Rob Chapman

Not a blog

Does one show to a now giddy, now indifferent public the working of ones devices? Does one explain all those revisions and improvised variations, right down to the way 'one's sincerest impulses are mixed in with tricks and with the charlatanism indispensable to the works amalgamation' - Charles Baudelaire.

No of course not!  Oh, go on then.

I'm not on Friendface. I don't do Twitbook.  I'm not interested in inflicting my every last blip-thought on you as they occur to me - and I'm sure you're not interested in reading them either. There won't be any 'oh what a day I've had/oh what a funny thing that amusing little quip merchant said on Radio Four at 6.35 this evening' anecdotage either.

Its not that I'm technophobic. I think the Internet is the single greatest innovation of the last 20 years. It's just that I think the world wide web is cluttered up with enough rubbish as it is. I'll only add stuff here that's important to me, or pertinent to my creativity. This section will probably evolve at the pace of a stalactite.

Hope that doesn't sound too bolshie. It probably does though, doesn't it? That's the trouble with the Internet. Everything comes out at the same volume. I could be screaming all this or whispering it. You wouldn't know. Also my keyboard lacks an irony font, although that wouldn't be of much use to me. These days I seem to lack the irony tic. That necessary genuflect that turns everything into ham on wry. See, like that. That's probably what cost me a broadcasting career.

Spacehoppers? What were they all about eh?

That's enough. Here's some more.

YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO REMIX NOVELS

You can remix everything else. Why not novels? And not just in a spirit of revisionism either à la Wordsworth or WH Auden, tampering with and tempering their youthful impetuosity. I mean the Bibles been remixed a few times so why not novels? This isn't a plea for gimmickry 'Raskolnikovs back and this time he thinks better of murdering that money lender' or 'where's Godot? Oh look here he comes now' nor is it the last rites of modernism being played out (although personally I still think there's plenty of mileage left in that whole Burroughs approach of splicing in at any given intersection, but then I'm not through with modernism yet.) I just think we should stop treating novels as sacred texts, frozen thoughts in frozen time. It's not a bloody Grecian Urn it's a novel. We pay enough attention to the apps' why not the content?

I have pragmatic reasons for saying this.  In 2008 my debut novel 'Dusk Music' was published. It concerns the creative life of an outsider musician called Keith Gear and his bunch of mates. Gear hangs around with Jimi Hendrix in his youth, and briefly tastes pop success himself, before iconoclasm gets the better of him and he withdraws from the fame game. In my original draft submission to publishers, Hendrix was only ever evoked. He didn't have a speaking part.  All you really knew was that Keith Gear gave him mouth to mouth resuscitation in 1970 when he was choking on his own vomit  and saved his life.  Hendrix dies anyway, a year later. That's my little joke at the expense of my own literary conceit. You can't tamper with the inevitable. Its like, if the Beatles hadn't split up in 1970 they would probably have made one more sub-standard LP like Let It Be, tarnished the legacy a little more, and then split up. Actually I had fun with that conceit in the original draft too.

Also running through the original draft was a sub-text involving another much younger character and set just a little in the future. Not the sci-fi space age future, just a future a little bit adjacent to and parallel to this one. In the original novel the lives of Keith Gear and this other character are inextricably (but for a long time imperceptibly) bound up. There's a bit of a parable on youth and age going on. Trouble is some of the sub-text stuff was 'a bit weird'. Certainly 'a bit weird' for a first novel. I learned this long ago in bands. You can't do your weird indulgent album as album number one. No one will sign you. And so it was with Dusk Music. There was interest, and one or two people actually liked the weird stuff, but the weird stuff was held up as the chief obstacle to publication enough times (including by my eventual publisher) for me to go scurrying back to the drawing board.

Being a recalcitrant little fucker, I didn't back down immediately. What I did instead was start writing the follow up, May Grey's Diary, based on one of the characters in Dusk Music. I like the parallel story idea, so as well as writing May Grey's diary entries I started writing some back story to the Hendrix/Gear stuff with the intention of juxtaposing these chapters with the diary stuff .  They turned out rather good and fleshed out the Keith Gear character no end. 'Huh', I harumphed one day, in a spirit of bloody mindedness, 'I suppose this is the kind of stuff that publishers want'. No sooner had I thought that of course than a light bulb went on over my head and I went back to the original novel, took all the weird parallel world chapters out and stuck the Hendrix stuff in. Within months I had a novel published.

It's not that I'm not happy with the way Dusk Music turned out. I think it would make a good film actually if anyone could raise the funds to make it. I'm grateful that Flambard published it and it's out there forever now with an ISBN number on it. It's just that I had Brian Wilson's Smile in my head and I delivered Smiley Smile, and although you'd never be able to see the gaps if I didn't alert you to them I can see them and I regret not following through with my original intentions. I miss the synchronicity of the two story lines and the way they dovetailed neatly.

Mind you, all those agents and publishers were right. The weird stuff was too weird for a debut novel. You can make up your own mind should the third part of the trilogy ever get published.

And then after that I'll convince someone to publish the original draft with the story as I originally intended it to be, so you can see the two stories in tandem. Dusk Music. The original mix.

Does anybody else ever do this? I invite other novelists to respond with what they'd do differently if they did it again. Or is it asking too much to expect fiction writers to fess up to such things.

On his website tobylitt.com Toby Litt has got an excellent section where he invites writers to contribute the darlings they reluctantly killed (based on the publishing adage that to be a good writer you have to know when to kill your darlings.)
You can find it by clicking here. Geoff Dyer's is best. Geoff Dyer's usually is.

In the same spirit I ask fellow writers to contribute their alternative plot lines to what was eventually published.  I'll print them here as well.

PAGES FROM THE UNBOOK

In 1982 my friend Dave Baby went to live in California for a while. He sent me a C-90 cassette recording of a campus radio station because he knew I liked 'that kind of thing'. Among the esoteric delights on this late night show was a lengthy kind of, I suppose you'd call it spoof psychedelic song – I thought it was spoofing anyway. Sort of reminded me of Firesign Theatre, or National Lampoon before that was a film franchise. Pseudo weird annunciation, a disorientating kind of back masked vocoder effect, like breath being recorded backwards, and great faux-psych lyrics, the most memorable line being 'pages from the unbook'. I was very taken by that. The dj never back announced it, or the tape cut out before he did – I can't remember which now, so I never did find out who it was. The tape got lent out to someone else and the tape got lost. As was the norm with cassettes back then (not now of course – along with half of the hip hop community I fetishise cassettes.) The programme gradually slipped down the back of the filing cabinet of memory but I never forgot that great line, pages from the unbook.

The Unbook became a guiding principle in my life, the place where all the miscellany goes, the marginalia that becomes the norm, the wardrobe of my soul, the section labeled shirts. Sometime in the 1990s I got curious again as to where the line came from. Various experts and textperts were summoned to my quest. None of my friends knew. Letter to the queries pages of Q, Record Collector, and Mojo drew a similar blank.

Then I got e mail, and put Unbook as part of my email address. Within days, Andy Lyons, editor of When Saturday Comes Magazine, phoned me up and said 'that Unbook in your e mail address? Is it anything to do with the Ken Nordine song?' Thank you Andy. Within minutes I was on to word jazz man Ken Nordine. Within seconds he had replied. The line was from a song called Cracks In The Ceiling from a 1979 album called 'Stare With Your Ears'. Ken even sent me a full transcript of the lyrics and explained that it was about his insomnia. Oh, and it was actually 'Pages OF the unbook'. I'd got that bit wrong. My misremembering somehow seems utterly appropriate to the quest, even though Pages OF the Unbook is more alliterative and assonant and works better.

The Unbook is still my guiding principle. I wrote some sleeve notes for a CD compilation Paisley Pop, and called them Pages From The Unbook - Paisley Pop being another siphoning off of consciousness as I refused to dance the orthodoxy two step with all those tedious (and self appointed) psychedelia experts. Similarly Loungecore came about because I realized one day that the 'miscellaneous' category of my record collection now consisted of about 250 albums. The uncategorisable that became a category by default. I called a chapter in my novel Dusk Music, Pages From The Unbook, in honour of the principle, which the character in question, Malcolm Drummond adhered to. I was originally going to call the novel itself Pages From The Unbook, but decided that the guiding principle would be more appropriately served as a chapter within the larger work. Except that now …………. despite what I've said above about remixing novels and the trilogy, it seems that the trilogy is already threatening to become a quartet, as the miscellany which has been shaved off the second and third books, is unmistakably forming itself into a distinct other book.

At this rate, by 2020 I shall have about 17 unpublished novels, the residue of which will form a Bartleby and Co style meditation on the unruly intellect and the ungovernable muse.

And have I ever bothered getting a copy of the Ken Nordine song? Of course not. That would just spoil things.