My parents went through the dictionary looking for a beautiful name, nearly called me Banyan, flicked on a few pages and came to China, which is cockney rhyming slang for mate. They were accused of copying Grace Slick, whose daughter China was a few months older. But, hilariously, she was originally called God and was only renamed China after I was born.
My first big crush was Purity Brown, the very cool human sidekick to Nemesis the Warlock in 2000 AD comics. She was a feisty kickass heroine dressed in apocalypse chic, leather, straps and guns.
Shave your head in the shower with a wet razor, first with the grain and then against the grain.
I'm in this business for the monsters. My single favourite monsters are the beastmen in The Island of Doctor Moreau. I love the octopoid creatures and the giant swine spirit in William Hope Hodgson. I have a lot of time for pig monsters. I've always liked being terrified of monsters from underwater coming up, like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. There's a picture of Beatrix Potter's Jeremy Fisher with the trout about to bite his foot and he hasn't seen it yet. Completely terrifying.
Hippies didn't call themselves hippies, they called themselves heads. My parents were heads, my dad ran a head bookshop, in Norwich, with Black Dwarf and Oz, dissident poetry, hippie porn and all that sort of stuff. It got closed down in a little baby show trial.
I still remember the day when someone in the playground realised China rhymed with vagina. I used to get mercilessly teased, but I loved my name. What I wanted was for everyone to stop teasing me about it.
Loads of children read books about dinosaurs, underwater monsters, dragons, witches, aliens, and robots. Essentially, the people who read SF, fantasy and horror haven't grown out of enjoying the strange and weird.
It's a total myth that private schools are all about results. My sixth-form college, Oakham, was perfectly geared up to drunken antics, but when I got my ear pierced I was threatened with expulsion.
Fantastic fiction covers fantasy, horror and science fiction - and it doesn't get the attention it deserves from the literati. I agree with Theodore Sturgeon's law that 90 per cent of fantasy writing is crap and 90 per cent of everything is crap.
The weirdest thing I ever saw was in Hyde Park. There was a crowd, I joined them, and for the next 10 minutes we stood aghast and fascinated watching a pelican eating a pigeon.
Because I'm a complete control freak I was teetotal until I was 29 and I've never done any drugs, not even dope. I'm an unbelievable lightweight for a 200lb man - a glass and a half of wine I'm anyone's.
I always had a paranoia about someone pulling my earrings out and tearing my ears, so I always wore them with clasps that undo when pulled. Then about three years ago, this man ripped my earrings out during a political argument. Half of me was thinking, 'What the hell are you doing?', the other half, 'Result!'
There's a phrase Antonio Gramsci uses which sounds highfalutin but it lives with me. 'The fact that there is no need for people to die of starvation and that people are dying of starvation is a fact of some importance one would think.'
I don't judge fiction writers by their politics. Jeffrey Archer is scum, he is also a shit writer, Louis-Ferdinand Céline was scum, but a superb writer.
Being called 'the sexiest man in politics' when I ran for parliament for the Socialist Alliance was a pretty lovely cross to bear. But who's the big competition? Paddy Ashdown?
A lot of geeks are pale, bespectacled, wear dark clothing and don't get out much - the stereotype exists because it is very often true. I could pass for a non-geek but it would be inaccurate.
As you get into your late twenties and thirties you get into the era of 'the revenge of the geek'.
Geeks run the world. Condoleeza Rice is a geek, Bill Gates is clearly a geek, many of the big filmmakers and writers are geeks, lots of military people are geeks. Anyone who has heard Donald Rumsfeld talk about military hardware knows they are in the presence of a geek. Geeks use their powers for good and for evil.
· China Miéville's fourth novel, Iron Council, is published by Macmillan
In preparation for a segment on NBC’s “Today” show this morning, I reached out to the admissions offices at the University of Virginia and Occidental College in California for examples of essays that they considered memorable — for good, or ill.
Before I share some of these samples, a caveat (one familiar to regular readers of this blog): while it can be instructive to read actual college admissions essays, trying to copy a particular approach — or in some cases avoid it — can be perilous. That’s because how one responds to an essay can be an intensely personal experience.
That said, I would argue that there are some basic lessons to be gleaned from the following examples. Here, for instance, is an excerpt from an essay that was not especially well received at the University of Virginia, in part because the writer misjudged the age and sensibility of his or her audience:
John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’ was sung by Fox’s new show, ‘Glee.’ In one particular episode, a deaf glee club performed this song. I heard it before when John Lennon sang it: unfortunately I did not care much for it. When I watched this episode while the deaf adolescents were singing it, and soon joined by another glee club, it surprisingly affected me…
John Lennon sang it like a professional, but what he did not have was the emotion behind the words. He sang it more staccato than legato. He sang it like it was his job, and nothing more. These singers from Glee sang with powerful emotions. …
Another essay, also musical in focus, got a more appreciative read at U.V.A.:
I strode in front of 400 frenzied eighth graders with my arm slung over my Fender Stratocaster guitar — it actually belonged to my mother — and launched into the first few chords of Nirvana’s ‘Lithium.’ My hair dangled so low over my face that I couldn’t see the crowd in front of me as I shouted ‘yeah, yeah’ in my squeaky teenage voice. I had almost forgotten that less than a year ago I had been a kid whose excitement came from waiting for the next History Channel documentary.
It was during the awkward, hormonal summer between seventh and eighth grade when I first heard Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ The song shocked my senses — until that point my musical cosmos consisted mainly of my father’s Beatles CDs.
I would argue that the admissions committee was able to relate a little more to this essay than the first. And it was certainly more evocative and detailed. It also conveyed more about the writer (and applicant) — a crucial quality in a college admissions essay.
I turn, now, to excerpts from a recent essay that struck a visceral chord within the admissions office at Occidental (where, as an aside, President Obama began his college career):
My head throbbed as I closed my eyes and tried to convince myself to give up.
‘Come on, Ashley. Put the pencil down. Just put the pencil down and go to bed,’ I told myself sternly. I had been hard at work for hours — brutal, mind-numbing hours. I groaned as I moved over to my bed, collapsing in a pile of blankets and closing my eyes.
I lay there for a moment or two, gathering strength, gaining courage. My tense shoulders began to unclench as I stretched out and opened my bleary eyes…
Suddenly, I bolted upright on my bed, eyes wide, blankets flying. Everything had fallen into place. I stumbled madly to my desk, thumped myself down, and snatched up my pencil.
‘I’ve got it! That’s it!’ I whooped, scribbling furiously, as my brother pounded on my wall for silence.
I had just won another skirmish in my ongoing battle with the crossword puzzle.
What worked here? I’m told the admissions officers appreciated how the writer conveyed her love of words — and in the process told them much about herself. As a writer, I admired the way she built a sense of mystery at the outset, one that served to draw the reader in.
I’ll close with an attempt at metaphor that fell a bit flat, at least in its reception at Occidental. The applicant writes:
I believe in jello; a silly greeting, tasty dessert, or the answer to life as we know it?
Factor #1: Have you ever tried to make jello? It takes patience. First you have to boil the water; then mix it with powder, stirring for two minutes; then finally adding the cold water and putting it in the fridge for forty-five minutes. Think about the creation of people…
To share your own thoughts on essay strategies — and, perhaps, some excerpts of your own — please use the comment box below.