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.