On location: From Stockwell to Warlingham

London, Friday 20 June 2014 – it was the evening just before the shortest night of the year, so what could have been more fitting than to walk the 16 or so miles from my house in Stockwell to the high point of the North Downs near Woldingham? I wanted this view at dawn – I wanted to see the city with the startled provincial eyes of a waking Wordsworth, rather than from the gritty perspective of a cockney wordsmith; but I also wanted the experience of getting there: the sole-shuffle over tarmac and paving as the city fell into slumber around me. I entertained the notion that because I’d be journeying from the insomniac centre to the always stuporous suburbs, I’d be acting as a 21st-century knocker-up, bringing with me the dawn of the longest day in the neoliberal calendar.

The madness of crowds: Hipsters, aka dickheads

July 2014: it’s breakfast time at the Farmer’s Daughter, a boutique motel in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles. The decor is suggestive of some deconstructed Midwestern idyll, what with old farming implements nailed up against one exterior wall, yards of gingham hanging from assorted rails and plenty of rough-hewn yet varnished wood. The establishment is constructed around an exterior courtyard, and as I take my seat, intent on caffeine and carbohydrates, the soft, fume-tangy morning air is pulverised by the reverberating bassline of Massive Attack’s 1995 single “Karmacoma”. It makes me think of the neon-furred nights I endured that year, when, my synapses misfiring in a slop of MDMA, I’d rear up to look blearily at the dawn.

London beneath our feet

‘One summer when I was growing up in the north London suburbs I dug a deep hole in the back garden. I was always digging holes, but this one was different — it grew deeper and deeper; I chopped through roots with the spade’s blade, I clawed out stones, old bricks and lumps of concrete with my bare hands. The rest of the family began to be vaguely impressed — my mother came and took a snapshot of me lying full-length in the bottom of my hole, listening to the big hit of that year (1974), on my transistor radio: Seasons in the Sun was a mawkish ditty sung from the point of view of a dying man saying goodbye to his loved ones; the refrain: “We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun” seemed peculiarly apposite when you were supine in what, to all intents and purposes, was a freshly dug grave.

More reviews of Shark

Mark Lawson in the News Statesman: “In an era when publishers and reading groups exert so much pressure towards the soft read, Self … is saving the life of the hard read that rewards the attention demanded.” Review here.

Sam Leith in the Observer: “Self shares JG Ballard’s interest in the psychopathology of everyday life, and in the insistent strange juxtapositions between apparently discrete things. But where Ballard most often works at the level of symbol and image, and is almost militantly uninterested in the inner lives of his characters, Self’s rhymes and correlations bubble in the language itself, and his whole method is concerned with inwardness.” Review here.

What we’d miss about Scotland

‘Try visualising the Union Jack without the Saltire, which is just a fancy way of saying imagine the British flag without its Scottish component. It looks pretty weird: just a bunch of red lines radiating across a white field like a burst blood vessel. But if, by some caprice of the old gods, the Scots vote on 18 September to leave the Union, that’s what the rest of us will have flying over us. If the metaphoric implications are disturbing enough, what about the symbolic ones? For that red-legged-spider-for-a-flag will also be relaying a chilling fact – with Scotland gone it’ll be just us… and the Welsh.

Shark uncaged

Will Self’s new novel, Shark, is published in the UK today by Penguin. The Daily Telegraph‘s five-star review hails it as “a truly wonderful novel … an exciting, mesmerising, wonderfully disturbing book. Go with it and it’ll suck you under”. The Guardian‘s review says that “Umbrella was about how humanity brilliantly innovates; Shark is about how it constantly devastates … I have every expectation that when this trilogy does conclude, it will be recognised as the most remorseless vivisection and plangent evocation of our sad, silly, solemn and strange last century.”

To read a short extract from Shark, visit the Guardian website here.