Julian Barnes to be ‘the new face of MacDonalds’

 

Food giant McDonalds today stunned both the literary and food-retailing worlds by announcing that it has signed up Man Booker prize winner Barnes to be ‘the face of the brand’ in the UK.

‘We considered quite a few names,’ a spokesperson said, ‘the usual suspects like Chris Moyles and Carol Voordeman and that fat one off Big Brother, but somehow Julian just increasingly seemed like the inevitable choice. We think he’ll give our customer base a new and enriched sense of the ways in which time and memory interact, in which the single, lived moment, the moment lived in time, is refracted and distorted through desire, memory, fantasy and, ultimately, hope. In a sesame bun.’

Barnes is believed to have agreed to lead a team tasked with designing a new meal experience, one that poses a delicate fusion, or interposition, between trans fats and the melancholy but essential realisation of how partial, how illusory, is the intangible relationship between the individual and what he calls his history, how history itself represents only the willed imaginings of the remembering mind. The team are aiming to bring in the new Barnes Meal Deal at below the £4.99 price mark.

A spokesperson for Mr Barnes was unable to answer questions relating to the remuneration package earlier today. ‘Let’s just say it makes the Booker look like a meat raffle,’ he said.

Important: Words that people MUST stop using immediately.

Munch

No one ever ‘munched’ anything. People eat. They, on occasion, may eat with a certain relish, possibly even an unattractive avidity. And of course some people are just nasty eaters. But ‘munching’? Don’t believe I’ve ever seen it done. It has a cloyingly false ring to it. It has a wet-lipped, smacking-your-chops feel, a cartoonised version of pleasure. It’s like watching Keanu Reeves trying to ‘act’. Coupled with ‘delicious’ (‘He munched a delicious sandwich’,) its baleful power is monstrously amplified, morphing it into an intolerable, unprincipled assault on all that is decent. Stop it.

Grin

I think Martin Amis says somewhere that if you do ever see someone grinning, run like the wind. It simply would not be an acceptable expression, in any imaginable circumstance, the sole exception perhaps being that you are a spree killer toying with his victim whilst The Carpenters plays quietly in the background. As for the ‘mischievous grin’ which seems to survive in some secret bunker of the collective unconscious, I pray I may never witness it. And if I ever do, I’m going to smack it square in the gob.

Laugh (as a verb of speech: “What?” he laughed.)

Try it some time. Just try doing it. You’ll find that you are either laughing or speaking, but if you are achieving both simultaneously you are playing with forces you barely begin to comprehend: you are a profoundly troubling new development in the species. Anatomically it is just not on the cards, but there’s more: to ‘laugh’ a comment would be to behave in such an unendurably smug manner that you wouldn’t survive the week without injury or – better – death. How could anyone bear the company of anyone else for even a minute if people were ‘laughing’ their comments to each other? There would be a species extinction event, as perfectly tolerable conversations descended into spurting, gleeful slaughter, sickening orgies of bloodletting. Is that what you want? ‘He joked,’ ‘he chuckled’ and ‘he chortled’ are just the gibbering idiot cousins of ‘he laughed’ and should never be approached from behind.

Jot (as in ’to jot some notes’)

Jot. Jaunty little number isn’t it? ‘Oh I just jotted some notes down.’ It’s not the same as ‘making’ some notes, no, ‘jotting’ is the pepped up, bright-as-a-button, prettiest-cheerleader little sister of ‘making’ notes. ‘Jotting’ exists on a wholly different plane of being, one that is composed entirely of bubble gum and gymkhana trophies and neat little notebooks with shiny pink covers. ‘Jotting’ is an activity which only the pert, the primped, the intolerably perky are qualified to perform. If you see someone ‘jotting’, or even just suspect that they are about to, break their fingers. This simple, robust precaution should be sufficient to prevent any further incidence, at least temporarily.

‘Make’. ‘Make’ notes.

I have spoken.

Nothing To Fear

 

A study by psychologist Adah Maurer in 1965* showed that childhood fear of ‘wild animals and spooks and the supernatural’ peaks at age 6, and has largely disappeared by age 11 and 12, to be replaced with a fear of ‘people’ (ie, bad people). The study suggests that what we fear as young children is improbable, fanciful events, such as being mauled by a bear or seeing a ghost. What we fear as older children is starting to reflect our more adult understanding of the world: there probably isn’t really a bear outside, or a monster under the bed, but there could easily be a bad man nearby. The six year old fears live on in masquerade form as Halloween.

Mainstream horror  – vampires, zombies, werewolves, ghosts – puts these six year old fantasies centre stage. Far from being an attempt to scare us, it is an attempt to soothe us, to tell us that everything is alright. By deliberately relocating the object of fear from a real life possibility (such as, for instance, lonely death), to a carnival of grotesques, familiar since early childhood, it seeks to persuade us that our fears, really, have no validity. We are playing with our outgrown terrors, inventing colourful and exotic versions of fears we have long since overcome. Practising, perhaps. Pretending.

Recently, horror has embraced simpler, gorier, sillier scenarios: the Saw franchise for instance, and The Human Centipede. But again, these are pantomimes of fear, tongue firmly in cheek (literally, in the case of The Human Centipede). Horror fiction, no matter how extreme it strives to be, cannot of course compete with the visceral, sickening jolt of real life – what you can see on the news any day of the week – and makes no attempt to do so.  Most of the time it is content to stay in safe, comfortable territory, with clearly defined, clearly identifiable monsters, and rules for how they can be defeated. These monsters have become set, made rigid and inflexible and harmless through constant re-use. They are nursery figures, unchanging, well-understood, unthreatening. If we fear what we don’t understand, then we have nothing to fear from this kind of horror fiction, because we understand it all too well. We should do: we lived it (when we were six). Mainstream horror doggedly lumbers on, preferring to become a kind of heritage spectacle of creaky old tropes.

This is perhaps why it is so easy, and so tempting, to parody it. The history of horror parodies is as long and respectable as the genre itself: as early as 1824, a mere 6 years after the original, a spoof called Frankenstitch was a popular hit in London. Jane Austen parodied Gothic romance, the 18th Century’s version of horror, in Northanger Abbey (1818). Horror has danced uneasily hand in hand with parodies of itself since its inception. Southpark: The Ungrounded, a spoof of the Twilight  franchise, is a notable recent example. The teen slasher phenomenon has always had a knowing sense of its own absurdity, and is happy to parody itself.

I would hope it doesn’t need saying that some horror fiction is excellent, and is the result of a serious-minded attempt to grapple with fundamental human issues: fear of contagion, shame, defeat, disgrace, loss of status, loneliness. Spend any time at all in the genre and you will find work of depth, brilliance, daring and originality. But such writing will always be marginal to the genre, and for the most part mainstream horror fiction is content to be unreflective, undemanding and uninvolving. Everyone will have authors and stories they champion: for the record, I would defend Stephen King’s Apt Pupil to my last breath as a great piece of writing, of any kind. But it would be hard to claim, on current evidence (Human Centipede, Twilight, The Walking Dead) that this is a genre that is currently in robust good health, bursting with new ideas. Box office may be great: creatively, though, what you hear is the sound of bottoms of barrels being scraped, again and again. In troubled times, people seek the familiar, and that’s what these old stories deliver. Not fear, but actually the opposite of fear: certainty.

The fundamental problem, I think, is one of shape. A monster story really only has one way to go. It doesn’t matter whether vampire, mutated lizard or psychotic torturer: a monster is a monster is a monster. They will attempt to harm us, we will be partially defeated by them, then we will mount some kind of fightback. We will succeed, but they will come back in the final frame. Ready for their sequel. There just isn’t much else a monster story can give you, because monsters, by definition, are not human and so do not share human characteristics. They remain stubbornly ‘other’, unavailable for psychological inspection, in much the same way that a plank of wood is. What motivates a zombie? What motivates a psychopathic torturer? Questions in fiction are always ‘why’ questions: why did he do that, why did she think this? But mainstream horror fiction takes away the possibility of these ‘why’ questions by removing the very quality that would make them germane: psychology. A ghoul or a vampire or a psychopath hasn’t got any psychology, because if they had they would become human, and if they were human they would be messy, complicated, unpredictable. Real. Horrifying, in fact.

If you have only got one story shape at your disposal, things are going to get repetitive fast. Once you’ve been on one ghost train, the next one is not likely to hold too much in the way of surprise. Mainstream horror fiction is, seemingly, condemned to endlessly re-enact the same few tattered nursery fantasies, never quite being able to render them as anything other than fancy dress outfits, put on in a spirit either of nostalgia or kitsch or affectionate mockery. But what any of this has got to do with fear – real fear, the kind of incapacitating, debilitating anguish that grips us all sometimes in the middle of the night –  is far from obvious. For that, you will need to look outside of the genre. Because mainstream horror fiction doesn’t appear to want to scare us at all, but rather to reassure us.

Unless you’re six, of course, in which case you probably shouldn’t be watching it.

(*Maurer, A: What Children Fear, Journal of Genetic Psychology, Vol 106, pp265-277)

Author Defends Use Of ‘Sweatshops’

Controversial author Simon Nolan has announced that his new novel will be written entirely by outsourced labour in India. ‘There’s a great team in Bangalore who’ll knock you out a novel in three hours. Cheap! I mean, actually writing one of these sodding things yourself takes, you know, literally hours, and it’s hardly an efficient use of my time. These Indian guys are smart as a whip, and the novels they produce are actually way better than anything I could come up with. This new one they’ve done, it’s got this sensational twist right at the end… well I won’t give it away, obviously, but wow. You’ve got to hand it to them.

Amit Rafiq of Creative Solutions Partners, a ‘novel factory’ in Bangalore, said:

‘We pride ourselves on producing high quality fiction for any market. We’ve recently added new genres to our list, including experimental and slipstream. We’re also launching a review service, including names such as The Literary Review and The Daily Telegraph. Ultimately, our aim is to become a ‘one-stop-shop’ for all literary work: writing, reviewing and reading.’

Concerns have been raised about working conditions after the case of a worker collapsing during an 18 hour shift producing a new Jeanette Winterson.

Customers include high profile names such as Jodi Picoult, Michel Faber and Tony Parsons.

AP.

Ian McEwan to script Pirates of the Caribbean 5.

‘I’ll be taking it in a slightly different direction,’ the Man Booker Prize winner said. ‘Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is now a neurosurgeon. The way I see it, he’s come to the realisation that Blackbeard (Ian McShane) is really just a symbol for everything that he has come to mistrust about himself. So he retrains and in an amazingly short time becomes one of the most eminent medical men of his generation. Along the way he meets Angelica (Penelope Cruz), one of the top five Leibnitz scholars in the world, and is seduced by her saucy manner and bounteous decolletage. They live in a nice part of the Caribbean, where there are Sunday papers and you can get really authentic focaccia.

‘But their clever, successful lives are about to be invaded by Blackbeard – now a brilliant but self-doubting composer – who is determined to make Jack understand that rationalism is simply camouflage, an elaborate set of defences against the inadmissible truth that the received idea of ‘identity’ is delusional, a way of consoling ourselves for some lost pre-lapsarian innocence. They discuss it over grappa and mineral water, and Blackbeard feels momentarily ill at ease. “But surely ontology and epistemology are entwined like the nerve fibres of the corpus collosum,”Jack muses drily.

‘Just at this climactic moment, Angelica arrives, to explain that Leibnitz had a somewhat tortured relationship with Spinoza, and never fully acknowledged the intellectual debt he owed to the older man. Blackbeard, suddenly struck by a fugitive fragment of memory, or perhaps desire, starts to explain that any attempt to equate morality with algebra, in the sense that Spinoza intended, can only be redundant, given what new neurological findings about consciousness tell us about personal identity and the nature of the ‘self’. He then, inexplicably, throws himself out of the window. A wry half smile flickers over Jack’s wise, successful face. He tenderly, almost hesitantly, makes love to Angelica; she weeps afterwards, and he tenderly explains to her again how clever he is.

‘Jack and Angelica know that nothing can ever be the same now, that some essential tenderness, or perhaps just the habitual recreation of  a shared deception that held them together, has been irrecoverably sundered. The focaccia has hardened, become brittle and dry. The Sunday papers have all been read. He shrugs, and tenderly makes love to Angelica again, while wondering why no one has congratulated him on anything recently. Then something or other explodes.

‘I thought a better title, actually, would be Eminent Neurosurgeons of the Caribbean, but Disney weren’t buying.’

Johnny Depp is reported to be ‘profoundly moved’ by this radical new vision for the franchise. ‘I feel Jack’s terrifying sense of contingency,’ he said, ‘and I’m just crazy for Leibnitz.’

Pirates of the Caribbean 5: The Search for A Quite Possibly Illusory Sense of Detachment begins shooting in May.

Author condemns BBC documentary as ‘biased’.

 

Controversial author Simon Nolan (Whitehawk, Revenge Ink, £7.99) has made a scathing attack on a BBC documentary. The programme, aired after Christmas, was, he said, ‘a joke, completely biased, with no attempt to address the arguments from both sides.’

Summer Ends on Penguin Island, screened on 27 December, featured numerous sequences of penguins eating herring and mackerel. But, says Nolan, the programme crucially failed to indicate how the herring and mackerel felt about any of this.

‘It was just blatant triumphalist penguin propaganda. I mean, when is it the poor bloody mackerel’s turn? When do they get to be the hero? You know?’ he said.

A BBC spokeswoman said: ’I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. Who did you say you were again?’

Reuters.

Author says pottery is ‘Not for him’.

Controversial author Simon Nolan (Whitehawk) has said he is ‘finished’ with pottery. In a wide ranging interview, he reveals that it had ‘never been more than bit of a whim, really.’

‘I only went about three times, ‘ he continued. ‘I thought it was all really boring and messy, to be honest. And the pots all looked a bit shit. I was quite keen at first but then, I don’t know, I just stopped going.’ When asked what kind of gap his abandonment of the artform would create in his life, he shrugged. ‘Barely measurable,’ he said. ‘Frankly, I couldn’t care less about it.’

Vince Quank, from the British Institute of Potters said it was ‘a shame’ that the artform was losing practitioners like this. ‘I suppose if everyone who liked pottery suddenly decided they didn’t like it anymore, then that could be a serious blow to the craft of pot throwing in this country. But just because one person decides he doesn’t like it after three goes, doesn’t really mean that much, in the wider sense. Many a dream has come to ruin at the wheel. We believe that pottery will continue to play a key role in the creative life of the nation.’

Julian Lovely, the Minister for Pottery and Tableware, issued a statement which outlined this administration’s vision for pottery over the next ten years. ‘This administration,’ it concludes, ‘has a vision for pottery over the next ten years.’

Reuters.

The Little Zombie Who Just Wanted To Dance.

‘Look we’ve been over and over this,’ said Mrs Tupelo. ‘You put your arms out like this, you lurch about and you go uuuurgh. OK? Got it?’

Maisie sat sullenly at the table, staring at the oozing slab of brain in front of her.

‘But…’

‘When did you ever see a zombie dancing?’ said Mrs. Tupelo. ‘Feeding on human flesh, OK. Going uuuurgh, fine, that’s traditional. It’s what we do in this family.’

‘But I don’t like human flesh.’ Maisie picked at the food. ‘It’s all gooey…’

‘Yes love, well that might just be because it’s brains mightn’t it… Look, just eat a little bit of it and you can have some of the other stuff, what was it again?’

‘Salad.’

‘Uuuuurgh,’ said Mr Tupelo abruptly, as a rat crawled out of an eye socket. (He was, largely, ignored.)

‘And what’s all this about dancing?’ Mrs Tupelo said as Maisie moved the brains around her plate.

‘I’ve told you. I want to join a contemporary dance troupe,’ Maisie said, quietly defiant.

‘Maisie, your father didn’t get a machete embedded in his skull just so you could go prancing round in a leotard.’

‘Uuurgh!’

‘You want to make us a laughing stock?’

‘I don’t care!’ Maisie cried out, tears stinging her eyes as blood spurted out of her ears. ‘I don’t want to lurch about going uuuurgh! It’s boring! I just want to dance!’

She ran from the room, slamming the door behind her.

‘Maisie. Maisie!’ Mrs Tupelo called after her. She turned to her husband. ’Graham. Can’t you talk to her?’

Graham looked at his wife. Her left arm fell off.

‘Uuuuuuurgh!’ he said.

Vampiryirya and the zombie horde

She shuddered to behold them. Her inky tresses shuddered as well.

‘Who,’ she intoned as she stared from her lofty pinnacle at the grounds below, ‘are these miserable creatures?’

‘They are undead, ma’am,’ said Tench her valet. ‘They are lost souls who have died but then returned. Their mission is to devour human flesh ma’am, if I understand the matter correctly.’

‘Well, I can’t say I particularly like the look of them,’ she said as the hobbled, lurching, decaying mob surrounded the mighty oaken front door and set up a monotonous but pulverisingly powerful battering. ‘See them off would you Tench?’

‘Ma’am.’

He worked his way down the endless stairs, floor after floor, until he reached the front hall. The pounding on the door was a slow, terrifying, earth-shaking thunder, as the foul creatures flung their rotten corpses against the door. As the ones at the front lost limbs, heads, even torsos, they were replaced by others who, gibbering and feeding on the ever-growing heap of human detritus, crawled over them to take up their positions, pounding and hammering. They gave vent to a wordless sound, part grunt part howl.

‘I say,’ said Tench through the letterbox. ‘I say, hello?’

The leader of the ghastly crowd bent down and surveyed him coolly from the other side of the letter box.

‘Uuuurgh.’

‘Yes, quite. Well I suppose I was just wondering, is there anything I can do for you at all?’

‘Uuuuuuurgh!’

‘Indeed. As you say. You see the thing is, sorry and all that, but my mistress isn’t at home just now. So sorry. Was there a message at all?’

The leader’s eye fell out, rolled through the letter box and landed, wetly, at Tench’s feet.

‘Yes. I see. Well thanks awfully for coming, and I’ll be sure to let my mistress know you came.’

The leader seemed at a loss for a moment. His ravaged, maggot-infested hand crept to his now empty eye socket. Then he turned to the mob behind him. He raised a bloodied stump of an arm.

‘Uuuurgh! Uuuuuuuuuuurgh!’

The mob fell silent for a moment. Then they tore him to pieces and started to feed. Tench wound his weary way back upstairs as the pounding started up again.

‘They seem to still be there, Tench,’ Vampiryirya said as he returned.

‘Ma’am. I did tell them you were not at home, but…’

Vampiryirya flung open the casement and threw scorn at the direful rabble.

‘You! You down there! Hear me! for I am Vampiryirya, Acting Queen of the Damned!’

Some heads twisted up to look (many of them, regrettably, fell off in the process). ‘I abjure you by all the powers of the dark, by the waters of sorrow and mystery, by the awful ecstasy of the Great Memnoch…’

The pounding showed no signs of abating: it seemed, in fact to be increasing in volume. The mob was growing with every minute, and the great door was starting to yield, inch by inch, as the pressure of the gruesome army increased.

‘I’m not sure you have their full attention, Ma’am,’ said Tench. ‘I wonder if they quite understand the meaning of “abjure”?’

‘Abjure? Well it means… you know, it means…’ She tossed her raven hair. ‘Oh sod it.’ She turned back to the casement where the grunts and howls of the horde below drifted up.

‘Look you lot. Just bugger off! OK?’

The mob gazed stupidly up at her.

‘Uuuurgh.’

‘Go on now. Shoo!’

‘Urgh.’

‘That’s it. For I am Vampiryirya, Ac…’

The mob stirred, seethed, grumbled. Then they turned and started to lurch away, leaving bits of themselves behind as they went.

‘Tench.’

‘Ma’am?’

‘Go down and clear up would you?’

‘Ma’am.’

‘Dirty little oiks. Oh, and Tench?’

‘Ma’am?’

‘Don’t get any of it on your shoes. Hmmm?’

‘Ma’am.’

‘For I, Vampiryirya, have only just had my carpets shampooed.’

‘As you say Ma’am.’

Against punk

Punk, we are told, came about as a reaction against the bland, bloated corporate rock of the 1970’s. Punk represented a violent and healthy shrugging off of the politeness and dullness of mainstream music (Stevie Wonder/Earth Wind and Fire/Marvin Gaye…), it was a great rebellion, a rising up of the masses who were being, in some ill-defined sense, oppressed by this meretricious pap, and who were terribly angry about it. (Quite why they were buying it in such numbers has yet to be fully explained.)

So the answer, of course, was noisy, amateurish music with a lot of rage in it. Music that could be produced by anyone. You didn’t need anything to play punk. You didn’t require any fancy musical training or high-priced skills or anything, just some mates, a shed (or garage) and guitars and amps and a drum kit and mikes and amplifiers…

OK, you needed a fair bit of kit. As much, in fact, as the muso oppressors needed to make their polite (spit) well-polished (blaaaah) music with. And you needed to know how to play chords, no fewer than three, the same three that all those poncey, sell-out mainstream bands used actually. Plus of course if you were going to actually get anywhere there would have to be someone around with some rudimentary marketing skills. You would have to have some promotional machine so that the world could know just how angry you really were about being oppressed by Stevie Wonder and Earth Wind and Fire. For the gig you would need further things: a PA (public address system), and probably a van, or  at least large car, to carry all the stuff to the gig. You would have to produce some promotional flyers for the gig, which would mean having to deal with The Man at the photocopy shop. Someone to take money. If there was a bar, you would need staff to take money there as well. Still, it was as anarchic as anything (at least as far as the constraints of being a commercially operated venture would allow, of course).

Then, if you wanted to record just how angry you were about it all, you would have to operate within the constraints of a record producing entity of some kind. Even if this was your own label (financed by daddy’s money, of course), this would involve owning or hiring plant and machinery plus expertise. It would, undoubtedly, all start to oppress the bejesus out of you at some point, so you would retire straight away and go back to your day job at daddy’s car valeting company. Unless you made it big, in which case you would  give a great many interviews to a great many angry young journalists like Julie Burchill, and then wait until it was your turn to do the butter adverts. Meanwhile the enemy, in the form of corporate media whores like Prince, would be making Sign o’the Times

Maybe it all made sense at the time. Maybe you had to be there. Though possibly even that didn’t really help much. (I was, it didn’t.)