Sunday, 27 May 2012

Hold time

A few things of interest (to me) from the past year and a bit:
That's all - just wanted to keep this vaguely up to date in case I get round to doing a little more with it at some point.

Oh, and I finished my MA and was given a prize by the lovely folks at Mulcahy Conway Associates. This was ridiculously cheering.

Saturday, 26 February 2011


As well as scribbling away I'm currently trying to make an anthology of splendid stuff by people on my MA course. I think this counts as self-self-publishing, or something: the whole production process is happening in-house. And by 'house', I mean 'room in university tower block where I have a laptop with InDesign on it'. With any luck by early June you'll be able to buy copies of The Manchester Anthology.

To support this I'm blogging about the entire publishing process.

Oh, and I've joined Twitter. I've no idea why. Maybe it's because it's my birthday today so I want to do something that makes me feel down with the kids again. Anyway: AlecIJohnson is my username, and I'm going to attempt some kind of link thing.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010


Oh 'eck, I've been neglecting this blog. It was terrifically exciting at first, but now the novelty has worn off I'm starting to lose interest. A bit like parenting, then. Is there an internet social services?

The real reason is that this was something I did when I was going to work every day, as a way to make myself write things more often. Now that writing is my main pursuit, I find it harder to write as a hobby. There's still lots I want to scribble about, and lots I will eventually, gradually, put up here, but for now it's on a go-slow, possibly as some kind of industrial action against my novel. Which is doing very nicely, thanks for asking. It still has jokes and burglaries and Cyprus and Yorkshire and twisty bits of plot and it's still driving me entirely insane.

So no posts about Martin Amis (his reading list of rubbish first novels by great authors; his father's impressions; Saul Bellow's jacket; shorter than you'd expect), attempting to write proper literature essays again (Flaubert, Borges, long words made up by mad Frenchmen), hearing proper poets (why Seamus Heaney makes hippies faint) or fiction workshops (adverbs are evil, America rocks, and self-confidence is dead). 

Not yet, anyway.

Saturday, 11 December 2010


Things said to me by ex-girlfriends and in rejection letters from literary journals

Dear Alec,

I’m sorry.

You're not quite what I'm looking for right now, but please continue trying.

You’re slightly too sentimental for my tastes, and less engaging than I had anticipated, though quite charming.

Unfortunately you lack pace in the middle, and you’re longer than I usually like.

I receive several hundred submissions a month so unfortunately cannot provide individual feedback.

I don't think you're taking this thing seriously.

Yours sincerely.

Things said to me by ex-girlfriends and in rejection letters from literary journals which, for legal reasons, were left out of my previous poem

Dear Alec,

Please stop hanging around outside my office.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

House of Hair

First published in issue 379 of Cat World (October 2009). In case you're wondering, yes, it is possible for shamelessly rude, incompetent people to make a cuddly magazine for people who want pictures of cats being loveable but don't have an internet connection. They still owe me either full payment (I have part of it now) or an explanation of what the devil they think they're playing at.

But here's the article, anyway.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Greeks Bearing Gifts

Here's the current opening from Greeks Bearing Gifts, the novel I'm working on at the moment. I'm basically thinking of it as Howard Jacobson for gingers. More specifically, it's a combination of three illustrious genres:
  • Ethnic minority kid grows up in crap town
  • Narrator has a difficult relationship with father
  • Gentlemanly thievery
So here's that extract. If it looks familiar that's because it's developed from a rushed short story I wrote a while ago.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Facts and fiction

Wanted to post something, since it's been a while. I've been reading a bit, getting back into fencing, learning where to get a cheap pint, and have actually written an essay, for the first time in four years. But mostly I've been trying to write, in this case a comedy about being half Scottish and half Greek-Cypriot, and growing up in Yorkshire. And then becoming a burglar. Extract possibly turning up in the student paper next week, incidentally...

This, believe it or not, involves actual history: things that happened before I even considered becoming a foetus. And that, the horror the horror, means research. Obviously this is mostly a combination of Google and Wikipedia, but occasionally, in between making up lies, scripting bad jokes and inventing geography, it has involved creeping into the bit of the library normally reserved for people doing real subjects, and looking up facts and stuff. 

However, when you're trying to write about the Cyprus Problem (what Britain calls it when it wants to make it sound like Cyprus's own fault) or the Cyprus Dispute (what Britain calls it when it wants several thousand years of disgruntlement, unease and intermittent killing to sound like two neighbours squabbling over a leylandii), you don't get facts. Just stuff. 

This is because when you get to the library you find that most of the books about Cyprus are ridiculous rants so partisan they make Sarah Palin look rational. My particular favourite cover:

Ways to make it clear that your book will be completely worthless to anyone attempting to get a neutral perspective on a conflict:
  • Call your book 'Bloody truth'. The lack of definite article helpfully and accurately makes this sound like ''This bloody truth thing, it's always getting in the way of my attempts to write propaganda'. 
  • Also put your title in Greek, to make it clear which side of the Greek/Turkish divide you're on. 
  • In case the Greek lettering didn't give it away, draw the Turkish-occupied area of Cyprus as if it's a tide of dripping blood. Because that's always classy. 
Luckily, most readers of this section of the library aren't bothered about disinterested research, because they already know everything that happened in precise detail. They're only in the library to correct the errors in existing books on the subject. So from another book, RR Denktash's The Cyprus Triangle, which takes the Turkish side, you get pages that look like this:

Not sure how much of this will be visible, but some of the crossed-out graffiti says that there's a lie on almost every page of the book. Luckily for me, at least three people have had an argument about almost every page of the book, and have detailed their disputes in the marginalia. This front page isn't exceptional: it's typical. Although I'm quite impressed by the way someone's actually annotated the author's name. 

Yes, Christopher Hitchens has written an apparently reasonably decent book about all this (it's partially accepted by both sides since it mostly blames Britain), but some bugger had nabbed it from the library already, without taking it out on their card, so I was left with the nutters, and a faintly apologetic volume by a British diplomat whose main thesis seemed to be 'it was like that when I got there'. 

Fortunately, once I'd had enough of all these serious secondary sources, I turned to advice leaflets for British servicemen stationed on the island:

Ah, the 1960s. How sad they're gone. Well, sad as long as you're a rich straight white male, anyway. 

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

A tale from New York

Just over a year ago I visited New York, and one evening a strange thing happened. Well, quite a few strange things happened on various evenings, but this one seemed worth writing down. Typed it up a while ago, but realised this morning that I'd never put it up here. 


In September last year I was visiting New York, staying with friends in the Bronx, not far from the Fordham Road subway stop. One night I went to visit another friend elsewhere in the city, and we spent a pleasant evening doing the kind of things old friends do when they are briefly on the same continent and not sure when they'll next see each other: we ate at a restaurant with no cutlery, we meandered between bars, we sauntered along boulevards and avenues in search of things that would make me gawp. Life was good. New York is a bright city even in the darkness.