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FEATURE: BRIT LIT OF THE POST-PUNK GENERATION
In the burgeoning underground of new British literary talent the ideals of the punk DIY ethic are rampant. Shunned by the major publishing houses that determine trends based upon their potential market viability, and in reaction to the stagnant state of the contemporary literary culture, the latest generation of writers are utilising a new arena to publish their work; the internet.
What began on the blogosphere through websites like 3:Am Magazine, created by editor Andrew Gallix as a small effort to raise greater awareness of new writing in 2000, has transformed into a growing cultural phenomenon. In a recent article on Offbeat writers (a group who have formed a key part of this new wave) in Dazed and Confused, Andrew Gallix suggested that the movement was going over ground and that the prospective release of a new anthology of Offbeat poetry that he is editing was akin to the Sex Pistols 1976 gig at the 100 Club. But already such comparisons are increasingly becoming obsolete.
Members of its ranks are beginning to gain currency in mainstream publishing and the movement itself continues to further diversify by setting up independent presses of it’s own both here and internationally.If such recognition not only in Dazed and Confused but also in the pages of the Guardian and the Independent is to be taken as an indicator of it’s entry into the zeitgeist, then for many this period of its preliminary development is of lessening importance as it moves away from this and into a definably ‘post-punk’ era.
Whatever the case, the achievement of so few in such a short space of time is a revolution in all but name, as the relative success of associated Offbeat writers group the Brutalists illustrates.Formed in the heat wave of summer 2006 by Adelle Stripe, Tony O’Neill and Ben Myers under the butchered punk-motif of ‘Here’s a computer. Here’s a spell check. Now write a novel.’ the trio of have gone on to make big waves from their diminutive roots as a literary collective with only a MySpace page with to their name.
Most recently Tony O’Neill, one time keys player for Kenickie and The Brian Jonestown Massacre and a former junkie, has signed his first major publishing deal with Harper Collins to co-write the memoirs of flunked NFL star Jason Peter, detailing the sportsman’s battle with drug addiction. Elsewhere O’Neill has toured his collections of poetry at high profile readings that have featured Yoko Ono in the audience amongst other notable guests.
Yet despite their rising notoriety the Brutalists, like other Offbeat writers as they are widely known, are continuing to publish their contributions via a network of indie publishing labels and websites that work closely to support each other. In the wake of 3:AM has sprung a number of affiliated websites, such as Ready Steady Book, The Beat, and most notably Scarecrow, co-edited by Lee Rourke, author of the short story collection ‘Everyday’, released by Social Disease, a privately funded publishing project of Offbeat supporter Heidi James. Created from similar frustrations as the writers that she publishes, Social Disease’s approach to the business is reminiscent of the independent houses of Olympia Books or Grove Press that gave luminaries including Samuel Beckett, Henry Miller, James Joyce and William Burroughs a home at a time in the twentieth century when their works were either considered obscene or simply substandard.
With this in mind, and in terms of their techniques for disseminating their works, the Offbeats are nothing particularly unique in the history of literature. Writers and poets have distributed their work in the form of pamphlets, zines and small runs of publications for centuries, by everyone from the Romantics to the Beats. Indeed for that matter, the narrow-minded nature of publishers is nothing new either.
In an industry that is driven by profit, much like any other, publishers occupy the paradoxical position of simultaneously dictating tastes and also being driven to respond to change in sales by altering these accordingly. What is different however is the way in these groups have aligned themselves in direct opposition to this practice as a defining principle of their reason d’etre.
Moreover, with their expanding influence in Europe through other guerrilla bodies in the form of Blatt Magazine (Berlin), Metronome Press (Paris), and the semi-fictitious worldwide arts organisation, the International Necronautical Society chaired by Offbeat associate Tom McCarthy, it would difficult to imagine this situation retrogressing any time soon. In which case contingency plans need to be made for the future as, if the movement truly is going to go overground, then something needs to be done to protect them from being swallowed up into the mucky realms of it’s major publishing foes completely when success inevitably knocks at their door.