Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Back In Black (It Never Went Away) - Blank Verse



Chemical spaying of the black dog sniffing around my mental de-scent, 
Ureic spray marking my ligneous hide.
Lightning volts to chase away the black cloud squatted somewhere across my pate
Lithium’s little local climatic murrain.
Acupuncture needles don’t hurt as much
But the vision lying on the slab like a stuck pig, 
Banderillas sprouting in every interstitial direction from my vegetative mire 
Multicoloured, chromatic, garish markers for trepanning bullish me 
The mounted picador pricks me, pierces me, permeates me, venesecting blood, lymph and chi flow
Transfusing blood black, sable, onyx and jet
Black is the new black, same as the old black
Lamentation, mourning, mold
Effaced contours of female flesh behind post-nuptial veils
Death cult zealotry over purity
Cimmerian, tenebrous, atramentous, places of Stygian gloom
Chthonic cave interiors, 
Lignite, bituminous coal, crude oil excreted from Gaia’s bowels
Tar and pitch for when you cover up the gouging of mother Earth.
Jacobean black bile melancholy 
Lucifer named for the light, but his visible rays only ignited by the plummet from Heaven,
Burning up on reentry, fleeting friction match struck phosphorescence.
Black heart black as sin, Goths just playing at it
Smokey Robinson’s - Smokey really? - “The Agony and The Ecstasy”
Here come the leeches… 

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Walking Cane And Able-Bodied - Flash Fiction



I became tenderly acquainted with death at an early age. A very early age. Before I’d taken my first breath, my twin drew his last. Carried off by midwife pall bearers, while I was borne aloft into light, air and pain. My first wail a lamentation for us both; for my dilating and his collapsed lungs. Death engendered me, he whom I call ‘father’. My handmaiden through life, or I his. My new goon companion, the cuckoo who had usurped my bosom buddy. 

A future headshrinker proffered that I had sawn my sibling off. In a fit of pique a boo hoo (who?). Fratricide in utero. I dismissed it reflexively of course, with that constriction in my throat a phantom emulation of the shared cord that had noosed him off. One into two does not go. Not when it’s indivisible flesh. Gestation’s entrailing guilt, riven at parturition, only became fully fledged that day supine on the couch. The blood they had hosed off me in the delivery suite was not that of my mother, rather that of my brother. The nurse placed heavyweight me to suckle at my mother’s breast, while she insisted deadweight Bruv be laid on the other one (how can a lightweight, or no weight, be a deadweight? Our first exposure to gravity). My mother’s body was lopsided from that day on, grief spiting gravity, so what do I know? My nativity body count lay at two. A brace of husks. Leaving me unbraced and liable to topple over at any moment. Death gave me a bony shoulder not to cry on, but to prop me up. Wearing me in a papoose. Doubling up with my brother’s shadow for a life of twofold stygian persecutions. 

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Shortwave - Flash Fiction



Over…

Over?

Over.

Over and over.

And over.

Over and out.

Maiden over bowled

Over.

It’s over.

It’s all flaming over.

Overt.

Ovary

Oh very

Oh vary

Ovarian

It’s over.

Over and out.

No do-overs

Over all

Overall

Overhaul

Too late in the day to turn over a new leaf.

Head over heels

Arse over tit

My oeuvre

Overrated

And undersold by my overseers

Publishers on manoeuvres

They have me over a barrel

Over-egged

Apple turnover

A leftover vestige of appetite 

Comes over me

Charon row me over to the other side

Man overboard!

The struggle is over

Over and done with

Long overdue

Game over. 

Saturday, 5 May 2018

My Top Ten Books


I took part in the Booktube "Top Ten Books" tag and in choosing my all time top ten books, i thought I'd share the results here.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Literary Versus Commercial Fiction Part 405...

Despite us being on the same page conclusion-wise, I just wanted to respond to many of the points Simin Savidge makes in his Booktube discussion video looking at the false division between literary and commercial fiction that has reared its head again during the Literary Prize listing season.

Here is Simon's original video, definitely worth taking a look at.



The first point is that there is no doubt Will Self does stir things up with his provocative statements on the future of literature, but a) I don't think he's pinning it to low sales of his own book and b) while he is what may be called a literary snob, his points about the future of the novel are more to do with technology and how we read digitally more than the descrying the dumbing down of novels. (My profile of Self & his work here). So there is undoubtedly as Simon says snobbery among some readers and that is lamentable if it is aimed at readers who are being accused of not being clever enough to 'get' certain books. But I feel there is an equal tendency for an anti-intellectual tendency, to tear down difficult or complex books as elitist, as not speaking to anyone, as if these books didn't have a right to exist. To my mind that is the same type of snobbery merely inverted.

Simon calls for all books to have an accessibility and while that's true and an end always worth pursuing, I don't agree with his assertion that it is far harder to write books simply and accessibly. How exactly are we measuring the 'hardness of writing a book'? Who can say whether a book written simply is harder or easier than a complex, experimental book? It comes down to the individual writers, some find writing easier and quicker than others irrespective of what genre they write. Besides there is little merit in judging which one has worked harder, because ultimately it's not how much work an author has put into writing their book, it's the end product and what type of read it delivers for its audience. Finally regarding Simon's accessibility point, it's true commercial books reach more people which implies they are more universal; but not all authors write for a universal audience (or any specific audience in mind at all for that matter). Such authors must be permitted to write the books they want to write, to pursue the lines of literary, fictional & stylistic inquiry of their choice and the judgement of first, editors (as to whether to publish them, because they must possess some modicum of commercial potential however small scale) and then the judgement of readers, (for even without an audience in mind, the decision to write a book assumes someone will read it) will determine some sort of external verdict on the work.

The problems arise when readers and critics with a foot in one camp or the other of commercial vs literary, or simple vs complex, start defending their corner by pulling down their opponents' tastes. We all know what we like and enjoy reading, that is we all know our reading tastes, but you have to allow other readers with different tastes. And this is why literary prizes may be more harmful than good, in that fans jump on the debates they prompt to deride something they like that is omitted, or attack something they don't like that is included. Social media fuels the fires. But the thing is, don't take it so personally, a panel of judges listing books is not a slight on your personal tastes. Being a book lover and promoting your favourite authors out of your passion for their work, is not the same as supporting a football team and wearing colours and punching the lights out, or swearing at fans of the opposite team. Or at least it shouldn't be, but we edge ever closer. (This is not a development unique to the book world, same thing in politics, music et al, this ridiculous lurch into tribalism).

Simon states that pretentious books can alienate. Of course they can, but I find many non-pretentious books can alienate me as a reader for lots of different reasons. We either like a book, or we don't. Pretentiousness may be nothing to do with it. I absolutely agree any book has to carry a reader along with it, but as I discuss in my video below, there are many different ways that different readers can be carried away by a book - again we return to tastes.

The different elements of a novel that can appeal to the reader include but not restricted to -

1) Provides escapism
2) Absolute immersion in the real world
3) The story
4) Ideas/ Themes
5) Character - the psychology
6) Character - seeing through the eyes of a different person, sometimes far removed from you the reader
7) Style
8) Language
9) Metaphors
10) Formalism/ experimentalism
11) Me personally, I like discovering new words which authors introduce me to

Of course, in all likelihood it's a few of these taken together that determine the makeup of a reader's tastes, but the point ultimately it has nothing to do with pretentiousness, worthiness or whatever else Simon lists, as these things are not to his tastes, whereas to a reader who veers towards say (2), (9) and (10), the book may never strike them as pretentious or over-worthy.

I was very interested to hear his experiences of being a judge for a literary prize category. But prizes do create problems. How can you judge a collection of short stories against a novel for example? Or as he says, the Women's Fiction Prize is a vital prize, yet the appearance of literary together with commercial fiction on the same broad list -which after all the only criterion is fiction written by women - to my mind makes it impossible for judges to rate the merits of one book against another because they are not trying to do the same things at all. But there again, the notion of rating any book with some sort of putative 'score' is anathema to me. Simon talking about the brief he was given, to select a book that potentially could be in the most hands of potential readers, provided a mechanism that could cut through this comparative rating problem, but makes it one particular type of prize only. Come the next year with a new judging panel, will that same brief be employed? If it is, then really the prize should make that rubric public and if it isn't, then it just makes the whole thing seem quite random from year to year; that was the year that we wanted the greatest potential accessibility for the winning title, but the following year it was some other facet...

So although I agree with Simon's conclusions, as evidenced in my video below, I'm not sure I agree with the specific points Simon made in reaching the conclusion; that none of these divisions matter, let us be all readers to all books and make our own individual choices and not rag on readers with tastes different to your own.






Saturday, 14 April 2018

Semiotinks - Flash Fiction


Synaesthesia
  • I want to lick you all over
  • Be my guest
  • I said I want to… but I can’t
  • Why ever not?
  • There’s a part of you that forever remains apart from you
  • What part? What are you talking about?
  • Your shoulder blade. It’s been colonised by someone else
  • The tattoo? That’s more a part of me than any other part. That… is the ultimate expression of me, who I am
  • That… is your signature under another artist’s work
  • Oh no no no no no. That’s all my own design. Utterly unique to me, you won’t see this in any tattooist’s window or catalogue
  • Did you take the tattooist in a drawing?
  • Well no. I knew what I wanted and described it to him. He sketched it out, but only to my specification
  • But he still put his own vision on it. The final rendering was all his and his alone
  • Not a bit of it. I determined the dimensions, the colour, every nib stroke…
  • But he is the artist that has to work with the marble
  • What marble?
  • The marble of your body. The contour of your muscle, the grain of your skin, the flow of your veins just beneath the surface. That is the true you
  • The sculpted me, yes, and I worked damn hard for this. But not as hard as you’re making me work now
  • That is what I want to possess in every topographical detail. But someone else has been in that quadrant before me and planted their flag
  • I’ve had other lovers, they’ve been in every ‘quadrant’ of me before you as well
  • But they have relinquished you. To me. The indelible ink has not and never will
  • Are you seriously expecting me to have it removed? I’m telling you, that is my own stamp of who I am
  • Cogito ergo sum? 
  • Say the sum of what now? 
  • ‘I think therefore I am’. You credit that with this branding, somehow you link up your physical body with how you conceive yourself mentally? 
  • That’s about the size of it yes
  • That how you are in the world, how you think and feel with your physical body is insufficient, you have to exteriorise it, put the construction of your inner life on permanent display
  • It’s not on permanent display. Most of the time it’s submerged beneath clothing
  • So what’s the point of it then?
  • I know it’s there. Radiating like a second heartbeat
  • Precisely. Two hearts beating. Both of them yours. Mine would make it three and three’s a dissonant crowd
  • It’s not a real person!
  • You posited it was your golem. Your spirit at large
  • What that ugly wee fellah in “Lord Of The Rings”? 
  • No… It’s only the two of us get to strip you of your raiment to reveal your skin. And you have tainted it with this… doodle
  • Doodle?
  • Alright, this self-rendered stigmata 
  • Stigmata? That’s proper over the top!
  • You’re quite right of course. More like a… palimpsest. To suggest there’s something hidden underneath. When there’s actually nothing. You could have let me circumnavigate you. All of you. Through taste and smell. Mapping my version of you over time. Instead you have predetermined yourself as to what I, or any future explorer of your flesh, will discover. You have already declared your mappa incognito in the name of your own King and unfurled your standard there
  • Well just don’t lick that part then, unlock the unknown parts of the rest of me
  • I can’t. When I taste I see pictures. When I smell I hear sounds. Your daub interferes with all of that. If I lick it, I would only taste the granular ink, while the picture has already been filled in for me
  • Just turn out the lights then. We can do it in the dark!
  • I don’t have to. The darkness of your soul eclipses all light
  • No Babe, come back… It’s me wants to lick you all over… 


*


Gematria
Mosaic Law forbids the application of ink to the skin (Leviticus 19:28). Were the Germans at Auschwitz aware of this proscription, seeing it as yet further tribulation to wreak on the prisoners if they thought they might be denied entry to heaven through an ink profaned body? More likely it was merely part of the Nazi bureaucratic system of processing humans. Inventories and job lots and serial numbers. Cattle brands for the human kine who emerged from the cattle trucks.

The prohibition on marking the body in any way, stems from the human form being a gift from G-d that must not be altered in any way, shape or form, for to do so would be to criticise the perfection, genius and beneficence of G-d. Or more pertinently, to downright disobey Him and turn from his righteous way. For burial, the Jewish body must be unspoiled, well as much as death can leave a body in mint condition. Of course, these bodies were not in receipt of Jewish funeral rites.

Jewish faith works in three ways. Things are truth because it is the word of G-d. They are true because through study and exegesis they can be proven to be true through human ratiocination. And finally through the gematria, whereby the mathematical values ascribed to letters of the Hebrew alphabet provide mathematical proof by ‘adding up’ to the correct answer. But stare at them as they might, the Auschwitz inmates could not make the numbers on their wrists add up to a demonstration of G-d’s love.


*


Parade
They met at the Edinburgh Tattoo, having unwittingly landed there during their European tour on the day of the military parade. They proceeded to compare their inks, the imagery telling its own story since the deafening beat of the military drums drowned out any verbal communication they might essay. As they discovered a myriad of mutualities expressed in pictograms, a love blossomed (perhaps already foretold by both having inked efflorescence, she lilies and orchids, he an hibiscus). As the soldiers marched past their faraway eyes, they were unable to see that most of these men too shared their predilection for marking the skin. Although formal dress uniforms did their best to cover up what was still seen as unsightly and ill-disciplined by the top brass, but which they had caved into permitting through the sheer preponderance among those queuing up for recruitment. While many of the soldiers’ designs involved skulls, the young lovers-to-be both eschewed such morbid imagery. Who wants to make love only to get an eyeful of memento mori plastered on your soul mate’s flesh? An indication that one day they will be snatched away from you.


*


Angelina Jolie’s Tattoo
The water buffalo pulled the harrow to prick the earth, while in its turned wake the farmer disseminated the rice seedlings. When the Khmer Rouge came, they unyoked the buffalo and attached their enemies to the harrow. They chose anyone who wore glasses, possessed books among their meagre positions hauled with them from the cities, or bore tattoos. Anything that suggested literacy which unutterably betrayed their bourgeoise nature. The buffalo stood around the fields redundant, until it too, like the bourgeois Khmer people, disappeared. The cadres said it had seized its freedom under Angkar and wandered off. We suspected they had under cover of night killed it and cut it up for a luxuriant meal denied the rest of us. 

A few of us managed to escape into the borderland mountains. We formed resistance battalions, secured hold of some guns and swore an oath to free our nation benighted by the godless. Monks had not even been put into the fields to work until they dropped, they were taken away and slaughtered from the very outset. Fortunately one had made it to the mountains with us and he was versed in the knowledge of protective tattoos. He didn’t have access to ink, so he improvised using battery fluid, mixed with the sap of some mountain tree unknown to me as a species. As long as our hearts were pure, his tattoos would deflect bullets and prevent landmines from being tripped under our feet. We couldn’t read our skin’s texts, not because we were illiterates, but because they weren’t written in Khmer but in scriptural Pali. We knew we had to trigger their magic by reciting the mantras each time we went out in the field. Neither the clean skinned Khmer Rouge nor the filthy criminal Vietnamese would stand a chance in the face of the peaceful Buddha’s loving protection of us. 


*


Blood Ink
My self-styled stylus isn’t disposed with its own reservoir of ink. Instead it relies on its incised strokes to be infilled by the upsurge of blood. My improvised fountain pen spraying the gist of me. But it’s impossible to control such red ink swell. The blood blotter smear of self. So it is only once the flow has clotted and the skin cicatrised, that such graphic calligraphy can be anatomised. The straight edge of the razor makes it hard to curlicue any flesh inscription (made worse when the unhanded side has to grave the more favoured limb, ‘favoured’ in the sense of bias, not in my affections, for I don’t favour a single cell of my body). So inevitably my chirography resembles little more than cuneiform. The Rosetta Stone of me. The medium, the chalky, cracked parchment of my skin, is the message. Can’t you decipher it you illiterates? Why, it’s not as if I hide my verbiage encased behind dust jacket sleeves. Here, I’ll re-carve it. A palimpsest whose abiding runes are imperishable, but the surface scar tissue is recast once again. I aim for a blue vein, but the ink still emerges the unsparing red of the hyper-critical inner-editor. I have no words, but I do have profuse red ink flow to share with you.





Friday, 6 April 2018

Hallmark - Flash Fiction



Happy Birthday Son I wrote in the card, echoing the precast gnomic message already imprinted both front and inside, wondering how many more occasions of just such cards I would be privileged. 

Looking forward to sharing so many more wonderful days with you oh how hollow does that sentiment sound to me?  

I hope you enjoy the present and that you get lots of use out of it. “What present Mum? Where’s the present? What possible use could it be to me, whatever it is?” I’ll just put it with the others. But it changes the room I suppose. 

Suppose I could have written many happy returns. Though there won’t be any, happy or otherwise. Returns on what I wonder? On investments? Well that’s gone bust. A college fund foundered on the rocks. No returns of this day as it was intended. Conceived. As I conceived it. When I conceived you. Just am annual return of this utter melancholy. But of course it’s not restricted to just one day a year. Anyway I can’t change it now, it’s in indelible ink. More indelible that the flimsy tissue of the human body’s fabric. 

I tore the card up into confetti sized pieces. I would have to go and buy another one. When you were young, we used to make cards together for your little friends. So I could always make you one by my own hand. Since you are eternally frozen in your age. 

I don’t suppose Hallmark make an “Unhappy Deathday” card. It’s not clear who U should send it to, you, or me… 

Saturday, 24 March 2018

The History Of Yellow - Flash Fiction



I was born tinged yellow by jaundice, fortunately I was too unformed for it to mark my emotional temper.

Most of the time the chromatics of my nappy was fulvous.

As a child, I seemed immersed in a yellow period in my crayoning and painting.

Farmers replaced clover with oilseed rape for their allowing their fallow fields to recuperate. Perhaps because I am an urban dweller, I wasn’t one of those Moaning Minnies who complained about the loss of their green and pleasant vistas, nor was I discomfited by the supposed unsightliness of wind turbines.

The teenage me squeezed my spots, fascinated how the pus it coiled and wormed on to my face like oil paint squeezed on to an easel.

After a cheap blonde rinse, I was left hiding flavicomous hair beneath hats in hot weather.

I awoke from a bad dream to be confronted by the yellow eyes of my cat in the darkness right up against my face. In my drowsy state, I couldn’t determine whether she was the devil’s familiar come to wreak mischief on me, or my cuddly pet full of concern having discerned my discomfort. 

They put bloody tomato on my burger. As I pincered it in my fingers to remove it like it was radioactive, I got some mustard on me. Licking it off I was hit by its piquant power. As I shuffled the burger’s components back into its construction, I couldn’t see the mustard, yet I knew I had just tasted it. Then I realised that the mustard was of exactly the same hue as the melted cheese and accordingly camouflaged. The cheese however had no taste at all. 

At training camp they called me coward. With a thick yellow stripe running down (or is it across?) me. That was unfair, I really had ruptured my ankle in that last training exercise, so much so it was enough to have me medically discharged from the upcoming tour of duty in Cambodia. While my TA comrades cleared mines under spectacular blue skies, I watched the changing seasons of my flesh, from black to purple to a queasy yellow. The contaminants and toxins of me, similar to the contaminants and poisons of the Khmer Rouge’s Killing Fields. I fancied the chroma around my ankle was the colour of gamboge, the closest I could get to the Mekong. I returned the unused Khmer Kroma, that I had bought in anticipation or working under the blistering sun, sucking on the fruit of the mangosteen trees. 

The Docs gave me a lidded plastic jar for my urine sample. Decanting the lees of me dowsing for disease. I stared into the cloudy yellow, hoping to discern a medical genie to open sesame me.

I look at the newly blotched liver spots on the canvas of my skin. Seems I am nearing full completion of the circle on how I entered the world. I can’t know for sure what the colour inside my mother’s womb was, but I suspect the last tincture of light I will be afforded in life will be a sunset yellow.  

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Thresh - Flash Fiction



I wrap myself in the bathroom towel. Either it’s grown or I’ve shrunk. We’ve have, however, both gone saggy. If it’s expanded, it hasn’t increased its absorbent surface area any. The terry pile had long gone, but now even the frayed bobbling has been worn away to leave a thin fabric that cannot wick the water from the guttered wrinkles of my skin. But I can hardly fault the towel since it has rendered long years of faithful service. Though in that time it has rubbed out all colour from my body hair. Of course I know that not to be true. The hairs have blanched after years of shadowed eclipse beneath clothes. I know that not to be true either. I am not a plant requiring chlorophyl for photosynthesis. Though hair sprouts from my ears like vine tendrils. 

My fingers scrape the stubble on my face like a violin pizzicato. A symphonic rasp. Scratchy, like a recently threshed wheat field. Without the threshing. You always insisted I was clean shaven before any kiss. A reasonable request and an unconditional act of devoting myself to you. But now I can indulge my loathing of the razor. I have neglected to throw the can of foam away. I wonder if it’s solidified inside. Or evaporated for that matter. 

I have a different teeth cleaning regimen now. For a new set of dentures. But they pinch my receding gums, I don’t think they’re the right dimensions for my mouth. You could have helped sort that out for me. You always resolved life's ill-fittings. Dealing fearlessly with those in authority who always intimidated me. I leave them soaking in solution over night. My unstayed cheeks pucker inwards, as if in permanent anticipation of a kiss that will never issue. 

We used to turn the mattress every six months or so. Marked it on the calendar. A sort of anniversary. Flipping it was a two man job. For one man and one woman. I can’t do it on my own. Don’t even need a double any more of course. So I just sag further into its recess which dwarfs me whole. Nonetheless it’s hardly womblike. I shiver in its embrace. I was further confronted with the black spots on my side of the mattress, exposed every time I stripped the bed linen to wash it. So I have ceased laundering the sheets. They’re either dead bugs or their aborted eggs. Either way they are nightmarish. We were zealous about the mattress and the linen, but never the infestation. It always seemed to be on my side of the bed whichever way we turned the mattress. Yet it was you who died of a respiratory disease. Maybe I had become immune with them just under my head always turned to their side to sleep. Maybe I should have exposed you to them for some seasoning against their spores. Perhaps it was just the fetid breath from inside me, transfused to you through our kissing that did for you. 

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Base Ten - Flash Fiction


One man is the basic unit of control. One man is isolation. One man is segregated. One man is utterly atomised.

Two men are a dialogue, an exchange of ideas. We do not permit this particular currency of exchange. Two men within our house is an interrogation.

Three men is two men with an informer inserted. Therefore an obtuse triangle with our man representing an angle over ninety degrees.

Four men is a square and is suggestive of egalitarianism. Better to stretch this parallelogramic arrangement into a quadrilateral, with inequalities and distrust along the distended lengths and an inability to communicate across the elongation.

Five men is the whetted star of our national symbol. With our (ap-)pointed man at the top. Alternatively it is a five-barred gate, with our man striking through the other four.   

Six men superficially resembles two men cubed. Six men is, however, two competing tiers of men arrayed against one another, staring across a no-man's land divide.

Seven men is six men with an agent provocateur to do our bidding and render them nugatory. If no provocateur is available, then six will scapegoat the weakest there.

Eight men is two men cubed. And diced.

Nine men is three men squared, which means three of our agents are in play.

Ten men is an assembly, a mob and invokes the presence of the security forces to break them up (see 'one man')


Friday, 9 March 2018

Postmodernist Fiction - A Review

Here is my Booktube video talking about Postmodernist Fiction, looking at the work of Robert Coover, John Hawkes, William Gaddis, David Markson, Curtis White, Don Delillo...


Sunday, 25 February 2018

Pyrrhic Christmas - Flash Fiction



I was so looking forward to tomorrow’s first Christmas with my reconfigured family. To lapping up the sight of my new husband’s forearms ripple as he sliced the turkey. My son’s face lighting up brighter the the Christmas tree illuminations, when he claps eyes on his present. The two of them forging a lifelong bond over pulled Christmas crackers, bad jokes and lopsided Charades with only three players. My fervent Christmas wish, was that in time, step-father would legally adopt step-son as his own. 

I groggily figured I wasn’t the one in the house most excited by the dawning of Christmas Day itself. Seeing as I hit only cold air on the mattress next to me. I could only speculate whether Charles had beaten Sam to the punch and could at least have prevented Sam tearing into his gifts before I was present to witness his joy. But when I went into the kitchen, there was only Charles there frying up something delicious for breakfast. What a man! But where was my little man?

Eventually he emerged and the presumed skein of sloth was immediately moulted from him as he charged past the kitchen doorway towards the living room and the tree. “Hold on a moment Sonny Jim! Come and say hello to your parents and have some breakfast first”.  My heart went ‘ping’ at hearing the word ‘parents’, but was soon sent into spasm as Charles surged forth out of the kitchen and returned dragging Sam by the scruff of his neck. 

“Breakfast first, as a family, then you can open your presents” he restated firmly. I was torn as assuredly as any wrapped gift would be imminently. Perfect sentiment presented in a gauntleted fist. Sam slumped down on his chair at the table. Charles laid an aqua blue cereal bowl down in front of him, with no percussive slam betraying any anger. “I’m not hungry” bleated Sam tonelessly. “No, you just want to go and attack your presents. But I’ve said we’re going to sit together and eat, like a civilised family. Here, Wheatabix, your favourite”. (Which you’re led to believe is his favourite, from the crib sheet I provided you, not your own explorations of his psyche). A cascade of milk, from such a height that some of the drops bounce off the wheat bricks, like a science experiment on heated atoms. “I’m not hungry”. Arms folded, petulant. Been here before, see how it goes this time with different adult geometry. Charles takes his seat, thankfully not diametrically opposite Sam. That alignment falls to me as Sam draws a bead pleading silently. No, not pleading, lasering insistently.

Taking a leaf out of his playbook, I don’t meet his gaze. I hear the vigorous relish with which Charles is demolishing his food. Modelling behaviour. Wordlessly hectoring his stepson. Oblivious to the inevitable stillbirth of a soundless strategy to bring someone out of their own muteness. My problem is I’ve got both parties in this fight. I mean Sam has always tended towards this cussed resistance, but with me he’s never had to maintain it for terribly long before I cave. Charles I suspect is made of sterner stuff. Stags butting antlers. A more fitting contender. He’s not surely going to keep this up all morning is he? Not with the pull of his presents under the tree. Famous last words. Mouthed dumbly inside my head of course… 

I stare forlornly at Sam's bowl. Like a shipwreck now, since the wheat block is so saturated that grains break off into the milky main and float away. Leaving a diminished wheaten life raft that carries us all away, not to safety, rather to be dashed on the rocks of unblended family. Charles has finished, but won’t indulge Sam’s power play as he rises from the table, his empty bowl emphatically swept up in hand. Score one to Sam, Charles broke first, even if it is within the permissible bounds of mannered tables. Charles leans over into him, “you’re not leaving this table until you’ve drained your bowl”. He pirouettes away to go wash up. Pretty poor show I think, not to show solidarity with me stuck in place, slowing my mastication up to inch towards Sam’s stasis. It strikes me that Sam is wearing his orange t-shirt, like a Guantanamo prisoner, or someone condemned to death row. Apposite for the siege situation we have here. But it must also hint that he was not so excited by the prospect of present unwrapping, that he didn’t first make time to dress. Has he planned for this showdown? This trial of strength? This prison break?

A further marker of ceramic chronometry. The wheat has now broken up entirely. All hands lost to the brine, but Sam’s countenance is set firm and sheds no salty tears. Oh for a plug in the bottom of his bowl, so that the bilge could leak away to bring about the desired outcome with no loss of face to either male of the house. Oh for a plug in the planet to pull out and have us all slip painlessly away and for the earth to empty of its lethal tidal flow. I have to break this impasse. I too rise from the table, without chancing to catch Sam’s eye. I make my way to the living room, where all our Christmas lives hung in the balance. As assuredly nailed to the mantlepiece with the stockings, foreshadowing the Saviour’s next anniversary in the calendar, his crucifixion. 

I remonstrate with Charles about his demonstration of authority. Our hushed tones climb the scale in irritation. "Do you honestly expect to keep this up and keep him from his presents, from his Christmas?” “I don’t know, he’s your son. Do you expect him to keep it up?” “But what about the turkey? What about all this effort I’ve put in to making us a special lunch? And for what? At best all you’ll achieve is a Pyrrhic victory”. “You’ve used one syllable too many there. A prick victory, for your little prick of a son”.

I stormed out the parlour of the heated parley and marched back into the kitchen. I was about to seize up Sam’s bowl, when I saw that the top layer of milk had curdled. An atomic clock that had marked in just the course of half a morning, the curdling of all love. 

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Shipbilging - Flash Fiction




The shattered jeroboam’s frothy white squirt against the hull’s continental steel. A dwarfed, ignominious marker of diminished imperial puissance. An overdue premature ejaculation, since there aren’t yet engines fitted into the hulking hollow husk. The remaining shard of the cable-hung bottle, bobbing against the receding keel, as if fumbling to pinion the hasp of a broach.

The metallic monolith slithers down wooden logs into the river. Honouring the glacial pace of retooling, unionised fidelity to the ribs of the antediluvian steel womb it was pressed from. Larger scale male encomium to the frugality of the household mangle. Jagged, homespun industrial Victoriana, in an incipient age of laser torches and robot arms. 


As the vessel breasts the water, kissed not by the Asti-Spume-Mante, rather buffed with the stowaway blood of journeymen workers. Siemens’ seamen involuntarily press-ganged between the metal rollers. Riveters’ skin inadvertently welded into the plates of the ship. Caulked snug to seal seaworthiness with worthless toiling lives. Enfolded like ectopic embryos, immured behind birthing canal alloys. The figurehead prow of old, moving aft. Skeletons and calcified limbs disinterred when the ship is broken down for scrap years hence. Blood dried the same colour as rust. 

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Slow, Slow, Quick, Quick, Slow - Flash Fiction


I was of an age to remember horse-drawn transport. Carts in the countryside, buses and carriages in the towns. The well-off villager had two-horse power locomotion. Now it’s god knows how many horse power engines beneath the hood. Nought to sixty in increasingly diminishing intervals. The country lanes are too treacherously maintained, the city roads too clogged with congestion, to ever justify the top speeds possessed by modern cars. Souped up overkill threatening to turn anyone into roadkill.

All my old records play at 78RPM. I say play, but of course these days I have no gramophone that can accommodate their revolving tempo. The speeds got slower and slower, 45RPM singles, three minute ditties for milk bar jukeboxes. 33RPM albums, which got shorter and shorter in terms of duration as the inside grooves took up more and more of the ever thinner vinyl. Now it’s all digital and there are no  moving parts. Vaporous music in the void. I could flog my collection, put them on E-Bay. Sell them to some other duffer with no means of amplifying their breakneck revolutions. Like two museums, one loaning their collection to another. 

Though the camera obscura and daguerrotypes might have predated my existence, I do recollect indoor studio family portraits as a child, when we were required to stand as still as statues for the long exposure time to capture us. Light not moving at light speed apparently, though of course the lag was in the chemicals catching and fixing it to the film. Well now we have digital cameras operating at near light speed as the image is virtually instantaneously loaded up to the Cloud. And as Einstein showed us, approaching light speed and you lose dimensionality. Front, back and side begin to merge together into a singular plane. Which is apposite as I cease to have much in the dimension of time front and sideways of me; all is to my rear. I face only the event horizon of the black hole that is death. Once I cross it, I will cease to move, yet there will still flicker motion in the memories of those I leave behind me, until that dips to stasis in time as they move on and uneventfully cross their own event horizons. 

I’m no longer able to dance the slow-quick-quick of the foxtrot. My legs don’t have the elasticity of step they were once imbued with. They have swollen up with disuse, water retention. But they are also loathe to palpate the taccycardic ticker in case it bursts. The fitted pacemaker parcels out a regular ration of beats for me, because the old greedy muscle would otherwise splurge on them all at once and infarct like a supernova. The doctors won’t tell me how many heartbeats I have left. Yet my offspring worry themselves over my sedentary snail’s lifestyle and have obtained for me a wrists-borne Fit-Bit. To get me a bit more fit, but not so much as to detonate my heart. It counts my daily steps for me, swapping permutations with the pacemaker. I am worried if I go near a cellphone tower, I will either pick up Radio Unfree Europe, or it will triangulate with my two inner chronometers to fatally accelerate me. What does any of it matter anyway? I don't have my wife to dance the foxtrot with, since her speed settings had been even more accelerated than my own.  

Ageing’s relativistic distortion of time. As our bodies move slower through life, our being hurtles swifter towards death. 

Sunday, 11 February 2018

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Will Self? - Booktube video

So Will Self, novelist, cultural critic and talking head about town. Just how does one try to get to grips with his opaqueness? Here are my thoughts, focussing on his latest novel, the last in a trilogy, "Phone".






Friday, 9 February 2018

Comma As Muck - Editorial Battle Royals over the Comma


Before the social media age, I didn't know what an "Oxford Comma" was. But thanks to the wonder of people with too much time on their hands on Twitter, I know realise I have not only always rejected the O.C., but I will fight anyone who says I have to use a comma before the word 'and' in any circumstance, as part of a list or not. I vaguely remember being told at school that you don't put commas before 'and', which is odd, because I was probably that first generation of pupils who were given no grammar training at all as it had been dispensed with as we were to learn our mother tongue more organically. What grammar I picked up was through having to learn French and Latin in secondary school.

As a writer, I've never really thought much about grammar. I used to write stage plays and there you have to think very hard about commas, colons and ellipses for the actors who have to speak your dialogue. Since moving to prose, I've mainly written flash fiction, where with just 1000 words to play with in a story, grammar doesn't weigh too heavily on the whole.

But (another vague rule was never start a sentence with 'but') as I received my novel's proof copy edit back from my publisher last week, all of a sudden I've had to think very, very hard about grammar and in particular the humble comma. In the edit, there were no more than ten words changed, deleted or added throughout the whole book. there were maybe about another 5 tense change edits. Some style guide edits around brackets and whether the full stop went inside or outside and also if you ended a bracket with a question mark, do you still need a full stop outside the bracket? And the rest of the edits - commas deleted and commas inserted. I was asked for my comments on the proposed edits...

Dave Eggers has written a novel entirely in dialogue, but he doesn't employ speech marks. Instead each new speaker starts with a dash.

Will Self has written a book without paragraphs (and even changes narrator mid sentence and without warning).

Mathias Enard has written a book without a single full stop, that's right, the whole 500+ pages is one sentence...

These are not random acts or examples of sloppy grammar. They have made these decisions consciously for stylistic reasons. And in reviewing my proof, I realised that though probably born from an organic sense, the vast majority of my use of commas was its own stylistic decision.

The novel is quite conversational in style. Three different narrative voices to be precise. Each differentiated from the other. So a uniform style guide across the board is not going to work. They use pauses for dramatic effect, for emphasis. A comma is always going to work better for this than a semi-colon or colon, even if they're rattling off a list. (To my mind, a semi-colon is always suggestive of a magician about to reveal some great trick, which may not always be appropriate in a sentence, maybe it's less of an outstanding revelation and more a natural corollary). A comma can indicate where the emphasis of a sentence should fall, important if a sentence is building up to some climactic reveal or suggestion such as at the end of an argument, or outrageous statement. A comma can also lend temporality to certain verbs and actions, such as "re-emergence", "festering", or here in the case of "trailing", conveying the sense of a repeated happening, which over time has yielded a certain effect or understanding.

Been trailing here long enough now to put the names to the faces, the faces to the aspects of the mothers 

Which brings me to a reason to delete commas. Phrases like "of course", "you see", "only", "since", "well" and the like, usually sustain a comma. But when the speaker (in the cases of my three narrative voices, an internal voice) is in full-flow, is being declamatory, commas in these cases only slow the flow. When one of the voices uses the phrase "of course", she may not be supposing and weighing up the alternatives, she is using it for emphasis as if there are no other possibilities. Confident, assertive, a comma absolutely works against this. One of the characters has written her words in a diary, so she has already largely processed them between the event she is reporting and coming to set them down on paper. She is not ruminating, she is leaving herself a fully-realised story, with morals and cautions to avoid mistakes in the future. Another voice exists only online, where grammar is rarely strictly formal. The third voice, (non-human), is putting forth an argument in rhetorical fashion, as if we the human race were slow kids at school who just have to listen and take our medicine as she delivers it. Pace and tone fundamentally determine the need for pauses or run-on sentences. Sometimes the speaker offers a seeming space for the listener to consider what has just been said; other times no such opportunity is permitted, because to the speaker's mind it is self-evident. The tension for the reader is whether these narrators are trustworthy and their words reliable; that for all their assertive flow, are there perceptible cracks in their confidence which might undermine the veracity of what they say? Commas can't do all the work behind such tension, but they are indispensable to it. A comma can hint at insincerity as much as bluster.

Although we read silently, we still do hear it at some level inside our heads. I always have a draft explicitly where I read aloud to try and see how reading it might be for the reader. Sometimes you have to help the reader, to give them pauses to catch their breath, or cogitate on something you suspect is going to reverberate in their mind. Here the humble comma is most helpful in breaking up the run of a sentence and providing the reader a chance to get to the end of it. Such commas must be careful not to work against the logic used in the previous paragraphs, but they are still important for helping the reader along. I use the phrase "the everyday arpeggio of parenting", which because of its plosive sounds can leave the reader a little breathless, so I use a comma to let the reader catch their breath before completing the sentence "inevitably thrums and frets my stretched nerve ends".

So there you have it. No more than 15 notes on words, but page after page about commas needing to be instated or inserted ones needing to be removed. I really came to see my own novel in a whole new light, that of the microcosmic at the level of the sentence. No doubt in future I shall still write with an innate and organic sense of grammar, but in the revisions and edits, I shall have to think about every comma in this way once again.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Lexicoplasty - Flash Fiction


When the executive order came down the line, the words listed for expurgation were redacted in the textbooks beneath tape, until new editions could be run off the presses. However, the prodrome initially developed online, where the revised lections 404’d and only cached unbowdlerised versions remained accessible. Coding experts were called in to try and resolve the issue.

A librarian at Philadelphia’s Perelman School of Medicine was the first to notice the phenomenon in print. One of the sanitised words ‘vulnerable’ fluoresced from beneath its concealing black strip and radiated its defiant presence like any of the emergency exit signs throughout the hospital. Curious, the librarian ran a battery of tests to detect whether there was some sort of contamination in the printers’ inks, or even the presence of radioactive material. In other medical volumes, the word ‘diversity’ similarly glowed in an array of differing colours under their shrouds.

It was only when the books were checked out by students and researchers alike, that the pathology revealed itself in full. Words deliquesced from the page and vanished. The odd letter here and there remained in forlorn isolation, but all medical knowledge had been trepanned. The university’s mathematicians swiftly dissected the pattern of the remaining characters; they were the lone nine letters not contained within the original proscribed words. 

The academic linguists grasped the diagnosis immediately. Word necrosis. 

“Language is organic. You can’t simply excise and disassemble parts of it without secondary effects, or in this case, viral metastasis. You have to think of the alphabet like DNA, forming the amino acids of words, aggregating into the protein chains of sentences, the cells of paragraphs, discrete anatomical structures as chapters, finally building the corpus as a whole. This was venesection without coagulant. The executive just lobotomised the body politic’s healthcare”.  


*

Based on the prompt from "New Flash Fiction" journal which was as follows: 

Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the Center for Disease Control from using seven words in their official documents: The words are as follows: “evidence-based”, “science-based” “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” and “fetus.”

Write a 300 word flash fiction using some or all of these words

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Four-Minute Warning - Flash Fiction


We had got flabby after the withering away of mutually assured nuclear destruction. Replacing the four-minute warning with our own cosy version, the Bucket List. Taking our own sweet time. Indulging presumed pleasures rather than confronting the other pole of the spectrum, the non-continuum, that of our demise. 

When knowledge of the new imminent extinction event broke, the world soon reverted to type. Full panic mode which should have been enough to paralyse us in place in unremitting contemplation of our gathering cessation. But now, pluckily folk sped up their ambitions and deviated off the inventory into far more extreme vistas. Time for a first taste of the blood of another human on the tongue. Or the thrill of totalling automobiles in the stock car race at the end of the world, or the exasperated exhilaration of finally hurling a Molotov Cocktail at the Town Hall. However looting held no appeal, since what was the point of wearing diamonds for just two days, nor would people be needing stockpiles food where they were heading. 


America and other tribal societies opted to pay off old scores and grudges. All except in one locus. Great Britain remained calm. An equipoise not borne of any T-Shirt slogans, or even the reputed stiff upper lip grin and bear it mien. Rather the nation had experienced a previous occasion for playing out of its collected grief, with the death of their Princess of Hearts. That was the circumstance in which they had mourned for their own unfulfilled lives, so that they had nothing left to give a second time when they were directly threatened with expiration. 



Tuesday, 16 January 2018

The Wind Cried Mercy - Flash Fiction



When you prick yourself on a rose briar. When your cat scratches you in play. When you're stung by a bee. When you stub your foot on a forest stone because you're embosomed with your phone cursing the patchy signal. Pain used to bear a twin constituency, travelling along bifurcated tracks; the first paroxysmal path straight up the trunk road to the brain to alert to danger, demanding of immediate double declutch and reversing away from the hazard; the second, a slightly more sedate ache’s progress up the dorsal by-road, analysing the scenery and triaging the body’s response. But that was when the cause of the pain was external. Now with the agony emanating from within, there is no manoeuvre I can undertake to withdraw from its source. Since the source is me. I can fold myself over in two, I can grasp my stomach and squeeze myself, I can ram my eyes shut, but nothing can countervail the spasms. External objects never convulse you. They are hard and unyielding. The body is soft until it locks its muscles and garrottes your organs in peristaltic waves of pain.

I wish the doctor had never told me. I experienced the pangs yes, but I could always see them out eventually. But now I know what they signify, I cannot dismiss them through sheer gritted endurance. I might ride out the throb, but its lasting consequence still attends my conscious mind. The coronation of my imminent death. Heralded afresh with each piercing jag. 

Symptoms and side effects: Chronic fatigue. The divine diapason of the dawn chorus when I am prostrate in my bed, signalling the night has flogged me sleepless. Breathlessness. The delicately vibrating spider’s web, with captured raindrops holding the vista of the world held in their prism fair takes the breath away. Tremors and increasing ataxia. The passing of the clouds in the sky, with their intricately amorphous borders I try and trace the ends of but can never quite fix. Swelling and inflammation. The vibrant colours of the snapdragons in my vase are almost too vivid for me to behold for any protracted period. I try and sketch them but my hand shakes too much to capture them. When the blossoms shrivel and die they resemble nothing less than human skulls and so it is not only their lost colour that is sundered in the calvary of my mind. 


I lie down on my temporarily cease-firing stomach and inhale the grass in my garden. It smells extravagantly luscious. Complex. A mosaic of aromas. Nature’s musky spoor. I have never smelled it quite like this before. Sure I have been struck by the waft of newly mown grass, releasing its joys of being alive in Spring, once trepanned by the metal blade to incite further insurgent abundance. My nostrils, my mouth, my brain ingest such pungent vigour. And mock me for it. For the cut grass grows new hydra heads and will persist. Yet I will be decollated and asunder. There is no efficacy that other human heads persist beyond me for their finite span. Only now do I grasp this sumptuous fragrance, glean the pulchritude of life, but it will all be snatched away from me. I am only allowed a fleeting glimpse. The grass scolds me thus. It prompted rapture not a moment ago, now it only spites me with anguish and the sting within. And the grass, which does not rustle and whisper but rather hollers, is correct. This life that I desperately crave now that I know it is being withdrawn from me, to what end? Seeing that when I blithely possessed it, I was unaware and unappreciative of what it was for? What it offered. I barely occupy its bounties and benedictions, so how can I lament its passing? Yet I'm crying. Crying at beauty. Or crying for beauty. Crying at death. 

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Still - Flash Fiction



My child was finally out of me. Yet the convex salience of my belly still bore her cameoed imprint. No phantom amputee this, I did not still feel her to be inside. I was like the snake who had swallowed prey whole and my body accordingly distended around the shape of my ingurgitation. Yet now that digestional absorption was complete, the evacuation passed as scurf, my hide had not recoiled its elasticity to resile me sinuously lithe. And for what? We had both been destroyed by our co-habitation. For my child had been stillborn. She was the phantom amputee.

Romance Languages - Flash Fiction



“I love you” tasting bile at the back of my throat.

“Je t’aime” tasting saltiness on the inside of my cheeks

“Ich liebe dich” tasting blood on my tongue

“Ti amo” tasting defeat on my teeth


“Te ubesc” tasting betrayal on my lips