Wednesday, 26 August 2015

How Do You Order Your Short Stories In A Collection?

"Extra-Curricular" is my fifth collection of flash fiction. Trying to figure out the order of the stories is as hard now as it was for my first collection. There's no reason why it would be any easier, since the stories are, of course, different, so each collection has to find its own feel and tone through the journey from story to story.

You don't want to group a bunch of stories that are all heavy in tone, but nor do you want to group some that are comedic, only to discover you haven't enough left to space out the heavier stories elsewhere in the book. Then there is always the one story that doesn't seem to fit anywhere, no other stories seem to run naturally into it or from it. Stick it at the end, but then it feels like the reader is ending on a note that isn;t the one you were looking to strike (the last story impression is as significant as the opener).

You think you've ordered them finally, only to discover on a read through that two successive stories echo one another in an image, or a word or a theme and that can diminish the power of each. So you look to move one of them and then the whole Jenga structure comes tumbling down because you can't rearrange it satisfactorily!

You always want a particularly strong story to open with. I normally go for one with comedy just to ease the reader into the work. "Extra-Curricular" perhaps breaks with that tradition although originally I did have a comedic story pencilled in there. But I was struggling throughout to order the 40+ stories when I suddenly hit on a solution.

When I try and figure out the running order, I always try and tag each story with its theme or style. With this collection I finally realised that the stories loosely could be tagged with school timetable subjects. Some of those subjects are a bit old-fashioned, such as Geometry or Logic/Philosophy, others are a bit modish and trendy such as Environmental Studies but hey that's poetic license right? Then there are some subjects that aren't represented at all, such as Maths and Chemistry. But then this isn't a hard and fast school timetable.

This broke the back of the ordering, in that now I could group together 3s and 4s of stories linked by subject theme. It would only be a question then of ordering the subject groups. Only... Some of the stories could easily be categorised as more than one subject. "Bas-Relief", ostensibly about the human brain, could be Biology or where it ended up as, Psychology. "Night Vision", the opener, was pegged as Physics because it involved thermal imaging, but it could easily have been Biology as bacteria and petri dishes are referenced within the story. "Confirmament" could have been Physics, History or where it actually ended up Divinity/Religious Studies.  For some reason, both the stories under the label of Art are science fiction...

And then there are the nine stories labelled as Extra-Curricular; stories of smoking, gambling, sex and love, all activities engaged in the playground or behind the bike sheds!

Oh there goes the bell for class. Reading books out on your desks please.


Available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmazon US, I-Tunes

Monday, 24 August 2015

Method Man - Friday Flash


He was Method Acting to within an inch of his life. Every second of every livelong day. Stanislavsky would be so proud. The Actors’ Studio would be so proud. If there were anyone left alive to witness his performance. Instead of wig and greasepaint, he adorned himself in blood and viscera. A fresh coat each day of his rank costume. Primitive man had studied the animals with such attention, that eventually they were able to mimic every one of their motions so as to hunt them. Here he was having to ape his predators to avoid becoming food for them.

The human offal masked the odour of his own untainted meat. He moved and sounded enough like them so as not to draw down notice upon him. In truth they were hardly the observant type. He shambled with the best of them, only deviating when he reached a supermarket and surreptitiously caching any cans of food he could find inside his clothes. 

For that was what they did all day, window shopped. What else was there for him to do? No theatre, cinema, sports events, no restaurants or boulevard cafés. The world had stopped passing by. Just this aimless mooching. The sun was still in the sky, trees still lined the verge, mountains still framed the horizon, but the natural world no longer seemed sublime. Man used to bask and wonder in the awe of Nature, lighting and providing and uplifting their lives, but their lives, his sole life, meant that she was now so terribly far from elevating anything. Illuminating nothing but this abominable scene. Providing for nothing now that there was no one left to harvest any nutrients, apart from second hand human flesh. Enthralling nothing in degraded brains that were of no greater sentience to every flower and plant and dung beetle. Even Wordsworth would be hard pressed to rhapsodise about this relinquished Nature. Shorn of her adoring audience she hadn’t curled up and died, but waxed on impassively.


He wondered why he bothered striving to survive. What was the purpose? There was no truth to be found in what he was doing. He had to so inhabit the world of the zombie, he effectively was one for all the inundations of his tormenting thoughts. It was all moot anyway, his food would eventually run out and he would starve to death. It was just a question of whether he might outlive the zombies or not, as some foolish asseveration of human pride. For the zombies too would run out of food and their corrupted bodies would close up and shut down on them for want of rancid sustenance. They were the ultimate deadly virus, having wholly colonised the human host and now unable to replicate any further. Just like him. That blind and ne’er understood human drive to reproduce offspring into future generations, now standing forlorn and superannuated in the sacs of his scrotum. What did Stanislavsky and Wordsworth have to say on that matter? Whither art? Whither seminal truth? Seemed man in his pomp and prime had little more understanding than these hollowed men. But there was no one he could relay that insight to. 

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Extra-Curricular - Image gallery

While I don't often get prompted for stories from visual images, when I initially post them to this blog I usually try and accompany them with an image to encapsulate them.

So with my new collection of flash stories "Extra-Curricular" being published in September, here is a gallery of images associated with some of the stories.

 "Night Vision"









"Echoes"













 "Drones" 


"Confirmament"
 "Overpass"

 "Eyes In The Back of His Hands"
"Hollow Point"
"Pinboard Wizard"
 "Wings"
"Life Class"
"Boustrophedon"
"Performance Anxiety"
"A Round, A Bout"
"Crowd Sauced"
"The World Alchemist"
"People Watching"





 "The Disenchanted Forest"













"Flea Circus"









"Compound Fracture"














"Disbanded"













 "Bedroom Ballistics"
 "Blood Angel"
"Wrist Assessment"












Available for pre-order on Amazon UK, Amazon US, I-Tunes


Sunday, 16 August 2015

Book Trailer - "Extra-Curricular"

     My new (5th) collection of flash fiction will be published on September 18th. "Extra-Curricular" has 44 tales (45 in the print version) arranged around a school timetable.

Here is the trailer for the book, with the first story "Night Vision"






Thursday, 13 August 2015

Blind Date Dialectic - Friday Flash

Needy or carefree?
Careerist or nester?
Earnest or wanton?
Antagonistic or placid?
Lacy or leather?
Realist or fantasist?
Manhater or hussy?  
Pussycat or scold? 
Golddigger or kindhearted?
Artful or unaffected?
Affectionate or ardent?
Mardy or relaxed?
Waxed or bearded?
Fearless or mousy?
Frivolous or prudent?
Prudish or uninhibited?
Unintelligent or forensic?
Neurotic or unsentimental?
Augmented or natural?
Turpitude or chaste?
Hassled or poised?
Poisonous or juicy?
Judgemental or tame?
Amazonian or pacifist?
Fisting or cunnilingus?
Gusher or shrivelled?
Vajazzled or trim?
Frigid or freak?
Speak or spurn?

Yours or mine?

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Triple Decker - Flash Fiction




Angular and cursive. Square board, looping calligraphy. Rounded shoulders a curse. Since the wood kept slipping from them and dragging heavy on his arms (though nothing akin to those shoppers cat-cradling stringed tote bags between the crook of their arms). Yet his was a small sacrifice when you had the burden of the whole world to carry. His load was doubled, since he was double timbered. Above his head, the seat of the rational, the prophecy that the end of the world was ‘nigh’, a suitably arcane and archaic word for an imminence. Below his chest, like a tumescent fig leaf, a ligneous chastity belt, was another board exhorting the repenting of sins as advisory avoidance behaviour. 

Bulbous and blockish. Dimpled gutty covering the gut spread of the host, paint wash pointed directionality. The man’s encumbrance further augmented by a hand-held placard proclaiming a ‘Golf Sale’. But the urban gallery he was playing to were giving him the bird(ie) as they dodged and weaved his bunkered down sand-trap. The cardboard rondure was more millstone round his neck than albatross. Weary of dropped shots and shouts of "fore!", the caddie decided his location was shanked and conceded the hole. 

He felt in good shape on the green, when the oncoming end of the world approached him personally. They bumped wood and began gesticulating with arms restricted to moving only out at their sides, rather than able to jab and poke their adversary. "Hey Ball-ache, this is my patch" expostulated the man supposedly without a future or any stake in one. "People don't want to hear your doom and gloom Bub, they just want to enjoy themselves". “I herald the end of the world, what do you presage other than bad taste plus-fours and single mittens?” They began to lock horns, 'nigh' man bending at the waist to try and swat the other with his second storey board, while the Bogie man countered by wedging his hand-gripped sign to ward off the blow. 

"There ain't room for the both of us and I was here first. I am the Alpha and the Omega, so you need to go stand on the other side of the road Heathen!"

"Sorry to apostate the flaming obvious, but I've got a giant arrow daubed across me. If I stand on that side, then I'm pointing potential customers away from the shop not to it".

"That ain't my problem Fuzzy. I don't have me no arrows, though even if I did its heading would be clear no matter which way I was facing, since it would point straight down, to Hell!”

God’s aegis began shinkicking, but since the handicapper used his board as a shield he could not make a clean connection. Then they started belly-bumping, wood clacking on wood like bushido sticks. 


Polygon frame and stencilled. Cut off corners, mottled pizza runes. Deep crust stuffed with human being in lycra base and felt hat toppings. Another sandwich board enters the territorial fray. Ostensibly he comes in pizza. The boxed-in scrappers don’t want to know, just what they kneaded like a hole in the head. They both round (well one squares up, the other does indeed round) on the interloper. They quickly dominated him, his soft felt dough providing little protection as they proceeded to dole out one hell of a mozzarella kicking. “Ow for focaccia sakes!” he screamed as the other two threw themselves on top of his flatbread form and slowly started pureeing him. Passersby snickered at the triple decker sandwich boards with flailing limbs. 





 

Review - "The Desire Machine" by Arbonauts

Decades ago I went to a lot of dance and physical theatre in London. I tried writing in the hope of working with some of its practitioners. I even attended conferences about the relationship of both to conventional theatre. As my own artistic interests changed I drifted away from stage performances and stopped going to such events. Arbonauts' new show was a welcome re-immersion in that world and brought back much of the awe and pleasure I used to derive from such spectacle.

First the space, a shaft servicing Brunel's tunnel under the Thames at Rotherhithe. Entrance through a low door, admitting one audience member at a time. Inside the venue, a music soundscape designed very precisely to meet and fill the angles and recesses of the brickwork. It might have been interesting to move around the space and experience how the sound worked differently within the various pockets, but the 'auditorium' was too crowded to have the chance to do this. Centre of the space was an erected carousel with round disc floor and cables to form part fairground ride, part birdcage.

The performance started with some aerial work amidst the cables, the lighting working well to blur the outlines of the performer, their sinew blurring with the cable so one becomes indistinguishable from the other. I was very much put in mind of Steven Berkoff's company's extraordinary performance of Kafka's "Metamorphosis" and that insect's aerial movements.


And later when the lights are more powerful and you chance to look up at the brickwork to see the giant projected stages from the stage, you're put in mind of the filmic "Nosferatu".

But for me the real tours de force came from the dance and movement of the performers on the ground. The first deeply involving tableau was when a bridal gowned Rachel Alexander stood stock still in the centre of the rotating stage, just her arms stretching out as part inviting embrace, part clock hands. two other performers moved subtly shaped by her orbit, with exquisite precision when in close proximity of the bride, manipulating the space between these two bodies between intimacy and disinterested proximity. I have always preferred angularity in dance to smooth, sweeping curves and I delighted in the spectrum of flections of both performers and the space between them.

But the highlight of the whole show was the performance by Dominique Vannod, angularity supreme across her body as she moved on all fours trying to conquer the restraint of the turning disc. The sharpness of her bones (shoulder blades, wrists etc) jutting through the skin in seemingly impossible ways was breathtaking. It conjured both insect and some larger beast, suggestive of being multi-limbed and not just restricted to the normal two/four of the human. Simply spellbinding.

 Dominique Vannod

image courtesy of Ludovic des Cognets 2013 (from different Arbonauts show)

If I had a quibble, it was with the snatched phrases of dialogue which i just felt couldn't bear the weight and intensity of what was taking place on stage. Even though these were taken directly from the source book, Angela's Carter's "The Infernal Desire Machines Of Doctor Hoffman", phrases like "I am my own self-antithesis" just seemed trite to my ear. But then maybe that's just the ghost of the old writer for physical theatre rising in me again.