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Ade Johnston Posts

I Am Someone Else

As the god of adolesence (or addled essence) said, Je suis un autre – I am an other.

It’s been a surprise to me how often, when leading a reading group, the character of ‘I’ has been confused with the author. At the most extreme, such and such an author has been accused of ‘being sick’ or ‘thinking too much’. Appreciation of reading requires one to learn that an ‘I’ of the narration is not the ‘I’ of the author and her life. Usually, the discussion has been interesting and fertile, and sometimetimes we have got to the point of considering how, in some ways, any narrative or any voice does indeed refract aspect of an author’s own biography.

Writers may use pseudonyms for the author of their works. Think Ruth Rendell and Barbara Vine, for instance. John le Carre is a once-and-for-all name for the authorship of David John Moore Cornwell. A male writer with the real name of Albert Stubbins may publish his romantic novels as Cynthia de Mornay.

I too write as ‘Ade Johnston’, a part of my full name – Adrian Johnston Bailey – and as Adrian Bailey, and A.J.Bailey. Different markets, different brands.

However. In reading the beautiful Fernando Pessoa one is introduced to the possibilities of heteronyms. Now these are not as simple as pseudonyms. They are the names of authors with distinct personalities and biographies, they write and exist in ways often very different from their inventor. That inventor may be an ardent Peruvian socialist while one of her heteronyms is a powerful conservative. Each heteronym has her own historical biography, is a real but fictional character.

It’s something that excites me, and something I urgently want to explore: not only to write from different perspectives, but to write as different people. To become, as it were, someone else.

My New Camera: the Best!

I have many writing works in progress which I will be publishing, without marketing or hoping for many readers. I’ll be writing shortly about this.

But as one of these projects involves photography I have made a further increase in my debt by splashing out on a Sony RX100 Mark 3. It’s a gem, is highly recommended everywhere, including by professionals. Originally introduced at £800 in 2014, as is the case with all electronic and photo goods, the price keeps dropping as manufacturers bring out new versions by the year. Th original Mark 1 is available for £300 and this Mark 3 can be had for around £450 (unless you want to splash out £750 for the Mark 6!).

I needed a replaceent for my Nikon Coolpix which costs around £60 (and if you want the best cheap, simple point and shoot you can’t do better

This new camera of mine has:

  • a ‘very fast’ lens. At f1.8 it is good for low light conditions.
  • an extremely advanced sensor for a camera in this class which makes for sensitivity and reduces noise.
  • a VIEWFINDER! I don’t like having to use the screen on the back of a camera. This has a very high resolution viewfinder.
  • a very wide 24 equivalent lens.
  • The screen, though is very bright and hinged through 180 degrees for shooting from many angles.
  • a flash unit that tilts so that you can bounce flash from ceilings for a softer image.
  • inbuilyneutral density filter for those difficult lighting conditions.
  • fully manual if you wish, aperture/shutter priority etc.
  • large range of customised settings.
  • function control on lens barrel

I bought it for £449 which came with a case and a very useful grip to attach.

It’s small and neat, and carry anywhere. I do have a big, heavy DSLR ith three lenses but while this will deliver better options, I’m wondering whether I should sell since the difference in quaityof images is negligible.

The camera dispenses with those 40x superzoom cameras you can get much cheaper, and only has about 3x zoom, but those big zoom cameras are OK (although the more you zoom the more the image deteriorates), like cameras offering large sensor profiles are often disgising essential weakesses. The lens is paramount,  and the Zeiss on the Sony is excellent.

It will make me a better photographer out and about in the ordinary world, the unobserved, th streets, the forgotten…. And it will make me a better writer.

Writing and Photography

Even a brief look at the relationship between photography and literature suggests affinity. For instance, both take wide views or closeups. The serious photographer, writer or poet is always looking at the world, its people, at the relations between people and things. Both know that they are representing the world, can never present it transparently as if unmediated by their art.

Writers and photographers are fascinated by light and shadow, the positioning of people and objects, the locating of fore-, middle- and background. Both are highly skilled in their media. No matter how skilled, they require that singular element, the unique vision or voice that is their creativity.

Sometimes the connection between photography and literature is explicit. The imagist poetry of the early 20th century, the imagery of the much older haiku, recall the importance of imagery in literary and visual arts.

Words and photographs frequently appear together. They may complement each other in a documentary story, or a single image may be anchored to a caption.

A single photograph tells a story; a collection makes, perhaps, a photo-essay. A more intense collection produces the moving image, cinema. Early cinema used forms taken from novel genre; later literature took forms from filmic genre. We know what is meant if a novel is described as ‘cinematic’: as cultures develop, different forms interpenetrate: we learn culture without diplomas.

The writer W.G. Sebald produced not only writing that is stunningly visual, he supplemented it with photography. A piece of writing or a photograph is always ghostly and never fixed. In a different level of thinking, fiction occurs over time while a photograph ‘captures’ and isolates a moment: this is partly true but it is partly true of the nature of media rather than the affective dimensions.

I think a writer may have many other interests from collecting stamps to looking after an allotment. For me, writing is my main focus but my photography hobby does enhance my ways of seeing and my ways of looking. The two activities meet as I work towards supplementing the text around The City of Dreadful Night with images, including photographs I have made.

My Dark Places

Melancolia Durer

We’ve all got our dark places haven’t we? One of my current works in progress is aimed at publishing a new illustrated version of James Thomson’s The City of Dreadful Night, more of which below. While it will contain a brief biography of Thomson and some notes, the main part of my introduction will be a consideration of what draws us and artists and writers to the darkness, the darkness within and without.

I think by the time I was ten I’d read all of my older sister’s collection of Pan Horror Stories, and most of her Dennis Wheatley books. By the age of eleven I think I’d read her Encyclopaedia of Witchcraft and Demonology more than once.

Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost still greatly appeals to me – certainly much more than the pale and ghostly God who banished him. I wouldn’t say Satan was a role model but I loved his way with words: “Evil, be thou my Good!”, “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heav’n” and his philosophising:

Farewel happy Fields 
Where Joy for ever dwells: Hail horrours, hail  
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings 
A mind not to be chang’d by Place or Time. 
The mind is its own place, and in it self 
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n. 

Yes, I was a strange child. Older, in bedsitter land with Leonard Cohen, reading James Ellroy’s My Dark Places, I also took to frequenting an ancient graveyard alone. At night. Especially when it was misty…..

The City of Dreadful Night

James Thomson’s poem (not to be confused with a Rudyard Kipling work with the same title) is bleak indeed. Thomson himself had a bleak life. Intelligent, sensitive and forsaken, a depressive and alcoholic who died an agonising death. Parallels with Poe are clear (though there are not as far as I know any literary connections). You can delight in the poem online – it’s in the public domain. I’ll be publishing it as I said with the main part of the introduction being directed less to the poem itself than to the ‘culture of melancholy’ from the Romantic period onwards, with attention to such jolly folk as Baudelaire and to the urban spiritual dystopia of Eliot’s Wasteland

The book will be illustrated with images, some from artists, some from my own photographs taken in the city of Glasgow.

Here’s a little from near the start of Thomson’s poem to put you in the mood:

Surely I write not for the hopeful young,                  

Or those who deem their happiness of worth,

  Or such as pasture and grow fat among

    The shows of life and feel nor doubt nor dearth,

  Or pious spirits with a God above them

  To sanctify and glorify and love them,                     

    Or sages who foresee a heaven on earth.

  For none of these I write, and none of these

    Could read the writing if they deigned to try;

  So may they flourish in their due degrees,

    On our sweet earth and in their unplaced sky.            

  If any cares for the weak words here written,

  It must be some one desolate, Fate-smitten,

    Whose faith and hopes are dead, and who would die.

  Yes, here and there some weary wanderer

    In that same city of tremendous night,                   

  Will understand the speech and feel a stir

    Of fellowship in all-disastrous fight;

  “I suffer mute and lonely, yet another

  Uplifts his voice to let me know a brother

    Travels the same wild paths though out of sight.”        

  O sad Fraternity, do I unfold

    Your dolorous mysteries shrouded from of yore?

  Nay, be assured; no secret can be told

    To any who divined it not before:                        

  None uninitiate by many a presage

  Will comprehend the language of the message,

    Although proclaimed aloud for evermore.

Review: ‘West is San Francisco’ by Lauren Sapala

Another masterpiece from Lauren Sapala. It washes back over her first in the trilogy, ‘Between the Shadow and Bo’ and I see that, gritty and alcoholic as that first novel is, the central theme is not addiction to a substance but the relationship with the Shadow, that dark part of the soul which is twin to the light.
The protagonist and her boyfriend set up in San Francisco and she has stopped drinking completely. Instead she seems to become a ‘workaholic’. All seems reasonably good until she comes up against a woman who is both nemesis and mirror. She loves and hates her. Her boyfriend says she has become addicted to her. No more story here: suffice it to say that the author handles the narrative with flair and expertise.
As in the earlier novel, ‘West’ is saturated in colours and shades, light and darkness, executed with stunning imagery. Sapala’s use of metaphor is singular and exquisite. Her observation of the many characters in the book is spot on. Her style is concise and compressed, never a redundant word.
There is a tone of naturalism above which, with no boundary, hover and shimmer dreamscapes and a transcendent sense. I’m lost for words to describe some of the writing techniques which culminate in a stunning finale.
Maybe this could have gone at the top: both books are very, very funny despite the elemental depths.
To a large extent the novel is about the process of writing itself. And there’s one sentence near the end which is a jewel any author will treasure.


Get your free copy of Scotched on Kindle Saturday – Monday, 26 – 28 January. For novel details reviews and to get your book go here

A free promotion last week saw almost 200 downloads. I know that many will rest forgotten in the library but if I get a handful of reviews I’ll be delighted. Reviews have some influence in leading people to buy a book.

I want as many readers as possible as a writer, whether they’ve paid or not. Those who do pay will contribute to the totality of proceeds that the author is donating to charity.

Growing a Novel from Seed

An identity crisis going on here. I am Ade Johnston, author of Scotched. I am also Adrian Johnston Bailey. As Ade Johnston I write to keep readers turning the page. As Adrian Bailey I shall reveal my literary pretensions to be ‘serious’.

So I’m working as Ade Johnston putting to bed a collection of short stories. Then I’m (Ade Johnston) going to have a go at crime fiction. For a crime novel, the formula is just that, more or less there already and well trodden by many writers. I have to start with plot structure, story, drama. The bad guys and the police team: a female Detective Inspector, a grouchy sergeant (who initially resents his new inspector, a job he had applied for) and two Detective Constables. Throw in an officious Superintendent boss, an Assistant Chief Constable who plays golf with society’s best, and the big bad media.

My ‘literary’ novel

Maybe as long as ten years ago, long before I thought about actually completing anything, an idea came along. It was one idea among thousands, many of which resulted in reams of paper, writing which periodically I would burn. I like to think the time wasn’t wasted, time for learning to write.

Anyway, this one idea has survived the test of time. It is going to be transformed into a novel. Plot and story here are of small interest only. Character depth and relationships centre around a university philosophy department (bags of laughs there!). Susan is 23 years old, a PhD student who does a little teaching. She’s had a year off for reasons revealed towards the middle of the novel, and returns to university near the start.

During her time at home with mother a step-father, her Aunt Julia is dying, and Susan visits her frequently. Julia, though, is otherwise something of a familial pariah on account of her transgressive life style and refusal to adhere to respectable propriety. The bond between her and Susan is unlikely on the surface; it is revealed as something deeper and not literally describable.

The novel opens on the day of Julia’s funeral at the gathering in Susan’s home. That day also is when Susan returns to university, taking with her a memory stick and several notebooks Julia has pressed upon her. The content of the memory stick and the contents of the notebooks will slant the novel to include an epistolary narrative.

I’ve got no narrative structure but am writing scenes as they occur to me. I’ll join the scenes with straight lines later for the story. Susan’s character feels more real each day, and several other characters are making themselves known. It’s growing like a tree with branches and leaves for texture, roots to tap into the mysterious source for what will hopefully become a ‘philosophical’ novel.

Free Kindle version SCOTCHED 19 & 29 January

I’m coming to the end of my ties with Amazon and will be ‘going wide’ next month. You can celebrate with me by downloading to Kindle my novel Scotched this weekend, 19th and 20th January.

I’m very grateful for the latest review from Alex Bewley which certainly tells you what to expect:

Scotched is a real gut-gripping page-turner that bores a grizzly hole straight through the bowels of Scotland circa 2018, offering a core sample in which can be seen an all-too-accurate sight of life in the West of Scotland.

The portrait is painfully accurate at times with all the familiar sights of Scottish urban life – drugs, drink, gambling, poverty, crime – but also that which goes unseen, the intrigue, the corruption and hand-in-glove nature of politics, business, and organised crime; and that’s where the story gets good. In the midst of such a mess are one man and his family.

To this add the politics of Brexit, Scottish independence, and the religious tensions that still plague Scotland. And Football, of course! If your into yir fitba, this novel’s for you. If not, it’s unlikely you’ll ever enjoy the “beautiful game” more than within these pages.

A must read for anyone living in – or interested in life in Scotland today.

She’s resting. The Doctor Gave Her a Sedative

The Crisis – Frank Dicksee 1891

I wonder how many books, films and dramas have contained these words? Often set in a country house, the ‘mistress’ has suffered a shock her fragile female form cannot bear. The gruff but avuncular doctor is seen coming down the stairs. ‘I’ve given her a sedative,’ he says. ‘I’ll call in tomorrow.’ Then off he rides on his horse.

When the police inspector comes calling, needing to talk to the lady, her husband says, ‘That will not be possible. She’s resting. The doctor gave her a sedative.’

It’s a stock situation with stock script. It would definitely be more interesting if it were the husband who was resting after a sedative, his wife the stoical manager who can challenge all adversity.

In this slice of narrative how much is said about perceptions of strong men and weak women. We’ve moved on considerably from such stereotypes but they’re still to be found in ‘cosy’ contemporary fiction and television.

Thoughtful, intelligent fiction does not work with stock images. That is left to the churning out of the thoughtless and simple writers and readers. Yet there is for a writer a rich and fertile ground that is never exhausted in the exploring of sex and gender.

One other thing. There is an interesting and clear path from the nineteenth century idea of doctors’ ‘treating’ emotional distress with pills, potions and injections to the present day. Perhaps, for instance, ‘mothers little helpers’ as Valium became known through the Rolling Stones song, were the drugs needed to keep ‘a good mother and housewife’ functioning.

And as drugs were needed to sedate women trapped in tight gender roles, perhaps now all of us in a toxic culture have to turn to sedation. Ironically, in an age touted as the zenith of personal freedom, we have never been more constrained, and never will we be strong enough to meet the demands of a devestating capitalist realism.

Mother’s Little Helper

What a drag it is getting old”Kids are different today”
I hear ev’ry mother say
Mother needs something today to calm her down
And though she’s not really ill
There’s a little yellow pill
She goes running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper
And it helps her on her way, gets her through her busy day”Things are different today”
I hear ev’ry mother say
Cooking fresh food for a husband’s just a drag
So she buys an instant cake and she burns her frozen steak

And goes running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper
And two help her on her way, get her through her busy dayDoctor please, some more of these
Outside the door, she took four more
What a drag it is getting old”Men just aren’t the same today”
I hear ev’ry mother say
They just don’t appreciate that you get tired
They’re so hard to satisfy, You can tranquilize your mind
So go running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper
And four help you through the night, help to minimize your plightDoctor please, some more of these
Outside the door, she took four more
What a drag it is getting old”Life’s just much too hard today”
I hear ev’ry mother say
The pursuit of happiness just seems a bore

And if you take more of those, you will get an overdose
No more running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper
They just helped you on your way, through your busy dying day

Keith Richards / Mick JaggerMother’s Little Helper lyrics © Abkco Music, Inc

Upcoming Tributes to Tom Leonard

I’m reading a lot and thinking a lot about the things that were of prime concern and value to Tom Leonard. ‘What language is using us for’. The control of language by the powerful elite. Resistance through language.

.I’m also referring to his masterly biography of Jame Thomson as I prepare to write something on Thomson’s neglected gem, The City of Dreadful Night.

As noted his well attended funeral saw no representation from Scotland’s literary elite but plenty of love from his comrades.

There are a couple of events coming up to honour Tom. He was an Honorary President of Mirrorballers, the poetry collective, and they are holding an event to celebrate his life and work at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow on 29th March at 6p.m.

Before that, there’s This is Not a Burns Night #6 A Tribute to Tom Leonard by Govanhill Baths Community Trust, Sunday, 20 January 2019 from 14:30-16:30 in The Rum Shack Glasgow, 657 – 659 Pollokshaws Road, G41 2AB Glasgow,