A self conscious 'movement' calling itself 'the Offbeat Generation' has been emerging in the blogosphere. This generation got its name from Brit-lit Andrew Gallix, founder and editor of 3:AM magazine, who has been described by underground writer, artist and activist Stewart Home as "the Breton of the post-punk generation, the Rimbaud of the Net, Beckett to my Joyce, and Trocchi to my Beckett."
Home also says: "Leaving myself aside (although I don't really see why I should), there aren't many writers I'd rate higher than Gallix" And who wouldn't agree? This is from Gallix's 'Forty Tiddly Winks':
Others can just doze off as soon as their heads hit the pillow. Not Tim, though. He needed knocking out flat by dint of drinking himself into a stupor. Otherwise, he was condemned to toss and turn till dawn at the thought of Time's winged chariot hurrying near: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang you're dead.
Instinctively, Tim would tune into the hypnotic ticking of his wristwatch on the bedside table. Like a clock in a crocodile, it grew closer by the minute with the implacable inevitability of tragedy until the din became truly deafening. Now, he just knocks back another stiff one and waits for the effect to kick in. The clockodial starts melting, Dali-style. The ticking gradually fades into a tiny, tinny background backbeat. Soon it is drowned out by Pomme's sonorous snoring. Forty tiddly winks.
Another major author in the Offbeat scene, and possibly the most revered, is Tony O'Neill. His debut novel 'Digging the Vein' is an accurate portrait of the life of heroin addiction, with its superficial relationships and endless searches for drugs. This book supports the idea that 'addicts tend to befriend other addicts', and the constant activity of the protagonist reflects someone desperately attempting to avoid introspection.
Mathew Coleman is another "Offbeat Generation" player who predominately writes erotic fiction. Yet his erotic stories are emotionless, misogynist and often downright vulgar (though he may take this to be a compliment.) His stories are more interesting when not alluding to sex, and he shows more depth in his 'Rants, to Self':
My greatest challenge in life is to try and let go, to pull off the many masks that I wear and to try and be who I am, to not be afraid anymore. This is perhaps one of the hardest things to conquer -- the self.
Joseph Ridgwell, the only true 'East Ender' of the Offbeat bunch, writes engaging stories that are strikingly real and down to earth. His stories manage to be edgy without straining to be so. Ridgwell's stories take you down the dark alleys of the underground, as only someone who has quite literally 'lived first and wrote later'. You can find Ridgwell's stories on his blog.
Ben Myers is my personal favorite of the Offbeats. His debut novel "The Book of Fuck' is a pleasure to read, uproariously funny, story-driven, and remarkably sensitive for a book with such a hard-core title:
I locked up and left the flat dressed for war: knee length overcoat, beanie hat, scarf wrapped around my head PLO-style, hooded top and a couple of jumpers. I had decided that i wasn't going to allow a British winter to get me this year, I was going to hoist up the portcullis, pull up the drawbridge and close myself off to the world and its cruel elements. No chinks in the armour, it's all about layers.
Myers is a pugilist poet, novelist, biographer, and frequent journalist for The Guardian'. You can view his writings on his blog, Ben Myers, Man of Letters.
The Offbeats often delve into the unpleasant experiences of the lower middle to lower classes; engaging their characters in 'street smart' behavior that supports their struggles to survive. The stories are mostly commonplace and unheroic, the fate of the characters the necessary result of the controlling force of society. Drugs, poverty, alcoholism, alienation, anger and nonconformity are recurrent themes.
I recently asked Andrew Gallix a few questions about the Offbeats, beginning with the definition of the generation.
Andrew: Offbeat writers are nonconcomformers who (at least in their work) feel alienated from mainstream publishing, which is increasingly dominated by marketing people, and often draw inspiration from non-literary material. In some ways, it's a continuation of the post-punk Blank Generation writers. Some Offbeats also have an offbeat, experimental style, but that's certainly not the case of all of us. It's not a movement with a manifesto. All of the Offbeats write in very different styles. What brought us together was our hostility to mainstream publishing."
Jennifer: Is there a criteria for inclusion or exclusion?
Andrew: It's not a club, so in theory anybody can be an Offbeat writer. There is no criteria as such. There are webzines out there made by people we don't know who claim to be Offbeat publications, which is great because it means that the movement is growing. In fact, some people who were very dismissive, and even hostile, at first, are now blowing the trumpets for the Offbeats. The original Offbeats coalesced around 3:AM Magazine, and in particular the events we organised in London. We started 3:AM in 2000. By 2003, we started organizing readings and concerts: The future Offbeats started coming along, but didn't know one another. By 2006 I became aware of the fact that all of these people needed to be brought together. The first thing we needed was a name so I started speaking of the 'Offbeat generation'.
Jennifer:I have to wonder if it is not the writers who reject the mainstream, and alienate themselves from society through their writing, rather then being rejected and alienated by it. Should we compare this movement to the Naturalist/Realist movement? Why are these periods being repeated in modern literature?
Andrew: Well, I would partially disagree. Some Offbeats like Tony O'Neill are writing in a naturalist tradition, but others like HP Tinker, Tom McCarthy, Steven Hall, or dare I say me, certainly aren't. The Offbeat scene covers many genres and styles.
Jennifer: Why do you feel that the marketing departments are dictating what is being published?
Andrew: Publishing houses used to support authors simply because they were good or interesting; that's almost unheard of these days. More and more books are being published, but alot of them aren't worth publishing (one thinks of Ecclesiastes: "Of the making of books there is no end"!). More and more books are being published, but there's less and less choice in book stores.
Jennifer: If there is a large market out there of writers who want to read ( and buy) more literary type books, then why are the marketing departments not seeing this as reflected in sales?
Andrew: I think they are, when they're ready to take a risk. Tom McCarthy's extraordinary success is a good illustration of this. The good writers are not being drowned out by the dross; there's just more choice out there. If a band creates its own label and releases a record, everybody applauds their sense of enterprise; when a writer does the same, some people cry out "vanity publishing"! However, writing is not all about marketing and money. Or at least it shouldn't be.
I do sense some contradictions in Gallix's responses. He proclaims that there are less and less choices out there due to the increase in books being published that are basically just crap; and then he says good writers are not being driven out by the dross! With this in mind, I have to wonder why the Offbeats are "feeling alienated from mainstream publishing, which is increasingly dominated by marketing people, and often draw inspiration from non-literary material." Are good writers being published, but no one is buying? Or are the Offbeats just not adhering to golden rule of thumb of book publishing: you have to write stories that people want to read, not just stories that you want to write?
In photo above: Andrew Gallix and Travis Jeppesen eating sushi.