‘Every now and then, all a woman needs is a good throttling.’ This is what Ollie Splendid tells me, wearing a practiced evil grin, as...

‘Every now and then, all a woman needs is a good throttling.’

This is what Ollie Splendid tells me, wearing a practiced evil grin, as he places his skinny feet in their heavy boots on the coffee table between us, and lights another fag. He is of course referring to his recent run-in with the law for attempting to strangle adult-film-star girlfriend Sasha White, a topic which his publicist told me was off-limits, but which he had a desire to broach almost immediately. To complete the narrative, White dropped the charges and took Splendid back days after the event, proving to everyone that the Internet’s sympathy for domestic abuse victims can indeed run dry, and we still live in a world where beating a woman will never hurt your music career.

Deliberately controversial, proudly addicted to almost every substance you can think of, undeniably talented and worshipped by all the wimpiest kids from Camden to Shoreditch, Ollie Splendid is the most famous goth-pop-electro-rock-country-metal-reggae-hip-hop star you've never heard of. He's what's been on the tips of everyone's tongues for years; a counter-counter-culture disease that no music critic can contain, even with their most powerful medicine: a one-star review. Of which Splendid has had more than I'll ever have hot dinners. But still, he's a cult hero, and his flame doesn't look like it'll go out anytime soon.

So, when he starts a conversation like that, I don’t know whether to be disappointed, or just roll my eyes and move on.

‘Sometimes, all anyone needs is a good throttling,’ he drawls, ‘but I’d say women need it more often.’

So, you don’t regret what happened?

‘I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t want to. How can you regret something you chose to do?’

Sometimes, passion takes hold, and we rush into things that we haven’t thought through. Does the great Ollie Splendid never experience that?

Splendid smiles. ‘I like your attitude. No, I don’t ever feel like that. Regret is a coward’s way of avoiding the fact that you’re a stupid cunt. Everyone is a stupid cunt, you don’t need to pretend you had a moment of madness; a real man would just admit that he’s always a stupid cunt, and move on.’

I ask Splendid if that means that he’s never regretted anything he’s ever done, that he’s the only man in the world who doesn’t feel remorse, because he’s accepted that he is flawed and has moved on. He sighs, rolls his eyes, scratches the trackmarks inside his left elbow; and I realise that that rollup he’s smoking stinks. Whatever’s in it, I haven’t smelt before. It makes my eyes water.

‘Well, I suppose there are things I wish I hadn’t done,’ he says, sliding further down the couch he’s reclining on, ‘The Parallel Plan is one of them.’

The Parallel Plan, Splendid’s 2012 album, was his most commercially successful yet. His sound, usually so choppy and undependable, was suddenly smooth and well-produced, rehearsed and professional-sounding. It sounded like every other one of his albums and EPs had been recorded in a garage, and this was the first one done in a studio. It sold thousands of copies, and finally shot him from nobody to nobody-with-a-small-following. So why does he regret it?

‘I don’t know. Maybe I love it. Maybe it’s fantastic. Or maybe I sold out. Maybe everything I’d done up to that point was screwed up and thrown away to produce something that people actually wanted to hear, instead of ignoring what people want, to make what I want to make instead. Nothing should be driven by the audience; I’ve already discussed that they’re all stupid cunts.’

So is the new album completely different? A harking back to those albums in which the audience’s opinion is disregarded?

‘I don’t know,’ Splendid says, sliding down so far that his buttocks hit the floor, his eyes rolling back into his head, ‘why don’t you listen to it? I fucking hate journalists.’

I point out that the album hasn’t been sent out, even in review copies, to anyone yet. That it hasn’t even leaked online. That there’s speculation that it hasn’t even been recorded, and that his current stint of interviews with music media is apparently just to keep fans happy while the late-arriving album is recorded.

‘Fuck you,’ he replies, digging out an inhaler he has spotted underneath the sofa, spraying its contents down his throat and gurgling for a full minute. ‘It was complete three years ago. I don’t need to answer to you. You prick. You’re just a whore, like Sasha. I hate you as much as I hate her, right now.’

I ask if he wants to take a break, continue later on.

‘Take a break? That’s exactly what I wanted to do. And she was all, You’re not leaving me, I say what happens in this relationship, and that’s not happening. Well, fuck her, she needed a good throttling. Did you know she lost her virginity when she was fourteen? Fourteen? That’s repulsive.’

I start to pack up, telling Splendid that I’m not comfortable with where the interview is going. I don’t think he’s in a fit state to continue, at this point. He ruffles his jet-black hair, punches the floor with his bony fists, chews his gums for a bit.

‘Fuck you,’ he repeats, slurring, ‘I’m fine. You can print every god damn word of this. My relationship with that slut has been exactly like my rise to fame. At the start, it looks like everything is going to be sweet, everything happy and exciting. You spend these first exciting months being creative and enthralled and looking forward to every new experience. Then you learn that you’re not getting as big a cut of the profits as your manager is, that your new lover has slept with half of her friends, male and female, and isn’t even ashamed enough to cut off contact with them.

‘Your publicist is more interested in that other band she works with, and your girlfriend has had anal sex with her modelling agent, who you shook hands with as if you were buddies just last Tuesday. There’s only so many of these revelations you can take. How many other people who get as much media attention as I do can honestly say they’ll never get rich off of what they do? What sensible twenty-year-old woman has already had two abortions? That’s just bad upbringing. That’s a bad person, right there. I feel like I’ve had more than that, the amount of times I’ve been fucked by this industry.’

So are you pissed off that your girlfriend has had experiences you haven’t? Would you rather she’d been shut in a room forever, that you owned her like a jacket or a pair of shoes? Are you just eaten up by jealousy? Or is that just a channel for venting the frustration you feel about the unfairness of the music industry? Do you think you deserve more from what you’ve done?

‘I’m pissed off that I’ve spent my whole life not being an arsehole, and no one told me that the only way to get ahead is to be the biggest arsehole you possibly can, and never feel remorse for any of it.’

I wonder if Splendid is always this scattered. He doesn’t seem to be able to structure his thoughts. I watch him pop a pill into his mouth and wash it down with a warm beer that’s been sitting on the coffee table since before we got here, and ask if it’s this insecurity he seems to be feeling that drives his drug use.

‘I use drugs because I like the feeling they give me. I take them because they turn the volume down on pieces of shit like you, always shouting advice on how to live at me. I couldn’t make music without these drugs, because I wouldn’t want to pour my heart out onto disc knowing that scum like you is going to hear it.’

So the car accident he was involved in before his first album, which many have said was the beginning of these addictions (and in which his high school sweetheart was killed), didn’t have the effect that has been reported?

Splendid sits up, seems to sober up for a second, and just stares at me through glazed eyes. After a while, he growls, ‘Fuck you,’ and pulls himself back up to sit on the sofa opposite me.

I decide to change the subject. Perhaps Splendid wants to talk about the screenplay he is apparently working on, for an indie film about which details are currently sparse.

‘I’ve always loved to write,’ he begins, a little robotically, but seeming more as if he now wants to conduct an actual interview, ‘so when I was approached to try my hand at a screenplay, I jumped at it. I’m about halfway through, I’m fairly happy with it so far. It’ll need editing, like anything does.’

How long until it’s finished?

Splendid sighs again. The pause before his answer is a long one. ‘I don’t know. Maybe it won’t be. God, I hate this shit. I just wish I could quit and move to some island where I wouldn’t have to speak to another human again.’

Do the drugs cause these mood swings?

‘What is this, therapy? I’m unhappy because I hate everything. I hate everything because nothing gives me any reason not to hate it. I hate Sasha because she can’t keep her legs closed, I hate my manager because he’s stealing money from me, I hate journalists because they ask stupid banal inane questions to satisfy the idle curiosity of fans I’ll never meet or give a fuck about, and I hate myself most of all for caring about any of this shit.’

These are the types of concerns that everyone has, in one way or another. Some feel them more than others, and some people worry about different things. But we all have worries, we’re all just walking bags of issues. Why would you hate yourself for caring about them?

‘Because one day,’ Splendid says, lighting another one of those evil rollups with his skinny, shaking hand, ‘you’ll be flying through the windscreen of your girlfriend’s mini, zooming headfirst at the side of a lorry at a hundred miles an hour, milliseconds from certain death, and you’ll realise that nothing you’ve ever worried about has mattered. It doesn’t matter how promiscuous your girlfriend was before she met you, how ridiculous your friends’ decisions have been and how they’ve all ruined their own lives through their own stupidity, how much money your manager is making at the expense of your own bank balance. What matters is the set of relationships you formed and maintained while you had the chance. What should have concerned you were the friendships you established and how you made those people feel, the love you cultivated and the people you’ve made sure are definitely going to miss you. You realise that the only way you’ll ever live forever is in the hearts of others, and everything else you’ve ever focused on is trivial in comparison. You realise this all too late, and then you’re dead, so you can’t change any of it.

‘Except sometimes, you’re not dead, and you wake up in hospital, and you’re doomed to have nightmares forever more about what happened and what you realised. But still, even though you have all these residual issues in your head, even though you had that beautiful moment of clarity, and even though it haunts you every day, you haven’t learnt anything. You still resent your parents for not giving you the opportunities your friends had, you still hate your job, you still don’t spend enough time with your nearest and/or dearest, and you still wish your girlfriend had more class. All that deeper meaning, that inner clarity, that love you felt when you were certain your brain was going to be spread across the side of an Eddie Stobart, it’s all gone, and you can’t find it again.’

Splendid sobs, loud and hard. I don’t know whether to hug him, or leave the room. I certainly don’t think we can continue the interview. I move closer, pat his shoulder, and turn my recorder off. He seems to forget I’m even there. When he begins to pull a belt tight around his left bicep, I decide that it’s definitely time to leave.

And now, in my hotel room, typing the interview up, I reflect on how lost Ollie Splendid seemed to be. If this whole persona he portrays to the media is the product of such deep insecurities and unresolved issues relating to a truly life-changing event, how good should we feel about buying his music? We’re watering the plant that creeps up his sides, slowly taking over his life. We’re friends with the monster that lives under his bed, and no matter how often he changes addresses, we’ll always tell it where he lives. He can’t survive with the limited fame he has, keeping his issues alive and sticking him firmly in the public eye, where the skeletons in his closets are exposed every single day; but nor could he really function without it, he burns too bright to be kept in the dark. It doesn’t seem like there’s a solution for this damaged young man who spends every minute of his day worrying about things he doesn’t need to, but I do feel like my hour or so with him, wondering what he was on about, has made me understand him more than I ever did before.

Then I get a call from a much more sober Ollie Splendid, obviously fresh from talking to his publicist, telling me that if I print any of what he said earlier, he’ll cut my fucking throat.

“Have you ever been lonely? No, neither have I. Solitary, yes. Alone, certainly. But lonely means minding about being on your own. I'...

“Have you ever been lonely? No, neither have I. Solitary, yes. Alone, certainly. But lonely means minding about being on your own. I've never minded about it.”

Mike Engleby is an odd young man, a loner. A student at a prestigious university, and a heavy abuser of drugs and alcohol. He hangs around on the edges of social groups, always there but never quite fitting in, always watching the girl he calls his "girlfriend" but never really speaking to her, just hoping that she'll notice him if he hangs around long enough.

That is, until she disappears one day, without a trace.

I've only read one other book by Sebastian Faulks: A Week in December. I don't know if I was in a bad mood or it was the book's fault, but (and I have to be careful here - I've recently learned the soft way that authors can stumble across this blog and read my shit reviews despite my warnings that they shouldn't) I found it to be trying too hard, being far too pleased with itself. Although, saying that, it might have been how it was sold to me too. I was told it was brilliant, genius, an amazing creation of a mind that thinks on a plane far above our own. I didn't think it was.

Anyway. Because of that, I went into this expecting the same thing - writing that was quite impressed with itself, a topic that might seem deep in the blurb but was actually a bit fluffy and shallower than expected, an unsatisfying experience all round. But, I'm pleased to say, I was very, very wrong.

"My name is Mike Engleby, and I'm in my second year at an ancient university." That's how it begins. A refreshingly simple beginning, I think, since there is so much pressure on novelists to grab you by the throat and wave you around in the first paragraph (which, of course, leads to such ridiculous opening sentences that there's a whole competition dedicated to coming up with them). From there, from a voice that is distinct and well-formed and quite unreliable, we learn all about his social life (or lack thereof), his forgetfulness, his childhood, and his obsession with Jennifer, the girl who disappears.

It's gripping. I loved it. There's character development, humour, intrigue. Engleby is likeable, despite (or maybe because of) his oddness. I think so, anyway. I'd read a couple of reviews that disagreed, and a few that said there was too much telling and not enough showing, that Faulks seemed too desperate for us to come along on the journey with him; but I didn't notice any of that. Maybe I was too excited, I don't know.

Then, in the middle, it dipped a bit. After Jennifer's disappearance, we follow Engleby as he stumbles into adulthood and normal life, drifting away from his extreme social difficulties and into a pretty average life that we thought he probably never could have had. Here, we get some waffling that I don't think is all that necessary, and a lot of predicting the future (the book is set in the seventies and eighties, mostly) which of course has already been lived by Faulks, so is "amusingly" accurate, but not amusing enough to be rewarding. I started to think Faulks had lost interest in the character and just decided to wander off on a tangent and never come back.

I think this bit could probably have been fifty or sixty pages shorter. Maybe.

Either way, the ending is brilliant again. All the issues Engleby has bubble up to the surface, what happened in the past comes back to get him, and Faulks's research (which must have been extensive) pays off in a massive way. As usual, I don't want to include spoilers, so I won't go into what happens, but the loose ends are tied up and it's hard not to be impressed. All of this might all be a bit too neat and convenient for some people, and I wouldn't blame them; but for me, it worked. Faulks definitely walks the line between Brilliance and Trying Too Hard, but this time, I think he stays on the right side for the majority of the time.

So, at the end, I was satisfied. I had enjoyed myself. This is what reading is about, yes it is yes it is. 4/5.

"Kind? How boring that would be. I aspire to be wicked." Until I began listening to the Song of Ice and Fire books, I n...

"Kind? How boring that would be. I aspire to be wicked."

Until I began listening to the Song of Ice and Fire books, I never really considered audiobooks as an option for consuming novels. If I was going to read, I was going to read - hold a paperback in my hands, sit in a nice comfortable chair (or, y'know, a filthy bus seat), maybe put some instrumental music on (I can't have two sets of words going into my brain at once)… y'know, really make a night of it. But my attention span is short, and the more time I spend working for The Man and the less I spend writing my little stories, the more precious those minutes begin to feel; so sitting down in my favourite pants on my favourite chair to read a thousand pages of fantasy for three weeks suddenly doesn't seem as appetising an idea as I'm sure it does for so many other people. Hence the reason I turned to Audible.

Well, that and the fact that I had a code for two free Audible books.

Anyway. Fast forward a year, and I've just finished listening to book four, A Feast for Crows, and it has made such an impression on me that I just have to review it for my blog that no one reads. Yes, it has rocked my world. Made me laugh and despair and feel painfully confused. It's been a hell of a ride.

But I'm not talking about the story. No, sir; I won't be reviewing that. We all know how good the Song of Ice and Fire series is, how incredibly broad and deep George R. R. Martin's imagination has proven itself to be in the five books we've seen so far. There must be a hundred thousand reviews all over the Internet that go on about all of that - I don't want to cover old ground.

I want to talk instead about the narrator of the books (the longest of which is 47.5 hours long!): Roy Dotrice. The now 93-year-old actor has voiced every one of the books so far, and even held a Guinness World Record for the number of characters he voiced in the first, A Game of Thrones. He does all these different voices, he reads clearly, and he has a great timbre to his voice, which is vital if you're going to spend forty hours listening to it. He's really quite impressive, most of the time.

I just don't think he should voice the next one.

It all starts so well. At the beginning of A Game of Thrones, the children have children's voices, the women have women's voices, Tyrion has a curious northern English accent for which we can just about forgive him, and the book flows along nicely. But then, at some point, something goes wrong. Maybe Dotrice lost his notepad, or the Excel spreadsheet in which he noted down all his voices was corrupted by a shoddy Windows update (typical Microsoft). Or maybe he took a blow to the head, I don't know. Either way, Tyrion turns Welsh, never to become northern again.

That's fine. Maybe he moved to Wales at some point, and picked up the accent really quickly. Remember that time Joss Stone took a week's holiday in the USA and came back talking like Dolly Parton? Who's to say that couldn't happen to a Lannister?

But as you listen on, you slowly become aware that that explanation is an unlikely one, as other accents start to fall apart too. Varys speaks like he's just crawled out of a horrific car accident and is yet to see a doctor. Jaime and Cersei speak nothing like their younger brother. Tywin sounds like a huge fat man, a Jabba the Hutt of Westeros, for whom it is such an effort to speak that he can only say two or three words at a time without taking a break. Thoros of Myr starts out as a very old, fragile man and ends up a burly northerner. Through the course of the four books to which I've listened, Samwell has had about seven distinct accents.

Then Dotrice loses interest in names as well as voices. Bran becomes Brian. Brienne starts out as Bry-een, then in the fourth book, she becomes Brian too. Maybe he just likes the name Brian.

But that doesn't mean the voice fun is over. While everyone else turns slowly into Brian, Jaime becomes Welsh too, just for a few chapters. Cersei, not one to be left out while the rest of her family lose their minds, goes through male puberty, and trades her lady's voice in for one much deeper. 

I know, I'm being very mean. I don't mean to be. Roy Dotrice is a legend - I'm not sure I could record one of these books now, at 27, let alone at his age. I certainly couldn't come up with all the voices he does, to make dialogue that much easier to listen to. And it must be hard to get everything right in 40 hours of audio recording - I imagine there comes a point where you notice an error in the middle and just think, Fuck it, we've been here for two weeks doing this, let's just burn it to disc and go home. But still, this bloke held a Guinness World Record for this shit. Did they not listen to the book, and realise that he'd given two different voices to some of the characters? Does it still count, if you do it wrong? With this being the only audio edition of these books that is likely to be recorded for the foreseeable future, and with the narrator having such a huge influence on the listener's enjoyment of them, I'm just thinking that maybe it's time to get a slightly better reader. Someone who isn't as useless as nipples on a breastplate.

Although, thinking about it, and reading back what I've written here, that would make them less fun. A lot less fun.

So no, actually, ignore all of the above; I'd rather they kept him. Has anyone got his number? I want to call him up and have him talk to me in Lady Melisandre's whispery voice for a bit of cheeky ASMR.

"This isn't a tough love mission to turn the wayward back to the straight and narrow." A girl is missing, and her dad...

"This isn't a tough love mission to turn the wayward back to the straight and narrow."

A girl is missing, and her daddy's body is in a barn with a pitchfork stuck through it, bloated and bloody and stinking like a rotting skunk stuck in a U-bend. The only suspect, Gail G'Wain, the well-read and apparently rather intelligent orphaned farm hand, is gone too, run off into the worst storm that's hit this backward town for decades; and it's up to the seventy-odd-year-old sheriff, on his very last day on the job, to find that little bastard and bring him to justice.

Dramatic, isn't it. What a premise. But the writing tips all over the Internet tell us that it's not enough to have a dramatic story - they can take a hundred pages to really get going - so you have to grab the reader right at the start with something shocking. Well, don't worry; Cold Quiet Country has that covered. We open with the corrupt old sheriff blackmailing a young waitress into coming back to the police station with him and giving him oral sex in his office, because we really need to sledgehammer home that he's a corrupt old pervert, or how will the reader know?

I'm being unfair. I feel it too, the urge to strip Chapter One of its subtlety because the audience of today has ADHD and agents will throw your submissions away if they're not grabbed by the first sentence. It's just, in this case, it made me roll my eyes a bit. That's all.

So, for the next 320 pages, we find out how things got to this and where they're going from here, from the points of view of three characters: Sheriff Bittersmith, the old pervert who's been in charge of the town for umpteen years and is now being thrown out in favour of newer, more sensible blood; Gale G'Wain, who's holed up in a dead man's house a short walk away from the crime scene; and Gwen, the missing girl, who has the strange ability to sense when people are about to die. For some reason.

I didn't like this book. It wasn't a gripping story and it wasn’t particularly well written, in my opinion. And this is only my opinion, so if Clayton Lindemuth or one of his relatives ever stumbles across this review, they can disregard it as idiocy and they won't really be wrong. Sorry Clayton, sorry Clayton's family. I'll try not to be mean, but still, it's probably best if you just leave the review now. You win some, you lose some. I'm just bitter 'cause he's got a book deal and I haven't.

Anyway. One of the reasons I struggled to get into it is that the first half is peppered - enough to make you sneeze - with quirky similes. Unusual similes are better than clichéd, ten-a-penny ones, that is absolutely true. I'm sure Stephen King says it in On Writing, I just can't find the page… but if he does, then it must be true. But in this case, there are so many that it becomes something you notice, something that makes you think, Oh, this again. Which isn't good. And then they start coming two at a time, sentence after sentence: "He watched me and walked backward the first few yards, jumpy as a fart on a griddle. Like facing me would stop a bullet, midair."

…A fart on a griddle? I don’t think a fart would really interact with a griddle, just kind of, waft over it. And how does the second one even relate to the first? Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't think they really convey similar meanings. Ain't nobody got time for that. And it seems the author didn't either, or he ran out of them, because they dried up about halfway through the book, which was nice.

But then, there were the characters. There wasn't one I liked, to be honest; but I really disliked Liz Sunday, Gwen's best friend, who has almost exactly the same sob story as Gwen, which is about as imaginative as a kangaroo doing jumping jacks. Like a crap idea at a manager's meeting. She's weird and whiney and completely unconvincing because she pops up in situations that make you think, What? Why would she do that? Why would she be there? Who invented this girl?! I won't go too far into it because I don't want to include spoilers in this review, but trust me. She does things and turns up in places that completely break the fourth wall and make you remember you're definitely reading fiction, which is bad.

It did become readable, gripping even, for a little while in maybe the third quarter. Stuff started happening and it was interesting and dangerous and I forgot for a few pages that I was reading a story and just got lost in it for a bit, which says something nice about the skill of the writer, I suppose, when he gets it right. But then, boom, it fell apart again, and Aaron got his knickers in a twist once more.

Liz Sunday turns up again - in a ridiculous situation, obviously - and suddenly, we're thrown from the sort-of-almost-nearly-American-noir style that has been attempted so far (Publishers Weekly are quoted on the back cover comparing the writing to that of Donald Ray Pollock, and as a massive fan of Donald Ray Pollock and all his darkness, I'd say this is nowhere near it) into a dramatic Young Adult superhero showdown in which Gale G'Wain has the time between battles to explain - in a monologue that is so romantic, melodramatic and unbelievable that it made me physically cringe - just what happened for everything to end up here. Only he misses a vital point that was obvious to everyone else about five chapters ago, and the hardy, slightly unhinged Liz Sunday has to point it out to him so that he can spend the next 10 pages asking the reader if it's true. Did that happen? Am I crazy? Is Liz right? Did Gwen do that for this reason? Did that happen? Ugh.

Then we waste another who-knows-how-many pages wildly changing course to round off Liz's subplot in ridiculous fashion and for no good reason, dealing with her back story in much the same way as we deal with every back story in the book: with a bit of violence and very little realism. By this point, I was hoping the book would end, so I really didn't want to be dragged along to deal with Liz's problems, which were just clones of Gwen's.

And then, finally, we get the ending. Predictable, as deep as a puddle in a drought, and just as unbelievable as the rest of the book. And all I was left wondering was, why was it called Cold Quiet Country? What's that name got to do with anything that I just read?

Well, I suppose Cold is related, since they were in a snowstorm. So yeah, I suppose it's perfect.

I've been mean haven't I. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be. I just got all frustrated when I wasn't convinced by the book's darkness or its style, and definitely not by its characters or dialogue. There was nowhere near enough subtlety or variety, and both of those things are definitely vital to excellent writing, in my arrogant opinion.

An opinion which, it should be noted, is not popular among other people who've read the book - the people who have bothered to write reviews on Goodreads are mostly positive about it, and on Amazon UK, it only has one review lower than 4 stars. So if I have made you feel sad, Clayton, or anyone else for that matter, remember that I'm massively outvoted, and still just bitter that there are people out there whose novels are being published and read, while I'm just a nobody writing reviews no one really cares about on a site no one visits.

Still. 2/5 at the most.