Thursday, 30 January 2014

A Knot Of Toads

My short story, "A Knot Of Toads", has just been published in Black Static #38 and as usual I'm blogging about the genesis of the story for those who might be interested. There may be spoilers for those who haven't yet read the work.

Several ideas for this piece came about whilst I was on holiday in the Lake District last year: the diversity of tourists at Ambleside, the line about Cumbrian female accents sounding like men would sound if they were women (not intended to be disparaging, this is my character's view not mine!), and the "can I take your picture" line as an intro to picking up solo female travellers.

Meanwhile my partner had come across a list of collective nouns for animals and thought some of them would make good titles or jumping off points for stories. I agreed, and this idea was knocking around in my head for a while like a fly in a glass box, until I realised that the outdoors-ness of the nouns would tie in with my Cumbrian story. I tried to avoid the obvious (a murder of crows etc) and a knot of toads suggested a complex immersion in nature and it fit as a title, with other collective nouns as section headings.

The crux of the story is about a protagonist who believes he is instrumental in causing deaths after he has taken someone's photograph. These are natural deaths. He attempts to assimilate these coincidences rationally, has believed that seeing groups of animals is a harbinger for what occurs, but really he is fighting to impose a structure on something that isn't structured. At the end of the story my intention is to show that in fact there is nothing supernatural behind this, it is totally random. Given an infinite amount of time all permutations of existence are possible, as are aberrations. That's my reading of the story, anyway, although more traditional readings are also possible; my intention is that he feels bound to something where he is only a coincidental observer and any attempts to rationalise it are useless.

If you've read the story, I'd be interested in your comments.

Black Static #38 also contains stories by John Grant, Tim Waggoner, Maura McHugh, Danny Rhodes and Malcolm Devlin. The issue is dedicated to the memory Joel Lane, and Nicholas Royle pays tribute in "The Conscience of the Circuit". Further information here.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Fur-Lined Ghettos #4

The new issue of Fur-Lined Ghettos edited by my partner, Sophie, is now available. To celebrate we've redesigned the website, gone black on white instead of white on black. As always, we enjoy poetry, prose, short stories, dreams, automatic writing, essays, conversations, musings, fact, fiction, art, theory, nonsense and surrealism. We also enjoy you buying our magazine.

Issue four features poetry and prose from Tara Abrahams, Matthew Antonio, Jim Davis, Peter Cole Friedman, Howie Good, Shirley Kuo, Tom Pescatore, Joseph Reich and Ig Zjoot.

The cool cover art is by Narm. This is a print magazine, so please support us by buying a copy and get something tangible in your hands. We're also open to submissions for issue 5.

Thursday, 9 January 2014


My short story, "Interference", has recently been published in Chiral Mad 2 and as usual I'm blogging a few comments about how the story came into being.

Chiralty was the theme behind the first Chiral Mad anthology published in 2012. My story, "The Perfection of Symmetry" was published in that book and I blogged about the story's journey here. It's worth reading that post as I quoted from Wikipedia as to what chiralty is all about as it's quite a complex idea to get your head around. When I saw editor Michael Bailey was planning on a follow-up anthology I was determined to write another piece that would nail the concept down. One of the ideas which came into my head revolved around an aspect of chiralty concerning writing backwards and certain letters which are chiral (those whose properties remain identical when looked at in a mirror, such as my main character's name, MATT). I decided my character would become obsessed by chiralty to the extent that he preferred to view the world through mirrors: something which would impact on his entire life and relationships.

Whilst researching the story it was interesting to see who else practised mirror writing, a list which included Leonardo Da Vinci who wrote most of his personal notes that way. Da Vinci was left handed and there is an argument that mirror writing is actually the most logical way for left handers to write as it is less awkward for the hand on the page. I also read articles which mentioned that sometimes those who are brain damaged or suffer from neurological diseases might start mirror writing despite never having done so before. Some research also included instances where children who mirror wrote were 'persuaded' to write 'naturally'. My character has his mirror writing untampered with since childhood and he views everyone else as being out of sync with the world, not himself.

It's a subtle story. Whilst the book features psychological horror stories mine might easily be seen as mainstream fiction. Nevertheless, I'm very pleased the editor enjoyed the story amongst the 650 submissions he received and has included it in the book alongside the other 23 writers who made the cut, including Ramsey Campbell, Gary McMahon, Jack Ketchum, and John Palisano to name but a few. Also - as per the first anthology - all profits from the book go to Downs Syndrome charities (the first book raised $5000), so buy a copy here.

Finally, I wrote the story whilst listening to the "Widowspeak" by Lydia Lunch on repeat. Music which I felt suited the theme.