I was chuffed to join Galley Beggar Press publisher Sam Jordison and novelists Dan Holloway, Sunny Singh, Catriona Troth and Alex Pheby, in a zippily-titled event on 17 September called “Preserving the Unicorn”, which was the Literary Fiction panel at the Triskele LitFest 2016. Steered by the generous moderation of Catriona, the conversation was a sparky round of fun, whose mission was to explore (in the words of festival organisers Triskele Books) “how novelists and editors work together when a novel’s text, at first sight, defies conventional wisdom about how a narrative ‘should’ be put together. Ground-breaking novels, by their nature, break the rules. How does an editor work to hone such a text, without destroying the unique magic the author has created?”
As shown at Triskele’s blog and in the video-player here below, Dan’s and my contribution comprised (1) a song-and-dance routine, closely followed by (2) a soft-shoe shuffle (well OK, maybe not literally those things, but spiritually so, you understand). We also talked about the great editorial input he’s providing to my upcoming novel The Beasts of Electra Drive through his Rogue Interrobang service. And Sunny and Alex focused on their editorial journeys at Quartet Books and Galley Beggar respectively.
Many thanks to all the Triskelites for having me aboard. And thanks in particular to Catriona Troth for organising much of the whole festival, reading the words of all unicorns beforehand and firing intelligent questions at us; and to JJ Marsh for conceiving of and naming the panel. Below are a few snapshots.
And regarding the actual novel that I was babbling about…
From Hollywood Hills mansions and Century City towers, to South Central motels and the oceanside refinery, The Beasts of Electra Drive by Rohan Quine spans a mythic L.A., following seven spectacular characters (or Beasts) from games designer Jaymi’s created world. The intensity of those Beasts’ creation cycles leads to their secret release into real life in human form, and their combative protection of him from destructive rivals at mainstream company Bang Dead Games. A prequel to Quine’s existing five tales, The Beasts of Electra Drive is a fast-paced and surreal explosion of glamour and beauty, horror and enchantment, celebrating the mechanisms and magic of creativity itself.
Catriona Troth, Rohan Quine, Dan Holloway, Sunny Singh, Galley Beggar Press publisher Sam Jordison, and Alex Pheby, “Preserving the Unicorn” Literary Fiction panel, at Triskele Books’ Triskele LitFest 2016, Angel, London.
This website has just been equipped with Firsty Express functionality, which means that the ebook formats of these five tales may now be bought directly from here.
Via the general “Buy” page, all paperbacks and ebooks will continue to be available from the usual book retailers’ sites, such as Foyles, Amazon, Apple, Blackwell’s, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, WHSmith and Kobo, all unchanged from before.
All these channels are good, though. All are equal conduits for loveliness. So whichever may be your preference, whether for paperback or for ebook (Kindle or ePub format), that’s the channel to use. 🙂
Following the British Library’s recent implementation of full functionality for admitting the flicker of ebooks into the venerable British Library Catalogue, the ebook formats of these five published tales have popped up there, complementing the longstanding presence of their dead-tree paperback sisters on the shelves at Saint Pancras, London:
This is something of a homecoming, because a significant amount of those five was written in the British Library, in the Science 3 Reading Room. I usually chose this room instead of the Humanities Reading Rooms, because a roomful of sober scientists makes for a more focused novel-writing environment than a roomful of hothouse-flower artists (who tend, as we know, to swoon and emote and generally make a rumpus between the book-stacks).
It’s a homecoming for these publications in another respect, too. As a nod to the Science 3 Reading Room and its shelves filled with thousands of bound volumes of hardcore scientific journals, the novelist heroine of The Host in the Attic, named Alaia Danielle, is described as working in that very reading room while she writes her novel The Imagination Thief. As Alaia puts it herself: “I often get up and reach down some volume of cosmology or nuclear physics … and I feel such a sense of peace and wonder, as I leaf through those pages dotted with exotic equations. Of course I can’t understand them, but for me those pages full of elegantly-typeset symbols spill out a cool, dry beauty, of a quite paralysing perfection! Honestly, I just stand there bathing in it. I feel so cleansed and elevated by the surface of those symbols—probably a lot more than I would if I understood them. […] I think my favourite journal title is the International Journal of Bifurcation and Chaos. Isn’t that just the best? I’m also partial to Fuzzy Sets and Systems…”
Its listings at all book retailers (and its own various British-Library-related catalogue entries) are here for its ebook format, and here for its paperback format. Or it may be purchased directly from this website.
It was great to be grilled with some very cool questions about literary fiction, by author Jay Lemming:
A big thankyou to him for letting me witter about the upcoming novel The Beasts of Electra Drive, and about touches of magical realism and dustings of horror, and even about lashings of beauty, darkness and mirth—something for all the family, in fact. Jay’s own books, literary and dark fantasy / horror, are here. The interview was part of a series of interviews with many #LitFic authors, from every continent except Antarctica, which you can also find on his site.
It’s a fun coincidence that Jay’s previous blog-post, about Bruce Springsteen, has an unexpected connection with our conversation: the town of Asbury Park (whose unofficial “godfather” Springsteen is, being so associated with it) happens to be the location for the vast majority of my novel The Imagination Thief. Springsteen doesn’t come into the novel, but when I settled down to start writing it, sitting alone at dusk at the window of the dimly cavernous Room 629 in the hotel on the north-west corner of Ocean and Sunset in Asbury Park, I was just across the street from the Convention Center where he has often performed. I’m happy to see the town is now in much better economic shape than it was then, but I was very alive to its enchantments at that time nonetheless, as I describe here and here.
Thank you to author Debbie Young for her generous review of The Host in the Attic:
This novella is a hologram of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, digitised and reframed in cinematic style, set in London’s Docklands in a few years’ time. (It aims to ensure that after reading it, all future visits to one’s own attic, and all trips down thin corridors, will be traumatic ones.) In this little tale, high-flyer Jaymi discovers a secret novel online called The Imagination Thief, written by a woman named Alaia; and they meet and fall in love. In his attic he hides the prototype of a new worldwide Web-browsing hologram, for whose appearance he was the model. While this hologram deteriorates into ever more terrifying corruption, his own appearance remains forever sweet and youthful, despite his escalating evil … until the inevitable reckoning unfolds.
I’ll be in the filmed Literary Fiction panel at the Triskele LitFest 2016, talking about my upcoming novel The Beasts of Electra Drive. I’m pleased to see the panel has the sassy/horsy/horny title “Preserving the Unicorn”:
I’ll be in conversation with the novel’s developmental editor Dan Holloway, Galley Beggar Press publisher Sam Jordison, Galley Beggar author Alex Pheby and Quartet Books author Sunny Singh, with author Catriona Troth chairing. As the Festival’s website says, the panel will explore how novelists and editors “work together when a novel’s text, at first sight, defies conventional wisdom about how a narrative ‘should’ be put together. Ground-breaking novels, by their nature, break the rules. How does an editor work to hone such a text, without destroying the unique magic the author has created?” Dan is giving great editorial input on The Beasts of Electra Drive, having just started working on it through his Rogue Interrobang service, and I’m looking forward to seeing how his and my process may echo or differ from the equivalent processes at Galley Beggar and Quartet.
TLF16 will also have several panels devoted to other cool categories of fiction, plus a bookshop selling books by all panellists and many other authors. And it’s free to get in. So do check out the Triskele LitFest link above, and please come join us at Lift, 45 White Lion Street, N1 9PW, a couple of minutes’ walk west of Angel station. The Festival runs from 1.00 to 6.00 p.m., with “Preserving the Unicorn” from 5.00 to 6.00 p.m.
From Hollywood Hills mansions and Century City towers, to South Central motels and the oceanside refinery, The Beasts of Electra Drive by Rohan Quine spans a mythic L.A., following seven spectacular characters (or Beasts) from games designer Jaymi’s created world. The intensity of those Beasts’ creation cycles leads to their secret release into real life in human form, and their combative protection of him from destructive rivals at mainstream company Bang Dead Games. A prequel to the existing five tales, The Beasts of Electra Drive is a fast-paced and surreal explosion of glamour and beauty, horror and enchantment, celebrating the mechanisms and magic of creativity itself.
The prolific energy, talent and inventiveness of novelist Jane Davis is a lovely thing to behold, and here she is in conversation with novelist Jay Lemming:
I like a comparison she makes there, which I imagine will tend to spread a smile through the eyes of quite a few who are engaged in this gloriously barmy business of creating complex things from scratch (whatever the medium may be): “The structure for a novel might not reveal itself until I am several drafts in. Then, when you know your material really well, a single line might leap out at you—something that you thought was quite inconsequential when you typed the words—and you realise that it is the one line the whole novel pivots on. It’s how Howard Carter must have felt when he discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb.” (See my review of her These Fragile Things here.)
And big thanks to Jane for also making kind mention of Dan Holloway and me, in the interview:
“I think one essential element of literary fiction is the feeling that every word is in its perfect place. And I want to mention two indie writers here—Dan Holloway and Rohan Quine, both of them at the absolute top of their game, but at the same time you have the feeling that their best is yet to come.”
Here’s an erudite, challenging and unconventional interview with the UK’s John-Peel-of-literary-&-underground-fiction, Dan Holloway, grilled with good questions from Jay Lemming:
It covers the kind of literary fiction that genuinely has something to say on a grander level and is fearless in doing so; the value of fanning a few rock-star flames in order to signal that this is where important stuff happens; and the fractured secrets and truths in his one-of-a-kind book Evie and Guy (see my review of it).
Thank you to Dan, for mentioning me in the interview, among others:
“if you’re an exciting new literary writer with something truly original to say […] fortunately, there *are* some [indie] people doing that. I’d single out the Pankhearst collective for embodying a fuck the word celebration of glorious failure; Rohan Quine for an imaginative ambition and scope that brings indie values to the largest possible creative canvas; Polly Trope for an unflinching commitment to both emotional and intellectual honesty. Someone on that list has the possibility to create a work that is truly important. Everyone on that list is contributing to an ethos that says this is where important stuff happens. We need more of that.”
A couple of weeks ago the leading book distributor globally, Ingram, uploaded this video interview to their IngramSpark channel.
In it, I talk about the genesis of the characters who appear in my five publications so far (and will appear in the upcoming novel The Beasts of Electra Drive). I also get a bit diva-philosophical about how the world sometimes deserves a good slap in the face (in a loving way of course), and the joy of writing as a love-bite to the world—even waving my hands around just a little bit, at moments.
Well, the world does need a good slap from time to time, I reckon…
A video interview recorded in the buzz and hubbub of this year’s London Book Fair has been released by Kobo, in which they spoke to various authors in Olympia, West London. Many thanks to them for including me. My little chat with them is here:
The “Buy” menu above contains individual links to each of my five tales in each of Kobo’s different international retail stores.
Kobo’s single list of all five together is here.
And the full sequence of interviews, where I’m in great company with authors Chele Cooke, Eliza Green, Karen Inglis, Margaret Skea, Clare Flynn, Helena Halme and Clare Lydon, is here.
Many thanks to Whitefox for interviewing me on their blog this week, at
where they kindly let me witter about my upcoming novel The Beasts of Electra Drive and video-games; my frisky little soufflé of a movie semi-career-ette in NYC and L.A. (which usually seemed to involve flitting around in hotpants or a black leather mini-skirt); and whether the still-prevalent tradition of expecting authors to sign away publishing rights in effective perpetuity is really such a reasonable expectation in 2016, when every media industry is in such flux…
Edgar Allan Poe’s raven was spotted perching in Foyles today, doubtless on a spring break from the pallid bust of Pallas just above Poe’s chamber door. Even on its vacation the raven was diligent in haunting its creator … which happened to bring it into a photographic-negative relationship, and moral counterpoint, with the pallid bust of Quine’s platinum-blonde raven beside it. My thanks to an anonymous passing wildlife photographer.
Thank you to “Words with Jam”, for featuring these five front covers in its article on designing book covers:
by Jane Dixon-Smith of JD Smith Design. Jane designed my four novellas’ covers. She also did a super-cool job of both paperbacks’ interior designs, as can be seen via the “look inside” displays of
In both, the Rockwell font on the front covers is echoed in the running headers, footers, chapter titles and section headings of the printed interiors, around Franklin Gothic font for the text itself.
I’m looking forward to her continuing the same design scheme for the paperback interior of the upcoming novel The Beasts of Electra Drive, as well as for the covers of this novel’s print and electronic formats. In line with the imagery established on the existing five tales’ covers—featuring eyes, faces, and night-time skyscrapers in locations relating to the stories’ urban settings around the globe—The Beasts of Electra Drive will include the Los Angeles cityscape and skyline.
The “Words with Jam” article appears in connection with the publication of Jane’s recent book The Importance of Book Cover Design and Formatting.
A big thank you to novelist Andrew Wallace, for saying generous and finely-written things about The Imagination Thief:
and is quoted from here.
“These sequences are incredibly powerful, richly poetic and unique. Rohan Quine is a very insightful writer […]. The freewheeling structure allows the author to dip in and out of different narratives and styles, worlds and fantasies. It also enables him to explore multiple genres, often within the same sequence […]. I often like to mention other similar books as a ‘way in’ for review readers but there is nothing else like this novel and that is my best recommendation.”
I’m pleased to have the amoral element of my narrator Jaymi pointed out to me, quite correctly. (I hadn’t 100% registered it myself before now, which is probably telling.)
Let’s keep physical bookshops in business: these 5 tales are all on Foyles’ delightfully solid wooden shelves, which are still just as sturdy and woody and horizontal as they ever were, despite the world-dominating wispiness of the Internet. So if you haven’t been to Foyles’ beautiful new flagship book-palace in a while, drop in next time you’re in the West End (107 Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0DT), pick up some good old-fashioned paper pages full of magic, and help make sure those bricks-and-mortar stores keep on doing the work of the angels.
Being literary fiction with a touch of magical realism and a dusting of horror, The Imagination Thief and The Platinum Raven and other novellas are shelved not only among the LitFic in the Fiction section, but also in the Fantasy/SciFi section and the Horror section too—all these being on the first floor. (See snapshots of all three shelves, below.)
Or for a less brutally 3D trip to Foyles, The Imagination Thief is at:
and The Platinum Raven and other novellas is at:
I should add that many kind reviews, some of a quite breathless enthusiasm, are available to demonstrate just what perversely high doses of imaginative nourishment and moral guidance are available through these little tomes. Yes—barely a dry seat in the house, one might almost say! Here they are:
Press and reviews for The Imagination Thief
Press and reviews for The Platinum Raven and other novellas
(Fuller list of retailers at www.rohanquine.com/buy.)
Rohan Quine’s The Imagination Thief in Foyles’ Fiction section
Rohan Quine’s The Platinum Raven and other novellas in Foyles’ Fiction section
Rohan Quine’s The Imagination Thief in Foyles’ Fantasy/SciFi section
Rohan Quine’s The Platinum Raven and other novellas in Foyles’ Fantasy/SciFi section
Rohan Quine’s The Imagination Thief in Foyles’ Horror section
Rohan Quine’s The Platinum Raven and other novellas in Foyles’ Horror section
This is a fun and intelligent interview (containing the word “labradoodle”, which is always a bonus) by Jude Cowan Montague with Dan Holloway, on Jude’s Resonance FM show “The News Agents”.
It’s warming that the voice of Dan is to be heard in the landscape, championing artistic achievement whose richness sets out with passion to change the world and people’s lives—and with compassionate mischief applying the label “consensus art” to what would simply pretend to have such a mission.
He also kindly gave these tales of mine here a shout-out during the interview, at timecode 48’05”-48’56”:
The appearance in indieberlin of a sneak preview of my upcoming novel The Beasts of Electra Drive was recently mentioned in the ALLi showcase:
I’m very grateful to indieberlin, for revealing the first snippet of the upcoming novel The Beasts of Electra Drive, at:
The Beasts of Electra Drive will be a prequel to all five existing published tales. As such, it will reveal the origins of seven lead characters who appear in those tales. The particular snippet that indieberlin has kindly excerpted happens to be from mini-chapter 76 “Jaymi creates the Platinum Raven’s soundtrack”—part of the genesis of the character called the Platinum Raven, whose subsequent exploits unfold in The Platinum Raven only.
This is in connection with indieberlin’s pioneering underground celebration of literary love, the Indieberlin Book Fair this Saturday. It’ll be taking place in Berlin, and also via the literophone (for which no booth could be too fluffy, as explained here).
The Beasts of Electra Drive’s synopsis and strapline are at the bottom of this page.
Strapline for The Beasts of Electra Drive by Rohan Quine
From Hollywood Hills mansions and Century City towers, to South Central motels and the oceanside refinery, The Beasts of Electra Drive spans a mythic L.A., following seven spectacular characters (or Beasts) from games designer Jaymi’s game-worlds. The intensity of those Beasts’ creation cycles leads to their release into real life in seemingly human forms, and to their combative protection of him from destructive rivals at mainstream company Bang Dead Games. Grand spaces of beauty interlock with narrow rooms of terror, both in the real world and in the incorporeal world of cyberspace. A prequel to Quine’s existing five tales, The Beasts of Electra Drive is a unique explosion of glamour and beauty, horror and enchantment, exploring the mechanisms and magic of creativity itself.
Synopsis of The Beasts of Electra Drive by Rohan Quine
Jaymi is an independent games designer living on Electra Drive in the Hollywood Hills. Opposed to him are his former colleagues at Bang Dead Games. Their mounting competitiveness regarding his own extravagant game-creation reaches a point where they attack him physically with a flying drone.
Bang Dead is preparing the global release of a game called Ain’tTheyFreaky!, centring on five tabloid-flavoured social-media “Newsfeeds” for the victimisation of certain people by others—the “Gal Score”, “Guy Score”, “Trivia Score”, “Arts Score” and “Cosy Score”. Jaymi decides to fight back, for self-protection and to counteract this game’s destructive effects.
He takes an irrevocable step: after creating Amber, the most dangerous of the characters (or Beasts, as he calls them) who will populate Jaymi’s project The Platinum Raven, he releases Amber from that game, such that Amber slithers out from Jaymi’s computer monitor. Appearing human, this now-incarnated Beast is sent to stalk Ain’tTheyFreaky!’s creators in real life—developer Dud Guy, visual designer Kelly, IT boss Ashley and programmer Herb.
While Amber terrorises them, Jaymi creates a second Beast, Evelyn, a woman of ease and freedom, from his project The Imagination Thief. Incarnated too, she joins Amber in sabotaging a Bang Dead venture in the physical world.
As Jaymi’s output spawns three more titles—The Host in the Attic, Apricot Eyes and Hallucination in Hong Kong—he jumps into the creation cycles and subsequent incarnations of five more varied and human-seeming Beasts. These are Shigem, Kim, the Platinum Raven, Scorpio, and his own simulacrum the Jaymi Beast.
After surviving a gun drone attack, he decides his Beasts’ missions must escalate: they will infiltrate the substance of Ain’tTheyFreaky!. Evelyn, Shigem and Kim therefore sneak into one of its visual environments (a mythically seedy Downtown L.A.), where they target the game’s casually-programmed cruelty in tempting players to wreck the lives of the street queens of Violet Street. Shigem shames Herb into secretly working for Jaymi instead; and Kim persuades Ashley to join Jaymi likewise.
Then five Beasts collaborate to sabotage Ain’tTheyFreaky! at code level. Turning its own server farm into a fabulous nightclub, they break the game down into its constituent glyphs and pixels, and send these barrelling up the cyber-pipes into the tanks of the neighbouring refinery.
Kelly’s unrepentantness prompts Jaymi to send Amber to kill her. Amber is arrested, but escapes. Amber, Scorpio and the Jaymi Beast kidnap Dud, then tie him to the transmitter mast above the Hollywood Sign. Those same raw glyphs and pixels are refined into something of creative enchantment, when the tied-up Dud is forced to watch them billow from the refinery’s smoke-stacks into a visionary “screening”—all re-programmed to constitute the substance of Jaymi’s games instead. The Jaymi Beast himself then kills Dud on the mast.
As Jaymi Peek sends his Beasts back through the monitor to be permanently sealed into his games (thus escaping blame himself), he feels re-integrated. He also knows he has sabotaged something globally destructive, while creating riches that will unfurl in those five titles.
Thanks to Words with Jam and ALLi for publishing the presentation I gave at Foyles in London Book Fair week with Dan Holloway. Words with Jam have included the text of my talk there, as part of their generous account of the issues he and I presented regarding how literary fiction can flourish alongside more commercial categories of fiction in this ever-unfolding digital dynamic of publishing:
ALLi has also kindly published that presentation of ours: mine at “Why Literary Fiction and Poetry Should be Protected” and Dan’s at “We Need Greater Social Diversity in Publishing”.
At the review site Book Muse, crime novelist JJ Marsh has just reviewed The Imagination Thief:
Many thanks to her, for her sharp and generous receptivity to my strange tale there. I like the perceptive fun of her comparisons, too—to Burroughs, Björk and sherbert dabs, among other enticing things.
Her review is also in the Reviews section of the current (June 2015) issue of Words with Jam magazine: http://www.wordswithjam.co.uk/p/june-2015-issue.html.
“Another difficult to classify book, but that’s precisely why it works so well. Part literary fiction, part fantasy, it is a surreal experience which makes the most of its equally offbeat location. With a cast of unforgettable characters and a central premise both intriguing and epic […].
[…] In Asbury Park, New Jersey, an abandoned holiday resort, preparations for the strangest and biggest show on earth continue. They encounter an eclectic bunch of characters; lovers, enemies, slaves and masters, all of whom provide Jaymi with a wealth of material. But information is power, and more than one person wants access.
The swooping eloquence of this book had me hypnotised. Quine leaps into pools of imagery, delighting in what words can do. The fact that the reader is lured into joining this kaleidoscopic, elemental ballet marks this out as something fresh and unusual. In addition to the language, two other elements make their mark. The seaside ghost town with echoes of the past and the absorbing, varied and rich cast of characters.
It’s a story with a concept, place and people you’ll find hard to leave.”
Alongside the recent day of literary delights at Foyles in April (part of the London Book Fair’s Book & Screen Week) organised by ALLi and Indie ReCon, the book distributor Ingram Content kindly let me rabbit at them in another video chat about these five tales:
Many thanks to Ingram’s Andy Bromley for the interview. A transcription of it is further down this page.
Transcription of this Foyles interview, as edited:
The name is Rohan Quine and the main title of the book is The Imagination Thief, and there are also four novellas called The Platinum Raven, The Host in the Attic, Apricot Eyes and Hallucination in Hong Kong. So, five titles so far—working on number six.
Well, marketing works best with a sleek, single genre. So for that reason I carefully selected three cross-genre categories … just to make things real easy for myself! [The five tales’] DNA is Literary Fiction, but there’s also very much a touch of Magical Realism going on in them, and a dusting of Horror, let’s say.
They’re a love-bite to the world. The world needs slapping across the face, for treating people as badly as it does, in many cases. I’m lucky just to be able to sit here and speak with some vague coherence, as I may be, but many people are slapped very hard by life in very many ways. And I think life sucks for doing that to people. I don’t know why it does it to people (nobody does, we none of us know, do we), but it does; life really beats some people up. As well as elevating and embracing others. It’s just this grand, messy, strange, glorious machine that we’re in. And we’d better love it as best we can, because we don’t have much choice over which machine we were put in: we were dropped into this one, whether we like it or not!
There are some supporting characters that I don’t have any part in. They were just useful to the plot, and in one or two cases I sort of took them from real life or melded different people in real life, to make them.
[By contrast, concerning the ten lead characters in the five tales (namely Alaia, Evelyn, Jaymi, Kim, Shigem, Angel, Pippa, Amber, the Chocolate Raven and the Platinum Raven):] there’s part of me in all of those [ten leads]. So, there’s a joyful sassy street-wise woman called Evelyn, there’s big-time part of me in her. And there’s a depressive dreamer [Pippa], a quiet dreamer who sits on her high-rise balcony alone, saying nothing, looking out, absorbing all she sees around her; even she’s somewhere in me too, I love her. And there are many other characters: there’s a dark, fierce sort of character [Angel, a.k.a. Scorpio], all kinds of shades of characters, light and dark, high and low, and I’m somewhere in all of [those ten], yes.
It’s a slow burn, because of what I write—slow but sure. In other words, certain authors (whom I greatly respect) are writing in categories where there is more of a ready-made community—or rather, to be more precise, a community that’s more accessible through established recognised channels. If you’re barmy enough to write what can loosely be called literary fiction, [on the other hand,] that’s less easy; that element of the task of doing what I’m doing here is less easy. It still happens, but over a longer slower-burn time-scale!
Ingram’s previous video interview with me at Triskele Books’ IAF in November 2014, which had a slightly more behind-the-scenes focus on the writing itself, is also online, along with a transcription, at:
On 17 April 2015 at London’s most iconic bookstore, Foyles, Dan Holloway and I will be capering about onstage for your amusement, while making a serious point or three, during London Book Fair week:
That’s during the ticketed, less boozy part of the day. But a bit later we’ll be tucking into the carrot-juice, no doubt, after selling some books at http://www.foyles.co.uk/Public/Events/Detail.aspx?eventId=2519. It’s free to attend, so do come along for some fun and to pick up any springtime reading that may tickle your fancy, including my five tales: https://www.rohanquine.com/buy
…And (looking back on the event now) a grand time was had at Foyles on the 17th. Dan and I were provided with the title “Should Literary Fiction & Poetry Be Protected?”, to which our response comprised his beautiful rallying-cry of a poem “Because” (whose text is here) preceded by my talk (whose text is further down this page and also here). Here’s the video of us:
Text of my part of our talk, “Should Literary Fiction & Poetry Be Protected?”:
“This is an exciting era, with new digital possibilities opening up every month, it seems. And that’s fabulous. It sometimes feels as if we’re hardly in control of those developments—and that in itself is fun, and it’s probably good for us too. But we can still influence a few things, to some extent, sometimes. Which means it’s incumbent on us to try to do so, if we can discern a way of steering those things for the better—such as making sure this brave new publishing arena is fully on view and celebrated in all its variety. So here’s a question, just to throw into the mix.
One characteristic of this era is that secret and mysterious non-human algorithms increasingly act as virtuous spirals of market power, perhaps more than ever before. But let’s stand back from those less-human processes and consider an equally important, wider question. That question is: how can we ensure the longer-term good health (financial and cultural) of a sector of human endeavour whose richness and interest depend on the flourishing of a diversity of fiction categories, and not just the handful of categories that happen to sell at the highest volume? Solving this would benefit many electrifying writers whose voices would otherwise go unheard; but more importantly, it would also benefit readers and the wider culture.
It goes without saying that all fiction categories are created equal in themselves, with equal value and loveliness. But in both independent and traditional publishing these days, titles in literary and cross-genre categories are under more pressure than ever to justify their existence in terms of purely commercial competition with more mass-market genres. Pure market forces are fine, as far as they go. But they do seem to be this digital dynamic’s main source of oxygen, so far; and their nature just happens to ensure that only certain kinds of content tend to get organically promoted, for any given level of time or effort or money that’s available to be expended. And those kinds of content are all fine and beautiful in themselves (just as much as the more literary fiction categories); but the resultant incompleteness in the picture of the kinds of creative output that are really being published is something that should be revealed and addressed.
It’s often lamented that the variety and quirkiness of places like London’s Soho and Downtown Manhattan have suffered a big diminishment in recent years, as unique venues have been priced out and pushed out by well-lit, well-heated new branches of favourite high-street chain-stores that are already popular and well-trafficked everywhere else too. Echoing that gentrification process, the combination of retail algorithms and the media’s frequent focus on sales-oriented reporting tends to cause commercial fiction categories (beautiful as those are) to push literary fiction categories out of comparable visibility, to a greater extent in independent publishing than in traditional publishing. This is not the fault of commercial fiction authors themselves—of course not. But in any field, if certain categories of activity in that field have a tendency to end up effectively hidden from general view, then the landscape of that field starts looking quite a bit less richly varied than it really is. Unnecessarily so: this doesn’t need to be the case, if we put our heads together to address it.
Many a Starbucks branch has displaced many an indie coffee-shop. Both make equally excellent coffees and both are equally attractive in their own different ways. But what shall we and the media come up with, in order to make sure that the fiction-category equivalents of the small indie coffee-shop—e.g. literary fiction (including its more envelope-pushing varieties, but not only these)—can remain commercially viable, alongside the Starbucks-level profits that more commercial categories of fiction are already smartly achieving through independent publishing? New organisations, new coalitions, perhaps? All fiction categories are created equal; but in this current exciting era some categories tend to get edged out of visibility, in independent publishing at least, in favour of other ones. And this edging-out is a powerful shaper of the culture: so prevalent, that it’s able to hide in plain view, like an elephant in a room. Dan and I would therefore like to shine a light on this elephant! (It’s over there…)
I’ll close by saying that in urban planning, clever zoning innovations are sometimes introduced, to preserve or adapt the character of a retail district, in order to maintain its variety (but without being too restrictive on businesses large or small). Is some media equivalent of such zoning possible here? These innovations must surely be achievable … and they must be achieved, proactively. We just haven’t found them yet. So let’s find them!”
Here’s Dan preparing to perform from memory (photo by Kathleen Jones):
Here’s me blethering (photo by Carol Cooper):
And here’s a moody close-up (photo by Polly Trope):
The world’s biggest book distributor, Ingram, patiently sat through three minutes of me wittering at them on camera about these five tales last November. This is their nifty edit:
Transcription of this video, as edited:
I guess it’s that I’m aiming to push imagination and language towards their extremes, basically—so as to explore the beauty and the horror and the mirth of this predicament called life, where we seem to have been dropped without sufficient consultation ahead of time, I would say. And there’s three basic questions that I keep in mind, while I’m doing that.
First, how can I illuminate the world (to the best of my abilities), using language in new ways and old ways, so as to leave the world just infinitesimally better than it was before I did so? That’s the first thing.
Secondly, how can I aim and attune these ears to our highest aesthetic potential, and then bring down the richest results from there that I possibly can, and then give those results the truest and most beautiful form that I can give them?
And then thirdly, how can what I write make an honest account of the darkness and pain in the world, while being a vote for life at the same time—and hopefully even just a blast of fun along the way! But I do need to embrace that dark side as well and not shy away from it but integrate it into the light and the richness and the magic, which of course it is in real life.
It’s a blast to reach into here and to create (to the best of one’s abilities) the most interesting, the richest, the most explosive and unusual and complete account of how this, as an instrument, reflects that—and hopefully not just within here, but thereby do it so well as to draw out something more universal that will then connect with everyone else as well. But my first duty is to what’s in here; and more specifically, to the way what’s in here interacts with as much as possible of what’s out there (as is within my powers!).
And the way the results then transmit themselves out into the world is secondary. It’s important, and it’s a different set of abilities that one has to hone (marketing and all that); but really the centre of it, the key, the rich beautiful explosive centre, is the creative stuff, and that’s an absolute blast.
Basically The Imagination Thief seeks to illuminate the darkest and brightest corners of human imagination, and then to wring as much beauty as possible out of this harshly-designed life where we’ve been dropped, and then to interrogate that beauty with sensuality and rigour and humour.
Ingram’s subsequent video interview with me, at Foyles, is now also online, along with a transcription, at: