Thursday, 21 June 2018

Shipwrecked In The Heart Of The City

My short story, "Shipwrecked In The Heart Of The City", has recently been published in the Midnight Street Press anthology, "Night Light", and as usual I'm blogging about how the story came to be written for those who might be interested. Be aware that this post is likely to contain spoilers.

As usual, I had the title prior to any other ideas. In this case, I stole the phrase from Paul Auster's memoir "The Invention of Solitude". In the chapter titled "The Book of Memory" he states This was life as Crusoe would have lived it: shipwreck in the heart of the city. As soon as I read it I knew it was mine.

Shortly thereafter I had an idea to write a story about a woman whose baby had died in the womb but who refused to acknowledge it, and in the process of thinking through that idea I decided to alternate her story with that of the aborted foetus itself which exists in a kind of pre-birth limbo within a world not entirely dissimilar from David Lynch's Eraserhead vision. The phrase, shipwrecked in the heart of the city, seemed to perfectly convey this.

The story is prefaced with the following quote, which together with the title - I believe - elevates reader expectation and primes them for the fiction:

Interviewer: suppose your house were on fire and you could remove only one thing. What would you take?

Jean Cocteau: I would take the fire

Here's a bit from the middle of it:

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.

Night Light includes stories by Stephen Laws, Ralph Robert Moore, Tony Richards, Rhys Hughes, Simon Clark, Susan York, Maria V A Johnson, Robert D Richards, Alexander Zelenyj, Gary Couzens, Ian Steadman, Michael Washburn, Terry Grimwood, Allen Ashley, Yvonne Chamberlain, David Turnbull, Andrew Darlington, Stephen Faulkner and Mat Joiner. Buy it here (UK) or here (elsewhere).

Finally, I wrote "Shipwrecked In The Heart Of The City" whilst listening to the album "Barragan" by Blonde Redhead on repeat.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

In Case You Missed It...

...I've recently written guest posts for the blogs of those fine writers James Everington and Stephen Palmer. For those who might be reading here but not there, below are links to those posts.

Music For Writers

James is running a series of guest blogs from writers who listen to music as part of the creative process. Here's my piece in which I name check Bjork, Blonde Redhead, Echobelly, The Flaming Lips, Nick Cave and Nancy Sinatra, and explain how their work creates an ambience to facilitate mine.

Whilst you're there, other contributors to the series have been Iain Rowan, Mary J Nichols, Paul Feeney, Ray Cluley, Tim Major, Stephen Palmer and Rhys Hughes (with more to follow).


Stephen's guest blog series invites writers to enthuse about one fiction and one non-fiction book. My post is here in which I mention Luis Bunuel's "My Last Breath" and "Jitterbug Perfume" by Tom Robbins. Currently I believe my inaugural post remains the first in the series, but keep an eye on Stephen's blog for other such posts and also his regular musings.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

The Al Pacino Appreciation Society

My short story, "The Al Pacino Appreciation Society", has just been published in Crimewave #13: Bad Light, and as usual here are a few words about how the story was written with the usual caveat that there are likely to be spoilers for those who haven't read it.

This story was actually written quite some time ago (October 2011, to be precise), but for reasons I'll mention below has taken a while to get into print. Because of this, my memory is a little sketchy. Needless to say, I had the title first. Whether I'd just watched an Al Pacino movie I can't remember, but there it was: a title waiting for a story to fit it.

The main thrust of the piece is a man's unwitting immersion in terrorism, how love can blind us to what is really happening. There is a clue in the title which has become a little dated - I won't say more, but world events have shifted a tad from when this was written. I recall the whole idea came to me at once, when I noticed the clue myself, but I was having a job structuring it until I decided to have section headings from Al Pacino film titles. The story then flowed easily.

Getting it to print has been a different story. It was originally accepted for publication in November 2011 by an anthology which was going to be called The Year, featuring 365 stories. This didn't come to fruition, but the accepted pieces were then going to appear in three separate anthologies, of which crime was going to be one of them. But again, this never happened, and it was finally released from that obligation around 2015. I then sold it to TTA Press for Crimewave in January 2016, and it's taken a while to subsequently get to print. Of course, all good things are worth waiting for, and the anthology looks to contain excellent stories from many well-respected writers.

Here's an extract from the opening:

She wanted someone gritty.

I wanted to be someone gritty. But where Beatrice and I failed was in the definition of gritty.

I turned up one evening with an armful of Al Pacino DVDs. The Godfather parts one through to three, Righteous Kill, Dog Day Afternoon, Sea of Love, 88 Minutes, Scent of a Woman, and Cruising.

"This is gritty," I told her; even though I hadn't seen any of the movies, and had only that morning picked them up at a car boot sale. None of them were in their original packaging.

"I don't want violent gritty," Beatrice said, her arms folded across her ample chest. "I want romantic gritty".

Crimewave #13: Bad Light also features stories by Simon Bestwick, Gerri Brightwell, Georgina Bruce, Ray Cluley, Mat Coward, Catherine Donnelly, Stephen Hargadon, Linda Mannheim, Ralph Robert Moore, Mike O'Driscoll and Steve Rasnic Tem. Cover art by Ben Baldwin. Buy it here.

I usually write stories to music, but I have made no note as to what I listened to writing this story.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Making Friends With Fold Out Flaps

My short story, "Making Friends With Fold Out Flaps", has recently been published in The Black Room Manuscripts: Volume Three by the Sinister Horror Company and as usual I'm blogging about the gestation of the story for those who might be interested. There may be spoilers for those who haven't read it.

As is usual for me, this piece was born from the title and a couple of other ideas which tangentially coalesced with it. In this case the title came from another title - from a simple children's board book: "Making Friends (Just Like Us)". At the corner of the book runs the phrase, "with fold out flaps". It doesn't take too much imagination to put those two things together, and the resultant phrase carried with it a suggestion for a possible story.

Two other books also made their way into this piece, both works which I'd been considering using as launch pads for stories for some time. The first was a book on silhouettes which I picked up at a school boot fair several years ago. Silhouettes as a metaphor for what we are and what we hide has always been of interest. Additional to this, I find what we have hidden physically within our bodies as well as psychologically is also fascinating. Who thinks on a daily basis about all our interactive internal organs which run our bodies almost independently of conscious thought? This never been illustrated better in my opinion than through the plastination work of Gunther Von Hagens which I was lucky enough to view at the London Bodyworlds exhibition in 2002. I picked up the catalogue at that event and often find myself flicking through it.

Silhouettes, the workings of our bodies, making friends with fold out flaps: this is the kind of story which falls together quite simply from its constituent parts. Here's a bit of it:

The bonus with silhouettes is that they are one-dimensional. But people aren't. The truth embodied in a silhouette is lacking from that in a person. With them, it's not so much about the surface, it's about the things people keep hidden: their thoughts, their repressed desires, their understandings, their internal organs. To get at the real person you have to undress them, utterly. I could equate this to locating the kernel within a fruit or a nut, or a grain or seed as of a cereal grass enclosed in a husk. Or - to use the computing definition of the word - the kernel is the main component of most computer operating systems; it is a bridge between applications and the actual data processing done at the hardware level. The kernel can provide the lowest-level abstraction layer for the resources that application software must control to perform its function. It was the lowest level that I was interested in.

Finally, I wrote the story whilst listening to Radiohead's "Hail To The Thief" album on repeat.

The Black Room Manuscripts: Volume Three is a charity anthology where all proceeds will go to Shelter, the homeless charity. It's a hefty book - over 400 pages - and as well as myself features in order of appearance stories from Paul Tremblay, Adam L G Nevill, Guy N Smith, David Moody, Ray Cluley, Michael Bray, Paul Kane, Chris Kelso, Preston Grassmann, Phil Sloman, Daniel Marc Chant, J R Park, Anthony Watson, Glenn Rolfe, Orrin Grey, Lex H Jones, Linda Angel, CC Adams, Lydian Faust, Ash Hartwell, James Jobling, Andrew Freudenberg, Kerry Lipp, Jonathan Butcher and Jack Bantry.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Volta: an obscurity of poets

An extract from my neo-noir crime novel, "People I Know Are Dead", has recently been published in Volta: an obscurity of poets published by Salò Press. This anthology is a project birthed from a series of literary nights in Norwich throughout 2017 - titled Volta - which have mostly occurred at The Birdcage in the city centre.

My partner, Sophie, runs these mostly-monthly events which regularly achieve audiences of between 40-60 people and feature a mix of invited readers and open-mic from the floor. The nominal £2 entry fee covers payment for the room and also enables her to pay the main readers. After the first three nights in 2017 it was clear that a profit was going to be made from the event - a profit which she was reluctant to keep. The idea came that an anthology of the year should be produced - funded by that profit - which would then be given away free to contributors with any surplus copies sold at a discounted price, the sales of which would enable her to continue bringing fresh voices to the event with the book also being a thankyou for those who have participated. The resultant anthology contains single pieces from 58 contributors who read during 2017, the only omissions being a handful of performers who decided not to contribute and several who couldn't be traced. The pieces chosen were those performed on the nights and the running order matches that of the events.

Norwich is a Unesco City of Literature with a vibrant local literary scene. This anthology perfectly encapsulates a year in this scene, as well as providing many of the contributors with their first publication credit alongside more established poets/prose writers.

I've occasionally read open-mic at the event and therefore was eligible for the book. I chose an extract from my yet-to-be-published neo-noir crime novel, "People I Know Are Dead" (the third in my Mordent PI series). It's a piece I've often read at crime events. My PI sees the world through noir-coloured glasses and in this short extract he experiences a noir-dream where the dialogue is exclusively noir slang. It makes sense to include this here in it's entirety:

I met the stool-pigeon watching the bangtails. He was a bit of a daisy and we bumped gums for a while before getting down to business. The pigeon was nervy out in the open and suggested a dive which looked more like a can house despite the canary doing business with gusto on a low stage. Nearby a tomato with great gams drank tiger milk and in one corner some bums obviously out on the roof shot rats and mice for mazuma.

The pigeon was a weak-sister even to be peaching. He took a smell from the barrel but was hinky and twitchy as though he expected droppers at any moment. I told him to break it up or I'd take it on the heel and toe, but I was waiting for the Chinese angle. Then a guy broke in with a bean-shooter and the wild eye of a snow-bird. The pigeon was a wrong number, probably on the nut, and I was the patsy set for a fall.

I was in a jam, told the pigeon to climb up his thumb and then kissed him in the kisser to make sure. The dive lit up with Chicago lightning and the pigeon got zotzed. I pulled out my roscoe and hit the snow-bird across the button, smashing his beezer into his puss. Then the bracelets were on and he was bundled into the boiler, set to fry or gain some Nevada gas under glass.

Later I returned to the joint and chinned with the tomato who wasn't fussed I held a ticket. Before long we were drinking out of the same bottle until we were smoked and goofy and the number we came to was one.

Volta: an obscurity of poets is available to purchase here.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Memories of Olive

My short story, "Memories of Olive", has recently been published in #231 of Ambit magazine, and as usual this short blog post serves as background to how the story was written.

"Memories of Olive" is one of twelve stories which I'm hoping at some point will be published as a collection themed around golden-age celebrity Hollywood deaths. Fusing facts with fiction, gossip with direct quotes, movie memories and false memories, these stories are fictionalised biographies of actors who died too soon - whose promising lives were cut short. In this case, the story is of Olive Thomas, a silent film actress who accidentally drank a mercury bichloride liquid solution believing it to be drinking water (reports vary) whilst intoxicated. Her apparent words after realising what she had done were "Oh my God!" I've used this phrase throughout the telling of her story, a poignant coda to a truncated life.

I took the title, "Memories of Olive", from this painting of Olive by Alberto Vargas:

Here's an extract:

Oh, my God!

"Head back."

Brown hair cascading - oh how it cascades - to shoulder length. Red barrette, just so. Eyes closed. Lips parted. What was I thinking? Visible upper set of teeth. Jack: delete set, sounds false. Pale pink rose twixt thumb and ring finger. Black silk gown bunched, on the slide. Such exposed flesh. Breathe in. Breathe in. Left breast clutched (echoes of Wah!), nipple palmed. Right breast exposed: a masturbatory tool. Such sweet scent.

Topless portrait  of Olive Thomas (Memories of Olive), painted by Alberto Vargas for Florenz Ziegfield. Current location unknown.

Oh, my God!

Ambit #231 also contains poetry, prose and art from Khairani Barokka, Victoria Kennefick, Lisa Kelly, Judy Brown, Elaine Beckett, Martin Bax, Dominic Kennedy, John Saul / Sinead McGeechan, Caitlin Newby, Imogen Cassels, Vala Thorodds, Helen Nisbet, Rosalind Brown / Laylah Amarchih, Bridget Khursheed, Stephen, Kate Schneider and Helen Charman, Sophie Larrimore, George Ayres, Gillian Walker, N.J. Stallard, Lydia Popowich, Sophie van Llewyn, Phoebe Eccles, James Stradner, Théo Mercier.

Finally I wrote "Memories of Olive" whilst listening to "Gravity Pulls" by Echobelly on repeat.