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Living Loz
In admiration/disappointment... 
14th-Feb-2012 07:13 pm
This post is all about my complicated, one-sided love/hate affair with Matthew Graham (and to a lesser extent, Ashley Pharoah), so if you're not in the mood for me being just a lot crazycakes, maybe don't click on the cut.

I reread my initial reactions to the Life on Mars finale a couple of days ago. To the announcement of Ashes to Ashes. To my wild fangirling over Matt's Doctor Who eps. My worry about the tie-ins. My superficial thoughts on Eternal Law. And all that lies inbetween. And I have come to a conclusion.

I really love Matthew Graham, you guys.

I can't help it, it's a thing. I love Ashley too, do not get me wrong; in many, many ways I know I should love Ash more, because I think we approach writing in the same way and he usually doesn't act like an arsehat, but somehow Matthew's arseholish tendencies make me love him the most. I have said "oh, Matthew, how are you even real?" more than once. And that part I can't entirely explain --- I don't really know why part of me likes the fact Matthew is sometimes supremely silly. Maybe it's because I really do think he'd be Too Perfect if he didn't seek to alienate his colleagues and his fans every once and a while.

I've always known it's pretty weird that I fangirl MG so much. He is one writer in millions. He can occasionally act like a bit of a prick. He can be so irresponsible as a writer and he sells out his vision --- and all of these things jar with me, but they rarely stop me from feeling this abiding sense of affection. Because, you see, in his writing, he does all of these interesting things so many other writers don't and I can't stop myself from being utterly enthralled by that. Especially since sometimes I am fairly sure he has no clue at all that that is what he's doing.

On the selling out, because it's a hot topic at the moment --- it really does upset me. I have these terribly pompous ideas about integrity in fiction and I've spent more than once wishing Matthew did too. It confuses me that he could write some truly beautiful characters and storylines and then just fuck with them. I love my brother Nick, but he can't write for shit, and there's no way I'd let him near one of my stories. I guess a large part of my inability to understand comes from the fact I have a different profession, yet I choose to spend hours of my life writing stuff that I encourage others to read for free. And I work hard at making that free fiction halfway decent. So I'm always kind of --- hell, if you or your brother are going to get paid for this, couldn't it at least be good? The other side of this, of course, is that I already have an income, and don't need to rely upon what I do being well received. Well received doesn't always equal 'good'.

There's always this disconnect between what Matthew says about his fiction in interviews and the genuine subtlety, tints and shades of his writing (and it's almost always Matthew in this case, because he's involved in more interviews than Ash, and when Ash speaks about his writing, he tends to be less sensationalistic and more honest than Matt.) Matthew describes his characters as archetypes whilst simultaneously writing these multi-layered, complex individuals, who are in some ways nothing like other characters we're usually allowed to see on the tellybox. Gene Hunt is more than a boor and a bully, Richard Pembroke more than a demonic villain. And I don't think, I really don't think, that those wonderful moments all come from the actors who play those characters. So much of it had to have existed in Matthew's work beforehand.

It seems to me that Matt's constantly concentrating on those aspects of his writing that have made him popular, whereas I love him for the things only ten other people have ever noticed. While he'll rant over the bragging rights to a line like "fire up the quattro", I will fucking swoon over "I'll tell you what it's like to live a life. Every day the things that you carry with you get a bit heavier."/"That doesn't sound very good."/"It depends on what you carry." He combines humour and drama deftly; and you notice when he gets it wrong, which just kind of highlights all of the many times he gets it right.

And the thing is, on a purely emotional level, Matthew Graham's writing speaks to me - as does Ashley Pharoah's. Their fiction makes me feel things I don't expect to feel. I'm actually usually pretty jaded and cynical. I tend to dislike rampant manipulation. Yet, so often, they sneak past my defences. I could probably analyse that for days. I had no idea I'd come away from Eternal Law with gigantic heart-eyes. I mostly thought I'd come away mocking it to death.

I don't think everything they do is perfect anymore, but their writing not only makes me feel, but it makes me think, and it inspires the wannabe writer in me.

So. I really love Matthew Graham, you guys. And I really love Ashley Pharoah too. And they give me a massive sad feeling in my heart when they persist in doing things that undermine their great work. Because they are so excellent just as they are and it always seems to be when they do things purely for financial gain as opposed to artistic that we get... well, bizarre LoM tie-in fiction and Ashes to Ashes series 1.

This entry was posted on both LJ and DW. This post has comment count unavailable DW comments, \o/
14th-Feb-2012 09:18 am (UTC)
Well received doesn't always equal 'good'.

Powerfully true, and so is the reverse. You only have to look at the relative size of the audiences for Shakespeare and soap operas to know that. In fact, to many people, what is perceived as being 'good' is also perceived as being 'difficult' (or elitist); a lot of people don't want entertainment that they have to think about, because thinking is just too difficult. The trouble is that, in mass entertainment, decisions are based on the requirements of those who prefer not to exercise their brains, simply because there are so many of them - and there we have the classic dilemma of the writer; good stuff that only a few people will 'get', or populist stuff that will put bread on the table? This, of course, is why fan fiction is so often better than its pro equivalent; when the economic imperative is absent, there are far more possibilities available!
14th-Feb-2012 12:14 pm (UTC)
I can't help but be a little worried about a collection of cultures who don't want to question anything or put any kind of processing power into thinking about the fiction they interact with.

I mean, don't get me wrong, I have the shows I watch that I don't really want to think too carefully about. A couple of them are things that I'm fairly sure I'm going to give up watching because they're so banal, though.

It's strange, isn't it, because there are examples of popular things being 'good'. Shakespeare is an example there. There are also plenty of popular things that have many good elements. It's hard to strike the balance. (On a personal note, my most popular Life on Mars fic in terms of people recommending it is probably my best in concept and execution, but the most popular in terms of comment response is something like 400 words of a reaction to a photo. I have been both popular and unpopular, populist and esoteric, often from one fic to the next.)
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14th-Feb-2012 12:06 pm (UTC)
I think the thing that gets me about Matt's intersection with fandom in particular (because, again, he's the one who's had the most) is that he continually seems to expect unconditional love and affection from the diehard fans, whilst simultaneously doing things like calling them psychotic and unstable. He wants fannish love, he attempts to appeal to it, but in the next second he'll cut fans down to size. Fans aren't allowed to criticise, only adore. And dude --- being a fan means you're invested --- you care --- and if you're not well-served, of course you're going to complain. Let's not even go into how Matthew either listens to/reads the weirdest conversations about his work, or pays no attention to absolutely valid critique. He has a bee in his bonnet about critics and therefore discounts everything they say. That's like hating excess signage and choosing to ignore DANGER, KEEP OUT, COLLAPSED MINE. "What's that, Timmy? Matthew's stuck down the mineshaft? Didn't he take note of the fellow writer who said he relied too much upon glorifying Gene see the signs?"

(Having said that, there are so many shit-headed critics around these days, and way too many people who choose to hate something simply for the novelty of hating it.)

I am unable to pre-order the tie-in for two reasons. 1. I am not in the UK, 2. I don't own a kindle.

It's probably a publishing and distribution conundrum as opposed to deliberate, but I do think the audience has been rendered even tinier by dint of it.

Edited at 2012-02-14 12:07 pm (UTC)
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14th-Feb-2012 12:42 pm (UTC)
As far as tollerating him being a dick goes I used to be able to cope with it. (I mean, at least he isn't Moffat, although they have many similar traits especially in regards to treating fans badly) But he crossed a line for me with the comments about PG, because thats not selling himself out, or his characters or possibly the fans, thats hurting a real person who brought his characters to life and did nothing wrong. That was the end of any admiration I could have for him as a person. As a writer I agree with you that he is great but I don't think he'll ever be good, he makes the same mistakes again and again and by doing so throws away somany opportunities that it makes him a wasted talent.

I enjoyed your post and like seeing someone like him, but his treatment of fans makes me too uncomfortable to ever want to get close enough/ involved to see if I too could become a fan again.

Also not so sure about your comment of "there are so many shit-headed critics around these days, and way too many people who choose to hate something simply for the novelty of hating it" as people brand anyone who criticises with the same brush, as far as I'm concerned aslong as you have a good argument your crit is valid even if you only came up with that view point because you are bored. (But I do know that my initial argh at reading that is due to trauma from the Irene Adler episode of Sherlock and the way fandom responded to any sort of intelligent criticism).

But thanks for posting this, it was interesting to read and think about.
14th-Feb-2012 01:11 pm (UTC)
Ah, see, the thing with Phil still confuses the ever-living fuck out of me. I can't shake the feeling that something more was at play there. That could just be random speculation, but, I suppose I like to believe the best in people. I absolutely think Matthew made a mistake, but I don't, for instance, know how hurt Phil was. He seemed to take it all in stride. Should Matt have got up in arms about that one line? Well, he's entitled to. I think I might be slightly annoyed if someone tried to claim my wit as their own (had it been a better line.) Should he have gone on a twitter rampage? Absolutely not. He hasn't got another public twitter, though, so maybe he needed to remove himself from temptation. And, really, he was mildly insulting, but he wasn't horrible to Phil, He was mostly just... Matthew. (Okay, calling it a 'deluded ego trip' was pretty harsh. But once again, Matthew.)

I look at this from the perspective of someone who has, every now and then, acted like a monumental dick herself. And I can't even tell you the number of posts I haven't made because I realised it would be incredibly stupid of me to do so, and I may well hurt others. I am a naturally bitchy person in so, so many ways, and I carefully self-censor.

There are a lot of critics around these days who don't exactly back up their criticism with a solid argument. They'll make sensationalist statements just to court controversy, or just to be cool. Those are the shit-heads. I think it's probably the distance between critique being entirely subjective and yet feigning objectivity. I don't know, I may be feeling tender because so few people Got Eternal Law and I feel like its merits were completely overlooked (which is not to say it wasn't sometimes not the best it could be, or likely to appeal to a more specific audience than perhaps they were expecting.) There does seem to be this climate of "you have had your success, tall poppy, NOW WE MUST BRING YOU DOWN" and I hate that, it's disingenuous.

But, obviously, I still think there is plenty of valid criticism out there.

Thanks for your comment. I understand that MG is not for everyone, but hell, he still has me. Lucky, lucky boy.

Edited at 2012-02-14 01:13 pm (UTC)
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14th-Feb-2012 01:33 pm (UTC)
I don't think it's purely British. It certainly happens in Australia. It truly is depressing.
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14th-Feb-2012 01:44 pm (UTC)

Honest Loz, that's not my MG. Your MG and I are just good friends. *g*
27th-Feb-2012 12:13 pm (UTC)
14th-Feb-2012 04:18 pm (UTC)
Matthew describes his characters as archetypes whilst simultaneously writing these multi-layered, complex individuals, who are in some ways nothing like other characters we're usually allowed to see on the tellybox. Gene Hunt is more than a boor and a bully, Richard Pembroke more than a demonic villain.

I totally agree, which is why I'm so WTF? over Matthew handing over the LOMverse to brother Tom. Who writes Gene Hunt as the boorest boor that ever boored!

And it was Matthew, don't forget, who complained about certain fannish portrayals of Gene because he'd named the character after a favourite uncle and felt protective of him. This is why his lack of proprietary feeling in this case confuses me so much. The lack of *cough* quality assurance.

P.S. Let's just hope Tom never gets his hands on Eternal Law...
16th-Feb-2012 05:08 pm (UTC) - matthew graham

I wondered what you'd have to say about the novels! I like MG because his stuff seems like something I might write, because he seems to luv his music, because I think his eps of DW are the best, & most of all I like him because he helped make Gene Hunt up.

It's like a band you like; good bands never truly disappoint, you never tire of them, etc.

There are plenty of people about who don't seem to be interested in anything. I don't know how they can live like that, but they somehow do. I've never been that type of person & I never will. If I was/am unstable I think friends/family would notice.

I still think they should've done the novels when one/both of the programmes were actually on. I'd luv to read them but I don't have a Kindle.
22nd-Feb-2012 08:41 am (UTC) - Re: matthew graham

I wasn't sure if this comment was for me, Loz, or for Chamekke, but I will say that I love, love, love MG, I just wish he was more protective of his work from a professional point of view.

I am interested in all kinds, and I agree that I think it's important.

15th-Mar-2012 03:39 pm (UTC) - Re: matthew graham

If these novels turn out to be good, great. If they turn out not to be, I’ll pass them on. They're just books – there's much more important things to worry about. I'll still luv Gene either way. I've read books that were so bad I thought they were good.

I choose to ignore what MG says. I'll most likely never meet him, he knows nothing about me/my life. People have said much worse to me anyway!

Close family/friends know I basically revere Gene, but I don't “see”/talk to him. I NEVER mention him unless someone else brings the subject up, say they ask who that is on my calendar/wall, but most people don't really care.

Edited at 2012-03-15 03:42 pm (UTC)
27th-Feb-2012 12:15 pm (UTC)

Why am I not surprised we agree on this?

To be fair to Matt, he never really complained. He's occasionally joked about it in a way that speaks of him not being entirely comfortable with it, but he's really been a rather good sport, most of the time.

(P.S. Oh, Tom.)
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