Thursday, July 24, 2014
A Blog Post Almost Not About Writing
But anyway... This is supposed to be a blog about my writing life. A new review of my collection The Just Not so Stories has just appeared in Locus. It's a review written by the most excellent Paul Di Filippo.
Ever since I had a story published in The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime anthology last month, I have been considering the idea of writing another crime story... Recently I have been reading the 'Maigret' novels of Georges Simenon and it occurred to me that it might be fun to write a 'Maigret' tale of my own. I am toying with the idea of getting Maigret to intertextually raid the Château de Roissy, which always seemed to me to be a highly illegal establishment... People who know what I am talking about at this point will appreciate the opportunities of colliding two radically different styles of writing and two incompatible sets of moral values... And I have a great potential title for my story... 'Fifty Shades of Maigret'.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
It's an adventure featuring three brothers who are captains of different types of transportation, namely ship, zeppelin and train, and how they avoid and interact with each other; and the consequences of living in interesting times (the early decades of the 20th Century!); and the secret political intrigues that take place behind the scenes; and... magic and yetis and living skeletons and lots and lots and lots of other stuff!
It is available from Telos Publishing and I am delighted to be working with them.
It's not really a Steampunk novel, more of a Steamprog one. There is very little punk anywhere in it, but quite a lot of prog...
"So you want to know about the Faraway Brothers, do you? Born somewhere in Gascony, they were, in the 1880s, all three of them birthed at the same time from the same womb of the same mother. Grew up in the same household, they did too, eating the same food, reading the same books, counting the legs on the same spider because the family couldn’t afford a real clock; but later they went their separate ways. Scipio took to the sea, to ships, islands and women; Distanto took to the air, to balloons, islands and women; Neary, unluckiest of the triplets, remained on land, taking only to locomotives and stations and chastity. Many adventures they all had and often their paths crossed and sometimes they clashed and the consequences were always totally STUPENDOUS!"
Tuesday, July 08, 2014
The Caltraps of Time
I have just finished reading this. It's science fiction but not the conventional sort. The stories within are more concerned with with the redefining of experiences and situations, with language and communication and the subtleties of meanings under the stresses of time dilation and time shifts, than with the standard themes and props of the genre...
David I. Masson flourished briefly at the end of the 1960s thanks to New Worlds magazine and 'New Wave' SF, which encouraged experimentation and a heightened awareness of literary techniques. It was a cultural progression within the genre that sought to broaden the horizons of readers and thus the next generation of writers, and although the general impact wasn't quite as revolutionary as had been hoped, it did sufficiently change enough perspectives to make a full return to ordinary SF almost inconceivable.
There were many failures among the 'New Wave' experiments but in my view the successful work that emerged made the whole movement worthwhile. Masson was one of the best products of this shift, though hardly typical of it; and The Caltraps of Time, his only book, contains the entirety of his oeuvre: ten stories that are radical enough to earn him lasting respect as a highly original and significant intellectual writer.
The first story in this book is also the earliest, 'Traveller's Rest', and it is really very remarkable, the sort of thing that Stanislaw Lem or Borges (if Borges had done SF) might have written. 'Psychosmosis', 'Mouth of Hell' and 'Lost Ground' are also superb. Masson is a bit like a cross between John Sladek and the Strugatsky Brothers with a touch of Ian Watson. For a small minority of SF writers the question "Is this possible?" is less important than "Is this logically rigorous even though it's impossible?" And generally I prefer fiction that takes the latter approach to the former because it seems more conducive to greater imagination and invention.
Wednesday, July 02, 2014
Bottled Love Story
From the outset I knew that any love story I might attempt was going to be not only 'magical realist' in tone but firmly located at the more fantastical side of that spectrum. I worked feverishly on the piece, almost in a state of heightened awareness, and the final result was a novelette, Bottled Love Story, which I now feel able to announce openly in public.
"Love can't be bottled but it might arrive in a bottle... Love is a game like chess but with smiles, winks, laughs and kisses for pieces... Love is a problem. Is there a solution? Join the woman who has no need for romance and the sailor from another age as they simultaneously attempt to accept and avoid the designs of destiny."
That's the blurb I wrote for it. The story is rife with typographical tricks and contains images as part of the essential dynamic of the text. This is something I have always been interested in and something I want to explore more fully and deeply in future: the manifold possibilities of form. In recent years form has been somewhat neglected in favour of 'substance' and the days when someone like B.S. Johnson could insist that holes were cut in the pages of his books (in order to facilitate a rather emotionally charged trick that turns out not to be a trick at all but something authentic) are long gone. This is a shame. Form can have no less an impact, both emotional and cerebral, than content.
One section of the novella is my attempt to write a story determined by Tarot Cards in the way that Italo Calvino did (so spectacularly) in The Castle of Crossed Destinies. This was the first Calvino book I ever read, thirty years ago, and it changed my views on literature forever.
As I said, Bottled Love Story is a novelette, only 14,000 words or so, but I feel that it is much bigger in its sensibilities and story than the actual length would suggest. The paperback can be bought from Lulu or from Amazon...
I also wanted to turn it into an ebook, but the complex typography defeated my attempts to format it. So I am going to offer it as a PDF to anyone who wants it in this form, at the very reasonable price of 50 pence. Please use the Paypal button below to order it in this form and I will email it to you promptly. Don't forget to specify your email address!
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
I have just returned from a week in Devon. I went to the village of Chagford to visit my lovely friend Martina and also to do some hiking and camping over the solstice period. The plan was to walk for five days and rest for two. As it happened, I'm not as tough as I was ten years ago and I only walked for three days. I wandered Dartmoor and a selection of forests, crossing and recrossing streams, and camped next to a river where I built my own shelter, which was warm until a couple of hours before dawn. That always seems to be the way. I am incapable of building a shelter that stays warm all night. Ah well!
On the morning of the solstice I rose very early to watch the sunrise from a high vantage point. Gazing across all the gentle hills and mist-filled valleys was a special experience. That part of Devon is perfect walking country with a selection of different terrain and nothing too strenuous and it is full of standing stones and other ancient monuments.
Martina has a studio near her house and I was delighted to view her paintings as originals. Previously I had seen them only as prints or digital images.
Alan Lee and his daughter Virginia, Brian Froud, David Wyatt and many others. Such a wealth of artistic talent had me gobsmacked with awe! And indeed I spent a lot of my time scarcely able to draw breath in the vicinity of such luminaries. For instance I went to visit David for tea and was confronted with a great abundance of totally amazing work when I walked through the door, the first of which was this illustration of a word witch. I said, "Hey, this looks like the writer Theodora Goss!" to which David replied, "Yes, it's her. She visited me last year."
Martina played the piano for me and I had a go myself for the first time in about eight years. Here is a film of me playing (not too badly but not too well) the first of Erik Satie's Gnossiennes. I now want a piano again! I also want a coffee machine that makes incredibly strong espresso. And a cat... Martina has these things and they are good...
Friday, June 13, 2014
Genuine Flying Saucer Video!
I am very excited about this because I think that this footage will actually settle the question once and for all. We are not alone, aliens do exist and flying saucers are authentic phenomena...
Check out my Genuine Flying Saucer Film and judge for yourself... See if you don't agree with me that this is a pivotal moment in human history!
In the meantime I am preparing to offer a melon as a gesture of peace and friendship to the aliens when they decide to land and introduce themselves to us...
Sunday, June 08, 2014
Mammoth Book of Best British Crime
Maxim Jakubowski, one of my favourite anthologists.I don't write many crime stories (my 'Sampietro Mischief' and 'Zwicky Fingers' series are my main exceptions) but this bumper book contains my tale 'The Baker Street Cimmerian', which is about what happens when Conan the Barbarian and Sherlock Holmes accidentally swap places...
Will I write more crime stories in future? Yes, but I won't rush to do so. It's a genre I don't know much about and there's no point jumping on a bandwagon if you aren't familiar with the tunes played by the band on that wagon. The first crime book I remember reading was Chronicles of Bustos Domecq, a collaboration by Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares and that was hardly 'normal' crime writing...
Thursday, June 05, 2014
Richard Dawkins: a Quick Rant
Richard Dawkins. I think he's an important modern cultural force and yet he infuriates me, sometimes almost as much as his detractors do. Dawkins gets a lot of emotional satisfaction from knowing and spreading the truth -- the truth that God doesn't exist. That's his meaning to life and he gets a full rich life from doing it. But the people he is preaching to get emotional satisfaction from their (wrong) beliefs in God and the Afterlife, etc.
So Dawkins gets his emotional satisfaction from depriving (or trying to deprive) others of their emotional satisfaction. This seems a little bit vampiric to me. Of course he cites the authority of "The Truth" to justify his behaviour. He is just a messenger of "The Truth". But is "The Truth" really such a great ideal? And is living while sincerely mindful of "The Truth" even feasible? Does Dawkins live that way, as if he is a transient speck upon a speck orbiting a speck that's a speck in a small corner of the universe? No, because if he did he would be crushed by the weight of meaninglessness. He's human like everyone else, an emotional creature, just like the people he talks down to. He isn't the pure "rational" being he wants to be seen as. Nobody is. He still wants status, power, success; he still has all the old atavistic urges, even though technically these urges are futile and stupid. He isn't superior to any other human in this regard. And "homo rational" is still a pipedream, thank goodness.
I am just wondering if "The Truth" is really a good excuse for being cruel...
Friday, May 30, 2014
Three Things I Don't Write (About); and Three Things that I Do
Nina Allan has tagged me in the latest literary meme that is going around; and I am pleased because it’s a quirky yet intriguing meme and Nina is an excellent writer with exhilarating ideas and an extremely polished prose style. Indeed she is one of the most accomplished speculative fiction authors to have emerged in recent years and I highly recommend her story collection A Thread of Truth as one of the best books Eibonvale Press has issued.
So here are three things that I don’t write about... Any contradictions noted in anything I say are there because I am full of contradictions and don’t know how not to be. If there are no contradictions despite having said this, that only goes to show how contradictory I am.
I am sometimes criticised for not putting believable ‘characters’ into my work, for not seeming to care about the people who inhabit my stories. It was said to me a long time ago that my protagonists are only there in order to have things happen to them. This is utterly true. In fact, there are only two real characters in my stories: (a) the author, (b) the reader. And the text itself is a chessboard placed between us. The quasi-characters who appear in the text, the sequences of words on a page that are supposed to be regarded as sentient beings, are chess pieces and the entire reading experience is a game. This is overstating it somewhat, but I feel it is more basically true than any claim that I am trying to penetrate and represent the manifold complex psychological truths of human beings through fiction. I leave such tasks to others. That is not the purpose of my writing. For a start, I have doubts about the validity of the ‘empathy’ that a reader can feel for a fictional character. I have spoken about this elsewhere. I know what I do well and what I do badly. I do conventional characterisation badly and so avoid it. My ‘characters’ are ideas, conceits, connections, whether concrete or abstract, possible or impossible.
The truth is an ideal we are told to strive for, but it is a dark ideal. The truth hurts. Truth is the only tyrant in the service of which no collective guilt need be felt when individuals are disheartened or even destroyed by its workings. The truth is cruel. Thankfully, such remorseless and pitiless telling of the truth is still unacceptable in society. It can’t be tolerated, nor should this devastating weapon ever fall into the wrong hands, and all hands are wrong to wield it. Our hands certainly are not the right ones. That is the truth. But that’s for everyday life. In fiction the situation ought to be different. A writer should be allowed to tell the truth in the arena of the made up story because that is a place where it can’t do total damage and is confined inside the tiered walls of the prose, on which the readers are sat with their thumbs at the ready. The point of fiction is to be rigorously and unapologetically true, to spill the whistle and blow the beans on our motivations, desires, actions, justifications. To tell unpalatable truths. This is why writers like Bataille, Céline and Houellebecq are important. They don’t pretend to be nice; they don’t pretend that we, their readers, are good people. Because, frankly, we aren’t. No human being is good. It simply isn’t possible. We are selfish, acquisitive, aggressive. Unfortunately, too many writers are insincere in this regard. They constantly glance back over their shoulders while they write to see who might be looking, and they tailor their prose in order to flatter that audience. I can’t bring myself to write this way, not even for the sake of greater commercial success.
There are several levels of love and some are pure and others far less so; but taken as a whole, love is the one quality that redeems humankind, our best and only hope in this whirlpool of absurdity called Reality, the only chance we have for justifying our existence in the universe to some hypothetical ultimate judge. Even more than mathematics, it is humanity’s highest achievement, and is common to all of us, at least in potential. Not everyone can solve a quadratic equation and it was never really intended that we should be able to; but the capacity to love is the motor of our shared destiny. The motor breaks down often but it is there. And yet I don’t write about love. Because I can’t do it justice. It is a theme, a miracle, beyond me and possibly beyond most or all writers and artists of any kind. I was once asked by someone I was in love with if I had ever written a love story. My answer was no, I hadn’t, but I treated the question as a challenge and I wrote one for her. Just words, a few pictures, a story; a transient way of calming my inner turmoil by using its energy to create something outside that imperfectly mirrors the inside. The relief it provided was brief, as I knew it would be. I wish it had been a product of unconditional love, the motor that runs forever, a form of perpetual motion. But no such luck. It was category one, erotic love. Oh dear.
And now three things that I do write about, equally rife with contradictions:
I am utterly obsessed with paradoxes. I collect them, think about them, create variations of established ones and even attempt to devise brand new ones. I have loved paradoxes ever since I saw a reproduction of M.C Escher’s ‘Waterfall’ in a children’s book when I was small. I was flabbergasted. At that exact moment, I realised that a purely cerebral object can have a profound emotional impact. I adore paradoxes of all gradations, from free and easy to formal and precise. My stories are full of paradoxical situations and I don’t think I have ever written a work of fiction that doesn’t relate to a paradox in some way. Here is just one example, a story I wrote a couple of months ago. There are hundreds of others. Paradox is the child of Logic, but I am acutely aware that what many people mean when they say ‘logic’ isn’t always quite the same as what it actually is. That’s fine. The everyday meaning of the word is connected with empirical causation, the way things in the real world behave, but logic is actually only the manipulation of symbols and those symbols can stand for anything, so even if they are nonsensical, the logic will still work logically. I frequently use the logic of word association rather than the logic of everyday cause and effect, a method that guarantees the story will veer in unexpected directions. This is especially true of my new book, The Lunar Tickle, which is filled with tightly controlled wordplay in which the entire dynamic dances to the music of the prose and the subsequent logical outcomes are all lateral to each other.
The art of irony is the art of saying things on more than one level at the same time. All too frequently it is confused with sarcasm, with meaning the opposite of what is said. It is more subtle and useful than that. There are in fact two categories of irony and they are radically different from each other. This is a truth that is often overlooked. Negative irony is exclusive, it appeals only to those few who understand that irony is being employed. The more ironic the treatment in this mode, the more exclusive the result. Eventually such irony succeeds in being so ironic that only the ironist understands that there is any irony at all. It is exclusive to the point of isolation. The final step is to be ironic about irony itself. This is self-negating. The negative ironist vanishes into a singularity. Positive irony, on the other hand, is inclusive. It admits that we are all in the same universe-boat together, that none of us actually has the answer, try though we might to pretend we do, and that we need to help each other in our explorations of Time and Life. One of the best positive ironic tools at the disposal of a writer is metafiction, fiction aware that it is fiction. The rules that govern the way the rules are used; this is something that has long fascinated me. The most characteristic writing of my favourite author, Italo Calvino, was once described as holding a mirror up to life and then writing about the mirror. It is a noble endeavour and I wish to emulate him.
To move from here to there, or from there to somewhere else, or even from somewhere else back to here. Journeys. I have written a fair few stories that aren’t journeys, but they tend to be inferior to those that are, at least in my own opinion. I have a fondness for the picaresque style of tale telling that is so deep and abiding that I would give up writing altogether if forbidden to employ it. I am a Don Quixote with a pen instead of a lance and one who tilts at pages in order to mimic the meanderings of that knight, though of course I rarely use a pen these days, but how does one joust with a keyboard? The picaresque means freedom to me, escape from the confines of the narrow walls of despair. With a very few exceptions, my protagonists, such as they exist, which as I suggested earlier is not at all, are variations on, detached shadows of, tributes to Quixote, Candide, Lemuel Pitkin, Cugel the Clever. The weaving of threads, the snaking of rivers, the rising and falling of melodies... Even explaining what a journey is requires a journey, a voyage of words, the growing upwards and outwards of the persuasion that lives in those words in the same way that fully grown trees live inside seeds, as potentials of massive strength. My ultimate dream is to write a very long novel that will be an immense journey through both time and space, a saga spanning seven thousand years generation by generation. This book has a title and a vague outline, has had these for many years, but so far nothing else. It is a long journey to the start of that journey.
So now... It is time for me to tag the next writers in turn. I have chosen to tag Don Webb, an interesting fellow, half wizard, half absurdist, half darksmith, half visionary; and if these four halves add up to two wholes, and these two holes turn out to be the nostrils of the proboscis of knowledge (the one knows that can’t be blown) then this only serves to highlight the duality of the man. He is his own dark and light twin. Check out his work, if you haven’t already.
And I have tagged Brendan Connell, because I can’t imagine a situation where I wouldn’t tag him. He is eminently taggable in such games of memes. He is in fact nonuntaggable, a word I just coined but which looks like the name of the sort of land Gulliver might have ended up in after Swift ceased to chronicle his adventures (let’s not forget that Karinthy and Szathmári took over this task). To tag Brendan is an essential, an inevitable.
And I have also chosen to tag Ariana Aragão, the beautiful poet from Portugal who creates poems that are delicate but strong, bittersweet and yet uplifting, tinged with melancholy but also life affirming.
And I have also tagged Ruby Madden, who is an author I had never heard of before yesterday. So why have I tagged her? It was done at the suggestion of A.A. Attanasio, one of the nicest, politest and most decent human beings in the speculative fiction business.
Sunday, May 25, 2014
Falling into the Sea
Amy Sharrocks is an artist and film maker. I had never heard of her before last week: now I am a fan. I had a phone call from a friend, "Would you like to fall fully clothed into the sea as part of an art project?" Yes, that seemed like a good idea on a sunny day. I hurried down to the rendezvous location. The random group who had volunteered for this quirky baptism were already mostly gathered. Together we went down to the beach and walked into the sea holding hands. But this is Wales: disorganization is an essential part of our function. The line refused to be straight but wriggled like a sidewinder snake towards the surf.
The phrase 'thin red line' comes from an incident in the Crimean War, when the 93rd Highland Regiment held back the Russian cavalry at the Battle of Balaklava. The line of scarlet jacketed soldiers refused to break or bend. In truth it was two men deep. Our own line wasn't at all like that; the taste of fear was considerably less, but it was indisputably there. I am a weak swimmer and for this project we were all required to fall into the sea. Not jump or dive, but do a flat-as-an-ironing-board collapse in the style of the silent slapstick comedians.
But I am a climber, so falling is something I try my hardest to avoid and something I regard with dread. I can't abandon control in this regard so easily. It's too catastrophic a concept. There are, of course, less literal and more desirable ways we can fall: we speak of falling in love, for instance, with the implication that there is no choice available in the matter. It's a curious fact that most of the great peaks of the world were first climbed by mountaineers who had recently come painfully out of relationships. Having fallen in love and landed with a big emotional splat they now had learned successfully not to fall again.
(All photos courtesy of Swansea Museum)
Friday, May 16, 2014
Some Reasons Why I Won't be Voting UKIP
Anyway... Some reasons why I won't be voting UKIP:
(1) Disengaging from the EU will ruin our economy,
(2) Their environmental policy is wrong,
(3) They have no experience and are not a real party,
(4) They are in close alliance with numerous distasteful extremist parties in other European countries. I'm not saying you can always judge a person or set of people by the company they keep... but it's a fair guide,
(5) It has been infiltrated by BNP members and other nutters,
(6) UKIP councillors and spokespeople seem bizarrely thin-skinned, almost to the point of pansy-ism and this doesn't augur well for the future,
(7) Some of my best friends are foreign, so I certainly have little time for a party that wants to remove these people from my life. In fact the mere suggestion makes me very aggressively defensive and I don't like feeling that way,
(8) The very very very very very very annoying dismal hack Tony Parsons intends to vote UKIP. Does he regard Farage as a replacement for his lost love, the helium-voiced designer-lesbian Julie Burchill? What Parsons does, I can't possibly consider doing. All his opinions about everything have always been erroneous.
All these reasons are important to me, but #7 is the main one because it's personal.
Friday, May 09, 2014
Talking about moons, here is a flash fiction on the particular theme that one can find, if one so wishes, in my Flash in the Pantheon book... It is called 'Geronimo'. Ready? "Three college girls were baring their behinds out of the dormitory window on the night my parachute jump went wrong. And they say the moon landings were faked?"
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
The Lunar Tickle Limited Edition
My next official book is going to be The Lunar Tickle, the collected spacetime adventures of Thornton Excelsior. This book will be published by Doghorn Press, who also issued my Mister Gum novel a few years ago. Emmet Jackson, the artist who did the superb cover for The Young Dictator has excelled himself again in producing a wonderful cover, which I shall reveal soon in a future blog post.
In the meantime you are going to have to view my own amateurish cover. This cover is for the limited edition only and I created it in my bedroom. Anyway... This is how the limited edition works. Twenty people will be given the chance to be the main character in the book. Only twenty and no more. If you are interested, simply let me know. When I have twenty names the offer will close. I will create a version of the book in which you are the main character, then I will send you a secret link enabling you to buy that version. You will have 24 hours in which to buy the book.
You can buy more than one copy if you wish: you will be the main character in all the copies you buy. But be aware that copies will cost £11.99 and there will be postage on top of that. So you might end up paying £15 in total for each copy. That's your choice. If you want to send me a photo of yourself to include in the book, please do so!
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Cthulhu Cymraeg anthology that the event was partly a book launch for. The germ of my story was provided by a letter in which Lovecraft claims to love cycling so much that he is in danger of turning into a bicycle centaur. I explained that far from from being a derogatory satire on Lovecraft's style and concerns, my story is actually an attempt to push the techniques of parody beyond normal parody in the hope of discovering something new. Whether I ever succeed in my endeavors in this regard, of course, is another question.
In the afternoon I took part in a panel discussing various aspects of Lovecraft's work and heritage, dwelling both on the positives and the negatives. This photo (courtesy of Steve Upham) shows the four members of the panel: Gwilym Games, John Llewellyn Probert, Mark Howard Jones and myself... Arranged like this, the four photos look like a "How to Do Jazz Hands" explanatory diagram, starting with the Gwilym position and moving on... Alternatively here are some captions for the photos: (1) "Cosmic Horror? Just like that!" (2) "This is the badly constructed pyramid that Lovecraft's story ghost written for Houdini was set in." (3) "The empty speech bubble has been drawn wrongly. It's behind me and too big and not connected by a stalk to my mouth!" (4) "Cthulhu, how I love ya, how I love ya, my dear Cthulhu!"
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Journeys Beyond Advice
The original hardback was issued by Sarob Press back in 2002 and now fetches high prices. It went out of print not long after publication and has been out of print for nearly 12 years, so I decided to bring it back into existence under the aegis of my own Gloomy Seahorse Press.
This paperback version is considerably cheaper than the limited edition original. It can be obtained directly from Lulu (in which case I get a bigger cut) or from Amazon... The book contains the novella 'The World Beyond the Stairwell' (which John Clute rated as the finest Hodgson tribute tale ever written) and the novelette 'The Swine Taster' (which for a long time I regarded as my best ever story).
Finally, a word about Kseniya: not only is she one of the most beautiful women I have ever met but she is also an extremely nice person and if you're on Facebook you can check out her page here. The book is dedicated to her.
Saturday, April 12, 2014
This has the potential to sound very egotistical, pompous and puffed up, so I need to very careful as to how I phrase it. Ready?
I don't get invited to do talks very often. Maybe two or three times a year, and this surprises me because my knowledge of literature is rather wide and also quite deep. Personally I think I deserve to be invited to do more talks and readings and panels.
Anyway I am doing a talk and taking part on a panel themed around the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft on Saturday April 26th at the Discovery Room in Swansea Central Library.
I plan to play (semi)-devil's advocate. I think this is only right and proper. Otherwise the event will end up being too much of a communal kowtow. I want to talk along the lines of, "Why, if Lovecraft isn't a very good writer, is he 'good' nonetheless?"
Thursday, April 03, 2014
Exploits of Engelbrecht Ebook
"To my mind one of the best examples of imaginative fiction to appear in England since the war is Maurice Richardson's The Exploits of Engelbrecht... These 'Chronicles of the Surrealist Sportman's Club' are superbly laconic pieces, concentrating more original invention into fewer words than almost any writer I can think of. They outshine, for me, almost anything else remotely like them, including the stories of Borges and other much admired imaginative writers." -- Michael Moorcock
Written in the 1940s and published in the legendary magazine Lilliput, the stories of Engelbrecht the dwarf surrealist boxer were collected and published in book form in 1950 by Phoenix House. That edition didn't sell very well but it become a 'cult classic', beloved by a small number of highly enthusiastic readers. It was republished by John Conquest in 1977 in an edition that also didn't sell. And then published for a third time by Savoy Books in 2000 in a deluxe edition that sold as poorly as its two predecessors...
It can be obtained from Amazon as follows:
Formatting this one proved very tricky because it's full of unusual layouts.... Anyway, out of all my books it's the one I slaved most over and is packed with more incident than days in a millennium... You don't have to read the original to understand the sequel as it's a stand-alone novel as well.
Friday, March 28, 2014
Lovecraft was not an accomplished writer. His prose is grammatically and syntactically weak, his story structures ponderous and ineffective, his conceptual abilities poor, his descriptive powers misaligned, his characterization nonexistent, his politics repellent... and yet his work still has 'something'. What is that something? I have often wondered. I have wondered for years.. This morning a plausible answer came to me. He gratifies (or at least assauges) the revenge yearnings of readers who feel they have missed out on life.
The main underlying message of his work is this: "Don't worry that you were too shy and inept and unlucky to live an exciting and experience-rich and successful life. Humanity is worthless anyway and will be destroyed by monstrous cosmic forces. And by reading these stories, and enjoying them, you are associating in a small way with those very powers of darkness and evil that will annihilate petty human concerns, so actually you are superior and not inferior to all those people you have envied for so long who always seemed to get the girl, the luck, the happiness..."
This might sound totally disparaging, it's not really. This message (if I'm correct) is a human reaction to a human need and it fulfills the needs of others.
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Fifty Years of Alasdair Gray
Gray is one of my biggest literary heroes. I met him once, back in 1995, and he was a delightful bloke. Publishers say he can be "awkward" but I find that hard to believe. Mind you, I haven't worked with him. He did, however, sign my copy of Poor Things and it's a book I have treasured ever since. What I like about Gray's work so much is that it's simultaneously intellectual and emotional, personal and political, profound and light, serious and comic: it's writing for the head and the heart at the same time. I would love to be regarded as the Welsh 'equivalent' of Alasdair Gray one day. I have a heck of a lot more work to do to earn that accolade! But it remains an aspiration.
Monday, March 24, 2014
I Always Knew I Was Going to Limbo -- instead of Heaven or Hell
I have got back into exercise again, running and cycling mostly (but no climbing yet) and dancing too! The great thing about dancing is that it can be vigorous exercise but is so much fun that it doesn't feel like an ordeal. I am going to try learning salsa again and a few other styles.
On Saturday night I went to a show hosted by a local group of international Latin Music enthusiasts, musicians and dancers called La Gente. This photo shows me attempting the dance known as the "limbo". I found it extremely difficult and kept falling over. I did finally manage it successfully though!
Thursday, March 20, 2014
The Return of Twisthorn
Out of print for two years, my novel Twisthorn Bellow is coming back into print soon courtesy of my own Gloomy Seahorse Press. The best thing about publishing my own books is that all the design choices are up to me. I can insert little illustrations throughout the text and use typographical tricks and know they will appear unaltered in the final book. The freedom is rather wonderful.
I have just prepared the back cover of this novel and here it is. It features many of the monsters that appear in the text itself. The monsters are (from left to right and from up to down)...
Shylock Cherlomsky: Not really a monster as such, but his mind and heart are monstrous. Here we see him in the basement beneath the Ethnology Department with the collection of kpingas at the disposal of his Agency. (I modelled personally for this one)
Baddie TwoShoes: a sort of footwear komodo. He’s the pet monster of Lord Doublestuff, who always does everything twice. In keeping with his owner, Baddie TwoShoes has two soles. Baddie TwoShoes, you don’t think, don’t joke, what do you do? Eat goodies, is the answer to that!
Bob the Lock: The graceful but evil padlock swan, swimming serenely with his wife, Raypova, and his son, Paddy.
Crystalbonce: He may look like a bulldog clip balanced on an inverted tea light with a yellow crystal for a head, but Crystalbonce is an extremely suave and dastardly robotic being. He’s French and his cry of “C’est pour toi que je suis!” has been known to strike terror even into the unbeating hearts of golems.
Highly Contrived Name: at home in the city of Moonville.
Ruby dubDub: standing above an indoor sundial. Some people don’t believe in the existence of indoor sundials, but they are useful. She appears to have acquired the hands of Enid Hans. Ah well!
Enid Hans: He isn’t French but Prussian and he has massive hands! Not only can he use them to grip and gesture, but they enable him to fly too. That’s quite bad! In an emergency he can even open bottles of wine. Makes him more sociable.
Janrel MacScabbard: Here he is balancing on a cairn that is being carried on the back of a dolphin. That happened in Patagonia; and if you look closely you can see a ghostly set of books in the mountains. Spooky! Educational!
MeMeMeMeMe U, a yeti who enters Britain without a visa when the block of ice that entombs him is shipped from Tibet to the Imperial Ice Museum in London. Then global warming thaws him out and all hairy hell breaks loose! After many adventures he returns to a secret valley in Tibet and grows old gracefully, losing all his hair, which is how he is depicted here. Coincidentally, a hairless yeti closely resembles a badly painted brown man!
Ptula Graaark. The work of a pterodactyl includes soaring, swooping and croaking. This example of the species, Ptula, is preparing a nightcap of Ovaltine, one of the few reliable methods by which a stressed pterodactyl can become a calmodactyl. Or so it is rumoured.
Two photos of the arch villain République Nutt follow. First we are presented with a frontal view, showing clearly the fiendish Walnut Whip Helmet that he wears atop his head. The Walnut Whip Helmet has the power to create unfounded rumours and transmit them across vast distances. One of the first rumours it created was the rumour of its own existence in a cavern deep under the city of Strasbourg. That’s how République Nutt was able to get hold of it! The second photo shows his death at the hands of Twisthorn Bellow. I’m pleased to report this isn’t actually how the fiendish chocolate-headed rascal dies. We see Monsieur Nutt impaled on the golem’s favourite weapon, the kpinga, a throwing-sword typical of north central Africa, but in fact Twisthorn deals with his foul enemy unarmed.
Sappy Ever After: The robot villain is relaxing in his private chambers in the city of Moonville just prior to being mailed as a parcel to his enemies. He has an incorrectly completed crossword for a face and this explains his cryptic but pithy fury.
The monster in the next picture is the diabolical pitta bread cyclops known as Snagtooth Toasta. To make him I toasted him in my new toaster, balanced him on a piece of driftwood and arranged him against a backdrop of silver foil. Only joking: he’s a real monster!
Tiktac Spittlegit: He’s not French but he’s malign! He can transform into any domestic object and has no ‘basic’ topology. Here we see him changing so rapidly between the forms of garlic bulb, bird eye chilli, mate gourd, tea light case and drawing pin that he appears to be all those things at once. Which makes him look like a bad owl. This photo of him was done on a Monday. Owls don’t like Mondays. They want to hoot the whole day down.
Monday, March 10, 2014
Three Gloomy SeaEhorses
The first three Gloomy Seahorse titles are now also available as ebooks. They are as follows:
More Than a Feline: an illustrated collection of cat-themed fiction and poetry.
£1.23 from the British Amazon
$2.06 from the American Amazon
The Gloomy Seahorse: poems
£0.77 from the British Amazon
$1.29 from the American Amazon
Flash in the Pantheon: 123 flash fictions
£2.46 from the British Amazon
$4.12 from the American Amazon
Des Lewis has started one of his 'real time' reviews of Flash in the Pantheon, reviewing one story every day. Click here to read what he has written so far. It's going to take him a long long time...
Other Gloomy Seahorse titles will follow as ebooks as they are published. Future titles include Journeys Beyond Advice, The Less Lonely Planet, Twisthorn Bellow, Mirrors in the Deluge, Tellmenow Isitsöornot, My Rabbits Shadow Looks like a Hand, The Crystal Cosmos, etc.
All these books will be available as paperbacks and ebooks soon, soon, soon!
Monday, March 03, 2014
Rhysop's Fables Film
Well, I made the film I said I was going to make! It features my very first attempt at stop-motion animation and needless to say it's like Bagpuss gone bad. But it was fun to make and at the end of the day that's what counts.
The film is basically me reciting a small selection of the fables that can be found in the book. The book is currently available from Lulu here and soon will be available from Amazon too.
Click on the arrow in the centre of the above image to play the film. Hope you enjoy!
Thursday, February 27, 2014
RHYSOP'S FABLES is now a real book. I had problems getting the cover right. In the first version I spelled the title wrong... Ahem!
But anyway, it is done to my satisfaction now. I think it has come out the best of the five Gloomy Seahorse books so far. This one consists of 207 fables and also includes the parable of a homeless fable. My fables are a lot less helpful than traditionally is considered desirable in this genre...
This picture shows the book as a physical object at last with the animals and the painting that I used to design the cover.
I am currently in the process of making a short film featuring a selection of these fables and with luck that will be done in a couple of days. I am slightly hampered by the fact I know almost nothing about film making. Ah well! In the meantime, here is one of the fables so you can get a fair idea what they are like:
A king once ordered a messenger to deliver a sealed envelope to another king. The messenger set off on the dangerous journey and he was never tempted to open the envelope and read the message within.
After months of hard travelling, he finally reached the palace of the second king, who opened the envelope in front of him and read the letter with a frown that grew deeper and deeper. Finally he reached for a loaded blunderbuss and pointed it at the messenger’s head.
“Clearly you have received some bad news,” said the messenger, “but I’m not responsible for what has happened, so don’t shoot the messenger! I simply completed my given task.”
Silently, but with a grim expression, the king handed the letter to the messenger, who began sweating as he read it. The message said simply, “Please shoot the messenger who delivers this to you.” The king pulled the trigger of the gun and it went off.
¶ Go on, shoot the messenger!
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Zwicky Fingers Book
This is the fourth book to be published by my own Gloomy Seahorse Press. I intend to publish exactly 10 of my own books, no more, and then I will concentrate on publishing material by other writers. I have, for instance, just accepted a novel by a new writer for publication this summer.
With a cover by the marvellous artist Chris Harrendence, the ten adventures of Zwicky Fingers can be purchased from Lulu here, and soon it will be available on Amazon and other online bookstories.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
Flash in the Pantheon for Real
My collection of flash fiction, which has only been an ebook until now, has finally become a real book too... And the paper book is bigger and better than the ebook was... 123 stories, none longer than 999 words and some of them only one sentence long... The cover was done by the genuinely amazing Brankica Bozinovska from Macedonia. And the awesome Ian Watson, genius wordsmith and doyen of the gedanken, gave it a nice blurb too, as you can see above, which delighted me profoundly...
be found here. This collection took a long time to put together and there were many false starts. I kept revising the contents, finding old material that would fit, writing new work, increasing and decreasing the number of fictions in the volume. At one point it consisted of 144 tales and I subtitled the book "a gross of microfictions" but ultimately too many stories weren't quite right for the project, so I dropped them. What I finally achieved is leaner, sharper and funnier... and it's here!
The book will be available from Amazon soon, but in the meantime it can be ordered here.
The book is surprisingly beautiful and I am hugely indebted to the talented Brankica, who did this cover for me way back in 2007. Not everything is a flash in the pan: some things burn for a long time before exploding!
Saturday, February 08, 2014
Poetry in Undersea Motion
I will be sending out review copies next week. Watch it get reviewed abroad but not in any publications in Wales! The Welsh 'literary' establishment seem to have me on some sort of blacklist.
Saturday, February 01, 2014
My Twenty-Eighth Book
Steady! / My first poetry book ever / is now ready / and that's the truth / Forsooth!
Anyway... some of these poems were published in obscure 'journals' a couple of decades ago. Most weren't. They aren't like normal poems, though, so do be warned!
The book is priced at £3.99 but post and packing is £2, which is a bit cheeky. Make sure you select the 'standard delivery' option and not the more expensive one with tracking. If you click on this link and choose the 'preview' button under the cover you can read the first five poems for free... Just so you can see what to expect if you buy it...
My one and only poetry book ever, including poems that have been lying idle for twenty years... Rejoice you ten or eleven people who are likely to buy it!
Friday, January 24, 2014
Gloomy Seahorse Press
|The Gloomy Seahorse by Adele Whittle|
The second book will be my one and only poetry collection. I have been planning this volume for a long time. Originally it was going to be called The Knight of Whatever and the cover was going to depict a lazy knight, but when I asked the artist Adele Whittle to design a logo for my company I liked the image she produced so much that I decided to use it as the cover instead, which necessitated changing the title of the book to The Gloomy Seahorse and writing a new poem to represent the cover.
This picture is the painting in question... The Gloomy Seahorse Press won't just be publishing my own work. In the future I hope to publish other authors. My dream would be to publish brilliant authors who have gone out of print or who haven't been translated into English, for instance W.E. Bowman, Shinichi Hoshi and Jacques Sternberg.
Monday, January 20, 2014
Strange Tales IV
STRANGE TALES IV arrived for me yesterday. What a great looking book!
Tartarus Press really have cracked the presentation lark: it is impossible to mistake their books for those of any other publisher, but they don't stain for the effect of uniqueness; it seems a natural quality embedded in every aspect of their design process. It's a beautiful book, simple as that...
I am delighted and honoured to have a story included in this anthology and it's a story I am especially pleased with called 'The Secret Passage'. Re-reading it, I kept saying things to myself like, "Puppets! Mazes! Hypercubes! Ooh!" which gives an idea of what it's about without giving too much away...
Monday, January 13, 2014
Stories From a Lost Anthology is an Ebook
In the meantime, my three existing collections have been turned into ebooks. The original hardbacks are often tricky to find and expensive too. So I am pleased that readers new to my work will now have the chance to read these collections. Worming the Harpy has been available as an ebook for two years; The Smell of Telescopes was made available in this form one month ago. And now comes the third volume, Stories From a Lost Anthology... Michael Moorcock wrote the Introduction to this collection, a fact that delighted me then and still delights me, especially considering the fact that I have probably read more fiction by him than any other writer.
Wednesday, January 08, 2014
First Acceptance of 2014
This morning I had my first acceptance of the new year. I'm pleased to announce that it's a novel. I haven't actually signed a contract yet, so I won't say too much more at this stage. It's a novel I am very happy with, but that's hardly a surprise: I am happy with nearly everything I write. Is that wrong? Probably. This particular novel is a journey from fairly conventional science fiction and steampunk beginnings to something much more odd. The publishing company that accepted it is very good at promotion and marketing strategy, so I should get to do some proper book-launches again. About time!
I have a strong feeling that my output of wordage for 2014 is going to be even lower than it was last year. But that doesn't matter. Quality is always more important than quantity. This year I will be concentrating first on writing new material for a future collection, New Milesian Tales, including the resumption and completion of a couple of novelettes I started many years ago (primarily two pieces entitled '500 Eyes' and 'In Trance'). I also want to finally finish writing The Clown of The New Eternities. Every year I make a resolution to return to that novel and complete it. This year I really must do so!
Thursday, January 02, 2014
Telescopes is an Ebook
My fourth ever book, The Smell of Telescopes, was published back in the year 2000 by Tartarus Press. Rated by Michael Moorcock as one of the top ten 'overlooked speculative fiction classics' it consists of 26 short stories, some of which are collected into three story cycles which all converge (and are resolved) in the final story in the book.
Telescopes remains one of my best books, I think. The second edition was published by Eibonvale Press in 2007. The original Tartarus edition is now worth a fair bit of money. I am therefore hugely delighted to begin the new year with an announcement that the book is now finally available as an ebook more than thirteen years after it first appeared. It can be obtained directly from Tartarus here.
It is also available on Amazon and elsewhere...
Saturday, December 28, 2013
A Cat Called Tufty
A photo of the cat Tufty with the illustrated book of cat stories and poems that features Tufty on the front cover... The artist I had lined up for the cover was too busy to produce any work so I just used a photo I had already taken of my favourite cat; and when the book was published I showed it to the real cat. I think he was impressed but I can't be sure.
More Than a Feline is available from Lulu (the printing company, not the female singer) by clicking on this link and the book is currently, er... the 11,922nd most popular book on the sales rank there!
Monday, December 23, 2013
Literary Review of 2013
Last year (2012) was my best writing year ever; and this year was my best reading year ever. I discovered more great authors unknown to me this year than in the previous five years combined. Admittedly, some of those authors have been sitting on my shelves (or tucked away in boxes) for a long time, decades in a few cases. But the point is that I finally got round to reading them and they generally exceeded my expectations.
I read some books that weren't so great, of course, but let's not concentrate on those. Every time I finish a fiction book I tend to add it to my Goodreads page with a brief comment; feel free to add me as a friend on that site, if you like. My page can be found here.
First novel I read in 2013 was The Miscreant by Jean Cocteau and it was excellent. A great way to start a reading year! I love Cocteau's epigrammatic prose style. It's heady and addictive and enthralling. This novel (his first, dating from 1921) is a masterpiece. The actual story is fairly slight, merely an account of a love affair that goes wrong among a couple of denizens (he more sensitive and less pragmatic than she) of a semi-Bohemian corner of Paris in the early years of the 20th Century; but the way the tale is told is truly exquisite.
Even better was The File on H by Ismail Kadare, who is one of the authors that has been sitting unread on my shelves for too long. What a genius! I enjoyed this novel so much that I also read Kadare's Agamemnon's Daughter, a collection of shorter work. The File on H is a funny, ironic, absurdist, erotic, and just extremely well written novel. Agamemnon's Daughter contains a long novella, a shorter novella and a short story, and all three pieces are absolutely amazing. I was especially impressed with the middle piece, 'The Blinding Order', which is certainly one of the best novellas I have ever read. It's harrowing and awful but also sublime and a true revelation. Kadare is a genius.
Alan Garner was my next long overdue discovery. I borrowed The Stone Book Quartet from the library without any high expectations. I was just feeling in the mood for something non-fantastical, something more pastoral than my usual fare. Turns out I made an excellent choice! Garner's writing is superb: uncluttered but magical, and the characters come alive on the page almost instantly. Somehow Garner has tuned in to some 'universal consciousness'. The incidents he describes seem common to all of us but also unique to the particular characters. I felt an acute mixture of nostalgia, sadness and glee as I read these four linked novellas. I now have The Owl Service and Red Shift waiting for me.
A collection of stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa also impressed me very much. Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories is a retrospective of his entire life’s work (he died when he was only thirty five) and divided into four sections. The first section is devoted to his early stories, including the monumental ‘Hell Screen’, a dark and fiery classic, a disturbing horror story with a particular Japanese slant that is non-supernatural and supernatural at the same time. The second section features three historical stories, ‘Dr Ogata Ryosai: Memorandum’, ‘O-Gin’ and ‘Loyalty’. The third section contains three gems of tragicomedy, the brilliantly odd ‘The Story of a Head that Fell Off’, the offbeat romance ‘Green Onions’ and the absurdist comedy ‘Horse Legs’, which is possibly my favourite story in the entire collection, a lighter-hearted version of Kafka with a relentless logic of its own. The fourth section reveals Akutagawa in an entirely different light, as a tormented personality and depressive paranoid personality, struggling to keep a grip on his sanity. ‘Daidoji Shinsuke: The Early Years’, ‘The Life of a Stupid Man’ and ‘Spinning Gears’ chronicle a tormented psychology and a life in despair.
Jose Saramago was my next discovery. Why did I put off reading him for so long? He was an amazing writer. I read The Elephant's Journey and then Cain. Both are superb.The first is a novel based on the true story of an elephant that walked from Lisbon to Vienna in 1551. The writing flows with grace, elegance and irresistible momentum. It was very refreshing for me to read a novel almost entirely devoid of evil incidents. None of the main players, including the Archduke of Austria, are malign and the elephant himself is a magnificent character. Wise, witty and charming. The second is a Candide-like satire, as flippant and profound as anything by Voltaire, that follows the wanderings of Cain after he was cursed by God for murdering his brother Abel. It's an angry, political and deeply philosophical novel in many ways; and yet none of the driving intellectual energy behind its creation interferes with the simple but ingenious emotional delights of the story. Cain is a very sympathetic character. His adventures are in turns bitter, erotic, illuminating, melancholy and triumphant. The ending is surprising and astounding.
Bruce Chatwin was an author I discovered back in 2008 (I loved The Viceroy of Ouidah). I finally got round to reading another of his books this year, The Songlines. It's a marvellous book, a novel that is also non-fiction, the story of Chatwin's travels to Australia and his gradual understanding of a particular aspects of Aboriginal culture (not that the Aborigines were ever just 'one' people, as is made clear in the book itself) concerning the way the indigenous people regard the land. The 'songlines' of the title are similar to mnemonics in that they enable a traveller to navigate across vast tracts of open country, but they are much more than that: mythic, cultural, ancestral, part of the actual identity of the person who uses them. But fascinating as they are, this is only one aspect of this totally immersing book; and Chatwin's extracts from the journals he kept over many years create a plausible and enthralling 'alternative' hypothesis regarding our earliest hominid ancestors.
The Scorpion God by William Golding staggered me with the sheer quality of the story-telling. I have had several William Golding books sitting on my shelves unread for years. He's an author I always intended to get round to one day but somehow never did -- until 2013. And what can I say? I'm an instant convert! I now intend to read as many of his books as I can. The Scorpion God consists of three novellas. They aren't linked by characters, plot or even mood; but they do seem to be related in some deeper way. The first is set in Ancient Egypt, the second in an unspecified African region, the third in Imperial Rome. All are brilliant. All crackle with astounding prose, remarkable imagery and a feeling of momentous changes taking place at every point on the page. The density of action is incredible, even when that action is only the shifting of philosophical viewpoints. Three pages of this book feel like thirty pages by another author. Golding was clearly a talent of enormous significance and I am very glad I've finally got round to delving into his works!
Yet another author who has been on my 'to read' list for years is Milan Kundera. I chose Laughable Loves, a collection of short stories, to begin with and I can say that I found it excellent and engrossing and extremely well-written. Although I enjoyed these stories enormously, if I was a woman I would probably have been annoyed by the sexual politics of the writing. All the stories are fundamentally based on the objectification of females. Although I disapprove rationally of such an outlook, I like Kundera's honesty in this regard. He's utterly sincere about the cynicism of his own psychology, which, if we are going to be completely candid, is also the base psychology of most males... It's difficult to pick a favourite among these stories but the first and last, 'Nobody Will Laugh' and 'Eduard and God', are both superb.
Last year I rediscovered Kurt Vonnegut and this year I continued to make up for lost time by reading no fewer than five of his books: A Man Without a Country, While Mortals Sleep, Armageddon in Retrospect, Jailbird and Breakfast of Champions. The last one on this list was the best; in fact it might be my favourite Vonnegut book of all. It isn't crammed with ideas the same way that Cat's Cradle or The Sirens of Titan are. In fact, not much actually happens in the novel. But there's something about it that makes up for that, a poignancy, a dark and wistful charm, a mischievous cosmic resignation -- I am not quite sure what exactly -- that fully compensates for the diminished quantity of ideas and plot turns.
And yet despite all this excellence, there was another author waiting for me who I regard as my greatest discovery of the year. Andrei Platonov. I picked up Soul and Other Stories at random when I was in the library and I am glad I did! I liked it so much that I instantly ordered Happy Moscow and The Foundation Pit too. Platonov fills me with the same enthusiasm I used to have when I was young and literature was an unexplored world for me; an enthusiasm that gradually faded over the decades but now is back. I can't recommend the short novel 'Soul' highly enough.
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