Thursday, 24 September 2015

Iconocataclysm - Friday Flash

You swore an eternal vow to me. Pledged me your soul. Therefore I should be your solitary votive veneration. Yet your adoration is devoted to this lump of wood. When have you ever entreated me like you do this icon? When was the last time you prostrated yourself before me in such supplication? When you made your proposal of marriage down on one knee, that’s the closest to rubbing your face in the dirt as you do for your Mary there. 

And your purring susurrations offered up to her blockish ears, when was I ever the recipient of such tender exaltation? The only thing about these words that she shares with me, is that they are scripted for you, since you lack for any imagination of your own. 

Don’t you know, that isn’t any radiant halo emanating from behind her head? Rather it’s the searchlight from a gulag watchtower. She’s no less a miserable prisoner than me. She fails to  illuminate anything, since her so called hallowed head only eclipses the rays. 

It’s jut a trick of the light anyway. Down here in your dingy dungeon. You would have nothing without your beeswax candles to cast their feeble shine so that the gold leaf can amplify it. There is so much precious leaf poured into this one image, it suggests you spent more money to procure her than you would do to keep you wife. Augmented by you clearly spending money to cense her, rather than buy me scents and perfumes to draw you close to me. 

Don’t think I haven’t seen you betray me with her. You could kiss her on the cheek, her forehead or the hand that cups the infant. Yet you opt to osculate her paint-caked lips with the very passion withheld from me in the marital bed. Perhaps you only like virgins and I became tarnished for you on our wedding night. I see the rapture in your eyes as you press your face to hers, yet I am cursorily pecked with your peepers shuttered. 

So I will reclaim your Judas and Mary kisses. I will inject some real fervour into them. Touch up the paint work, by envenoming her lips with my tinctures of arsenic. Each time you brush her lips with your own, will inject some more of my stigmatic dose of mortification. My lip-salve salvation. Slowly purging you of your misconceived and misplaced ardour. No one will ever suspect this to be by my hand. But do not worry my sweet, you can lie eternal with her your one true love. For I will consign her image into your coffin to keep you company.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Book Launch Day is here!

So today is the day, publication of my 5th collection of flash fiction and my 9th book in all.

"Extra-Curricular" contains 44 flash stories (45 in the print edition), themed around a secondary (High) school timetable.

The stories are bite-sized in length, many running no longer than 500 words so perfect commuter reading or reading on the go on your mobile devices. Bite-sized, but all will make you think because they are packed with ideas and startling images.

For a list of the themes of all the stories you can go here.

For a visual image gallery behind some of the stories you can go here.

For the prompts behind many of the stories you can go here.

And the trailer is here, the first story in the collection called "Night Vision"

I hope you enjoy the stories, I'm really excited by this collection.

Available from Amazon and I-Tunes

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Plié Plea - Friday Flash

The girls were too young for it to be dubbed an audition, but indubitably that’s what they were. And she was never selected either  in the coryphee or for a duet. Or perish the thought, for a solo.

She was also too callow to be able to put it down to her ballerina’s costume. She knew it didn’t match those bespoke shop-bought ones sported by all the other nymphs, being more peach than pink. Her mother had fashioned it for her from an old bridesmaid’s dress she herself had worn in those days when she too yearned to be picked.

As she trudged back home after another fruitless audition, she barely raised the soles of her ballet shoes from the pavement. A far cry from the swoops and whisks she had so recently performed at the barre. But then she was stopped dead in her tracks by a sight in somebody’s front lawn…

She ran rather than skipped home. She tugged at her mother’s apron as she stood over the sink lathering dishes. “Mum, can we go visit the zoo?”

“Sure, I think I’m free this weekend”

“No now. It has to be now? Can’t you leave the dishes?”

“Well okay, I guess… But don’t you want to go change out of your ballet things?”

Her daughter shook her head vigorously and started to tug at the apron strings to encourage her mother to prepare her own array.

Her mother paid the entrance fee, silently crossing off some other activities as she balanced the budget in her mind. As she put the change back in her purse, her daughter was already studying the map laying out the animal displays around the park. The well-trodden earth at the foot of the map had turned to dust and already her mother was seething at the folly of standing there in the delicate peach fabric of ballet shoes. “Shall we start with the monkey house? They’re always entertaining?”

Her daughter grabbed her hand and marched them both off determinedly. “Where are we going?” but she received no reply from the firm set of her daughter’s countenance. The passed the monkeys and the reptiles. They wafted by the giraffes at ground level and the big cat enclosure behind the fiercest of metal bars. They slowed their gait at the sea lion pool but continued beyond them.

And then they were, stopped in front of the pond with a variety of wading birds. Her daughter dropped her mother’s hand and gripped the railing with both of hers like a prison inmate. She pressed one of her cheeks through the bars which distorted her features in a discomfiting manner.

Her mother was about to pull her back, when her hand was stayed as her daughter raised one foot off the ground and bent it to abut her knee. She released one hand from the railing and brought it up straight pointing towards the sky above her head. She recalled the position from her own stunted ballet days. Her daughter was executing a passé relevé, using the railing as an impromptu barre.

Then it struck her, she was echoing the stance of the flamingos on one leg with their gracefully curved necks. And surprisingly their colour was none too divergent from that of her daughter’s peach tutu. She had always assumed flamingos were a shocking shade of pink. Ballerina pink. But not these specimens. She espied a keeper and asked him why their colour was not the expected pink. He explained that it was due to them being in captivity, that there was no way to replicate their natural diet with its high levels of carotene that coloured their plumage. The mother didn’t notice her daughter nod agreement on the word ‘captivity’.


Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Reading Live

Few writers have acting or voice training. Some like me have profoundly uninteresting voices to listen to. I always used to shy away from making videos of me just stood there to camera droning on.

But reading live is I believe absolutely vital for any author. Not only as the most immediate way to connect with your audience, but also through reading over your work you nearly always come to see new things in it, or learn to see some of the unconscious processes that informed the work that you were unaware of until now.

I took my cue from poetry slams where the poets performed their words. That is through gesture and movement they brought their words to life, literally embodying their words, or acting them out. Now poets usually have one advantage over prose story writers, that is their rhythms and rhymes means they are far more likely to have committed their words to heart, freeing them to move and gesture uninhibited. Writers are usually rooted with the book in one hand.

So I have one arm/hand free to gesture. Yet even with one arm you can draw quite a visual picture. The hand is an organ of intimacy, either reaching out, or clasping, stroking, punching or whatever. When I rehearse any story for reading live, I am choreographing what my arm is doing, matching it to specific words and phrases. Such movements also help me pace the reading of the words, like a conductor only I'm conducting myself.

There are still some restrictions, mainly arriving around the fixity of the mic. So for example, you can't sink down into a crouch if the text suggests it, which was a pity for one of my pieces "Wings" which I read last night at the Brixton Book Jam. But you can still do a lot and in the case of that story, about a junky angel, I furled and unfurled my wings as arms, the book-free arm doing just that bit more than the book-cradling arm, because jiggling the book up and down makes it a tad tough to read the words! You also have to ensure your motions don't take your mouth too far away from the mic, so that when I enacted looking up at an ultrasound screen for my other story "Echoes", only a slight turn of the head is enough to suggest it, simply because you are no longer at that point looking straight out into the audience.

I don't have a video of last night's performance, but you can listen to it here. My stories are in set 2, 33 minutes in.

"Extra-Curricular" - Story themes

There are 44 (45 in the print version) stories in my new flash fiction collection "Extra-Curricular", arranged around a school subject timetable. Here are the stories and their themes.

1) "Night Vision" - Voyeurism enhanced by a thermal imaging camera
2) "A Round, A Bout" - A 'Ring Girl', the woman who holds up the board with the round number during the breaks between rounds at a boxing match, here is not your usual suspect...
3) "Bedroom Ballistics" - Some role-playing as a husband tries to keep his wife's planetary sized brain focused on the task to hand
4) "Threads" - a series of stories linked by horizontal lines
5) "Flea Circus" - a flea circus, only with the roles somewhat reversed
6) "Rebirth" - a man who has suffered brain trauma undergoes physiotherapy to restore his functioning
7) "Zombie" - the myth of the zombie, as cast through plastic surgery disasters
8) "Wrist Assessment" - a series of stories all centred around the often overlooked human anatomy of the wrist
9) "Group Therapy" - Two voices compete to be heard in a group therapy session
10) "People Watching" - A sniper who spends his time viewing people through the crosshairs of his rifle scope, finds it hard to readjust when back in civilian life
11) "Bas-Relief" - A human brain constructed from the labyrinth of its memories
12) "A Moment In Time" - When you time travel, just how do you decide the exact moment in your history to return to?
13) "Overpass" - A series of stories linked by perpendicularity
14) "Occupational Hazard" - A humorous tale of occupational surnames, when no one quite lives up to their name
15) "Blood Angel" - A witch burning fails to stamp the authority of the judges and executioners on the crowds who have gathered for the spectacle
16) "Bye Bye Lingual" - The last native speaker of a language contemplates the extinction of his mother tongue if he dies
17) "The Conversion Gag" - A strange translation device
18) "Compound Fracture" - A German engineer explores London and the English language
19) "Reading For Two" - A man reads to his wife on her death bed
20) "Phoneanemic" - A sneeze wreaks a terrible paranoia on a man as to whether others are talking about him
21) "The Word Alchemist" - The alchemy of language under a very strange investigation
22) "Perspective" - An alien species observing Earth armed only with art criticism books to guide them
23) "Life Class" - How humans might look to others
24) "Performance Anxiety" - The anxiety caused by not having the latest version of a gadget
25) "Disbanded" - A military band reassemble after their death
26) "The Sky Fell In" - trying to build a church in a colonial setting where different gods are worshipped
27) "Confirmament" - redrawing the constellation of the stars into shapes we might actually recognise
28) "Wings" - A fallen angel brought low by drug addiction
29) "Laundry Lists" - The man who draws up lists of names for political executions
30) "Message For You People" - We don't receive any training in how to vote do we...?
31) "Drones" - Reclaiming the word 'drone' from being associated with only one of its various meanings
32) "Hollow Point" - Bullets received through the post marked with your name on....
33) "Crowd Sauced" - Mob justice in the most mundane of causes
34) "The Disenchanted Forest" - Folklore recast in the polluted modern world
35) "In Triplicate" - A put-upon secretary thinks only of revenge on her boss
36) "Pinboard Wizard" - A tale told from the viewpoint of a college noticeboard
37) "An Ideal Woman" - the image of women in everyday life
38) "Echoes" - A mother to be sees her baby on the ultrasound screen
39) "Trading Places" - A married couple have a suicide pact for when one leaves the other through death
40) "Eye In The Back Of His Hands" - A woman and her blind lover
41) "Clutch" - A woman, four lovers and their colour-coded handbags...
42) "Table Plan" - A poker player with plenty of tics and tells
43) "Johnny Smoke" - a comedic noirish detective story
44) "Subjectify" - a 100 word story about a serial killer finally behind bars

Bonus Story
45) "Boustrophedon" - A tale written in Classical Greek boustrophedon style

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

Published September 18th

Friday, 4 September 2015

"Extra-Curricular" Story Prompts

When you're writing a new story just about every week, you need to find inspiration in the things around your daily life. Something in a book, in the news, an image on film or an advert, a song lyric. Anything can be utilised as we writers pounce on it like the magpies we are. So with the forthcoming publication of my fifth collection of flash fiction stories, I thought I'd give the story behind some of the stories, what actually prompted the idea to pop into my head.

"Night Vision"  I am a huge music fan, always on the trawl for new tunes. I'm on a couple of mailing lists for record stores and get weekly new release updates. I usually try and check out any that sound interesting by going to YouTube. Can't remember the band as the music didn't grab me, but their video was of a man's movements in this incredible blued out visual. I don't know if it was thermal imaging or some other design treatment, but it set me thinking. The video really allowed you to see and think about the movements of the human body in a wholly different way.

"Blood Angel" This came about by a striking image in an "X-Men" movie of the character of Jean Grey with her red hair billowing against flames the same hue, so you almost couldn't tell which was hair and which was fire.

"Zombie" In my last collection "28 Far Cries" I wrote a story deconstructing the werewolf myth. Here I take the same treatment to the myth of the zombie and equate it with plastic surgery disasters. I'm not a big one for myths.

"Flea Circus" I'd always known of the existence of flea circuses, but when the phrase was prompted once again in something I was reading, I went and looked up how they were actually constituted. Then it very quickly became the notion of scale as I had human beings performing feats for an audience of giants. There are some great flea circus videos on YouTube.

"Reading For Two" Just the touching gesture of a husband reading to his dying wife as she lapsed into unconsciousness. I was very moved by such an act when I heard about it.

"Phoneanemic" When you sneeze, you are deafened by your own noise and your eyes reflexively lid themselves for protection. If this happens in the middle of a conversation, you lose what is being said through the sneeze. So I had some fun trying to recover the missing meaning effaced by an explosive sneeze!

"Perspective" There is an author called Ben Marcus who writes the most remarkable fiction that pulls and stretches at just how language functions. He has a book called "The Age Of Wire And String" which is never overtly explained, but seems to be a dictionary/anthropological work of an alien species observing the human race on Earth but not quite 'getting' our language. So I wrote this story about aliens observing and interpreting the human race if their guidebook was formed from all the Earth's canon of art criticism. 

"Performance Anxiety" Just from thinking about how quickly our consumer technology becomes obsolete. Remember 8-Track music cartridges, Betamax videos or Sony Walkmans? I do.

"Drones" Many nouns have several shades of slightly differing meaning. The word drone unfortunately in recent parlance has come to stand for only one thing, the military pilotless aircraft. I explore all the other meanings of the word and try and reinstate them alongside the prevalent meaning. When read out live, I try and make the words sound like a drone. 

"Bye Bye Lingual" Periodically you hear of a language in danger of dying out with its last speaker. This is a story to honour that happenstance.

"Rebirth" This came from watching a true crime programme about a victim who was strangled to within an inch of her life and suffered some brain damage from oxygen starvation. The programme was an uplifting portrait of her battle to recover all her faculties as she battled back to have the last victory over her assailant.

"Bas Relief" This did originate from a visual prompt provide by "VisualVerse" of a human brain. Just looking at it I was struck by the notion it could be viewed as lots of human beings compressed and packed one upon another to form a labyrinth.

"Compound Fracture" I've always been fascinated by certain aspects of German grammar even though I don't speak the language. After all, it is closely related to English through their shared Anglo-Saxon roots. I love the concept that if a word for what you're trying to say doesn't exist, you can sculpt it by joining together other words in German. Since I have found myself in this situation as a writer, I went ahead and wrote a story in which I could indulge this ability in English.

"Disbanded" A music video from one of my favourite bands provided the image of a set of skull drums mounted from the hips. 

"Confirmament" I have never understood how the drawings of star constellations of the Zodiac work. So I started imagining what it would be like to redraw them.

"Wings" from a lyric in the Birthday Party song "Mutiny In Heaven"

"Overpass" For some reason I got really hung up on perpendicularity, things crossing one another that otherwise would have had no relationship. I saw it only as an omen of ill, such as when a cat walks across your shadow. The title was a reversal of the word "Passover" which gave me the last paragraph of the story.

"Crowd Sauced" This came from reading about the folk justice meted out through Rough Music
 and wondering about what a contemporary version might look like. Recycling Nazis was my response, even though I happily and assiduously recycle.

"The Disenchanted Forest" Reading about folk symbols and translating them to their modern day equivalent. Some more Umweltverschmutzung  spilling over from "Compound Fracture". It means world pollution, literally 'environmental dirt'.

"In Triplicate" When secretaries had to type in triplicate using carbon papers, I just wondered what it would be like if the 'in triplicate' part was extended to other aspects of life beyond a typewriter. 

"Echoes" Ultrasound images of foetuses, so recognisable, so striking and achingly beautiful and all constructed from sound waves. I've written about the relationship of sound to language and memory before, but this is a story about the relationship of sound to the visual sense and emotions. 

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

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Lock And Key - Friday Flash

Paris, city of romance.

At the Pont des Arts, lovers declare their eternal love for one another by tagging their appellations to the cold metal of a padlock, engaging the lock and dispatching the key into the Seine to seal their chastity. 

The municipality, afraid of the weight of love degrading the tensile strength of the bridge and plunging future lovers to their watery graves, removed the pullulating concatenation of padlocks. They declared however, that Paris was still the city for lovers. Only the chastity belts were now digital, their keys selfies.

The hackers had no trouble picking the padlock of Ashley Madison's source code and releasing the names of the unfaithful lovers around the world.

The Seine failed to turn to rust with the betrayal.

Paris, city of mistresses and not just separate beds, but separate bedrooms.