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.


Friday, 21 July 2017

Clusterfuck

My short story, "Clusterfuck", has just been published in issue 229 of Ambit magazine, and as usual I'm blogging briefly about how the story came to be written and the ideas behind it. There may be spoilers for those who haven't read it.

I read the story in its entirety at the Ambit London launch earlier this week and it was interesting to note how it was received. It's a potentially contentious piece - a story of sexual obsession from a 19yr old female student's perspective written by myself, a male writer edging into his fifties. There is also a proliferation of profanities and sexualised words. The editors - upon accepting the story - did compliment me on the authenticity of the voice within the piece, which was particularly welcomed as both editors are female and such validation of my protagonist was important to me. Whilst it isn't unusual for me to write from a female perspective, I felt gender was integral to this piece and to know that I got into the head of such a character to the satisfaction of the editors made the acceptance of this piece all the more satisfying. The audience appeared to enjoy it, although I think it probably takes several readings for the nuances to become apparent. It might well be a story which works better on the page.

"Clusterfuck" was suggested as a title by my partner, and once I had it I began researching sexual obsessions, and how I might break down the word within the story for sub-headings. I discovered  erotomania, which is a type of delusional disorder where the affected person believes that another person is in love with him (or her). This seemed a perfect jumping off point for the story. I would go so far as to state that all love is delusional in some way - that we make assumptions that others love us in the same way that we love them which might not be entirely correct. It's the dichotomy between the two which can undermine relationships, although in "Clusterfuck" the delusion is total and the relationships entirely one-sided.

Upon my partner's suggestion I wanted to render the protagonist's fantasies in surrealistic prose. This adds a dream-like unreality to those sections where it is used which are then counterbalanced by the straightforward descriptions of her deluded love in the rest of the piece. Between them, they illustrate her state of mind.

Here's a brief excerpt:

I imagine you and I in surrealistic sexual reverie. The glans of your penis presented within wet muslin. Strands of your beard transform into finger-tendrils which explore my labia as your head is bent to my cunt. I close my legs, pop your head inside with the sound of trodden bladderwrack, caress your penis within the material as your lips mouth devotional love.


I wrote "Clusterfuck" whilst listening to Blondie's 4(0)-Ever, on repeat.

Ambit #229 includes stories, poetry and artwork from Dan O'Brien, Lesley Saunders, Rebecca Close, Etel Adnan, James Woolf, Will Harris, Christian Brookland / Sarah Karen, Paul Henry, Ila Colley, Sophie F. Baker, Charles Opara / Lucy Waldman, Emma Cousin, Lisa Kelly, Pia Ghosh-Roy, Callum Nott, Annie Katchinska, and Hassan Hajjaj. It can be purchased here.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Elasticity: The Best of Elastic Press

This coming weekend sees the publication and launch of Elasticity: The Best of Elastic Press, edited by myself for NewCon Press. To promote the book in this blog I'm going to include extracts from the introduction and from each of the stories. For those reading this prior to Saturday 8th July, feel free to pop along to the Star of Kings in London from 1pm to 5pm where the book is being launched alongside Best British Science Fiction 2016.

The book is published in both paperback and limited edition hardback and can be bought from the usual outlets as well as direct from the publisher here. If you need proof of me signing, here it is:




From the intro: I expect most readers of this book will be familiar with Elastic Press, the independent publishing company I ran from 2002 until 2009. The remit was simple: to publish mixed genre short story collections by relatively unknown writers. It wasn’t quite a sound business plan, as unknown authors, mixed genre and short stories generally are renowned as hard to sell. But that was a challenge, not an obstacle. I chose the name Elastic Press through an unwillingness to burden the company with a restrictive genre title. Whilst I might have written science fiction, fantasy, horror and – as they like to call it – literary fiction, I tended to prefer the all-encompassing ‘slipstream’ moniker and wanted the press to reflect this and have the elasticity to publish whatever genre I enjoyed (often within the same book).

Over seven years Elastic Press won seven separate awards (two Best Small Press awards and three Best Anthology awards from the British Fantasy Society, one East Anglian Book Award, and the Edge Hill Prize for short fiction for Chris Beckett's The Turing Test). Whilst shedding the press was a relatively easy task, it was always at the back of my mind as to whether I would revitalise it, and I was surprised and delighted when Ian Whates of NewCon Press telephoned me to enquire if I would be interested in editing this book. It was a great honour not only for Ian to acknowledge Elastic’s influence on his own publishing company, but to have someone other than Elastic Press publish an Elastic Press book. I had no hesitation in accepting the task and immediately began to consider the contents...

From "Grief Inc" by Andrew Humphrey:

Then she became soft, pliant, folded against him. And he felt the usual slow warmth and tasted something dark and bitter at the back of his throat. She murmured, ‘My God, my God,’ into his chest and he held her, stroked the top of her head, and felt something tender, something close to love. Even though he charged for this and although he didn’t actually give a shit, Carter was suddenly imbued with a tainted, accidental, sense of virtue.

From "The Tower" by Brian Howell:

Instinctively, she drew her legs up to the sofa and watched as the creature scuttled towards the skirting board, as if drawn there by the surface tension of water in a puddle. She would wait until it stepped off the carpet before she crushed it.

From "Evelyn Is Not Real" by Mike O'Driscoll:

A man in a black leather sports jacket was standing at my shoulder. Before I could say anything, he gestured at the DVD I held and said, “Nobody ever died of sadness watching Grant and Hepburn.”

From "Amber Rain" by Neil Williamson:

“Col,” she said. “It’s no use. I think it’s different for everybody. Maybe some people do see little green men, and maybe some see God, and some Yogi-fucking-Bear. But not me. I think whatever it is – whatever they are – looks into people and finds something that no-one else has, perhaps the single element that makes them an individual, and then they tweak it to see what happens.”

From "351073" by Jeff Gardiner:

Eloise saw me shaking my head and squinting.
     “You see, men have wisdom, but women have understanding.” She smiled as if this explained all my doubts and frustrations.
     It was from then that things started getting really strange.

From "Four A.M." by Gary Couzens:

She smiles and blows out the flames one by one, sucking on her fingers to douse the smoke. Her fingers are clean, freshly washed pink, unscorched and unblistered.

From "When We Were Five" by Marion Arnott:

Her memories still squat like lodgers in my mind, as at home as my own: the 150 bridges spanning the Neva and the roiling sea; in winter, the restless waves frozen in silent glistening peaks; in spring, the ice cracking with a roar; in summer, the white nights when the sun never sets and the city drowns in the scent of lilacs.

From "Shopping" by Antony Mann:

July 10

Milk
Newspaper
Sandwich
Chewing Gum
Banana
Cat Food
Condoms (novelty)
Ronald Reagan mask
Baby Oil
Handcuffs
Blindfold
Masking Tape

Speaking of shopping, here are the endpages of the hardback to whet your appetite:




From "Somme-Nambula" by Allen Ashley:

I felt Snapper’s strong arms around my somnambulant shoulders preventing me from raising my bare head above the parapet. His onion and tobacco breath was pungent in my nostrils as he pleaded with me to return to the land of the conscious.

From "Visits To The Flea Circus" by Nick Jackson:

One of the deer stood awkwardly. It opened its great brown eyes and in the black centre of the pupil she saw a distant image of herself in her yellow dress.

From "Alsiso" by Justina Robson:

The seeds of life fell on Teriapt as on a thousand other worlds, scattered by the Hand of Gaia Obasi Nsi, The Tortoise-Shelled. She was the first, the last and the only daughter of Earth gifted with the grain of DNA, nanoreplicators and the capacity to leap to any known space in the hopes of bringing forth other worlds fit for humans.

From "Jasmine" by Andrew Tisbert:

I had come across a universe for this chance to meet her. I wasn’t about to turn shy and passively let my opportunity slide by. I swallowed and took a deep breath, and this time I did smile.

From "Televisionism" by Maurice Suckling:

I once had a girlfriend who was famous. I suppose she still is in a way, but I can’t really say she’s my girlfriend anymore. At least we don’t go out and we don’t see each other, and people tend to see that as significant.

From "The Marriage Of Sea and Sky":


He emerged to an astonishing sight. Over at the eastern horizon, the enormous moon was rising over a returning sea. Brilliant turbulent water, luminous with pink moonlight, was sweeping towards him across the vast dark space where the women had yesterday hunted for crabs.

From "fight Music" by Tim Nickels:

I look out and down on the scattered shoes: hundreds or thousands of mismatched pairs clouding the wasteland as far as the shrunken river. All of them waiting for feet that will never be born.




"Elasticity: The Best of Elastic Press", is available in both paperback and limited edition signed hardback from NewCon Press.