The story behind The Teardrop Method

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After I met my girlfriend, Amanda in 2001 we started visiting Europe every year. Prior to that I’d never travelled outside of the UK. Once I had a passport, I was a voracious traveller: Rome, Paris, Venice, Lake Garda, Salzburg, Bruges, and everywhere in between.

Everywhere I go usually inspires a story, or at least some notes that might spark something a few months or years down the line. The idea of a woman who used to be famous recording an album while living on the top floor of a faded hotel overlooking a great river came to me after a tour of Italy and Austria. All those ancient buildings, surging rivers and eternal avenues had opened my mind to new ways of thinking and approaching my fiction. I knew the atmosphere of the story immediately; it’s what always comes first for me. A general sense of the tone and the air of mystery I want to convey with the setting. After that it’s about applying structure without losing that brittle sense of how you want the story to ‘feel’.

On a rather more prosaic level, the title, which eluded me for months came to me outside the car park of our local Asda. I’m not sure what it was about all those cars and the prospect of buying groceries led me to The Teardrop Method, but there you are…

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I knew very early on that the character of Krisztina would be modelled on the reclusive Swedish singer/songwriter, Stina Nordenstam, who I’ve been a fan of since she released her first record, ‘Memories of a Colour’, back in 1991. That and the follow-up, ‘And She Closed Her Eyes’ were delicate things: jazz-infused, strange, imbued with an other-worldliness that still enchants me to this day. Her sixth album, The World is Saved, released in 2004 was her last to date. During those years, Nordenstam flirted with distorted guitars and beats, pop, and cover-versions. She’s reclusive, a reluctant live-performer; she doesn’t give many interviews and when she does, little of her interior process is given away; she wears wigs and changes her appearance. Somehow she’d faded into another life entirely, it seems.

Describing her music in anything other than basic terms is fruitless. She has a voice you either accept or you don’t; her song-writing is angular, brittle, frequently shot through with a sublime beauty that few musicians ever capture on tape.

She’s been missing in action now for 13 years, and few of her fans now expect her to return to recording. Her website is gone, the message boards lie fallow with little for fans to cling to in the way of news. A FaceBook appreciation page intermittently lights up with posts bearing old videos, but little else.

I knew I wanted to write about her, or about someone like her. I find that reclusive Salinger-esque quality endlessly fascinating. Musicians who operate outside of normal conventions also appeal to me: how does the process begin; how is it articulated to other musicians in the studio; how do you walk away from the creative urge and why; how do they live their lives when they stop being the person they never really were?

I wondered what might lead to someone calling a halt to their career and how they dealt with a tangential relationship to fame. I came up with Krisztina Ligetti, and relocated her to Budapest. A songwriter who has produced one record and then walked away from it all, only to be drawn back into the process by tragedy; something strange and impossible to ignore, and where that leads her.

Those of you who’ve heard Stina Nordenstam’s work will see the subtle similarities in Krisztina’s music and the way she conducts her life. The rest of it is fiction, rooted in a deep and abiding love for Nordenstam’s body of work. I return to it often for its wintry, spectral beauty. I hope you do to, or even better, find it for the first time. I envy you that journey. It’s certainly a perfect soundtrack for The Teardrop Method.

loud-and-terrific-the-childhood-of-a-leader-bigRight around the midway point of The Teardrop Method, we are introduced to another singer/songwriter, John Merriwether. John is in his late sixties and ailing from poor health. He was once a heart-throb of sorts in the late sixties, the creator of five opulent records where his rich baritone was set against lush symphonic orchestrations. Songs flooded with kitchen-sink dramas, angels at bedroom windows, sailors and their whores, philanderers in faded suits and funerals in the rain… Strange, otherworldly records. Since then he’s been similarly reclusive until now, releasing a new album called ‘The Bleed’, an unsettling, cacophonous piece of work, all raw nerves and trauma.

Anyone with even a tenuous grasp of music history would gather that Merriwether is very much inspired by none other than Scott Walker, the Californian who relocated to London in the sixties and never went home. I’ve loved this man’s work since I was small. My dad would get me to sleep at night while walking around the flat with ‘Plastic Palace People’ playing. It took me some years to realise that Walker was out there on his own; a wholly unique artist who produced five exemplary records at the tail end of the sixties and then took several years to return on his own terms in the late seventies, the early eighties and then in the nineties with Tilt, itself utterly unique and experimental, described as ‘an anti-matter collision  of rock and modern classical music’. He’s gone further in the subsequent years, producing surreal and abstract lyrics set to angry percussion and blocks of noise and silence. He’s still very much out there on his own.

Like Stina Nordenstam, Walker is relatively reclusive. He does a round of interviews when a new record rolls around and that’s about it. Barring a brief song recorded for English music show, Later… Live, he hasn’t played live since a Walker Brothers reunion in the seventies, and at this point in his career, he really doesn’t have to. Again, that aspect of the reclusive genius producing intermittent works of strange, limited appeal interests me greatly. I suppose curiosity is what drives that ‘what if?’ question in a writer, and at some point during the process of the creation of The Teardrop Method, I realised I could include a version of Walker in the narrative. It allowed me to indulge in speculating on what drives that creative urge and what stymies it; and what happens in that downtime between the creative urge.

There’s a lot more to The Teardrop Method though. Besides being a love letter to the music that inspires me, it’s a speculative piece of fiction about stories and loss and how we recover ourselves from the wreckage of tragedy. I hope you enjoy it.

You can order The Teardrop Method for just £8 from TTA Press here

You can pay by card or PayPal on their secure server.

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Teardrop Method has arrived!



My author copies arrived from TTA Press today! I’m overjoyed with how it’s turned out. It’s a beautiful looking book, thanks to Andy Cox and Richard Wagner for the beautiful cover art.
If you’ve ordered it already – thank you! – your copies will be on their way to you in the next week or so. And if you haven’t ordered it, then I’d really appreciate your support. It’s my first book, and I really want it to reach as wide an audience as possible. Thanks!

Here’s the link to TTA Press’s secure store page where you can pay by card or PayPal.

http://store.clickandbuild.com/cnb/shop/ttapress?productID=27&op=catalogue-product_info-null&prodCategoryID=4

Something Remains

 

September saw the release of Something Remains, an anthology of fiction inspired by and based on the notes and outlines that Joel Lane left behind when he died three years ago at the age of fifty.  Over thirty writers contributed – friends, fans and colleagues, including myself, working from a fragment or an outline, or even just a few words.

I’m enormously proud to be a part of this anthology, although I wish it didn’t exist. I’d much rather have Joel still with us, still producing the kind of astonishingly unique weird fiction that made me want to write in the first place.

Writing my story, Charmed Life, was difficult but strangely cathartic. Joel and I had often talked about collaborating, but we never quite found the opportunity to do it. To be honest the notion of writing a story with him was a little intimidating; how do you manage to write with the same level of vision and clarity and honesty as Joel Lane? He wouldn’t have seen it that way, of course. He was too generous a soul for that. So this was the page of notes I chose for my contribution. It was pretty detailed but still vague enough for some interpretation to happen, which was when it felt like a sort of collaboration. It was a melancholy exercise, but I’m pleased with the result.

The following is a short piece I wrote after Joel’s funeral. It was originally intended for another anthology of fiction inspired by Joel, which failed to materialise. Oddly the story I wrote for that – A Very Lonely Revolution – will be published next month in Black Static #55.

I first met Joel in the early 90’s when he was living in Handsworth. When I arrived he was in the kitchen, wearing marigolds, doing the washing up. I’d missed dinner but stayed for the chocolate bunnies (it was the era of Twin Peaks). We didn’t get a chance to speak much that night but eventually he came into Andromeda Bookshop, where I worked, and he offered to read a story I’d written, inspired by the remarkable work being produced back then by Joel, Nick Royle, Chris Kenworthy and others. Those three Barrington books filled with slipstream fiction that opened the door for so many of us. I was grasping at their coat tails.

A week or so later, Joel returned the manuscript to me with annotations in the margins, and a letter filled with encouragement and criticism. He discovered depths to my story that made me feel a lot smarter than I was. It was exactly the kind of support I needed to keep going, keep producing new fiction. I’ve since discovered he did the same for a lot of writers. It was one of his many gifts to us.

            Over the subsequent years, we’d meet up with friends and go out to pubs in Earlswood, Acocks Green, Tanworth in Arden; balti houses in Brum, parties in Handsworth Wood. We’d retreat to a corner and discuss the latest REM or Manics album, the newest Buffy episode, or stories we’d been impressed by. Just as often we’d talk about our lives, relationships, work. Joel was a good listener and his advice was considered and astute. You were always fully engaged in a conversation with him. It made you want to try harder. Even when we didn’t see each other, there’d be long letters and postcards, and his very individually doctored Christmas cards. Meanwhile I continued to learn from his fiction: about the craft of writing, about finding your way into a deeper truth about the world, and – in his own words – scaring the shit out of your readers. My friend was almost single-handedly reinventing the weird tale by investing it with a singular sort of anxiety; deeply felt and imbued with a poets eye for isolation and injustice in all its forms.

He gave me some advice around the year 2000 on a story he thought was lacking. I think I was already aware of that, but his thoughts galvanised me into digging deeper. He’d also recently introduced me to the work of Derek Raymond and Cornell Woolrich; it led to me writing my first crime story, which was nominated for the CWA Dagger. More importantly, Joel loved it, and I knew that I’d finally found my ‘voice’. I was delighted to contribute to two of his anthologies – Beneath the Ground and Birmingham Noir – and nervously read beside him at the launches. The chance to contribute to books he edited felt like a chance to repay him in some small way for his years of encouragement.

            While we didn’t lose touch entirely in the late 2000’s, we didn’t see each other as regularly. Life got in the way, as it often does. But I continued to read almost every story he put out, and he continued to read mine, and we’d email each other. He’d found a kind of solace in political activism. He told me it helped him make some sense of the madness of the world and the grief and confusion he felt after his father’s death. It wasn’t just those people close to him; he cared deeply about the vulnerable and the disenfranchised. Then he joined Facebook and the last exchange we had was to make plans to meet up for dinner. I was looking forward to asking him about Where Furnaces Burn, which had just won the World Fantasy award, and picking his brain about a novella I’d been writing. To me, the book wasn’t finished until he’d read it.

And then Joel was gone. Chris Monk, the same friend who introduced us twenty years ago broke the news to me over the phone. It didn’t feel real. It still doesn’t. I still find myself trying to find meaning from such an abrupt ending; how such a kind and generous soul could be taken from our lives far too soon. Perhaps there is no meaning to be gleaned. But standing at his funeral and seeing so many people there, many of them with similar stories to mine meant more than anyone could adequately express in words. We were there not because he was one of the finest practitioners of the weird tale, but simply because we loved him: his generosity, his empathy, his integrity, his warmth, his wit, his friendship. If we could all pass on just a little of what he gave us, the world might be the kind of place Joel hoped for.

Something Remains, by Joel Lane and Friends, edited by Peter Coleborn and Pauline E. Dungate and published by Alchemy Press is available from Amazon.

All profits go to Diabetes UK.

Something Remains https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1911034049/ref=cm_sw_r_oth_tai_ocw.xbCN465JF

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