition of my reference points, or be excited enough by the mention of new music to seek it out for themselves. Having said that, it’s obvious now that I needlessly padded out narrative with more songs than anyone could care for.

My first book, Stays, was littered with references, ranging from classics to tracks so obscure that the artists themselves would struggle to remember them. It was impossible to ensure every song ‘meant’ something in the context of the story and, as a result, Stays was a case of noise over substance. My second novel, Dead Dom, was a misanthropic dose of viciousness (click here if you don’t believe me), and so was its soundtrack: Butthole Surfers ‘Sweatloaf’ signalled Dom’s death – its “sludgehammer riffs nailing regret” – and the usually well-behaved Blur packed the one-minute-punch of  ‘We’ve Got A File On You’ into an explosive bit of carnage. Most of the music worked, but I was still guilty of crowbarring in riff-heavy stompers simply because I wanted to. Though I’m sure there are other reasons why both of these novels remain unpublished, it is tempting to – ahem – blame it on the boogie.

My most successful attempt, I think, to fuse fiction and music is a short story I wrote for Pop Fiction: Stories Inspired By Songs (which, if you do like your tales song-tinged, you really should read about here before investing in here). ‘Disney’s Dream Debased’ is based on the song of the same name by The Fall, which recounts a queasy real-life fatality at Disneyland. My story not only imagines the life of a Disney employee referenced in the song, but also details how this character’s realisation that he’s been mentioned in a tune by his favourite band results in the return of unwanted memories. One reviewer called it “an ingeniously post-Modernist spin on song interpretation itself”, and I feel it would be churlish to disagree.

Maybe ‘Disney’s Dream Debased’ works because its music is integral to the story. The reader doesn’t need to know the track, simply understand the impact it has on one particular listener. But, without The Fall’s song, there is no tale. And, perhaps, that’s the key: if music is to work in fiction, it needs to be essential – not incidental – to the story.

In films, it’s rarely so complicated; sight and sound always seem to lock together in perfect harmony. Film soundtracks are often made up of apposite songs, so well-tied to the image on the screen that they then become synonymous with the film itself. Think of the obvious examples: Tarantino’s masterful misuse of upbeat classics, not least his sickly satisfying take on Stealers Wheel’s ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’, or Danny Boyle’s exhilarating Iggy-fied intro to  Trainspotting. Less predictably, film meshes magnificently with music when Mick Jagger unleashes ‘Memo From Turner’ in Performance, and Stanley Kubrick incorporates Richard Strauss’ ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ into 2001.

Being a film music supervisor must be the coolest job in the world. You watch the film, then decide which music goes where. Yes, I know there’s more to it than that, but you get the idea: a great scene deserves a fine song, just as a schmaltzy death-by-incurable-illness scene deserves a scoop of Snow Patrol. However, the same job can’t exist in fiction. The author alone is responsible for the world he or she creates, and it’s up to them to provide the soundtrack. But do writers ever truly hit the right note?

There are a few authors who, I think, balance words and music admirably. Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting soundtracks his reprobates’ lives even more successfully than the film. Haruki Murakami’s fiction frequently mixes in music; many of his protagonists are single, spaghetti-loving jazz fiends and, predictably, Murakami owned a jazz bar when he was young and single. Bret Easton Ellis has repeatedly used 80s music as a shorthand for the superficiality and sadness that defines his characters, most successfully throughout American Psycho, even going as far as to dedicate chapters to the relative merits of singers such as Phil Collins and Whitney Houston. It goes without saying that the person raving about these artists is insane.

Another author who springs to mind is Nick Cave, whose The Death of Bunny Munro offers a protagonist who obsesses disgracefully over Avril Lavigne, and near loses his load every time Kylie Minogue’s ‘Spinning Around’ comes on the radio. Fittingly, his Grinderman 2 album is the perfect soundtrack to the novel, its songs bursting with middle-aged men whose libidos refuse to play ball.

Other writers who incorporate music include Kevin Sampson, Ian Rankin, Hanif Kureishi, Iain Banks and, of course, Nick Hornby…but, still, I’m struggling to recall an author who has written a key scene which ties in a song or an artist as effortlessly as the above-mentioned films do. I’m sure they’re out there; I just haven’t read them yet. And that’s where you come in: if I’ve missed anyone out, let me know. Maybe I’ll discover a great new writer or a fine new tune…and all in the name of research for my new novel.

I believe I’ve got a good reason to tune things up for the tracks…, as Benny, one of the novel’s three narrators, is a sensitive soul who’s only truly happy when immersed in music. His ever-present iPod’s earphones not only ensure his life’s soundtracked by the music he loves, they also handily block out the chattering intrusions of the big bad world. As a result, the music he references – and the way it makes him feel – remains relevant to the story. Or, at least, that’s the plan. Read the opening chapters here, and judge for yourself.

I can’t resist writing music into my fiction, no matter how tricky it seems. And, with the tracks…, I’m determined to justify its noisy intrusion, and finally make my prose sing.

top noises of 2011

30 Dec

mark e. smith and azealia banks in a swear-off.

fugazi and wu-tang in a dance-off

and all bets are off – pj still rules britannia.

that’s right: it’s time for my favourite 5 songs, albums and re-issues of 2011.

a happy, noisy new year to you all!




middle eight: top noises of 2011 so far

12 Jul

your half-time report. guitar solo optional

pj makes england her own.

the beasties make some noise.

and mogwai make me dance on the ceiling.

that’s right, it’s time for my biased account of the best songs and albums of 2011 so far.


spare a thought for dolly

28 Jun

my short story, ‘disney’s dream debased’…

i was that mouse: waving white gloved hands. fixed smile failing to distract horrified eyes.

it wasn’t my fault. that’s what I’d tell mark if I met him again. but, as I never will, the best I can do is belatedly offer my side of the story…

a few months ago now, i edited and contributed to a short story collection, pop fiction: stories inspired by songs. if you know me, you probably already know about the book. lord knows i went on about it, not least of all here.

quite a few of you were kind enough to buy a copy, and have therefore (hopefully) read the two stories i contributed, ‘the only conclusion’ and ‘disney’s dream debased’. i hope you enjoyed them, and i appreciate your support. honest, i do.

however…if you never got round to buying the book (because you forgot / hate contributing to charity /deliberately snubbed me as i’m a shameless self-promoter), have i got some exciting news for you.

yes, you guessed it: you can now own one of the stories – ‘disney’s dream debased’ – without bothering to buy pop fiction…and it’ll only cost you 59p.

that’s right: pinch yourself and sing hallelujah. you’re not (disney) dreaming.

…now available from ether books.

last week, i wrote about the new, improved iphone app for ether books here. my argument in ether’s favour was so damn persuasive, i’d be amazed if there’s a single one of you left who owns an iphone and hasn’t downloaded their wonderful free app. but, just in case, you can – and should – get it here.

and now, as if by some crazy coincidence, ether have published ‘disney’s dream debased’. cynics would say it’s almost as if i knew ether was going to release my story, that i only wrote about them by way of thanks in advance. but those cynics would be wrong. and too cynical for their own good.

anyway, it’s yours for 59p. it’s an “ingeniously post-modernist spin on song interpretation itself”, apparently.

“a real life atrocity cartoon, immortalised in song.”

now, i know you’re already reaching for your iphone to download your copy (or reading this with tears in your eyes as you remember that you still haven’t got a decent phone). but, to entice you further, i’d like to take this opportunity to tell you a little more about ‘disney’s dream debased’.

as with every story in pop fiction, it’s based on a song; one of my favourite songs, in fact, by one of my favourite bands: the fall. it really is a spellbinding tune, and you can enjoy it here, plus read an appreciation of it here on a brilliant fall-centric blog by mike shields.

the song – and therefore my story – is based on a real event: the death of a lady called dolly regene young, thrown from a disneyland ride on the same day in 1984 that the fall frontman, mark e. smith, and his then-wife, brix, happened to be visiting. you can read a brief overview of what happened here, as well as brix’s account of what she witnessed here. my inspiration for the story stems as much from the events recalled by mark and brix as the numerous factual accounts i found when researching the incident. dolly’s death is a fact; the reactions of disney’s staff is open to conjecture…but i had loads of fun exploring the impact such a bizarre scene could have on a man unfortunate enough to be dressed as mickey mouse at the time.

now, it’s not for me to say whether my ‘disney’s dream debased’ conveys any of the horror, tragedy, pitch-black comedy or sadness of the incident itself, but i can proudly say i gave it a good try. dolly’s story has disturbed me ever since i first read about it; it’s gut-wrenching yet ridiculous, cartoon-like but shocking. she was an ordinary woman who died an extraordinary death.

so i’d like you to pick up your iphone and download ‘disney’s dream debased’. but what i’d really love is for you to read the facts about dolly’s end, and take a moment to remember that death is often at least as random and ridiculous as the life that precedes it.

‘pop fiction: stories inspired by songs’ launch party!

24 Feb

if you are unfortunate enough to know me, you’ll have heard me banging on about pop fiction: stories inspired by songs a little too much over the last few months. even if you don’t know me, there’s a chance you know about the collection. after all, i did write about it in my very first post.

well, the plugging isn’t over yet. not quite.

the book’s outpop fiction launch party flyer, we’ve notched up a few sales, and it’s had a few reviews, too. most recently, the literateur gave us a lovely write- up, plus we’ve had some decent feedback from the likes of sabotage blog, booksquawk and it’s all happening.

and now, you lucky people, i’m pleased to announce that the launch party for pop fiction will take place on thursday 24th march, upstairs at the betsey trotwood, from 7.30pm.

the plan is that around five of the pop fiction contributors will read a story each, plus there will of course be some great music to fill the gaps in between.

come along if you can, it’s sure to be a great night, not least because the betsey is a great place for events such as this. i’m biased, though, as the pub’s located opposite the old guardian premises and was, therefore, essentially my local for quite a few years. the guardian’s moved, and i’ve moved on, yet i still can’t tear myself from this fine drinking establishment. it may have something to do with the draught asahi and endless variety of whiskies.

admission is free, but there’s limited space, so please rsvp at popfictioninfo@gmail.com

oh, and yes i will be reading. probably my “ingeniously post-Modernist spin on song interpretation itself”, ‘disney’s dream debased’, influenced by the song by the fall. what a treat.

an evening of words ‘n’ rock ‘n’ roll?

gig of the year, more like. and you’re invited.


#keepingitpeel Podcast Special : The Fall (via #KeepingItPeel)

19 Feb

pure brilliance.
worth it for john peel’s compiled fall announcements alone…

#keepingitpeel Podcast Special : The Fall This edition of the #keepingitpeel podcast is a special edition featuring just the one artist. A group that John Peel had great admiration for: The Fall This band recorded more Peel Sessions than any other. A total of 24 between 1978 to 2004. All of these sessions were collected and released on a 6 CD compilation. This special edition podcast just scratches the surface of their output, an edited highlights of only a small part of their history. T … Read More

via #KeepingItPeel

why you need what you need…

16 Feb

this nation’s saving grace (omnibus edition) – the fall

in praise of mark e. smith’s finest hour

give the fall a chance. right here, right now, in the company of the seminal this nation’s saving grace. i’ve even provided the original album tracklist for your listening pleasure. c’mon, click here.

top noises of 2010 – reprise

10 Jan

to read my top 5’s from 2010 (songs, albums, and now – in this expanded, remastered, deluxe edition – with added re-issues), please click here.

yes, i know it’s 2011. i’ve been busy. y’know, listening to music and stuff.

top noises of 2010

31 Dec

i’ve compiled my top 5 songs and albums of 2010…and in the nick of time, too! check them out here!

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