Kurt , Ottessa and Miami Vice

Drainland by Iain Ryan | Ep 11

An Indefensible Top Ten

I will not pretend there is a through-line for this list.

(Life is chaos.)

#10 - Miami Vice by Michael Mann (film)

A friend of mine recently made a good case for this film: this is what digital cinema could look like in 2018. This could be the aesthetic template. This same friend posed a wild hypothetical: maybe cinema will return to Miami Vice as a beautiful, grainy path-yet-taken.

#9 - A Single Tear (Live At St Vitus) by Converge (clip)

A student of mine alerted me to this live version. Be sure to wait for the startling mid-section where singer Jacob Bannon lets it all hang out. That pained look on his face is the only instruction on fatherhood a person needs.

#8 - Scientists Gave Octopuses Ecstasy to Investigate Our Shared Past of Social Behaviour (ABC news item)

In a motel room somewhere in the American midlands, Thomas Pynchon reads this news piece (from a hardcopy newspaper) and thinks for the hundredth time: I predict the future with my fiction.

#7 - Rachael Kushner on Charles Willeford (interview)

After praising Jean-Luc Nancy, Celine and Dostoyevsky, Rachael Kushner finds The Pick-Up almost by accident and reads it much the same way: “I found this…in a library in Italy a couple of summers ago, and read it because I saw that it takes place in San Francisco, where I’m from.” Willeford is always out there, lurking.

#6 - Anti- Social: Justin Broadrick’s (Godflesh, Jesu) Parent’s punk band (article)

This insane rant by a UK record collector documenting the UK band Anti-Social is hard on the eyes (yellow text!) but gives a lot of context for Justin Broadrick’s life. The photo of Broadrick surrounded by his punk mum and step-dad is particularly wild.

#5 - Intermission (excuse)

Couldn’t really think of ten and #5 is where you hide a dud on Side A of an album. Unless you’re Sonic Youth, in which case you put the Lee Ranaldo song here and they’re all good songs. They’re ‘always hugging the label’ as Mike Watt once put it.

#4 - Rhiannon 76 by Fleetwood Mac (clip)

It’s spring here in Melbourne (Australia) and the only thing I want to know about in the coming months is John McVie’s ‘jorts’ in this video. This is my summer look.

#3 - Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock's Darkest Day by Joel Selvin (book)

One of the best rock books I’ve read and I wrote my PhD on rock books so recommending them may be the only thing I’m truly qualified in. There’s a lot to recommend here — too much — but my favourite anecdote concern's Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart taking his horse-riding-on-LSD hobby to the next level by also dosing the horse with a ‘a proportionate amount of acid’ during these riding adventures. The horse loved it.

(I bet when you opened this email you didn’t expect there to be a horse on acid inside. But there is.)

#2 - Bottle It In by Kurt Vile (album)

I’ve noticed that, to the uninitiated, Vile’s work scans as croaky repetition and scattered nonsense. But dig in and you’ll find that Vile’s philosophy is one seldom proffered by rock bands: you can cope with the world by holding your cards loosely.

#1 - My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh (novel)

A book about a total asshole who decides to sleep for a year. It’s so wry, well-observed and mean — and the topic is so ‘now’ for sad lefties — that Moshfegh could have easily coasted on concept alone. Instead, she reveals a measured human pulse and I felt things. Excellent.



PS: You can buy my books here.

Three Rules VS The Void

Drainland by Iain Ryan | Ep 10

I’ll start with this quote:

“There are three rules of writing. Unfortunately, no one can agree what they are.”

— W. Somerset Maugham

I saw this the other day and couldn’t shake the feeling that it might be the piece of writing advice under which all other writing instruction is filed.

I’m actually pro-advice. I’m a teacher. I don’t subscribe to the idea that creativity can’t be taught. That ephemeral/spiritual design of creativity overlooks the fact that the genius teaches herself something, at the very least. Genius usually has a teacher, or an ally.

But the Maugham quote gets to something else: we all want there to be some sort of ordering principle with writing. And there isn’t any.

I’ve been reflecting on this lately because I’m outlining. I’m hatching a plan. This is a period where I seem to have the most latitude with what I write. And in this phase, I always seem particularly sensitive to clickbait, Guardian articles and scholarly theory about how I should comport myself as ‘the author’.

It’s all the same advice: be a good person.

It’s all well-meaning. But it’s all garbage too. Unfortunately no one can agree on what a good person is either.

All the writing advice in the world (good and bad), will never break your fall.

I went with this intro on advice because I thought it would be funny to couple it with this haughty screed I knocked out the other day, on my lunch hour.



1. Burn the negative of 'Almost Famous':

Source: Noisey.

I’m not sure how a generation of music critics have subsumed the story of Almost Famous into a reason to become a music critic, but they have. The film is cited shockingly often and without shame.

Of course, I’m tempted to demand a revision of the film, to demand that critics re-see it as the appalling miasma of nostalgia and self-obfuscation it can be, but humans can’t be trusted with this film. We have the evidence now.

We have to burn it.

2. Develop some semblance of self-respect:

Source: Pitchfork.

In a world where Beyoncé can reach her audience via social media, she moves to bend the traditional media to those same dictates.

This perversity in media strategy tracks elsewhere, everywhere now.

  • Shitty memoirs instead of critical biographies.

  • The band as ‘producers’ on their own bio-pic.

  • Brands instead of personality.

  • Content instead of any attempt at journalism.

  • “…did not respond immediately.”

It’s not a trick. Music criticism, as Greil Marcus reminds us, is fiction. The writer makes the connections and creates the meaning, as she sells us the story of an artist’s work.

The problem with what we have now is that few of these musicians are good writers. To my mind, Beyoncé has no eye for character development at all.

We used to think everyone would be their own critic but while we were rushing out our free opinions online — to our friends — our own superstars stepped into the breach and now they’re free to become perfect seamless self-creations or outright fabrications and both of these things are without dissonance and noise.

Which is a fancy way of say, they’re fucking boring.

— Iain


The Drill VS The Hole

Drainland by Iain Ryan | Ep 9

I do whatever I want with this newsletter. There’s no template. No format. No central idea or topic. The platform is relatively open.

So this newsletter is just whatever I’m thinking about at the time I sit down to work on it.

At the moment, I’m scattered.

I have a new novel out to ‘submission’ (i.e. my agent is trying to sell it) so this is a time of great uncertainty. Will I or won’t I have a book out next year? Did I waste my time or not?

So this fortnight, all I can offer is a list because my head is everywhere and nowhere:


I saw Mission Impossible: Fallout and thought it was pornography but about other action films instead of sex. It’s all about the details, the granular inner workings, the vibration and movement. Nonetheless, I liked it.


I teach a bit of marketing at work and we tell the students, People buy a power drill because they want the hole, not the drill. And then: Permission Marketing guru Seth Godin’s podcast episode Hitsville connects this to creative products. His thesis: people buy bestsellers because they want community. End of story. You can’t manufacture products (books, songs, films) for this audience because the core product they’re looking for — the hole — is ‘joining in’ not your fucking page-turner.


The NOTHING record came out and I’m a little disappointed by it, if only that the best two songs on it are the previously released singles (here and here). Upside, they’re both great singles. NB: ‘I Hate Flowers’ is pretty good too.


Absolutely no one in my feed seems excited by this article on the late Peter Temple but it is — hands down — the best thing I’ve read about a crime writer this year. Peter Temple used to write to his editor Michael Heyward (Text) in character, as his own agent. Exhibit A:

My dear Michael, I trust you will not be offended if I say that my client is beginning to wonder if you have any staff left, and, more importantly, any money. Yours in disappointment, Orange

5 This trailer for Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood looks preeeeeety interesting. They really had me at the CGI-recreation of the hollywood ‘fuckpad’ (to use the parlance of James Ellroy) but damn, the guy who made this doco is a ex-journalist and he claims the more he investigated Scotty’s stories, the more they checked out. Wild.


I switched this newsletter to Substack. So far so good. TinyLetter RIP.

Keep on keeping on,


Astrological Character Creation, Failure & Drone Photos


There are thousands of writing manuals out there. Some of them are good, some of them are surprisingly good but most of them are meh. They all pretty much say the same thing:

  • entertain the reader

  • write well-rounded characters

Too much is made of the latter, to my mind, and I've said as much in interviews when asked.

(My go-to example: no one really cares about Clarice Starling. If she ran a carwash, no one would even know her name. But put her in the plot of Silence of the Lambs and suddenly I'm alert to her daddy-issues and the entrenched patriarchy of the FBI. Plot is important.)

I don't start with character when I write.

I start with ideas for scenes and vibes. Sometimes I start with music or a film or even another novel. I want to write something that *feels* like <this>. When I have that firmed up, I work back to character and the first thing I determine is their birthday. It's obvious if you think about it: you're making the character, so you should know their birthday.

God knows your birthday.

Your parents know your birthday.

Once you have the birth date, you can turn to my favourite writing manual: The Secret Language of Birthdays by Gary Goldschneider and Joost Effers. A heady mix of astrology, numerology and 'psychic intuition', this book is a goldmine of character traits, habits, strengths and weaknesses. If you need to put your protagonist into conflict (duh), this book can tell you the birthdays/traits of antagonists that rub your character up the wrong way.

Is this kooky? Yes. But for me, it works. And I don't want to be normal, anyhow.

PS: This website has 90% of the book's information. So try it for yourself.


In my 20s, I spent an inordinate amount of my time trawling secondhand CD stores for albums, often flicking past Failure's 1994 album Magnified because it has one of the worst covers in rock history. Until the day I caved and bought it for $2 and on hearing it, Magnified quickly became one of my all-time favourites.

The band -- of course -- failed spectacularly, managing to parlay two great records (Magnified and follow-up Fantastic Planet) into heroin addiction, hiatus and 'personal differences'.

They reformed in 2013 and released a new record and to be honest, I didn't care. At 37, I preferred one of the post-break-up side-projects (Autolux) and didn't want to reinvest in Failure or nostalgia.

Until the other day when I let their new EP Your Body Will Be run on Spotify (I think the algorithm suggested it) wherein I found -- just as I hit the 1:45 mark of opener 'No One Left' -- that I did want back in. I've been listening to this record for 2 weeks now and it's surprisingly great. A lot of their contemporaries can't write like this any more.

It's weird that I've discounted the band twice and yet they kept returning to stereo.

The other record I've been loving lately is The Switch by Body/Head. A collaboration between Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon (my favourite SY member, which should caution you about this record) and Bill Nace. I've been putting this record on at home a lot, on the weekends. I just like the way it changes the temperature of the room. It's strangely warming.


I mainly just post pictures to Twitter lately. It doesn't need any more opinions.

This month, I've chosen 'drone aerials' as my theme. Each one feels like the opening of a scene to me.

Because I am the god of my characters, I guess.

Still, they're very pretty:

Last month, the theme was eyeballs.



And that is quite enough, I think.

I am the author of FOUR DAYS and THE STUDENT and I am not ashamed.

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