The Musical Vault of Martin Shkreli: Beatles, Nirvana and Wu-Tang secret works in the hands of an enfant terrible.

There are few men more hated in the world than “Pharma Bro”, investor and recently convicted fraudster Martin Shkreli. His initial rise to infamy was projected by his company’s price hike on the antiparasitic drug Daraprim but he remained in the spotlight after his successful bid on the one-of-a-kind Wu-Tang Clan album “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.”

Conceived as an art piece exploring the commodification of music through channels like iTunes, “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” was recorded in secret over six years and produced as a single double CD, the work was to be auctioned off, with a legal contract saying that the work could not be exploited commercially but it could be redistributed for free or at listening parties. On August 26, 2015, the final sale was announced “in the millions” to “a private collector”, later revealed to be Shkreli by Blooomsburg Businessweek. Wu-Tang Clan leader RZA later explained the sale was agreed before the controversial drug price-hike and subsequently a “significant portion” of the proceeds had been donated to various charities.

Though the actual track listing remains a secret for Shkreli alone, the auction house who handled the album did provide the working titles of the tracks. For about a year, this was all the information we had and Shkreli showed no signs of letting others hear the album. This was until Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President of the United States, when Shkreli promised to release the album if Trump got into the White House. Ultimately, when Trump was announced President Elect, Shkreli streamed the intro and one track.

Intriguingly, along with Wu-Tang Clan, Shkreli promised he’d be releasing his entire unreleased music collection, including tracks from Nirvana and The Beatles. In a tweet after the election, Shkreli teased “Wu, Beatles, 2pac, nirvana, radiohead, Hendrix, brand new, smiths, Elliot smith, Ramones” releases from his vault.

On December 23, 2016, Shkreli claimed he had acquired a two-disc, fully mixed down version of “Tha Carter V”, the long-delayed and rumoured final solo album from Lil Wayne. Recorded during 2013 to 2014, “Tha Carter V” has been the subject of conflict between Lil Wayne and his mentor/label boss Birdman.

During a livestream, Shkreli released two tracks from the project; one track featuring Kendrick Lamar and the other with Justin Bieber. Lawyers from Wayne and Universal Music were quick to issues threats, with Lil Wayne’s camp eventually coming to terms with Shkreli that he would not release any more tracks by the artist.

Shkreli has remained tight-lipped about how he acquired the album, with many believing it to have been retrieved by a hacker who then sold the work on to Shkreli, seeking him out for his history of spending money on music.

It is an undeniable fact that Shkreli is the sole publicly known owner of two of the biggest albums of the last ten years but what of his other claims?

Nirvana is a band that has enjoyed much traffic in tape trading circles, where fans will exchange copies of live show recordings, rare b-sides, radio exclusives and unreleased music. For Shkreli to indicate he has music not found in this community is a bold claim. Despite their brief run from 1987 -1994, the band produced three albums, a b-side collection and a live acoustic album, along with dozens of recordings found in frontman Kurt Cobain’s archives after his death.
So far, Shkreli has streamed a number of songs including “If You Must” (released officially Novemeber 2004 as part of the “With the Lights Out” box set), this track has appeared in the “Outcesticide” bootleg series and the early Nirvana demo recorded in January 1988.

This gives us a hint that Shkreli’s collection is not 100% as impressive as he has made out. Further tracks include “Talk to Me”, “Pay to Play” (an early version of Stay Away), “Spank Thru” (from the pre-Nirvana Cobain project, Fecal Matter), “Born in a Junkyard” (a.k.a Token Eastern Song) and Beeswax (planned for the “Bleach” follow-up) have all seen official release through the “With the Lights Out” box set.

Another band who’ve always been present in the bootleg trading underground, and one of the most iconic musical acts of all time, The Beatles are also alleged to be in Shkreli’s collection. Shkreli has assembled the supposed contents of his secret stash on the website, in which he identifies the Beatles tracks he possesses as “The Esher Sessions”. Once again, this is a widely available compilation.

The tracks in question are the demos, recorded at George Harrison’s house (in Esher), before the recording of “The White Album”. Much of the bootleg, fifteen tracks in all, were properly recorded for “The White Album”, as well as seven tracks being included as part of “Anthology 3”, mastered at Abbey Road Studios. Two tracks, “Not Guilty” and “What’s the New Mary Jane” were eventually cut before release but “What’s the New Mary Jane” did make its way onto “Anthology 3” while “Not Guilty” eventually was re-recorded as a George Harrison solo track after he rediscovered his copy of the Esher tape. The final tracks that did not make their way into the studio, “(I’m Just a) Child of Nature” would be released as “Jealous Guy” by Lennon, “Circles” would become a Harrison solo track and “Sour Milk Sea” would be given to Jackie Lomax as one of the earliest Apple Record singles.

But what of the rest? The music Shkreli hasn’t released in any form yet? There’s a lot of speculation to be had. Many fans don’t believe Shrkeli has the music he’s promising, instead acquiring publicly available bootlegs and paying through the nose for them, for that special feeling that only he has heard them. But what if, Martin Shkreli has been playing us? The man is obviously fairly clever, smart enough to have a quick Google before paying for huge projects. Maybe he really does possess the music he says he does, or maybe he’s just enjoying us run around chasing ghosts and worrying that Pharma Bro might be deleting unheard Smashing Pumpkin tracks.

Shortly before “The Life of Pablo”, Kanye West’s latest album, at a time when he was talking about being £53 million in debt, Shkreli sent an open letter offering $10 million for the rights, so he could keep the album all to himself, later upping the bid to $15 million. In the following weeks, Shkreli claimed to have lost $15 million in Bitcoin to someone pretending to be from West’s camp, followed by an epic hunt for the culprit, culminating in his talks with none other than Satoshi Nakamoto, the shadowy creator of Bitcoin, in order to retrieve the money. The story is an easy one to bust, at no point was $15 million moved in the Bitcoin block chain. Shkreli relishes in his infamy and outrage, and his claims of holding your favourite band’s music hostage might be just another part of his act.


Our Words on Your Lips

So last month, I saw a post in the Kent Poetry Facebook group, a producer, Lenny Bunn, looking for poets to record a compilation album. At first, I tagged Neanderthal Bard to get him to take part but then I thought “why the hell not?” and put my own name foward.

I travelled up with Mark Hollihan, one of my absolute favourite poets, to the farm where Lenny’s Studio lives. When we arrived, we crossed paths with Setareh, a poet I haven’t know that long but whose work I thoroughly enjoy. She had a copy of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest with her. DFW has been one of my biggest sources of inspiration, especially as my own novel begins to take shape.

I was expecting the whole day to be a bit regimented, a changing of poets, a set number of takes and everything timetabled but Lenny isn’t like that. Mark and myself hung out for about an hour, chatting about the project, poetry, music in general before I headed in to the booth. I took a few dry runs of my poems. I chose to do the untitled film poem, I don’t have a title for it but I usually intorduce it with an ever changing pop culture title but for the sake of this project, I chose “Roll Credits” so it didn’t date the piece. I also brought a newer poem, “Ode to an Icon”, about the real life Jack Daniels.

I took two run throughs of each, to make sure there weren’t any weird sounds coming from in my mouth and that my timing was in

After my turn, Mark stepped up to the mic. Mark has one of the  best cadences of any poet I know, and his flow is impecable. As a writer, I often envy Mark’s style. As soon as Mark started reading, Lenny turned to me and said “he’s got the best voice”, and I agree. It’s always nice to just zone in, being still and quiet while Mark does his thing.

Afterwards, we spent more time chatting about music and the poetry scene with Lenny, until the next batch of poets arrived and we left them to do their thing.

The poets who also put their names down represent some of my favourite people and poets from all over Kent. To be listed on an album with them is a privilege I enjoy greatly.




Direct from Lenny:

One True Sentence – How to Fight the Empty Page

What makes a piece of writing great? Myself and many other writers would argue that it’s the authenticity. No great book was every built without knowledge or research. As writers, it is our job to make sure that what we share with the world is honest, relatable and fantastic. It’s an enormous pressure when you consider that, and many writers spend a great deal of time battling the dreaded writer’s block.

The answer, to many problems of a writer, lies within the works of Hemingway.
“Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.” – Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

When faced with an insurmountable blank page, the solution is a simple one. Put something on it. Ignore your plot, ignore your stylistic choices and just put one sentence on that page. Congratulations, you now no longer have a blank page. You have bested it.

What did you put? How do you decide what to write?

The answer does not have to be a complicated matter. I find the simplest sentences, those that are real in the moment are the best. I once began a story based on the sentence “I have seen a lot of half-built Ferris Wheels.” This is true, I had and the story that followed became a story only by me thinking aloud. It was not a matter of plot or structure. All a writer has to do is think aloud on the page. Introduce other characters when you have to and watch how they change the writing but for the core of the novel, it is you who control everything. That’s a tremendous burden but one that we can overcome simply by writing the truth.

Worry about the quality of the writing afterwards. The plot doesn’t really matter, it is allowed a few bumps and contradictions. Fix all this in the editing stage. Just make sure you have something down first.

Terry Pratchett was a master of the “one true sentence.”

“Give a man a fire and he’s warm for a day, but set fire to him and he’s warm for the rest of his life.” – Terry Pratchett, Jingo

This sentence does not build the plot. It is just writing. What important about it is how it inspires the writer to keep going, how it impacts the rest of the writing and how the characters respond to this. So the next time you find yourself staring at a blank page, just write one true sentence and see where it takes you.

What Editors Expect…

When submitting work, whether that be a story or poem to a journal or a full manuscript to a prospective publisher, there is a minimum standard editors will expect to see. Often times, without some basic care from a writer, an editor will dismiss the work. Not giving your work due attention is a clear sign you’re not serious about your submission and therefore are unlikely to implement changes in a timely manner or carry out the arduous marketing required.

A great editor can make your work sparkle in ways you might never have imagined. They will pick up spelling and grammar errors, note any readability issues and offer advice for your story in the odd places it may need adjusting. Having said that, that doesn’t mean that you should expect your editor to do everything. They are human and they too may miss things.

First and foremost, an editor will expect your worth to have been proofread. Though they are not expecting a flawless piece, a quick spellcheck from your work-processor (or Grammarly for the more hardcore) will find a litany of mistakes. Your editor will see all these mistakes and they will judge you for them. If a word has been misspelt, it’s a definite strike against you. However, homophones are a little different. An editor shouldn’t mind the odd incorrect use of “there” or “their”, it’s their job to fix these issues.

Many publishers and journals have submission guidelines, dictating which font and spacing should be used when submitting work. Sometimes, these guidelines can seem arbitrary however there’s usually a reason behind them. Partly, it makes sure you’ve submitted work that is suitable for the journal or publisher. Something that fits the themes and style of previously published work. It shows you’ve but in a little bit of research and not just sent out blanket inquiries. Often, the matter of spacing and font is to make it easier for the editor to make notes. Additionally, these editors may read hundreds of pages a day. A little bit of consistency is good for the eyes.

Many writers expect an editor to actually make the edits. This comes back to the issue raised at the top of spotting a lazy writer. An editor is an advisor above all else. They are not the writer, nor should you expect them to be. If a section needs work, they will tell you and it will be up to you to correct it. If they were to make the changes, you would lose track of your original work and it would begin to take the style and form of their writing. If an editor has made a suggestion, you may disagree and offer an explanation but pick your battles well. An editor will grow tired of you defending every issue they raise. When an editor has suggested a change, it’s because they think it will help the work. Not because they’re bossy or they don’t understand you. The editor’s job is to ensure the best work gets put out.

Above all else though, the work you submit should be your best. Some people treat getting published as a numbers game. Blanket emails and submitting everything they’ve ever written. Not only does this clog things up and stop other people’s work being noticed, it also does little to ingratiate to the editors. They will not publish everything and forcing them to trawl through everything to find the occasional nugget of gold is only going to irritate them. Though an editor should be a professional, they’re also human and that means they too will eventually opt to block your messages if you send off too much. It also does little to boost your profile. Readers will judge your material, if they’re seeing the work that should have remained on the cutting room floor, it’s unlikely they’ll forgive you for your productivity.

Formatting a Manuscript: Poetry

Formatting poetry provides a few complications when compared to plain text.
When writing plain text, we let our word-processors handle the text wrapping. A paragraph is one solid line of text formatted so it fits within the margins of our document. With poetry, we use the Enter key to create a new line. This creates a paragraph break instead of a line break. A line break is a smaller break but still puts the text on a new line. Usually you can create one of these by holding down “Shift” and “Enter”.
If you have a line that doesn’t fit in your margins, an indent will suffice on the second line. I recommend setting this with the margin ruler at the top of your word-processor, not the “Tab” key. This indicates it is not a new line but a continuation.
When you begin a new stanza, the paragraph break is used. This slightly larger break will keep your stanzas separated, and any changes to the line spacing will increase this break proportionately.
Next, we need to look at line spacing. A typical manuscript submitted will be in double space. This means there is twice the space between the lines of the text, not “you have to put an extra space between all the words.” A poem is different because typically there is much more space around the writing, leaving the editor room to make notes. If you have your poem set in double spacing, your editor will assume this is how you want the work presented.
If you’re putting together a full collection, make sure you always use page breaks between poems. It’s common to see poetry manuscripts divided by repeated abuse of the paragraph break. This is ill-advised as any changes to the page size will result in a string of blank lines hanging over across text. Under the “Insert” menu, there should be an option labelled “Page Break”. This will create create a new page, regardless of changes made to the text above it or modifications to the page settings.
For ease of navigation, it’s also advisable to use the Heading styles in your word-processor. These formats are customizable, I know many writers have avoided them because they don’t like the font or size of the default options. The Heading styles will give you a section header and can be used to create a table of contents. Heading 2 will appear as a subheading of Heading 1 etc. This is exceptionally useful if your poetry manuscript is divided into thematic sections.
Many poets like their work to be centred on the page, however in recent years this has become passée. If you must centre your text, do so for a reason other than “it looks nice.” If the content actual demands centre alignment, that’s fine but many editors will not print centre aligned works.
One of the surest ways to tell if a poet is new to the craft is their choice of font. Times New Roman is almost universal in the world of poetry. Using a different font to “stand out” will more likely see your work ignored. Use font size 12 for the poem itself, and 14 for the title. Underlining and bolding your title is usually frowned upon.
Poetry is not bound by the same rules of grammar as prose but it’s still important to give things a read through. Poems don’t require capitalisation but your word-processor may automatically have added some. If you’re going for a capital-less poem, make sure you’ve been consistent.

Formatting Text: Covers

Pulling off an effective cover can be a laborious task, and there are designers who focus specifically on creating the best possible covers, putting years of artistic talent into their work. Having a rough idea of how to use fonts wont turn you into a killer designer overnight but for the authors with no budget to employ a designer, it can be a helpful starting place.

  • Firstly, go simple. There are dozens of elaborate designs that you might think scream “arty book title” but take a quick look at the cover of your favourite author. Many of them will use elegant, effective typography to create something iconic. Something like Times New Roman, Arial or Baskerville will look infinitely better than something overly frilly or unpolished. Designers are good at their job because they understand discipline and the rules of design.
    The fonts you consider “classic” have stood the test of time, in some cases hundreds of years, whereas the elaborate fonts typically are single purpose or shortcuts for a designer.
    Ian McEwan’s Solar is an excellent example of a simple cover creating a powerful image.
    Remember, you are a writer, not a designer. Stick to basic rules such as contrasting colour, instead of trying to reinvent the rule.
  • Consider your genre. A romance novel might do well with elaborate handwriting-styled scripts but that would be entirely inappropriate for a sci-fi story. There are many basic fonts that will work for every genre but you may wish to use a more decorative font for a particular highlight.
    If you want to use one decorative font, try putting the rest of the text in an even simpler font to make full use of the contrast.
  • Limit yourself to two fonts. Pair them well, look for similarities between letters in fonts; circular G’s rather than oval shapes. Don’t use fonts that are too similar such as Arial and Calibiri though because this looks more like an accident than a design choice. Pairing Calibiri with Arial Narrow might make a distinctive look however.
  • Never stretch your font out. This will make it look disproportioned and possibly pixellated. If you font doesn’t fit, reconsider it’s placing or chose a different font. Don’t become so bound to a font that you will sacrifice the quality of your cover.
  • Don’t try using more fonts than the cover needs. Again simplicity is the rule. Playing with font sizing can lead to better results than alternate fonts.
    • Use something between 10-14 for the blurb, quotes, reviews, endorsements and any other fluff text you may want to use.
    • 18-36 for the subtitle, your name and the minor words in the title such as “the” “and” and “of”
      Unless you’re notably famous, in which case you can hire a designer, your name isn’t all that important. Likewise, you shouldn’t hide your name.
    • 48-72 for the main title. This should be the main focus of a cover and thus should be the biggest piece of text. Your book will often be seen as a thumbnail online, so a large title will encourage readers to check you out.
  • Have a look for advice online before you start. Sites like offer articles on how to design and are full of idea. Be realistic with what you can achieve.

Cover design doesn’t have to be a chore. It can be a great way to break up the chore of writing and it can inspire choices in your book. Self-designing doesn’t mean you have to settle with mediocre cover art, it just means treating what you available with respect.

Formatting a Manuscript: Fonts for a Published Manuscript

With the rise of self publishing, many writers now find themselves responsible for the final look of their manuscript but without an education in what fonts will work best, and often settle on Times New Roman.

The golden rule of body text fonts is that the choice should be invisible. As a writer you are trying to make your words the important thing. A bad font will put people off but a good font will become invisible. Unlike a submitted manuscript, a proportionally spaced font is better as this has a tendency to “flow” better between words.

In a published work, it’s best to use a serif font. A serif font is one with flourishes on it’s letters, while a sans serif is one without. This is likely appearing in a Times New Roman font, in which case have a look at the end of every letter to see what I’m talking about. American audiences are uncomfortable with passages of text being written in sans-serif fonts, such as Arial, but European audiences accept sans-serif body text more readily.

Many fonts are near duplicates of others and it may seem like there’s little difference between them. To properly test a font, I advise reading 500-600 words in a particular font before deciding to use it. This will allow to assess the potential for eyestrain. Printing this out will also give you an idea about line thickness, as many fonts may look too thin in places when on paper and away from the variable zoom of word-processors.

You may also notice that the spacing of some fonts leads to confusion when two letters are placed next to each other. Examples include “Ill” appearing as three l’s and “cl” being read as a lowercase d.

It’s tempting to use Times New Roman for the body of your text. It’s widely used and easily legible to most readers however, as it’s the default font for many word-processors, using it can make your work seem amateurish. Times New Roman was designed for use in the narrow columns of newspapers, meaning it sets a little too dense for many readers liking. In a book, you have much more ample space than a newspaper so it makes sense not to use a newspaper font.

Garamond has become one of the most popular fonts for body text. This is owing to it’s lighter strokes than Times New Roman and it’s more open negative space. This makes it easier to read while retaining the same character as Times New Roman. It also has a few touches, such as the capital Q and G spurs appearing more elegant.

Palatino is another font with it’s proponents but I have a few personal issues with the font. Firstly, the rounded bows of the capital P and R do not fully join to the main stem. Secondly, there are a number of flourished serifs that lean towards the left. Both of these issues arise from the font’s nature, they are traits taken from handwriting. The Capital X has uneven strokes to mimic the thickness of a quill on diagonal lines. While some may like this sense of character, I personally find those features to be distracting. For a long while, Palatino was the most commonly used font for books and it still enjoys widespread, familiar usage. Book Antiqua is practically a clone of Palatino that also enjoys high status amongst typographers.

Minion remains my favourite font for novel text. I initially began using it as a compromise. It features a heavier weight like that of Times New Roman but it’s better spaced and features a number of ligatures, characters that join up, giving it a sense of character. Robert Bringhurst used it for “Elements of Typographic Style”, considered the bible of typography, which may be the highest honour a font could receive. This has led to it becoming the font of choice for many publishers though there has been a recent call to arms to experiment with font choices more. Minion has simplay become a very comfortable choice.

When using these fonts on a computer screen, I would advise looking at the more basic fonts. These have been designed with the pixel nature of screens in mind. With fonts such as Garamond, the curvature of letters can result in them becoming blocky on the screen. Georgia, Times New Roman and Arial are all worth considering for digital text and e-books.

This is merely the tip of the iceberg. For every font there are pros and cons, fans and critics. Above everything, don’t be afraid to experiment and stray from the familiarity of Times New Roman.