Warning! Adult Content! If You’re Easily Offended, Read On.

Yeah, I thought that would get your attention.

Offensive? Some may think so. Most of us will just shake our heads in disbelief and wonder why the poor girl couldn’t find something more sensible to spend her money on.

But don’t we just love to be offended?

Whether it’s bad language, an image that contravenes our personal definition of decency, or the untoward actions of someone else, we all just love to act affronted and imply that we are above such things.

Yet hands up who among you never swears?

Who among you only has sex with the lights off?

Who isn’t naked under their clothes?

Invariably it’s not the action itself that causes offence, but the why, when and where.

I have been known to utter the occasional curse beneath my breath. Oh, alright, more than occasionally. When it comes to turning the air blue I can manage several shades before breakfast. Especially when we get a bad review on Amazon. Just ask Saffi!

And yes, last time  looked I was naked under my clothes.

Seriously, I’ve never understood why simply nudity should cause offence to anyone anyway. Everyone should be a naturist! We may not always enjoy what we see, but is anyone really offended by non-sexual nudity?

Sex with the light on, on the other hand… That’s a different matter altogether. Though with our regular power cuts here in West Africa having a light on is  pretty hit and miss at the best of times, and it’s far too hot to actually muster the energy for the sweaty bit. But the women here are just so drop-dead gorgeous you can’t help but think about it.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Charles Dickens was no stranger to causing offence. He upset the PC brigade (long before they were called the PC brigade) with his stereotype miser Fagin in Oliver Twist, and more importantly he upset the British middle classes with his blunt portrayal of life in Britain among the poor.

No question his character Fagin conformed to a racial sterotype most of us today would find offensive. Whether that was intentional or not on Dickens’ part is a whole separate debate.

But what really offended middle class Britain was, of course, was Dickens’  honesty. And it was this scathing portrayal of our class-ridden society that so appealed to huge audiences in “classless” America.

No, don’t panic. This isn’t a build up to a Marxist-Leninist rant against greedy capitalist publishers. My guest today is Dan Holloway, not Alexi Sayle

But note the word audience, earlier, not readership.

Dickens didn’t really have a readership, because by and large not many people could read, let alone afford to buy books. In fact his early works were published in serialised instalments in newspaper journals.  And because most people could not read (because most people had never enjoyed an education) these instalments would be read out loud, often to packed bars and clubs.

And later to theatres.

Hard to imagine today, but in a time before television and cinema, when a theatre wasn’t hosting a full-blown play it would often be hosting an author reading his book out loud. And Charles Dickens made himself a wealthy man doing exactly that, touring America’s big cities reading chapters of his books to enthralled audiences crammed into theatres, while others clambered onto the window ledges outside hoping to catch a word or two.

Of course we have audio-books today, which are nice to listen to when stuck in traffic. But in the twenty-first century with so many cultural options to choose from, surely no-one in their right mind is going to give the telly a miss and get themselves into a theatre or hall to listen to someone read out loud. Right?

Wrong.

If you’re a crime-thriller reader and have an eye for a bargain you might just have happened upon The Company Of Fellows, a novel by Dan Holloway, who describes it succinctly as Hannibal Lecter in Oxford.

Sadly it’s not about Inspector Lewis getting his come-uppance with caramelised onions and a fine chianti. More’s the pity. And apologies there for the in-house British crime humour which will have been completely lost on our readers across the pond. You see, there was this guy Morse, whose first name was Endeavour, and… Yeah, you’re right. Let’s just leave it.

My point being, Dan is not just a crime-thriller writer. In fact, he’s not just a writer.

He writes outside the box.

In fact, with Dan there is no box!

Among many other literary accomplishments, Dan is an orator. And no, that doesn’t just mean he talks a lot.

And like Dickens, Dan reads words out loud.

Having got the cheap plug out of the way for his book, I’m now going to hand over to the man himself to explain what he does, and more importantly, why.

But before you proceed, I draw your attention to the warning that begun this particular blog.

Yes, there are both images and video below, but fear not they all involve clothed adults. If I’ve accidentlally linked to my favourite porn site a different site with naughty bits than I apologise, but I’m pretty sure it’s okay. And surprise surprise, half of you have jumped ahead and clicked on the play button, just in case. You sad lot!

Anyway, yes there ARE adult references in the text below.

Nothing too graphic, and absolutely nothing involving animals or children. (I edited out the bit about the three-legged sheep, Dan, but will read it again when everyone’s gone home.)

But if you’re easily offended, this is your lucky day.

Over to Dan, unabridged and uncensored. Enjoy!

~

If You Don’t Mean it Don’t Say it or When You Have to Say it, it’ll Mean Trouble

Dan Holloway on writing, speaking and life

How often does a writer get told, in all seriousness, by a literary critic, “No one’s coming on my tits today”?

There is nothing so energising, exciting, connected to what it really means to be a storyteller as reading your work to a live audience. But it’s also a little bit of terrifying. And if you write about the, er, darker side of life there are all kinds of added things to think about (I once got into trouble on an Amazon forum that featured excerpts of work because I announced – truthfully – I couldn’t find a passage from my book (life:) razorblades included that was long enough for the exercise but suitable in content).

Fortunately, 2 minutes after the above pronouncement, I had the proudest moment of my writing life when living legend Molly Parkin told me she loved what I’d just read, a short story that goes by the descriptive title of The Last Fluffer in La La Land. The occasion was Literary Death Match, one of the very best chances a writer has to shine before a live crowd.

But here’s the thing. If we write from the edges of acceptability, and that’s our selling point, well, it’s all very well on paper, or from behind the protective screen of the internet. And live readings are a fantastic chance to present our very best work to an audience with all the drama and atmosphere that only a live setting can give. But how do you look an audience member in the eye and deliver lines like “she said she chose me because I started quoting Henry Miller when I put my finger in her asshole” (not actually from Last Fluffer – from a flash piece called photo-fit that I first performed at the monthly night I host in Oxford’s O3 Gallery)?

I could probably say all kinds of jargon-stuffed things about self-confidence and breathing techniques. It would probably be useful and true at that. But for me there is something much more fundamental that means I am happy to stand up in front of an audience and read anything I’ve written, whether I’d blush bright enough to send Max Factor out of business if my dear departed granny were there or not.

I write what I write because it’s true. Simple as that.

Now, clearly I don’t hang out with someone who chose me for the above reason. Nor did I skin alive my twin brother and write my diary on the velum like the heroine of SKIN BOOK. That’s not what I mean by truth. And I most certainly don’t mean what people are asking when they give us thriller writers that awful line about how we can come up with stuff like we do unless we’re like that. I mean that every time I sit down to write something, I have only one aim in mind. To scrape the truth from the inside of my head and spread it on the page. The truth that really matters, my personal truth in all its peculiarity and particularity.

How I dress that truth is neither here nor there. What matters is that it comes first. Before commerciality. Before readers. How many writers do you know who say they think of their readers first? That’s as sure a way as any to cheat them. The fact is we’re all no more or less than the individual we are. We don’t have a common anything with our reader. We can use words like empathy all we want but actually all they mean is a writer is copping out of telling their particular truth about the world by fudging it in generalities. And to me, that’s cheating the reader.

There was a time when I thought that applied to “literary” fiction but not genre fiction. Genre fiction was about being commercial, playing on formulas and types, sacrificing everything at the altar of pageturnability. What a ridiculously patronising attitude to both readers and genre fiction. Since I’ve stopped looking on judgementally from the sidelines and actually started writing it (thrillers and now dark urban fantasy) I realise that it’s true of all fiction. We do our best when we first look deep inside ourselves, without the filters of commerciality or formula or type.

Which brings me back to reading. What I’ve learned is very simple. If I can’t bring myself to read a passage that has extreme material in it, there’s a simple reason. I wrote it to shock, to get a reaction, to make a point, to try and goad the audience. I didn’t write it because it was the truth. If I’ve written the truth, I can read anything. Because I believe it. Because it’s me. Because I’m not ashamed or embarrassed of it because I know it’s the very clearest way I had of saying what I needed to say.

Going back to that night in Shoreditch. The Last Fluffer in La La Land has a simple premise. It’s about the death of human contact. It says imagine a world so disconnected that the last meaningful form of connection is between a porn star and a fluffer. Only because of Viagra there are no more fluffers. For me that’s the perfect story to tell what I had to say about human relationships in the 21st century. So I wrote about the porn industry just after they stopped using fluffers. From the point of view of an objectionable porn star who knows something’s wrong. That the world has one bad. But can’t quite get what. At the very end of the story he finds the Last Fluffer of the title’s body, lying on the studio floor, half naked. Which is where he delivered the paragraph that provoked the reaction:

“Stupid bitch,” I say at last, and then I shout it and then I scream it and the lot echoes back at me, and I want to kick her, the dumb fuck. I want to kick her so hard her fucking silicones pop, and I stand over her with my feet touching her skin and I can see her stomach begin to shine like she’s sweating in the lights, only she’s not sweating, it’s just my tears making random lines through the fine hairs and tanned-out scars. I pull down my sweatpants and boxers, and keep my eyes open and mutter “no” again and again under my breath and watch white drops spatter her tits like a Jackson Pollock, and I pull my clothes back on and leave the office and I don’t hear shit in my ears, not even echoes.

And I didn’t have any problem at all reading it to a room of strangers because for me it is the profession of a deep truth about how I see modern life. And I got an incredible reaction from the audience (watch the video. You can feel the electricity in the room). But if I’d written it *for* that reaction, I’d have never been able to read it out at all.

In other words, if you have a problem with reading your extreme material it’s probably not a problem with reading at all. It’s probably a problem with your writing. Write honestly, write the truth. However dark (trust me, the truth is always darker than the sensational – take a look at the video of Meat if you don’t believe me). Because if you don’t you’re cheating yourself, your cheating your readers. And one day you’ll have to stand up in front of a room of people and say “I started quoting Henry Miller when I put my finger up her asshole” and your legs will go to jelly and your lips will clam shut and you’ll have right royally shafted your big moment.

Dan Holloway, thank you very much for joining us at MWi. For those still wanting more, check out the following video, and the little info block that follows it.

Lit Death Match reading

Dan on Dan:

Dan Holloway is the author of the thriller The Company of Fellows, best described as Hannibal Lecter in Oxford University. He also writes transgressive performance pieces, all of which are included in his 99 cent collection (life:) razorblades included.

He has performed them at the likes of Rough Trade East, Covent Garden Poetry Café, Modern Art Oxford, Book Club Boutique, No Reading Alone and Literary Death Match at which he was victorious last October.

This summer he will be touring festivals and fringes with The New Libertines, a show he has put together to celebrate the underground literary scene. He writes a column giving spoken word advice for writers for Words With Jam magazine and can next be found on May 12th at Grit Lit, the award-winning show that forms part of Brighton Fringe.

Finally two other video links that just refuse to integrate with the MWi site, but should work fine if you copy and paste them into your browser:

Judging http://vimeo.com/16147944

Meat, performed at Covent Garden Poetry Café http://www.youtube.com/clarewatersandfriend#p/u/5/fxRxPbIXS34

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  1. I firmly believe that clothing is at the root of most of society’s vices, not money. But then, even with the fashion industry, all you need to do is follow the money trail to see where the real fear-mongering is seated.

    Nudity has nothing to do with sex, except maybe to make it more convenient. I had great sex (as a teenager, anyway) fully clothed. Personally, I find non-sexual nudity a form of honesty and purity.

    But hey, wait. Why do we teach the fear of sex in the first place (other than the practical aspect of promoting marital bonds and fidelity, and making sure our kids don’t start out too young).

    I’d love to live in a world where both nudity and sex were not tools of fear. I wish that “adult” wasn’t a dirty word.

    Just sayin.

    • Love the idea of convenient sex!

      The equation of nudity with sex is something the British and Americans have elevated to an art form. It’s so refreshing to go to southern and easter Europe where family naturism is a way of life.

      When everybody is naked the social barriers between individuals vanish.

  2. “with Dan there is no box” – the rumours that I go commando at gigs are underway already.
    It always amazes me that people come out and listen as well. I’ve just got back from Grit Lit at Brighton Fringe where I read the Last Fluffer in La La Land to 60-odd rapt listeners. Absolutely amazing night, and the crowd was so receptive.

    dan, couldn’t agree more. We need to get over that ridiculous tittering schoolboy attitude to things and be able to talk honestly about every aspect of being human.

    Mark, it’s a delight to be here. Thank you

    • I can imagine the crowd, being there by choice, would be very receptive, but how do you get the message across in the first place to convince someone to come and listen?

      And how much is down to the ability of the speaker as opposed to the written word?

      Do you write material specifically to be spoken / listened to or can any piece of good writing sound good out loud?

      This is something I ponder with Sugar & Spice. It’s a very visual novel, written almost as teleplay (but without the background images, obviously). We wrote scenes rather than chapters.

      The sales figures suggest we got it right, but I’m not at all sure it would work as an audio book.

  3. So, you’re doing nude readings now, Dan?

    Maybe I’m missing the point, but not everything I write is meant to be read aloud. There are some stories I’ll read at readings and some I won’t.

    Sometimes reading is a private thing. I’m alone when I write the words, the reader is most likely alone when he reads it, or is at least reading silently.

    I don’t mind unsettling the reader–it’s one of the joys of writing–but I don’t always need to be there to see it.

    • I concur with that, Patti. As per my previous response, there ae some things I just don’t think will work as audio.

      That said, apart from reading to children I’ve never read anything out loud apart from the occasional speech, so have no experience to draw on.

  4. I’d never do totally nude, Patti – I’m superstitious about wearing my red glove.

    I’m absolutely not saying people have to read aloud – the premise of the piece is *if* you’re doing a reading, and you want to read your best material, but that’s a bit edgy, how do you prepare yorself to read it. It’s a how-to for people who want to do areading, absolutely not proselytising people into reading.

    • Praise the Lord for the red glove!

      Have you considered doing your own audio version of your books for sale alongside the ebooks on Amazon?

  5. Now that’s what I call a reading (whether its adult material or not is …immaterial). Its whether your words can entertain a reader/listener and that brings me to the one and only point Dan, with which I disagree.

    I DO write for readers even though I’m also writing for myself. Them and me. In fact I wrote a bit of fan-fict on my blog for readers and me. It’s being remodelled off-blog as a hist.fict. By way of involving readers and listening to what they have to say and how they feel, I’ve put up the new opening chapter to be compared with the old opening chapter and have invited comment. What they do have to say can be really engaging and enlightening. And I do find that I listen.

  6. I make no comment here (but Dan, don’t let me stop you coming right back!) as Mesmered will be discussing her work more fully here at MWi in my next post.

    That should have gone live today, but is slightly delayed by real-life events here on the Dark Continent which have scant regard for my timetable.

    Watch this space!

  7. @mesmered – I think feedback from readers/listeners can be essential. I went through 26 openings to mynovel Songs from the Other Side of the Wall, largely in response to readers on Youwriteon and Authonomy, and it’s infinitely better for that.

    The key for me with listening to feedback is always to be receptive to what people say about *how* you say what you have to say. The moment you start changing *what* you have to say you’ve had it.

    @Mark – without cutting you off at the pass, my column piece in June’s Words With Jam ( http://www.wordswithjam.co.uk )is about the problem of reading from novels and which piece to choose, but in brief – a reading is like a sampler. You need to show off all your skills – pacing, dialogue, handling of narrative arcs, emotional connection – in 5-7 minutes, that’s *well* under 1000 words. So pick a scene that does that.

    How to get people to readings (my last couple of columns in WWJ have been on this subject) – I would say start with a local open mic night that has a ready-built crowd. I did it the “chance your arm” way – my first three events were all ones I organised – the launch for Songs from… which I got 50 or so people to by dragooning my Youwriteon and Authonomy friends one by one, Free-e-day, which had 7 acts, each of whom brought someone, and Year Zero Live, again 7 acts. By that stage I’d been spending 2-3 hours per day hanging around the seedy corners of the internet getting to know people. Very much the hard way. It still amazes me when I go to something like Grit Lit and there are 60 people there who’ve come just because it’s Grit Lit – Literary Death Match had about 100, and I was only responsible for bringing 4 of them – it was so relaxing just showing up and reading. But now, 18 montha and about 20-30 gigs later people are starting to turn out in those sorts of numbers for our eight cuts gallery shows.

    I’ve never really distinguished things to be read aloud from other pieces, even the pieces I’ve written for live shows, like the event I was part of at Modern Art Oxford where 15 of us (from electronica artists and comedians to architects and me as the writer) were told we had 4 minutes to do something live in response to an artwork. I’ve always been concerned with how sentences sound, long before I started performing. Which is probably why I like performing – it suits the way I write. I also write very chop-and-changing prose – with short episodes and lots of changes of sentence length, and the kind of dialogue that runs on without using speech marks – things that are by no means everyone’s style or cup of tea but lend themselves to being read aloud where you need a lot of variation in pace and tone. My inclination is to say if you don’t write with a live audience at the back of your mind you might not edit as carefully as you should -does it *really* matter that has an unresolved final syllable? Does it *really* matter the last two sentences of that paragraph have exactly the same structure for no reason? Well, yes it *does* – I guess for me hearing the sound is a trick to make me edit less lazily.

  8. DAN! i hadn’t realised you’re that Dan from YWO… I’m Taggie from YWO. There’s a lot of we YWOnners around!

  9. :)) We’re everywhere!! I’ve had the pleasure of meeting the other Dan (Lewis, of Pop Fiction – I’m Tommi, after the character in Company of Fellows), and many other YWOers in person – a lovely lot! I’m still hoping one day to get to meet Patti 🙂

  10. What’s up, after reading this amazing article i am
    also delighted to share my knowledge here with mates.

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