I was contending Literary Death Match LDM100:London for Year Zero Writers (and eight cuts gallery press), so it’s not to rude of me to say WE WON!!! It would also be fair to say you’d never have known that’s what I was doing – whilst each of the other contenders got a lengthy introduction about their books and the establishment they were repping from hosts Nicki Le Masurier and Suzanne Azzopardi, I got the less than fully elaborative “now Dan Holloway.”
It was a particularly sweet victory as we clearly weren’t meant to win. One of the things we’ve felt for a long time at Year Zero and eight cuts gallery is that “high literature”, once, in the dim distant days of Andrew Gallix’s basement, a thing to be reclaimed for the sake of the words themselves, was now the property (to Gallix’s eternal disgruntlement I’m sure) of a trendster scene that was a little more about the party than the prose, about being cool than being great, about who you know not what you write. Not an aggressive, or a particularly nasty appropriation, but a very dangerous one – because its perpetrators are cool, and as hipsters they seem a little underground – once upon a time they were, of course, but now founding brutalist Ben Myers has a contract with Picador; half the 3:am contributors write for the Guardian. And that’s dangerous because this scene appears for all the world to be right at the cutting edge. And it’s not (if you want real subversive, try Peirene Press, who look for all the world like another mainstream publisher, and quietly go about the business of publishing edgy novellas. In translation). And when the public scratch the surface and see that it’s, er, surface, they will give up on literature itself.
So was there evidence of scenesterdom? Well, yes, I’m afraid there was. It wasn’t overt or nasty. Everyone was genuinely lovely. And to give Suzanne and co-organiser and LDM founder Todd Zuniga their due, they said yes to my incessant pleas to read. They also handed out 25 copies of Gupter Puncher in the intermission. But no introduction? And when I arrived, with Marc and Jenn – who was in town from New York for one day and with whom I’d have appreciated a natter – were told in no uncertain terms not to sit in the reserved seats , whilst supporters of two of the other writers, along with one of the judges’ boyfriends sprawled around them to the extent that there was no room for me to perch the full magnitude of my behind on the bench I’d been told several times to plonk myself on and stop wandering off. None of it conscious, I’m sure, but that’s the thing with scenes – the cliquishness isn’t conscious. This is one of the reasons I got really upset by some episodes in Year Zero’s history. For anyone who really wants to promote creativity, cliquishness is public enemy number one. There’s a very big difference between saying you have a niche, that you have a benchmark of brilliance, and having your door closed. At eight cuts gallery we will turn down a lot of stuff – most stuff we’re sent – but our door is always open. Anyone can resubmit, anyone can e-mail me and get an answer as quickly (or, er, as slowly) as anyone else. Anyone can ask to speak at our live nights and will be treated the same as anyone else who’s there. Everyone’s ideas are worth equal ear space. We have a silly-narrow niche, but an open door.
In fact, the win seemed to be engineered single-handed by the unsinkable, irrepressible, utterly fabulous Molly Parkin, whose “what the fuck do I care” attitude is as strong at the age of 78 as it was in her 60s heyday, her 70s heyday, her 80s heyday, er, you get my point. The woman is a legend, and utterly above petty politics.
The set up of the evening is simple – four writers are paired off, and you read for 7 minutes “against” the person you’re paired with. The two “winners” then go forward to some zany challenge that has nothing to do with literature (we played a version of the card game “pairs”, only with authors’ faces in place of playing cards. As a card sharp in a former life, and a non-drinker in this one, that could have been worse). I was paired against the really rather lovely (I also very much liked the self-deprecating, quiet, clearly very talented Karl Webster who lost the first pairing) Niven Govinden. He read a really rather affecting piece called The Writer’s Wife. I read The Last Fluffer in La La Land – in the form you see at the bottom of this post – slightly different and, I think, better than the version on this site (the ending of which just doesn’t work live).
The pair-offs are “judged” according to literary merit, performance, and “intangibles”. Judging literary merit was Emma Young, an old acquaintance of Year Zero, on performance was Hatty Ashdown, a comedian and Channle 4 regular (I think, er, my C4 comedy stretches to Father Ted and Frasier, with maybe Caroline in the City, Dressing For Breakfast, er, you get my point) whilst the imperious Parkin was on imponderables (so much better a word than intangibles). Judges had been told to be nice to everyone, and form what I’d heard I was expecting a few daft “you’re all lovely”s. That’s not how it went. Ashdown spent most of her time saying “I’m not trying to criticsie” (in which case, she’s just a natural), whilst a less apologetic Parkin, after telling two competitors she didn’t like their characters, and feigning ignorance on the distinction betwen narrator and author, referred to one contender as “that little cunt”.
So when it was my turn (I was on last) I figured I had nothing to lose. So I picked up the mic (no one else did this. wtf?) and went for it, introducing the story by telling how I’d e-mailed Cody the collection, and she’d e-mailed me straight back the picture as her reaction to the book (cue laughs as I showed them the breathtaking cover shot); how two weeks later she’d e-mailed to say she’d just tried to kill herself (cue bum-shifting); how six weeks after that we’d sat in a coffee shop in High St Ken and she’d told me to keep the cover; how (life:) razorblades included was a book not about death but life.
To summarise the judges – Emma “you did realise you were going to be reading to an all-woman panel?” “I don’t think I can look you in the eye after that” “when I first reviewed your work I said you said tits a lot. Tonight you also said tits a lot”. Hatty “that’s, er, niche, but I don’t think it’s my niche.” And Parkin “I rather liked the coming on the tits. I’ve had a lot of men come on my tits in my life and I always liked it. I also liked the asshole-massaging.” She then went on to say something about beautiful-descriptions-but-then-we-get-to-the-end and I though here comes the diatribe. Instead she quoted the line “the smell of disinfectant and too much echo”, said some lovely things about it and told me I was “a very talented writer” (blimey!). Visibly shaken, Hatty and Emma clearly had no choice (or the choice being a prod with Parkin’s hatpin) but declare me winner “in the spirit of performance and the ethos of this show” as Hatty put it (rather than your potty-mouth, in other words). The rest, as they say, is history.
It was actually rather enjoyable – and in Karl and Niven I got to meet two genuinely lovely guys, whilst meeting Molly, whom I’ve known about since I was tall enough to get to the interesting looking titles on my dad’s bookshelf, will stay with me till the CJD catches up. But what was best? Two things. First, and, OK, a little bit of politics, as a self-published writer up against some of today’s better-thought-of new writers all with pukka contracts it felt bloody good to surprise a few people with the fact that self-published writing needn’t be shit, and that indie doesn’t mean being part of an obscure bit of the mainstream – it can mean real, unapologetic DIY. Second, it was great to meet some super online friends – Marc, waving the Year Zero flag furiously, Rob Sherman, author of the awesome Valve Works (a fabtastic zine of which he swapped me for an issue 2 Gupter), the super Lisa Scullard, author of Death and the City and looking cool as fuck in a Disturbia t-shirt and Living Dead Souls hoodie, who took these three pics, and a stack more, my two favourite Lizzes from twitter, whose presence was an unexpected treat, but top moment has to go, all the way from New York City, to the one and only Jenn, who, jumping up to claim one of the Picador giveaways promptly
swapped it for a copy of (Back)stabbed in Brooklyn. So come speech time (see above) there was only one person I could call up to the platform. Being Jenn, caught up in the theme of Last Fluffer, she had to have the last word as I shouted her to come and “show us your tats” and point bemusedly at her chest :p (you can see a fab close up of her left tat in the foreground of the below)
Left to right – back row, hosts Nicki Le Masurier and Suzanne Azzopardi; Hatty Chamberlain, Bruno Vincent. Fron row, Niven Govinden, Karl Webster, me, Emma Young.
So, would I do it again? Hell, yes. It’s great fun, and great publicity, and I met some lovely people. It’s also a great opportunity to show people on the inside of the publishing world that not everything on the DIY outside is crap – and with the delete button so easy to use, there are very few of these. Most of all, it’s a way of showing the public that the edge isn’t where they’re told it is. Like we say on our homepage:
“eight cuts is a doorway to a world you heard is there.
a world intimated at in blog comments and tweets
a world alluded to in magazines
a world a shadow of a shadow of which is hinted at in newspaper and magazine articles
a world you’ve probably been told is meaningless, scary, junked-up, trashy, bloated, angry, wannabe
we are rats
we live in our own space, build our own communities, societies, foundation myths and bodies of work.”
We’re happy to emerge from time to time into that other world and show people a glimpse of what we do. Just don’t expect us to stay there with you.
The Last Fluffer in La La Land
Pills and porn have always gone together like a pair of plastics in a double D cup, but these days it’s not dolls and dexies they dish out. The pills are small and blue and purely functional. It should be working by now but it’s not. It never does.
Asia Carrera’s sitting at a desk that’s all chipboard and hollow and works just enough that she can pull a drawer half open and take out a Rabbit. I’m meant to walk in on her and she makes to slam it back in horror and we all know it’s not her libido that changes her mind, it’s that if she slams too hard the whole thing’ll fall to pieces.
“I need a piss,” I say.
“No fucking way,” says Greg. “We’re out of here in an hour.”
“He’s gonna clean off, yeah?” says Asia and she looks like she’s about to bring a fist down on the desk and fuck the schedule worse than soaping a guy’s dick.
Greg goes over and massages her traps and says, “He’s not going anywhere, sweetie.” He looks at me and his eyes say get the fuck on with it, shit for brains.
“Look,” I say, flicking my eyes and trying to be shifty. I move in and bend to his ear. “I really need to do some coke, man.”
Greg takes a hand off Asia, puts it on me and smile and says, “Be quick already.”
I head out the studio down the bare concrete floor, past the toilet, and turn the handle of the producer’s assistant’s door. I can feel something already. I wonder sometimes if it’s the pill kicking in after all but I’m never going to take the chance finding out.
Kelly looks fan-fucking-tastic like she always does with her grey suit stretched over fake tits that hang slightly too high on her chest and black hair held in place with a bit much spray. If she tried to wrap it round my cock I wonder if it’d cut into my skin. The thought makes me start to throb and twitch.
“So I wrote the last two chapters,” she says, undoing my belt, pulling my pants to the floor, and sliding my boxers down.
“You figured out an ending at last.”
“I told you about that already.”
“Yeah,” I say. “The story ends before the book begins.”
“That’s right. The rest is just shooting the shit till someone remembers they forgot to turn off the lights.”
She cups my balls in the palm of her left hand and puts the fingers of the right in her mouth, takes them out and squeezes gently on my shaft.
“So what happens to Elle?” I ask, one hundred percent hard by now as she pulls my foreskin back and begins to inscribe semi-circles on my glans with her wet fingers.
“Nothing happens. One day she doesn’t go into work, and the next day she packs her things and goes back to her parents.”
“You’re leaving?” I feel the ligaments slacken slightly. She moves her left hand under my balls, forms a fist, sticks out her middle finger, and begins massaging my asshole.
She’s writing this novel called The Last Fluffer in La-La Land and it’s 100% autobiographical, Kelly was a studio fluffer through two boob jobs and three breakdowns and in and out of rehab and she was the only one who ever got me hard the moment her skin and her nails touched me feather light, and then Viagra came along and Greg told her to fuck off and I said fuck man, your PA’s just fucked off to Portland with a meth head, why not let her do that? and Greg said Suzy’s fucked off to Portland? and I said Suzy’s just had her fifth kid, Madeleine’s fucked off to Portland and Greg said how the fuck do you know that, are you the father? and I said no I just know what the fuck’s happening and Greg said I guess you’re right, I need a PA, and so here she is.
“Asia’s six years older than me,” Kelly says, like it answers the question.
She runs her tongue up the underside of my cock. I put my hand on the top of her head and pull her away. Her hair’s softer than it looks.
“So what do her parents say?”
“Her parents take one look at her false tits and slam the door.” I can see all the way to the bottom of her cleavage. Her skin’s wrinkled and pinched from sun and surgery, and it makes me so hard my knees begin to give.
“So what does she do then?”
“Fuck should I know?” she says. “That’s where I stopped writing.”
I shake my head and exhale loudly and say “What kind of ending’s that? Shit needs sorting. Something good happens, something bad happens but fuck it, something has to happen.”
She looks up at me. Her eyes are as black as the lenses of my Ray-bans. I wonder how much coke she’s done and remember to do a couple of lines before I leave. “That’s not how it works,” she says. “Shit never ends with shit. It always fades to nothing. You can try and hang on or you can lie down and let it happen but in the end it’s just fucking entropy.” She closes her eyes and impales her face on my cock and I hear her gag and have to pull her off me before I shoot.
“Please,” she says, so quiet I can hardly hear.
I put my clothes back on, do two lines, and head back to the studio still throbbing. There’s a sound in my ears as I leave. I can’t tell if it’s the noise of sobbing coming from the office or just a faint ringing from the coke.
Greg looks at me. I wipe my nose and he calls action. Asia pretends to take a call on a phone that’s not even got a lead. She feigns anger, then giggles and opens the desk drawer and takes out the Rabbit, looks at it like it’s a new flavour sandwich filling at the deli, and sticks it in her cunt and squealsalthough the only thing making her wet is lube. I go on set and ten takes and thirty minutes later I come on her tits and Greg calls wrap.
I pick up the suit, take it off set, and dump it, putting on my sweats and T-shirt. I take some time to sit and listen to some Green Day and enjoy the fact I’m wearing non-scratch clothing again.
It’s only half an hour till I leave but the building has an empty feel already, the smell of disinfectant and too much echo. No after-filming party, no chat, no drink-fuelled giggles and screams. Everyone’s gone home or at the editing suite or speaking to distributors and sales managers in sedans and suits.
I know she’ll be last to leave, so I stop by Kelly’s office, turn the handle and go in.
She looks ridiculous, sprawled out on the floor like she’s been waiting for me, with her top half naked and those ludicrous tits pointing straight at the ceiling. I try to stifle a laugh so I don’t hurt her feelings, and then I realise she might look dumb but the site of her like that has made me hard, and it’s only after that I see the Vicodin bottles and notice her inflated chest isn’t moving.
I can’t move, and for what must be minutes here we are like some cartoon, her pneumatic and half naked and dead and me mouth open in shock with eight inches of wood bursting against my sweatpants.
“Stupid bitch,” I say at last, and then I shout it and then I scream it and the lot echoes back at me, and I want to kick her, the dumb fuck. I want to kick her so hard her fucking silicones pop, and I stand over her with my feet touching her skin and I can see her stomach begin to shine like she’s sweating in the lights, only she’s not sweating, it’s just my tears making random lines through the fine hairs and tanned-out scars. I pull down my sweatpants and boxers, and keep my eyes open and mutter “no” again and again under my breath and watch white drops spatter her tits like a Jackson Pollock, and I pull my clothes back on and leave the office and I don’t hear shit in my ears, not even echoes.
A sheet of quarto by the exit screams at me “Last one out turn off the fucking lights”. I stop for a moment, give it the finger, wipe off the last drops of come so the print streaks on the paper, and the lights stay on.