Offbeat with Andrew Gallix

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.

20 Responses

  1. Excellent post Jennifer.

    Excellent post Jennifer.

    By the way:
    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..

    I may not be an Offbeat Writer, but this acurately describes my bedtime ritual…

  2. Michael,

    Thank you!

    I am

    Thank you!

    I am also a notorious insomniac!

    One more thought that I would like to add: I think that they may also be compared to the Hip Hop movement– that meaning that they seem to reflect the oft censored and suppressed voices of the proletariat.

  3. Andrew Gallix and Travis
    Andrew Gallix and Travis Jeppesen eating sushi

    Looks to me like they are drinking something. I guess I don’t get these newfangled generations and all that jazz. To avant garde for me.

    I like the masthead statement.

    “Whatever it is, we’re against it” — 3 AM Masthead

    Reminds me of…

    Bashfull: “What’re wicked wiles?”

    Grumpy: “I don’t know, but I’m agin ’em.”

    –Dialog from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney Productions, 1937.

    Plus ca change, plus ri po tent.

    (Thanks Jennifer, fun stuff)

  4. Good article Jennifer. Glad
    Good article Jennifer. Glad to see the Offbeats and Brutalists getting some notoriety on American literary sites. Though I’d take issue with the “rule of publishing” – what the readers want versus what the author wants. It’s the difference between art and pulp fiction. And viva Offbeats and Brutalism! for sticking to their literary guns.

  5. hmm..not sure what you mean
    hmm..not sure what you mean by “the difference between art and pulp fiction”.

    And I stick to my literary guns when I state that writing should be written for an audience. I think that the difference between good writing and great writing, is the ability of the writer to tap into the broad psyche of the masses. A writer who seeks publication should consider whether or not anyone would really give a damn about the story they are telling. But this assumes that the writer also has the gift for writing and a clear love for language. Great Literature through out the ages use themes, metaphors, symbols, etc.. And the themes they choose reflect some aspect of society that is relevant to the times.

    One Offbeat writer unmentioned here that I am interested in is Lee Rourke, largely because his book ‘Everyday’ seeks to explore postmodern themes such as boredom and alienation.

    This is the difference between great writing and good or mediocre writing, and might I add, writing that sells.

    Any writer who claims that they are not writing for an audience in mind when they seek publication is either: lying to themselves or are not very self aware. If not, they why would they bother to get published? The very act of it has a motive, e.g., recognition or fortune. Why limit yourselves to a minority or readers?

    People who read and buy books are not stupid, and I think they too often think so. But should we believe that the majority of book buyers are stupid, yet are stupid people who also tend to read?

    Thank you all for reading!

  6. oh, the ‘But’ in the last
    oh, the ‘But’ in the last sentence needs to be removed. I was writing so quickly, yet passionately!

  7. I’m stupid as well Spartacus,
    I’m stupid as well Spartacus, and I read and write,more or less.

  8. Thanks, Jennifer. I like your
    Thanks, Jennifer. I like your article and subsequent comments.

    Gallix & the others are demonstrating two important requirements of any literary movement: They are taking action instead of simply complaining about the mainstream, and they are producing some high quality work.

  9. Another point I would like to
    Another point I would like to make is that I think it is the mainstream that they have hostility towards, and not necessarily ‘mainstream publishing’, which is self defeating to any writer who seeks publication; i.e., the masthead ” whatever it is, we are against it.”

  10. Surely we’re missing the
    Surely we’re missing the point about audiences here, though. It’s true that all writers ultimately write for an audience, but to suggest that we should all write for the same audience is remarkably blinkered. If everyone wrote for the masses, and simply followed already existing popular trends, then where would anything exciting or new come from?

    I think Andrew Gallix’s argument is not that we shouldn’t write for an audience, but that we shouldn’t write for the audience that has been dictated by the mainstream publishing houses – particularly as these publishing houses are currently keen on chasing already-existing formulas. Formulaic writing is never good writing, but unfortunately it’s easier to sell.

    In the end we have to fall back on that old adage: a good book will find its own audience. Anyway, if everyone simply wrote for the masses, then what would the rest of us read?

  11. What sets you apart from the
    What sets you apart from the masses??

    I am not suggesting that writers need to follow formulaic formulas. What I am saying, is that great writers tend to write about themes that are relevant to society as a whole; i.e., the human condition. And this is what make their stories so timeless.

    You are human, and therefore share a commonality with the mainstream that you (or the Offbeats) disdain, no matter what you may assume.

    I don’t think that you can argue against that.

  12. CAN’T argue against
    CAN’T argue against that:

    Universal truths and absolutes for the masses sound grand from the likes of Aristotle et el.

    But that was 2,500 years ago. The human condition? Has it improved or declined? Who can say if truth is indeed unchanging law? Is James Joyce dead in the wrong century, the wrong cemetery?

    We both have truths. Are mine the same as yours?

    Is the goal to simply sell more books, expand literacy and tolerance? Is this a popularity contest? Or is it sufficient to simply express oneself without regard for who would ever find a little book under a tree by the holy pebbled stream…just to read about me?

    Screw the OxCam wickety dons and all that kerou-ac-ky fame. I should write to meet the needs of my audience? Whose audience? What audience? To what end?

    I write for myself. I am my own best audience.
    This is a single private war. I am the only one fighting in my corner. My ghosts ae mine.

    If someone wants to pick up my lttle book in wonder, I say let them. Otherwise, I will not be a force to block them from their wanderlust. Let the children roam. The smart ones will come home.

    Thank you for post Jennifer Cuddy.

  13. If you write only for
    If you write only for yourself, and perhaps seek publication for your own sense of accomplishment, then go for it! I have no problem with that. In fact, I applaud it! But when I refer ‘the human condition’ I am referring to universal themes such as anger, jealousy, joy, love, lust, fear of death, loneliness, birth, death, freedom, oppression, etc.. and not to the subjective interpretations of truth.

  14. Hi, Jennifer. Are you
    Hi, Jennifer. Are you suggesting emotions are human conditions? As Camus wrote, the situation we all face is that of an indifferent, benign universe insofar as we all are born to die. The deal is to adopt a code in the face of such an abyss and how we can best behave in such a dire predicament — God or godless — with only ourselves to figure out this thing call life. Do you agree/disagree? Plese clarify.


  15. But surely one can write
    But surely one can write about universal themes without writing for a mainstream audience? I don’t see that the two are mutually exclusive.

    I guess you’d probably agree, Jennifer, given your last comment – but why, then, did you disagree with what Andrew was saying in the interview? He’s surely simply arguing that you should pander to the publishing trend for formulaic easy sellers, and should strive for something more original. It could still be about universal themes.

  16. Jota,

    Now you’re just being

    Now you’re just being silly. I suppose if we all could acheive enlightenment, then we could all be immune to emotional intensities. Adopted philosphies are not part of the human condition, only the need to search for meaning.

    I think my next article will be of great interest to you. I have my reasons for being concerned about hostilities towards the mainstream. Who was it that said, “history repeats itself?”

  17. Scratching me head: Do we
    Scratching me head: Do we write to express ourselves (as a lonely bunch of belljar insects) or to feed an (avirice) mass market audience? I remember my B-school profs telling me to THINK of your audience first.

    That’s when I slunk away from the white towers and dons of grey.

    Journalism called — and it payed the bills for awhile. What a racket. And poetry was a dead-end full of cast-offs and losers.

    That’s how I learned the hard way about how to make money writing…for others; making money for the man instead of writing true about myself.

  18. Success and failure are both
    Success and failure are both charlatans.
    Literature is; as John Keats said, about the truth of things.

  19. Even if the percentage of
    Even if the percentage of readers has decreased, the total number of people in the world has increased, so even a small niche today might be million people. With that in mind, you should write exactly the kind of books you would want to read. If you (1) write well, and (2) get enough people to notice it, a lot of people will naturally like your book.

  20. “I like the masthead
    “I like the masthead statement.

    “Whatever it is, we’re against it”

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