Saturday, 30 December 2017

The Best and Worst of 2017

Well, it's that time of the year when everyone is doing their 'best and worst of' lists, so here is mine. I'm going to list the books and movies I read/watched in 2017 and then pick my favourites. This isn't restricted to what was new in 2017, but what I actually watched and read - some of these items might be very old indeed.

Books:

I read the following in 2017:

Rosalie Parker (editor) – Strange Tales V
Trevor Denyer (editor) - Ghost Highways
Chris Beckett – Dark Eden
Paul Trembley – Headful of Ghosts
Stewart Lee – Content Provider
Ted Chiang – Stories of My Life
Adam Nevill – Last Days
Dennis Potter – Blackeyes
Raymond Chandler – The High Window
L P Hartley – Facial Justice
Joan Lindsay – Picnic at Hanging Rock
Sapper – Bulldog Drummond
JG Ballard – The Drought
Helen Callaghan – Dear Amy
Colette de Curzon – Paymon’s Trio
Jeannette Ng – Under The Pendulum Sun
David Wheldon – The Automaton
Alison Moore – The Harvestman
Nicholas Royle – Ornithology
Cameron McCabe – The Face On The Cutting Room Floor
Tim Robbins – Tibetan Peach Pie
James Joyce – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Hank Janson – Operation Obliterate
Tom Robbins – B is for Beer
Paul Meloy – The Night Clock
Christopher Kenworthy (editor) – The Sun Rises Red
Gary Indiana – Horse Crazy
Vladimir Nabokov – Mary
Amber Royar – Free Chocolate
Philip Roth – The Human Stain
Paul Cain – Fast One
D F Lewis – Weirdtongue
Joel Lane – The Edge of the Screen
Joe Gores – Interface
Jeff Noon – The Body Library
Steve Nuwar – Crystal Garden
John Elliott - Dying To Read

That's worked out at 37 books this year, down from last year's 43 which is probably because I find it increasingly hard to stay awake reading at night. There was nothing I loathed this year, although I did find Ballard's "The Drought" very hard going and also the expectations I had with Paul Tembley's "Headful of Ghosts" fell far short of reality. Paul Cain's "Fast One" also didn't earn the merit I'd been told it had. Other than that, there were some good books this year. Special mentions to Philip Roth's "The Human Stain" (my first experience of Roth, and despite a couple of reservations it was a gripping read), Paul Meloy's "The Night Clock" (absurdly, beautifully skewed), Tom Robbins autobiography "Tibetan Peach Pie" (which prompted me to write to the author from which I received a nice personalised reply), Vladimir Nabokov's "Mary" (it's Nabokov: word-love from the opening sentence), Nicholas Royle's "Ornithology" (a collection of short stories almost making the top three), Cameron McCabe's legendary bizarre "The Face on the Cutting-Room Floor", Adam Nevill's "Last Days" (brilliantly written horror), and Chris Beckett's "Dark Eden" (brilliantly written SF).

Before the final reveal I also want to mention three books I proofread this year for Angry Robot. I usually don't include 'work' books in my listing (in some instances it would be unprofessional to do so, and it would bump the number up by another twenty titles), but appearing this year "Under The Pendulum Sun" by Jeannette Ng was an intriguingly plotted theological fantasy, and being published next year are the inventive how-can-this-work-but-it-does "Free Chocolate" by Amber Royar and the enjoyable "The Body Library" by Jeff Noon. All well-worth seeking out.

As usual, I'm going to base my top three from my Goodreads review. This is very straightforward for 2017 as only three books received 5/5 and putting them in order feels quite natural. So, without further ado, here they are:

In reverse order:

"Interface" by Joe Gores


This is a cracking crime novel, about as hard-boiled as they come; superbly paced and brimming with danger. It also includes the best car chase I think I've ever read in a novel - and considering I'm not even a fan of such in movies that's really saying something. Involving, frenetic, and clever, I have no reservations in including this in my top three, especially due to the totally left-of-centre perfect ending.


"The High Window" by Raymond Chandler


Everything I've read by Chandler borders on the brilliant and this is no exception. So many good lines, so many perfect wisecracks and scintillating descriptions. The plot hangs good, takes a surprise turn but finishes neatly wrapped. I couldn't fault it.

And the winner is:

"Horse Crazy" by Gary Indiana



I thought this to be an outstanding dissection of a relationship (in this case, homosexual). In some ways - obliquely - it reminded me of the obsessive love story, "The Tunnel", by Ernesto Sabato which I also adore. And whilst this book is in many respects completely different to that, the resonances meant that I enjoyed it all the more. Packed with anecdotal detail, occasional comedy, and utter frustration from the narrator, this short novel feels painfully real - a perfect example of how love distorts reality, opaquely, in which the madness revealed is just as tantalising as love's absence, of how obsession can wreck even the most logical of us. This is easily the best book I read in 2017.


Movies:

I watched the following in 2017:

Rear Window
Love Crimes
Passion
A Man Escaped
La Grande Bouffe
Hud
Our Man In Havana
King of Devil Island
The Royal Tenenbaums
Youth
The VVitch
High-Rise
What Have You Done With Solange?
Capturing The Friedmans
Ex Machina
Pasolini
Romance
Anatomy of Hell
California Split
Bunny Lake Is Missing
La Femme Coquette
Enemy
Appaloosa
The Owl Man
My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend
Modern Romance
Shiver
Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion
About Schmidt
Un Chien Andalou
Kingpin
The Chase
La Rupture
Homo Sapiens
The Bitter Tea of General Yen
Mr Deeds Goes To Town
Leviathan
Rouge
You Can't Take It With You
The Lady From Shanghai
Le Révélateur
The Happiest Day In The Life Of Olli Maki
The Tenth Victim
Funny Games (US)
The Virgin's Bed
The Assassin
Inherent Vice
Rififi
Les Hautes Solitudes
Gilda
The Hitch-Hiker
Carol
Nightfall
In A Lonely Place
The Reckless Moment
The Revenant
Summer With Monika
Les Gouffres
Baby Driver
3:10 To Yuma
Maps To The Stars
Symbol
It Comes At Night
Scabbard Samurai
Dunkirk
Persona
Cries and Whispers
Murder by Contract
Blood Simple
Intolerable Cruelty
The Passenger
Annabelle: Creation
Suddenly, Last Summer
It
The Magnificent Ambersons
La Ville des Pirates
Hardcore
A Nos Amours
The Signal
Police
Blade Runner 2049
The Towrope (La Sirga)
Le Chinoise
Shinjuku Triad Society
The Nest of the Cuckoo Birds
Four Flies on Grey Velvet
Rainy Dog
White Ant
Autumn Leaves
Experiment in Terror
Dead Or Alive
The Fountain
On Body and Soul
Daddy’s Home 2
Wet Woman In The Wind
Irma Vep
Antiporno
Sunchaser
Once Upon A Time In America
Radio Mary

That's 99 movies this year, a sharp drop from 144 last year, but we've tended to have a more involved social life this year! Of course, it's still a long list to narrow down to my top three, and unlike books I don't have a site equivalent to Goodreads with which to guide my memory.

As usual, however, I'm discounting movies I've previously seen. So this knocks out Hitchcock's classic "Rear Window" with that slo-mo Grace Kelly kiss, Dali and Buñuel's always enjoyable "Un Chien Andalou", and Godard's colour-coded "Le Chinoise". A surprisingly small number of re-watches this year.

Those movies which I found annoying or awful are easy to chronicle, and this unfortunately includes the 1965 pulp flick "The Nest of the Cuckoo Birds" which should have remained lost, "The VVitch" (which I really wanted to enjoy but just seemed too silly), "Ex Machina" (so much potential, inadequately realised), "Dunkirk" (just not my kind of film, underwhelming), and - no doubt controversially - "It" (I simply felt it was unsure of it's audience).

This leaves us with some great movies. I thoroughly enjoyed "Youth", directed by Paolo Sorrentino (whose "The Great Beauty" I will never stop raving about), "La Grande Bouffe" (a film about a group of friends who plan to eat themselves to death), "The Royal Tenenbaums" (sheer comic joy from start to finish from Wes Anderson), "In A Lonely Place" (classic film noir), "Les Gouffres" (slipstreamish French film, weirdly disjointed), "Baby Driver" and "Blade Runner 2049" (both of which I saw at the cinema and were thoroughly enjoyable), "On Body And Soul" (a close call not to be in my top three, a Hungarian love story set in a slaughterhouse), "Homo Sapiens" (a documentary film about forgotten or abandoned places, from Fukushima to Bulgaria - no voiceover, but featuring only natural sounds to create beautifully eerie scenes), Cronenberg's "Maps To The Stars" which I now barely remember other than that I enjoyed it, and the Japanese "Antiporno" (which I saw between Christmas and New Year and almost made my top three - visually beautiful, challenging and potentially heartbreaking).

I get the feeling that another day might produce marginally different results, but - today - here are my top three movies I saw for the first time in 2017
Again, in reverse order:


"Symbol" (2009) - Hitoshi Matsumoto


An absolutely bonkers movie where a Japanese man awakes in a glaringly white room and sets off a weird chain of events by depressing the genitals of cherubs in a certain order. Meanwhile, in Mexico, Escargot Man prepares for a wrestling match which he surely can't win. Somehow - through sheer audacity - these storylines converge in an unbelievably audacious ending which must be seen to be believed. Constantly inventive, humorous, and strangely life-affirming, "Symbol" easily makes my top three this year.

"Persona" (1966) - Ingmar Bergman



Can't believe I hadn't seen this before as I've enjoyed a lot of Bergman films, but from the start I was held captive by this intense and beautiful psychological drama. The themes of duality, insanity and identity resonate perfectly, and the ambiguity inherent in this enigmatic film is powerful and compelling.


And the winner is...

"Le Révélateur" (1968) - Philippe Garrel

 


Thanks to my subscription to Mubi I've discovered so many interesting works which otherwise would have been unknown to me. This film by French director Philippe Garrel is one of these. A strangely affecting experimental narrative with some wonderfully beautiful, jaw-dropping scenes. The central 4-yr old child is played incredibly well, appearing much older than their years. The title describes the procedure to develop or 'reveal' film negatives, and this slow - totally silent - movie entrances throughout. If you like this kind of film, it's a masterpiece. The above image doesn't do it justice, so here's another:


So that's it. Looking forward to reading and watching more in 2018!

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

My Writing Year 2017

As has become annual I thought I'd do a quick blog post as to my literary achievements during 2017.

I've had two books published this year. First was the non-fiction film title, "Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel: a personal analysis" through Rooster Republic Press, and also an anthology I edited for NewCon Press, "Elasticity: The Best of Elastic Press". Both have received good reviews. Additionally, my novella "And God Created Zombies", has been reprised as an audio book and is available through Audible.

I wrote twelve short stories this year: "A Preview of Coming Attractions", "Buckle Up", "Memories of Olive", "Honeypot", "My Tormentors", "The Ice-Cream Blonde", "Oh, Superman", "Tonight Is Today", "Alfalfa", "The Harvest", "The Good Girl", and "H is for Hollywoodland".  Most of these form part of what I have come to call my 'celebrity death' stories, a themed collection. Without doubt, they are my best work.

I sold six short stories: "A Preview of Coming Attractions" to Great Jones Street, "The Call of the Void" to Milk: An Anthology of Eroticism (Salò Press), "Silent Bridge" to Confingo, "Shipwrecked In The Heart Of The City" to Midnight Street magazine (the magazine has subsequently folded, but the story will be published by them in a future anthology), "Memories of Olive" to Ambit, and "A Pageant of Clouds" to Doppelganger.

The following five stories were published this year: "A Preview of Coming Attractions" in Great Jones Street, "Cold Water Killer" in Spark volume VIII, "Clusterfuck" in Ambit, "The Call of the Void" in Milk: An Anthology of Eroticism, and "Silent Bridge" in Confingo.

I was also interviewed and had four books reviewed in the excellent Black Static magazine. I've almost delivered my sixth collection of short stories to be titled "Frequencies Of Existence" to a  publisher I'm not yet allowed to name for publication in 2018. And the aforementioned collection of celebrity death stories, to be titled "Candescent Blooms", has been completed and I'll start seeking a publisher for it in the New Year.

Also this year I continued assisting my partner in her publishing venture Salò Press, where she published the books, Milk: An Anthology of Eroticism edited by Sophie Essex, and poetry collections, The Shape of Things by Bradley J Fest, Everything, Desire by Owen Vince, and Sphinx by Cat Woodward. All of these deserve  your time.

I have a handful of stories awaiting publication that were originally accepted in 2014(!)/2015/2016/2017, and my next main project will be a novella based on The Mysterious N Senada. A few novels are also under consideration by various agents/publishers, although I'm not writing a novel at this moment in time.

It's been a quieter year on the publication/acceptance front, mostly because I've been holding stories back so originals will appear in the next two collections. Even so, looking back on this, 2017 has still been rather a good year.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Silent Bridge

My short story, "Silent Bridge", has just been published in Confingo #8, and as usual I'm blogging about the gestation of the piece. There may be spoilers for those who have yet to read it.

This is one of those stories whose background is distinctly nebulous. Some pieces are fully formed in my head before I sit to write them, others I have a vague idea about, but with "Silent Bridge" all I had was the title and the time in which to write (this time is precious, and not to be squandered, so sometimes it's essential just to sit down and write on spec; as for the title, I can't remember where that came from). I recall researching silent bridge online, and finding references - perhaps unsurprisingly - to music, which I realised I could work into the story. I also found a piano piece online (also called silent bridge, which I subsequently played throughout the writing of the story), which set the scene, and I was also heavily influenced by the writing of Anna Kavan, whose novel, "Who Are You?", I had recently read and is also set in the tropics, detailing the relationship between the main character and her boorish husband. With this in mind, and pitching art against brutality, "Silent Bridge" was formed.

It was a difficult piece to place as it is more mood piece than story. And whilst there is story there, it is certainly open to interpretation. So much so that I'm not entirely sure as to the meaning of it's conclusion, although I certainly know what the story is about. This ambiguity continued with some readers, one of whom has said "I found it very compelling, even though I am not sure I understood it in a paraphrasable way - and the second reading didn't help, but deepened the compulsion." I enjoy writing works which make the reader think, and I believe the story has found it's spiritual home here at this great magazine. This is my third appearance within Confingo.


Here's a bit of it:

Marcus said she had legs he would kill for.

She hesitated in correcting him, then she said: you mean I have legs to die for.

He had nodded, slowly, without understanding. There was a bullishness to his behaviour, a dour brutality, which she found infuriating; however, it was this exact rough sensuality that tousled her in the sack. She would kneel astride him, her straight straw-like hair brushing his chest, moving her hips as though they were fingers on piano keys, that rhythmic, turgid movement.

I wrote "Silent Bridge" whilst listening to "Silent Bridge" by Elodie Sablier on repeat.

Confingo #8 also contains poetry/prose/art by Tom Jenks, Nicholas Royle, David Wheldon, Peter Bradshaw, Mike Fox, Zena Barrie, Jo Howard, Chris Emery, Lee Stannard, Shiv Dawson, Sarah Longlands, Roelof Bakker, Megan Powell, Alison Criddle and Richard Conning.


 
 


Friday, 27 October 2017

The Call Of The Void

My short story, "The Call Of The Void", has just been published in 'Milk: An Anthology of Eroticism' through Salò Press, and as usual I'm blogging the background as to how the piece came to be written.

The title arrived after I discovered the French expression, l'appel du vide (translated as the call of the void) which is a term used to describe the urge one feels to jump from a precipice or high building when standing at its apex. If you've ever been to the Eiffel Tower, Empire State Building, or the Jaws of Death (in the Gampians, Australia) - as I have - then you might relate to this. The sensation of vertigo coupled with the freedom of falling and the rush which comes with that can be intimated from the threat of the drop. Perhaps it relates to our possible bird ancestors, or at least taps into that section of our subconscious which embraces fears in order to dispel them, but in any event it's common enough for the French to have a phrase for it.

Around the same time, I then discovered acrophilia - sexual arousal from heights or high altitudes. You can see where this is going...

Thirdly, I saw this photograph of a 1930s baby cage which I believe was originally part of a BBC news website article. These contraptions were designed to allow babies access to fresh air when living in apartment blocks. Would it be far-fetched, I wondered, for someone exposed to a baby cage to experience an adult thrill regarding heights? And coupled with that sexual thrill, would it be too far a jump - pun semi-intended (second pun possibly intended) - to experience l'appel due vide?


As often happens when I write, the convergence of two ideas together with a title kick-starts the piece and then it more or less writes itself. Finding a place to submit this story, however, wasn't easy - it's a 'literary' piece without any of my usual genre overtones, and as it's primary theme is masturbating off tall buildings the subject matter might have proved distasteful to some. As it happens, my partner's publishing company, Salò Press, announced a call for an anthology of eroticism and I cheekily asked if I could submit. Whilst this might seem like nepotism, rest assured I went through the same process as everyone else, including a vigorous edit. It's fair to say that "The Call Of The Void" has found it's spiritual home.

Here's a bit of it:

I've masturbated off the Empire State Building, the Bank of America Tower, the Chrysler Building, the New York Times Building, 70 Pine Street, the Trump Building when it was known as the Bank of Manhattan Trust Building, Citigroup Center, 8 Spruce Street, 30 Rock and the Bloomberg Tower. I've done it off 570 Lexington Avenue, 345 Park Avenue, 919 Third Avenue and 400 Fifth Avenue. I also did it off the Singer Building before it was demolished in 1968, and of course I did it within One World Trade Center and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Finally, I wrote this story whilst listening to the Nick Cave album, Push The Sky Away, on repeat.


Milk: An Anthology of Eroticism is edited by Sophie Essex and contains poetry, prose, and non-fiction by Kailey Alyssa, Andrew Darlington, Alison Graham, Brian Howell, Rhys Hughes, N.A. Jackson, Jane Jacobs, Nooks Krannie, Francesca Kritikos, Socrates Martinis, Jared Pollen, Rosie Quattromini, Jessica Rhodes, Sarra Said-Wardell, Fred Spoliar and Nina Ward. Purchase it here





Sunday, 15 October 2017

Just the ticket

This blog post is about the decline of the gig ticket.

It's easy to slip into old-man mode and start moaning, but 'electronic tickets' - what's that all about? I've seen some excellent gigs this year - including The Flaming Lips at Norwich UEA - but unless I save my generic print-out with the barcode which requires scanning at the venue, or unless I happen to actually remember it, then where are the keepsakes? Last year I caught The Rezillos and after the gig proffered the electronic print-out for Eugene Reynolds to sign. He looked querulous, as though it were a legal document..."this is a ticket?" I know some venues still issue these, but locally in Norwich none of the venues now actually issue anything. To be honest, it's a great loss.

I've saved almost all my gig tickets since my first show: The Stranglers at Norwich UEA, 14th November 1981. Unfortunately I don't have a stub for that gig - they were retained - and I would dearly love to see it again (I can remember it clearly, which isn't surprising, as I must have examined it for weeks beforehand, so excited that I was finally going to see my favourite band, so if anyone has a scan of that, please let me know), but otherwise I have kept most tickets to shows I've attended. Here are a handful:



I've seen The Stranglers eleven times (not many in the great scheme of things, some people might see the equivalent during one tour), but I am going to catch them again next March...



Here are some of my favourites. The Talk Talk ticket is the second gig I ever attended, on 12th November 1982, so is therefore the oldest ticket I have in my possession. Adjacent to that is The Sugar Cubes - the only time I've ever seen Bjork who is someone I would dearly love to see solo nowadays. Above that is a solo gig from Maximo Park frontman, Paul Smith, which was about as intimate as it could get with a 220 capacity, and which was truly memorable. Above that, The Cramps at the London Town and Country Club. I'd already seen them once before, in Norwich the previous year, and I would see them once again (in Australia the following year). A tremendous live band who I would buy a time machine for. Left of that ticket, X-Ray Spex. So lucky to see this one off show - another favourite band who I was too young to see at the time - especially considering Poly Styrene's untimely death a few years later. Above that, and The Smiths (note misplaced apostrophe), at another tiny (200 capacity?) gig shortly after their first Peel Session. They ran out of songs and played Handsome Devil twice (saw them again six months later and it was a tragedy - everyone had gladioli and they weren't as good as Red Guitars, the support band). Finally, top right, these stubs for 'Harry' are part of Deborah Harry's six night residency at the Borderline in London. A 300 capacity venue, the residency marked her first ever UK solo shows. We had tickets for the first night (£6) and were right at the front for a magical performance. So enamoured were we that we headed down speculatively on the last night, and after having waited, cajoled, hoped and despaired for the best part of eight hours we finally managed to buy tickets off a tout for £50 just as the doors were opening. And I think it's fair to say that's the best £50 I ever spent. Again, down at the front, literally arm's reach from Deborah who did touch my hand. The only time I've ever bought touted tickets (funnily enough I had a spare for the first night which I sold at face value - I've never upsold a ticket and never will).

Perhaps it was inevitable after that Deborah Harry gig the following would happen:


We saw every UK show on the follow-up tour (the Norwich ticket marked her tenth consecutive show in the UK, although it actually was the opener for another tour the following year). I can't begin to describe how superb these shows were or the emotions which accompanied them. Everyone's gotta be a fanboy sometime, right? I hadn't seen her fronting Blondie in their original incarnation, but I have subsequently seen Blondie five times since, live they are definitely something special.

Finally:


Here are a few oddities worth mentioning. That Ramones gig marked the first time anything I had ever written appeared in print, and I followed it up by reviewing The Damned a few weeks later. Can't believe I was twenty when I wrote those as they seem incredibly childish now, and they were only local paper stuff (without payment!), but that's where my 'career' in writing took off. Under those reviews are ticket stubs for long-time favourites Devo and Magazine, who I never thought I was ever likely to see (the light pours out of me, spuds!). Top left is a ticket for punk-wannabees Transvision Vamp. We took a punt on the gig as it was cheap, but the Jacquard was a hard-core punk venue and unfortunately no one was buying Wendy James' faux-punk style - some of the banter was truly acerbic. Underneath that is a Blondie gig ticket signed by Deborah Harry (the reverse signed by guitarist Chris Stein). I don't often get stuff signed - who wants to hang around afterwards - but some signatures are worth it. And finally - to confirm I don't simply see old punk bands - there's my stub for Radio 1's Big Weekend which included - OMFG!! - Taylor Swift. Fanboy comes home to roost again.

Flicking through these tickets has evoked so many memories which I'm sure wouldn't have been so fresh without them. And in some cases, have confirmed my attendance (apparently I was at a P J Harvey gig which a mate of mine recently thought I wasn't). I don't see the value in replacing these with barcodes and print-it-yrself tickets. What do you think? Am I an old curmudgeon, or has keeping these added immeasurably to the value of the gig? What's the best - transience or permanence? It's clear which side of the fence I fall.

Feel free to share memories in the comments.

Friday, 28 July 2017

The Nomenclature of Fear (reprise)

My short story, "The Nomenclature of Fear", has recently had its cover revamped as part of a general overhaul of publications at In Short Publishing, so I thought it opportune to re-post my original blog as to how the story was written. There will be spoilers for those who have yet to read it.

All of my stories start with a title, but I can't quite remember where this one came from. What I do know is that I had read an article regarding words in foreign languages which had no easy English equivalent, and that reading down the list I realised there were several words which could be associated with fear. I realised that I could use each of these words to define segments of a short story, and that the story would - in fact - write itself so long as I stuck to that format. However, what I also wanted was something subtle. I hate writing the obvious and so I knew that whilst the story would be about fear it wouldn't be a horror story.  I would delineate a relationship using each of those terms as a stepping stone, and it would be more of a piece examining how aspects of fear define our lives, leading to one of our ultimate fears: loss of a long-loved one through illness.

However, I also wanted to allude to one of the greatest horror movies of all time, "The Blair Witch Project"; which in itself is all about allusion and where what you don't see is more effective than what you do.

Here's a bit of it:

I thought my heart would explode. It's a cliché, but like all clichés it's grounded in the truth of expression. There's a word called mamihlapinatapai, a word used by the Fuegians from Tierra del Fuego in the South American peninsular. It's a succinct word which describes the sensation of two people looking at each other, each hoping the other will do what both desire but neither is willing do to.

We were too afraid to lean in for a kiss.

And here's the new cover:


"The Nomenclature of Fear" is available here and very cheaply priced. In Short Publishing originally published 18 authors simultaneously and numbered each chapbook accordingly (and randomly). Mine is number 4 in the series. They have now published 25 titles in total.

I wrote the story whilst listening to "Music From Drawing Restraint 9" by Bjork on repeat.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Half A Century

Today is my birthday. I turn fifty.

I remember when I was twenty-one and joked to my parents that I was then a quarter dead. I don't think they quite got my sense of humour. A quarter sounded about right, eighty-four being an admirable age from the view of a twenty-one year old. But once I hit twenty-five I felt that age seemed more reasonably like a quarter dead, and from then on the magical one hundred became an optimum target.

So...fifty.

I can try and kid myself that fifty is halfway, which is a frightening enough thought in itself, but we know it isn't really. One hundred is unlikely. It's much more likely to be that eighty-four, and whilst that's a long way off it still isn't long enough. Factor in general body deterioration (of which - thankfully - there's no obvious concerns at present), and reaching fifty becomes even more depressing. Today feels like the balance has tipped.

I remember when forty used to be considered old. I remember when I heard "fifty is the new forty". Numbers, ay? I remember when age didn't concern me. It doesn't - much - now, but it has been on my mind the past few months. It seems like I'm caught between light and dark.


I'm not really grumbling. I have my health. I live reasonably well. I have my family around me. I've succeeded in many of my literary goals. I've read well and watched a lot of movies and will continue to do so. I've loved being alive.

It doesn't matter if many others have gone before reaching fifty, or that many others have had worse lives, or that some are riddled with ill health. None of that matters. What matters is our knowledge that this life is finite. That the second following our birth brings us closer to death.

What do The Flaming Lips say: "Do you realise that everyone you know someday will die".

And Nabokov in "Terror": "At night, in bed, I would abruptly remember I was mortal.  What then took place within my mind was much the same as happens in a huge theatre if the lights suddenly go out, and someone shrilly screams in the swift-winged darkness, and other voices join in, resulting in a blind tempest, with the black thunder of panic growing - until suddenly the lights come on again, and the performance of the play is blandly resumed. Thus would my soul choke for a moment..."

Writing this post has helped to exorcise some of those demons, but regardless of that I'm still on the uncomfortable side of reality.

Of course, Woody Allen said: "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve it by not dying"; and whilst I agree, at least I have achieved a modicum of immortality through my work, and - realistically speaking - there are many many good years in me yet. As I say, I'm not grumbling, and I'm not particularly depressive. I'm a very upbeat person. I'm really looking forward to those future years, and I hope I live to see all of them.