Monday, 19 May 2014

BlogHop: Three Things I Don’t Write (and Three Things I Do)

This is one of those writerly blog tour things where I've been tagged by another writer to discuss three things I don't write and three things I do, and where I'll pass on the baton to another three writers to blog their own thoughts. Needless to say, all these writers' blogs are worth reading and so is their writing. In my case, Stephen Palmer tagged me, and without further ado here are my responses:

Three Things I Don't Write:


It's rare that I touch politics in my fiction because I don't find the subject matter lends itself towards imagination. The closest I've come is my short story, "Beyond Each Blue Horizon", which appeared in an anthology supporting writers in Sierra Leone, and "The Opaque District", an austerity story which will appear in the forthcoming "Horror Uncut" anthology. Generally, though, I leave politics well alone. I find that political stories can be clichéd, preachy and tend towards the polemic.


Many horror stories focus on revenge, from beyond the grave, jilted partners, townsfolk retribution and that kind of thing. Me, I think life's too short for revenge - both in reality and in fiction. And again, these kinds of stories tend to inevitably fall into cliché: the revenge turns sour or misguided or something nasty happens to the 'right' person and that's it and no more. Because my mind isn't attuned to revenge, I find I avoid it in fiction.

Excessive Gore

I'm not a fan of gore for the sake of gore, and whilst I have written some disturbing fiction I like to think that at the bottom line horror should be concerned with relationships and the things that can go awry in a realistic manner, rather than down the torture porn route. The same applies to monsters - give it a rest. And the number of stories where someone's eye is gouged out never really convey the absolute horror of the act. Sometimes words are not enough, and with excessive gore they really demonstrate anything other than the paucity of the writer's imagination. Hence my avoidance.

Three Things I Do:


This is a theme I find myself coming back to over and over again, no doubt because I am absolutely terrified and appalled by the concept of my own death. Having no belief in an afterlife I get stone cold fear contemplating my demise and using themes in my fiction of immortality probably equates to my own security blanket whereas others might have religion or spirituality. My longer works all deal with immortality: in "Moon Beaver" the title character is on the run from it ("if you lose track of time, time will lose track of you"), in "And God Created Zombies" the main character has it without realising it, in "Ponthe Oldenguine" I deal with the immortality of fame, and in my crime novel "The Immortalists" two crime lords chase immortality as a pelican might chase a dead fish. Yup, immortality is my bugbear and I need to attain it (preferably by dying, and not through my work - to paraphrase Woody Allen).


"Identity is the crisis can't you see" (Poly-Styrene). The meaning of identity has always interested me: who are we, who we are, and how our identity changes dependent on those we interact with. I see identity as something fluid and transmutable, not set in stone. Examination of identity within fiction is always intriguing because the characters are a construct of the writer, and the writer can therefore hold back information in much the same way as a real person retains secrets. I believe it's impossible to know much about other people and just as difficult to know a great deal about oneself outside of the routine social system we decide to fix ourselves within. So dealing with themes of identity is always to the fore in my work.


Reality is something else that intrigues me. Quite simply, what is it? I don't have the answer to that question, although it's a certainty that each individual's reality is quite distinct from another's. Reality can be fascinating to explore within fiction, not only because you can create the character's world but also by the examination of the world we think we live in. As you can tell, I find reality to be a nebulous concept: the only surety is that there are no sureties. I'd be hard pressed to confirm the existence of anyone or anything other than myself. That's why reality is such a fun concept to play with. Particularly when an individual's reality can change melodramatically at the drop of anything at all.

I hope that's been interesting. I've chosen to tag two writers, Douglas Thompson and Gio Clairval to take the BlogHop further. Enjoy!

Thursday, 15 May 2014


The word genius is often banded about quite arbitrarily, and I've been thinking about who I consider fits such a description and what the word actually means.

There's the literal definition of course. The Oxford English Dictionary defines genius as "exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability". However I would qualify this with: "unprecedented amongst the subject's peers". Because if you are a genius within a group of geniuses do you remain a genius?

Simone de Beauvoir said: "One is not born a genius, one becomes a genius", and I agree that nurture rather than nature plays a role in creating a genius; but that also society dictates what is considered to be genius. What might be astounding for some, will often pass others by - and this doesn't just apply to individuals but to stages of history. So the following represent my definition of genius. And because I'm more attuned to the arts over science (or anything else) my pick of geniuses will be restricted to those working within that medium.

(un)Popular Music

There are those who get The Fall and those who just don't understand music. Mark E Smith understands both. This is one instance where it's almost impossible for me to describe why I think Smith is a genius, because for me he just is. It's not sycophancy on my part. The Fall are not my favourite band; their music can be difficult and alienating. Yet I do consider alienation to be an essential part of what makes a genius, because a genius within the arts tends to be someone who doesn't fit with an established norm. My definition of genius would also include someone who remains true to themselves in the face of opposition. Smith clearly fits that role.

As a runner in the music category I would choose Howard Devoto. Lyrically and stylistically brilliant, he would also consider himself a genius.


Dali, of course, was a self-proclaimed genius. And he was right. Having seen many of his paintings close up the detail and perfection is incredible. For those who don't understand his work or are critical of his intent, I would argue that this is a trait that dogs geniuses within the art world: misunderstanding by the ignorant. Additionally, I consider genius is a trait which reflects in the mind of the recipient: genius is recognised by an almost religious glow of appreciation and the sensation that you have come home. This is certainly the case for me with Dali's work, but also why I find it difficult to explain why genius is genius to someone whose connection to the artist isn't as strong.

I don't get the same buzz from other artists, but whilst Gunther von Hagens doesn't consider his plastinations of human bodies to be art they also speak to me in a way that shouts of genius.


Bernard Miles described Spike Milligan as "a man of quite extraordinary talents...a visionary who is out there alone, denied the usual contacts simply because he is so different he can't always communicate with his own species..." I would suggest this statement often applies to genius in the arts - someone who is not actually before their time, but at odds with it. Milligan, like Dali, knew he was a genius but retrospectively whilst he is acknowledged as such, the lack of his material currently available commercially is criminal. Whilst programmes laud him as the godfather of modern comedy there are few examples actually available for modern audiences to view. This is shameful, because the surrealistic delight his TV shows exhibited are true indications of genius. Milligan took comedy to pieces and rebuilt it in his own image. Similar to Tex Avery's cartoons, Milligan exposed the artifice around a sketch and brought it into the audience.

The runner-up for me is Stewart Lee. Lee is most certainly a genius who understands comedy, who constantly berates his audience, and is superbly clever in the (de)construction of his act. And like Milligan, he has no contemporaries who are even close to doing what he does.


Another maverick with a singular, persistent vision: film director Jean-Luc Godard. One of the father's of French New Wave cinema and latterly a chronicler of cinematic history, whose movies are always thought-provoking, often difficult, are peppered with breathtaking audacity, and who sparkles with genius. As with the other examples he has sometimes had great commercial and critical success but resolutely remains outside the mainstream and adamantly exists to persist in his own goals. As an innovative, controversial, fiercely intelligent filmmaker with a career spanning five decades Godard is incomparable.

I was going to include Buñuel as runner-up but on reflection whilst I think much of his work is genius I don't think it elevates him in the same way as it does Godard. Instead, I'm plumping for an equally controversial filmmaker who works by his own rules: Lars Von Trier. Justifiably, I believe he is a genius in the making.


I've found choosing a genius for literature harder than the other categories, despite fiction being my personal preference over the other arts. This is because it's less easy to evaluate an author's body of work in one fell swoop: your eyes can scan a series of paintings or quickly evaluate comedy or film, but reading the back catalogue of a writer can take time. I've found I love the work of Paul Auster, but I can't call him a genius from reading two books (although I suspect that he is). Murakami also appeals, but some of his works are duds. Tom Robbins is a favourite of mine, but a genius? - it would be a hard case to argue. And what of those authors who might only have written one book - no matter how brilliant it was - can they be judged on a sole work? I've therefore decided that for me there are no runner's-up here, but for his achievement sustained over many books, there's one clear winner: Vladimir Nabokov.

"I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita forever; but I also knew she would not be forever Lolita."

Nabokov understood the beauty of words and his adoration of them sustains the genius in his writing. His works aren't consistent, but where he hits the nail on the head he totally hammers it home: "Pale Fire," "Bend Sinister", and of course, "Lolita". Sometimes you have to pause, gasp a breath, and re-read before moving on. Nabokov's intellect can outweigh the reader, but persistence quickly reveals the genius through the words. He's fun, playful, deadly serious and committed.

If anything, writing this blog has confirmed how certain I am about the genius of these individuals; yet I'm also aware that aesthetics are subjective and for some people Mark E Smith's rants and often unintelligible lyrics, Milligan's sheer nonsense, Nabokov's imposing intellect, Godard's perceptive vision and Dali's masturbatory landscapes would not only be considered negatively but also as an affront to popularity. Good. Because it's also said that it takes a genius to know one. Do you know one?

Tuesday, 6 May 2014


I've just received my contributor's copy of La Femme, an anthology published by NewCon Press, featuring my short story, "Softwood". 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.

This is one of those strange instances where a story was written for one anthology and instead appeared in another, both as a result of how the story grew and also because of the direction the publisher decided to take the project. When Ian Whates at NewCon Press suggested I write a story for the noir anthology he was publishing I jumped at the chance. The proviso was that it should feature a strong female character, a femme fatale. As I've been writing a lot of noir at the moment (including, of course, the novel I am perpetually plugging), it seemed an easy write. As it happens my first attempt - or rather, the here's one I made earlier attempt - fell flat, and I had to get my thinking cap on.

"Softwood" was a title I had for a while but didn't know where to take it. Was it a character's name, a place, a state of mind, or a metaphor? I needed something to take it further and this occurred when I became aware of numbers stations. Quite simply, these are radio stations characterised by unusual broadcasts, usually the reading out of numbers by female voices, whose origins and purpose are unclear and with which governments deny any involvement. Immediately I sensed some kind of spy story, with a femme fatale at the centre of it, but the character I began to write didn't tick the fatale boxes - although gradually it appeared her alter ego did...

The story went on to merge these broadcasts with the trace of the supernatural through electronic voice phenomenon, whereby the secrets of Softwood aren't so much the broadcasts themselves but what can be picked up within the broadcasts. Or is this true at all? Had the enforced co-operation of my female character in a pseudo-government session unhinged her to the extent that she couldn't interpret the truth in anything?

I submitted the story to Ian knowing that the piece had diverged from the noir/femme fatale angle and whilst I had one (or was it two?) strong female characters I hadn't really met his requirements. And this is where Ian informed me he'd decided to create two separate anthologies, one titled "Noir" and the other titled "La Femme" and my story would be perfect for the latter book. Result!