Saturday, June 11, 2011

Drink and Drugs - A writers tools of the trade




Well, like Kurt Cobain once said, I never really moved on from the b section in the library. Well, he didn’t. He died.

But the Seattle Nirvana ex-axe-man had a point. The B section is one hell of a ride. Burroughs and Bukowski wrote exactly what they wanted to write and made a career doing just that. One got drunk continually for sixty years and the other shot pharmaceuticals in the main line for fifty. Kurt’s kinda writers took risks. They hung around east Hollywood and blew their pay packet at the races. They sipped coffee at the socco chico and blew Arab boys. The audacity of some of their later work is staggering.
When Burroughs was writing Queer he was debating whether it was possible to write in the third person after his debut junkie was written in the first person narrative. Pussy. Fifteen years later he is cutting up pages sticking them back together, typing them and sending them to what are now major publishing houses. These publishers would send these bizarre manuscripts to the printers and a few weeks later they were on the shelves: Post-modern stoned gibberish.

Bukowski’s last novel Pulp was written in the detective style but almost completely without plot. For all you non-writers out there plot is pretty much essential in a detective novel. All of Bukowski’s published prose is completely uncompromised especially the short stories. These writers had style and whatever they put on the page was hot. I doubt they would find a publisher nowadays. The age of sobriety is upon us. Maybe we have grown up?

A few years ago even British writers were in on the act. Novelist, television personality and adverb bothering Will Self was sacked from the Guardian for shooting up smack on John Major’s charted aircraft. How rock and roll is that? These are the kind of writers I admired. Not the coffee-swigging university-graduates that are nowadays clogging up the Asia book shelves like ants at a frigging picnic. I liked writers who took risks.

All the major publishers are looking for is the next Stig. Preferably a live one. It’s a great time to be a Norwegian detective novelist the same way it was profitable to be a Scottish drug-writer twenty years ago. Just ask whathisname Nesbo or Alan Warner. Right place right time – I’ll think I’ll have that Porsche in lemon yellow please. Thanks very much. Nice one.


I also admire Burgess, who also had little time for plot or formula fiction. He wrote some interesting books in Malaysia that were published back in the UK. The thing with Burgess is that he drank, his wife drank and they didn’t care who knew about it. Bad boy Burgess hit the deck drunk in a Brunei classroom claimed to have a brain tumor and was sent home to pen clock work orange. Next thing he knows he is set up in a Sussex cottage reviewing and writing for good hard cash. His wife dies of alcohol and Burgess marries an Italian baroness. Sells the film rights to CO and gets annoyed that it smashes the box office. There’s no pleasing some people, apparently.

I also like some of the old pulp boys; Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett. Before that Stevenson, H.G. Wells. Wilde could write a line but not a plot. These writers all drank like their type-writer-ribbon depended on it. It was in the job description. Writers drink. Full stop. Well, not any more, baby.


Alexander Trocchi took it to another level. A brilliant writer who I feel was overlooked due to his lifestyle. Bad boy Alex according to Burroughs, ‘could find a vein in a mummy.’ His addiction grew to such heights that he ended up pimping his wife out on the streets to pay for both their habits. This I feel is perhaps taking a step too far into the realm of the counter-culture. But what was the beat generation all about if it was not about rich educated men acting like poor juvenile delinquents?

Gregory Corso I like as a poet. But he was by all accounts a nightmare to be around whilst he was using. Ginsberg was obviously a very bad drunk. Embarrassingly so. Kerouac wrote like you would expect a drunk to write. Quite tellingly his most powerful book Big Sur was written once he realized he had a drink problem.

The list goes on; Hemmingway, Faulkner, Hamilton. Where are today’s drunken authors?

The truth is drinking and writing is like drinking and shooting pool. There’s perhaps an hour or so after the fifth beer when you just can’t miss. Before and after that the output is pretty tame.

It seems nowadays that the print publishers are like record labels promoting safe bland product whilst challenging artists starve. A young writer can’t go out on the road the same way a young rock and roll band can so we have to write what the publishers want us to write, perish, or like myself eat window putty and drink rain water. Asia is where the new experimental fiction is. The one place in the world where there is a lot of diverse writing on the book shelves. Here we don't freeze to death from the cold and when we get hungry we make fools of ourselves in classrooms.

In Bangkok about seventy percent of the fiction is self-published and a lot of it very good. You know you are in for something different with each book. Titles written by half-drunk expats sitting in a ten dollar hotel room and hitting the keyboard while swigging back the beer. That’s my kind of writer. Not the coffee drinking, morning jogging sons of a bitches that populate the bookshelves of any high-street bookstore chain in the West. I want a novel to be a cry of despair not a means to put the author’s spoilt brat daughter through her freshman year.

Now where’s that bottle of blues.

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