Tuesday, 29 December 2015

The Best and Worst of 2015

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 2015 and then pick my favourites. This isn't restricted to what was new in 2015, but what I actually watched and read - some of these items might be very old indeed.


I read the following in 2015:

Georges Simenon – Mr Hire’s Engagement
Adrian Tomine – Shortcomings
Anna Kavan – Who Are You?
Alison Littlewood – A Cold Season
Yoshihiro Tatsumi – The Push Man
Aldolfo Bioy Casares – The Invention of Morel
Gary Couzens – Out Stack and other places
Anna Kavan – A Scarcity of Love
Jean Teule – The Suicide Shop
Richard Yates – A Good School
Machado de Assis – Philosopher or Dog
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa – The Leopard
Raymond Queneau – We Always Treat Women Too Well
Nina Allen – A Thread of Truth
Delacorta – Diva
John Wyndham – The Seeds Of Time
Richard Balls – Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Life of Ian Dury
Gareth L Powell – Ack-Ack Macaque
Paul Auster – Moon Palace
Megan Abbott – Bury Me Deep
Sheri S Tepper – Grass
Heinrich Boll – The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum
Paul Auster – The Music of Chance
Stephen Volk – Whitstable
Jim Thompson – Nothing More Than Murder
Andrew Crumey – Mr Mee
Helen Marshall – Gifts For The One Who Comes After
Christopher Priest – The Affirmation
Mike O’Driscoll – Eyepennies
Pascal Garnier – The Front Seat Passenger
Robert Dellar – Seaton Point
Raymond Chandler – The Little Sister
Tadeusz Borowski – This Way For The Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen
Danilo Kis – The Encyclopaedia of the Dead
Jeff Koons: Conversations with Norman Rosenthal
Edited by Max Brod – The Diaries of Franz Kafka
Blonde – Joyce Carol Oates
Annihilation - Jeff Vandermeer

That's worked out at 37 books this year, quite a few less than last year but then both the Kafka and the Oates each took me three months to read! Definitely the worst of the bunch was Sherri S Tepper's "Grass" which I couldn't read beyond 60 pages (it's very rare that I don't finish a book). There were several books I found simply 'ok' which I had higher expectations for: "The Encyclopaedia of the Dead" by Danilo Kis being one of those. Special mentions to "The Little Sister" by Raymond Chandler which was wonderfully quotable, "The Front Seat Passenger" by Pascal Garnier (again, a great little crime novel), "Eyepennies" by Mike O'Driscoll, and "Out Stack and other stores" by Gary Couzens for which I wrote the introduction.

As usual, I'm going to base my top three from my Goodreads review. Normally this would be straightforward, but a surprising six titles got 5/5 from me this year: "A Scarcity of Love" by Anna Kavan, "Diva" by Delacorta, "The Music of Chance" by Paul Auster, "Nothing More Than Murder" by Jim Thompson, "The Affirmation" by Christopher Priest, and "Blonde" by Joyce Carol Oates. This makes my decision a little harder. I have a lot of affection for "Diva" as I love the movie adaptation of the same name. The Jim Thompson book is also a perfect crime read. However I think I have to choose books which gave me some additional emotional depth. The Anna Kavan comes close, but I also found it hard-going and irritating despite it's brilliance. For those reasons, here are my top three:

In reverse order:

"The Music of Chance" by Paul Auster

Auster is fast becoming one of my favourite authors (I also read "The Moon Palace" this year which got 4/5 in my review), and this book is a delight. Fast-paced and thoughtful, Auster takes me to places that I love and the twists and turns in this book were a breath-taking delight.

"The Affirmation" by Christopher Priest

Priest's themes are close to my own preoccupations in fiction: the nature of reality, identity, memory and immortality. The alternate realities in this book intersperse seamlessly and the final sentence is utterly brilliant. I loved it.

And the winner is:

"Blonde" by Joyce Carol Oates

If you spend three months with a book (this is 932 pages) then it's somewhat inevitable you'll have some kind of affair with it. This is a fictionalised biopic of Marilyn Monroe which is a colossus in size, in scope, in adaptation and in emotion. I hadn't a huge interest in Monroe prior to reading this but it has immeasurably altered my perception of her. It's a bittersweet read, a heartache. I couldn't fault it and highly recommend it.


I watched the following in 2015:

Under The Skin
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Black Orchid
Jeune and Jolie
The Princess Bride
The Double
Tokyo Sonata
Ruby Sparks
The Way
The Dallas Buyers Club
The Life of Pi
Shadow of a Doubt
Grave Encounters
The Abominable Snowman
Apres Mai
The Tingler
The Woman In Black: Angel of Death
Upstream Colour
Blue Is The Warmest Colour
Marina Abramovic The Artist Is Present
Grave Encounters 2
Strangers On A Train
The Woodsman
Frances Ha
Guardians of the Galaxy
Beavis and Butt-head Do America
The Hide
It’s A Wonderful Life
A Dangerous Method
The Girl Next Door
Evil Dead (remake)
Beneath The Valley Of The Ultra-Vixens
Les Amants

Thanks For Sharing
Gambling House
Avengers Assemble
The Act Of Killing
Slow Motion
I Saw The Devil
Requiem For A Dream
The Great Beauty
Short Term 12
Chasing Ice
Romeo & Juliet
Gangster Squad
As Above, So Below
The Goob
The Wrong Man
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll
Good Vibrations
The Filth and the Fury
Walk The Line
Jackie Brown
Radio On
This Is Spinal Tap
God Help The Girl
The Life Of David Gale
The Imitation Game
The Bat
The Road
Kiss Of Death
Wolf Creek 2
Cinema Paradiso
The Conjuring
The Most Dangerous Game
On The Road
Children Of Men
Tiger of Bengal
Tomb of Love
Ju On: White Ghost/Black Ghost
Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas
Little Children
The Hourglass Sanitorium
Lake Mungo
Nightmare Alley
Naked Lunch
I Am Big Bird
It Follows
Donnie Darko
The Red Shoes
Pacific Rim
The Monk
Dial M For Murder
Cyborg She
The House of the Devil
Tell Me Something
Mulholland Drive
Scarlet Street

Interesting to see the impact having a young child who has started nursery school on movie watching. Last year we only saw 47 movies because she would go to bed too late for us to reasonably start watching something. This year we've seen 116 because she's knackered early! Of course, that makes the choice particularly difficult as there are some great movies in that list.

As usual when picking my top three I'm discounting movies I've previously watched. So that knocks out "The Tingler" which I was glad to see at the cinema on a big screen, "Strangers On A Train", "Vertigo", "Donnie Darko" (which I've seen numerous times), "Primer" and "Children Of Men" which I love. Out of those which remain I watched a large number of appalling horror films ("Ouija" and "The Conjuring" spring to mind), but some of those were enjoyably inventive: I really loved "As Above, So Below" for inverting - literally - horror expectations, and "The House of the Devil" which carried its 1970 horror vibe well. And my favourite horror movie this year has made my top three.

I watched a few SF movies: "Under The Skin" was minimally brilliant and hypnotic, by contrast "Lucy" (also with Scarlett Johansson) was marvellously insane. I loved them both. "Interstellar" was also damn good, but for some reason I can't quite pinpoint has not made my final selection. For non-genre movies I was pleasantly surprised and engrossed by "The Imitation Game". "Jackie Brown", with its fantastic opening titles, has probably become my favourite Tarantino movie but again not quite made the cut. And "Blue Is The Warmest Colour" was devastatingly poignant - the relationship between the two main characters vivid and raw, a honest portrayal of love.

I get the feeling that on another day "Lucy", "Blue Is The Warmest Colour", "Interstellar", "Jackie Brown", and "Under The Skin" might have made the final list, but - today - here are my top three movies seen in 2015.
Again, in reverse order:

"Lake Mungo" - Joel Anderson

I had heard good things about this supernatural movie but it surpassed all expectations. Subtlety and wrong-footedness are the keys to this picture. Ultimately it's about understanding grief rather than being a shocker, which means the result is both believable and tragic. I loved it's delicate twists, and how looking at the same thing several times yields different interpretations.

"Upstream Color" - Shane Carruth 

I have little idea what this movie was about and it probably needs a repeat watching. I also saw it almost at the beginning of the year and nearly bypassed it in my roundup because of that. But it has to make my top three because my sole recollection is that throughout the entire movie neither my partner nor myself uttered a single word. It's a perfect slipstream movie.

And the winner is...
"The Great Beauty" - Paolo Sorrentino

This seemingly simple movie follows aging socialite, Jep Gambardella, as he muses on his life, his first love, and a sense of unfulfillment. He is a writer who subsequently lost his way. Whilst this might not appear particularly interesting on the face of it, the movie is astonishingly directed. Some of the shots and framing are almost unbelievable in their execution and are quite simply breathtaking. It's perfect in each and every way and tantamount to confirming how great movies are also great art. A sumptuous and inspiring feast. Brilliant.
Looking forward to reading and watching more in 2016!

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

My Writing Year 2015

I thought I'd do a quick blog post as to my literary achievements during 2015.

In March this year my second neo-noir crime novel, "Church of Wire", was published by Telos. I have two more novels lined up for that series (hopefully with the same publisher), but as yet I don't have publication dates for those. I've been unable to write another novel this year due to work commitments, but I have written half a novella, "The Uneasy", for which my partner, Sophie, is writing the second half.

I wrote twelve short stories this year: "Tiny Iris", "Where Do Broken Dreams Go?", "My Somnambulant Heart", "Us!", "Shipwrecked In The Heart Of The City", "We Die When We're Alone", "Wanderlust", "Old Factory Memories", "The First You & I", "Silent Bridge", "Uncanny Valley", and "Mysteries of Childhood Explained".

I sold ten short stories: "You Can't Handle Love" to Fur-Lined Ghettos, "Tiny Iris" to Slave Stories: Scenes From The Slave State, "Blood For Your Mother" to Black Static, "Cold Water Killer" to Spark: A Creative Anthology, "Us!" to Creeping Crawlers, "Vulvert" to Confingo, "The Nomenclature of Fear" to In Short Publishing, "My Somnambulant Heart" to an anthology I am unable to name at present, "Old Factory Memories" to Axolotl, and "The First You & I" to Skylark Review.

I also sold an article, "Unconscious Consumer: X-Ray Spex and the Day-Glo World", which appeared in the Reckless Consumer issue of Sein Und Werden and can be read here. And I sold a novella, "The Greens", to Spectral Press for publication (I believe) in 2016, possibly 2017.

The following sixteen short stories were published this year: "Eskimo" in Postscripts #32/33, "The Last Mohican" in punkPunk!, "The Frequency of Existence" in Black Static #45, "You Can't Handle Love" in Fur-Lined Ghettos #6, "The Stench of Winter" online at Shirley, "A Life In Plastic" in Strange Tales V, "Bothersome" in Darkest Minds, "Drowning In Air" in Best British Horror 2015, "Old Factory Memories" online at Axolotl, "Blood For Your Mother" in Black Static #48, "Tiny Iris" in Slave Stories: Scenes From The Slave State, "The Nomenclature Of Fear" as a standalone chapbook from In Short Publishing, "The Aniseed Gumball Kid" in Postscripts #34/35, "Us!" in Creeping Crawlers, "Vulvert" in Confingo #4, and "The First You & I" in Skylark Review.

Also this year I assisted my partner in setting up Salò Press, an extension of the publishing she has been doing with Fur-Lined Ghettos magazine. So far we have published two poetry collections, Actual Cloud by Dalton Day and Father, Husband by Scherezade Siobhan.

I have a handful of stories awaiting publication that were accepted in 2014/2015, a short story collection, and one novel under consideration. The anthology, punkPunk!, that I edited for DogHorn Publishing was published in February. A short story collection, "Human Maps", will appear from Eibonvale Press sometime in 2016. My collaborative short story collection, "Slow Motion Wars", written with Allen Ashley which was due to be published by Screaming Dreams will now be published by The Exaggerated Press in the first half of 2016.

I have also edited a secret project for publication in 2017, and am in the processing of finalising guidelines for another editing project.

I consider that to be a good year!

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Why I Will Never See 'Star Wars'

Apparently there was a big event last night in the UK with cinemas showing the new Star Wars movie at midnight. I was asleep.

Despite the fact that I have been known to write (and have had published) SF fiction, I have never - ever - seen any of the Star Wars films.

It's quite simple. I've never been a populist. I've never been one to such an extent that I'm not even sure that's the right word. I remember being on the top deck of a bus heading towards Norwich city centre back in 1977 and one of my mates pointing at a Star Wars poster adorning a cinema and saying to me: "I've seen that movie twenty times."

This was 1977. He hadn't seen it on video or downloaded it from the internet. He had physically been to the cinema and actually paid twenty times to see the same film. We were ten years old. I considered this madness. I knew from that moment on that I would never see a Star Wars film.

It would be hypocritical to include a Star Wars image to accompany this post, so instead here's a picture of a pangolin. I prefer long-snouted animals.

Monday, 14 December 2015

The Nomenclature of Fear

My short story, "The Nomenclature of Fear", has recently been published as a chapbook through In Short Publishing. It's a gorgeous little book of which I'm very proud, and as usual I'm blogging a few comments 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.

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

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

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Promotion Promotion Promotion

It's not easy being a writer. It's less easy being an editor. And it's even less easy being a publisher.

It all comes down to promotion.

buy my book. Buy My Book. BUY MY BOOK.

Some days it feels like all I'm telling people to do: on social media, at events, at the day job, is to buy my fucking book. I'm not desperate, but as a writer I want to be read. And as editor/publisher I want those people I've put my time (and money) into, to be read. Because those writers I've been involved in publishing also want to be read. They want people to buy their book. And those books are damn good or I wouldn't be involved with them. But it's not a simple matter of making folk aware of those books, they won't sell simply because people are aware of them. You have to convince them using all possible outlets. And because these are usually social media which I also like to be...well...sociable...on, then half the time I'm convincing my mates to buy books. Or at least asking them to forward my pleads to their mates. Etc. It's a bit embarrassing.

I know it's hard. I have many writers who are my friends on social media and I'm sure they want their books buying too. And I have bought books from many of those. But I can't buy all their books. I have over 270 on my reading pile as it is. So I'm not expecting all my friends to lavishly buy my books, nor assist in promoting them, because they're in the same boat. And the number of books bought by the general public is painfully few. So how do you reach outside that circle and grab readers by the throat, how can you convince people that what you write, edit, or publish is worth their time and money? How do you get stuff into the imaginations of the ordinary reading public?

In short, I dunno, so here instead is a post pleading with you to buy one of the following books. It's all about promotion, isn't it?

First up, with my partner we run Salò Press. Our second book, a collection of poems titled Father, Husband by Scherezade Siobhan, has just been published and it desperately needs your love. These are urgent, complex poems. Let it be your impulse buy, your Christmas present to the friend who is always difficult to buy for, your own secret Santa. Take a look at the cover and read this.

Secondly, not only do we publish books but a magazine, Fur-Lined Ghettos. The seventh issue has just been published and is also desperate for your love. We have some weird shit in here. Don't take my word for it, here's a sample:

Thirdly, I edited an anthology of punk-themed fiction which was published by DogHorn Publishing earlier this year, titled punkPunk!. You don't have to be a punk to enjoy it, and you don't have to have been a punk to enjoy it. Don't take my word for it, here are a few snippets from Goodreads reviews: "one of the best books to come out of the indie scene that I have ever read" and "original and refreshing examples of contemporary fiction". There's also a full review here. Again, this is a book which deserves some love. There must be an old punk in your life who would like an off-the-wall Christmas present. This is ideal. Show that you care.

And finally, I must plug my stuff. I've written heaps over the years, but I'm focussing on neo-noir crime for the novels right now. A couple of those have been published and I have a couple waiting in the wings - but they won't get there unless these ones sell. That's the long and the short of it. So, once again, they also need your love. Have a crime reader in the family who avidly reads crime but you can't remember which Ian Rankin, Patricia Cornwell or Lee Child book they haven't got yet? Then introduce them to something new. Me! The latest of mine is Church of Wire. Here's a snippet: "He walked up to Miss Pretty and gave her a smile which hit like a bird against a window". It's also on Kindle. You can't go wrong.

But then if you've read this, you probably know all the above already. You might even have bought something from me before. But if you haven't, then just take a punt. Try some noir crime, some punk, some intelligent poetry, some experimental prose, some WORDS. Buy something and make me happy.