Grave Goods – Jeff Noon.
For this Grave Goods selection, we’re delighted to welcome Jeff Noon. Jeff was born in Manchester in 1957, trained in the visual arts and drama, and was active on the post-punk music scene before becoming a playwright, and then a novelist.
His books include Vurt (Arthur C. Clarke Award), Pollen, Automated Alice, Nymphomation, Needle in the Groove, Cobralingus, Falling Out Of Cars, Channel SK1N, Mappalujo (with Steve Beard), and a collection of stories called Pixel Juice. Slow Motion Ghosts, his first murder mystery, was published in 2018. His novels A Man of Shadows and The Body Library both feature private eye John Nyquist, and explore the intersection between SF and crime. The third book in the Nyquist trilogy Creeping Jenny will be published in 2020 by Angry Robot Press.
Tools of the Trade. When I was young, in my late teens, early twenties, I invented two laws. Creative laws. I’ve been following them ever since, in every word I write, every story, every novel, idea, image, character, plot event – they all come out of me processing those two laws, over and over again, in my mind. Without them I wouldn’t have written a word. So, I’d like those two laws written out on a card. It doesn’t have to be fancy, or anything, scrawled in biro on a blank post card is perfectly adequate. I kept the two laws to myself for many years. In fact, I only started talking about them in public about four years ago. I can’t tell people what they are, just on their own, because they sound so banal, and ridiculous! But in the context of my life story, of how I felt as a young man, discovering the process of art, trying to become an artist – they mean everything to me. If anybody is really interested, there is an interview online, where I tell the whole story of their creation, and how I use them. I’m not going to link to it!
Food for the Journey – In the 1980s, I lived in a place called Hulme, in Manchester. It was a big sprawling estate, a bit rundown, and it became a place where young people ended up: artists, the long-term unemployed, drug dealers, students, etc. I had a great time there, even if it was a bit dangerous at times. I lived with two flatmates, and one night we invented our own meal: dubbed the Hulme cheesecake. I believe we were under the influence of a certain substance. Now, this has probably already been invented by other people, but here’s the version we came up with. Take one digestive biscuit. Put some cheddar cheese on it, and then some strawberry jam. That’s it. None of the components need to be top of the range: in fact, the lower down the scale, the better. It’s amazing. Sticky, cheesy, sweet, crumbly. Marmalade also works a treat. You need to be careful when eating it, because the wrong sort of bite can crack the biscuit in two, and then you’ve got cheese and jam on your hands, or on the carpet. Not good. There’s a technique to it. I have, in my later years, introduced other people to this, and it always gets a good reaction. So half a dozen Hulme cheesecakes in a Tupperware container will see me right, for the journey into the next life.
Memento Vivere. I am perfectly at home with being on my own. I am a writing machine. That’s my life. I write novels, which means working on your own. But … I do like to work with other people, whenever I can. My main companion in these endeavours is my friend Steve Beard. A number of years back, we came up with a method, a device, whereby two or more people could write a novel together. Eventually, this came to be known as the Mappalujo Engine. We built it in Steve’s cellar from bits of scrap, old analogue computers, rotary telephones, a cathode ray tube and a TV screen. Whatever we could pick up for free. It had a Remington typewriter as a keyboard. We fed it with fragments of data about famous writers, celebrities, actors, visual artists, etc. We set it going, and left it running all night. In the morning we checked to see its output, expecting very little; in fact the engine had pumped out a fair bit of information for us, all about a city called Lujo. Other the next year or so, more and more stories emerged from the machine’s output slot, all set in this same city, created from all these dribs and drabs of information that we’d fed it. One chapter was in the style of the Twilight zone, another influenced by Madonna’s stage persona, while a third used Bruce Lee’s fighting style as a way of organising text on the page, and so on. Steve and I then worked on this raw data, to create a novel called Mappalujo, which was published a few years back. The book also contains instructions for building your own device. It’s actually quite easy, once you get the knack for it. The original Mappalujo Engine still sits in the cellar of Steve’s house, rusting away, with several parts missing. Every so often it will make a noise, and maybe produce a few words of gobbledegook. So, on my final journey, I would like to take with me the first plans we drew up for the engine: a blueprint. It would stand as a metaphor: for the collaborative process, for all the friends I have known in my time, and the endless possibilities of creative endeavour.
Ex Libris – At the age of twenty-one I fell in love with classical music in a big way, and that love has never left me. I concentrate on modernism, 1900 to 1980. Most of the music I listen to comes from the wellspring of Schoenberg and Webern, and the composers who took influence from them. I like really complicated music! My favourite composer of the later years is George Crumb, and my favourite piece by him is the string quartet, Black Angels. I can listen to that time after time, without growing bored. But I also like to read scores, and the score for Black Angels is an amazing thing to look at, and to follow. It looks like a wiring diagram. So the book I would like is the full score. I would never get tired of reading it, and hearing the music in my head. Of course, if I had a recording as well … now bliss is right there in front of me! Here’s a single page from the score: https://bit.ly/3489UVr
Lucky Deposition – My friend has given me a Buddha machine containing a recording of the song “Subdivisions”, by Rush. It’s my favourite song by the band. I love the lyrics, and the way they fit into melody. Also, just a great synth sound! The last line of the first verse speaks of the “far, unlit unknown”. And I guess that’s where I’m heading.
A Message from Beyond the Grave. I write these little stories for Twitter, and Facebook, usually just a sentence or two in length. I call them spores. I’ve done thousands of them, over the years. Sometimes they get turned into longer stories, sometimes they end up as lines or images in novels. I think of this work as a word lab, a testing ground. One my favourite spores ended up in my next novel, Creeping Jenny, which comes out next year from Angry Robot Books. It’s just one sentence, but it sums up a way of thinking about life: that truth isn’t necessarily to do with reality, what we can touch and see, but also with what we believe we can feel, and sense. Invisible things can have great value. In the novel it relates to a male character:
Only in the sleepwalker’s eyes, only in the things he believes he is touching, holding, gathering, when his hands are empty: there is truth.
And so I leave him there, still journeying, still seeking: in the dark of life, and the dark of the mind, still believing.