An new way of writing

After a pause I have resumed writing. I have now attempted to ‘close’ one section (the first part, City Golf Club in the currently first chapter, Writing), i.e., to use one and just one sentence out of each of the currently 31 books in the list (a few more very recent mostly self-published books are waiting to be added to the list, but I don’t like them that much so I am delaying entry).
This turns out to be a new and different way of writing: Using all the books at the same time and writing from the increasingly focused context of just one section causes a much more directed resonance that foregrounds just those sentences that have a potential fit.
Something (some focus, topic, flavour) needs to be in the section already before this way of writing works. But attempting to close a section feels very different from the more aimless browsing and fitting of sentences tom a particular book across the entire text.
If you have no clue what I am talking about here, read About “Killing time”.

Another I

Another ‘I’ that is quite admirable is that in Damon Runyon’s short stories – an ‘I’ always at pains to keep out of the action narrated, but still ‘getting reports’ and frequently stumbling upon people ‘he wishes to have no track with’.
Reference to Runyon came from one of the ‘Killing time’ books – the one that started it all, the Paul Feyerabend autobiography. “‘Who is this guy?’ I was hooked.” (quoted from memory). If I read someone is hooked, I am close to being hooked, too.
I’ll read the books that people in these books read, and the books read in the former, if any. No one ever reads books in Runyon stories, it seems – just newspapers and occasionally, letters. Quote: “When I ask him why he does not write to his uncle, the high sheriff down there in Georgia, John Wangle says there are two reasons, one being that he cannot write, and the other that his uncle cannot read.” (More than Somewhat: The Bloodhounds of Broadway)

Re-contextualising is also de-contextualising

While browsing the books and looking out for resonance to select sentences to include, there is a constant tension between wanting to ‘transport’ the source and the thrill of seeing its fragments become something else in the context that slowly builds up. I think it is worth being aware of the aggressive element in the method. Even those books that seem stylistically poor have a life in them that seems to form something akin to a mould, a negative form, an after-image of the author. I feel myself drawn in – today, I read Noel Fellowes‘ account of his fear to be ‘shived’ by the cons in the prison once it would transpire that he was an ex-copper. I felt the fear he describes. I became unable to ‘look out for sentences’ that would fit.
Re-using any such sentence in a new context that goes against the grain of the original context creates a thrill that always also has a whiff of abuse. Sure, one can just assume the air of the cool appropriation artist and point at numerous examples where stuff has been recontextualised (loads of examples can be found in ‘Against Expression‘). Indeed, I believe that all the effort to get clearance for my re-use is probably unnecessary from a legal perspective, considering the remote likelihood of any libel against my recontextualisation. But I realise that I also identify with each of the numerous authors, including authors of those books I don’t enjoy much.

Qualms around the inclusion of Lindorff’s book covering the Mumia Abu-Jamal case

None of the books received so far seems as ill suited for inclusion in my ‘Killing time’ project as Dave Lindorff‘s investigation onto the death row case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. As I read it to grapple with the problem and determine a solution, I lose the cursory distance which generally makes lifting and re-contextualising individual sentences easier.
Not only is it a third person account and therefore more difficult to integrate into a first-person narrative – the same is true for Conley‘s, Berger‘s, and Brady‘s (i.e., Harvey‘s) books. It also has quite long sentences most of which are studded with the legal terminology in which the case is so competently analysed. Sentences from quotations of court room reports, witness accounts etc may be somewhat easier to use. But the question remains whether the book should better be left alone, or whether the apparent difficulty might actually add something important to the overall result.
Other sources with a similar topic, such as Hollway‘s and Gauthier‘s report about John Thompson’s 18-year death row odyssee, are far easier to integrate due to extensive narrative reconstruction of the shooting event, including the relevant moments in the lives of important witnesses. In Lindorff’s book, much of the reconstruction is embedded in analysis. I also wonder how I will deal with the long relative clauses that are often embedded in the main clause. I am not ready just to remove them – this seems a bit too much tampering with the source.
I guess I must solve the problem by trial, and decide later.

Frank Tallis’ and David Wickes’ books covered

While writing has already started, I have tried to come up with a scheme, a kind of grid of headings, to cover the diverse books – a grid that may well need updating or modification for the non-fiction titles. The idea is to cover all the books used in terms of my personal reading experience, plot, characterisation, tropes, structure, style, language, and reviews by others. I have done this now for the titles by David Wickes and Frank Tallis.

First permission by a publisher

I have already received direct permission from a number of ‘Killing time’ authors. Cynthia Harrod-Eagles had referred me to her publisher, Little, Brown Book Group. They are now the first to respond and officially grant permission:

Little, Brown Book Group have no objection to granting non-exclusive, World English Language print & electronic quotation permission for the use of approx. 100 non-continuous sentences from KILLING TIME by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. (…) We will accept that this falls under the terms of “fair dealing” and we will not charge any permission fee for this use.

Many thanks to Little, Brown Book Group and of course Cynthia Harrod-Eagles!

Starting somewhere

Where and how to start, and whether to start before all books are in, whether to start  before permission has been granted, has been on my mind for a while.

I’ll try an as-if start by browsing through one of the books the title of which you will know (the latest to arrive, today, signed by the author, David Wickes, who I suspect is currently still unaware of this project):

  • “We are only interested in the last twelve hours or so.” [22-230-1]
  • By eight-thirty he had showered  and tucked in a healthy breakfast… [22-116-3]
  • “Christ”, said Jack. [22-222-2]
  • …, and his artful skills on the connubial couch,… [22-213-13]
  • His long hair, full beard, and moustache gave him a new look. [22-213-4]
  • In the country the snow was pure white. [22-213-24]

This is not an attempt to put anything in any order – since all these are from the same source, they should not link up anyway (see rules). Having added position mark-up [book no. – page – line] after the sentences, I am a bit worried that it will break up the flow – but I guess later it can be shown and hidden with CSS.

The strange thing, when re-reading these sentences put here apparently in no particular order, is that something gels, regardless – is that down to some common plain tone of the common source, or was I unknowingly picking and ordering sentences in a way that would create a sketch of sorts?

Between appropriation and appreciation

Assembling a text from other texts is a lot of work. I have gone through this process before: it took me about five years to put together ‘Secret ballet‘, and I had precious little feedback when the book was finally finished and published. Was all that a waste of time? Possibly. Will it be any different with ‘Killing time’?

What is different now is that I reach out to the ‘Killing time’ authors and their publishers. A multi-thread conversation has begun that makes me more acutely aware of the implications of my approach. The copyright question is not the main issue. Work resulting from appropriation, cut-up, collage, mash-up or aggregation usually tends to pay little attention to the relation of the result to the sources and their originators (many of whom will never even become aware that their work has been re-contextualised). The sources are used as mere raw material, as a pile of disused text to be re-fashioned. It is perhaps fair to say that some texts deserve no better. It can be argued that  the new context produces new, often unintentional meaning, and that de-familiarisation can turn a cliché into something more interesting. It can also be argued that the immateriality of text means that any recycling leaves the source intact. But it is the gesture that counts.

I understand the gleeful, forthright attitude of appropriation, but I don’t like it anymore, at least not in my own work. I (intend to) have a lot of respect and appreciation for the sources, even the self-published, maybe awkward mysteries, and I don’t like the idea that by re-contextualising sentences I implicitly devalue the original context. It is this tension between appreciation and appropriation, and the apprehension it causes, that at the moment is the real topic of work as I embark on this project.

Wikipedia editor separates the wheat from the chaff

The Wikipedia editor has marched right in and thrown out half of the extra ‘Killing time’ entries I added this afternoon to the ‘Killing time’ disambiguation page as if they did not exist, or did not matter. The rule of disambiguation is likely to be that only those entries shall remain that link to an already existing Wikipedia entry.

Is it really a service to Wikipedia users to spare them the awareness of other books of that title for which no one has yet cared to create an entry?

An entry without a link may spur users to create one. Deletion just serves to maintain the threshold where things only exist when they are in Wikipedia. I do not believe the editor went to the trouble of checking whether the books by, say, David R DowSandy FawkesNoel Fellowes or Wade Hemsworth are worthy of coverage in Wikipedia. I am curious if adding an entry with a link yet without target would meet an editor’s inclusion criteria.

Updated Wikipedia ‘Killing time’ disambiguation page

I just updated the Wikipedia ‘Killing time’ disambiguation page which under ‘Literature’ had only shown a few of all books with that title. I wonder if some bossy editor will now march in and weed out those entries that he or she thinks are not worthy of remaining in there.

Looking at Wikipedia I realised that I have actually omitted a title, Killing Time, a 2003 novel in the series The Invisible Detective by Justin Richards, probably on the grounds that… I can’t remember – maybe because it is a children’s book? I have ordered it now and will update the list of books.

Exploring different avenues to contacting authors

I had hoped to have traced Paul Melia to Staffordshire University’s art history department (if there is such thing), but enquiries have now written back that they have no such name on the staff list. So I studied the book’s imprint and found that Patricia Prater holds the copyright on the cover illustration. It was then just a matter of seconds to find her web page. It shows paintings done in a very similar style. Luckily, the site has a contact form, which I have just used.

Eleven more titles have arrived

Coming back on the night train from Paris, I was delighted to find that another 11 (!) ‘Killing time’ titles have arrived over Monday and Tuesday, bringing the total number to 16 (of 24 25). I have stacked them all up and made a new photograph. Will delve into a few of them in a minute.

The one book that doesn’t have its author marked on the spine, the title ending rather oddly with a full stop, is a crime novel in the ‘Inspector Abaline’ series by Paul R Melia. Apparently, the book is self-published via – it was printed on demand by Amazon in Leipzig, Germany, and it has this strange synthetic feel that such books have. I am not sure whether the author is really identical with the English art historian writing about the likes of David Hockney and Peter Greenaway, as the goodreads site seems to suggest. Could well be a namesake. My permission request mail to the art historian Melia has not had a reply yet.

Publisher permission and the impact on writing

An interesting twist has occurred. The publisher of one of the ‘Killing time’ books has written back that in order to grant permission for my use of sentences, they would have to see the exact list of all quotations I am going to use. Writing back, I have explained the emergent nature of my selection choices, ending with a two-pronged proposal:

  1. I go ahead as planned, keep track of all sentences used, and supply the publisher with the full list once I am done. The publisher may then go through the list, and if there are any individual sentences they think I should not use, I’ll remove them from the text (this may leave nasty holes that may turn out to be difficult to plug)
  2. For the source in question, I deviate from the intended procedure and make a pre-selection of sentences (possibly including a change of all proper names) which I then submit to the publisher for approval

In a sense, selecting sentences from one book before the process starts and the text begins to take shape may prime the result in some way. But I have to start somewhere – so why not take one of the books and see what sentences resonate?

The permission conversation is starting to shape the outcome – which is as it should be.

The search for authors continues

After encountering some difficulty when trying to contact Donald Freed, author of ‘Killing time – The First Full Investigation into the Unsolved Murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman’ (his website was easy enough to find, but the strange looking contact e-mail address has bounced), I tried to contact the author of ‘Hawk 4 – Killing time’, William S Brady, according to the Wikipedia entry for Angus Wells a pen name for either for Wells (who died in 2008), or for John Harvey (who is alive and kicking – his latest crime novel is called Good bait). I found John Harvey”s personal web site and now his blog, mellotone70up, which is quite a good read. And I sent my ‘request for permission’ mail.

Having failed to contact Donald Freed, I have used the contact page of the University of Southern California where he has taught. Not a likely avenue, but it is worth a try.

Waiting for the books and permissions

Mostly via Amazon, I have ordered altogether 22 titles called “Killing time”. Just 5 have already arrived. The pile is growing slowly.

Browsed and read Bruce Jackson‘s great b&w 1977 photo book about the Arkansas penitentiary, which in its last part documents voices / tales of some of the prisoners, and also, ‘correctional officers’.

Last night, I started to read Frank Tallis‘ lean, well-crafted novel – a text that skillfully hints on strange things that have already happened and will be revealed in due time, without being too obvious about it. The colloquial tone of dialogue is spot-on, as I remember it from my time in the UK.

Yesterday, I wrote to all authors (sometimes actual letters c/o their American publishers) to request permission for using sentences of their books. Four authors have already answered – no objections so far. Which is good news.

I found out that some of the authors are dead:

For some, such as Murray Smith, it will be difficult to get clearance. Not sure how to proceed in these cases. Go to the trouble of tracking down the caretakes / heirs?