Turning Thirty to Rampant Development and Literary Nourishment

I turned 30 this May, to a welcoming committee of good friends at a terracotta-walled chillout bar – the same colour that adorns my old room at home and the same colour that will adorn my new room as I settle into the sleepy coastal town of Marsaskala with my girlfriend and Olivia, the fluffy ginger cat.

Or, at least, it will remain sleepy for the odd few months or so, until yet another ludicrous development takes over the ever-diminishing unspoilt land on the island, this time right under my (new) doorstep.

More on that later, for now here’s a few things that have kept me busy over the past month.

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Photo by Jacob Sammut

Photo by Jacob Sammut

Schlock Magazine’s May issue – The overall brief was ‘Spring’, and I think we’ve succeeded in creating an eclectic and visually sumptuous edition, if I may say so myself. Check it out and give us your feedback, if you’re so inclined. It would be appreciated either way, as we’re planning some pretty big changes in the near future any constructive crit will go a long way. Click here to check it out.

Mark Pritchett in Malta. Photo by Ray Attard

Mark Pritchett in Malta. Photo by Ray Attard

Some cool interviews – Got to chat to the great Jeremy Robert Johnson about his blistering bizarro-noir debut novel Skullcrack City (once again, for Schlock) and the day job got a bit more interesting when I scored the chance to speak to David Bowie’s former guitarist turned newspaper mogul Mark Pritchett. It made for a curious afternoon, though as ever, the more memorable insights were kept off the record.

Vemilion by Molly Tanzer. Cover by Dalton Rose, design by Osiel Gomez

Vemilion by Molly Tanzer. Cover by Dalton Rose, design by Osiel Gomez

Fun reads – Apart from the aforementioned Skullcrack City, I thoroughly enjoyed Molly Tanzer’s Vermilion – a weird western with touches of Chinese mysticism and trans-continental vampire lore. We’ll be interviewing Tanzer for Schlock Talks too, and I’ll be reviewing the book for May’s edition of Schlock’s Pop Culture Destruction. Tanzer also featured in an anthology I’ve enjoyed and chatted to my Schlock interlocutor Marco about for Schlock’s podcastLetters to Lovecraft, edited by Jesse Bullington. My dear friend Pyt also gifted me a sumptuous coffee table volume of Umberto Eco’s The Book of Legendary Lands, which now sits atop of The Steampunk User’s Manual (ed. Jeff VanderMeer & Desirina Boskovich) – another birthday gift, courtesy of my sister and her boyfriend. These are the books that are imagination fuel as I type or sketch away.

Reads I’m looking forward to in the near future: Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, Cyclonopedia by Reza Negarestani, The Gift of Stones by Jim Crace and – perhaps above all – Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen. The massed effect of this reading schedule seems to point to a keener environmental awareness, and a desire to get at something obstinately ancient and ‘quiet’, as a counter-reaction to the ADD generation. And what better way to do that than through rocks?

Authenticity: Richard Linklater, Woody Allen, Romanticism, Decadence

I’ve stopped giving much credence to birthdays over the past couple of years (I’m writing this on the eve of my 29th). Once the rites of passage in life become murkier – i.e., after you’re done with school and have no set ‘stages’ to go through any more – birthdays start to feel truly arbitrary.

But something strange, and just about wonderful is happening this year: right now I truly feel like there’s some kind of culmination of the recent experiences I’ve been through.

Part of all this is, of course, down to finally finishing and publishing the book, and I’m wary of how this feeling of relief mixed with euphoric uplift can be temporary and elusive.

But there’s other factors which have contributed to me feeling an increased sense of peace, and a receding of the persistent self-doubt which comes with – in a big way – from the very same arbitrariness that characterizes most of adult life.

It’s a hard-won sort of peace, though, and one which needs constant vigilance to be maintained.
I suppose the cost of growing up is, ultimately, the realization that bliss can no longer, at any point, come automatically.

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Increased self-awareness also means an increased sensitivity to what is authentic about yourself – what you should keep and cultivate, and what you should discard because it’s no longer relevant to you: a dead-end road.

Authenticity was always a bit of a thorny subject for me; one the one hand yes, I work for a newspaper – which, at least ostensibly, trades in remaining authentic – while on the other, my primary obsessions are concerned with both the production and consumption of fiction.

A recent ‘catch up’ marathon for three films I’ve been wanting to watch – the ‘Before‘ films by Richard Linklater, starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke (I know, I know) – put this in focus for me once again.

The trio’s breezy style clearly emerges as a result of consummate, carefully cultivated filmmaking, of course, but the way the films worry at concerns so delicate, intimate and – ultimately – relatable puts a number of cinematic attempts at the same themes to shame.

There is both a sensitivity and a kindness – as well as a dramatic dynamism, taking the shape of the best stage play’s effortless back-and-forth banter – to Linklater which made me think, first and foremost (and for whatever reason): Woody Allen is a fraud.

The comparison came to me just as automatically as that: finishing off either the second or the third ‘Before’ film, Woody Allen’s attempts at extrapolating home truths about sexual politics came to mind, and just didn’t ring true.

Where Linklater zooms in on an unfolding relationship between just two people – a thespian duo he clearly trusts – first by charming us with their idyllic romance but then boldly returning to his subject/s years later to shade that relationship, Allen props up his ping-ponging dialogue in the midst of cardboard cut-outs and facile plot developments.

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My own reaction came as something of a surprise, because in recent years I’ve developed an increased fondness for artifice – a resistance to the ‘organic’ creation of art so vaunted by the Romantics, in favour of what we could, I suppose, at a stretch venture to call a more Decadent approach which places increased value on form and ornamentation.

In retrospect though, I think this may have something to do with the fact that over the past few years, I’ve made a conscious effort to write my own fiction, TO MAKE MORE STUFF, and so the – broadly defined – Romantic idea of ‘waiting for inspiration’ or of dedicating your attention solely to the perfect subject that is closest to your heart was not really helpful.

Focusing on just putting the thing together, on the other hand, helped me to move forward, and so the opposing milieu became more attractive.

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Now that the novel is done, though, I have to confess that ultimately, its autobiographical elements are what kept me going – or, at least, that engine that whirred in the background, quietly fuelling me ahead as I scrambled to put the whole thing together.

Having a personal stake in something – anything – by its very nature adds urgency to a project, and one of the best things I’ve heard said about Two is that it made some readers – two of them, actually, as far as I know – “give me a hug”, because they recognized the emotional authenticity of the book.

Truth is a slippery thing; I will never understand it, not fully. People are constantly called out on begin ‘phony’ and ‘fake’; even a kind of manufactured authenticity seems to have pervaded our culture (see: Emma Stone, Jennifer Lawrence, and countless other celebrities presented as ‘just one of us’).
But I’ll be happy if I hit upon it, however fleetingly, when “it matters”.

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Some more coverage for Two:

The Times of Malta – A measured, well-written review I’m quite happy about.

The Malta Independent – An interview by Colin Fitz, also delving into my work as a journalist. Some of the quotes come across as a bit pompous, and I’m fairly certain I was more self-deprecating during the conversation itself. But whatever.

If you – my fine, illustrious readers – insist on doing something for my birthday, might I suggest you pick up a copy of Two, either from “any good” brick-and-mortar store if you’re in Malta and Gozo, or through Merlin’s website if you’re seeing this from abroad? Shipping rates have been reduced to normal prices, thankfully, so you can order away without too much of a burden on your pockets. Ta!