Bringing up Baby … Food

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CockaHoop
Evil Incarnate

What is actually going on in your toddler’s little head when she shoves peas in her ear, guzzles bathwater, or strips naked in the cinema? We asked our resident child psychology expert, Friedrich Nietzsche, author of Ecce HomoTwilight of the Idols, and Superkids: Raising Your Child in the Shadow of an Absent God, to give us some insight into your children’s thought processes and to offer some advice on how to respond.

 

Quirky behaviour: Taking off her clothes anytime, anywhere.

Toddlers love being in their birthday suit, as Hilary McStott knows all too well. “My kids start stripping the minute I’ve finished dressing them,” says the mom from Camberwell. “They’ll actually leave a trail of clothes from their bedroom to the playground. It’s like they’re competing to see who can get naked the fastest!”

Friedrich Nietzsche says: To predict the behavior of ordinary people in advance, you only have to assume that they will always try to escape a disagreeable situation with the smallest possible expenditure of intelligence. Your kids are merely expressing their resistance to the herd mentality that requires that you cloak their natural exuberance in the uniform of conventionality. Leave them alone. It is you who are sick.

 

Quirky behaviour: Banging her head over and over again on the crib railing before she goes to sleep.

Until toddlers have the words to tell you when they’re tired or anxious, they have to rely on nonverbal ways to comfort themselves, and head-banging is one of them. “My Susie spends most of the night hitting her head against the foot of her bed,” says Carrie Bhent of Norway. “I was extremely worried to begin with, and we tried medication for a while, but this just resulted in her fixing her eye on us both with a look of contempt mixed with mockery.”

Friedrich Nietzsche says: Listen closely to little Susie. Under her breath she is saying “Enough, enough.” She is old before her time and already knows that God is dead. You can let her face this truth alone, you can lie to her that life has meaning, or you can buy my book and teach her to make her own truth and delight in its contingency in the face of snake-oil peddlers and loathsome men of the cloth. Or you can buy her a helmet.

 

Quirky behaviour: Holding his breath to get what he wants.

It’s always scary to watch your toddler go blue in the face, but it’s also extremely common when kids don’t get what they want. “Colin has developed bulging eyes and rosacea on his cheeks and nose from holding his breath so often,” says Karen De Snatch of her six-year-old. But this hasn’t tempted the single mom from Stafford to let him have his way. “He can hold his breath till the shit runs down his legs as far as I’m concerned,” she says. “He is NOT getting Sky Sports Extra.”

Friedrich Nietzsche says: It isn’t Sky Sports Extra he’s after, woman. He wants you to die, you smotherer of pleasure, you denier of life, you withholder of joy. He tries to faint only to blot out your existence, because he does not have the strength yet to take a knife to your throat in the night.

 

Quirky behaviour: Drinking bathwater.

You offer your kid water all day long and she often insists she’s not thirsty. So why is H2O suddenly so enticing in the tub? “Janet won’t drink anything until another human being, or sometimes the dog, has bathed in it. And yet if it’s soapy water, she won’t go within a mile of it,” says frankly malodorous father Stuart Penhaligons of Streatham. “I’ve tried playing tea party with her all afternoon, and she’ll say she’s parched yet only pretend to sup her tea. Get her in the bath and she guzzles it down like a cum-hungry porn star.”

Friedrich Nietzsche says: The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. Your daughter has both courage to withstand your crass dramaturgy and the wit to test her own limits and find the world wanting. She will one day be your master.

 

Quirky behaviour: Shoving every little thing up his nose or into his ear.

Your toddler isn’t just curious about the world around him—his body is exciting new terrain too. “My Billy has discovered he has this body, and it’s all his and it’s fascinating!” says Niamh Jockey of Aberdeen. “He puts beads, peas, rocks, grapes, apples, whatever he can find, up his nose, in his ears, up his arse. My husband wants to put him on TV. I’ve only shown him to the neighbours. We made three grand.”

Friedrich Nietzsche says: Digressions, objections, delight in mockery, carefree mistrust are signs of health; everything unconditional belongs in pathology. That said, your son is laughing at you and you do not realize, idiots that you are. Take a strap to him.

 

Quirky behaviour: Tossing a present aside and playing with the box instead.

You pick out the perfect gift for your toddler, yet she’s more amused by what you consider trash. “We buy our Celine the best of everything, yet she still insists on running in circles in the back garden giggling and laughing with cheap pink ribbons streaming in the air behind her like some easily pleased retard,” says Dennis Lowceiling of Ballsbridge, Dublin. “She knows the value of nothing. We’re at our wits’ end. Could it be she is adopted?”

Friedrich Nietzsche says: You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star. Insanity in individuals is something rare—but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. Celine is not retarded, she just refuses to yield to your shallow Bourgeois priorities. She should pray she is adopted. Pray to an empty sky.

 

Quirky behaviour: Reading the same books over and over again.

Just as you have a favorite book or song, your child is developing her own preferences, and she’ll become increasingly vocal about her likes and dislikes. But repetition also serves a greater purpose: Security. “Gary reads The Da Vinci Code over and over and over,” says his mom, Julie “Biggie” Smalls of Luton. “It isn’t like he hasn’t figured out what’s going to happen, but his vocabulary has stalled at that of an eight-year-old, and he’s now twenty-three.

Friedrich Nietzsche says: Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you. Your son has not just gazed into the abyss, but what he has found there obsesses him, for it is the truth of his own dark soul. You should have bought him Harry Potter and let him die a slow death of conformity.

 

Quirky behaviour: Only wanting his father.

It’s hard for mom not to take it personally when she feels snubbed by her child. But the truth is he’s not doing it on purpose—in fact, it’s not really about mom. “Bobby can spend weeks at a time without even speaking to me other than to say ‘Where’s my dinner?’” says Leslie Fang of Newtown, Birmingham, “so it’s no wonder our son Kevin treats me the same way. Frankly, I’m thinking of killing all of us with pills.”

Friedrich Nietzsche says: Are you going to woman? Then don’t forget to take a whip. The child will one day kill his father, of course, but that is the way of the world. Delight in the affirmation of power!

 

From the February 2017 issue of Postmodern Parenting (U.K. edition).

Merch!

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Since its recent appearance on Instagram, my Breakfast at Cannibal Joe’s t-shirt has drawn considerable unsolicited attention (and a few sarcastic comments), with a number of individuals approaching me for details of the vendor. Now, they, and possibly even you, will be happy to learn that I have negotiated a deal with the supplier, Canvas Kings, to provide t-shirts featuring not just the award-winning Jon Langford design of the aforementioned tome (as featured in The Bookseller) but also my second novel, Ivy Feckett is Looking for Love, for the knock-down price of €20, including post and packaging. This would be an ideal purchase for the Jon Langford fan in your life or for anyone who has never even heard of me, which potentially covers entire continents.

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Raymond Weil watch: €1,000, Weirs of Dublin; Skechers Flex Advantage shoes: €70, Avenida Gran Via, Barcelona; Pierre Cardin socks, €5, TK Maxx, Drogheda; Jon Langford award-winning Breakfast at Cannibal Joe’s design T-shirt: Canvas Kings, €20 inc. p&p.; Blue Harbour cotton shorts, £4.99, Cancer Research, Altrincham; 100% UVB protection sunglasses, £1, Oxfam, Enniskillen; Leg hairs, author’s own.

Joesshirt

As worn by an author.

Shirts are available in a range of colours and all sizes. Payment can be made via PayPal or credit card. Contact Canvas Kings via their email, thecanvaskings@hotmail.com, via their website, or via their Facebook page, specifying the desired t-shirt size, colour, and book cover.

Ivydistance

Avoid leaving fingerprints when burying bodies. Ensure anonymity by wearing the uniform of the moment. Do not, at any point, make eye contact.

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They’ll be so awestruck by your amazing shirt that they won’t even notice the blood on the shovel.

Anyone willing to send in a photo of themselves wearing either of the above shirts, in public or in the privacy of their own home, will automatically receive a free eBook edition of my next novel, Fowl Play: A Book of Perversions, due out later this year, with yet another fab Langford cover. Do you dare?!

John before Jay except after K(atherine)

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I have alluded elsewhere on this blog to the fact that I did not use a pseudonym when I started out as a writer and that a change of name was forced upon me by time and circumstance when another writer of the same name achieved global success with his young adult novels, amazing YouTube channel, and ridiculous charm and good looks. However, it remains the case that once upon a time yours truly was the only John Green worthy of the name in publishing, thanks to my decade and a half in charge of one of the most reputable educational research guides in the world. That prestigious post is mentioned only in passing in my author profile, and most folk prefer to ask about my stint with the Chippendales or as a court coverer at Wimbledon, but while such jobs provided me with a plethora of anecdotes and ideas for my fiction, it was as the editor of Readers’ Guide Abstracts that I learned my craft as a writer and editor, a craft that I have continued to develop as a freelancer in the years since and which has helped me so much in my career as an indie author.

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For 17 years, I was the editor of this renowned publication, a position that for the most part involved reading articles from hundreds of different magazines or journals and comparing their contents with the summaries written and edited by my expert professional staff. No finer way of passing one’s day and being paid for it could I conceive of at the time. You name it, we covered it: Model Railroader, Dance magazine, Business Week, Forbes, Tennis, The Nation, Good Housekeeping, Gourmet, Aviation Week and Space Technology, Field & Stream, Surfer, Antiques & Collecting, Arabian Horse, PC World, Conde Nast Traveler, American Health, Ebony, the lot. It was great craic altogether, sharing items of interest amongst ourselves at lunchbreaks, in the canteen, in the pub after work. And the final product, which was sent to high schools, colleges, and libraries around the world, was an invaluable source of trivia and arcane knowledge for students, researchers, novelists, or, indeed, intelligence gatherers of other intents. Needless to say, our department was invincible when it came to pub quizzes.

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Now that’s what I call a book. Over 2,500 pages, and this is just the 6-month Select Edition!

Naturally, anyone who has read Breakfast at Cannibal Joe’s will wonder at the plausibility of such a business venture being run as a front for the CIA, never mind the verisimilitude of events in the workplace described. Surely there couldn’t be anywhere in the real world like Whetstone Publishing? Do cubicle dwellers really replace the water in their vases with vodka? Do summarizers really spend their time smuggling acrostics into their abstracts that say “SMOKEDOPE”? Well, I really couldn’t say. But with regard to the idea of Whetstone as a CIA front, I recall an interview that journalist Muriel Gray conducted many years ago with Robin Ramsay of the wonderful Lobster magazine (I was a subscriber) in which he escorted her around the shelves of Hull University Library’s reference section, indicating various magazines of interest: “This is pretty much what intelligence agencies do,” he explained. “They read through all the newspapers and journals and speeches and gather all the information together” (I’m paraphrasing a little here). So what better way of killing two birds with one stone would there be for a cost-cutting intelligence service than to set up a front company that does precisely that?

The rest, I must protest, is artistic licence, down to the imagination of the author. I have only fond memories of my time running the Readers’ Guide department, and my hope is that my work colleagues felt – and feel – the same way. I even went so far as to try tracking down our collective work in the New York Public Library during one of my visits to the city. Sadly, I was told that the hard copy volumes were held in a satellite branch. It would have been a proud moment to locate our work on the shelves of that august institution, open up the volume, and see my name there, long before An Abundance of Katherines or The Fault in Our Stars ever saw the light of day, never mind a library shelf.

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My wonderful team. Some of Irish publishing’s finest.

And So It Begins

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Even as the penultimate draft of Fowl Play taxes the patience and benevolence of my beta-readers, the first edit of Book 4, Manuel Estímulo’s Fascist Book of Everything, begins. It is a timely work, a metaphor for Brexit, for xenophobia, for western cultural imperialism, and the merits of peace and love. Drawing from sources as diverse as Don Quixote, Flaubert’s Bouvard & Pécuchet, John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, and William Donaldson‘s Henry Root’s World of Knowledge, the Fascist Book of Everything will cover every topic under the sun in order to provide the definitive rulebook for correct living as a Fascist in the modern world. But be not afraid: There’s a plot afoot, to boot. Some examples (from the A’s):

 

Aardvark
Four-footed marsupial indigent to Africa whose name literally means “First one on the ark.” Most people are aware that Noah collected the animals two by two. They are less likely to know that he did so alphabetically.

Killing, skinning and cooking a whole aardvark will fill you with a false sense of accomplishment. Wearing the skin and successfully passing yourself as a real live aardvark is more impressive. Eating while wearing the skin is something to write home about. Tastes of chicken.

 

Adultery
Research shows that of every ten deaths that occur during sex, nine of them take place during extra-marital relations. This proves conclusively that God is watching with intense interest. It is also worth bearing in mind Thomas Aquinas’s proof that a man commits adultery if he enjoys himself too much while having sex with his wife.

 

Allergies
According to the mass media, there has been a big increase in the number of children suffering from allergies in the past 40 years. This, they say, is because of all the cleanliness children are covered in. What rubbish. The truth is that more children suffer from allergies today because interfering scientists have kept alive lots of children who would be dead if Nature had been allowed to take her course. The mortality rate has dropped by so much in the last century that the species has been enfeebled and feminized by the survival of offspring who under normal circumstances would have happily succumbed to croupe, tuberculosis, cholera, diphtheria, chicklenpox, avian flu, dengue fever, Spanish flu, Indian hobnobs, German Byte, or French kissing disease. Because these weaklings have been immuned to such fatal race-enhancers as these, they are free to cough and sneeze and splutter and swell up all over their genetically superior officemates, ruining their day and all because of some supposed civil right to eat peanuts. No wonder the Chinese are laughing at us. Over there, such anti-social elements are thrown off a cliff the same day they are born. It is a shame that this new rabies strain we are seeing on the island does not result in death: Cross-country races in the mountains would have provided natural selection and a salutary lesson to the local kindergartners.

 

I don’t mind telling you, this book has been the most fun to write so far, a reminder of why I do it. The next 12 months of editing and re-writing should be a hoot!

 

Out, Damn’d Draft, Out!

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draftGahhhhhhh!!!!!!

I’m a huge fan of the Big Bang Theory but even after watching every episode I’m fairly sure there’s no loop quantum gravity, supersymmetry, or string theory explanation for why it is that the editing of the penultimate draft of a novel should take longer than the initial writing of it. Time simultaneously contracts and expands, dilates and condenses, the arduousness of the original creation being replaced by a dulling of the senses caused by repetition and familiarity, the spontaneous eruption of a forgotten joke encountered afresh distended into an asymptotic moan of diminishing returns each time it is reread and effort is made to improve on or sharpen it. The self-confidence that overtook any initial hesitation and thereby resulted in the completion of a work to be edited gives way in the review to an orgy of “What the hell was I thinking?” doubt, a form of self-abuse manifested by crossings-out, screeds in the margins, and long, languid waves of ink across full pages where not a word can be salvaged, waves that in brief moments condemn days of agonized wankery.

I get enough of editing in my day job, so this torture I inflict on myself is purely for your benefit, you understand. If you think this next book is shite, you should see what it was like before I edited it. But even now, I’m still laughing at the craziness of it. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that an anonymous reader at Hodder & Stoughton gave my agent feedback on it, saying “This is quite the funniest dystopian comedy I’ve read in a long time.” Well, let’s hope (s)he reads a lot of dystopian comedies, otherwise we’re fucked. Sometime soon, Fowl Play will be edging its way into your eyeline like one of those mythical beasts portending death and destruction but which, when you turn your head, looks like nothing more than a miniature schnauzer. But a miniature schnauzer with one eyebrow raised. He knows what you’ve been up to, and the day when he judges you is nigh.

Indie Revolution Interview

The very wonderful Lorie over at the Indie Revolution Blog has posted a recent interview we conducted in which I slag off Christopher Hitchens, quote Bruce Lee quoting Mae West, and recall singing “Danny Boy” with Wayne Sleep in an out-take from Twin Peaks.

 

You can read the entire thing here. And check out Lorie’s other interviews with some top, top indie writers.

A Fragile Pedestal

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As students in London in the early 80s, my friends and I did whatever we could to entertain ourselves on the cheap: labyrinthine, clueless but committed all-night arguments on political theory, parties gatecrashed in the hope of stealing a bottle or a kiss, hours of masturbation (intellectual, physical, mutual if we were lucky, solo if not), and even, occasionally, attendance at lectures or seminars just for the craic. One form of entertainment I was unable to persuade my friends to partake of was a Sunday morning trip to Hyde Park’s Speakers’ Corner—hangover or inclement weather were the usual excuses—where one could huddle for warmth in crowds of pre-internet trolls as they heckled, harried, harassed, and humiliated the unfortunate few who had had the temerity to appoint themselves the focus of attention and source of enlightenment. I’ve always thought this ridiculing of the hubristic to be a valuable evolutionary tool in humanity’s development, a way to ensure not that anyone gets ideas above their station but that no station above or outside that of the community ever appears. And, to be fair, most of those who took the stage at Speakers’ Corner deserved the hard time they received: Proselytisers, Holy Joes, Holier-than-thou Joes, Prolier-than-thou Joes, Self-taught Vulgar Marxists, Untutored Vulgar Racists, Seventh-Day Adventists, Eleventh-Day Dreamers, Men in Straw Boaters, Strawmen by the Boatload. There’s a wonderful website where you can read about the varieties of crypto-religious experience to be had at this cathedral to free speech here.

My favourite speaker of all was a German anarchist known to me only as Willy, whose fractured English made his meaning no more or less opaque than that of the other turns, and no more or less funny, but it lent a certain charm to his Gestetnered magazine, News from Nowhere, never likely to be confused with William Morris’s utopian socialist text of the same name. Whenever I visited Hyde park, I always hoped that Willy would be there, even though I rarely agreed with him—he was simultaneously too hippyish and too Stirnerite for my tastes—for he was a gentle and amusing speaker. He was also the only speaker I ever saw escorted off the premises by the cops at Speakers’ Corner, following some scuffles in which he played no part, for the content of his oration. Annoyingly, I don’t recall the subject of his speech, only that when he was helped down from his milkcrate by the constabulary, he was immediately replaced by a Marxist of a most boring and didactic aspect, who lost no time in losing the crowd’s sympathy, telling Willy’s erstwhile listeners that their attitude to work—they were against it—qualified them only for membership of the lumpenproletariat.

Willie died some years ago, I believe, but I still have a photo of him, courtesy of Invisible Threads, a large-format book of photographs taken by the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, who died this weekend. A bereted Willy stands on a milkcrate wearing a homemade cardboard placard round his neck like a victim of Mao’s Red Guard. The text in felt marker relates to the Persons Unknown trial and reads “If it’s a crime to be an anarchist, then I’m a criminal.” Yevtushenko titled this photo “A Fragile Pedestal,” an apt comment on the willingness of hecklers to knock speakers off theirs but less appropriate in light of the trial’s outcome: four defendants—Ronan Bennett, Iris Mills, Trevor Dawton, and Vince Stevenson—were acquitted. I subsequently met Vince on a number of occasions at the Autonomy Club, an anarchist community centre in Wapping that was funded with money from the support fund, and Ronan Bennett has had a successful career as a novelist, playwright, and, more recently, focus of media celebrity speculation.

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Yevtushenko I saw give a poetry reading in Birmingham in 1979, an experience I drew upon for the date scene in Ivy Feckett is Looking for Love; not so much “drew upon” as reproduced verbatim, though with Ivy as the protagonist. Yevtushenko was 45 years old at the time, this episode of The Book Programme tells me, ten years younger than I am today, yet he seemed to me back then to be pensionable, perhaps because he wore a flat cap throughout the reading,and flat caps were indelibly associated for me with my own grandad, already in his seventies by that point. (In retrospect, the flat cap may have been a fashion trend among intellectuals of the late 70s; that same year, I attended a sociology conference at Lancaster University where I saw Tom Bottomore deliver an entire lecture without removing his cap once.) Yevtushenko’s dynamism belied his apparent years, however. He declaimed heroically, growling, prowling, staring, emoting, the archetypal poets’ poet. There were only two male students in my Russian language class at college—me and Brian Grogan—so we were used to being marginal, minority participants in lessons (the low profile, I feel, explains why we were never targeted by MI6, either for surveillance or recruitment). Brian was absent from the reading, meaning that Yevgeny replaced him as the only other male in the room (male, not man; I was 16 at the time). It was a virtuoso performance, albeit helped, I am sure by the unworldiness of his audience, bookish bespectacled ladies of a certain age, awestruck by his very presence. I remember very little of the night other than Yevtushenko basking in the worship of his audience and wondering what that flat cap was all about; maybe he just had a bald patch he was concealing.

Had I any sense of the dramatic, my anecdote would end with “And that was the night I decided to become a poet,” but to be faithful to my recollections, I must instead report that I chanced my arm with one of my fellow classmates on the way home, asking her for a date in the naïve hope that exposure to Yevgeny’s lyricism had rendered her susceptible to the less graceful charms of a teenage Brummie. My hope was as baseless as it was base.

Perhaps I should buy a cap.

No Rest for the Wickless

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It’s never been entirely clear to me why those with wicks should be tormented by eternal flames. Just seems so vindictive. But it isn’t like those of us without wicks get a chance to take a breather either. The holiday period just gone saw visits to the family that were far too short, and since then I’ve been back on the mountain alongside Sisyphus, pushing my particular bolus of dung around like a good ‘un. The first week and a half of January have seen leaden hours of writing, editing, researching, with nary a chance to look away from whatever screen demands my attention, so I’m late in bringing my new year’s resolutions to the internet table. The irony is that one of the mini-promises I’d made to myself for the year was to get out more, get some exercise, meet and greet people face to face, escape the depression that living online brings. However, one shitty maitre d’ in a local restaurant put paid to any illusions I had about offline politeness, resulting in a vengeful pile-on on Trip Advisor that  saw me not only vent my spleen about my mistreatment at his hands but also, as a corollary, visit the pages of all the restaurant’s rivals to give them glowing reviews in the hope that they would overtake the aforementioned miscreant in the rankings. In retrospect, I probably went a bit Trump on his ass (i.e., petty and vindictive), and my good wife’s calm and placating nature was sufficient to make me feel ashamed of myself (all she needed to have said, of course, was “Leave him, Jay! He’s not worth it!” but we don’t watch Eastenders, so she didn’t know). The irony of my situation was thus compounded; one malefactor met in the flesh hurled me back to the virtual world in retribution.

All of which is by way of an excuse and an apology for my failure to give shout-outs to the classy literary folk who’ve sustained me in the past year and who form the foundation of my main resolution for 2017. I’ve encountered some remarkable talents – and some lovely people – in the indie writing world over the past couple of years, especially via Goodreads, but I’ve been unable, for one reason or another, to immerse myself in their writing. So the plan for the coming 12 months is to read as much as I can by the amazing Leo X. Robertson, Rebecca Gransden, Rupert Dreyfus, M.T. Bass, Mike Robbins, Jack Binding, Mary Papastavrou, Harry Whitewolf, and Arthur Graham, to name but a few.  I also have debts to pay to the wonderful Elyse, Alison, and Jason, stalwarts of the Goodreads community and readers of immense taste and patience, and to Booktubers Dan Martin and Acacia Ives, whose videos I never miss. I recommend that you never miss them too. It looks like I’ve a busy year ahead.

And so it goes.