Thursday, 26 September 2019

Life + Illusion = Love + Dream

My flash fiction piece, "Life + Illusion = Love + Dream", about the life of Pete Shelley has just been published in the anthology Love Bites from Dostoyevsky Wannabe, and as usual I'm blogging a few lines as to how the story came about for those who might be interested. It's 445 words in length.

Like many of my generation, punk had a massive impact on my formative years. Even though I was just 9 years old in 1976 I was aware of the scene and the brouhaha it was creating. The first single I actually bought was The Stranglers' "Five Minutes" in January 1978, and over the next few years I both kept up with the scene and caught up with the material I had missed. Buzzcocks - inevitably - were part of this education. Whilst I tended to avoid compilation albums, "Singles Going Steady", was a firm favourite. Shelley's succinct, heartfelt lyrics about relationships and breakdowns, backed with punchy furious music held an immediate appeal. I saw them live several times, mostly in the latter half of their career, and at every gig it was a joy to hear the material, a total immersement in mosh-pit mayhem.


The last time I saw Buzzcocks was in May 2018. I had dithered about going, as the previous time I'd seen them the sound hadn't been great and it took me a while to make up my mind. But it was an excellent gig and I fell in love with them all over again. Upon leaving I was determined I'd always see them when they toured, more than aware that too many soldiers of punk were no longer with us.

And then, only seven months later, Pete Shelley no longer was.

When I heard about the "Love Bites" anthology it was too late to submit a full-length piece, but the editors were still looking for flash fiction. An anthology to celebrate Shelley and the music he helped to create was a timely idea and I knew I wanted to be part of it. Shelley's death was unexpected and - like Mark E Smith's earlier that year - hit me hard. Whilst I don't tend to write flash fiction, the brevity suited the punk material, and I decided to write a fictional biopic covering Shelley's life through 'backstage' snapshots including direct quotes I had discovered watching interviews online. One of my favourite Buzzcocks songs, "Everybody's Happy Nowadays", contains one of my favourite lyrics ("life's an illusion / love is a dream") which formed the basis of my title. And as usual, once I had a title, everything fell into place.

Flash fiction often cannot provide much more than a snippet of the kernel of an idea, and I can't pretend that "Life + Illusion = Love + Dream" is particularly profound, however I think I've done Shelley justice, and that's all I can really hope for. I'm looking forward to reading the other contributors in this anthology too.


Here's an excerpt which is a direct interview quote. I love this. A sly shy nod of amusement which is more than a throwaway response and which I feel encapsulates Shelley's warmth and humour.

Interviewer: For you, where did punk come from?

Shelley: A little old lady in Dorset sent me a note saying check this out.

"Love Bites" is edited by Andrew Gallix, Tomoé Hill, and C.D.Rose and features contributions from the following: Emma Bolland, Victoria Briggs, Tobias Carroll, Shane Jesse Christmass, David Collard, Sarah-Clare Conlon, Lara Alonso Corona, Cathleen Davies, Jeremy Dixon, Sharron Duggal, Wendy Erskine, Gerard Evans, Javi Fedrick, Mark Fiddes, Andrew Gallix, Meave Haughey, Tomoé Hill, Richard V. Hirst, David Holzer, Andrew Hook, Tom Jenks, Jonathan Kemp, Luke Kennard, Mark Leahy, Neil Nixon, Russell Persson, Hette Phillips, Julie Reverb, C.D. Rose, Lee Rourke, Germán Sierra, Beach Sloth, NJ Stallard, Rob Walton. Buy it here.

Finally, whilst I usually write listening to music, quite strangely I didn't do so in this instance. However I did watch many YouTube interviews with Shelley on repeat.


Thursday, 8 August 2019

Of Course, A Girl

My short story, "Of Course, A Girl", about the life of Zelda Fitzgerald has just been published in the anthology Afterlives of the Writers from 5th Wall Press, and as usual I'm blogging a few lines as to how the story came about for those who might be interested. Beware, there are likely to be spoilers for those who haven't read it, so it might be best to purchase a copy before reading on.

It was the writer Rhys Hughes who brought the guidelines of this anthology to my attention. Immediately I knew I wanted to write something. The guidelines were to choose a dead writer and write about the afterlife from their perspective. Considering I'd recently completed twelve celebrity Hollywood death stories blending fact and fiction from a similar angle for a collection titled "Candescent Blooms" (currently being submitted), the style of fiction required for the story had become natural to me. The only question was, who to pick?

The provisional site for the anthology contained a list of writers already included. I noticed a distinct lack of females. The reason assisted with my decision to choose a dead female author. But who? In all fairness, it didn't take long to make my choice. The relationship of Zelda Fitzgerald and her husband F Scott Fitzgerald had been one that had fascinated me for some time: how there were accusations of plagiarism on both sides, of how Zelda's career would always be foreshadowed by her more famous husband, how her fiction had been sidelined in favour of his. As myself and my partner - the poet, Sophie Essex - also work ideas off each other, the dynamics in such a relationship have always intrigued. So, Zelda it needed to be.


Perhaps the reasons can also be given in the email I sent to the editor, explaining my choice: The angle with Zelda and Scott is that Scott often ‘stole’ from Zelda’s diaries which meant there was a lot of ‘her’ writing in ‘his’ writing. Much more than the influence of another person, or simply including material from their lives, it was her actual written words which made it into his books. At first that relationship didn’t bother her, but gradually she began to resent this kind of plagiarism, particularly as Scott became increasingly dismissive of Zelda’s own attempts to succeed artistically (whether in literature or dance or art). So whilst it might be wrong to suggest that Scott only succeeded because of Zelda, there is a strong argument that without her his novels would have been different. In her only novel, Save Me The Waltz, Zelda effectively turns the table on Scott as the plot reflects a semi-autobiographical account of their life and marriage. Scott was furious that she included scenes which he had been intending to use himself - so it was a marriage of idealization for both at the start which was informed and reflected within both of their works, which then gradually turned sour. Zelda died in a fire at a psychiatric hospital, and my story represents her reflecting on her life shortly after that death. I chose to write about her rather than Scott, because I find her the most interesting character, but also because of the extent her life poured into his, leaving her more of a shell when it came to her own fiction. If we look at it from the view of her afterlife, her creativity was often belittled by Scott so he could use her words himself - I see her considering that loss, evaluating it. And that’s why I thought her to be an ideal subject for my story and this anthology.

As with my Hollywood stories, the piece mixes fact, fiction, gossip and quotes to create a composite reality - a potted fictionalised biography - told by Zelda as she dies in the hospital fire that consumes her. This is the total of her afterlife.

Here's an extract: I reach for the bottle, my carelessness knocks it from the bedside table. Somewhere in the house I hear F's fingers hitting his keys like a plague of locusts. I shuffle my memories: pick and discard. The flowing of words is a two way process, and I am coming - slowly, but defiantly - to my own moment on the page. Meanwhile, picking up the bottle from the floor, uncapping it, gazing through the contents, it is clear that as light passes from one medium to another, for example between air and glass, it bends. I swig, look again.

The title, "Of Course, A Girl", which I feels both emphasises her sex and being proud of it but which also signifies the dismissal of her fiction because of it, comes from an F Scott Fitzgerald quote about the publication of his first novel, "This Side of Paradise": I have so many things dependent on its success - including, of course, a girl.



Afterlives of the Writers features 22 dead author stories written by 12 live authors. Other contributors are Nicholas Belardes, Žana Branković, M.T. DeSantis, Alex R. Encomienda, Rhys Hughes, Ian Drew Forsyth, Michael McCormick, Treyvon Mersault, George Salis, Marcella Shepherd and Amanda R. Woomer. But it from Amazon in the UK here or in the USA here

Finally I wrote the entirety of the story listening to the title track of Throbbing Gristle's "20 Jazz Funk Greats" on repeat.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

The Girl With The Horizontal Walk

My short story, "The Girl With The Horizontal Walk", has just been published as a standalone chapbook by Salò Press, and as usual I'm blogging a few notes about how the piece came to be written. There will probably be spoilers for those yet to read it.


The subject matter of "The Girl With The Horizontal Walk" is Marilyn Monroe. I previously had no more than a cursory interest in the actress until I read a fictionalised biography of her work titled "Blonde" by Joyce Carol Oates. "Blonde" is an absolute tour-de-force, a brilliant piece of writing reimagining Monroe's life, which is heart-breaking, exhilarating and an absolute page turner (for all of it's 600 pages). After reading the book a few years ago I felt compelled to write my own Monroe story. But where was I to start?

After doing some research I became intrigued at the premise of her last - unfinished - movie: "Something's Got To Give". In the film Monroe's character (Ellen Arden) is a photographer declared legally dead after being lost at sea in the Pacific. Her husband remarries. Monroe then returns after being rescued and takes an assumed name, Ingrid Tic, moving in with her husband - who recognises her, of course - but concealing her real identity from the new wife. Complications ensue.

In my story, a dead Monroe attempts to process her life through the character of Ellen Arden who is an actress working on a film about a photographer named Marilyn Monroe who goes missing after an altercation with President Kennedy. Arden increasingly identifies with Monroe, in a role which itself is threatened by a make-up girl, Baker, Arden's dead ringer who the producers encourage to work as a stand-in on some of Arden's scenes. Complications ensue.

As per the blurb: "As Marilyn Monroe's body lies in the morgue, fragments of her unfinished final movie coalesce in a swansong of remnants, gossip, memories, doppelgangers and subterfuge."

"I play a photographer, Marilyn Monroe. I get to go platinum. Preferably a wig. Marilyn doesn't take great pictures, but she's always in the right place at the right time. Plus she's pretty - we know how many doors that opens, front and back. She carves out a career for herself, Life, Movieland, Modern Screen, all those covers. She gets invited to all the right parties, then some of the wrong ones. So there's then a photo of the president; in flagrante. Before you know it, she's killed."


The symbol on the cover, incidentally, is the chemical compound for the barbiturates which were found in Monroe's body by the coroner after her death.

Writing "The Girl With The Horizontal Walk" has led me to create several pieces of fiction under similar premises - which I affectionately call my 'celebrity death' stories - whereby character's attempts to understand their deaths are subverted by confused memories of their life. These now form a collection, "Candescent Blooms", currently seeking a publisher. I've blogged about two of the stories which have also been published at the following links: Grace Kelly and Olive Thomas.

"The Girl With The Horizontal Walk" is 16pp for £3.99 and can be purchased here.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

The Uneasy

My ten thousand word short story, "The Uneasy", has been just published by Eibonvale Press as a standalone chapbook so as usual I'm blogging a few thoughts as to how the piece came to be written.

As a starting point, the back cover blurb is as follows: In the Paris from which Andre Breton spun his webs of revolutionary art and which Louis Aragon documented through le merveilleux quotidian, Andrew Hook weaves the poignant and erotic story of a British expatriate and her increasingly surreal quest for sexual fulfilment - a beautiful journey from the familiar to a place where sex itself becomes the ultimate unreality.

"The Uneasy" originated from a discussion between myself and my partner - the poet, Sophie Essex - as to whether we should write a collaborative piece whereby our two styles were conjoined to make a third voice. My writing tends towards story whereas hers is more abstract. I suggested we write the same story: with my version forming a book which could then be flipped over to read her more surreal interpretation. For various reasons, this didn't progress, but the germ of the idea was there: to write a sexual discovery story through surrealistic techniques as a counterpart to books such as the Fifty Shades series. I don't remember where the title came from, but it seemed to fit.

Another jumping off point was Louis Aragon's surrealist novel "Paris Peasant" which I had recently read. For numerous reasons it made sense to set the story there, and I wanted a distant, almost mechanical style to the writing which might echo the Aragon as well as trip through Paris.


Here's a bit of it:

The men wore plague masks of the bird beak fashion, together with drab ankle-length grey coats, boots, gloves, and wide-brimmed hats. She could smell lavender from crushed flowers pressed into the nose cone. They pirouetted around the bed, with each turn worn fingers unbuttoned their garments, until all that was left were the masks and their penises swirled like guy ropes in a sea breeze and they spun faster becoming smaller before they winked out of existence.

I should point out that there are traces of Sophie's writing in the book. Those are the best bits. And by coincidence Eibonvale have just published her first poetry collection.


"The Uneasy" is available from Eibonvale Press, here.




Friday, 22 March 2019

The Forest of Dead Children

My new book - a micro-collection of five themed short stories titled "The Forest of Dead Children" - has now been published by Black Shuck Books. Here's some background into these stories and how they developed into the book.

Whilst I'd been aware of Black Shuck Books for sometime - particularly their Great British Horror series - I hadn't seen their Shadows imprint until the Edge-Lit event in Derby in July 2018. I was immediately struck by the slim format and excellent covers and struck up a conversation with publisher Steve Shaw as to whether they were taking submissions. It was at this point that I discovered the collections were loosely themed, and without a theme in mind I decided to leave it there.

However, conventions are always great places to fan creative flames and it wasn't long before I was back home and wondering if I had something or could write something which might fit a theme. I had recently written a story titled "The Harvest" about a man whose child dies when left in a hot car: but the original title of the piece was "The Forest of Dead Children". I'd changed the title - something I rarely do - because the resulting story didn't quite match it; but I had been planning on using the title again. Suddenly, the theme of dead children became apparent. I realised I had two other pieces already written which would work with the theme, and "The Forest of Dead Children" seemed perfect as an overarching title for the collection. Not only that, the previous evening cycling home I had been behind another cyclist with a young child on the back of their bike. Their child was asleep, head lolling from side to side, and it crossed my mind they might be dead (I'm a barrel of laughs, me). This idea tied in with a story title I was intending to use, called "The Rhythm of Beauty". The collection was taking shape.

I knew Steve was looking for a minimum of 20,000 words and I tend to write short pieces. This meant I would need to write one story which would be much longer and form the basis for the collection to hang upon. Having a title story seemed the best option, but I wanted something quirkier than that. For a while I'd had an idea about children whose lives are extinguished through being forced to be suicide bombers, or via child sacrifice or other rituals and how these stories almost always have a non-Western setting. I wanted to challenge that perception and place them in settings both familiar to Western readers but incongruous with perceived stereotypes. I felt the title would encompass this, with a tweak: "The ______ of ____ ________". Ideal for missing children. Approaching Steve, he was happy to take a look and subsequently happy to publish it.


So the stories in this collection are as follows:

"Shipwrecked In The Heart Of The City" (previously published in the anthology "Night Light" from Midnight Street Press and previously blogged about here).

There was nothing for it. He took off his clothes, pulled the sheets from the bed until all that remained was the bare wooden frame. He curled up, foetus-like, his head bent in supplication, his knees close to his chest, his arms tight, little fists tensed as if expecting to box. After a moment he felt for his umbilical cord where it was squashed between one leg and his stomach, and he straightened it, pointed it away from his body, as though it were an arrow to another place.

"The Rhythm of Beauty": Frisch attempts to determine the source of his daughter's night terrors whilst battling his own resulting lack of sleep.

They fell silent within their room, whilst the tumult continued on the other side of the wall, Esme battling what appeared to be a physical demon, incoherent drama forcing itself from her mouth, snatches of words amidst a gale of noise. Frisch felt guilty, waiting for the act to subside was a paradigm of boredom.

"My Tormentors": A Kafkaesque allegory where a mother's attempts to reach a hypothetical castle are subverted by her two young assistants.

At her lowest, the assistants are an antumbra, darkly leaching her personality as though she had ever given it away for free. Morning light gradually picks off the mist as though busting ghosts, sucking dampness dry in the fluid-sperm-wriggle manner of vacuuming ectoplasm.

"The ______ of ____ ________": Four linked stories dealing with instances of child suicide bombers, child sacrifice, infanticide for financial reasons and ritualised child abuse.

Amanda made the first small cut on the roof of Loren's mouth with a scalpel so sharp Loren didn't register any pain and only realised the procedure had been concluded when she tasted copper in her mouth.

"The Harvest": A father spends some quality time at the beach with his daughter on an exceptionally hot day following which she succumbs to sunstroke and passes away amidst surrealistic reverie.

Her limbs ghosted over brilliant white daisies centred with yolk-round spots, buttercups coated slick, poppies edging with the brittleness of crepe paper, with tiny breathing hairs. In the distance: mountains, peaks, sky. Tumbling: blue replaced green replaced blue. She accentuated her thoughts, pushed against the reverb, freed to elasticity.


So why the plethora of stories about dead children? Having had two children I'm more than aware of the responsibility I have towards their mortality but am also painfully aware of how difficult it can be to cope. Children are such a drain on time and resources with varying degrees of emotional payback, it's no wonder we fantasise as to how life might have been without them.

"The Forest of Dead Children" is available through Black Shuck Books.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

The Best and Worst of 2018

Well, it's that time of the year when everyone is doing their 'best and worst of' lists, so here is mine. I'm going to list the books and movies I read/watched in 2018 and then pick my favourites. This isn't restricted to what was new in 2018, but what I actually watched and read - some of these items might be very old indeed.

Books:

I read the following in 2018:

Mark Mower – The Baker Street Case-Files
The Residents – Never Known Questions
Douglas Thompson – The Brahan Seer
Thomas M Disch – 334
Chris Kelso – Unger House Radicals
Ed McBain – Til Death
Iain Banks – Dead Air
Aliya Whiteley – The Beauty
Jim Thompson – The Transgressors
Robert Greenfield – The Cedar Cage
Mark E Smith – Renegade
John D McDonald – Cape Fear
Brian Howell – Sight Unseen
Eley Williams – Attrib
Nina Allen – The Race
David Mathew – Dreadnought Flex
Tom Robbins – Jitterbug Perfume
Mark Morris (editor) – New Fears
Gudrun Eva Minervudottir – The Creator
Ernest Hemingway – Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises
Francis Durbridge – Dead To The World
Brian Aldiss – The Moment of Eclipse
Simon Avery – The Teardrop Method
John Connolly – he
Neil Williamson – The Moon King
Ernest Tidyman – Shaft
David Lynch and Kristine Mckenna – Room To Dream
John Wyndham – Trouble With Lichen
Nina Allen – Stardust
Nicholas Royle – Regicide
Camilla Grudova – The Doll's Alphabet
Primo Levi – The Wrench
Charles Bobuck – This Is for Readers: The Wax and Wane of Charles Bobuck
Arkady and Boris Strugatsky – Roadside Picnic
Robert Edric – The Wrack Line
Andy Cox (editor) – Crimewave: Ghosts
Chris Beckett – America City
Katherine Osborne – Descansos
Douglas Thompson – The Suicide Machine
Sophie Macintosh – The Water Cure
Clive Bloom – Cult Fiction
David Rix – A Suite In Four Windows
Nicholas Royle – A Book Of Two Halves

That's worked out at 43 books this year, up from last year's 37 although my target is probably 50 (which would take me 7 years to get through my backlog without buying any more books). There were a couple of books this year that I struggled through and which I should probably have given up on, which included the Icelandic novel "The Creator" (unremittingly bland) and "334" by Thomas M Disch (a scattershot rendering of disengaging prose). There were also a handful of novels by authors I usually like which disappointed: Nicholas Royle's "Regicide" (a book of two halves, which I would have preferred to remain in the first half), Chris Kelso's "Unger House Radicals (much acclaimed, but it didn't quite engage with me), and Jim Thompson's "The Transgressors" (a floaty chore). An author new to me, Ernest Hemingway, also totally disappointed with "Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises" (Not sure why, the prose is so simple as to be a Janet and John primer, and the plot only subliminally exists so there wasn't anything difficult to follow).

Other than that there were some great books this year: Chris Beckett's near-dystopian future "America City" (narrowly avoids the top three as politics is inevitably a little dry), the Strugatsky brothers "Roadside Picnic" (brilliant premise, well realised), Primo Levi's "The Wrench" (totally engrossing considering the engineering subject matter didn't immediately appeal), "Room to Dream" (a fascinating insight into the workings of film-maker David Lynch), "he" (John Connolly's fictionalised biography of Stan Laurel), Nina Allan's "The Race" (beautifully realised prose), Aliya Whiteley's disturbing "The Beauty", Sophie Macintosh's "The Water Cure" (evoking the strange-logic films of Yorgos Lanthimos) and Ian Shirley's comprehensive biography of the San Francisco avant-garde band, The Residents.

I rarely re-read books, but this year I revisited Tom Robbins' "Jitterbug Perfume" which – it turns out – remains one of my favourite books of all time.

As usual, I'm going to base my top three from my Goodreads reviews. Four books received my 5/5 rating, but I'm not including Mark E Smith's "Renegade" as I prefer my final three to be fiction. So, without further ado, here they are:

In reverse order:

"The Doll's Alphabet" by Camilla Grudova



This collection of 'weird' short fiction feels very natural and not forced, as though Grudova is simply writing about the world as she sees it rather than imposing any weirdness upon it. and whilst initially I struggled with wondering what the 'point' of these stories was, eventually I realised that it didn't matter, that – to use a cliché, not that Grudova would – it was the journey rather than the destination which was important. A brilliant skilled prose writer, Grudova's world is a palace for readers and writers alike.


"Cape Fear" by John D MacDonald



This crime novel is a terrific book, faultlessly relentlessly terrific. Tension is sustained throughout the 200 pages: gripping, haunting, formidable, relatable. Dialogue between the Sam Bowden and Cady, his nemesis, is electrically charged, but – a real strength – the dialogue and easy camaraderie between Sam and his wife is also beautifully realised, so the book is a love story and no less realistic and honest for that. The ending is perfect, returning the glaze of normality over a fractured world.

And the winner is:

"Stardust" by Nina Allan



You really can't fault Allan's writing, and in this collection of very loosely linked short stories she excels, the tales richly layered and dense with portent. Characters are immaculately defined and engaging, and the stories themselves are perfectly formed. This is exactly the type of fiction which appeals to me: stories grounded in a world apparently recognisable as our own, which subtly tilts to subvert our expectations, leaving characters breathless in a new scenario where the ramifications affect them deeply. These are stories which resonate with the human condition yet are also recognisably weird. I cannot recommend Nina Allan highly enough. Amongst many strong contenders this year, this is easily the best book I read in 2018.


Movies:

I watched the following in 2018:

Spotlight On A Murderer
The Wildest Dream
Meru
Everest
The Summit
That Obscure Object of Desire
Kinetta
Umberto D
Mallrats
The Anderson Tapes
Jumanji
A Serious Man
The Crimson Kimono
Dyketastic
Reprise
Being John Malkovich
Rey
Mountain
Man Bites Dog
Dead Slow Ahead
The Structure of Crystals
The Lost Weekend
An Education
Los Decentes
L’Amant d’un Jour
Birdy
Arrival
Train to Busan
Six Shooter
The Challenge
Mindhorn
Pontypool
Dr Strangelove, Or How I Leant To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb
The Red Turtle
Silence
The Florida Project
Thelma
The Handmaiden
Dogville
The 400 Blows
Louder Than Bombs
Suburbicon
Wùlu
Seven Psychopaths
Morvern Callar
Annihilation
Goosebumps
The Neon Demon
Under The Shadow
Green Room
Meshes of the Afternoon
Bottle Rocket
Isle of Dogs
Canyon Passage
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Elle
I Feel Pretty
Café de Flores
A Touch of Evil
Written On The Wind
Husbands and Wives
The Fall
Stand By Me
The Squid and the Whale
The Awful Truth
Closer
The Tarnished Angels
The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things
The Glass Key
Rumble Fish
Les Deux Amis
The Blob
Trouble Every Day
The Homesman
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Harry Smith at the Breslin Hotel
A Branch of a Pine is Tied Up
Polytechnique
Un été brûlant
Mud
The Autopsy of Jane Doe
Europa
A Ghost Story
The Canyons
The Rise And Fall Of A Small Film Company
Cape Fear
Wind River
My Man Godfrey
Meteors
Capote
Machete
Twelve Monkeys
Some Like It Hot
Sullivan’s Travels
The Lady Eve
I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House
White Chicks
Cry-Baby
Rope
Happy End

The Man Who Knew Too Much
Avalon
Les Garçons Sauvages
No Man Of Her Own
Frenzy
Taste Of Fear
Nocturnal Animals
In The House
Have A Nice Day
Crimes of Passion
The Theory of Obscurity
The Wolf House
The Curse of Frankenstein
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The Wanderers
Touch Me Not
9 Fingers
The Man Who Fell To Earth

In The Shadow Of Women
Bird Box

That's 121 movies this year, a rise from the 99 of last year which is good news. Of course, that's a long list to narrow down to my top three, and unlike books I don't have a site equivalent to Goodreads with which to guide my memory.

As usual, however, I'm discounting movies I've previously seen. So this knocks out Buñuel's wonderful "That Obscure Object Of Desire", the better-the-second-time-around "Being John Malkovich", Kubrick's delightful farce "Dr Strangelove", Truffaut's (dare I say it: 'a bit boring on third watch') "The 400 Blows", the sublime "Some Like It Hot", the Oh-That-Ending "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (Doris Day version), and the intriguing "The Man Who Fell To Earth."

Those movies which I found annoying or awful are easy to chronicle, and this includes "An Education" which I absolutely hated and found morally repugnant, "Seven Psychopaths" (an absolute overblown mess), "Wind River" (much acclaimed for no apparent reason), and Hitchcock's "Frenzy" which really felt as though it was a homage to the great director from someone much less skilled.

This leaves us with some great movies. My favourite discovery this year has been Norwegian director Joachim Trier. Whilst I saw and enjoyed "Oslo, August 31st" another year, this film pales against a trio of films watched this year: "Reprise" (brilliant study of two men dreaming of becoming successful writers), "Thelma" (an intriguing supernatural fantasy drama, which loses it a little bit towards the end but which remains powerful), and ... actually, the third film will be amongst my top three so I'll leave that for a moment. Other favourites include "Arrival" (SF first contact story with an intelligent heart), "Train To Busan" (the first zombie movie to make me cry), "Dogville" (a masterpiece of experimental film by Lars Von Trier, "The Florida Project" (a trailer-trash film with a solid heart which has lingered in my mind for several months), the joyously insane "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" from the ever-inventive Luc Besson, Orson Welles' "A Touch Of Evil" (what an opening sequence!), Francis Ford Coppola's skewiff coming-of-age film, "Rumble Fish", Von Trier again with "Europa" (which we initially began watching – in error – for twenty minutes – without subtitles believing the dichotomy to be part of the film), the poorly named but brilliantly realised "Trouble Every Day" (by Claire Denis), "A Ghost Story" (which might have made my top three if I hadn't completely misunderstood the repeated 'wallpaper' sequence), "Capote" (for Philip Seymour Hoffman's commanding presence alone), the totally nuts full-out enjoyable "Machete", the detailed biography "The Theory of Obscurity" about avant-garde band The Residents, and "9 Fingers" (kind of existential French noir, confusing and dreamlike).

As usual, I get the feeling that another day might produce marginally different results, but – today – here are my top three movies I saw for the first time in 2018.
Again, in reverse order:


"I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House" (2016) - Oz Perkins


There's a real quiet charm to this ghost story which elevates the film way beyond similar fare. Constantly wrong-stepping the audience – but in a logical, un-horror-like way – the end result is fascination rather than dread, with a beautifully understated performance from lead actor Ruth Wilson. For those attuned to the standard 'jump scenes' these are thankfully few and far between, with the denouement perfectly rendering how the effect of actual sudden fear might result. It's quirky, winsome, and intriguing. I loved it.

"Les Garçons Sauvage" (2017) - Bertrand Mandico


This beautifully beguiling bizarre film is better watched without knowing anything about it. It's an exceptionally inventive piece of work from start to finish and – to me – represents all that cinema should be about. I can't recommend it highly enough: such a welter of imagery. It misses out by a hair's breath on being my favourite film seen this year. I want to enthuse more but spoilers would result. See it. At any cost, see it.

And the winner is...

"Louder Than Bombs" (2015) - Joachim Trier
 

So as previously mentioned, director Joachim Trier was (almost) a new discovery for me this year, and certainly this movie is my favourite of his and easily the best film watched in 2018. The central family performances from Jesse Eisenberg, Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert and Devin Druid are exemplarily. As the film ended I turned to my partner to dissect what we had watched as usual and I – literally – couldn't get any words out. I was totally overcome with emotion. And this wasn't a response to some glib sentimentality designed to push certain buttons, but more of a psychological reaction to breathtaking honesty in filmmaking, of how the right kind of art can do the right kind of things, of how even the best relationships are two-dimensional, and about how everything is potential and no more nor less than that. Trier unfolds this simply: allowing us to watch and absorb without judgement. There's no condescension to the audience, so when the film ends you are left bereft and replete simultaneously. And that's without me needing to detail the plot. Astonishing!


So that's it. Looking forward to reading and watching more in 2019!

Friday, 21 December 2018

My Writing Year 2018

As has become annual I thought I'd do a quick blog post as to my literary achievements during 2018.

I've had no books published this year, but at least three - possibly four - new titles should be available next year, so this is more an indication of peaks and troughs rather than sitting on my laurels. More about those later in the post.

Usually I aim to write a short story a month, but a large proportion of the year was spent working on a novella, "O For Obscurity, Or, The Story Of N" (around 35,000 words), so in addition to this I only wrote five short stories in 2018: "The Day The World Turned", "The ______ Of ____ ________", "Always Forever Today", "The Rhythm of Beauty", and "Of Course, A Girl".

I sold only one short story this year: "The Day The World Turned" to an anthology I'm not yet permitted to mention.

The following six stories were published this year: "Memories of Olive" in Ambit #231, "Making Friends With Fold-Out Flaps" in Black Room Manuscripts Vol. 3, "The Al Pacino Appreciation Society" in Crimewave #13: Bad Light, "Shipwrecked In The Heart Of The City" in the Midnight Street anthology Night Light. "A Pageant of Clouds" in Doppelganger #1 (a magazine which appeared to disappear on the day of its release), and "Sarcoline" reprinted in Norwich: A Dostoyevsky Wannabe Cities anthology edited by Sophie Essex. Additionally, an extract from my novel, "People I Know Are Dead", was included in the Volta anthology from Salò Press.

I have sold two books this year. A ten thousand word short story, "The Uneasy", will appear as a standalone chapbook from Eibvonale Press, and a mini short story collection, "The Forest of Dead Children" will appear from a publisher I am at yet not at liberty to announce. These should be published in 2018, alongside a longer short story collection, "Frequencies of Existence", whose details I also am not at yet at liberty to reveal. The possible fourth book publication next year could be "O For Obscurity, Or, The Story Of N", with which I am currently in negotiation.

I have a handful of stories awaiting publication that were originally accepted in previous years, and my next main project may be a novel titled "The Non-Conformists". A few novels are also under consideration by various agents/publishers, as they were last year.

It's been a quieter year on the publication/acceptance front, mostly because I've been working on longer projects and also due to the delay in publisher response times which seems increasingly prevalent. Even so, looking back on this, 2018 has still been a productive year in terms of word count.