Friday, 28 July 2017

The Nomenclature of Fear (reprise)

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

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

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

Here's a bit of it:

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

We were too afraid to lean in for a kiss.

And here's the new cover:

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

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

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Half A Century

Today is my birthday. I turn fifty.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 21 July 2017


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

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

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

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

Here's a brief excerpt:

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

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

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

Friday, 7 July 2017

Elasticity: The Best of Elastic Press

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

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

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

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

From "Grief Inc" by Andrew Humphrey:

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

From "The Tower" by Brian Howell:

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

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

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

From "Amber Rain" by Neil Williamson:

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

From "351073" by Jeff Gardiner:

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

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

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

From "When We Were Five" by Marion Arnott:

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

From "Shopping" by Antony Mann:

July 10

Chewing Gum
Cat Food
Condoms (novelty)
Ronald Reagan mask
Baby Oil
Masking Tape

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

From "Somme-Nambula" by Allen Ashley:

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

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

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

From "Alsiso" by Justina Robson:

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

From "Jasmine" by Andrew Tisbert:

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

From "Televisionism" by Maurice Suckling:

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

From "The Marriage Of Sea and Sky":

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

From "fight Music" by Tim Nickels:

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

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

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The Exterminating Angel vs The Exterminating Angel

Most readers of this blog will be aware that I've recently published a book about Luis Buñuel's 1962 film classic, "The Exterminating Angel", detailing how the film has resonated with me on a personal level as well as examining it's meanings and motifs. It was during research for the book that I became aware of an operatic adaptation due to be performed at London's Royal Opera House this month. Naturally, I was intrigued, and whilst I have no particular interest in that art form it became inevitable that I would see the production. This blog post will explore my thoughts on the opera.

For those who are unaware, Buñuel's movie centres on a group of socialites who retire to one of their houses for an after-opera soiree and who then - for inexplicable and unexplained reasons - find themselves unable to leave the drawing room at the end of the evening. Their social veneers are stripped away, revealing ugly interiors, until eventually after several days they are able to exit only to find themselves caught in a circle of repetition when attempting to leave a church after giving thanks for their escape.

Buñuel's cinematography is fluid considering almost all the action takes place in one room and there are twenty-one cast members. Inevitably, the opera - as expected with any adaptation - doesn't stick rigidly to the film. The cast is much smaller; almost halved. Some of the characters have merged. The set design - with it's large arch representing the open doorway between the two rooms - is impressive. The live sheep - much promoted - make only a cursory appearance.

Initially the opera closely follows the film and adheres to much of the dialogue. There are small tweaks for a modern audience - a Jew becomes an anarchist - but the biggest problem I have with the opera is - well - the opera itself. Buñuel's film would be well-suited to a stage play, and effectively this is exactly what it is. Yet here dialogue is sung. This seems an obvious statement, yet unfortunately it lends the piece an unintentional comic overtone, because - realistically - there is no need for the dialogue to be sung other than the fact that it is an opera. The only differential between the film and the opera is the singing. Because of this, the singing seems absurd.

I appreciate this reflects my own bias. Having only once before been to an opera - over thirty years ago in Russia - I have no comparison with others of its type. However, dialogue appertaining to coffee spoons doesn't render well when sung - it's forced, not comic. The actual singing itself - apart from a few occasions where multiple voices intentionally lead to hysteria - feels superfluous. Without the surtitles - bearing in mind  the opera is in English - little of the dialogue was discernible. If reading the surtitles was akin to watching the movie in Spanish with subtitles, it also confirmed the pointlessness of the medium. This isn't an opinion purely confined to non-opera-aficionado me. Michael Tanner in The Spectator states: "What did the dialogue among the innumerable characters gain by being sung?" In addition, the accompanying music neither added nor detracted - and again, I must make excuses for my lack of orchestral understanding, but for this viewer, it added little to the performances.

And the performances were adequate.

For those who know the movie well I thought there were a handful of deviations that were completely unnecessary. Buñuel's movie is explicit in our understanding that there is no physical reason for the guests' entrapment, yet twice the 'arch' flashed light suggesting some kind of supernatural barrier. I thought this undermined the surrealism. The hostess also tells the butler not to enter the room at a point before their situation is known - a moment which stopped me, not him. There is a reference to the opera's composer, Thomas Adès, which was awkwardly - embarrassingly - self-referential. In the movie, Buñuel's dialogue is crisp and matter-of-fact. Where the opera dialogue deviated from the original it was arch (see what I did there) and over-flowery, completely at odds with the rest of the production and in direct contrast to Buñuel's mastery. Two extended songs also added little, either dramatically or to advance the plot. From promising beginnings, the opera began to outstay it's welcome, and although having seen reviews elsewhere I now appreciate Adès musical deconstructions these were not apparent to the casual listener.

There are two dream sequences in the movie which I was intrigued to see translated for the stage. The first, featuring a disembodied hand, was well-replicated considering the difficulties. Following this, I had great expectations for the second sequence, but this never materialised - a lazy omission. Whilst that sequence is a montage of the guests' thoughts and possibly difficult to transfer to the stage, in my opinion those night-time reveries could have been screened direct from the film in a backdrop with the orchestra adding musical accompaniment on the ondes martenot. If, as an alternative, one of the dead cast members levitating Peter Pan-like from the stage was meant to compensate, I'm sorry to say that this erred on the wrong side of absurdity and was contrary to the spirit of the film.

Criminally, near the end of the opera - when the guests realise they can exit the room - their egress occurs in a perfunctory manner as they drift through the arch individually as though in a daze, much unlike Buñuel's guests' surge of elation which is almost palpable on screen. This aberration undermined any tension, made it appear that the preceding events had been little more than an inconvenience. As an aside - and without too much explanation for those who haven't seen the film - the return of the servants also happened much earlier than necessary as they are integral to the restoration of order (their reappearance simply occurs at the wrong moment), and the goading of the child is much too explicit when compared to the subtlety of the film.

Now, I appreciate not everyone seeing the opera will have seen the movie, and few would have given it as close a scrutiny as I have, however there should be some faith in an adaptation to adhere to the intent of the original production, and whilst Adès "The Exterminating Angel" began positively I felt it digressed without due care and attention along the way, with the final moments scuppered without the humour of Buñuel's original church scene by further endorsing a perceived supernatural threat via the illuminated arch. Even putting the deviances aside, Thomas Adès operatic adaptation left so much to be desired, particularly with regards to his understanding of surrealism. A great shame, because on a superficial level I enjoyed the experience and found it interesting. Ultimately, however, the production left me wanting to revisit the film rather than kindling a desire for further operatic art forms. In "The Exterminating Angel" vs "The Exterminating Angel" it is the angel which is exterminated.

My book, "Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel: a personal analysis", is published by RoosterVision in both (reasonably priced) print and kindle editions.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Buñuel's "The Exterminating Angel" - a personal analysis

My newest publication is my first non-fiction book: "Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel: a personal analysis" which is published by RoosterVision in both (reasonably priced) print and kindle editions. As usual on publication, I'm blogging a few thoughts as to how the book came about for those who might be interested.

The writer, Chris Kelso (also commissioning editor for this film book line), contacted me in May 2016 to ask whether I'd be interested in writing a short non-fiction piece about a movie that I love and had influenced my work. The remit was for it not to be an academic piece, but an informal appreciation. It would probably be useful in this part of the blog to quote from a recent Black Static interview where Pete Tennant asked me the self-same question:

Pete: "Why did you choose to write about Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel? What is its appeal to you? Why do you feel it is an important film? And can you identify any echoes of TEA in your own work?"

My reply: "I was approached by Chris Kelso – the commissioning editor for the RoosterVision imprint – to see whether I would be interested in writing a film book from a purely personal perspective, about influences and resonances, rather than something academic. Whilst I’m not drawn to non-fiction, the project appealed to me as a film fan, and immediately a handful of films shot to mind – Donnie Darko, Mulholland Drive, Le Mepris, amongst them. But Buñuel had been my first introduction to both foreign and surrealist cinema, and of his movies The Exterminating Angel is my favourite.
"The central premise, of a group of socialites who find themselves unable to leave a room after a soiree following an opera despite there being no physical impediment in doing so, struck a chord with me in the way I find surrealism often does – it triggers a little receptor at the back of my mind which gives me joy. It’s as simple as that. You could say it is undoubtedly a horror film, a genuinely nightmarish situation which wouldn’t be out of place as a Twilight Zone episode. I would have seen this as part of a BBC2 retrospective as an impressionable teenager, and the surrealist juxtaposition of strangeness and familiarity is certainly something prevalent in my work and possibly influenced by that movie. Many of my genre stories tether normalcy to the weird, and this is explicit in The Exterminating Angel. The film never bores me and rewards repeated viewings. It’s a quintessential surrealist movie, although not everyone’s cup of tea. And in a reality imitating fiction scenario I’m attending an operatic adaptation in London this May. It will be interesting to see if I can leave the Royal Opera House after the performance."

When the opportunity arose, I spent some time watching and re-watching the movie, consulted the reference books on Buñuel that I already had, and also bought a few which I knew specifically referenced the film. Especially useful was a copy of the screenplay, which I used extensively to plot the film for those who might not have seen it, and also some pointers to reference material from an old friend of mine, Dr Steven Allen, who teaches on the Film Studies and Media Studies programmes at the University of Winchester. Having amassed a reasonable amount of material I then spun my own interpretation, linking surrealism with punk, providing a (very) brief overview of surrealist cinema and a micro-bio of Buñuel's career, and ended with some thoughts on other movies that might have been influenced by The Exterminating Angel (whether consciously or subconsciously or collective-consciously, either in style, plot, or other similarities), and also some musings on how viewing the film at an impressionable age has no doubt permeated my own fiction.

Hopefully, the result is a readable, personal engagement which will encourage those who haven't seen the movie to do so, and will also - for those who already have - provide a somewhat alternative appreciation of this classic film.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

And God Created Zombie - audio book

My 2009 novella, "And God Created Zombies", originally published in both paperback and hardback through NewCon Press, has recently breathed new life as an audio book. In this post I'll give a little background as to the writing of the novella itself and the process that I went through to create the audio version.

The novella itself is an existential work, although it does feature familiar slow-moving zombie tropes from the movies of George Romero. I can't say too much about it without giving away the main plot as there is a substantial twist in the denouement, however my main character, John Baker, finds himself increasingly embroiled in a zombie threat which appears personal. It is his unravelling of the reason behind that which forms the thrust of the plot. Notwithstanding this, there are several instances of gore and not a few comedic moments too. I half-swiped the title from the Roger Vadim movie, "And God Created Women" (although there the similarities end), and the print version had an introduction by best-selling author, Sarah Pinborough.

Whilst the novella was published eight years ago, it's still in print (check out the links above or message me for discounted/signed options), and following a conversation with the writer, Craig Saunders, I became aware of ACX and the possibilities of creating an audiobook version. What really appealed with ACX was the option of working with a voice artist who wouldn't require an up-front payment, but a 50/50 split of any profit. Whilst I appreciate the risk is greater for the voice artist that way - the audio book comes in just short of four hours, but that's just the tip of the voice artist's time - it did mean I could experiment with that form and see if there was a market for my work in audio book format without having to pay anything (that I couldn't afford) up front.

The process is simple: upload a selection of the text to ACX in the hope that a voice artist will make contact with a sample. Choose the best sample out of those that come in. Then authorise the voice artist to go ahead with the work. Finally, upload the finished result. It really couldn't be easier from the writer's point of view.

I was lucky to be approached by William L Sturdevant who I found professional and friendly throughout the process. Listening to the novella for the first time in quite a few years was also an interesting experience, and intriguing to have the story 'read' to me. It has genuinely thrown new light on the book and made me remember how proud I am to have written it. It's a cracking story with philosophical undertones and if I enjoyed it, maybe you will too.

"And God Created Zombies" can be found here on Audible (free with a 30-day Trial for those not currently Audible subscribers). If you do buy it, please consider leaving a review.