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An award-winning novelist sends you a postcard from Vegas, and thereby reinvents the funding of great literature. Hey, wow, Litcoin!
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Habits Altered! Twenty New Cards Posted! Books Recommended! Guru Found!

Posted by Julian Gough (Creator)
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In the last thrilling full episode of Julian Gough Makes Excuses For Not Writing Postcards, our anti-hero was having a breakdown.

OR WAS IT A BREAKTHROUGH?

He had discovered he was in the zeroth percentile for conscientiousness, a revelation which shook him severely; but which also threw great light upon his past life, and made much clear.

There are 7,686,443,289 people on this earth, and apparently at least 7,609,578,856 of them are officially more conscientious than Julian.

(OK, back to the First Person. Let’s see what he has to say for himself…)

Some are born lacking in conscientiousness. Some achieve a lack of conscientiousness. And some have a lack of conscientiousness thrust upon them. I think I’m in that rare third category, which leaves room for hope. If my lack of conscientiousness is not a core attribute, but is a side effect of my peculiar childhood, then I may be able to unpeel the damage (it being merely superficial), and reveal the SHINING CORE OF MY BEING (which is a pretty conscientious seven-year-old boy, before Ireland messed him up.)

But in order to dekink my psyche and undo the damage caused by a Christian Brothers’ education in the repressive semi-theocracy that was Ireland in the 1970s and 80s, I need a guru: a spiritual figure that I can trust, who has already travelled this path, and who can guide me. And I have found one. My guide on this spiritual journey is Blindboy Boatclub of the Rubberbandits.

For those of you who do not know the deep history of Rubberbandits, or Blindboy Boatclub; I am deeply shocked by your ignorance. Go find out now, and come back to me.

More recently, Blindly Boatclub is the author of The Gospel According to Blindboy (a most entertaining short story collection). He also puts out the Blindboy Podcast every Wednesday. It’s a splendidly idiosyncratic production, designed to give you what Blindboy calls “the podcast hug”: he has even recorded a soothing, slightly jazzy, piano soundbed that plays subliminally throughout the show, and sure enough it does lower your heart rate and calm you down.

Some Blindboy Podcast episodes have themes: one, a few months back, was Transactional Analysis, the psychological system devised by Eric Berne in the 1960s. Best known through popularisations (and simplifications) that boil it down to “I’m OK / You’re OK”, it’s actually a pretty smart way of thinking about your personality. A great tool when used in conjunction with other approaches. (I think it can be a mistake to fall in love with a single approach to psychology, or to anything, for reasons we’ll get to below.)

Anyway, Blindboy recommended a book, TA Today: A New Introduction to Transactional Analysis (second edition), by Ian Stewart and Vann Jones, that he had found very helpful in dealing with his own anxiety and depression. (And oh boy, he was a real mess in his teens and early twenties.) I ordered it on Amazon, and sure enough, it’s terrific. I thoroughly recommend it, if you want to sort your head out (or if you just find your family incredibly annoying at Christmas, and wonder why). Very effective when used in conjunction with other approaches, like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

As recommended by Blindboy Boatclub
As recommended by Blindboy Boatclub

Incidentally, if CBT interests you, the book Cognitive Behavioural Therapy For Dummies is a great place to start. I’ve seen people, just using that book, cure themselves of a paralysing fear of spiders, and of compulsive physical and verbal ticcing. CBT deals with symptoms, and doesn’t worry too much about root causes, so it’s very effective for some things, less so for others. (It’s interested in changing the way you think about your problems, rather than digging down deep into your past to solve them, and so it’s particularly good at breaking your negative mind/body feedback loops. Not so good maybe at dealing with a massive childhood trauma.) Mix and match your approaches.

Which reminds me, I’ve also gone back to an earlier guru of mine, Robert Anton Wilson, co-author, with Robert Shea, of the very funny Illuminatus! Triology, and author of a wild bunch of very sixties and seventies books on how to rewire your head. Some good ones are: Prometheus Rising; Quantum Psychology; Cosmic Trigger. He’s not always right, or fully grounded in reality-as-we-generally-know-it, but he is always fun, provocative, and mind-expanding. He jolts you out of your psychological rut. (Yes, I know he’s dead, but I’m still going to use the present tense, because he’s intensely alive in his books.)

Robert Anton Wilson is a fan of multi-model agnosticism: of picking and choosing between theories to find the best tool for the job at hand. So if you want to sort out your head, you can move back and forth between meditation, Transactional Analysis, high-intensity physical workouts, microdosing on psilocybin, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, listening to the Blindboy Podcast, and standing on a symbolic rock in the Galway rain on New Year’s Eve to hold a shouted mystical conversation with the Atlantic while smoking a cigar.

Julian by the sea
Julian by the sea
Julian slightly later in a mystical state
Julian slightly later in a mystical state

Respectable science, by the way, already does multi-model agnosticism: you use Newtonian physics if you’re designing a chemical rocket to fly to Mars, Einstein’s general theory of relativity if you are trying to understand the behaviour of matter at the boundary of a black hole, and the quantum electrodynamics developed by a bunch of people from Paul Dirac to Richard Feynman if you’re designing invisibly small semi-conductors. All three theories contradict each other; and all three theories “work” brilliantly in certain realms, while being useless in others. Theories don’t have to be “true” in some abstract, universal, Platonic, metaphysical way: they just have to work.

Oh, and while I was at it, I just bought a new book called Atomic Habits, by James Clear, the gist of which seems to be “The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become.” Which seems fair enough. “Your identity emerges out of your habits. Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.”

This seems a sensible approach to change, based (again, as with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) around feedback loops: “Your habits shape your identity, and your identity shapes your habits.” It’s basically a rewrite of Charles Duhigg’s fascinating book, The Power of Habit, but ruthlessly focused and weaponised as a self-help book. (Duhigg’s book goes far deeper into the data, into the research around the subject; Clear’s book is more practical if you actually want to change.)

So I am trying to become the kind of person who writes, stamps, addresses, and sends the postcards he has promised.

As a result of all this, I’ve started writing postcards again. I’ve now finished the coffee-and-whiskey-stain cards. The last batch were posted (in a parcel) to my friend Scott in Las Vegas a few days ago, and he will repost them individually from there.

I’ll send out the Lipstick postcard survey this week. Watch out for that email, if you signed up for a lipstick postcard.

Bulletholes will be after that.

These people will be getting their stained cards soon:

Lauren Seville; Eddy Fey; Iarla Kilbane Dawe; Conor Horgan; Maggie Davey; Sharon Reine; Naomi Frisby; Viccy Adams; John Lüders; Erin Wiedemer; Laura Watson; Phil Bennett; Barbara Morrissey; Stefan Linden; Patrick O'Flaherty; Debbie Wilcox; Craig Hughes; Edel Henry; Alex May; Benjamin Russell. 

The twenty actual postcards, ready to go
The twenty actual postcards, ready to go

Taking off the light-hearted mask for  moment; The Las Vegas Postcards Project has turned into the greatest moral failure of my life. I've let down precisely the people who have supported me the most. But if I can turn my life around, I can turn the rest of the postcards around. We shall see.

Happy New Year!


–Julian

I'm doing a live book event in London in an hour and a half

Posted by Julian Gough (Creator)
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I have been working on an update for weeks. It is not finished. One of the things it was going to mention is that I'm doing doing a book-gig tonight in the Bloomsbury Hotel, in London, at 7.30pm. Which is in about 90 minutes time.

Yes it is almost pathologically neurotic to be telling you all that this late.

.

Here is the link:

https://irishlitsoc.org/event/28-jan-ai-sci-fi-and-the-future-of-humanity/

I will be discussing AI and the future of humanity with Mark O'Connell (who wrote To Be A Machine, which won the Wellcome Prize last year). I will also be reading a little from Connect.

The chair is the brilliant Professor of Architecture at Nottingham University, Rachel Armstrong. She designs living buildings. Fascinating person.

Oh well. Better to tell you this hopelessly late than never.

Anyway! It's on from 7.30pm till 9 tonight, in

The Bloomsbury Hotel, 16-22 Great Russell Street
London, WC1B 3NN United Kingdom

ALL INFO HERE, AGAIN!  https://irishlitsoc.org/event/28-jan-ai-sci-fi-and-the-future-of-humanity/

In other news: I posted 20 postcards last week. The long, unfinished update will have more details. I will put that up soon... I think... I hope...

(Oh for the love of Pete. I'm on in 80 minutes. And I haven't had a shower yet.)

That's it! Got to run!

Fond regards,


-Julian

Your invitation to the launch of Connect tonight

Posted by Julian Gough (Creator)
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This is a strange update, because it doesn't involve me beating myself up.

It is just to say that, if you are in Dublin, or know someone in Dublin... here's your official invitation to tonight's launch of Connect, in Dubray Books on Grafton Street, 6.30pm.

All are welcome, especially people I still owe postcards to.

We will retreat afterwards to the Duke pub, on Duke Street, just around the corner, and keep the conversation going. If I still owe you a card, yes I will definitely buy you a drink.

Here's the invite:

Your invitation to the launch tonight
Your invitation to the launch tonight

If you have time, click on the RSVP link on the invite to tell Cormac Kinsella you're coming, so he knows how many crates of wine and water to carry to Dubray Books on his aching back. But if not, no problem, turn up anyway. Bring a friend. And definitely say hello, do not be shy, I really want to meet you in the real world...

About thirty cards that I sent to Las Vegas for reposting last month have been arriving this week, so I feel less guilty than usual. More on that soon. Also, Picador are prepping a PDF, with a big sample from the start of the book just for you lot, all perfectly laid out and edited and polished. (Yes, you'll get even more chapters than in the earlier, rougher draft of the opening that I sent you ages back). Should have that to send you this week.

And if you're in the US; before you ask – I'm sorry, yes, it's still going to be very hard to get the book, even after the UK and Irish publication. Connect doesn't officially come out in the US till August, because it has a different publisher there. Will there be a US launch? I don't know. More news on that as I get it. If there is, I will definitely invite you (and give you more notice than I did this time).

OK, I hope to see some of you in Dubray Books on Grafton Street in Dublin tonight at 6.30pm...

Thanks again for helping the book get this far...

-Julian

Zeroth Percentile (an update with no jokes or photos)

Posted by Julian Gough (Creator)
5 Comments
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For backers only. If you're a backer of this project, please log in to read this post.

Back in Berlin, after a year away: Proofs! Fonts! Disgust! Feedback! Postcards!

Posted by Julian Gough (Creator)
8 likes

OK, I hurriedly typed and sent the last update from my gate at Tegel airport, after dealing with a family medical crisis in Berlin. That crisis is over. Nobody died. All is well.

With the crisis over, I flew back to Singapore to finish my stint as Nanyang Technological University’s International Writer in Residence. As my splendid wife, Solana Joy, had in the meantime flown to Portland to spend Christmas with her family, this meant I spent Christmas day alone in Changi Airport; an experience which I enjoyed greatly. As I mentioned on Twitter, it was the most JG Ballard-flavoured Christmas I’d ever had (and I like Ballard a lot).

Me having a JG Ballard Christmas, at Changi airport in Singapore on Christmas day, watched over by a worryingly large Hello Kitty dressed as Santa or an elf or something. Hey, is that an assassin behind her, on the balcony?
Me having a JG Ballard Christmas, at Changi airport in Singapore on Christmas day, watched over by a worryingly large Hello Kitty dressed as Santa or an elf or something. Hey, is that an assassin behind her, on the balcony?

I wrapped up everything in Singapore, and flew back to Berlin a couple of weeks ago. Some postcards actually got written in that time (all whisky-and-coffee-stained), and are going out this week. (Skip to the bottom for those names, if you are impatiently waiting for yours.) But, for those who enjoy getting a look behind the scenes, here is what’s been happening on the writing and publishing side of things, over the past couple of months…

EVERY BREAKDOWN IS A BREAKTHROUGH

I mentioned, last time, that there had been a breakthrough with the novel. Let me expand on that…

OH JESUS CHRIST THIS FUCKING NOVEL.

With every book I’ve written, there has been a tricky scene that everybody (agent, editors, beta readers, God) hates, but which I like. And, in every case, after a lot of arguing, and resistance, I finally see their point, and find a way to rewrite the scene so it doesn’t destabilise the book; and it usually ends up flipping from worst scene to one of the best scenes (sometimes the best), in the book.

In this case it was a scene of violent confrontation that I’d written way too strong – it was too traumatic to read, and it forced a lot of readers to withdraw their emotional consent and bail out of the book. I thought the scene worked; and it DID, as a powerful piece of writing. (Oh boy, was it powerful.) But it didn’t work as a scene, at that point, in this book.

DISGUST

One problem I have as a writer – which can be a virtue – is that I don’t really have a disgust reflex. I can write a difficult scene unblinkingly. Trouble is, some readers really want to blink; and I don’t let them. If too many readers want to blink, then I’ve written the scene too strong for a large audience. Now, in the past, with the Jude novels, say, I’ve been happy to keep the scene full strength, and lose most of my audience. Those were high-ego books: I wanted to please me, not the reader. But Connect is a novel about connection; it’s a novel I wrote in order to connect with people, and so such a scene would defeat the aims of this book.

So I finally found a way to rewrite it that worked dramatically, was plausible psychologically, and didn’t throw half my readers out of the book. Probably the most difficult scene I have ever written. Huge relief to be told that it succeeded.

Which means, after seven years of work (obviously I did a few other things in there, but seven years, on and off), I have finally got the book to the point where it is what the world would consider finished. There is even a printed proof copy (not yet copy-edited, or proofread, or professionally designed and laid out, but nonetheless an actual, printed, rough copy of the book) at my elbow as I type. Here is photographic proof of the existence of both book and elbow:

Proof of the proof. Also proof of the existence of my elbow. I know, it looks a bit like my arse. I have trouble telling them apart too.
Proof of the proof. Also proof of the existence of my elbow. I know, it looks a bit like my arse. I have trouble telling them apart too.

 

PROOFS

After I finished that final tricky scene in early December, we realised that, if we moved fast enough, we could send out proofs (what Americans call Advance Reader Copies) in the Christmas book parcel that Picador send to all their writers; so the proof was basically lifted directly from my final typescript, plonked between roughly-designed covers (with a blurb we bashed together in two days), and printed in a week. (It worked as a proof because my neurotic polishing, over innumerable drafts, meant my typescript was pretty clean and largely error-free.)

In January, more of these proofs were sent out to journalists, editors, authors, Theresa May, Messi, the Pope, and so on.

Since that proof was printed, we have copy-edited the book (with a professional copy-editor); picked a final typeface; done the first rough design layout (with a professional designer); perfected the jacket copy, etc. This is a very enjoyable time, much less stressful than when doing the actual editing, where the success of the book is still up in the air. (The artistic success: The commercial success is always up in the air.)

The copy edit was pretty painless; mostly tweaking punctuation, and making some sentences read more clearly. (I did find a bad mistake, all my fault, involving photons behaving impossibly, and rewrote a paragraph.)

At the design stage, we would go back and forth, tweaking it. Ravi, for example, thought the chapter numbers were a bit big, making it look too much like a textbook, so we dropped their size. I wanted to make the epigraphs visually distinct from the body text; but using a different typeface would make the book look rather fussy, so we just tweaked their size, too. We adjusted the inset depth for new lines. Dozens of tiny decisions. This stage is really enjoyable, it's like polishing an old piece of furniture. Bringing up the grain. Carefully scraping off the couple of pieces of dried-in dirt – is that an old prune, good lord – that have been stuck to the back of a leg since World War One. Really getting it to shine…

AND THEN SUDDENLY EVERYTHING SPEEDS UP

With that all done, the layout proofs were couriered to me (because everything is incredibly slow in publishing until suddenly it is incredibly fast.) Over the last ten days, I've been reading the book carefully, noting in red ink any fixes to be made, and couriering it back. So now it’s done. Holy crap. (Well, I think they send me back the amended layout proofs for a last look. But they should be OK, unless a cat wanders across Nick the Layout Guy's keyboard, unnoticed, while Nick is making a cup of tea.)

So I've spent the last while with a printed proof of the final layouts on the table by my other elbow (here is photographic proof of the existence of the final layouts, and my other elbow.)

The layout proof, and my other elbow.
The layout proof, and my other elbow.

 

ALMOST CERTAINLY MORE THAN YOU REALLY WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT TYPEFACES

I like the typeface, it is very clean and modern, but is nonetheless serif, which is a lot easier to read over 400 pages than a sans-serif font. For those who've never had to think about this stuff: Serif fonts have those little squiggles or blobs or lines at the end of each stroke of the letter, and this, for some weird neurological reason, makes them easier to read for hours at a time. A useful attribute for a 470 page book. Sans-serif fonts have very clean lines and curves with no elaboration; they make for great headlines, or titles, or road signs. But, for some odd reason, even though they are very clean and simple, many people get tired reading sans-serif typefaces after more than a few pages. Yes, that explains the "sans" in Comic Sans, and also why you don't want to read a book of it.

Yes I am using "typeface" and "font" interchangeably here. Yes I know they used to mean slightly different things, until Steve Jobs called the typefaces on the first Mac "fonts" and fucked up the distinction, and now people say "font" when they SHOULD say "typeface". Yes I know I am infuriating a handful of people with a background in design. BUT THAT WAR IS OVER AND I'M SORRY BUT YOU LOST.

However, if you, a civilian, are interested in no longer accidentally offending tightly-wound black-clad designers, you can go here and wreck your head with a lengthy explanation of the difference between "typeface" and "font". This particular explanation starts in the fifteenth century. Good luck.

The delightful font used in Connect: serif, yet also minimal and modern. This is the start of section 8 of the book, with epigraphs.
The delightful font used in Connect: serif, yet also minimal and modern. This is the start of section 8 of the book, with epigraphs.

 

FEEDBACK

With proofs out in the world, I am starting to get feedback from real human beings, who were not involved in this tortuous process, and who are encountering the story for the first time, in an uncomplicated way (ie, with no earlier versions in their heads), simply as a book. And the initial feedback, to my immense relief, is really good. I've already got two great jacket quotes from writers I really like, and the shops seem to like it, too. There are wild rumours of possible future window displays in some of the big bookstores in Ireland. We shall see, but it's a good start.

(By the way, if any of you review for a website, or a print publication, or a local radio station, or Vatican TV, or whatever, get in touch – it's just juliangough, at good old gmail dot com – there may be some proof copies left.)

POSTCARDS

My anxieties about the postcards have been connected pretty strongly to my anxieties about the novel, and my delays on the postcards have definitely been connected (psychologically) to the delays on the novel, so I’m hoping that the fact that I’ve finally finished the book in a way that is fundamentally more final than all the other times I've finally finished the book will drive me on to finally finish the cards before publication on May 3rd. Also the shame. The shame will drive me on. And the threats, and the hurled clods of earth.

I have done a few cards recently, and I am doing more. As ever, it is going more slowly that I had optimistically predicted, because there is something seriously wrong with my brain; but at least it is moving.

These noble, patient souls will get their cards soon (I've written, stamped, and addressed these cards, and will post them to Las Vegas this week, to be reposted from there):

Siobhan Patten, Smoke Couthren, Bill Alexy, Stosh Mintek, Niall Carville, Aimee Jarboe, Emer McMahon, Mark Tottenham, Flora McCloud, Chuck Taggart, Ariel Vardi, Nikki Bowman, Conor Gallagher, Christel Adina, Sean Harvey. Also Robert Zetzsche and PJ King, whose cards I did ages ago and then didn't send for weird, psychologically complex reasons. I'm letting PJ skip the queue because he paid so much for his card that my guilt had become overwhelming. (PJ's card is written in my blood, although he very kindly said I didn't have to write it in my blood. But I felt a deal was a deal.)

I have not sent out the lipstick and bullethole surveys yet, as I have been slower clearing the backlog of whisky and coffee stained cards than I had hoped. (That was the most popular tier.)  But the book comes out on May 3rd and I WILL HAVE DONE ALL THE POSTCARDS BY THEN SO HELP ME GOD.

The book is 475 pages, and looks like one of those handsome, fat books you get in airports, written by professional writers who meet their deadlines and know what they are doing. (Deeply misleading, but there you are.) It's my most ambitious book, it's my longest book, it's my best book. It has nearly driven me mad (and it can't have done your sanity much good either).

I think it has been worth it. I hope it has been worth it.

If you can bring yourself to read it, after this hideous ordeal I have put us all through, I hope you will agree.

Neurotic hugs to all of you, except obviously those of you who do not like hugs, and also anyone who is too mad at me for all these delays to accept a hug, which would be entirely understandable,

-Julian

XXX