Pattern recognition

Author, poet and photographer Matthew Smith writes about the art of the collection or series – and making smaller works of art into something greater than the sum of their parts. 

Untitled – Haven 2018

“The pattern is the key to crystallising the whole, and to sparking real progress in the first place”. Photography by Matthew Smith

In an old TV interview, Hayao Miyazaki described dreaming up the part towards the end of Spirited Away, in which the train moves out over a still sea which mirrors the sky. The water seemed to Miyazaki in retrospect to resonate with other images of water in the story, even though he hadn’t been considering them at the time. When Chihiro becomes stuck in the town of ghosts at the start, water blocks her exit. In the train scene, it symbolises the calmness and clarity of her soul. Throughout the film, we can associate water with the movement of one’s inner life. A film writer and director has a special role to perform when constructing a narrative: they have to be able to build a structure that will be revealed within the unfolding of time for the viewer, but that structure will need to make thematic sense outside of the constraints of linear thinking. Crucially, Miyazaki believed he had received help from a part of himself which, as an artist, he had grown to rely on: he credited his deeper subconscious, or unconscious mind, with an ability to see the bigger picture, freeing up his thinking brain to tell the story. In this way, he was always able to surprise himself.

When an artist works in a field that requires a series or a collection of smaller works to be compiled, the same logic must apply. It is something that artists often struggle with, if the overarching narrative line of a novel or a film is absent. We read countless stories about bands arguing over the track listing of albums that we consider to be masterpieces, which we as listeners can’t imagine playing out differently. Radiohead and Pavement seem to be prime examples. Nigel Godrich, long-time Radiohead producer, arguably tipped Pavement over the edge when he condemned them for not going ‘all the way’ on their final album, which he took the helm for: he wanted them to start ‘Terror Twilight’ with a long and dense song similar to the way ‘Paranoid Android’ helped kick off Ok Computer. The band felt this was forced and wanted to keep things accessible. The way songs on an album should follow one after the other is highly charged because the hidden narrative a decision-maker proposes is necessarily more subjective and particular to their tastes, with fewer accepted ‘rules’ they can point to in order to back up their preferences. Years after their split, Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus decided Godrich was “right, probably.”

Untitled – Winter Milk 2019

‘Winter Milk’. Photography by Matthew Smith

In the literary world, poets have this challenge, although the problem may seem more complex. Where does a poet start when they are putting a collection together? They may have over fifty pages’ worth of material as a list of separate files on their computer, alphabetically ordered. They may be approaching twenty or thirty pages. The latter amount is a good time to start structuring. First, the poet will be excited and inspired to sense that a bigger picture is starting to form. This can provide motivation to keep powering on with the work. Secondly, the growing organism of a collection can start to inspire new poems by demonstrating which images, emblems and recurring ideas are starting to form patterns, and which areas of these patterns could benefit from deeper investigation. You may quite naturally choose a poem which contains the idea of walking across a threshold to open your collection. You may realise that this idea was more important than you had previously given it credit for. You may then see that there are actually a few poems which contain thresholds in your folder, not all of them obvious points of crossing over, for example, one might detail someone leaving the limits of a field to step onto the wilder grasses of a moor. You may decide that the threshold poems are going to be aligned towards the start of your work. An empty space reveals itself: the climax of the collection, the final stretch, may need to investigate the darkness that seems to lie beyond the threshold. Or perhaps it may take the reader through this darkness and out the other side. Perhaps new kinds of threshold are needed at different stages of the larger work. Thresholds may become a less prominent strain of imagery, or they may become a guiding through-line. They may inspire the title of the work, become the guiding star of the collection. Suddenly the logic we are applying is not so foreign to that of the novelist or the director of films.

The fine art photographers whose work is most highly prized, tend to be masters of sequencing when it comes to putting series of photographs together. In the world of Japanese photography, the book often takes precedence over the gallery show as the idealised way of appreciating a photographer’s work. The format, of course, lends itself to the narrative virtuoso. Rinko Kawauchi has found a devoted following with works like Illuminance, which offers constant variety in terms of colour, perspective, the personal, the impersonal, the moods that we are drawn into. However, underpinning this ever-changing stream of visual sensations are constantly repeating symbols and structures: the flower, the beam of light, some oft-overlooked members of the animal kingdom. Throughout we find unity emblematised by the circles she captures, in a weightless bubble blown by a schoolgirl, in concentric ripples on water, in graffiti on a wall. The patterns at work reveal themselves to the dedicated onlooker, suggesting a hidden narrative in the world around us which is atemporal and not bound by space.

Untitled – Chora

‘Chora’. Photography by Matthew Smith.

Masao Yamamoto is another master of the photo series. He takes photographs in colour and in black-and-white, often printing them at a very small scale, keeping them in his pockets and in his bags as he goes about his life. He feels these prints take on something more of him, and gain a history of their own through wear-and-tear. But what is truly inspiring is the way these micro-prints may be presented for sale as one work of art in a beautiful case, as though they had been found as a jumbled set in someone’s abandoned attic. Yamamoto said in an interview in the Telegraph in 2006: “I like the idea that photographs are kept and looked at with affection. That is what gives them meaning.” You can find one such set of 37 silver gelatin prints with their lacquer box on display in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London today. The discoverer of the box begins to work their way through the prints, soon beginning to understand that a greater work of art is unfolding in front of their eyes, although responsibility for the final sequencing of that work will fall to them. This is narrative construction as collaboration, and we find it of course in the history of many artistic genres: Nabokov’s Pale Fire begs to be read in a non-linear fashion. That does not mean that narrative is absent.

After Krzysztof Kiéslowski released The Double Life of Veronique in Poland in 1991, he claimed he gave each cinema showing it a slightly different edit of the film. Coffee shop discussions of the seminal work, which might normally air out each individual’s subjective version of a film, took place with an unexpected narrative twist: the viewers had all seen a slightly different film. Although one version was then put forward as authoritative, for a time the film had become a story that was singularly expansive, that stretched beyond each individual’s hopes of narrowing it down to something they could say they had ‘understood’.

Untitled – Chora.

‘Chora’. Photography by Matthew Smith.

Masao Yamamoto will often exhibit his works in a unique way when he takes them into a gallery space. By clustering them together, in a vast nebulous mass that stretches out past the limits of vision when the visitor moves in for close inspection, he points to the limits of image-sequencing and of the thread of the story in the work which is a collection of smaller works of art. At the same time he reinforces its necessity and its magnetism. Whether your story is chronological, or bound by images and ideas alone, the pattern is the key to crystallising the whole, and to sparking real progress in the first place.

About the author of this article

Matthew Smith NITRB

Matthew Smith is an author, poet, photographer and publisher. His first novel is The Waking, and his first poetry collection is Sea of the Edge. His photography, meanwhile, has been included in group shows with the New York Centre for Photographic Arts at Art Santa Fe 2019, at Black Box Gallery in Portland and at the Museo di Casa Giorgione in Castelfranco. His first solo exhibition will be at the Hagi Art in Tokyo in January-February 2020. You can follow him on Twitter @msmith_wundor.

Advertisements

Creatives in profile: interview with Joseph Alexander

D-AFHYlU0AEyVVh.png

Joseph Alexander – a writer of some mystery – assures us that a secretive reading group can be found through clues in this image…happy deciphering, comrades!

Joseph Alexander is a writer from a mixed Romani / white working class background. He went to Oxford for grad school and PhD, where he also taught for about 5 years. At Oxford, he had a one-sided feud with Richard Dawkins for stealing his vegetarian lunch, until they sat next to each other at dinner and talked it over. He has also held a visiting fellowship at Harvard, feud-free.

Joseph writes literary fiction and essays. He lives with his wife and labrador and is currently working on a novel. The first few chapters of his novel-in-progress are available for free at: https://www.wattpad.com/story/185509944-vz

Nothing in the Rulebook caught up with Joseph in the latest instalment of our ‘Creatives in profile’ interview series.

INTERVIEWER

Tell us about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle

ALEXANDER

I can’t tell you where I live or too much about my lifestyle for reasons that are not as interesting as this will no doubt make it seem. Basically, I only have like 5 fans but they are very enthusiastic.

I grew up in a kind of halfway Romani/white working class culture. We got into fights a lot as children, everyone seemed to want to beat us up for some reason. I just thought that’s what it’s like to be a boy. I have a crack in my skull and all kinds of scars and it’s only my now-wife who pointed out that maybe even the ‘normal part’ of my childhood wasn’t all that normal. When you grow up with prejudice, you don’t even realise that you’re treated differently. And hiding your background becomes this subconscious thing that you’ve just been Pavloved into doing over the years, and your level of skill in will determine your fate to a large extent. It’s only now that I’ve started telling people.

I showed musical promise early, so I semi-voluntarily applied and got in a hard-ass music academy where we did like 20h of music a week and crammed every other subject into the remaining time. But to put a long story short, there was a series of real tragedies that kind of made my life soundtrack go permanently quiet when I was in my teens. Music has a kind of trapeze artist joy that I just couldn’t get back after everything, so I eventually stopped. Got into maths pretty seriously for a few years, even came second in my school maths-competition, but it was too far down the other extreme – it has real beauty that increases the deeper you go, but also a kind of conceptual coldness. So I eventually found something in between.

Went to Oxford for this famously tough graduate programme, went on to do a PhD (or DPhil as they call it to feel special) and taught there for about five years. I also had this weird semi-formal fellowship thing at Harvard that they give either to people who have promising early careers or are in exile from a successful career elsewhere. I’m not sure how that happened. I’m now part of their weird Alluminati network that has, like, Tony Blair and a bunch of others, and everyone posts in a private network about how they “found their passion” or “dreamt of changing the world”. I shit you not.

So that’s probably enough for now, though I didn’t even tell you about the weird super-Christian religious sect my mum’s family was a part of, or the time I was a platoon leader, or the time I got shot. Next time.

INTERVIEWER

Is writing your first love, or do you have another passion?

ALEXANDER

Writing is my first love, it’s just that I had to sort of come out of the writing closet. Like a lot of writers, you experiment with stuff in your early life and keep some plan Bs open and maybe the writing works out, maybe it doesn’t. But fiction writing is something I’ve done since I was a child (in my first ever report card my teacher even says she likes my “imaginative little stories”, god knows what she saw), but in my culture of origin it’s not, I guess, socially acceptable for a man to tell stories. I think a lot of working class people can relate. You’re supposed to be hard, and to know your way around an arm bar, and if you just want to be by yourself with a notebook people laugh at you. And someone always bloody found the stories I’d written, and read them out loud to people, so I got into the habit of critiquing my work early and burning or burying (literally, so it can’t be found) the stuff I didn’t like. I basically wrote because I had to, not because I wanted to be a fancy writer. It’s more that I couldn’t make it go away.

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

ALEXANDER

Oh man. I should say right off the bat that I’m foundationally suspicious of hero worship. Like, everything about it is absolutely, just axiomatically wrong.

Writing-wise, there are a few people whose stuff just shimmers off the page and makes you fall in love with the craft again. Like George Saunders, Kurt Vonnegut, Alice Munro, Thomas Pynchon, some of David Foster Wallace. Don DeLillo’s stuff is pretty inspiring too, on a line-by-line level, although I always feel like I didn’t get the whole book when I finish it.

Life-wise, it tends to be people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Greta Thunberg. These are people who saw that there is a lot that’s wrong with this world, and their natural reaction wasn’t “oh shit, better go hunker down somewhere and pray it doesn’t concern me”. It’s easy to think now that they were destined to become the icons that they are becoming, but it must have just been absolutely hopeless when AOC was sitting in her tiny overpriced NYC apartment and going to her bartending job while campaigning, or when Greta Thunberg first decided “that’s it, I’ve had enough of this shit, I’m going on strike.” The things both could do were so tiny and pointless (like who actually cares if some 15-year-old doesn’t show up at school one day, it’s hardly unusual, or if some bartender runs in a primary), but they did them anyway. They both knew they were basically insignificant little nobodies, and it’s extremely unlikely they’ll make any difference. But someone has to do something, so they did. That does inspire me. Normal, insignificant nobodies have tremendous resources when they really decide to do something.

INTERVIEWER

Your story, ‘VZ’, is set in the near future, at a point in time after a near cataclysmic event. How likely is it, do you think, that mankind is facing some form of catastrophe?

ALEXANDER

The ‘cataclysmic event’ in VZ is a bit funny, and kind of hard to talk about without spoiling it. But I’ll just say it may not be quite the catastrophe that it’s made to seem, at least not for everyone, and it may have actually happened and nobody noticed. Or maybe the things people did to stop it from happening were a far greater catastrophe. So it’s not a “dystopian novel” in that sense, you’re meant to doubt whether anything bad actually even happened.

The point of this, or one of them, is that all kinds of catastrophes happen all the time, and we just pretend like they never happened as long as they fit within the parameters of our preconceptions. Syria was obviously not perfect, but had a lot of well-educated people who were basically liberal individualists (I mean ‘liberal’ here in the classical sense, not whatever Fox News means by it) and genuine hope for a well-functioning participatory society. Now it’s a desperate hellhole that superpowers use to test their weapons on, just to show the other side they’ve got them, and could well be the place the apocalypse begins at. Turkey was edging closer to a full-on liberal democracy, until it became like Erdogan’s version of Gilead that is just a fertility shortage away from real Atwood territory. We’re back on the path of nuclear proliferation, climate change policy is apparently just everyone waiting for everyone else to do something. And these last two could destroy human civilisation as we know it, possibly completely.

I think humankind has faced (and is currently facing) all kinds of catastrophes, but we go on and pretend like they basically never happened and that they’re completely normal events. If people get upset at the effects of these events, someone comes along and directs that anger towards immigrants and poor people. So catastrophes are apparently fine, as long as they are ones that we kind of knew to expect. It’s the unexpected events that aren’t really all that significant, if you think about it, that we label ‘catastrophes’, like Trump winning the election or Brexit. Both are just continuations of pretty predictable trends and not even close to being on the same scale of event as, say, climate change or the poverty crisis in the UK and US, but we’re losing our shit over Trump and Brexit while thinking of maybe switching to a hybrid car and giving £5 to Oxfam once.

So the ‘cataclysmic event’ in VZ is about this kind of mass hypnosis, and in that respect it’s meant to be a reflection on the actual state of affairs.

INTERVIEWER

In the story, we often encounter moments where our protagonist/narrator almost looks to psychoanalyse themselves as well as other members of society he encounters. How closely do the narrator’s thoughts mirror your own, and why do you think human beings behave in the (myriad) strange ways that we do?

ALEXANDER

From a certain angle, the book is about empathy and failures thereof. The central-stage characters in the book are kind of locked in their own heads and trying desperately to get out, connect with and understand other people. But we have really limited ways of conveying what is in our heads to the heads of others, and so to that extent I am like the characters. Being a writer, I agonise over which words to choose, and what other tools to use to open up commlinks between my head and the reader’s head. It’s a constant struggle to close this distance between what I write and what I want the reader to see or feel.

I think this is a need that everyone has, and from one angle the book is about that need and the crazy things it can get people to do. Some characters in the book do it through psychoanalysing themselves and others for similarities, some do it through exerting control over other people (i.e. making other people the receptacles of their thoughts and wishes), some are out for revenge because they want other people to feel the way they feel and so on. But they’re all trying to feel a kind of sameness and common humanity, as paradoxical as the methods they choose might be. In a sense, they want proof that others are like them. That need, I think, is at the root of a lot of the strange ways we human beings behave in, but common roots can lead to very different branches.

As to the narrator’s thoughts/voice, I do some tricks with the narrator that are meant to get you to think “is this the real Joseph trying to sledgehammer through the text and talk to me?” or “is this the real Joseph accidentally showing through, in that he wrote this or in this way because he is/isn’t [insert feature here, e.g. male, female, unnecessarily into maths, liberal, conservative, Christian, Buddhist, straight, gay, transgender, Romani, black, white, privileged, underprivileged, etc]”. The reasons I do this involve some of the bigger payouts in the book so I can’t spoil it.

INTERVIEWER

Your story covers quite a bit – from economic doctrine, religion, right through to the idea of reality as a simulation, and Artificial Intelligence. These are topics that have captured the imaginations of writers, and readers, for years. What is it that draws you, specifically, to them?

ALEXANDER

Well, many of these are sort of chosen constructs for the purposes of the book. So I just chose them because they were necessary. If we take the empathy angle, economics is just a way to understand and regulate (aggregate) human behaviour and empathy, religion is a way to find both outside community and internal purpose or interpretation of one’s feelings and desires, the study of artificial intelligence (meaning what they now call “general intelligence” and not just machine learning) is an attempt to define what it is that goes on in our head that we call intelligence and how would we recognise it in a machine. It’s basically trying to define what it is to have a mind. The simulation thing in the book is this kind of creeping nightmare monster opposite – what if other people are not like you, and it’s all just a simulation and you, and possibly the AI that simulates you, are the only ones who have free will or real thoughts and feelings and so on. It’s supposed to sound cool and kind of Matrix-y at first, in that the realisation is sold as kind of liberating because you can do whatever you want and you’re the most important person in the world, but when you really understand all its implications and realise it means you are alone, and trapped, in a real and serious prison that there is no way out of, it’s meant to be terrifying. It’s sort of meant to be the logical endpoint of a culture that emphasises extreme individuality and calls it “freedom”.

So the topics of the book have been sort of thematically chosen. It then became clear that it had to be set in the future, to give me a bit more narrative room and tools to play with, and voila, VZ was born.

INTERVIEWER

In your mind, are we living in a simulation? If not, how do we make sense of our reality?

ALEXANDER

Kind of depends what simulation means. I don’t think anyone is actually directing society to see what would happen with given parameters, so I don’t think we’re literally living in a simulation.

But at the same time, we do live a kind of dream – in Europe and in the US at least, and probably elsewhere too. There’s a great book that everyone should read (though it’s a bit academic) called Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More, about how people in the Soviet Union both absolutely knew the whole system was bound to come crashing down any day, but also absolutely could not believe it when it actually happened. A lot of people are like that with Western-style corporate capitalism now, everyone knows it could come crashing down on our heads any day now and that you cannot have infinite growth in a finite environment. Some people I’ve talked to who really had ring-side seats at the time thought it was already happening in 2008. Like, seriously, people who really knew what was going on thought it was all going down. And maybe it did, we just put it on life support and think that everything was fixed but actually we’re just hanging on more and more artificial and drastic life-support. But at the same time, we really cannot imagine any other reality despite the fact that corporate capitalism of any form that we would recognise has only been around for about 150 years, and has effects like distributing more resources (and I mean a lot more) to people who take photos of their bums in bikinis than to the rice farmer they are standing in front of and using as props. And the farmer’s job is literally to feed other people. I mean it’s nuts if you think about it, which is why most people don’t – and that is the dream we project onto our corneas.

So we kind of self-simulate (as the actress said to the bishop, ba-dum-psst).

INTERVIEWER

How did you go about writing VZ, what was your process?

ALEXANDER

Some of the first ideas were sketched out over a long period of time. Like I remember going past an old school that was being torn down and seeing the mangled rebar and concrete and, like a blackboard miraculously standing in the middle of it that still had some text or numbers, and thinking “what if someone bombed this place last night and they’re just disguising this as a demolition/construction site because they don’t want people to panic?” i.e., what if there’s a war going on and nobody knows it. Then I started poking at the idea a couple of years ago, writing up all kinds of things that would have to happen for that to be true and playing with it. Like, who would want to do that, how would they actually do it, why would they want to do that, why do countries even go to war and so on. The simplest scenario of how to approximate the effects of war on a population without the population realising it’s going on ended up looking not too different than the basic operation of certain economic doctrines (which were, funnily enough, the reason the school was being torn down in the first place). So I thought this was interesting enough to do a whole book on, and it kind of grew from there.

This past year or so I’ve been sort of financially secure enough to just sit and write out all the ideas, and so that’s what I did. There is very little process to it, except just to do the best you can and just keep doing it, every day. I got a good kick start when my wife went away for about three weeks on a work thing, so it was just me and my dog and we went a bit feral in our flat, with me writing the first maybe 30-40k words of this book. From there it was safe to just keep going and see where the text takes you. Some days (maybe most) are really infuriatingly difficult but you just have to show up and keep writing, and when the draft is done you rearrange it and reorder things and take a deep breath and do it again. When you’re confident that you can do no more on it, try to find an editor. Either a professional one, or just a friend who likes books (and you).

I promise you, it will only be done when you’re sick of it.

INTERVIEWER

Looking around at current trends in writing and publishing what are your thoughts and feelings on the publishing industry? And how would you advise aspiring writers to break out onto the ‘scene’?

ALEXANDER

Oh boy. This might become the longest answer anyone has given you, feel free to stop reading at any point.

Advice? Write a book that is less than 300 pages (so aim for like 70k-90k words, definitely don’t go over 100k or you might as well not write it), have a single, or max two main characters and the story will be about how she/they arrived again at the place she/they left and saw it for the first time. Do a plot where there’s a set-up, a challenge, a crisis, a point of no return, a point of transformation, a climax and a neat resolution. Have an interesting, marketable persona (and remember, the word ‘persona’ literally means ‘mask’, something you hide your true self behind) and have people mistake you for the main character, so they think they’re buying you when they buy the book.

Industry rant begins (feel free to skip, but I promise I’m going to use “mama-bird” as a verb):

You know, I really think we’re in a sorry state with literary fiction and (big) publishers are making it so much worse by trying to make it better. Basically, they’re looking for the lowest common denominator and want a story that is easily understandable and fits a conventional structure. Theoretically this is because they want a wide potential audience, but actually means the end result will be this bland compromise that interests precisely nobody and the only creative parts are the details or casting. It’s a business so they need products that sell, I get that, but I also think people are genuinely sick of the neat narrative arcs because those arcs simple and predictable and kind of stupid. Just look at the stories that people are actually going nuts about – Game of Thrones had way more main characters and even killed off some of them really early before their arcs could be resolved, Stranger Things has a really complex plot that sits on at least 8 criss-crossing main character paths, Rick and Morty actually overtly parodies the neat arc structure and the episodes where they do it most are cult classics (like the giant heads one, or the pickle one and what have you). And these aren’t even directed to a sophisticated audience that reads a lot of difficult stuff, the way that “literary fiction” is meant to be, I’ve deliberately chosen pop-culture examples that appeal to masses of people.

So the idea that readers aren’t going to “get it” if the story is complicated is bullshit, but the publishing industry has been burned so badly that it’s now just in full damage-limitation mode, cowering in a corner and unable to take initiative, and unable to publish books that boldly take an angle and aren’t for everyone. Part of this is just structural. Agents and editors don’t have the time to read a book proposal or draft twice to understand it, they’re leafing through it together with four other drafts and while on the phone to a distributor or marketer and writing an email to Kate from Random House or something. What is really dictating content now is whether they get it, so the gatekeeper audience you’re trying to push through isn’t the person in a quiet reading nook with a free Sunday, a fresh pot of tea and a book, but the frantic time-poor editor/agent who has to make six final calls today and read 20 submissions, because that’s the person who gets to decide whether the person in the reading nook gets a chance to even see what you wrote.

The irony is that if you think about any of the biggest literary successes that people absolutely tie themselves in knots about year after year and that really pushed the art form forward, none of them conform to these stupid rules about arcs and character growth resolutions. Slaughterhouse 5 gives away the whole plot in the first chapter. Catch-22 has a new main character in every chapter and is more like a symphony than a narrative arc, in that it’s variations on a theme that build on top of each other. Infinite Jest has a huge hole where both the plot climax and resolution should be, and you just have to try to work it out from this 1000-page sensory-overload-haystack. Freedom is really weird structurally, breaks all kinds of style rules and the story happens almost entirely in the main characters’ heads. And who even knows what’s going on in Gravity’s Rainbow, but you read page-one and it makes you go ‘holy shit’. And these are just the ones that have sold millions of copies over the years, there are a bunch of others that have still sold really well that I could mention.

Readers want something they can chew, they don’t want to be mama-birded some pre-digested emotional manipulation that just tastes like cold sick. It’s an insult on their intelligence, and people can see that. People are smart, even if they’re not literature professors. So complexity is not the problem publishers think, but try to say that to a publisher.

(End of industry rant.)

INTERVIEWER

Do you have a specific ‘reader’ or audience in mind when you write?

ALEXANDER

It’s weird, it’s not really a specific reader but more like an abstract idea of one. I think of someone who has other shit to do and who you therefore have to give something to make it worth their while to read and to keep reading, but who also is kind enough not to think I’m doing this with bad motives or for myself. So someone who is willing to give you a bit of slack and wait for some payouts, but also someone that you do have to win over.

INTERVIEWER

How would you define creativity?

ALEXANDER

Hmm. I think a lot of creativity is just seeing unexpected connections or similarities. I genuinely don’t think anyone really comes up with stuff all by themselves, you feed a lot of input signal into your noodler (so, read a lot of books) and then stuff starts to come out. I can’t really define it any better than that.

INTERVIEWER

What does the term ‘writer’ mean to you?

ALEXANDER

Someone who writes, possibly as a job. Don’t be afraid to call yourself a writer. If you think it fits and feels nice, do it. Later, haters are going to show up – fuck ’em. Anyone can deny things, be one of the few people who actively assert things.

INTERVIEWER

James Joyce argued poetry was “always a revolt against artifice, a revolt, in a sense, against actuality.” In the modern world, ‘actuality’ is increasingly hard to define – we live in a culture of ‘fake news’. Many have argued that literature – from poetry through to fiction – has an element of truth to it that reality itself sometimes lacks. What role do you think stories and storytelling have in a world of ‘alternative facts’?

ALEXANDER

Well, this ‘alternative facts’ or ‘fake news’ thing is really quite alarming, but it has been going on for much longer than people think. Like, basically profit-making corporate news broadcasting is institutionally almost guaranteed to result in a lot of ‘alternative facts’. Fiction has always had a place in combatting that, and I think that’s what people mean when they say that writing fiction is making up lies to tell the truth. Serious literary fiction isn’t defeated by “alternative facts”, if anything it is tailor-made for dissecting it.

Like, nobody captured what it was really like to live in the paranoid Soviet Union better than Mikhail Bulgakov, and that book (Master and Margarita) has magic and demons and women flying on brooms and whatever. Or take Gabriel Garcia Marquez and One Hundred Years of Solitude – that book is mental but really captures the surreal reality of South America, where a (North) American fruit company can slaughter people just because they wanted a five-minute rest break or something, and your whole life just feels like it’s part of a repeating cycle of exploitation and bloodshed that goes back to colonial conquest. And also 1984, Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse 5 about the lies that accompany and protect war and totalitarianism – these are all born out of cultures of ‘alternative facts’.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that peoples that have really been through the shit-mill write very strange stories, because there are topics that can only ever be approached at an angle and those are the topics that “fake news” or “alternative facts” aim to hide from us – war, killing, suffering, and the pointless causes thereof. Some of the analytical terminology we use to dissect and understand what is going on with “fake news” now is actually from these books. Like I can totally imagine someone in South America saying that what is going on in Venezuela is a real Macondo, or that debating semantics when people are in concentration camps at the US border is a move from the Newspeak Playbook. These books help us understand what it is that we’re really looking at, gives it a language, and that is one of literary fiction’s purposes.

So I think now the antidote to “alternative facts” is what it has always been – serious, literary fiction that explores these topics. My book tries to do that, I’m sure a lot of others do too. Like just to mention one, Lucy Ellman’s recent, 1000-page Ducks, Newburyport is exactly the kind of genius strange fiction that helps us dissect what is going on right now.

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in 6 words?

ALEXANDER

REVOLUTIONARY GOVERNMENT REVEALS: FLORIDA NOT REAL.

INTERVIEWER

Could you give your top 5 – 10 tips for writers?

ALEXANDER

  1. If you can’t write today, read today.
  2. Read everything. Even the back of a cereal box, or Ayn Rand.
  3. Try to learn from everything you read. Why is this character saying this? Is she saying it to the other characters, or to you? Is that good? What do you like about this cereal box or Atlas Shrugged? Can you pinpoint the thing that makes you want to read on (or watch another episode of Stranger Things or whatever), or the thing that makes you want to stop reading (or watching)?
  4. Don’t try to “write a book”. Try to write a good story, write good sentences, describe things accurately, make characters that come alive.
  5. Writing a novel is a really ineffective strategy to become rich and famous, but it’s great for other things.
  6. In the end, it’s just a book. If it doesn’t sell, or doesn’t do well, or people don’t like it, just write another one.

Quick fire round!

Oooh shit, okay, I’m ready!

INTERVIEWER

If you could be any animal other than a human, what would it be?

ALEXANDER

A dog in a good home. (You can tell I’ve thought about this one before.)

INTERVIEWER

Favourite book/author?

ALEXANDER

Uuuuhhh Slaughterhouse 5! George Saunders!

INTERVIEWER

Critically acclaimed or cult classic?

ALEXANDER

Jodorowsky’s Incal. Any movie you’ve seen since 1980 has ripped it off.

INTERVIEWER

Most underrated artist?

ALEXANDER

Kafka!

Shit, he’s not exactly unheard-of is he. Well he was really underrated in his lifetime? Kafka is the Einstein of writing, he changed the game and we’re still working out the implications. Maybe I just feel bad for Franz-Kafka-the-person.

No, scratch that, Tove Jansson! Tove Jansson is the lady who wrote the “Moomins” books, nobody has ever heard of her but if you actually read the books (not the comics) they are actual-goddamn-motherfuckin’-genius. Read a few and let’s, like, get high together I’ll talk your ear off about what I think is going on in them.

INTERVIEWER

Most overrated artist?

ALEXANDER

Right now, Sally Rooney. I read Normal People and genuinely could not see what was special about it, no matter how hard I tried. And I honestly did try. I thought it was for kids. The Ross and Rachel story, with millennials, set in Ireland. I’m even really paranoid that I might just be thinking this because she is roughly the same age as me and I’m just a sour grape, but I honestly think this fuss will blow over.

INTERVIEWER

Who is someone you think more people should know about?

ALEXANDER

Hasek, the guy who wrote “Good Soldier Svejk”, I forget his first name. Jaroslav? Anyway, the name is not important.

INTERVIEWER

If you couldn’t tell stories or write – what would you do?

ALEXANDER

Oh man, I’d probably die. I’ve done this despite getting beaten up and laughed at and someone even burned my arm with a cigarette once for it, I used to write like it was this shameful secret thing that I just couldn’t stop doing. I’m still weirdly secretive about it for no real reason.

Or maybe I’d do philosophy. Or maths.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have any hidden talents?

ALEXANDER

I play a mean jazz flute. Not even kidding.

INTERVIEWER

Most embarrassing moment?

ALEXANDER

Oh Jesus, there are so many. I once made a real fuss about paying too much for a coffee in a Starbucks in Illinois, only to realise that the list prices don’t include tax in the US. I was very jetlagged, it was 5am. I apologised profusely.

Or one time my dog stole a stranger’s shoe that the person had left on the grass behind the goal during a football game, and ran around with it all over the pitch, being chased my me and eventually everyone in both teams so they could get the game started again. He’s one slippery dog, he had the best 10 minutes of his life.

INTERVIEWER

What’s something you’re particularly proud of?

ALEXANDER

I and this other writer Zia Haider Rahman (who is way more successful, he wrote In the Light of What We Know) are starting this project where we help disadvantaged kids in London with writing. We haven’t done our first classes yet but I’m genuinely proud of where we’ve got so far. Stay tuned.

INTERVIEWER

One piece of advice for your younger self?

ALEXANDER

You will get everything, everything, you ever wanted when you were 14. Try not to let it crush you.

Clapham’s Omnibus Theatre announces next season’s schedule

Screen Shot 2019-07-12 at 09.02.12

Omnibus Theatre – a multi-award-winning independent theatre in Clapham, South London – has released its schedule for the Autumn Season 2019, featuring dozens of exceptional new plays and performances.

The new Autumn Winter season at Omnibus Theatre sees nine productions featuring new writing, four of which are returning companies. We welcome three touring shows, a programme of Irish work which includes a revival by one of Ireleand’s greatest playwrights, the fifth annual instalment of Perception Festival celebrating Nasty Women, and a Winter production, directed by Omnibus Theatre’s Artistic Director Marie McCarthy. The season also sees Omnibus Theatre producing the national tour of an award-winning play.

Community conversations

Commenting on the new season, artistic director Marie McCarthy said;

“This Autumn, we continue to champion stories untapped and unheard, made by brilliant theatre makers both new and returning to Omnibus Theatre. I’m a huge fan of HighTide, Fireraisers and China Plate and I’m so pleased to welcome them to Omnibus Theatre for the first time. I’m also delighted that Futures Theatre, The Cocoa Butter Club, Strange Fish, Little Angel Theatre and Nouveau Riché are returning to us.

All of these artists and their productions tap in to the conversations we’re having as an organisation and a community; Who are we? What do we identify with? Which voices do we need to hear more of?”

After watching Katy Arnstein’s stunning show, ‘Sexy Lamp’ (read our review here online), at the Omnibus Theatre this summer, Nothing in the Rulebook’s Professor Wu said of the theatre:

“There are so many stunning new voices, artists and creatives waiting to be discovered right now – each with beautiful and important things to say. And this is why it’s so important that places like the Omnibus Theatre exist; to provide a platform for new writing and interdisciplinary work, giving a voice to the underrepresented and challenging perceptions. And all in a great location, a fabulous theatre with affordable tickets (and, perhaps most importantly of all for discerning audience members – a reasonably priced bar!)”

Find out what’s on at the Omninus Theatre, book tickets and go see some shows by checking out the Theatre’s website.

Creatives in profile – interview with Augustine

Pressbild Augustine Foto: Oskar Omne

One of the hottest prospects to hit the music scene in 2019, Swedish artist Augustine first announced his presence with his hit debut, “Luzon” at the start of the year. Since then, more singles have followed, along with a critically acclaimed EP, Wishful Thinking at the start of the summer.

At 22-years of age, Augustine is a name that should be on everyone’s radar – as Nothing in The Rulebook made clear in our own review.  With songs and lyrics are characterised by soulful falsetto, cinematic instrumentation and melancholic love stories, it’s little wonder that two of his tracks immediately rocketed to #1 on Hype Machine, as he became one of the most talked about debuts of the year.

In his own words, he is an artist “weak for synth pop songs that are so big you just lose yourself in them”, yet, as readers can hear for themselves (by checking out his debut EP here), there’s a huge amount of versatility on offer here.

It was a pleasure to catch up with Augustine for our latest ‘Creatives in profile’ interview…

INTERVIEWER

Tell us about yourself, where you live and your background

AUGUSTINE

Hi there! Thank you guys for the beautiful write-up on the EP! I live in Stockholm, Sweden, at the moment; but I’m born and raised in a small town called Jörlanda on the Swedish west coast, just outside of Gothenburg. I moved to Stockholm about two years ago for the music. Before then I spent my days writing songs at home and finishing senior high school.

INTERVIEWER

Is music your first love, or do you have another passion?

AUGUSTINE

I played some sports when I was younger. Football and ice hockey! But I eventually quit them both because of the interest I had for music. So maybe it’s not my first love, but it’s surely the greatest love!

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

AUGUSTINE

Oh there’s so many! For the EP specifically, I listened a lot to The National, Phoebe Bridgers and The xx – just to name a few. I think they all have some kind of gloom and melancholia to their music, which I’m totally drawn to; that’s the sort of thing that makes me inspired.

INTERVIEWER

One of your first tracks, Luzon, pivots around a certain sense of oblivion through experiences of love – with lyrics like “you might just kill me off”; “I just want a disaster” – whereas another of your first tracks, and A Scent of Lily is more open and contemplative about love and relationships; you ask, “now what’s next?” For you, how much is music a way of communicating these different encounters and experiences of love – and, when it comes to it, where do you tend to place yourself on the scale between oblivion and hopeful optimism?

AUGUSTINE

Great question! It wasn’t my intention at all to write love songs when I first started making music. I played the drums and I was really into the beat and pulse of a song, and as far as lyrics go I tried to write some poems when I was younger; but that was it.

Then when I started to sing, it just felt natural to craft these kind of gloomy love-stories, maybe because I’ve listened a lot to artists who tend to do that (The National, etc…). So I guess that must be a way of communicating different experiences, whether it’s on purpose or not! On the scale, I’d place myself more to the oblivion side of things.

INTERVIEWER

What role does the (somewhat intangible) concept of love play in your work more generally? 

AUGUSTINE

I’ve realised lately that I often enjoy these heavy dramas about love, movies like ’Blue Valentine’ or ’Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’. I’m fascinated about it but I can’t really give a good answer as to why. It’s not that fun to watch or to listen to a story in which the relationship just works out, right?

INTERVIEWER

Your new tracks, Viola and Slacks – like your other work – showcase a fusion between different blends of music (like a fine cuisine) – from Electro to Jazz, classical to modern, mixing the digital with traditional, instrumental; old and new. Meanwhile the lyrics are often structurally poetic, reminiscent of Rodriguez or Dylan. Do you see your music as being intrinsically linked to any one particular genre of music? Or are genres within any creative art inherently limiting and confining?

AUGUSTINE

It’s definitely fun to play around! And at the same time try to keep some kind of sound through out a number of songs. I have to say thank you for mentioning Rodriguez and Dylan.

augustine_palma2

Augustine: “more to the oblivion side of things”

INTERVIEWER

Can you talk us through your creative process? How do you take a song from initial idea into fully-fledged single?

AUGUSTINE

It’s a mess! I don’t understand my own process very well yet. I often start the idea in the production stage, where I start to experiment with different sounds and beats. When I have some kind of rough demo, I listen to that idea over and over again until it’s playing in my head even when it’s quiet. Like for instance when I’m going to sleep. That’s when the writing of lyrics start to take place – in my head while almost falling asleep. The brain forms such random words and themes to the songs when you’re tired.

INTERVIEWER

Looking around at current trends in the music industry at the moment, what are your thoughts and feelings on the way the industry is developing? What should we be looking out for over the coming months/years? And how would you advise aspiring music artists to break out onto the scene?

AUGUSTINE

I don’t really know. It’s hard to have a say on that beast of a machine that it is! Now with the streaming era I think many people adapt their songs a bit to make them interesting in the very first seconds. Limited attention spans and all that. I guess every artist just has to make the best of it in their own way, but most importantly: keep on doing your thing and always write the songs you want to write. 

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us a little about some of the future projects you’re working on? 

AUGUSTINE

This summer it’s time to finally write more music again! My focus is also set on getting some live shows going, and just to keep on building this project. This year has been a blast!

Quick-fire round! 

INTERVIEWER

Favourite musician/band?

AUGUSTINE

Well, since you mentioned him earlier, Bob Dylan!

INTERVIEWER

Can you name a song you love, and a song you hate?

AUGUSTINE

’Boots of Spanish Leather’ by Dylan always leaves my heart so full. So full that I can’t name a single song I hate right now!

INTERVIEWER

Critically acclaimed or cult classic?

AUGUSTINE

Cult classic!

INTERVIEWER

Most underrated artist?

AUGUSTINE

Kindness!

INTERVIEWER

Most overrated artist?

AUGUSTINE

Ed Sheeran? So dull of me to say that!

INTERVIEWER

Who is someone you think more people should know about?

AUGUSTINE

My good friend ’J. Aissa’ just released his debut single ’S&W’ a couple weeks ago. It’s just beautiful!

INTERVIEWER

If music didn’t exist – what would you do?

AUGUSTINE

Oh, maybe I wouldn’t have quit football. I think I’d like to study some psychology courses.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have any hidden talents?

AUGUSTINE

I think I can do a kick flip on a skateboard! I could a year ago, at least.

INTERVIEWER

Most embarrassing moment? 

AUGUSTINE

Back when I was a kid I got so angry at my older brothers that I smashed the windows of our car with a big rock. 

INTERVIEWER

Something you’re particularly proud of?

AUGUSTINE

This whole year!

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in 6 words?

AUGUSTINE

”I wish I could” he said!

Creatives in profile: interview with Matthew Smith

Matthew Smith NITRB.jpg

Nothing in the Rulebook first caught up with writer and photographer Matthew Smith through a conversation about Wundor Editions – a London-based publishing house.

Since then, his first collection of poems, Sea of the Edge has been published, while he has also won second place at the London Magazine Poetry Prize and won the Orbis Readers’ Award.

His photography, meanwhile, has been included in group shows with the New York Centre for Photographic Arts at Art Santa Fe 2019, at Black Box Gallery in Portland and at the Museo di Casa Giorgione in Castelfranco. His first solo exhibition will be at the Hagi Art in Tokyo in January-February 2020.

With so much to catch up on, we thought it best to check in with Smith once more.

INTERVIEWER

When we last spoke, you told us about how your publishing house, Wundor Editions, takes its name from an old English word meaning something unimaginable – a miracle or even a monster. Is there anything you’ve seen or done since our interview that would have seen unimaginable to you at the time?

SMITH

My daughter learned to speak! In just over a year from her barely talking, we can hold conversations with her. Her one-liners are amazing. Explain that you can’t have chocolate for breakfast and she says ‘I’m not going to eat it for breakfast. I’m just going to eat it.’

INTERVIEWER

Alongside your work with Wundor Editions, you’re also a writer and a poet, a photographer and a designer. How do you balance your time between these creative projects, and do any take precedence over the others? If so, why?

SMITH

Writing fiction, poetry and taking photographs are all of equal importance to me. They each involve very different processes, so they never interfere with one another in creative terms. Timewise, I often give 2-3 hours a day to each, so even if I were to work on three projects simultaneously, that would be possible. However, I tend to be working on only two of the three at any one time.

INTERVIEWER

In October, you published your first poetry collection, Sea of the Edge. Can you tell us a little about the collection, and what it was like to write it?

SMITH

In retrospect, I can appreciate what Caroline Price wrote about the collection: ‘…the recurring search for something beyond the physical realities and constraints of everyday life …a capturing of people at a crossroads in their lives.’ It came out of a time – late 20’s, early 30’s – when I was struggling to make a foundation for my future, to ensure that whatever it was that I wanted for tomorrow, I was going to begin to secure it now. But these are often known unknowns, so this time can be very difficult. I found that poetry could empower me to be direct and personal in a way that fiction couldn’t, enabling me to drill deeply into this terrain.

INTERVIEWER

Writers often speak about a certain surreal sense of ‘coldness’ upon publishing a work that is particularly important to them. You spend so much time so close to something that is deeply personal, only to then send it off into the world for others to pick up, investigate, share around. Is this something that you’ve experienced at all?

SMITH

No not at all, it’s a happy feeling for me, one of relief and excitement. What feels a little strange is when it took you years to write a novel, and someone says they read it in one sitting.

INTERVIEWER

You won second place at the London Magazine poetry prize 2018 and won the Orbis Reader’s award in 2019. What’s it been like to see your work picked up and enjoyed so thoroughly in this way?

SMITH

Profoundly satisfying. It’s great to see that it’s resonating with readers. Department Store won the Orbis award and that is in my first collection, Sea of the Edge. Black Fire won at the London Magazine prize. It will appear in my next collection.

INTERVIEWER

There’s been a lot of talk recently about how everyone needs to have a so-called ‘side hustle’ – something you do that you love that isn’t your main source of income (but perhaps one day could be). With Wundor, Sea of the Edge and your upcoming photography exhibition at Hagi Art in Tokyo, you seem to have multiple hustles going on all at once. How do you manage it?

SMITH

I write and edit quite quickly. Photography is woven into my life more finely as I can take a camera with me anywhere. Setting up exhibitions is not as time-consuming as you might think, once the work itself is complete. Experience and a strong work ethic is essential. And you have to enjoy the business and promotional side of things to enjoy working on multiple projects, because that will expand too. Part of being an artist is being an entrepreneur. Get up early, be healthy and remove all distractions from your life, and you can do anything.

INTERVIEWER

There’s poetry to be found in photography; while poems and writing – and other art forms – can inspire a specific photograph. Where do you draw the distinction between different creative disciplines? How do they all bleed into each other?

SMITH

They have many differences and similarities. Photographs form series involving interplay between various images, ideas, tones and textures. Poems come together in a similar way to make collections. Novels are bound by one overarching story, which can feel stifling at times, due to the need to commit to it over years. That’s partly why my novel The Waking and the new novel I’m working on now have so many sub-stories within them – it keeps the narrative dynamic and it keeps me inspired.

INTERVIEWER

In our last conversation you spoke about the plethora of creative work out there that is waiting to be discovered by publishers, agents, and others within the publishing industry. But is the quantity of excellent creative work in a way its undoing? Has the value of the written word been devalued by the internet – where words and ideas are so freely available and abundant?

SMITH

We’re all learning how to return to sanity in terms of our use of the internet, without ditching it, because in essence we know it’s a good thing. We don’t want to go around London with an A-Z again, Google Maps is helpful. Privilege in the future in terms of tech will be less about what smartphone you have and more about whether you were taught how to filter online content so that you could benefit from it and not become overwhelmed by it, misled by it or become addicted to it.

INTERVIEWER

What’s next for you and your work, are there any particularly exciting projects we should keep an eye out for?

SMITH

Yes, I will be exhibiting with the New York Centre for Photographic Arts at Art Santa Fe in July this year. You mentioned my solo photography exhibition at Hagi Art in Tokyo, which will run from January-February 2020. The series from that exhibition, Chora, was taken in London, but the images were inspired in part by a lifelong love of Japanese art and photography, so it’s found the right home. The specific dates will go up on my website and Instagram soon. I’m also working on my second novel and my second collection of poems.

Quick fire round!

INTERVIEWER

Favourite author/poet/photographer?

SMITH

Marilynne Robinson / Robert Frost / Masao Yamamoto

INTERVIEWER

Can you name a book you love, and a book you hate?

SMITH

Housekeeping is my favourite novel. No hate!

INTERVIEWER

Critically acclaimed or cult classic?

SMITH

Critically acclaimed is the ideal! But a classic is a classic, regardless of how many readers it has.

INTERVIEWER

Most underrated artist?

SMITH

Dario Argento is one of my favourite directors. There’s very little serious attention given to his work, as he was largely working in the horror genre, but his best work is worthy of the highest level of analysis. He tells mercurial stories that slip away from you just as you think you have them figured out. Critics invariably fall for the false endings he creates. I’m thinking in particular of Deep Red, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, the best of the giallo films. I’m not so keen on stuff like Suspiria.

INTERVIEWER

Most overrated artist?

SMITH

Tupac.

INTERVIEWER

Who is someone you think more people should know about?

SMITH

Polo G’s first album is incredible. He’s a young rapper from Chicago who seems to have arrived fully-formed as an artist. Robert Wyatt is one of my favourite singer-songwriters. He’s still not widely known. I’ve been listening to Shleep recently. ‘Maryan’ is a masterpiece. ‘Was a Friend’ is one of the most unsettling songs I ever expect to ever hear.

INTERVIEWER

If you had to choose one artistic discipline to stick to, which would it be?

SMITH

I’ve always seen writing and making pictures as part of the same thing, so I can’t choose.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have any hidden talents?

SMITH

I can speak and write some Japanese. To take it further seems difficult without being based there.

INTERVIEWER

Most embarrassing moment?

SMITH

Pass!

INTERVIEWER

Something you’re particularly proud of?

SMITH

My daughter, who is 2 and already running the show.

INTERVIEWER

If you had one rule to live by, what would it be?

SMITH

Be yourself.

 

 

Beyond Game of Thrones: in search of the ideal modern female heroine

DaenerysVIews

Ever since its inception, the gothic novel has been a curious mixture of over-exaggerated cliché and transgressive boundary pushing. On the one hand, the gothic novel has dealt liberally in tropes such as vampires, bloodlust, disembodied souls and wandering corpses, but it has also explored liminal states such as dreams and the unconscious, and through various literary devices, the very notion of boundaries itself.

Consistent with this characterisation, the women in gothic novels have been either two dimensional ciphers, hysterical screaming maidens in disarray as they flee through the underground mazes of castles and graveyards, or more complex heroines with a depth of passion and self- awareness that transcends their socio-historical situation. This characterisation has often depended on whether the novel in question is penned by a male or female author.

In fact, female authored gothic novels such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper and even Angela Carters modern classics from her short story collection The Bloody Chamber, use the themes and conventions such as madness and fairy tale, to explore traditional restrictions around women’s roles in society and along the way, often subvert these radically.

Using fantasy, fairy tale and fugue states, dreams and dissociation, the writers of female gothic novels present us with alluring and engaging worlds within which women act out powerful new roles and dynamics. Indeed, the ubiquitous modern phenomenon of the hit series Game of Thrones uses gothic and fantasy elements in its depiction of the powerful heroines at the heart of its narrative. Through dreams and prophecies, mythical beasts, all-consuming emotions and elemental imagery, the female characters are defined and reinforced with powerful iconography.

I use Game of Thrones as an example here because it is a modern hit with global audiences, which has reverberated strongly through the collective psyche, and yet it is set in a world distinct from our own, a world with powerful women wrapped up in mystique and magic, but women who enact their own agency. For the most part, Game of Thrones, with its gothic elements and yet supremely modern depiction of the female psyche represents a compelling model for how female characters could be represented in contemporary fiction.

Of course, in Game of Thrones, and also in classic female gothic novels, women have to struggle against oppressive patriarchal structures that restrict the expression of their power and agency. This is somewhat less of a factor in the modern world, but it still exists, especially in some cultures, where women have less of a voice.

In my upcoming debut novel Never So Perfect set in London amongst a glamorous coterie of British Asian characters, I always had in mind the female gothic and its conventions as I developed the narrative of my heroine Mia. She is also somebody who has had a varied and complex journey, but the way her story reaches back into a dark past, and how this is then set against a glittering present that sometimes seems surreal and dreamlike to her, was my homage to the female gothic genre that has captivated my imagination ever since I first encountered it.

Delving into fugue states and exploring the boundaries of sanity in my own novel, and the way in which my heroine emerges from all this, fragile and yet powerful, transgressive and irreverent, with humanity and also humour, represents to me, my ideal of the modern female heroine – with a dash of gothic sensibility.

About the author of this post

Sobia QuaziSobia Quazi has been writing on and off since she was a young child. Her early poems were published in a variety of poetry magazines, including The Frogmore Papers and Smoke. Eventually, she executed her escape from medical school and did her PhD in English Literature, dissecting a different kind of dead body, the spectral women of gothic novels and Japanese horror. She is still enthralled by all things dark and gothic, by the intricate webs of intertextuality, and by the transformative power of storytelling. Her first novel, Never So Perfect has been picked up by award-winning publishing company, Unbound, and is currently seeking crowdfunding. She tweets as @QuaziSobia