Tuesday, December 16, 2014

 

Seven Men and Two Others


It is nice to sometimes talk about books that I haven't written. Max Beerbohm's Seven Men and Two Others is my favourite ever example of fin de siècle literature, superior in my mind to anything created by Wilde, Firbank, Machen, even Saki...

'Enoch Soames' is probably the best pact-with-the-devil story ever written; 'Hilary Maltby and Stephen Braxton' is perhaps the best ghost story ever written; and 'Savonarola Brown' is the funniest and most accurate parody of a pseudo-Shakespeare play ever attempted... The other stories are rather good too, with 'A.V Laider' being the only disappointment; I was expecting the 'twist' ending to be more surprising than it was. But even so, the utter excellence of the whole is not marred. I have read 'Enoch Soames' at least four times in different anthologies but this is the first time I have read the other stories.

This book was metafictional and postmodern before 'metafiction' and 'postmodernism' were even workable concepts. A delight and a privilege to read; and I am delighted and privileged to have just read it.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

 

A Mountain Walked


A parcel came for me. It was a box of books. Copies of A Mountain Walked, an anthology of all S.T. Joshi's favourite 'Cthulhu Mythos' stories. This huge 700 page volume has already become a collector's item.

I am delighted to announce that it includes one of my own stories, 'Sigma Octantis', which was inspired by Lovecraft's early piece 'Polaris' (Polaris is the star closest to the north celestial pole; Sigma Octantis is the star closest to the south celestial pole).

Beautifully produced and illustrated, this deluxe limited edition Centipede Press tome is the ultimate Lovecraft tribute book and includes fiction by Neil Gaiman, Robert Barbour Johnson, TED Klein, Thomas Ligotti, Joe Pulver, Laird Barron, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Gemma Files, Patrick McGrath, Michael Shea and many others...

Centipede Press are an amazing publisher. I am immensely gratified that they are going to publish my collection The Senile Pagodas in the not too distant future.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

 

Bone Idle in the Charnel House


I have just heard from Hippocampus Press in the USA that my new book of stories has gone to the printers. They were also good enough to show me the full cover of my collection. Here it is...


It amuses me that the title of this book Bone Idle in the Charnel House can be turned into the acronym BITCH. This was entirely unintentional.

I had to fill in a 'promotion form' for this book which included a brief summary of what it's about. I wrote, "A collection of weird stories that often develop in an unusual manner from an original premise. The stories are part of the grand tradition of the ‘weird story’ but they seek to be rather different from most stories of this type. My hope is that these stories simultaneously will be a part of the tradition of the weird story but also help to push the definition forward a little."

Thursday, November 27, 2014

 

Pilgrimage and Beach Walk


I have just got back to Wales. It is cold and grey here. But that's exactly what I anticipated. It is better to dwell on some of the high points of my recent trip. Too much happened to give a full account on this blog, but I can mention that after I left Lisbon I went to Fatima, the main pilgrimage site in Portugal. I am not a deeply religious person, but by the same token I am not a deeply irreligious one. I lit a candle for a special person while I was there. I had expected the place to be tacky but it was more tasteful than my fears had supposed; and there was a feeling of calm awe about the place, an atmosphere that seemed to consist of all the hopes of the faithful who have made it their destination in previous decades, though whether this perceived ambience existed just in my mind is a question I can't possibly answer.

After Fatima I travelled to the lovely university city of Coimbra and then to Figueira Da Foz for my three-day beach walk. I had attempted the same walk ten years ago but it had defeated me. It was summer that time and I didn't have enough water. It is a remote stretch of coastline and one is advised to carry all the equipment and supplies necessary. This time my little adventure was successful.

I walked more than 80 km, most of it on soft sand, which made the going much more difficult. The first day it rained and I got soaked, but at night the skies cleared and the stars came out with amazing brightness. I saw meteors, a thin melancholy moon and a succession of incredible sunsets and sunrises. One sunset into the sea had the light of the sinking sun filtered by the spray of the enormous waves that seemed to crash over it... I met not one other person during the whole of the walk. I walked most of the nights as well as most of the days. Strange lights in the sky and out at sea...

My feet were blistered at the end of the trip and my shoulders were aching from carrying my rucksack, but it was worth it, for many reasons... I also sent two messages in bottles to the same special person I had lit the candles for, to double the extremely unlikely chance of them reaching her (or anybody else for that matter)...

When I reached Espinho I stayed with a marvellous fellow called Nigel Randsley. In fact, despite all the incredible sights and experiences, it was the people who impressed me the most on this trip, not just all my old friends but new ones too, such as Joana Neves, Sara Almeida Almeida, Ana Luísa Melo, João Morales, Sandra Maria Teixeira, Paulo Brito, Inês Botelho, Ana Cristina da Silveira... Too many great people to list. I am very lucky.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

 

Back in Portugal


For the past 10 ten days I have been back in Portugal. I was invited as the Guest of Honour to the Fórum Fantástico literary festival. I have been to many of them before, including the first one back in 2004. Ten years later I see that the event is growing in strength and vibrancy.

My presentation was about how Latin American writers have influenced British writers. The focus of the festival was primarily on Julio Cortázar, who was born 100 years ago. I spoke about Cortázar but also Roberto Bolaño, Macedonio Fernández, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Felisberto Hernández, Cabrera Infante, Álvaro Mutis and Gabriel García Márquez. I enjoy talking on stage with a microphone to an audience, something that would have been unimaginable to my younger self. Ten years ago at the Fórum there was no stage and no microphone, only me standing in a classroom and reading a story I had just finished writing.

So much has happened during my visit that I am at a loss to summarize everything. I had the pleasure of being invited to make a radio broadcast by the excellent Joana Neves. This broadcast is now online and it is in English. I read three stories by Donald Barthelme with lots of introdoctory banter and inter-story chit-chat. The broadcast can be listened to here.

In subsequent blog entries I will talk more about my amazing Portugal trip, including a three day beach walk, 80 km in total distance, from Figueira da Foz to Aveiro.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

 

My 750th Story and One and Only Muse


I have just finished writing my 750th story. It is called 'Died For Puns' and was inspired by Oscar Wilde's De Profundis. It was written especially to submit to an anthology and I will be sending it in the next hour...

Reaching number #750 means that I am exactly three-quarters of the way through my intended life's work. It has taken 25 years so far. Without wishing to blow my own trumpet too loudly, I can honestly say that no other Welsh writer has ever embarked on a project even remotely as grand as this one.

This story is partly about muses. What does it mean to have a muse? In De Profundis Oscar Wilde complains that Bosie was a terrible muse, because Wilde did no work when Bosie was around. Unlike Bosie, my own muse really does inspire my creativity. She is in this story of mine and in fact she provided the impetus for its creation.

I am now in a position to reveal that her name is Amira. She is not only my muse, but also an amazing woman and a true friend. A few days ago she treated me to a bellydance in candlelight and now I know for sure what kind of dancing they have in paradise...

But the main thing she inspired is a story that may actually be the best thing I have ever done. It's a novelette that is available as a paperback book. There is no ebook version because the formatting is too tricky (the story contains pictures and unusual typographical tricks). However I am willing today to offer twenty free PDFs to the first people who ask for one. The only proviso is that you leave a review or a rating on Amazon or Goodreads. Here is a link to the book in question. If you want a PDF let me know. First come, first served...

Friday, November 07, 2014

 

Hippocampus Press Book


It gives me enormous pleasure to announce that my new collection of eerie, weird and ghostly stories BONE IDLE IN THE CHARNEL HOUSE has just been added to the online catalogue of Hippocampus Press...

Click on this link for further details of the book.

This collection was edited by S.T. Joshi and it will be published in December this year. Hippocampus Press are really going places, so it is a privilege and an honour for me to be added to their list of authors!

I am delighted with this book which is rather darker in tone than most of my books. It consists of 20 stories, half of which have never appeared anywhere before, including the title story, a novella that I believe is one of my best works.I have attempted to alternate the more atmospheric and emotional type of weird story with the cerebral and philosophical kind. So my influences were Poe, Hodgson and Le Fanu as well as Calvino, Borges and Lem.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

 

Mirrors in the Deluge Contract


I am delighted to share the official announcement of my new book of short stories, Mirrors in the Deluge, which will hopefully be published next year...

I had this particular title 'in storage' for many years before finally putting together a collection worthy of it. The title is a variation of A.Merritt's Dwellers in the Mirage, which for a long time has been one of the most sonorous titles I have encountered for a book.

The press release can be read on the publisher's website here. I am extremely happy with the way I have been treated by these publishers so far. They seem very professional, upbeat, vigorous, and they appear to have vision, which is a quality in scarce supply in the publishing world at the moment.

As for the 'Absurd Welshman' description of myself... The publisher discussed this joke with me and I told him to ahead. I have never had any problems with self-deprecating humour. Indeed, it's an essential for any creative to be able to laugh at themselves from time to time.

The photo shows me signing the contract last week. I have been signing many things lately. I decided to be a bit quirky and use a quill pen and turquoise ink.

Mirrors in the Deluge comprises 32 stories and is scheduled for release in 2015. Further details will be posted periodically on this blog. I am very excited about this book!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

 

Tagines


The supposed point of my blog is mainly to talk about my writing life and achievements. I use the word 'achievements' in a way that is both proud and ironic. I am proud of what I have managed to accomplish so far, against the odds, but I am also aware that I'm still a long long long way from being a huthold name, let alone a household name! And I do have some exceptional writing-related news, but it has to be withheld for a couple of weeks. Therefore I shall make this particular blog entry about something completely unrelated to literature.

I recently cooked a tagine for a friend. The first photo shows the ingredients. I made my own harissa and used dates instead of prunes. The couscous had chickpeas and almonds in it. The basic recipe can be found here but you can modify it as you please. I put the pomegranate seeds in a dish and then added them at the last minute when the tagine was served.

The second photo shows the leftovers the following morning, which I had for breakfast, with lavash bread and coffee. My friend makes excellent coffee and uses the grounds afterwards to tell fortunes. Her skill with Tarot cards is also remarkable.

Friday, October 10, 2014

 

Book Tour in Ireland


I have just returned from Ireland. I went there at the invitation of my publisher Mark Lloyd to promote my novel The Young Dictator. In essence this was a book launch one year late. The event was tied in with Limerick being chosen as the 'City of Culture' for 2014. I did a reading in an old theatre with a bust of James Joyce watching me. It's always a pleasure to be in Ireland.

It wasn't all work. In fact it mostly wasn't work. The far west of Ireland is a remarkable place. One morning during my stay, my publisher revealed to me the amazing fact that Father Ted's house was in the vicinity. It is a private residence in the far west of Ireland, but we went up the driveway anyway and knocked on the door. "May we take some photos outside the house?" we asked the woman who answered. She not only gave us permission but also gave us a bishop's mitre and a prepared sign. Then she invited us indoors and showed us the room where Bishop Brennan was kicked up the arse and the "I'm not a racist" window.

We also had time to explore County Clare, including the spectacular Cliffs of Moher. There are castles and abbeys and towers and other ruins almost everywhere. The region of the Burren is an extraordinary karst landscape that I plan to hike properly one day. Rather oddly the weather was quite good. It turns out that the Burren has its own climatic zone that is different from the rest of Ireland, much milder and drier. It hardly rained at all during my visit. This surprised me a lot.

I also ate extremely well during my stay and my publisher was very generous with buying me pints of the black stuff.

The entire trip was extremely enjoyable with the exception of the ferry crossing from Wales to Ireland, which took place in a storm. I have been at sea in storms before, but this one was particularly bad. All the ferry companies cancelled sailings with the single exception of Irish Ferries. "We are going to try anyway!" the captain cheerfully announced. I had blithely announced that "I never get seasick, I am a seasoned traveller" before departure, but I was soon forced to eat my words. Or rather, everything that I had eaten decided it preferred to be back out in the world.

The Young Dictator is available from bookshops and online from Amazon and elsewhere... I really want to write a sequel to this novel, so I need you to consider buying it. The more copies it sells, the greater the chance I will be asked to write a sequel...

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

 

Captains Stupendous Book Signing


I went to London on Saturday for the launch of my new novel Captains Stupendous. The launch took place at the Forbidden Planet bookstore, which is larger than I seem to remember it, and also in a different location. Clearly the business has expanded.

The novel is available from Amazon too and other online bookstores.

After the signing we went to a pub around the corner. It was nice to meet my publisher for the first time. Then I went to Madame Tussauds. It's the first time I have been there since I was about 9 years old. It was good fun.

My next booklaunch is in Ireland on October 7th. I am hoping to make an adventure of getting there and travel to Limerick by bicycle, but this depends on the weather. I should know how feasible this will be in a couple of days from now...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

 

Eternal Horizon


My story 'Eternal Horizon' has been republished online by Lightspeed Magazine and can be read for free by clicking on this link...

I wrote this back in 2002 and it's a good example of the sort of thing I love to write but for which there is almost no market these days. It's not SF, not quite fantasy, not quite magic realism, not quite fabulism, but sort of a mishmash of all these... It's also a love story...

It was originally published in the anthology Album Zutique edited by Jeff VanderMeer but it appeared with several errors (the title of the story was given wrongly as 'Eternal Sunset' for some reason) so I have taken this opportunity to make the correct text available.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

 

London Booklaunch, Forbidden Planet


My next booklaunch and signing is going to take place in London at the Forbidden Planet Bookshop on September 27th between the hours of 1pm and 2pm.

The book in question is my novel Captains Stupendous...

This will be a joint event with Sam Stone, who will be signing copies of her new novel What's Dead Pussykat.

I don't do many booklaunches in the UK, and in fact I have only done three (The Abnormalities of Stringent Strange, The Postmodern Mariner and The Less Lonely Planet) in the past six years...

Friday, September 12, 2014

 

The Ironic Fantastic #3


Issue #3 of THE IRONIC FANTASTIC is now available for download -- absolutely FREE! All issues will be free; that's the point of this project. I edited the first two issues, but I have to say that Paulo Brito, the editor of the third, has done a much much much much much much much much much much much much much much much much much much much better job than I did...

Issue #3 is so far ahead of the first two issues that it's like comparing the Matterhorn with a nose. Paulo is a superb designer with a true designer's eye... This issue contains work by Michael Bishop, Chris Harrendence, Sissy Pantelis, Caleb Wilson, Bruce Holland Rogers, David Rix and too many others to mention...

This issue is also -- I am almost blushing to admit -- a sort of tribute to myself and my work. It also contains my 742nd story, 'The Melon Seller'... and it's free, all free! Download it by clicking on this link.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

 

The Lunar Tickle


I have just received the complimentary copies of my new collection of stories The Lunar Tickle. I am extremely fond of this book but I know it won't be a very popular one and sales will almost certainly be low because it is a kind of fantasy that is fairly unusual these days, especially in Britain and the US, namely fiction that utilizes non-empirical logic.

The logic that controls the development of the stories in this collection tends to be lateral, i.e. based on word- and ideas- association rather than everyday causality...

I love this kind of fiction but very few other people do... Spike Milligan was the last great exponent over here (his Puckoon is a masterpiece of punnery and absurd comedy), but before him there were writers such as Maurice Richardson, J.B. Morton and many others doing this kind of thing... Lighthearted word-games, absurd ideas and lateral twists of logic.

One magazine that published many of these writers was Lilliput, which was founded in 1937 and lasted until 1960. It was especially good in the 1940s. The cartoons of Raymond Peynet also appeared there...

My favourite ever comic novels, W.E. Bowman's The Ascent of Rum Doodle and The Cruise of the Talking Fish, are also vague members of this elusive 'non-genre genre'.

I have added this title to my Aardvark Caesar blogsite, which lists all my published books so far.

The Lunar Tickle is available directly from the publisher here or from Amazon. The cover artist is Emmet Jackson, who was also responsible for creating the wonderful cover for my novel The Young Dictator.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

 

Anti-War Demo


I went on a political demonstration last Saturday, the first I have been on for several years. My photo even appeared in the BBC news. Here I am on the right (not politically) radically opposing war by munching on some salad! I went with two friends and we marched through Newport. The atmosphere was good natured, thankfully; and although there was a very heavy police presence the entire situation wasn’t as oppressive as I had feared it might be. The demonstration won’t change anything, of course, but I guess such events are often more about defining yourself and demonstrating your beliefs than persuading others to change theirs.

I was there primarily to protest against the astronomical sums of money being spent on unnecessary weaponry when so many drastic cuts are being made in essential services... But one thing I find very annoying about these demonstrations is the way the extreme left try to hijack every protest march and make it look like it is a communist march instead of a march consisting of individuals from every part of the political spectrum... The irony of communists marching against war would be amusing if it wasn't such a slap in the face. Communism is aggressive, acquisitive, expansionist and intolerant. I know what a 'false flag' operation is... it's manipulating the scene so that moderates and sensible ordinary people have to march behind the hammer and sickle... I am fed up with it. There really needs to be a plan of action by individuals at such events to visibly declare their independence from such fringe parties.

This other photo shows my friend Elena demonstrating her “determined” look...

Thursday, August 28, 2014

 

Chapeau Bas!


Life. A strange thing. I will now always remember a red bowler hat. Actually it’s not the hat that’s important so much as the person who wore it; and it wasn’t exactly a bowler hat but a related style that is rather more feminine. Maybe a bowler hat for women is still a bowler hat? I am currently reading Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, in which a bowler hat (definitely a male hat and black) plays a significant part in the plot.

Kundera has sat on my shelves for decades until I finally got round to reading him last year. I know that when it comes to sexual politics he is considered to be a very masculine (i.e. chauvinistic) author, but in fact I think that such a crude judgment does him a disservice. The ramifications of the decisions made by his characters are complex; by no means are the men in his stories always in control, the women always their prey. It is probably Kundera’s raw honesty that some readers find objectionable. He is one of those writers who specialise in unpalatable truths; and that surely is one of the proper functions for a writer?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

 

Captains Stupendous Novel


My new novel is available on Amazon, both in the print version and as an ebook...

Amazon UK
Amazon US

This novel began life as a 'Corto Maltese' novella entitled 'The Coandă Effect', published by Ex Occidente in Romania a few years ago. I rewrote it so that the main character is now Scipio Faraway. Then I wrote two novellas as sequels featuring Scipio's brothers, Distanto in 'The Gargantuan Legion' and Neary in 'The Apedog Incident'.

All three novellas together constitute the novel. Needless to say the plotting was quite tricky, but I think I managed to tie all the strands of all the plots together neatly at the end... Although this novel has already been cited as an example of the 'steampunk' subgenre, it isn't really that. I prefer to think of it as something else. 'Steamprog' perhaps...?

The book is going to have an official launch next month at which I will be present. Watch this space for details!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

 

Hippocampus Contract


I have just received the counter-signed contract for a future book of mine that is going to be published by Hippocampus Press in the USA. This book is collection of my stories and was edited by S.T. Joshi. I am especially pleased with this one because Hippocampus Press seems to be really going places...

The title of the collection is Bone Idle in the Charnel-House, a title I have had in ‘storage’ for a very long time. It’s also the title of one of the longer stories in the book. The stories alternate between the more traditional styles of weird fiction (utilising emotions, atmosphere and plot) and the less popular cerebral strain favoured by Borges, Calvino and Lem (where ideas and conceits are the main protagonists)...

Anyway, with luck this book should be out before too long. Fingers (and tentacles and Möbius strips) crossed!

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

 

The Usual Questions


Festivale Online Magazine have just interviewed me... Other writers interviewed for this project include Terry Pratchett, George R R Martin, Tim Powers, Joe Haldeman, Anne McCaffrey...

Publishers and editors often ask for a photo for promotional purposes and I usually provide a selection for them to choose from. I have been told that I look different in every photo taken of me. This photo shows me with an 'evil' beard, a style favoured by many writers but which I rarely wear.

The interview can be read by clicking on this link.


Saturday, August 02, 2014

 

100 Online Stories


I plan to write 1000 stories in my lifetime. This is a well known ambition of mine. I also plan to put exactly 100 of them online for free reading. I have just added the 18th instalment of this project. All eighteen can be accessed by clicking on this link:

THE PLATINUM ASS

When I was younger I daydreamed about editing my own literary magazine and I was going to call it 'The Platinum Ass' as a nod to Lucius Apuleius' brilliant novel The Golden Ass. But that daydream never became a reality and so the title has migrated to become that of a blog.

All (or most) of the stories I choose to appear on the site will be examples of my shorter and lighter work, as I don't think that a computer (or phone) screen is a good medium for the reading of more substantial fiction. I am old-fashioned that way, I'm sorry to say... Ah well!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

 

A Blog Post Almost Not About Writing


I have had an extremely good personal month, one of the best for ages, and therefore my writing has suffered as a result. My rate of production has dropped to a very low level. Too bad! I will pick it up again soon enough... In the meantime this photo shows me on the terrace of a house near Aberglasney Gardens, which I have been lucky enough to wander around in the sunset recently. This is not a dressing gown but a blanket... I am hoping to be spending quite a large amount of time in this new location.

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

 

Captains Stupendous!


My new novel is available for pre-order as from this moment...

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


I was challenged to write a love story by a dear friend. It wasn't really a challenge but just a question, "Have you ever written a love story?" The answer was no, not really; so I decided to make a proper attempt. I have in fact written one or two love stories in the past ('The Lute and the Lamp' for instance) but now I really wanted to strive to produce something much more substantial with love as the main theme.

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!



This book may be translated into Farsi and published in Iran one day, perhaps in conjunction with other works of mine. I haven't had a definite offer along these lines yet; but the proposal came to me recently and naturally I responded in the affirmative with enthusiasm!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

 

Devon-May-Care Attitude


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.

Chagford is one of the great contemporary artists' communities, for as well as Martina it is also home to 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!


All my life I have wanted to see a real UFO and much to my surprise a few nights ago I really did... and I was fortunate enough to be able to film it!

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


The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime arrived for me recently. It was officially published three days ago. It has been edited by 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.

Characters
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.

Insincerity
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.

Love
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:

Paradox
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.

Irony
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.

Journeys
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


I have been very lackadaisical at updating my blog recently. I have so many things to do and I haven't been doing them. These things-to-be-done generally have deadlines and I know about them long in advance. It's nice, however, when something that isn't expected happens, something spontaneous that gives one the impression of taking a sudden detour and passing a few unplanned hours in new and invigorating surroundings before the detour joins up again with the intended path and the schematicized trudge of normality is resumed.

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.

As it happened, Amy went first and set the standard, the tension broke, and the plunge turned out to be delightful.I was asked afterwards what "falling" means to me. I know that the idea is to embrace the concept of letting go, to relinquish control, to abandon temporarily the petty human illusion that we can influence the bigger picture of our lives by exerting detailed dominance over the small things. It is a Zen ideal at odds with the way most of us actually exist and operate on planet Earth. I keep my collection of books in chronological order. Therefore the world outside will be a little more ordered and comprehensible for me. That is the fallacy of sympathetic magic.

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


These days I don't talk about politics much on my blog, or religion, or even mention much about my personal life. It's nearly all books, books and more books. However, in less than one week, the European Elections are taking place, an event that usually slips past the awareness of most people (including myself) like a Teflon-hoofed centaur on a very steep slide made slick with extra virgin olive oil. These European Elections aren't going to be like others. They are a test to see how xenophobic our country has become.

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

 

Giggle Moons


The strictly limited and uniquely personalised copies of The Lunar Tickle have now mostly been made and are on their way to the people who ordered them. This one belongs to Jason E. Rolfe, who also happens to be a character in my forthcoming novel Captains Stupendous... There is exactly one place left if anyone else is interested in becoming the main character of this book.

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

 

Lovecraft/Beltane


I went to the Lovecraft event at Swansea Central Library on Saturday. In the morning I read extracts from my story 'The Bicycle Centaur', which is one of the stories in the 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!"

The evening of the same day I went to a celebration of the Pagan festival of Beltane at the Roundhouse in Caswell Woods. This was an interesting experience. It rained but we managed to get a fire going anyway. I enjoyed the ceremony. It felt nice and deeply human and I can see the appeal that Paganism has for so many people. I also hugely appreciated the opportunity to play the drums and shakers while one of my friends who had been chosen to play the May Queen was chased around by the May King. There's a comedy aspect to Paganism that is totally refreshing and quite unlike the constricting sombre atmosphere of so much organised religion.

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