Monday, 25 September 2017

Paingyric - Short Story

Like a suicide bomber, regard this video to be my last will and testament, only unlike him I do not proclaim myself martyr and will not be ushering anyone else into death with me. I have spent a lifetime wreaking both effects on those unfortunates in my orbit in any case. I have taken to the camera lens since I can no longer cradle an actual pen between fingers, contorted by freshly minted muscle memory of clenched teeth and cramped hands. Cruel perhaps that this reflex strikes at such strategic loci for the production of words, when both are the furthest peripheries removed from the actual epicentre of the pathology. My pathology, the rest of my corpus in revolt against me. And perish the thought of my digits ever dancing across a keyboard ever again. But my mouth still functions. Little surprise to those colleagues and peers in the industry that it would be the last constituent of me to seize up and relinquish the fight. Alas however, the pen is not mightier than the sword, judging by the rotisserie blade that has impaled my liver and convolutes it above my internal infernal fires, sending off a shower of metastasised sparks to all other parts of my benighted body. Particularly having a liking for and coming to rest on my brain. Because it’s relatively spongy up there I suppose. Soft landings for terminal take-off. 

Even though my name bears considerable commodity value, there will be no pecuniary charge to access this video, as it shall be made readily available on the free file sharing sites. My offspring have been well provided for already by my career, though it cannot compensate for the other incommodious dearths that came about in its wake. Was one contingent upon the other? I already know their answer, so that my response matters not, for it carries no weight. This may be my testament, but only they can testify to the fallout of its contents. See who turns up to my funeral I imagine. A veritable dead reckoning.

Every so often you’ll have to excuse me as I pull on my metal straw of liquid morphine. Here in my sippy-cup, forged from metal as betokens the status of a seething adult. I have to adjudge the optimal time to imbibe, as close to the Richter Scale peak of crescendoing spasm as to be able to maximally alleviate it, without leaving it too late from evacuation so that the pain quake obliterates all other competing consciousness. In such a way the opiate serves as an inkwell, dipping the pen in to prevent the flow of words becoming sundered and surrendered. A sharpening of the senses emerging only with the assistance of anaesthesia.

So, to the meat of the matter, albeit marinaded in morphine. Reading is a hybrid art form. That I say this might surprise you since the author’s sole tool, his only palette, is that of language, which makes it perhaps the purest of art forms, unmediated by its materiality; no coloured pigment on canvas; no 50-piece orchestra, conductor and opera singers; or no electrified amplifiers for the screech of guitars. No, it’s hybrid because it requires both senses of sight and hearing, without privileging one over the other. We read the words with our eyes, but ‘hear’ them sounded inside our heads and that way we hear the voice of the absent author. Alive or dead. Or somewhere in between, soon to pass from one state to the other. It’s a different mechanism from listening to an interlocutor who is stood there in front of you. So why have I taken to this filmic medium that most definitely privileges the optic sense over the aural? Because in one respect there is very little visual variegation to keep your eye entertained, so you would ordinarily have to focus solely on the words. No mis en scene, no carefully constructed image within the frame. Yet what ocular paucity on offer, is, I rather feel, vital. You see before you a middle-aged man in decline. Though unless you are a part of my serrated inner circle, you would not see me incrementally enough to be able to discern any such decline. I was fortunate enough to be an artist in the pre-social media age. My putative audience had and have no idea what I really look like beyond the fly leaf photo with all its high production values. A fiction for a fiction. So it is not this image of a crumbling man that you should or could fix on. It is this flask. Because the flask is the central image. Even though it has no magical powers. It is no elixir restoring me to life. Nor does it hold back the press of barbarian hordes of tumescent incoherence from the Palatine redoubt of my upper stories. At best it allows me to reach the end of my sentences.

But why it is so important for this image to be front and central, is because it represents something that no amount of skilfully composed words can ever achieve; it stands for death. It represents and embodies pain in a way I could never harness simply through language. Morphine, the tincture of dreams, the realm of Morpheus after whom it is named, when actually it serves as the very antithesis of dreams; death as the eternal dreamless sleep. Palliative care while the pall-bearers are merely suiting up. No matter how intricate and resonant I articulate, death resists my metaphors. Here I am, throwing liquid analgesic down my gullet to try and allow me some fleeting joined-up seconds to contemplate what it is I’m grappling with. Yet it is really too late in the day to really come to grips with the intractable. Interesting word ‘palliative’, it bears a sense of extenuating or mitigating pleas in law, or apologies of which I have none. And yet its Latin root is the word for a large mantle or cloak, that you’re concealing or shrouding something. Which brings us back to the pall cloth over a coffin. As if we could tuck death out of sight. Like an unsightly coffee stain under a doily. Or look here, a morphine smear on the table’s glass top. See, the flask is to be in plain sight at all times during this broadcast. The flask is the motif of this talk; motif of course as in motive… Oh the pain siren is a howling… Motile, as in both one’s fructifying semen and the free movement of metastasising cancer cells, which is most assuredly unfructifying. 

Sometimes I wonder if these twinges are the prod of some sort of internal critic or censor, outraged at myself. Even though I have never once felt any compunction to retract what I have written. I stand by everything I say, or in this present case, sit doubled over in agonised throes… There, that’s better, sucking succour. A blessed modicum of damnable relief. Until even Morpheus’ soothing powers are dulled through what is laughingly called ‘tolerance’. At that point you can only beseech morphine not to relieve you, but to release you. For you will probably self-medicate yourself to death before the cancer culls you. Ironic that the root of the word ‘release’ is to loosen or relax, which is what you count on the drug to do for you in these last knockings, yet the apposite word ‘relief’ has a connotation of getting you back on your feet, of raising you up from being prostrate. Neither are related to the word resurrect which has an etymological root of resurgence. More’s the pity. The surging going on is in one direction only and it’s to my absolute detriment. There, that hits the spot. You know, the most galling thing about this self-medication, is that as an inveterate smoker of cigarettes, which as you can see, I still do because, hell what’s to lose, but the action of lifting the flask to my lips and puffing on the straw, is akin to vaping. I suppose I could have opted for an audio only rogation, but who listens to the wireless these days anyway? The word wireless now standing instead for networks of frenzied, swarming airwaves that have superannuated the original wireless with its singular stentorian voice. But no, I rejected the Godcast, because the flask has to be up front and central. A flask will and testament if you will. And you will, unless the disarticulations of Alzheimer’s gets you first. 

I had always thought I was offering our species profundities in my writing. But this pewter flask tells me I fell oh so far short of that. Not that my work wasn’t more insightful than the drivel the vast amount of other writers produce… Excuse me… That coughing jag would have been produced irrespective of my current blight. The carcinogenic splutterings of most other writers stops up one’s breath, through the audacity of their musings being so feeble. Some of them even choose to pontificate on the contents of this flask, yet couldn't see what was staring them in the face. Reflected in the adulterated silver sheen. Alloyed with lead, the supposed barrier against radiation but proffering a differing poison of its own. Same duplicity as morphine, on both counts… Even abutted hard up against it, yet still these so-called writers (with apologies to the ‘so-called Islamic State’) couldn’t see what was clearly right under their noses. Or in it in the case of some, trying to shortcut the creative process, to get to the lesser seen parts of their selves, when in truth they weren’t worth accessing in the first place and even if they were, just put in the requisite bloody work! You can't mainline genius! Instead they all plumped for the fanciful altered reality vistas offered by Morpheus, rather than the ineffable singularity of death.

But who am I to cavil and carp, when in the greater scheme of things, I now question the merit of my own endeavours and even that of all possible writing? In the manner of the Classical Greek philosophers and the Christian theologians who squatted on their shoulders, I was pursuing the wrong lines of inquiry. It is not a question of what constitutes a ‘good’ life, or an ethical one. It is just the question of life itself we should be interrogating. As framed by our flagrant mortality. I’d employ the word ‘blatant’ rather than the hyperbole 'flagrant', only its root is to prate and babble, when we never speak of death at all, so the word does not befit. Yet ‘flagrant’ isn’t quite right either, with its sense of flaming and fulgurant, iterative of an enlightenment that is anything but. Words fail and break down in quietus’ vestibule. You have no power to lobby once in Death’s lobby. At this late stage I am afeared that writing and language itself just isn’t up to the task. Sculptors of stigmatic saints and martyrs have got to better grips with pain and agony and their corollary of surcease. Whether theist or humanist in their outlook, many rendered the wound of humanity right on the nose. Because it is non-lingual. An expression of pure emotion which always eludes language that has to take the roundabout route of metaphor. Pain etched into skin is far more pertinent than printed words etched into the grain of paper. Let alone on a monitor screen which possesses no grain at all. The pain wreaked across my features says more about life than my entire wrote oeuvre. Wrought for nought… 

How we are obsessed with origins. Ting. With original sin. Ting. With formative Oedipal relations. Ting. With identity and founding myths. Ting. When everything should in fact proceed from eschatology. Ting ting. Flask your father, oh you can’t, he’s dead. While we're about Herr Freud, if we are to invoke his Oedipal theory, why not also his oral, anal and phallo-genital stages as well? We writers should play with ludic language with orality, with anality as well as genital gay abandon. In our linguistic sandbox, we should throw words around like our own shit. James Joyce did, not that I'm comparing myself to the master. We ought to bite and gnaw and lacerate text with our teeth, I mean words emerge from our mouths right? But we don't, we meekly succumb to the superego of grammar for arranging our words into syntactically governed, linear sentences, instead of bloodied smears and seminal gobbets. In doing so we mute language’s energies. But cancer won’t stand for that, for it is a mutiny against any and every muted energy. So I also am not immune from such criticism, as I too yielded before the publishing proprieties suggested by my various careworn editors over the years. Consider the beginnings and ends of novels. Every reader is thrown in the deep end at the opening of a novel. They have to find their way into the world and the language of the book, enter into the voice of their character guide. Consequently authors devote a lot of attention to the beginning, to hook the reader in. But the ending of books? How many endings have ever truly satisfied you the reader? They just seem poor apologies for concluding the book there, like it ran out of steam, or offered a lumpen twist to try and give the novel some last minute perspectival weight. The attention given is the wrong way round. The beginning will always remain inchoate as the reader comes to it blind. But the ending...? The ending must be utterly defined, even if it leads to inchoateness beyond the final full-stop, for after all, death ushers in the inchoate. 

Oh, the flask is empty. Out of juice. Out of words. Out of time. I'll just unclip my throat mic here and set the flask upon the table next to it.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

The Future History Of Demythology - Flash Fiction

Avant-garde is time bound. Hidebound. In our age of rapid technological change and shrinking attention spans, the avant-garde are the nostalgics. The left-behind, derrière-garde guardians of the remembered past, (forlornly) demanding concentration and application..

Body Politic was a metaphor that came into use through a fifteenth century understanding of medical anatomy. With the human genome and the structure and function of DNA becoming known, new metaphors present themselves which we currently remain insensible to.

Consciousness will not reveal itself from human genomics (see B). For how can we objectively observe fully in the round something in which we already stand within? Anticipating our consciousness to demurely deconstruct itself for us, as us. Consciousness forever as the dark side of the moon.

Decidedly deciduous deicide, yet dread of death and the dangled deal with a desperately conjectural afterlife, denotes the divine obtains still.

Ethics derived etymologically from a group or cultural disposition or mien and then back engineered to apply as obligations for each individual member of that group or culture. Only in this atomised age, singular group cultural identities evanesce. All morals and moral behaviour are relative. Ethics have become superannuated, duty obsolete and there is nothing binding us together, be it natural or moral law. 

Freedom: if you are reading this of your own free will, then you have a reasonable degree of freedom. If you disagree with even a single proposition here, then you are enslaved by your programming. If you agree with every single tenet here, then you are enslaved until you break free of what they counter. What lies on the other side once you have burst through? Who can say as it is unexplored terrain. Probably a whole new set of super-subtile myths to enslave you afresh. 

Game Theory is applied to many aspects of life, positing that when humans calculate that cooperating with one another, it best redounds to their mutual interest. The deterrent argument follows this flawed logic, since as David Hume explained through his white swans, a single appearance of a black swan on the pond erases the proof of your senses for the entirety preceding that occasion; that is, the nuclear deterrent argument only has to be disproved from holding once and we are all finished for eternity anyway.

History is the Butterfly Theory in effect. Yes it constantly repeats itself (since its actors are all humans given to repetitive behaviours), but the starting conditions are different each time so that the outcome will not be the same as previously. Once upon a time and only once indeed…

I is not in the word ‘team’ (more’s the pity) but it is in ‘time’, which is ironic seeing as after a brief span, the I drops out permanently. I is not only in the word ‘identity’ but actually leads it; but what is the point of spending as lifetime establishing an identity, only to have mortality erase it permanently? I also leads the word ‘intimacy’, yet this proves nothing. 

Je t’aime… Je m’aime (consider that phonetically) more like it. For we are but a clump of sensory information receptors, who have hit upon the evolutionary decision (randomly of course) that they are best served by aggregating and maintaining a unified outlook of the whole. But they are still in control of this consciousness rather than the other way around (see C).

K, Josef was guilty and he knew it, Kafka knew it, Max Brod knew it and now you dear reader know it. 

Language is not fit for purpose. Conceals as much as it communicates. Slippage and seepage. Ellipsis and elision.   

Myth is pernicious since it dresses up ignorance (of cause and effect in the natural world) in supernatural pretence in order to justify the exigencies of the local institutional and power relations among humans. Though science has provided better approximations of cause and effect to strip away the supernatural and replace it with ‘reason’, science itself is a myth-based body of knowledge (see S).  Myth, like ethics (see E), is man-made and therefore self-imposed and should only be demanding of voluntary adherence.

Nouns are Plato’s Ideal Forms in linguistic form. That is, they don’t actually exist either. Objects classified as one noun or other are approximations and simulacra. “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” et al.

Once upon a time (see H).

Pangram of “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” only holds for the temporary duration of the ban on fox hunting perhaps, when the fox knows it has legal protections from the dog. An example of the viral algorithm infecting language,with periodicy, permutation and prosaicness.

Quantum Mechanics are scientists hedging their bets. Mathematically proven probability. Probably.  

Reality is a construction of the human mind. The notion of an objective reality is merely a human consensus. The templates of what we take for reality are imprinted in our brains and our senses only scan for deviations referenced against the template in order to prompt our responsive action. Our reality templates are premised on our three-dimensional perceptions, yet scientists posit 11 or 12 dimensions of existence (see S).

Science bears more of an elegant, logically consistent canon than religious beliefs, but it is no less a credo. Whatever the equations prove, our limited perceptional apparatus means we can only conceive in three dimensions, four at a stretch, yet current theories are up at around 11 or 12 dimensions of existence (see R). 

Tripartite human brain, reptilian, mammalian and human, does not represent unalloyed progress and upgrade. Greater processing power yes, but we have barely progressed from reptilian filial infanticide, to mammalian killing of a rival’s offspring, to human kind’s targeting of any and every one of its own species (see G).

Uroborus is perhaps of all mythic symbols the one that resonates most. However, take your pick of the myriad of symbolic representations it proffers: Circle of Life; creative renewal; duality, synthesis and integration; immortality; eternal immutability; perfection; kundalini energy; hermetically closed systems; feedback loops; the philosopher’s stone; the singularity from which all existence stems. Go pick the bones out of that little lot. 

Vicious circle applies to not only language (words defined in terms of other words), but to this very exercise itself, (many of these definitions refer the reader on to other definitions listed here). There is no inertial frame for logic, nor language (see C,L). 

W; literally double ‘u’, itself already the elongated sound of twin oo’s. Tautologically redundant as an outcome of an alphabet whose characters and their sound bear no relationship to the meaning of the words they delineate (See L). 

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Honeyed Tongue - Flash Fiction

More jaundiced eyes might charge she pouted every one of her words. But my vision was more forgiving, seeing as I was in thrall to her beauty. So I would submit, the way speech puckered her lips was more akin to a child blowing bubbles. With the same blend of beguilement and tremulousness; breath bated hoping they would sustain and float, rather than evanesce and dissolve. Close my eyes and hearing the timbre, I picture her with the heel of her open hand osculating her chin, so that she could blow the word-kisses from her palm runway, as if helping a ladybird take wing. But when those gossamer words that take so long to sail across to me, finally moor at my ear canal, their brutal lading becomes plain. Iron waspish sting delivered by the tip of a velvet tongue.  

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Three Dreams In The Key Of G

In October my new novel will be published by Dead Ink Books. "Three Dreams In The Key Of G" tackles many large themes, from parenting and child development, through "Nature" versus "Nurture", sectarian politics to what it means to be human. Part parenting guide, part mother's journal of despair, the book is full of bitter humour (some extracts can be found here).

Stylistically the book is quite daring as well, with visuals, two different sized alphabets (our 26 letter and DNA's 4 letter alphabet), as the book drills down beneath the level of word to that of the letters themselves).

Three very powerful female characters, Mother, Crone and genetic Creatrix. None of them will meekly submit to their besiegers. Their three narrative voices, intercut and interweave with one another. In a sense, all three are palimpsests, constantly writing over, and being written by, one of the other two. Whether they are aware or not, they are being informed by another intimate voice so close at hand, as to be under the skin. 

In post Peace Agreement Northern Ireland, a young mother feels besieged. Both by the demands of motherhood and her militant Loyalist husband, decommissioned with the advent of Peace and thrown back into the world of the domestic hearth; whither the violence of his soul? To stop her mind becoming silted up through inactivity, surrounded by the infantile and the exasperating, she maintains a journal. Through which she pursues questions of nature versus nurture in the development of her children, within a divided society such as Northern Ireland, proffering its rarefied environment of acquired symbol and historical legacy. Only, why is her journal all out of sequence and what meaning can it therefore provide to answer her despairing question, 'why do we even have children?'

In Florida, a British septuagenarian with no papers and no official existence, also finds herself under a state of siege. Her community is currently surrounded by FBI, ATF and DEA armed agents. Yet they are not a sect of any kind, rather a refuge for battered women. And while it is true she does have a scheme for redrawing the map of the world, it could hardly be said to be a doomsday scenario. Except maybe, if you're a male of the species. Her fight is for hearts and minds, which might explain why her principal manifestation appears to be through the internet. Where lurk useful allies for her in the war of information technology.

In commercial laboratories all over the world, the human genome is being decoded and compiled. Or ravished and dissected depending on your point of view. What is that textual voice feedbacking through the monitors? Protesting the assault; challenging the epistemologies of both scientist and theologian; chiding us for our linear notions of relationship, the depleted metaphors with which we construct thought and even our 26 letter alphabet in the face of the genome's intricate weaves formed from combinations of just 4 letters. Goading us that we will never unravel the mystery that lies behind the genetic code, unless we open up our very natures to unlimited potential. 

Here is a small extract from the Northern Irish mother as she realises her daughter has reached an important developmental stage

You can pre-order "Three Dreams In The Key Of G" direct from the publisher here

paperback £10.00
hardback £20.00
PDF for e-readers £7.00

For incentive prizes for purchase, see here; the chance to win all 5 of my flash fiction collections, a unique personalised flash fiction story I will write for you, a limited edition sculpture or my latest beautifully designed (not by me) chapbook with 24 stories. 

Pledges Mean Prizes - Incentives for pre-ordering my new novel

In October, my fifth novel "Three Dreams In The Key Of G" will be published by Dead Ink Books. You can read full details of the book and view a 3-minute reading by me from the book here.

For the month of August, the publishers Dead Ink Books are crowdfunding for mine along with 4 other new fiction books they are releasing between now and the end of the year. This is the money that will determine the size of the print run for the books, that is how many copies they will be able to get printed up.

A pledge to the crowdfunder at the very minimum serves as a pre-order purchase of the book(s) you pledge to. In addition, I am offering the following prizes as incentives to pledge either to my book alone, or to bundles of all 5 books.

Incentive 1) Five lucky people who pledge £10 to buy a copy of my book during the crowdfunder, will be entered into a draw to win a copy of my chapbook "Viciss-Etudes", hand designed, illustrated and bound by the wonderfully talented Little Appleseed. The chapbook has 24 of my flash fiction tales and offers something very different from your usual chapbook.

Incentive 2) For three lucky pledgers of a bundle of all 5 novels in e-book format, for the princely sum of £25, I will match it with a bundle of mine own - All 5 of my flash fiction collections in Kindle format, so you will need to have a Kindle e-reader to take advantage of this prize. There is no geographical limit to this, unlike the other analogue prizes which are limited to the UK and EU states. 

Incentive 3) For those of you who have watched my video reading from the novel, you might have noticed the sculpted female torso figure in the foreground. This original art work will be awarded to one lucky winner drawn from those who pledge for a signed hardback copy of my novel.


Incentive 4) For anyone generous enough to pledge for the hardback and original artwork for the cover, at the princely sum of £80, I will pen them an exclusive flash fiction story - both the handwritten draft version and then the mint typed version, signed and dated by me and framed. If you want, you can give me some elements you want incorporated into the story, such as a character name, or three words I have to use, or anything else that takes your fancy. This will be a limited edition of precisely 1! If there is more than one pledger, then each will get an original story. 

So there you have it. By pledging anything, you get my new novel at the very least. With a bit of luck, you could win one of the prizes I've listed above.

Many thanks and I hope you enjoy everything that's on offer.


Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Excerpts from "Three Dreams In The Key Of G"

My new novel "Three Dreams In The Key Of G" is available for pre-order throughout August. For prizes and incentives for ordering, see here

The synopsis can be read here. 

Here are some extracts from the novel

Friday, 18 August 2017

What Did The Ancient Greeks Ever Do For Us?

I mean apart from democracy, philosophy, architecture, statuary and theatre, what did the Greeks ever give us? They always come off favourably in comparison with the supposedly more barbarian and plagiarist Romans, but for 'democracy' you also had 'despotism' (read Plato's "The Republic" which shows the way democracy can very easily slide into tyranny through its own lack of true awareness of important values). However it's the philosophy and the theatre which I really want to challenge for the supreme value of their heritage as it has passed down to us. 

I'm not going to say too much about the philosophy, except where it has resonance in art. Plato's phenomenalism is a crucial concept to how we perceive reality, with his famous example of slaves in a cave viewing the shadows thrown on the cave walls by their fire, equating to perceptive reality for these slaves who have never seen the world outside of the cave. He derives this example through his belief that the whole world of appearances which we take for reality, is but a degraded version of true reality and (aesthetic/mathematical) beauty.

For the highest existence of any object is its ideal form and in our world, actual objects never attain such an ideal form. Now this represents an important way of thinking & perceiving even in our modern world. Of course there are no 'ideal' forms of objects, but what there are is linguistic nouns which categorise all sorts of various 'non-ideal' forms of similar things; all breeds of dogs are 'Dogs' is the simplest representation of this. But consider something more debatable - is a flatpack table in Ikea's warehouse still a table before it gets sold and erected? Is a slave or hired prostitute at an orgy, who is ordered to bend over so that food can be served from their naked back, are they a table? Is the ammo box that the soldier utilises while on patrol to quickly scoff down his rations, a table, or is it still only an ammo box containing rocket propelled grenades? 

Phenomenalism and particularly Nominal Phenomenalism, means that the supposed evidence of our senses and particularly the dominant one of sight, actually goes through a pre-filter of language, grouping similar things together as a shorthand that may not in fact do justice to the complexity of 'reality'. And this filter of language is of course the mainstay and dominant tool of us writers. We can use it to not only describe reality, but to challenge its consensus by really examining its linguistic short-cuts. So we could and possibly should be challenging accepted reality and showing how it has been constructed. Those writers and philosophers who study signs and symbols (semiologists) do this on one level, but writers can bring it to the linguistic realm. 

Now let's come to Greek Theatre. It is absolutely entwined with politics in Ancient Greece, that politics being in the main direct participatory democracy (the military oligarchy of Sparta didn't produce much in the way of playwrights). Plays in Athens were performed during religious festivals, the rest of the time the theatres in the small administrative demes were used for political meetings of the whole community entitled to vote. Plays in these festivals were in competition and accordingly were sponsored by patrons, most of whom were professional politicians, else citizens who wanted to wield influence. Many plays debated the issues of recent or contemporary events, while comedies lambasted real prominent citizens to their faces sat there in the audience, to remind them of their place to serve the Polis rather than their own interests. The ancient Greek word for playwright has as its root 'teacher' or trainer, while the word 'Praxis' which Aristotle coined for the dramatic action, also stands for a body of practical political action.  

So Greek plays were not politically neutral and for all their show at having both sides of the debate (much like Plato's dialectic philosophical style), actually there was really only one message either the playwright, or his patron wanted to impart (just like Plato's "Republic", though his other dialectic works were more ambiguous and even handed in their conclusions). Plays were always geared to preaching to their audience and that audience were those with the vote in the democracy (so not women or slaves who were excluded from voting). The plays preached reasoned debate, when in fact they were tilting for a single point of view, with their own constructed democracy as the highest value (not an 'ideal' one in Plato's eyes, far from it as above). Those individualist citizens who weren't team players, or those with a tendency towards demagoguery, were constantly being defeated on stage.

For such men displayed 'hubris', that is the excess of pride in imagining yourself above your station within the society. Any individual citizen who wasn't a team player, was regarded as having hubris and all Tragic dramas in the Greek canon had men brought low by their hubris. Indeed even the word 'hero' which reverberates so powerfully in our own society, initially emerged from Greek theatre, not existing outside of that context beforehand. The dramatic hero is a demiurge, that is a man who sees himself superior to his fellow man, halfway to being a god and of course, such tragic heroes are felled by their hubris. The stage actors had to play both heroes and gods, an act and an appropriation involving of hubris in itself just in case any of them got ideas above their station. Hubris implicitly reinforces a 'know your place' attitude, for to flout it inevitably means personal destruction. 

The clinching point about this propagandist theatre comes from a word the Greek's themselves coined, 'catharsis'. Catharsis means a purging, initially a purification in the religious sense. But when applied to the theatre by Aristotle in "Poetics" it has a more manipulative meaning. Theatre, in line with praxis, is vicarious, the audience experience the play as brought to them by the actors. We don't know whether they were passive in the amphitheatres, or like Shakespeare's 'Pit' rowdy & interactive with the stage. But by the end of a tragedy, having seen Orestes put out his own eyes, or the abasement and cruelty visited upon "The Trojan Women", or the double suicide of the lovers to conclude "Antigone", the audience are purged of their passions through the very extremity of the emotions wrought in them by the action on stage. That is, the playwright has taken them on such a journey, they are useless for anything at the end of the play. Certainly no call to action, only the playwright's sly reinforcement of whatever particular message he was putting across and the audience too played out to resist that message. Wrung out and spent, they go home marvelling at the stagecraft, story and spectacle, confirmed in the moral teaching the playwright conveyed. 

I could go on about how the heritage from the Greeks has further hamstrung us in our modern age. That Greek philosophy's main thrust was seeking to answer the question 'what constitutes a good life?', which for Plato, in the context of a city, was living a 'Just' life. For Aristotle it was living a balanced life, avoiding excess at either end of the spectrum of behaviour. Now this may or may not be a reasonable philosophical question to consider (I would say there are more pressing ones along the line of what is man, why is he here on earth, what is he supposed to achieve in his short life?) But - and you can't necessarily blame the Greeks for this, their inquiry into goodness was hijacked and taken on by the Christian theologian-cum-philosophers, whose answer was of course faith in God and following a set of moral and behavioural commandments. Again, a rigid moral unilateralism that is today in tatters and has led to the evils of slavery, colonialism, subjection of women and our own bodies, which have only furthered the crippling issues we face today. 

So yes, I do declare, what have the Ancient Greeks done for us, except to set up the parameters by which we have navigated to our very troubling modern age? 

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Literary Lacrosse Stick Quiz!

Yesterday I did an author Twitter takeover of my publishers Dead Ink Books  As part of the mayhem & madness, I set a 25 question quiz, with questions posed as crossword cryptic clues. (Hence the title, Literary Lacrosse Stick, to represent that my new novel has a couple of acrostics in it).

In case you weren't able to join in but have a hankering to pit your wits, here are the questions again.

I give the cryptic clue to the book title, the year of publication and the country of origin of the author.

Here's an example for you:  Junky American author’s unadorned repast (5,5) 1959


I'll publish the answers on the blog in a couple of days.

Happy solving!

1) UK author’s ossified time keepers (3,4,6) 2014 

2) Russian MA (Hons) celebrates with a salted rimmed glass of tequila & triple sec (3,6,3,9) 1967 

3) Polish émigré switches off all the lights at the hub (5,2,8) 1899 

4) Manchester author’s wind-up citrus fruit (1,9,6) 1962

5) Korean eschewer of animal comestibles (3,10) 2007

6) All change for this Czech, but the DNA remains exactly the same (3,13) 1915  

7) Junky author’s vermillion nocturnal municipalities (6,2,3,3,5) 1981

8) Anglo-Dutchman’s Sub-subcutaneous? (5,3,4)  2000

9) Pacifist Yorkshireman’s Infernal unison (3,6,6) 2006 

10) Yugoslav Civil Service as the source of agonies? (3,8,2,4) 2006

11) Austrian sporting custodian’s twitchiness in the face of punitive leathering (3,11,7,2,3,7,4) 1970 

12) Japanese Alice eschews egg-timer for the final apocalypse (4-6,10,3,3,3,2,3,5) 1985 

13) US author has Theseus’ conquest submit to its craving for nicotine (3,8,5,1,9,5) 2000 

14) Modern day French misanthrope would gladly blow each and every one of us to bits (8) 1998 

15) Orphaned NYC Borough (10,8) 1999 

16) Irish author’s nominal aphasia? (3,9) 1953

17) Count on this midday British author’s attribution of the cause of hay fever (6) 1995 

18) American writer’s ignited abecedary (5,8) 2012

19) Frenchman’s 26th and last, the back to the beginning for the first (4) 2010

20) American author relocates Hades between Brooklyn’s Polo grounds and Dallas (10) 1997 

21) Scottish author double negative rejection of state benefits amid mañana (3,3,5,3,4) 1983 

22) French author drops a quartet of aitches? (1-1-1-1) 2010

23) Nothing to sneeze at Russian SciFi author putting murder up his nose (5) 2011 

24) English author’s tale of the dictator of London’s W11 (3,8,2,7,4) 1904 

25) US once-a-decade novelist’s nuptial plans? (3,8,4) 2011 

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Can A Writer Also Be An Activist?

I salute the authors and publishing professionals who responded to the Grenfell Tower disaster by setting up an online auction which raised three and a half times its £50,000 target. An impressive, heartfelt humanitarian response. Yet not a political one. Indeed the victims have said that funds are not the issue, instead demanding answers as to the causes of the tragedy and lobbying Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s inquiry for the widest terms of reference possible. Society-wide terms so that they can determine their place and value in a society where the Grenfell fire can rage in so devastating a manner. 

The word author is hard to yoke to the word activism. Writing is a sedentary occupation, save for the odd writer like Hemingway standing up to write in a physicality vaguely suggestive of a manual trade. Potters are also sedentary artists, but in addition to their hands, one of their feet is working to rotate the wheel. Writing retreats are very popular with authors, the opportunity to get away from the distractions of the everyday world in order to pen your words within the cocoon of Nature, Wordsworthian or not. I can’t see how this would foster the atmosphere of a gritty urban thriller, but then I don’t write them.

Musicians don’t seem to be so hamstrung from activism. After all they are most active in their stage performance, they are bound by distinct rhythms (unlike the rhythms silently imagined by the author sat at their desk) and slogans can be handily and catchily bound up in simple chants drawing on popular songs. Jeremy Corbyn gets a rousing reception at Glastonbury, while in London’s inner boroughs, Grime artists will tell you it was them what mobilised the youth vote for their main man MC Jezza. However, the audience for books is a discrete one, since reading is undertaken alone and rarely does an author have a stage bringing together the numbers to convene the significant assemblage of a band in concert or at a festival.

Authors don’t have to be excluded from being viewed as activists. In France, Sartre, de Beauvoir and Camus were at the head of any 1960s political demonstration going. Novelist André Malraux had a stint as  the Minister of Cultural Affairs. But Britain lacks for much of a recent history of activist authors. Harold Pinter and Lady Antonia Fraser were notable exceptions, but part of their activism occurred through high end dinner parties. JK Rowling publicly expresses her political views through social media, but was recently rounded on by fellow author Joanna Trollope for such action representing a mere indulgence of ego. Or worse, that exploiting her popularity to leverage support for a cause, somehow strikes at the gravitas of serious wordsmithery. 

It’s not hard to write a political novel. But it’s hard getting the timing right for its relevance, seeing that a week is a long time in politics and issues perpetually change and move on. So if you wanted to sit down and write a book provoked by the tragedy of Grenfell Tower, it would be ready to hit the bookshops probably only marginally before any official government inquiry had reached its conclusions; yes that long! Firstly it takes at least a year for an author to write a complete work from scratch and that’s assuming they either have it plotted out, or a pretty good idea of it if they tend to eschew planning. Then if they have a deal with one of the big publishing houses, their work will probably be slated for release two years hence, so far in advance are publication schedules. A seemly group of pop stars can gather in a recording studio and record a song to highlight a cause in a single working day, digitised and downloadable within the same week. Of course an author can take to Kindle and swiftly publish a single short story, or publish it on their own website, but it’s just not going to have the same impact. And save us from another hastily put together rapid response anthology of stories, that bear no relationship to one another, let alone to the cause espoused in the introduction. 

But then timing is always an issue in any art form that seeks to engage with the world. JG Ballard wrote three books between 1973-75 inspired by the very urban landscape and architecture of that part of North Kensington where Grenfell Tower is situated. “Crash”, “High Rise” and “Concrete Island” are seeped in the trunk road The Westway, around which North Kensington’s tower blocks stand upright and austere. Each book involves a political and psychological analysis pertinent to the issues of the area, that were finally laid bare by the flames that engulfed Grenfell Tower. Yet Ballard’s vision predated even the hand wringing and finger pointing back to the politics of the 1980s by a full decade. Yet Ballard was not overtly an activist. And that is the point of the political novelist, the activist writer. You have to be in it for the long haul. You can’t simply dip in and out when a single issue gets your political gander up and provokes you into a literary (or fundraising) response. You’re never writing about your themes completely from scratch, but as part of your continuum of subjects. Ballard's artistic and philosophical influence continues through the writers and film-makers who channel his ideas today. 

The true activist author keeps chipping away with his or her critical vision, with their constant commitment to looking beneath the surface of society and one day maybe, their ideas come into fashion for their ‘timely’ resonance. An activist author can address rallies, go on “Newsnight" to debate with an MP, take to Twitter, or pen an opinion piece for a broadsheet. But ultimately, their activism is really their sustained body of work in the political sphere, using fiction to speak to truth. 

For my piece on just how we end up at a Grenfell Tower disaster, read here. 

Thursday, 10 August 2017

HouDiniVD - Flash Fiction

The illusionist clasped his hands together at his diaphragm in ham piety, as two black-clad stagehands brandished a straitjacket at him like bullfighters. His glamorous gold bikini abettor snatched his wrists and wrenched his hands apart with a flourish, as if she was performing a conjuration of her own so a dove might fly free. The two assistants strapped him into his restraints. Miss Direction then circled him with a wrap of chains, sinuously bending down to apply the keys in the padlocks. She then gave the links a yank to test their resolve, with a relish that prompted conspiratorial stage whispers in the stalls that the pair carried on the same relationship beyond the spill of the footlights. 

He ascended the steps with confined gait and pivoted one leg over the rim of the water tank. He swivelled his torso to turn and face the audience, took an exaggerated breath, before swiftly swinging his other leg and sinking to the bottom of the tank.  A lid was placed over his indoor Davy Jones Locker.

His body started to gently writhe, like the fronds on a coral reef wafting in the undertow. The chains bucked and twisted like metal seaweed on the tide. 

“They’re pumping oxygen into the tank for him!”
“How does he breathe it in without equipment then?”
“Look, you can see the bubbles!”
“You must have 40-20 vision to see that from up here in the gods”.

The PA was playing a heartbeat, perhaps they had mic’d up the illusionist in the tank. The tempo started to increase, suggestive of an urgency to the heart’s pumping. The movements from within the white canvas shroud were more spasmodic though with greater amplitude, causing a greater swell of the water. The audience began to serrate their own breathing as they watched on. 

The torso in its tethers had stopped moving. Only one the legs intermittently convulsed. The two black-clad assistants sprinted over to the tank. One scaled the steps, worked off the lid and handed it to his partner. Then he dived into the water while the other took up position on the top step. Between the two of them they levered the illusionist out of the water and manoeuvred him back down to the stage floor. The audience was hushed as they saw the water rivulets forge from the illusionist’s still body. The woman ran over and threw herself down to her knees and started mouth to mouth resuscitation. No one now dared to speculate about this being an extension of their lives beyond the theatre. 

“If he was still alive, wouldn’t he be shivering?”
“Not if he’s gone into shock maybe?”
“That’s not very convincing heart massage. This is all part of the act”.
“How can they possibly do it properly with the chains still on him?”

The water had stopped flowing from his body. There was no rising chest to impel it down inclines of his inert body. The stage curtain started shuffling across. Only one foot peeked out from under the drape, utterly, utterly still. Had they stopped working on him on the other side of the material? 

“Wow, that was something!”
“That’s what you call a real showstopper!”
“You’re joking aren’t you? I want my money back!”
“Why? He most definitely gave us a show didn’t he?”
“Gave it everything he’s got. Had”.
“Dying on stage? It’s the way to go for anyone in show business”.
“Not comedians”.
“You’re awful the lot of you. A man just died out there. For our entertainment”.
“It’s what he would have wanted”.
“It’s what his agent and publisher would have wanted at the least”.

The PA system announcement began, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are sorry to have to inform you”. The audience picked up their coats started filing out all abuzz. Too busy opining to finish their drinks or their toffees. They swarmed over the stairs as the volume rose beneath the high vaulted ceilings. They flowed into the foyer, whereupon they were confronted with the sight of the illusionist. Not two-dimensional on the giant panels on the billboards, but stood there in the flesh. Wet, shivering, shaking hands and handing out leaflets. 

“Thanks for coming tonight… Hope you enjoyed the show… Thanks you so much… Had you going for a bit there right…? Don’t forget to buy my DVD from the stall over there… Yes all my best illusions are on there… You can spend as much time as you want playing it over and over again, you won’t spot how I do the tricks… Thanks for coming out tonight…”