The Return of DEAN

I was sent the above photograph by Chris, who took it in Barcelona. The lighting might not be perfect, but you can make out the graffiti: DEAN.

A long time ago in Brighton, there was a graffiti artist who wrote that same word in huge capital letters. I’ve written about DEAN in the past; despite the unsophisticated tag, the genius placements made DEAN my favourite graffiti artist.

I read a rumour that the artist had died fleeing from the police. But seeing this picture from Barcelona, I like the idea that DEAN moved to Spain, and has lived a life so wonderful that they have added colour and sparkles to their tag.

Kanye vs Bowie

When I tell people that Kanye West is this era’s Bowie, I’m not trolling. Or, at least, I’m not just trolling. I honestly believe that Kanye West is one of the most interesting artists working today.

Of course, any such comparison is disgusting. Why should one artist be pitted against another? It’s wrong to try scoring such individual careers against each other. But the comparison does have one positive, in trying to stop people from dismissing Kanye as untalented or mad, while Bowie is uncritically considered as a genius.

Bowie took some great risks. He was mocked for Tin Machine and his early love of the Internet, but he took those steps regardless of the response. The music press was cruel about Bowie’s experiments with jungle, as if they wanted more of the same, year after year. And the whole reason we remember Bowie is that he was controversial – that moment, now so overdetermined, on Top of the Pops – most people who hate on Kanye now would probably have been hating on Bowie back then. You know: he’s not great like the Beatles or Elvis, is he?

Kanye is brash and provocative, but there’s a lot of thought to it. I mean, that New York Times interview where he compared himself to Steve Jobs was an exquisitely targeted provocation. Then there was releasing Yeezus, an abrasive nasty album with no hooks when he had the world’s attention. I mean just check out Lou Reed’s Guardian review of Yeezus: “No one’s near doing what he’s doing, it’s not even on the same planet.”

Kanye attended art school before dropping out to become a producer – and a massively successful one. That work alone assured his place in rap history, before he made his own tracks. People might mock the fashion work, but Kanye has put in the time, moving to Rome to intern with an Italian brand. West is constantly experimenting and playing. Not all of it works, but hey – Bowie had Dancing in the Streets and the Laughing Gnome.

People want that hit that’s as easy as Space Oddity: the three minute track that explains the artist. Whatever. Kanye West is a fascinating artist and there’s a lot to look at. If you don’t want to engage with it, fine, but don’t assume that makes the work worthless.

If you are looking for an interesting starting point, there’s this ten minute video on The Voice as Instrument, which I love. And there’s an entire podcast series on My beautiful dark twisted fantasy, which I really need to listen to.

Famous for 15 People

Famous for 15 People is an ebook of my writing. It came out last year, but I’m only now getting around to officially launching it, with an event at Brighton’s Regency Town House on March 15th.

I’ve described Famous for 15 People as a ‘mixtape’ rather than a collection, mainly because it doesn’t have the overall theme that a collection would. Instead, it collects a range of different writing I’ve done over the years. It’s a very mixed book, but I love all of these pieces.

The book contains a number of short stories that I’ve performed over the years: such as meat a story about vegetarian kink; or We have always lived in the Slaughterhouse, about a family forced to hide from abuse. There’s a story about Kurt Cobain and the clown-horror Death of a Ronald. One of my favourite pieces to perform is about ventriloquism, A bad place to stick your hand.

There’s also a few examples of microfiction, which I count as being stories under 300 words, preferably under 200. I’ve done a lot of this over the years through my workshop event, Not For The Faint-hearted. I’d love to do a collection solely of microfiction, but in the meantime I’ve collected some published and unpublished pieces here including Vole, Pinnochio and The Saddest Dogs in the World.

Then are the horror stories. I’ve written before about my love of horror fiction. I’ve become much more comfortable with working in this genre over time. One of the pieces in the book, In the Night Supermarket, was part of a magazine competition to find exciting new horror writers; I wish I’d followed up on that more. Death of a Ronald certainly counts as horror, and there’s also Eat at Lovecraft’s – a story I love, but one that frustrates me as I’ve no idea where it came from. Some of the horror pieces comes from my project Lovecraft in Brighton, a weird book that adds a new story with each copy sold, something I hope will begin moving again soon.

There are also a couple of pieces of non-fiction, one of them a history of vindaloo, the other a commission I withdrew about Britpop, memory and nostalgia.

It’s a wide range of pieces, all tied together by an introduction from Rosy Carrick. I’m proud of each of these pieces and it’s good to finally give them a home.

Book launch: Famous for 15 People

On March 15th 2018, I’m holding a Brighton launch for my ebook, Famous for 15 People. It takes place at Brighton’s Regency Town House, and features performances from me, Rosy Carrick and Chris Parkinson. Tickets are available online and cost a mere £4. There’s even a bar at the venue.

Many of the stories had their origin on the Sussex university creative writing MA, where I first met Chris and Rosy. I’ll perform a couple of regular pieces, as well as some multi-media performances that I’ve only done once before. There will also be some microfictions; and I’m going to talk a little about why ebooks are so exciting as a way for people to share their writing.

I describe Famous… as a ‘mixtape’. It contains short stories (some very short!) and non-fiction written over the last ten years. The title comes from a quote from the artist Momus that I love. I’m pleased to have made a home for all these stories.

The book actually came out in May last year, but I got distracted by work and other events, so the launch never happened. I am the worst self-promoter ever – as you can also tell by the fact I’ve got multimedia performances I loved that have only been performed once.

Do come! Tickets are £4, and the book can be downloaded from Amazon. And if you do get a copy from Amazon, please leave a review!

How to distribute a zine

I don’t normally take Brighton busses, but I was running late. I’d had to pick up a parcel then head into town, so I was waiting for the number 7 near Hove station. Bored, I spotted something odd in a box of leaflets. At first I thought someone had sneaked in a flyer.

Moving a little closer, I saw it was a zine. So I picked it up and read it.

This is the sort of thing I love about zines. You certainly don’t get this from a website. You don’t find websites carefully hidden when you’re wandering away from your usual routes.

Secret Desires is by Cynical Elliot, and the cover features “the bloke from Keane”. Now, there’s a band I’ve not thought about in years. I’ve listened to their records in the past, but can’t recall the names of any songs without checking Wikipedia.

The zine features portraits of various musicians, and invites us to “leave our musical prejudices at the door”. Now, I’m giving no quarter on my dislike of Jamiroquai’s music, but Dolly Parton I do have time for. And Bananarama.

Finding this on the way to work was a Good Thing. I love the idea of media that’s not tied to clicks and referrers, but is distributed by leaving it somewhere. Maybe there should be more of this sort of thing. (Maybe I should be doing this sort of thing?). Media like messages in bottles.

Networked Lucid Dreaming

One of the most moving pieces of art I’ve seen was a video by Emilia Telese. It was shown late at night in Brighton’s Lanes. Down one of the narrow twittens, a window was open to a room where the film was projected onto a wall. It showed the artist sleeping outside in the New Forest. Much of the emotion came from the story behind the piece; but also the vulnerability of someone sleeping out of doors.

I think there should be more art around sleeping – not just portrayals of sleeping, but involving actual sleep. Like this theatre show Lullaby, where the audience was supposed to fall asleep. Sleeping used to be a communal act, not a private one.

It’s something I’ve been wondering about with my Alexa experiments, thinking about skills that can be used in that near-sleep state to lull you towards dreams. But, although I’ll never have time to work on such a thing, there is one piece of sleep technology I would love to see.

Back at school, many years ago, I read a New Scientist article about lucid dreaming. It pointed out that, while the body is paralysed during sleep, some voluntary muscle control is retained and accessible to lucid dreamers. People in this state can use blinking to communicate with the world. As a Guardian article explains:

Some of the most interesting studies involve in-dream experiments, where participants are asked to complete pre-arranged actions in their lucid dreams while using eye movements to signal the beginning and end of their behavioural sequences

Since it is also possible for dreamers to receive sound cues from the outside world, we now have the technology to connect lucid dreamers to one another, to send messages between them.

I’ve been thinking about this sort of technology for a few years, but it turns out to be closer than I’d realised. People have built prototypes for controlling robotic arms from within dreams; or there are software projects to take transcriptions from dreams. This sort of thing has little practical use, but it could make produce some interesting art.

John le Carré Bucket List 2: A Murder of Quality

Yesterday evening I was in Dublin airport, on the way back from a business trip. I had a few books to read (including Naomi Foyle‘s new novel) but I felt jittery and a little burned-out. I needed something light, so instead I settled down to read John le Carré’s second novel, A Murder of Quality.

Similar to the previous book, A Call for the Dead, this is a mystery – although this one has no connection to espionage. A woman in fear of her life contacts a newspaper. The editor calls in George Smiley, a colleague from the war who has now retired. Smiley learns that the woman has since been murdered and sets off to Carne school where he is drawn into the investigation. This recruitment of a retired spy reminded me a little of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

The mystery itself isn’t particularly exciting; there’s the obvious suspect, the red herring and the culprit. On the way we get some satirical social comment. The school’s masters are grotesque snobs, unprepared for the changes coming in post-war Britain.

The rigorous social codes and how characters are classified as being the ‘right sort’ or not are terrifying. Arch comments are made about Smiley’s lack of a dinner jacket when invited to supper. One character is admired because “she did such clever things with the same dress”. Smiley doesn’t like this world, but is at home in it.

The most fascinating thing in the book are the descriptions of George Smiley; physically uncharismatic, he induces great love and faith in the people who know him. He is described by one character as “the most forgettable man she had ever met” with clothes “which were costly and unsuitable, for he was clay in the hands of his tailor, who robbed him”. Another character describes him as “Looks like a frog, dresses like a bookie, and has a brain I’d give my eyes for. Had a very nasty war. Very nasty indeed.”

We see how traumatised Smiley is by his experiences: “so many men learnt strength during the war, learnt terrible things, and put aside their knowledge with a shudder when it ended.” Despite being very good at his job, Smiley is repelled by this, having “the cunning of Satan and the conscience of a virgin”. He takes little pride in solving the mystery.

I wouldn’t have read this book were I not reading the complete Le Carré. Like 1971’s the Naive and Sentimental Lover, if suffers in comparison to the spy novels – although the tone and ambience are interesting in places. Next up, however, is the Spy Who Came in From the Cold.

Twin peaks and the return of storytelling

I loathe exposition in horror stories, where the disturbing events are explained, systematised, and a solution proposed. The strangeness evaporates into a simple battle of good vs evil.

For much of 2017, Twin Peaks Club would meet at mine on Sunday evenings. We watched the original series, Fire Walk with Me, then the 18 episodes of the Return. In the aftermath of Twin Peaks’ final episode, someone announced that they knew nothing would be resolved. I felt there was a definite conclusion, I’m just not sure what it was.

(SPOILERS BELOW)

Since then I’ve read a lot about Twin Peaks, theories based on triplets, pocket universes, the Tempest and more. Every theory I read makes sense, yet contradicts all the others. I think the show is challenging its viewers to make their own myths.

One aspect of The Return is training the audience to be patient, to understand that there will be no easy answers. Deliberately frustrating scenes demonstrated this: the three minutes of silent floor sweeping, the wild goose chase for keys in the first episode. The show also questions the idea of watching TV – for example, with the glass box in New York, or the crowds watching as Carl Rodd (played by Harry Dean Stanton) cradles a dying child.

Everything looks ready for a curtain call in the last episode. Instead we find ourselves suspended from meaning as Cooper drives towards a conclusion. By the end of episode 17 it was obvious what needed to happen – cherry pie, rescuing Audrey, and defeating Judy. We’d even had some clunky exposition from Deputy Director Gordon Cole (played by Director David Lynch) explaining in simple terms what the show was all about, a long-running attempt to defeat an adversary.

The last hour deliberately undercut the idea of Cooper as hero saving a damsel in distress. The harrowing abuse inflicted on Laura Palmer cannot be removed so easily. We’re left with questions.

One of the joys of the new Twin Peaks is discussing these with other fans. Different details are drawn out. It feels like a collaboration, as if we’re all playing at a puzzle. Did Laura Palmer die? Where is Audrey? Are the continuity errors in the recent Twin Peaks book the result of whatever happened in the final episode? Does the White Lodge exist? Which characters in the show are dreaming? Is Sarah Palmer ‘Judy’? Why did the final scene echo this one from Season 2:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Db9to1uazmU

This is not the last thing I’ll write about the show – I’ve made too many notes about too many theories. I can imagine playing with this puzzle for years. I need to rewatch scenes, listening for the Sarah Palmer dialogue supposed to be heard in the last scene. I’m looking forward to the all conversation where we ask ourselves who killed Laura Palmer.

Story: The City and the Country

There was a time when it was dangerous to explore villages you didn’t know. The world was smaller then, and a tiny place could be its own world.

If you travelled a lot, you learned to tell the signs (if you didn’t learn, you’d not be travelling long). You’d keep an eye open in case the church was chained shut, the grounds not tended in years. I left one place when I saw the yew trees had been burned; I later learned that witches ran wild there. This whole country was once filled with cults.

Now it’s safer in the villages, since the mystic clans of England are dying out. There are few jobs in the countryside, no way to make a living; most of the young leave. Even if they could find work, it wouldn’t buy a house there. Second homes and downsizers have pushed up the prices. Murder and disappearance would never stem the tide of people looking for a cosy cottage with which to impress their friends. A village could be unspoiled for centuries; then it appears in a guardian supplement. A couple of years later, the magic is gone.

The young from these cults struggle in the city. You can make prayers to the green man at a road crossing, but it’s less powerful than a riverside. Harvest offerings made in a supermarket are soon swept up; spells are forgotten under florescent lights. They do their best – instead of corn dollies, they tear coke tins into shapes of tiny people. Sometimes the chalk of a hopscotch grid contains a trace of magic; or shop dummies seem to watch the way the scarecrows did. But most of them struggle, falling prey to the magics of seagulls and litter bins. There are streets here that can eat you.

A few find their way. They are cared for by the cash machines and learn their own tricks. Even in the city, there are people you can sacrifice and no-one cares. There are people who have vanished while they are still walking the streets. If you can survive, you can eke out power, find new things to pray to. You can build villages in the cities and suburbs


This story was inspired by a conversation with Justin Pickard. I’ve been thinking about these thing s for a while, so there may be more to follow. It’s a first draft written while waiting for a plane.

Mobile blogging is the future

Yesterday I wrote a blog post on my mobile phone. We used to have a word for this. It was called moblogging, and it was going to be the future.

I’ve been re-reading articles about this from around 2003.  There’s a weird optimism about how hard people were trying to make moblogging happen.

Back then, blogging from a mobile phone was tricky. You could send a blog post via email or MMS, but you couldn’t edit it until you were back at a computer. This was a time before apps and iPhones, when the few applications for mobile were rudimentary. But people still persevered with moblogging. Part of this was the struggle to find a use for camera phones and MMS – which a lot of people originally found unnecessary.

This was the early days of mobile computing. The guardian even tried to edit its G2 supplement from Brighton beach during summer 2003. At the time, this was the world’s first beach with WiFi, where volunteers had set up the pier-to-pier network. WiFi was still sometimes hard to find then – during the party conferences you’d see people at night using laptops on the seafront benches. 

(That article contains someone speculating that people “could get a wireless device to walk around the city and it would ping them with announcements saying look up here, and here’s some information about this building…” I’ve seen similar ideas pitched repeatedly over the last 20 years. The technology for this is now ubiquitous, but the applications are still not being produced. ) 

One of the pioneers of moblogging was Warren Ellis, who wrote back in January this year: “Remember “moblogging”? I was doing that in the 1990s with a collection of kit that even at the time seemed the product of a dated alternate future.  Modular, silvered plastics, plugs and stub antennae. Nokia phones of styles you wouldn’t have been surprised to encounter in SPACE: 1999.” Other posts from 2006 and 2004ish give an idea of the issues involved.

Reading back on these days is strange. It’s easy to forget the time when we used to go to a particular room in the house to use the internet.

In 2003, a Jupiter analyst claimed that of the estimated 500,000 bloggers, a quarter might one day  use moblogging tools to update their sites. He said “This isn’t the killer app for mobile devices.”

More optimistic was Tom Hume of future platforms: “The whole point of weblogging is ease-of-use: that it makes it simple for people who don’t care about technology to run their own sites. Moblogging is a natural progression from this: as long as it’s easy to use and marketed well, I believe it’ll lead to a surge of all sorts of folks creating their own content.

Moblogging never took off, at least not under that name. But Tom got it right, and moblogging became so successful that the term has actually disappeared. Companies like Manywhere, Moblogger, Wapblog and FoneBlog failed to deliver moblogging to the masses. Instead it was three companies that had yet to be born: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Everyone is moblogging and nobody thinks anything of it. But I’m writing this post on a smartphone app using WordPress. The jetpack server plugin means WordPress’s app is finally usable (even if it eats the occasional post). Moblogging is here now.

Of course I could just post to Facebook. But the great thing about moblogging is the openness of it. It harks back to a time when it was easier to distribute your content between sites; twitter has long since turned off its RSS feeds. Everything is being locked behind walled gardens, access swapped for marketing. Judging by the scale of these platforms, most people aren’t too worried. But I’m happy to be finally moblogging, 13 years after I first tried to do it. And I’m still excited about moblogging’s future.