Ten Great Monsters of Literature

In 1816 a cohort of England’s finest writers, who also happened to be great buddies, spent a summer holidaying in the countryside near Geneva in Switzerland. Little did they know that the leisurely cross-pollination of their immense creativity would bring forth some of the darkest and most extreme concepts of humanity the world had seen, spawning works that would go on to change the literary landscape forever.

FrankensteinThe gang included Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John William Polidori, Claire Clairmont, and of course, Percy’s wife Mary. Rumour had it these friends would gather by the fire at night and compete with each other to invent the most psychologically chilling horror stories. Naturally it was Mary who outdid them all, and thus Frankenstein’s monster was born. Or rather, stitched together.

So in honour of the 200th anniversary of the conception of Mary Shelley’s groundbreaking novel, we cast an eye over other literary terrors, both past and present, that have significantly impacted the way we enjoy our frights. Due to the abundance of such characters in ancient myth, this list will focus only on modern works and creatures of the author’s pure invention.

 

Grendel
Beowulf (C8th-11th), Anonymous
Humans have always been fascinated by unnatural terrors, so it’s no surprise that the first recorded piece of English literature is a good old monster tale. A completely original creature that could only have taken form in Viking society, Grendel wreaks havoc on halls of mead-drinking Scandinavians, ripping arms from sockets and such. When he is confronted by our hero Beowulf and driven away, he retreats to his mother, of course, as any good monster should, who turns out to be even more grotesque and blood-thirsty than he. Is there a message here?

 

The Giant Squid
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870), Jules Verne
Fast forward a few hundred years to the advent of the novel, and it’s no accident that the majority of truly original monsters were conceived in the 19th century, when writers were enamoured of the curiosities of the natural world and the enormous scientific advancements taking shape around them. New possibilities for exploration and discovery fed the invention of such fantastic animals as the giant squid who lurks in the depths of the ocean ready to drag submarines of men down to their watery graves.

 

the jabberwockThe Jabberwocky
Through the Looking Glass (1871), Lewis Carol
A master of exploring both the delightful and unsettling sides of imagination, Carol most delicately balances this dichotomy in Through the Looking Glass, the strange yet beautiful sequel to Alice in Wonderland. The Jabberwocky is the stuff of nightmares, terrible in its juxtaposition to Alice’s innocence but made far more terrifying through the use of evocative language and invented words that depict a creature we can never fully imagine.

 

Mr Hyde
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde (1886), Robert Louis Stephenson
Along with technological and scientific advancements, the 19th century was also remarkable for opening up the world of psychology and psychoanalysis as a new way of understanding human nature. Many works written during this era examine the monster within; the duality of virtue and vice that exists in each of us. This analogy is given material form in the alternating identities of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and the slow, terrible blurring of their moral and physical boundaries.

 

The Morlocks
The Time Machine (1895), HG Wells
Wells takes the concept of morality a step further by examining the evolution and decay of society in this genre-bending novel, where future humans have devolved into two stunted castes, the Eloi, who live above ground, and the Morlocks who dwell beneath the earth and feed on their surface-dwelling brethren. The Morlocks have since been explored in other works as a highly advanced race of beings, demonstrating the cleverly ambiguous light in which Wells paints these future versions of humanity.

 

Count Dracula
Dracula (1897), Bram Stoker
Advancing toward the turn of the century the supernatural begins to seep into monster literature alongside the prevailing interest in science, technology and morality. In Stoker’s insurmountable Dracula, scientists and doctors are still the most highly respected characters, but they are confronted by a horror that defies rational explanation, even as they attempt rational means to overcome it. And the ship of dead people that crashes into England’s shores is pretty damn creepy.

 

chutlhuCthulhu
The Call of Cthulhu (1928), HP Lovecraft
Cosmic weird really takes the stage when Lovecraft comes on the scene in the early 20th century. Cthulhu is a monster-god, a Great Old One in Lovecraft’s pantheon of the Cthulhu Mythos. One of the first writers to take his monsters beyond the bounds of a single story and into a far-reaching universe of interconnected tales, his approach to writing horror would influence writers for decades to come, not only in the pure strangeness of his inventions but also in the scope of his imagination.

 

The Balrog
The Lord of the Rings (1937-1949), JRR Tolkien
Scope becomes the thing in the 20th century, and JRR Tolkien is one of the pioneers of epic fantasy, creating entire anthropologies, down to detailed cultures, languages and histories within his invented world. Beyond the orcs and the uruk-hai it’s in the big bads such as Sauron and the Nazgul where he succeeds so magnificently in depicting evil. The balrogs, though, take the cake as Middle Earth’s creature-feature for being virtually unstoppable, shrouded in fire and shadows, and living for thousands of years in the bowels of mountains.

 

Pennywise
It (1986), Stephen King
Moving past scientific experimentation, psychoanalytical dilemmas, and supernatural forces of evil, Stephen King can be credited with bringing monster writing into its modern form where everyday, relatable characters are pit against some kind of inexplicable physical and mental force. Iconic and enduringly terrifying, the balloon-toting cannibal clown (with the face of Tim Curry) is one of the most masterful creations of horror literature ever.

 

The White Walkers
A Song of Ice and Fire (1996-present), George RR Martin
Rising above the current proliferation of vampires, zombies and werewolves, George RR Martin has managed to create a new breed of monster that is mysterious and terrifying while also strikingly contemporary. In his epic series winter seems to form the backdrop of the greatest threats against humanity, and he populates the icy vastness beyond The Wall with an army of skeletal, humanoid giants whose voices sound like cracking ice and whose victims turn into undead wights. We are yet to understand the details of their existence and their true motivation, but for now they make you think twice about a casual walk in the woods.

 

Elise Janes

 

What inspires you?

A tired enough question at face value, but an important one to ask yourself if you’re an artist of any kind. What is it that gets your fire burning? What do you surround yourself with? What motivates you, educates you, informs your attitude to life? Some inspirations stick, others come and go. So what’s inside you right now?

Arnold_Böcklin_-_Die_Toteninsel_-_Google_Art_Project

Favourite books, authors, artists, works:

Ken Ward: I’ve just finished Perfidia by James Ellroy. In nearly 700 pages not a line, not a word is delivered without juice. Reading his novels are like watching the fight scenes from the Adam West Batman series – Zlonk, Kapow, Bif.

Carmel Purcell: Currently, I am reading What Westerners Have for Breakfast by John McBeath. It captures the experience of being in Goa (in India) perfectly. The last book I read was Tea with the Taliban by Ian Robinson. It was brilliant. I love reading books about the unique experiences people have had in challenging places.

Ashlee Poeppmann: I love reading Fiction, especially Science Fiction and Magic Realism. Currently reading Volume Four of Philip K Dick’s collected Short Stories. But how can you ever choose just one favourite book? I’ve been staring at my bookcase to find an answer. But each book has a different feeling and memory inside it for me. Harry Potter will always have a space in my heart. It was the first novel I read, and I grew up with the characters. I remember saving my small amount of pocket money each year for the next book. I was recommended Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel in High School by my English Teacher. It now has a special place in my heart. On my first day at University, I was recommended The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. Carter took another slice of my heart.

Sean Macgilliduddy: Currently reading Dennis Lehane’s World Gone By and before that Anna Funder’s The Girl With the Dogs. Recent exhibition I wish I’d seen but didn’t – Banksy’s Dismaland in the UK.

Elise Janes: At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien still fascinates me: lyrical, strange, brutally intelligent, and funny. Not quite sure how he got it all so right. Author/journalist Jon Ronson (The Men Who Stare at Goats, among other things). I heard him speak recently and he’s a rare thing, an honest, humorous thinker not afraid to show us up for what we are. (Plus his name rhymes with Ron Swanson). The compositional advice of Stephen King, Strunk & White, Van Gogh, and Robert McKee. And always, Martin Scorsese. Storyteller, genius, auteur, an original in every sense of the word

Conan Elphicke: Well, I’m a middle-aged man so my current books tend to be about all things military – anything by Max Hastings or Antony Beevor. Which is shockingly embarrassing. I might as well wear slippers and a cardigan, smoke a pipe and grow dahlias. My all-time favourite books include Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia, Jessica Mitford’s Hons and Rebels, Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. Also the better work of Douglas Adams and Clive James. That doesn’t sound very high-brow so I better throw in Joyce, Goethe, Rimbaud and Dostoevsky, though I’ve never read a single work of theirs and probably never will.

Jane Abbott: It’s safe to say I have no new favourite books. No sooner do I finish one and think, ‘Wow, that’s going to the top of the list,’ than another takes its place. (Although I have to say, it’s hard to beat McCarthy’s The Road.) Like most people, I do have some old favourites, which I read as a child and still re-read every now and then, as a kind of reminder: Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, Tolkien (of course), Stephen King’s The Stand, L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. These preferences are nostalgic as much as they are admiring.

 

Current inspirations:

Ken: Kyle Chandler’s portrayal of Coach Eric Taylor in Friday Night Lights. His sense of integrity, hard work and personal responsibility make me confront head on, and without aversion, who I am and how I want to be.

Carmel: I am inspired most by people my age who carry themselves professionally and have done very well for themselves so early in life. It inspires me to work hard at the things I love.

Ashlee: I wouldn’t consider myself a poet, but I love reading poetry. Some of my favourite poets are unpublished – I usually find them online. One blog that’s inspiring me this week is ‘mythpoetrynet.tumblr.com’, which is dedicated to poetry inspired by mythologies.

Sean: Spring.

Elise: The visual art of Arnold Böcklin. An Infinity of Lists, Umberto Eco. Anything written by Tennyson. And the sea, as ever.

Conan: My wife and kids.

Jane: Margaret Atwood and Ursula Le Guin, not least for their endurance. Also Charlotte Wood, Elena Ferrante, Robyn Cadwallader. I think it’s interesting that they are all women.

 

Quote or idea to live by:

Ken: When you speak from the heart, you speak to the heart.

Carmel: Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination.

Ashlee: What is important in life is life, and not the result of life. – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Elise: Stuff your eyes with wonder. – Ray Bradbury

Conan: Mindfulness and resilience.

Jane: The biggest challenge we face is shifting human consciousness, not saving the planet. The planet doesn’t need saving, we do. – Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez

 

An All Hallow’s Read

Halloween, All Hallow’s Eve, Allhallowtide, Night of the Dead, whatever you call it and however you think it came into being one thing’s for sure, it’s become a majorly lucrative chocolate-selling and movie-renting business. This year why not save your consumerist fervour for Christmas and instead stay home for a quiet evening read, with a flickering candle and a glass of brandy or something. What to read, you ask? We have just the thing.

Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink beneath the lake,
The shadows lengthen
In Carcosa.

Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa.

Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Dim Carcosa.

Song of my soul, my voice is dead;
Die thus, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in
Lost Carcosa.

Cassilda’s Song in “The King in Yellow,” Act i, Scene 2.

The_King_in_Yellow

Thus begins one of the oldest, strangest and oft-referenced works of speculative fiction to grace our shelves, as mysterious today as it was when first published in 1895. The King in Yellow is a collection of short stories by Robert W. Chambers, and if you’re nodding your head now it’s because you recognise the title from the first season of True Detective, where the themes and symbolism were referenced as a kind of otherworldly red herring to the mystery pursued by Rust and Marty.

The intertextuality doesn’t end there. Chambers’ collection itself is hung on the influence of a play about the titular King, which is continually referenced throughout the stories but never fully presented. The play is said to bring insanity or a grim fate upon those who read it. Besides Chambers’ stories themselves being a great read, this elusive structural gimmick is pure squirmy genius.

And its heritage is vast. Chambers’ Yellow King was influenced by the classic works of Ambrose Bierce, Théophile Gautier and even Poe, and went on to be a foundational inspiration for most of the significant genre players of the  twentieth century, including H. P. Lovecraft, Raymond Chandler, Robert A. Heinlein and even Stephen King.

All this over a creepy fictional play that never actually existed.

The best news is that it’s now public domain so you can read the entire text online. Enjoy.

The Genre Gap

In this glowing age of equality us literati still happily overlook one of the more entrenched and obstructive ideological discriminations that, if we’re honest, is now largely irrelevant: the cold war between literary and genre fiction.

It is a strange war indeed, a war waged most enthusiastically by certain mass-media critics, awards juries and pseudo-intellectuals, clans seemingly ignorant of the fact that the rest of the world has moved on without them. In reality, the strangely-evolved notion that internal monologuing and odd pronouns are superior in some way to an active plot is beginning to lose traction.

100421FranckenIIThis notion of superiority evolved out of the world’s rebound from the Modernist period, as we trundled through the mid-20th century and mass-market paperbacks became a mode of dissemination and academia dug it’s fingernails into Joyce and Faulkner. One could argue that the publication of Ulysses was tantamount to the commencement of an arms race between the literaries and the hacks.

I myself am a bachelor of literature. I have read Ulysses cover-to-cover (an alarming life-achievement). Hemingway, Dostoyevsky and Pynchon are among my favourite authors. I appreciate a well-strung sentence and a verbose description of madeleine cakes as much as the next snob. I believe in the art of experimental framing, the poetry of precise imagery and the power of lyrical cynicism.

However I do not consider the writers of such to be superior to genre authors simply based on a legalistic classification.

You see, the truth is much more straightforward: some writers are simply good and some are simply bad.

Unfortunately many bad writers are writing genre fiction, which has given genre an unjustly bad aroma of clunky prose. But, in much the same way, plenty of bad writers are also writing ‘literary’ fiction.

Not so long ago I stumbled across a marvellous and highly controversial dissertation from the well-known journalist B.R. Myers, in which he holds vehemently forth on this exact issue. His perspective is rather traditional, mainly in that he despairs of the plight of contemporary literature exclusively, but in doing so he highlights some of the greatest cons of modern literary pretension:

More than half a century ago popular storytellers like Christopher Isherwood and Somerset Maugham were ranked among the finest novelists of their time, and were considered no less literary, in their own way, than Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. Today any accessible, fast-moving story written in unaffected prose is deemed to be “genre fiction”—at best an excellent “read” or a “page turner,” but never literature with a capital L.

[…] Everything written in self-conscious, writerly prose, on the other hand, is now considered to be “literary fiction”—not necessarily good literary fiction, mind you, but always worthier of respectful attention than even the best-written thriller or romance.

What once may have been a useful designation for the purposes of academic study in the mid-20th century is now as obsolete as the floppy disk.

He goes on to explain:

The dualism of literary versus genre has all but routed the old trinity of highbrow, middlebrow, and lowbrow, which was always invoked tongue-in-cheek anyway. Writers who would once have been called middlebrow are now assigned, depending solely on their degree of verbal affectation, to either the literary or the genre camp. David Guterson is thus granted Serious Writer status for having buried a murder mystery under sonorous tautologies (Snow Falling on Cedars, 1994), while Stephen King, whose Bag of Bones (1998) is a more intellectual but less pretentious novel, is still considered to be just a very talented genre storyteller.

Is it possible that Stephen King is more ‘intellectual’ than David Guterson? Quite.

SnowFallingOnCedarsThe distinction between literary and genre writing is no longer necessary. Our entertainment has evolved, like our audience, to the point where literary fiction is now itself a genre, not a ruling class as many ‘highbrow’ reviewers would still have you believe.

I direct your attention to the screen arts. Here is a medium that has far overtaken literature as a means of popular entertainment (gasp!), partly because of the responsiveness of screen artists to the demands of widening opinion. Much of that comes down to a bottom-line matter (by comparison no author these days will be a millionaire unless their work becomes a movie franchise) but people tend to put their money where their mouth is so perhaps it’s worth a thought in this discussion.

220px-BagofbonesIn film twenty years ago the gulf between ‘blockbuster’ (genre) and ‘indie’ (literary) was vast and easily depicted: one mindless, crowd-pleasing and action-packed, the other thought-provoking, character-driven and (possibly) meaningful. But directors and producers have since become wise to the fact that audiences themselves are becoming wiser, more discriminate and better educated. In response they’ve invented a whole new class of filmentertainment that manages to span the genre gulf: films that are both thoughtful and active, both character and plot-driven, both smart and entertaining.

And why not? Why can’t we admit that perhaps we are no longer the hallowed few, the only beings on earth guarding the keys to taste, intelligence and sophistication? Why can’t we admit that people are getting smarter? That perhaps they want their insightful discourse on humanity with a touch of action? Or their tightly-woven plot framed with beautiful prose?

Are we afraid that we’re not up to the challenge?

In 2009 The Guardian unwittingly (or perhaps very wittingly) shed light on this disparity between what readers (intelligent readers) actually enjoy and what the critics think they should enjoy when they published this article asking people to comment on the decade’s worst books.

Expecting, no doubt, to see a flurry of finger-pointing at the Dan Brown’s and Stephanie Meyers’s of the writing world, the result was actually quite startling. Many of the 875 comments named awards-listed books, Cloud Atlas and White Teeth among them, and others listed widely acclaimed novels such as Kite Runner and The Falling Man.

No one, however, was prepared for the particular quality and quantity of rage that generated around Ian McEwan. Commenter StuartEvers summed it up nicely:

StuartEvers 8 Dec 2009 21:54
In a shit -soaked field of its own is Saturday by Ian McEwan.
It has it all: smug, self-satisfied and completely unrealistic characters, tediously over-written “research”, plot holes you could drive both Branson’s spaceship and his ego through, quasi political noodling (isn’t it lucky that the central character knows an Iraqi?) and an ending so ludicrous it’s hard not to be personally affronted. Oh and a squash match! A bloody squash match!
On Chesil Beach was at least short and provided a good joke on Peep Show.

The ‘noodling’ alone makes me wonder if Mr Evers himself might write a better novel than McEwan.

I declare it’s time for our self-important gatekeepers to emerge from out of the dark age and embrace the new literary rainbow. It is possible for a work of fantasy to win the Booker Prize, according to Salman Rushdie. It is possible for an author to be ‘good’ without writing literary fiction, declares Stephen King. It is also just as likely that a writer can be ‘bad’ while trying to be literary, thank you Ian McEwan.

Myers sums up with a concluding anecdote in his trademark candour:

At the 1999 National Book Awards ceremony Oprah Winfrey told of calling Toni Morrison to say that she had had to puzzle over many of the latter’s sentences. According to Oprah, Morrison’s reply was “That, my dear, is called reading.” Sorry, my dear Toni, but it’s actually called bad writing. Great prose isn’t always easy, but it’s always lucid.

It’s time to move into the future, people, hand in hand with the rest of the world in declaring once and for all peace between literary and genre fiction; that all writers should be held to the same standards of good writing regardless of the affectation of their prose.

Equality for all.

 

Elise Janes

Spec what now?

44251

Over the past few months, three friends I consider to be prolific readers have asked me, ‘Speculative fiction? What’s that?’ And I have to confess that with every asking my response has mutated by degrees from faint incredulity to scathing exasperation, made worse when they respond with a haughty sniff and a muttered, ‘Oh, you mean sci-fi,’ following it with the more dismissive, ‘But it’s not real literature, is it?’ and ‘Yeah, I don’t read that stuff.’ Because, yes, often it is and yes, they probably do. And while sci-fi is speculative, speculative fiction is not restricted to works of sci-fi.

The publishing industry is just that: an industry. A business that classifies and categorises and shelves its products like a pharmacy does its face creams. It’s all about marketing, hailing one book as literary fiction to appeal to the more (often self-professed) discerning reader, branding another as fantasy for lovers of genre. But why can’t a novel be both? And why do sci-fi and fantasy and horror engender disparagement from readers of mainstream ‘realist’ literature? Particularly when so many of those readers will have already read and admired and recommended books that fall into such genres (The Road and 1984, anyone?) Just as the shoehorning of books featuring young, school-aged protagonists into the YA category doesn’t deter adult readers, nor should labelling a particular book as sci-fi put off the more literary minded.

Beneath its wide awning, speculative fiction houses sci-fi, fantasy (high, urban, contemporary and soft), apocalyptic (pre- and post-), utopia, dystopia, cyber-punk, solar-punk, horror and paranormal. Supposing the impossible, it proposes the probable and, when both writing and vision are accomplished, it can open readers’ minds to some very disturbing questions. But it’s not always done well. A rash of vampiric and uber-lupine romances sparked by Stephanie Myers’ Twilight series has caused many agents and publishers to retrieve the welcome mats and nail crosses on their doors. Zombie apocalypse stories, too, are becoming dead in the water. Yet writers still persist, and Amazon et al are flooded with highly questionable speculative fiction, much of it self-published.

But when it is done well — when the probable becomes utterly believable and the horror settles uncomfortably and won’t be shifted; when a reader is transported from reality and their only regret is that they don’t have a one-way ticket; when the novel transcends genre and crosses over into the hallowed halls of literary fiction — the work can be extraordinary. Such novels don’t (usually) feature fantastical undead creatures; instead they delve deeper to reveal the monsters within us. They place ordinary people in re-imagined worlds and subject them to terrible trials, always posing the question, ‘what would you do?’

Historically, speculative fiction has provided the building blocks of civilisation. A grandiose claim, you say? Not so. What are ancient myths, legends and religious teachings, if not speculative? What is our enduring fascination with heroes and anti-heroes (both ordinary and super) if not speculative? What is mankind’s obsession with — and fear of — death, if not speculative? And the emergence of science through the ages has done little to dispel our interest. If anything it just prompts further speculation. No sooner do we break through one scientific barrier, than authors are imagining another.

Raymond Coulombe of Quantum Muse answered the question very simply: The classic answer is that [speculative fiction] is the fiction of what-if? Whether fantasy or sci-fi or any other speculative genre, the list of authors whose what-if fiction has propelled them to fame is long and illustrious: JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Ursula Le Guin, Stephen King, JK Rowling, Iain Banks, Cormac McCarthy, Neil Gaiman, HP Lovecraft, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Phillip K Dick, Douglas Adams, Stephen Donaldson … the list goes on. Even I-wouldn’t-touch-speculative-fiction-with-a-bargepole fans of literary classics will have heard of these authors, and many will have read them.

ursula-le-guinAt last week’s US National Book Awards, the great Ursula Le Guin, (whose work includes both sci-fi and fantasy and who is probably best known for A Wizard of Earthsea and The Left Hand of Darkness) was honoured with the 2014 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Instead of humbly accepting her award (as perhaps many were hoping), the 85 year old author began her speech thus:

“Thank you Neil [Gaiman], and to the givers of this beautiful reward, my thanks from the heart. My family, my agent, editors, know that my being here is their doing as well as mine, and that the beautiful reward is theirs as much as mine. And I rejoice at accepting it for, and sharing it with, all the writers who were excluded from literature for so long, my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction—writers of the imagination, who for the last 50 years watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists.”

Speculative fiction might not be to everyone’s taste, but to dismiss it as inferior smacks of arrogant ignorance. Perhaps more than any other genre, it embodies all that is human, exposes our flaws and lauds our triumphs. It holds out for a better world, for redemption of the human spirit, and for justice and freedom.

So if you’ve never read anything speculative, maybe it’s time you did.

Jane Abbott

This article was first published in November 2014 on Jane’s website, Big Bad Words.

A Day in the Life

alarmAlarm vibrates. Sensation before first thought. Cold. Am I coming down with the flu? No. Um, possibly. I need to be strong, fight through. Check phone. New emails. Refresh podcasts. Work emails? No. I’ll be there soon enough. Will I write today? Yes, when I get home. What will I have for dinner? How long will it take to prepare and cook? How much time will that suck out of my evening?

Wash. Get dressed. Pack my bag. Will I bring my book today? Yes. Don’t waste time sleeping on the train. Pack notebook. My battered and scribble-filled notebook. Damn, I forgot to read those research articles I printed out at work yesterday. I’ll get to them another time.

Driving to train station. I wonder about my main character. How will he react when demands are made of him? Where will the drama come from? What is his truth? Can I write it well? A reminder to write something down when I get on the train: Rylin Webster wants to tell his story, his way, on his terms. A scene forms fast in my head. I watch the odometer. I check the clock. Train leaves in five minutes. I’m two minutes away from station car park. Trying to hang onto a thread of thought. The scene gets vivid and intense. I speak a line of dialogue out loud.

“Don’t make a promise you can’t keep.”

Who says this?

trainPark car. Hustle to platform. Train comes. Find seat. Flip open notebook. Scrawl and scribble. Thoughts come quicker than I can write. Words are illegible. Will I be able to read this later? Will it make sense or will I lose the gist? PA announcement. Thoughts exhausted. The distraction of landscape speeding by at 100kmph.

Read my book. Can’t focus for more than a page or two at a time. Thoughts beget thoughts. Ideas form but have no place. Context is elusive. Open notebook. Scribble. Empty my brain. Close notebook. Take a few deep breaths. Read some more but don’t absorb what I’m reading.

WTFTrain reaches its destination. Earphone in. Podcasts at the ready. Maybe NBA’s The Starters. Maybe Marc Maron’s WTF. Maybe TOFOP. Twenty minute walk. My mind remains active. Plot lines weave in and out of the audio flowing into my head. Traffic noise on Broadway coming from Harris St drowns out everything.

At work. Put all thoughts of writing and being a writer to one side. Really? Good luck with thtrafficat. Do my job. Earn my keep. Read occasional online articles of interest. Send quotes, links and ideas to myself via email throughout the day. Making a cup of tea, wonder about Rylin Webster’s marriage. Why did his supermodel wife fall in love with him in the first place? Make small talk with a colleague about the upcoming weekend. Day’s end is getting closer.

inceptionWalk back to train station. New thoughts emerge. Links connect. Links miss their mark. Kill the podcast feed. Need music instead. The National? The Shins? No. This story feeds off the energy from movie soundtracks. Hans Zimmer. Interstellar? I know, Inception. Traffic noise. The roar of a motorcycle. The pang of hunger and the yawn of mental, if not physical, tiredness.

Make train ten minutes early. Open notebook. Scribble quickly, furiously, illegibly. Smile to myself that the adverbs I’m using in my notes will not make my manuscript. Why do I care what Stephen King thinks? Bret Easton Ellis, a writer I love, embraces adverbs. Look at Glamorama?Glamorama

As the train pulls out of the station, close notebook. Take out earphones. No music. No novel. No writing. Sydney’s inner-west suburbs slip by. Macdonaldtown. Newtown. Stanmore. Petersham. Lewisham. My eyes start to get heavy. I sit up, get out my book. Red or Dead by David Peace. Read a page. Battle tiredness. Read half-a-page more before my head drops. Strathfield, Epping, Hornsby don’t register.  I wake up with my finger between pages like a bookmark. Read another page. Then jack into another podcast. Pete Holmes laughs then gets deep, questions our understanding of the universe, then asks his guest whether success can come too soon?You-Made-It-Weird

Its six’o’clock. Hunger has full sway over me. That means I won’t be writing until at least seven, maybe eight. I already know what scene I want to write, need to write, if I’m to drive the story forward.

Walk in the front door. Hello to my wife, bear-tackle my son. Get changed and play dinosaurs for half-an-hour. Hunger lingers, distracts me. The desire to write lingers, distracts me. Cook dinner alone. Use the process of flouring a chicken breast, dipping it in egg and covering it in breadcrumbs, to untether my mind from now, from the day that’s been, from myself.

Too full afterdeadmau5-Superliminal-300x300 dinner, I shower and shave. Wash the day away. Start preparing for the day to come. Clothes laid out. Shoes polished. Top up Opal Card. Check work emails. Flick a few away. Exclaim in frustration over a client who is beyond demanding. Turn off phone’s WiFi. Mac on. iTunes is a ‘Go!’ Deadmau5 – Superliminal. Google Docs open. Here it comes. The manuscript loads up. I scroll down to the last page and read the notes I left from the previous day.Timmy-Mallet-with-Malletts-Mallet

I’m writing. Dialogue flows. Too much dialogue. Go back. Insert thoughts, description. Maintain tone. Not enough tension. Too much conflict? Where’s this scene going? Oh, wow. Yes, that works. I could never have planned that. There’s a knock on the door. My son comes in, jumps on my bed. ‘Let’s play Mallet’s Mallett?’

‘Ten minutes, Buddy.’

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Lots of dialogue to finish. Lots of red squiggly lines under misspelt words. Rylin Webster is angry but doesn’t know it. He’s pushing everyone around him away. He thinks this is normal. A lightbulb moment. A new scene. Not the next scene. File it away. The door opens. My wife brings a glass of wine. ‘House of Cards is starting.’

The manuscript automatically savhouse-of-cardses. I shut down the computer. Frank Underwood, my wife and a glass of wine awaits.

Later, sleep beckons. I hold on through a nothing episode of Game of Thrones. I wonder about tomorrow? What will happen? What will I achieve? How long will it be until I get to write again? In bed, before sleep fully takes over, I imagine Rylin Webster on the basketball court. He’s hurting his defender. He’s hurting his team. He’s hurting himself. An idea teases, never fully settles and then, nothing.

Work Habits of Successful Writers

If you’re an emerging writer you’re probably still squeezing in your scribblings at some inconvenient and uncooperative time of day, like 4am before you have to get ready for work, or in the park at lunch (if you can get away from your desk), or on the train commute home. You probably have to set aside whole evenings two weeks in advance, hoping that your plans won’t be thwarted by an impromptu dinner guest or a forgotten birthday party.

And this is good, because as E.B. White once said if you don’t write when circumstances suck, you’ll never write at all. I’m paraphrasing.

Then every few months you find yourself with an entire day at your astonished disposal. Maybe even two in a row. Two?! At first you stand in shock, raking your memory for any possible forgotten commitments. But then you realise that the washing is done, the bills are paid, the kids/spouse/parents/roommates are nowhere to be seen, the blank page in your diary really is a blank page and you well up with joy.

Now what? How do you transmute all that free time into a productive writing spree? Because, for the love of all things, don’t let a single second go to waste.

In preparation for that day, and for the gilded future in which writing is what you do for a living, peruse the daily habits of some people who really know what they’re doing.

 

Maya Angelou

amd-angelou-jpg“I write in the morning and then go home about midday and take a shower, because writing, as you know, is very hard work, so you have to do a double ablution. Then I go out and shop — I’m a serious cook — and pretend to be normal. I play sane — Good morning! Fine, thank you. And you? And I go home. I prepare dinner for myself and if I have houseguests, I do the candles and the pretty music and all that. Then after all the dishes are moved away I read what I wrote that morning. And more often than not if I’ve done nine pages I may be able to save two and a half or three. That’s the cruelest time you know, to really admit that it doesn’t work. And to blue pencil it. When I finish maybe fifty pages and read them — fifty acceptable pages — it’s not too bad.”

and later in her life…

“I keep a hotel room in my hometown and pay for it by the month.
I go around 6:30 in the morning. I have a bedroom, with a bed, a table, and a bath. I have Roget’s Thesaurus, a dictionary, and the Bible. Usually a deck of cards and some crossword puzzles. Something to occupy my little mind. I think my grandmother taught me that. She didn’t mean to, but she used to talk about her “little mind.” So when I was young, from the time I was about 3 until 13, I decided that there was a Big Mind and a Little Mind. And the Big Mind would allow you to consider deep thoughts, but the Little Mind would occupy you, so you could not be distracted. It would work crossword puzzles or play Solitaire, while the Big Mind would delve deep into the subjects I wanted to write about.
I have all the paintings and any decoration taken out of the room. I ask the management and housekeeping not to enter the room, just in case I’ve thrown a piece of paper on the floor, I don’t want it discarded. About every two months I get a note slipped under the door: “Dear Ms. Angelou, please let us change the linen. We think it may be moldy!”
But I’ve never slept there, I’m usually out of there by 2. And then I go home and I read what I’ve written that morning, and I try to edit then. Clean it up.”

 

Simone de Beauvoir

“I’m always in a hurry to get going, though in general I dislike starting the day. I first have tea and then, at about ten o’clock, I get under way and work until one. Then I see my friends and after that, at five o’clock, I go back to work and continue until nine. I have no difficulty in picking up the thread in the afternoon. When you leave, I’ll read the paper or perhaps go shopping. Most often it’s a pleasure to work.”
“If the work is going well, I spend a quarter or half an hour reading what I wrote the day before, and I make a few corrections. Then I continue from there. In order to pick up the thread I have to read what I’ve done.”

 

Don De Lillo

“I work in the morning at a manual typewriter. I do about four hours and then go running. This helps me shake off one world and enter another. Trees, birds, drizzle — it’s a nice kind of interlude. Then I work again, later afternoon, for two or three hours. Back into book time, which is transparent — you don’t know it’s passing. No snack food or coffee. No cigarettes — I stopped smoking a long time ago. The space is clear, the house is quiet. A writer takes earnest measures to secure his solitude and then finds endless ways to squander it. Looking out the window, reading random entries in the dictionary. To break the spell I look at a photograph of Borges, a great picture sent to me by the Irish writer Colm Tóín. The face of Borges against a dark background — Borges fierce, blind, his nostrils gaping, his skin stretched taut, his mouth amazingly vivid; his mouth looks painted; he’s like a shaman painted for visions, and the whole face has a kind of steely rapture. I’ve read Borges of course, although not nearly all of it, and I don’t know anything about the way he worked — but the photograph shows us a writer who did not waste time at the window or anywhere else. So I’ve tried to make him my guide out of lethargy and drift, into the otherworld of magic, art, and divination.”

 

William Gibson

“When I’m writing a book I get up at seven. I check my e-mail and do Internet ablutions, as we do these days. I have a cup of coffee. Three days a week, I go to Pilates and am back by ten or eleven. Then I sit down and try to write. If absolutely nothing is happening, I’ll give myself permission to mow the lawn. But, generally, just sitting down and really trying is enough to get it started. I break for lunch, come back, and do it some more. And then, usually, a nap.”

 

Ernest Hemingway

“When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.”

 

Jack Kerouac

“The desk in the room, near the bed, with a good light, midnight till dawn, a drink when you get tired, preferably at home, but if you have no home, make a home out of your hotel room or motel room or pad: peace.”

 

Stephen King

stephen-king-writing-tips“I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words. That’s 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book—something in which the reader can get happily lost, if the tale is done well and stays fresh. On some days those ten pages come easily; I’m up and out and doing errands by eleven-thirty in the morning, perky as a rat in liverwurst. More frequently, as I grow older, I find myself eating lunch at my desk and finishing the day’s work around one-thirty in the afternoon. Sometimes, when the words come hard, I’m still fiddling around at teatime. Either way is fine with me, but only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.”

 

Henry Miller

“MORNINGS:
If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus.
If in fine fettle, write.
AFTERNOONS:
Work of section in hand, following plan of section scrupulously. No intrusions, no diversions. Write to finish one section at a time, for good and all.
EVENINGS:
See friends. Read in cafés.
Explore unfamiliar sections — on foot if wet, on bicycle if dry.
Write, if in mood, but only on Minor program.
Paint if empty or tired.
Make Notes. Make Charts, Plans. Make corrections of MS.
Note: Allow sufficient time during daylight to make an occasional visit to museums or an occasional sketch or an occasional bike ride. Sketch in cafés and trains and streets. Cut the movies! Library for references once a week.”

 

Haruki Murakami

“When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 am and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 pm. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”

 

Anaïs Nin

“I write my stories in the morning, my diary at night.”

 

Susan Sontag

“Starting tomorrow — if not today:
I will get up every morning no later than eight. (Can break this rule once a week.)
I will have lunch only with Roger [Straus]. (‘No, I don’t go out for lunch.’ Can break this rule once every two weeks.)
I will write in the Notebook every day. (Model: Lichtenberg’s Waste Books.)
I will tell people not to call in the morning, or not answer the phone.
I will try to confine my reading to the evening. (I read too much — as an escape from writing.)
I will answer letters once a week. (Friday? — I have to go to the hospital anyway.)”

 

Anthony Trollope

“Let their work be to them as is his common work to the common laborer. No gigantic efforts will then be necessary. He need tie no wet towels round his brow, nor sit for thirty hours at his desk without moving,—as men have sat, or said that they have sat.”
Every day for years he woke in darkness and wrote from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., with his watch in front of him. He required of himself two hundred and fifty words every quarter of an hour. If he finished one novel before eight-thirty, he took out a fresh piece of paper and started the next. The writing session was followed, for a long stretch of time, by a day job with the postal service. Plus, he said, he always hunted at least twice a week. Under this regimen, he produced forty-nine novels in thirty-five years.
from Daily Routines

 

Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt-Vonnegut-260x300“I awake at 5:30, work until 8:00, eat breakfast at home, work until 10:00, walk a few blocks into town, do errands, go to the nearby municipal swimming pool, which I have all to myself, and swim for half an hour, return home at 11:45, read the mail, eat lunch at noon. In the afternoon I do schoolwork, either teach of prepare. When I get home from school at about 5:30, I numb my twanging intellect with several belts of Scotch and water ($5.00/fifth at the State Liquor store, the only liquor store in town. There are loads of bars, though.), cook supper, read and listen to jazz (lots of good music on the radio here), slip off to sleep at ten. I do pushups and sit-ups all the time, and feel as though I am getting lean and sinewy, but maybe not. Last night, time and my body decided to take me to the movies.”

 

 

Elise Janes

Writing is Work (and other things you need to get over)

The-joy-of-writing-1

Let’s get down to it. If you want to be a writer chances are you’ve wanted to be a writer since you read your first book/poem/play (probably a book, not many infants learn their ABC’s with Samuel Beckett).

Actually, revise that. You’ve probably wanted to be a writer since you experienced your first really good story, you know, the moment when all the hairs on your arms stood up, and you forgot where you were and who was with you, and you got the feeling that there was a lot more to this grand old life than most people realised.

And chances are that this feeling never left you. In fact as you chose your subjects at school and went on to study medicine and then became a doctor and settled down and had kids and bought a house and took out the rubbish bins and made dinner at night, that feeling followed you everywhere. It never went away.

Most people will never write so much as a tweet in their whole lives and still manage to live an extremely satisfied existence. But that’s not you. And whether or not you come to it late in life after a long career in something else, or you wrote your first play when you were five and never stopped, there are some things that you will need to get over in order to make your writing dream a reality.

  1. Yourself

The first thing to die must be your own insecurities. Easier said than done. And this is something you will have to battle every day for the rest of your writing career, because unless you have the unshakeable ego of, say, Napoleon Bonaparte, those doubts will niggle you every waking moment.

The thing is if you don’t take yourself seriously, no one else will. Don’t apologise for wanting to be a writer. Don’t apologise for thinking that you can be a writer. Don’t mumble when people ask you what you’re working on. If they don’t get it, who cares. You get it. That’s all that matters.

  1. Other people

Just to be clear, no one is going to fully understand your work except you. No one is going to care about your work like you do. When people ask how your weekend was and you say “So busy, I wrote 10 000 words, stayed up all night, so exhausted.” Not only will they mentally roll their eyes, they will immediately compare your sitting on your butt in front of a computer screen all weekend to the fact that they had to take their 8yo to three different birthday parties, their 5yo to soccer, have ten people over for dinner, walk the dog, mow the lawn, get root canal and paint the house.

They don’t give a shit and they probably never will. In fact many of them will resent you for having the courage to try and do something creative. Don’t look for encouragement in others, even in your close friends and family, because many of them will just not get it. And that’s the way it is.

  1. Time

Writing is one of the most time-consuming activities in the known universe. Even if you write 3 000 words a day (which takes most people about 5-6 hours), it will take you thirty days straight to write a 90 000 word manuscript. That’s if you literally do nothing else for a whole month. Add to that full-time work, family, weddings, funerals, sickness, appointments, birthday parties, holidays, and actually having a life (so maybe 1 hour of writing a day if you’re lucky) and it will take you around six to eight months. Add to that research, frequent slow periods, and some moments of despair/writer’s block/questioning the meaning of life, you’re looking at twelve months. Absolute minimum. For a first draft. Then comes the rewrite, editing, reworking, burning it in the backyard and starting all over again, blah blah bah.

The point is it requires serious dedication and deliberate effort to even get a first draft on paper. It will require you to stay home when everyone else is going out. You will have to miss birthdays, dinners, events, holidays, usually to the great offence of everyone around you. No one will understand because the deadline is self-directed, and people rarely respect a self-directed deadline. But if you want to write, you have to actually write. And that takes real time.

  1. Where you came from

Some people are born into artistic families. Most people aren’t. Some people are born into culturally fortunate locations where inspiration and opportunities and contacts abound. Most people aren’t. Some people get recognised in their formative years and get useful legs-up in the creative world. Most people aren’t. These are things you have little control over. But it doesn’t mean they have to stay that way.

If you need to move to a more conducive artistic environment, then do it. If you need to change who you hang around so you can get inspired, then do it. If you need to remodel so you have a useful writing space, then do it. If you need to change jobs, degrees or fields of study in order to get the input you need, then do it. Most people don’t. But you should.

  1. IMG_0512Conventions

The rules state that you have to go to school then go to uni then get a job so you have money to buy a car, get married, buy a house, have a family, go on family holidays, invest in superannuation and retire.

Thing is, you don’t.

Spending two years of your life writing a novel goes against all rational conventions. Do it anyway. You may have to delay other things in your life to get it done. Do it anyway. You may decide that you need to drop out of uni, postpone a life event, or turn down a great job to get done. Do it anyway.

Just don’t get to the end of your life never having tried.

  1. Work

Most writers will actually have to work for money for a long time before they are able to live off their writing. Some writers will never live off their writing. Work will always get in the way. You need to manage it. If you need to get a different job so that you have more time/energy/brain space to write, then do it.

Writing is work. It’s not a hobby. It’s not a fun idea to kill some time. It’s not a phase. It’s not a therapeutic exercise. It’s damn hard work and it’s no less worthy of respect than any other job.

  1. Expectations

If you write always worrying about what other people will think about this or that then you will never put a word on paper.

In order to be true to your genre, characters, story, whatever, you may need to write graphic sex scenes, violence, abuse, morally shocking behavior, drugs, mental and physical illnesses, gosh you may even have to use a four-letter word or two.

Yes, your granny might be offended. Or your colleagues/parents/friends/family. Know what? Too bad. Hey, everyone watches Game of Thrones. Even if they say they don’t.

  1. Security

There may come a time when you decide you need to spend a solid three months on your book. You may need to take unpaid leave. You may even need to quit your job. Again, no one else will understand or care. They will tell you that you’re crazy because a promotion is just around the corner, or that you’re leaving the team in the lurch, or that certain projects won’t happen if you’re not there. In the end, this is your life and your future, not theirs. Work out which one matters most.

  1. Genre

So when you decided to be a writer you thought you would be the next James Joyce. Then you started writing and you realised that all you wanted to write about was guns and car chases. Does that make you a second-rate writer? HELL. NO.

Write what you want to write. Don’t write to win the Booker prize or the Nobel prize or to be the next J.K. Rowling. There are plenty of authors out there who are writing from ambition and I can guarantee that deep down they know they’re not being honest with themselves. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of our most lauded literary minds will lie on their deathbeds wishing they had created the next James Bond instead of ten award-winning lyrical masterpieces.

  1. Other writers

The great thing about finally owning up to your dirty little secret is that you will start to find some like-minded people. You will find workshops, seminars, competitions, writing groups, writing centres, literary fetsivals. You will find beta readers and crit partners and people who just love sharing your work and talking about it. And then you will also find people who are just plain rude or ridiculously elitist or want nothing to do with anyone else because they are the ultimate lone wolf.

In the end, writing, like any creative pursuit, is a small and competitive field and some people are in it to win and don’t care about anything else. They will resent your success and then smugly rub their success in your face. They will use you for a profile boost and then clamber over you up the literary social ladder. So find the good ones and don’t let them go. The rest? Forget them.

  1. What you could have been

Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should. People tell me I could have been a singer. I could have been a performer. I could have been a great music director. I could have been a great educator. I could have been a principal. I could have been an actress. I could have been an academic. That’s all great. But I have only one life. And I’m at least going to try to do what I really want to do.

And you should too.

 

Elise Janes

Is it wrong that my ideal reader is myself?

200px-OnwritingAnyone in the past 15 years who has expressed an interest in writing has no doubt been recommended to read, given a copy of, or gone out and purchased Stephen King’s On Writing. Haven’t read it, been recommended it or heard of it? You can bring yourself up to speed here.

It was given to me as a Christmas present in 2013 by my wife and I devoured it immediately. One of King’s rules for writers that has sat uneasily with me since reading the book is to write with your ideal reader in mind:

If you know the tastes of your Ideal reader at least half as much as I know the tastes of mine, it will be not difficult for you to imagine what he will like, and what – not.”

Stephen King

As has been well documented, King’s ideal reader is his wife Tabitha. I knew straight away my wife wasn’t my ideal reader. We can’t stand each other’s taste in books. So if not my wife, who?

My brother, who has many similar interests in music, film, culture and sports? Possibly, but he doesn’t read a whole lot. He’s a ‘doing’ guy and loves to be active, whereas I’m more into being quiet, observing and mulling things over.

My friends, who again share many similar interests and who I have a history of shared experiences with? Yes, though they all live busy lives with work, family, and children and I know from talking to them finding time to read becomes a precious luxury often passed over for a good night’s sleep or vegging out with their partner watching a good movie or DVD boxset.

So, thinking beyond who I actually know, maybe hipsters are my ideal reader, and as soon as I think that I think, ‘No way’.

cover170x170I want to have a connection with my ideal reader. I want to move in their world, and them in mine. I want to know that they’ve listened to the latest Wilosophy with Wil Anderson podcast and whether they liked it or not, had an opinion on the discussion Wil had with his guest. I want to know that they experience similar struggles to me and find solace, escape and rejuvenation in the pages of a great book, possibly written by Don DeLillo or Bret Easton Ellis or Chuck Palahniuk.

And so I’ve known all along who my ideal reader is, yet I’ve been afraid, embarrassed and too insecure about it to say it out loud.

And yet, when I do, it feels so right. I am my own ideal reader. As a writer I’m coming to understand that I’m writing the type of stories that I want to read.

Totally self-serving? Narcissistic? Just plain bloody stupid and a major impediment to ever becoming a published writer?

Who cares? I don’t. I’m putting it out there and it feels good doing it. To echo the sentiment of my great literary anti-hero, Jimmy Rabbitte, ‘I’m my own ideal writer and I’m proud.’

Ken Ward

The Rejectee’s Guide to Recovery

Despite the tact with which a rejecter will attempt to frame their delicate response, we all know it comes down to one simple fact: they don’t like your work. Maybe you’re not what they’re looking for right now, or the timing is wrong, or you’re simply not up to scratch, but the underlying point is that if they loved it, they’d take it, and they haven’t, so they don’t.

Rejection sucks because no matter what anyone says, it is personal.

So why not accept it? Take a moment for some well-deserved self-pity and emotional wallowing with the aid of a few practical tools. I give you the best five things to read, watch and listen to in the post-rejection wasteland:

Read

  1. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway

The thinly veiled autobiography of writerly disillusionment offers a number of good tips for the emotionally wasted: drink absinthe in Paris, fish in the Pyrenees, drink wine in Pamplona, argue with friends, watch a bloody spectacle, run with the bulls. It’s also a nice melancholy reflection on desiring something eternally out of reach.

  • ALSO: Anything by Hemingway or Fitzgerald will have a close effect.
  1. The Motorcycle Diaries – Ernesto “Che” Guevara

A startlingly beautiful memoir of the fateful nine months a 23-year-old Guevara spent travelling South America. Between the gorgeous landscape and fascinating anecdotes, get worked up about social injustice and indigenous poverty. Let loose your vicarious desire to join a revolution and make this damn unfair world a better place.

  • ALSO: On the Road, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Less Than Zero and other romans à clef will serve a similar purpose.
  1. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

Not only is Heathcliff the best literary creation ever, you can also shelve your murderous impulses and let him take your vengeful fantasies to the extreme. Themes of obsession, possession, revenge and passionate, destructive love will make you feel righteously justified, and the gothic atmosphere will add depth to your moodiness.

  • ALSO: Jane Eyre and Rebecca for hauntings of the past; The Count of Monte Cristo for elaborately plotted revenge.
  1. The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga

Read, with growing unease, the story of Balram Halwai’s gradual corruption as he sheds his family background to transcend poverty in a heavily caste-riven society. The message is clear and discomforting, confirming your suspicions that the only way to get ahead is to cut a few corners/throats.

  • ALSO: For atmosphere: English, August by Upamanyu Chatterjee. For classic rags-to-riches: Vanity Fair and Great Expectations.
  1. Carrie – Stephen King

Whether or not you’re a fan of the King, sometimes a good horror story is just necessary. He can also weave a damn good yarn and surprisingly three-dimensional characters into the gore and strangeness. A bullied adolescent girl getting hers back is satisfying on so many levels, no matter who you are.

  • ALSO: Other violent revenge tales such as True Grit, Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, and of course Hamlet.

Watch

  1. Empire Records (1995)

Many 90s movies showcased the quirkiness of youth and the value (or futility) of standing up to The Man. None with such colourful aplomb as Empire Records. The characters are zany, the music fantastic, the dialogue hilarious, and the embrace-your-inner-crazy-and-refuse-to-sell-out message is charmingly encouraging. It gets better with each watch.

  1. The Big Sleep (1946)

Raymond Chandler wrote crime novels that didn’t always make sense but we forgave him because he created Philip Marlowe and invented noir. Read the book as well but the 1946 movie, with Humphrey Bogart, is a standalone classic. Be encouraged by frequent double-crossings, the latent atmosphere of disillusionment and the general shittiness of people.

  1. Django Unchained (2012)

Eccentric characters, tangled plot, memorable dialogue, and unnecessary amounts of blood. Must be Tarantino. His deft mood-changes from slapstick comedy to nail-biting rage somehow pinpoint both the endearing and horrific qualities of human nature with great authenticity. No one does revenge quite like him.

  1. On the Waterfront (1954)

Corruption narratives are so cathartic when you’ve been screwed over. Nominated for 12 Oscars, the cast and crew read like a who’s who of golden-era greats. Your fists will clench at the fate of Marlon Brando’s character Terry Malloy, particularly the moment he delivers that line: I coulda been a contender! And you will think: me too, buddy. Me too.

  1. Magnolia (1999) & Crash (2004)

Both movies feature brilliantly interwoven storylines with star-spangled ensemble casts delivering pivotal performances. Dark themes abound but situations manage to resolve with surprising optimism, and without too much Hollywood contrivance. Magnolia is the less crowd-pleasing of the two, and it also has Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Listen

  1. Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?

In this seminal album the band manage to sum up all the melancholic love, confusion and frustrated desire of every generation alive. It goes without saying that “Don’t Look Back in Anger” and “Wonderwall” should be the first on your playlist.

  1. The Darkness – Permission to Land

The best album for air-guitaring and hair-swinging to come out of the noughties. Catchy falsetto lyrics give everyone permission to sing out of tune at the top of their lungs. “Get Your Hands Off My Woman” is one of the most satisfying experiences in the universe.

  1. Ben Folds – Whatever and Ever Amen

The epitome of Ben Fold’s early work: revel in his angsty, anti-adolescent rage and insecurity with “One Angry Dwarf”, “The Battle of Who Could Care Less” and the superbly appropriate “Song for the Dumped”.

  1. Colin Hay – Going Somewhere

Leaving Men at Work far behind, his solo acoustic stuff is where Hay’s talent really shines. We have Zach Braff to thank for bringing him back into the light on Scrubs. Do not miss “Beautiful World”, an acoustic cover of “Overkill”, or “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin”.

  1. Rock of Ages Soundtrack – Various

Yeah it’s a compilation but there’s something about cheesy 80s rock that just feels so good when you’re pissed off. This collection features the full range from “We’re Not Gonna Take It” to “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”.

So after enjoying the vicarious fulfillment of your emotional frustrations, take a moment to reflect. All of this incredible art came from people who felt just as shitty as you at some point in their lives. And if they can make the proverbial lemonade out of rejection’s lemons, then why can’t you?

Elise Janes

Share with us! Suggest your own artistic rejection-remedy in the comments below.