Monthly Archives: August 2014

AyeWrite! Festival: ‘The Familiar Detective’

familiar detectiveThe Familiar Detective was a one-off course that I composed and taught at the 2013 AyeWrite! Festival in Glasgow. It was based around the idea that each and every detective story relies more heavily on the accumulative knowledge learned from all detective stories up to that point in history than is common in most other genre fiction’s relations to the rest of its genre.

Readers of detective fiction are usually always “avid” readers of detective fiction, and each time they grasp a new mystery they are bringing to the task their vast knowledge of the genre. The author’s job, then, is to know his genre just a little bit better than the reader’s do, and to be able to thwart and reward their expectations in equal terms, so that the question becomes who knows the story better: The reader or the author?

Using MindNode on an overhead projector, the class and I constructed a fairly intricate flowchart of various detective figures from literature, pulps, cinema and television and then did our best to find the connecting threads between all of them; the “clichés” (for lack of a better word) that joined all of them.

We then had a discussion about what is the purpose or the sense of enjoyment in our reading of detective fiction and played around with ideas of subverting the stereotypical detective figure in order to come up with our own individual characters and settings.

At the podium

Using examples from modern detective fiction we took accepted tropes, such as alcoholism, rocky love life, physical dominance, and replaced them with some other less common tropes, such as schizophrenia (Romulus Ledbetter), a happy marriage (Guido Brunetti), a deformed physique (Matthew Shardlake), gender (V.I. Warshawski) or, my favourite thwart against the strong silent type, Tourettes (Lionel Essrog).

Looking back at the course now my main concern is that I had made simply way to much assisting material for a one-off, two hour class, and had hoped to attack a subject which scope far surmounted that of our timeframe. It was an extremely enjoyable and rewarding experience, though, particularly as it included tutoring people who were extremely well versed in the subject matter but had not spent much or any time in academic institutions, and so brought me right up against some of my unrealised attempts at being ‘academic’ simply to seem clever, at the cost of a good reading experience.

I hope to teach the class again at some point in the future with a tighter scope as this subject has always fascinated me immensely. Probably because I am not a writer of detective fiction but simply a fan of detective fiction.

Valve Journal: ‘A Swimmer’s Guide to the Front Crawl’

With it’s strange layout spanning over three pages (in less than 400 words) I am hugely appreciative and impressed that the good people at Valve Journal deemed to publish my prose-poem / lyrical-essay / whatever-I-don’t-know piece, A Swimmer’s Guide to the Front Crawl, in their third issue. The piece sprang from an exercise that gradually spiralled out of control and from there into it’s own thing entirely, and though I’ve always felt that it would work better performed than on paper I have yet to gather enough courage to perform it anywhere.

The publication of Valve 03 was doubly exciting for me as it was the first time that I was published on paper rather than online or in a web magazine, and so technically it was the first time my name had been in print, so to speak. Even though it should be obvious that web distributed magazine have the capability of reaching a far larger audience, there is something rewarding and intimate about holding a physical object that contains your work, deemed acceptable enough to be committed to paper by The Ones Doing The Selecting, and I fear I bathed perhaps a little too much in its glory as I told everyone down at the pub:

“They’re actually PRINTING this one!!!”

To which they asked, “Are they paying you?”

To which I said:

“No.”

And walked off to get another drink.

From Glasgow to Saturn: ‘Hammond’ & ‘The Drunk’

During my time at Glasgow University I was lucky enough that From Glasgow to Saturn, the Glasgow University creative writing magazine, was willing to publish two of my stories, The Drunk in issue 28 and Hammond in issue 30. Both are extremely dear to me (as is the magazine) as this was the first time I ever got anything published anywhere. Both are probably an example of me trying to find my own voice by borrowing from the voices of a multitude of authors that I admire. Both include a murder, as many first stories do. Killing someone is just such a brilliant way of fooling the reader into thinking that what happens in the story actually matters. Without a murder these stories would just be a series of events dictated in the first person. It took me a while to build up the courage to see if I could make readers care about the characters without killing (or at least threatening to kill) at least one of them. Some days I still have my doubts.

Tentacles and Ventricles, a Maritime Anthology: ‘Mr. Testo Punishes the Ocean’

tentacles and ventriclesDuring my MA at Glasgow University I submitted a story to my friend A.R. Kahler’s anthology Tentacles and Ventricles, along with a few of the other writer’s in our group. The collection sprung from a pub conversation where Alex came up with the title, and decided it was too good not to be used for something. My own story, Mr. Testo Punishes the Ocean, was an interesting experience for me, though I feel looking back at it that I was perhaps trying too hard borrow a style that wasn’t necessarily mine, and some of the depictions of the village and the children I might change now, while almost all of the names of the characters make me cringe when I read them now. It feels good to know that I can’t do so, because the story is already out there somewhere. That’s the beauty of getting stuff published.