THE LAST DANGEROUS CARROT: ANGELA SLATTER

So this is it: the final entry in my Treacherous Carrots series of guest blogs. A massive tilt of the glass to everyone who came along with me on this. Here’s hoping you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read. But don’t leave just yet, not until you’ve read what Angela has to say. And when it comes to the subject of art, she should know: Her work has appeared Dreaming AgainStrange Tales II IIILady Churchill’s Rosebud WristletA Book of HorrorsMammoth Book of New Horror #22, and Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2011. She authored two collections in pretty bloody quick order last year– Sourdough & Other Stories (Tartarus Press, UK), was shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award for Best Collection, and The Girl with No Hands & Other Tales (Ticonderoga Publications), won the 2011 Aurealis Award for Best Collection. and she’s got yet another one coming out soon: Midnight and Moonshine, a collaboration with fellow carrot Lisa L Hannett, will soon be published by Ticonderoga. Their story “The February Dragon”, won the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Short Story in 2011. She also finds time to run her own wide-ranging and always fascinating blog right about here
So here we are. One more carrot before bedtime.




The topic assigned by the boss of the blog is ‘The writer as artist’ and I’ve been thinking about it for a few weeks now, in between other time-consuming and annoying activities (PhD, day job, housework, etc). And it’s been making me grumpy because I can’t put my finger on a specific answer to the implied question. It’s just given me a lot more questions, with no answers.
            Where’s art come from?     
            Is it art just because I say it is?
            Is it not art just because I don’t like it?
            Is it only art only if paint is involved?
            How can words be art?
            Who judges its value, gives a gold star, a mark out of ten?
Is art simply doing something for the sake of doing something?
            If my marks from the Australia Council are low, does it mean I’m a bad writer, a bad artist, no matter how many awards I might win during my career?
            And what’s with this deathless prose gig?
Just because a lot of people buy a book  – just because it’s popular – does that make it ‘art’ regardless of grammar and spelling shortfalls and plot holes the size of the Grand Canyon?
Is art only something no one asked for in the first place? And if it’s something no one asked for in the first place, is it fair to expect to be paid for it?
            And I’ve been wondering, do we ever sit down and think before we write ‘Today I’m going to commit art’?
            I’m a writer who doesn’t even think about things like themes. I don’t think ‘I want to achieve blah with this story’. I just write – it’s brain-vomit all over the page (which begs the question: can vomit be art?). I’m not a tidy, organised writer – I don’t always know how a story is going to end, and sometimes even when I think I do know how it’s going to end I find out I’m wrong at the – well, end.
            Sometimes I know the end but am completely in the dark about the beginning. Sometimes I need to spend ages talking to the main character and coaxing information out of her/him, just so I can find out how the tale starts.
If I’m committing art, it’s unconscious. Writing for me is irresistible – if the urge hits then notes must be made no matter what else I may be doing. This can make boring meetings interesting – ‘What are you writing, Angela?’ – and family gatherings strange – ‘Where is she? Oh, no, she’s writing again.’ At lunch yesterday I was describing the ‘Brisneyland by Night’ novels to my parents, who rolled their eyes and managed to say simultaneously ‘She’s your daughter!’
So a writer, like a prophet, knows no respect. We must get used to it.
The first time my Significant Other witnessed an ‘art attack’ he was somewhat perplexed – understandably, seeing as how I leapt off the couch, shouting ‘Of course! Bleeding the cat!’ and then galloped to the study to write down the story notes before the spark died (and sanity took its place). My stories begin with a first sentence … or an image in my head … or they’re set off by the words of a song … or by looking at a painting or sculpture or drawing … or just by looking at something in a different way and thinking ‘what if?’
Maybe that’s where art comes from: from asking ‘what if?’ when everyone else is seeing what’s obvious. When everyone else is being obediently blind to possibilities. Maybe art is seeing what’s hidden, what’s possible, what’s potential. Maybe it’s writing that questions the status quo, that points fingers, that laughs when everyone’s telling the emperor he looks fabulous in his see-through pantaloons.
Thinking about the writer as artist makes me nervous because then it makes me afraid that picking apart art is like picking apart creativity in general – in playing around in the innards of something to see what makes it tick you risk breaking the very ineffability of the thing. When you utter the secret name of something, it’s no longer a secret and it loses it power – just ask Rumplestiltskin. And always remember: a frog never comes out of a dissection well.
When I read something I want its effort and artistry to be invisible. I don’t want the writer to draw my attention to how they’ve created an effect – if I’m reading to simply enjoy the work, I really don’t want signposts that say ‘Look how clever I am’. Pointing out the magic tends to make it very ordinary indeed. It’s like saying ‘Look! The angels are on wires!’ Equally, I don’t want to see clunky writing where the seams and stitches are there for all to see. I want the ‘art’ to appear seamless and whole. If I’m reading something specifically to examine the craft, then I am reading in a different way to reading for pleasure – I’m looking for the nuts and bolts another writer has used. Their art is how they have hidden these things.
As a writer, the art for me lies in what I hide and what I show – indeed, what can I show when I’m hiding something else. And what can I hide when I’m showing something again. So here, the writer as artist is the magician, the con wo/man, the trickster. The art is in the sleight of hand; the art of the oblique.
If pushed, I think the art lies in the spark – that moment when you’re writing for yourself alone, when there’s no thought of an audience or possible sales. I think art lies in the unfolding of the story, the rush of inspiration, the chatter of all the voices that live in your head and don’t require medication. Later, there is editing, polishing. Later, there is an audience. I think the moment of true, pure, primeval art lies in the moment of ‘what if?’

PENULTIMATE CARROT: LISA HANNETT

Lisa L Hannett is quirky, highly talented, and living in Adelaide — city of churches, bizarre murders and pie floaters — so you know she knows all about suffering for your art. Her short stories have been published in venues including Clarkesworld MagazineFantasy Magazine, Weird TalesChiZine, ShimmerElectric VelocipedeTesseracts 14, and Ann & Jeff VanderMeer’s Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded, and she provided a creepy-as-all-fuck little gem for my issue of Midnight Echo to boot. The February Dragon, co-authored with upcoming carrotter Angela Slatter, won the ‘Best Fantasy’ Aurealis Award in 2010, so you know she’s got chops. 

Her first collection of short stories, Bluegrass Symphony, was published by Ticonderoga Publications in 2011. Midnight and Moonshine, a second collection co-authored with Angela Slatter, will be published in 2012. You can find her online at http://lisahannett.com.










In February 1880, William Morris delivered a lecture before the Birmingham Society of Arts and School of Design, which was later published in a book called Hopes and Fears for Art. It was during this public lecture, Morris’s first, that the philosophy driving the Arts & Crafts movement was famously summarised. “If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody,” Morris declared, “this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
Replace ‘houses’ with ‘writing’ and now read that sentence aloud.
What you’ve just heard is the mantra that whispers through my mind every time I start writing a story — and which bludgeons me when I go to read one.
There are more than enough mundane sentences in our world, and we’re bombarded by them relentlessly. Work emails, text messages, TV commercials, ads on bus shelters, misspelled restaurant menus, tax forms, university websites, cereal boxes, DVD cases, instruction manuals, radio announcements, Woolworths flyers… Everywhere, everywhere, words. They all communicate messages to their readers, and most serve a purpose — they do, in other words, what it says on the can — but though they get us semantically from A to B, few people would classify these pieces of writing as Art (with a capital ‘A’).
It isn’t a writer’s job to merely get their readers from A to B, to facilitate their journey from plot point to plot point, from page one to page three hundred and seven. Writers have certainly made a contract with readers that they will do these things — they will provide, to the best of their ability, a story worth spending precious hours of our lives reading — but there is no clause in this contract that states, “I, the Writer, promise to make you, the Reader, forget that you are involved in an Act of Literature.”
Writers compose. Writers conjure. Writers create. These are all words I associate with Art; so my hope, when I pick up a book, is to find Art trapped between its covers. My hope is to spend a few minutes, hours, days submerged in useful beauty.
Beautiful writing can’t be superfluous — long before Shakespeare’s time we’ve been wary of tales “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” — so it must serve a purpose in the story. It must give us extra insight into the characters, their worlds, their plights. But being useful does not preclude being beautiful: a well-crafted phrase, a symbolic image, a perfect metaphor can convey emotion or give us a sense of place far more effectively than half a dozen workaday sentences. In ‘The Wings of Mister Wilhelm’, Theodora Goss could’ve said “The girl was a fine seamstress” but instead we learn that she “could make stitches a spider would be proud of” and so we understand the delicacy of these stitches, how small they are, how many hours the girl would’ve spent practising her craft. Webs and spiders and fine gossamer thread also conjure up images of fairies and Queen Mab and dresses made of spidersilk — all of which add to the magical tone of this story.
When we read “He wants the redness to spill from him like a scent” in the ‘Cranberry Creamed Honey’ entry of Amal El-Mohtar’s The Honey Month, we don’t merely imagine blood spilling from veins, but also the cranberries from the story’s title, crushed and juicy; rich garnet tones and dark forests filled with fruit; love, but equally, danger. This image not only suits the tone of the piece — it also helps to set it.
It might not be surprising that these two authors have both earned critical acclaim as poets — a particular breed of artist that agonises over word choice more acutely than most. The most useful aspect of this beautiful writing is that it succinctly and simultaneously conveys many possible meanings; it slows the reading process just enough to allow readers to bathe in the richness of words.
You needn’t be a poet to convey multiple meanings so effectively. In ‘Dradin, In Love’, Jeff VanderMeer could’ve simply said that Dradin looked out his window at a humid city at night, a sensual city —  a City of Saints and Madmen, if you will — and all of these descriptions would have given us some idea of the protagonist’s state of mind. But instead, he tells us that the city “lay inside the cupped hands of a valley veined with tributaries of the Moth. It was there that ordinary people slept and dreamt not of jungles and humidity and the lust that fed and starved men’s hearts, but of quiet walks under the stars and milk-fat kittens and the gentle hum of wind…” Veins and hands cupped and humidity and lust and people sleeping all convey sensuality and suffocating closeness and tactility and the heat-fever of love, without having to say it in so many words. And if “ordinary people” spend their nights dreaming sweet, milk-fat kitten dreams, then what does that tell us about Dradin, whose insomnia keeps him awake and staring, voyeuristically, out over the slumbering city?
These symbols, similes, metaphors, clever turns-of-phrase, speak to us in a way that straightforward prose isn’t designed to — they speak straight to that wistful, intangible part of ourselves that weeps at the sound of an orchestral swell, or gets goosebumps at the sight of a Pre-Raphaelite painting. This type of writing may not get us to point B without travelling to M and X and Z first, but we need this type of Art just as much as we need an outlet for escape into wondrous worlds. The function of this beauty is to take us out of the realm of everyday language, and to remind us of the mind-blowing power of fine words.
My fear is that too many writers, genre or otherwise, are forced to sacrifice beauty for productivity. Publishing is a competitive business; there are more writers, more editors, more stories out there than a whole world of readers can possibly get to know in one lifetime. People aren’t paid sufficiently for art, they are paid for product. Churn out a series of shit books about sparkly vampires and you’ll likely be able to buy ten houses to fill with Morris’ beautiful things; but write a dozen near-perfect award-winning stories in a decade (á la Ted Chiang) and you’ll probably spend more time working in a carpeted grey office cubicle than you will be surrounded by Arts & Crafts treasures. (But a particular shade of grey can offer a neutral backdrop upon which many fine writers, often masquerading as office clerks, have hung colourful daydreams. And come nightfall these reveries are transformed into awesome books…)
The Romantic in me wishes writers could survive on beauty alone. The writer in me not only wants but needs to be inspired and encouraged by fine literary art, by the perpetual magic of words. The pragmatist in me would love it if we were able to find a balance between commercial success and artistry, productivity and grandeur. Hmmmm…. Beauty and financial stability… What could be more useful than that?

TREACHEROUS CARROTS: HELEN VENN

Helen Venn is one of the loveliest ladies in writing, and for a variety of reasons, one of the bravest SF people I’ve met, reasons which include being utterly willing to stand up and call bullshit on anybody in the middle of an illogical or disagreeable rant. Including me on more than once occasion. I love her combination of gentility and steel, the best example of which occurred during Clarion South when, during a patented Battersby diatribe on the difference between ‘jet fighters’ and ‘bus drivers’ she very calmly waited for a break in the action and firmly declared “I like being a bus driver.” She’s fabulous, as you can discover at her blog and the Egoboo collective, but she never set out to write SF. She began writing literary short stories and poems. Now, no matter how hard she tries, she ends up with speculative fiction.
She has placed in various competitions (most recently a finalist in the first Quarter of Writers of the Future). She attended Clarion South in 2007 and was an Emerging Writer in Residence at Tom Collins House Writers’ Centre in 2009. She is currently working on her second novel. 





I come from a family of artists. One brother is a textile artist, another dabbles in metal sculpture and my niece is a professional water colourist mostly painting portraits. Going back further I had a great uncle who professionally created exquisite jewellery. Hell, I even married into a family of artists. My father-in-law was a talented amateur landscape artist. You’d think some of it would have rubbed off on me but no. As far as the visual arts go anything I produce is derivative and, let’s face it, not very exciting, so I really haven’t ever thought of myself as an artist. Until now.
Lee’s question has had me thinking about my writing in a way I had not before. I’ve always loved words and what they are capable of.  I taught myself to read before I went to school partly because words fascinated me and partly because they opened up a whole different world to me. As a seven and eight year old I used to sit on the living room floor (because the giant one volume dictionary that stood on the bottom shelf of the bookcase was too heavy to lift) and read it, opening pages at random for the joy of learning new words. i still get waylaid by new words in a thesaurus whenever I venture into one to the point that, unless I have time to indulge myself, I now use on-line versions  or I’ll find myself hours later wandering through words that are fascinating but have no connection to what I was looking for.
All this is a round about way of saying that, although words always fascinated me, it took me a long while to realise that, yes, I am an artist in my own way. Unlike all those other artists in my family I use words to create my art. I see myself primarily as a story teller – someone who takes words and melds and crafts them into something that is bigger than its individual parts. Those words (whatever their form they are used in – and my writing ranges from fiction, both short and long, poetry, reviews, blogging, articles and non-fiction) are my paints, the word processing system I’m using – might be a pen or a computer. It doesn’t matter  – is my paint brush or palette knife and the paper or computer screen they end up on is my canvas.
This applies to all writers to one degree or another. When I look at the best writers I am struck by the fact that, within the structure of a good story, they do much more. They play with language, stretching it and using it to create images that are as tangible as those on canvas. They don’t set out to preach but they do present the reader with ideas. They explore important issues in society and make us think about them. The best stories will stay in our memories long after we’ve finished them and this is characteristic of all art. It makes us think and expands our knowledge of ourselves, both as individuals and as a human being and this is true of all art.
It speaks to the mind and the heart. It may challenge, delight, infuriate or fascinate us. It doesn’t matter which emotion it provokes, as long as it provokes one. It’s this quality that defines art and it’s as true of writing as any of the other arts.
So yes, I can finally acknowledge I am an artist.

TREACHEROUS CARROTS: TRENT JAMIESON

Trent Jamieson is a stylist, as anyone who has read one of his lyrical, poetic stories can tell you. He’s published over sixty of them, as well as the Death Works Trilogy with Orbit Books and the Nightbound Land duology with Angry Robot Books. When not writing, which as far as I can tell, is never, he works at the Avid Reader Bookshop in West End. he lives in Brisbane with his wife Diana, and has a funky website over here.

Art for me is breath. It’s the rough stuff, the rhythms that are life. It’s the truths that come out in even the most fantastical of writing.

I think we’re all art and flawed and wonderful, and all those other things that people are. Art’s the honest and the lying structure that binds the structureless. It’s like those pockets of order that form out of chaos (those pockets that make things like matter and thought possible, we live in one of them).

It’s the pompous, bittersweet lines of a Smiths song, or a poem by Blake, or that scene when the first bear enters the magical (but oh so stifling) world of Margo Lanagan’s book Tender Morsels.

It’s high, it’s low, it’s clever, it’s as stupid as a pulse. And just as vital because it signals life.

I think the moment that you set out to capture something in words, music, talk, drawing, mathematics or whatever, you’re making art.

I think it’s the second most important thing to life, and love (maybe the most important thing, because it gives those other two voice). It’s play, pure and simple, even when it’s the most important subjects that are being discussed (and don’t forget that play is how animals learn to hunt and to flee the hunter and both skills are as serious as life).

Sometimes we’re frightened to say that we’re artists. We’re frightened to commit and be true to our desire for a voice.

I say, fuck that, we’re artists one and all.  Even if we don’t recognise it. We all say and dream things, and, occasionally, we bridge the cruel gap between our skulls and those of others. Art is the tiger burning bright, it is the destroyer and the creator and the double-decker bus. It’s the world that we have made and unmade.
Art is breath. And breath is voice. And sometimes it stinks. Art isn’t always good, but who says it has to be good. Who hasn’t woken up to the love of their life and breathed in their morning breath? And what heartless bastard would stop loving them.

Art’s like that.  Well, at least I think it is, which will have to do.

TREACHEROUS CARROTS: TANSY RAYNER ROBERTS

Tansy Rayner Roberts is a phenom. Winner of the George Turner prize, author of the Creature Court trilogy (HarperCollins Voyager) and short story collection Love and Romanpunk (Twelfth Planet Press). Bloggerer at http://tansyrr.com and http://ripping-ozzie-reads.com/Twitterer at @tansyrr, Galactic Suburbia podcaster, reviewerer of works at http://aussiespecficinfocus.wordpress.com/ and http://lastshortstory.livejournal.com/AND she runs a doll craft business, makes fabric art, raises her two daughters and can type really fast, not to mention I’m pretty sure she’s also a Doctor of something or other historical and she probably solves crimes in her spare time.  Frankly, I think she died ten years ago and was replaced by a robot.








Far too often, writers get bogged down in the art vs. craft divide, as if those who prefer one term are automatically elitist geniuses, and the others are hard-working plebs.  One lot wave their hands and expect their work to magically appear with a swish of their keyboard, while the others are so obsessed with wordcount that they wind up typing gobbledegook and extra gratuitous sex scenes or descriptive paragraphs just so they can hit their day’s quota.

I know all these people. I have been all these people, at varying points in my career.  Most writers have.

It does interest me, though, the hang ups so many of us have over one word or another – it’s like that sticky divide between ‘author’ and ‘writer’.  We all have our own personal, occasionally quite emotional definitions of certain words that relate to our career.  The words we embrace, the words we disassociate ourselves from with flappy hands, and the words we’re totally not ready for yet.  (at least in English we have the privilege of several words to describe people who write – in Swedish there’s only one, which is most closely translated as ‘author’ so if you don’t feel ready to hang that particular word around your own neck, you don’t get a label at all)

I get very impatient with the idea of writing as Art, in the same way I get impatient with the idea of muses – too often it seems to suggest a romantic, film montage sort of life, where inspiration strikes, something moves THROUGH the writer who types manically for 24 hours and suddenly the work is done.

But that says more about my own preconceptions about Art in itself than it does about the (straw) writers who call themselves Artists, Darling.  Do all novelists eye visual artists suspiciously and mutter about how long it takes to fill a canvas vs. how long it takes to produce a novel?  Are we also affected by the film montage view of reality, where we think all it takes is flourishing a paint brush or squishing our hands into wet clay, and magically the work is done, sitting on plinths, being peered at by New York critics?

When I peel back the layers of assumptions that pop culture has apparently taught me about artists, and remember the people I actually know in reality who work as artists, or as craftspeople (or, just as commonly, both at once and more besides) I recall that art is in fact largely about using and utilising techniques.  It’s about practicing, and improving, and while there are elements involving inspiration and all that fancy stuff, there’s also a lot of bloody hard work.  So actually, there’s not that much difference between art and craft at all, as a useful metaphor.  Except maybe artists get paid more, while craftspeople get paid more often.  But not always.

Likewise, it doesn’t matter whether a writer (or an author) thinks of themselves as someone who produces art or craft.  They’re all just words, and writers know better than anyone that they can make words mean anything they want.  We use them to trick ourselves into feeling better (or worse) about our work, into writing more (or not writing at all) and into feeling like the writer/artist/person we want to be.  There are so many elements of a writing career that the writer themselves has no control over. But what we can control are our working methods, our goals, the techniques we work on to improve our art or craft or just plain writing, and the way we present ourselves to the world. 

If we didn’t have our little quirks, our pet metaphors and endless different methods of talking about ourselves, we’d probably dissolve into puddles of paranoia and panic about this unstable, rocky industry we have pinned our hopes on. We’d be no fun at dinner parties. We might never leave the house.

The kind of artist a writer most resembles is a con-artist.  But trust me, that’s a good thing. 

TREACHEROUS CARROTS: STEPHEN DEDMAN

Stephen Dedman has been just about everything in SF over the years: the author of excellent novels like The Art of Arrow Cutting and Shadows Bite, more than 120 short stories published in an eclectic range of magazines and anthologies, editor, magazine head honcho, bookshop owner, international man of mystery, and guru. He’s also my very good friend, and was best man when I married Luscious Lyn. We get together nowhere near as often as we should, due to distance, but with new work constantly appearing (he’s currently due to appear in Midnight Echo #6, Exotic Gothic 4 and Zombies versus Robots, and it’s only Saturday…) he’s always somewhere close in fictional form. He’s always pretty damn close to the top of the list when I’m inviting people into writing ventures, and my League of Treacherous Carrots was no exception. 






Ars gratia artis, pecunia gratia deus
I’ve loved museums for as long as I can remember, but have spent relatively little time in art galleries. Tempt me with a few dinosaur skeletons, a moon rock, a mummy case, some suits of armour, experimental aircraft or even vintage cars, and I’ll walk straight past a load of Pollocks without a second glance. It’s not that I don’t respect visual artists (well, some of them, anyway); it’s more that many are communicating in a language that I have never made much of an effort to learn.
That said, there is one art gallery I visit whenever I’m in London; indeed, if I were pressed for time, I would go there and skip the famous Museum of Natural History just down the street. It’s the Victoria & Albert, and quite apart from its delightfully high weirdness factor, much of it is devoted to design: artistry applied to things that serve a purpose beyond adorning a wall or a courtyard. Things that work.
Which conveniently brings me to the art in writing. The main thing I look for when I write a scene, or a sentence, is whether or not it conveys the information I wanted to communicate – i.e., whether or not it works. If not, I rewrite it until it does.
Of course, tone and style and pace also convey information, so I have to get those right, too. Sometimes I want to suggest beauty; sometimes horror; occasionally both at once. Someone once said that prose should be like plate glass, not stained glass, and sometimes that’s true. Sometimes, however, I need coloured glass, or frosted glass, or half-mirrored glass, or slow glass, or glass that’s cracked and crazed so that it distorts the images, or glass so dirty you only get a vague impression of the shape of whatever’s outside. Or inside. Imagine, if you will, that you’ve come around to collect the rent from an unreliable tenant, a young woman who sometimes calls herself Marie Jeanette though she was actually born in Limerick and christened Mary Jane. The window of the room is filthy, as befits her trade and the area. Spitalfields is a perfect name for it; if there truly was a white chapel here, it would be so besmirched with soot and mud and obscene graffiti that not even God would know his own house. You knock on the door of Mary’s room, but there is no answer. You do your best to peer through the grimy window, and discover that the pane is cracked and can easily be dislodged. You reach in, and push the threadbare curtain aside. What you see, sends you running to the police.
No-one alive knows what sort of blade or blades Jack the Ripper used to mutilate Mary Kelly; one was at least six inches long, but must have been small enough to hide in the clothing of the time – lethal, certainly, but probably cheap and commonplace, deniable, furtive, sly. Now look at this display of katana from the V&A.

Try to see this weapon through the eyes of the swordsmith who took pride in making it beautiful, or the samurai who took equal pride in wearing and wielding it as an ostentatious reminder of the prestige that only comes from generations of loyal service to the emperor combined with the power to kill with utter impunity. Both blades can cut, both can slaughter, both are serviceable tools in that sense, but they are not the same.
Words are the writer’s tools, and our language is blessed with many thousands of them, a vocabulary so large as to dwarf even the V&A’s wondrous hoard of strange apparatus. When I want to tell a story, I have a choice of devices which I can use in different combinations, but as Mark Twain once said, the difference between the right word and the almost right word, is like the difference between lightning and a lightning-bug. Some phrases guide you from A to B, step by step; others transport you without giving you time to catch your breath. Some are subtle and simple as a Zen garden, some as big and brash and boastful as elephant armour. Some of them reshape landscapes, interior or exterior Some of them frighten, or wound, or caress, or tickle. .
And sometimes, it may suit the writer’s purpose to distract you by playing music on a pipe organ shaped like a tiger eating an Englishman.

TREACHEROUS CARROTS: ADAM BROWNE

When I decided I was going to invite other authors to speculate on the nature of writing as Art, Adam Browne was the first person I asked. Indeed, it was the thought of what he might say that prompted my initial desire to spread the question around. When it comes to writing as art, no other author of my acquaintance writes with quite the same combination of style, artistic intent, and outright froodiness. If you’ve read his work, you know exactly what I mean– stories like the Bangkok-as-you’ve-never-imagined-it Heart of Saturday Night, or the Aurealis Award-winning The Weatherboard Spaceship, or Neverland Blues (Michael Jackson has evolved into an immortal spaceship, and needs a boy to, uh, enter him…) ……Once read, they can never be forgotten. Adam is that rare kind of artist, whose works can genuinely change the way you see the universe. If his novel makes the final leap from hopeful to actual Angry Robot publication, placed as it is in the same editorial lottery queue as mine own, then a much wider audience than ever before is going to know what we Browneaphiles have already discovered: he is one hell of a singular talent.

I once heard a painter say, I think it was in The Shock of the New, that the urge to paint is the urge to match the beauty of flowers. He said it’s clear we’ll never come close. Maybe we just don’t have flowers in us. Or if we do, they’re bursts of artillery fire, or the questionable blossom of an earmouse, or an efflorescence of leveraged buyouts branching through the ramifying layers of Sony or Safeway or MGM.
As for representation, I say the Impressionists were closest to getting it right. They represented a flower by not representing it. The same principle works for writing. So many ideas and experiences don’t survive direct contact with words. A friend once said that I work by surrounding an idea with literary ornament – I make Faberge eggs, he said: the fragile shell is scarcely touched, but it’s there for the reader nevertheless (we’re told show, don’t tell; sometimes, though, it’s best not to show at all).

But is all this what I set out to say? I don’t know. Whatever it is I’m trying to say, maybe I’m trying to surround it, orbit in on the flower inside the egg without ever touching i
I know I want to say that I love art. High art and dirty art. The beautiful and the grotesque, far more closely related to each other than the merely pretty or tasteful.
What else do I love?
The merry hideousness of a rundown circus.
The feeling that the acrobats and clowns, no matter how they try to glitz up their acts, belong to something as old as the tarot deck.

Brittle circus merriment, I love that. A bit alarming, like the manic behaviour of someone teetering on the shivery edge of something terrible…

The sacred and the profane… Profound nonsense… The courageous coward in Huysmans’ Against Nature… Fellini telling Nino Rota to compose a carnival tune that’s sad and happy at once… And Rota getting it right…
Lies that tell truths…  
That’s what I’m trying to find, always. That’s art…
What don’t I love? What’s not art?
I’m unmoved by the feats of athletes and businesspeople whose supposed greatness comes from measuring themselves against the achievements of others.
Measure yourself against bigger things, that’s what I say – against the world, the universe – people are afraid that doing it will make them smaller, but it doesn’t, it makes them bigger.
The anxiety that crackles around me whenever I write, I dislike that. That’s not art (not anti-art, which is Dada, which is art). It’s the unvoiced voice of I don’t know who telling me I’ve wasted my life pursuing this thing.
Here I am, struggling for money, in dodgy health, fabulously obscure – and still I keep doing it, hopelessly… Wile E. Coyote, super genius… How many times have I plummeted, whistling, into the canyon this year?
But still I keep going after it, the Roadrunner, the flower inside the egg; because what’s the point of a goal that can easily be achieved?
That’s what I tell the anxiety, that’s how I silence the world that loves athletes and money. And I keep on writing…
The carrot will always be there. The classic target-that-can-never-be-reached, always ahead, drawing me on, mulishly.
I’ll never reach it, and that’s the way it’s meant to be. That’s art…