Thursday, 28 November 2019

Post-Coital Bliss - Extract from my novel "A,B and E"

On the day that The Literary review announce their shortlist for the Bad Sex In Literature Award, I thought I'd dust off a sample from my debut novel "A,B &E", which is post-coital, but racks up the sexual tension no less.


Simon his name was. One of the few pre-coital words tossed beathlessly in my direction. Now, no longer one flesh, our torsos cloven apart. Our legs however were still intertwined. He, head slumped against my shoulder, legs splayed out at the diagonal. Me, stiff backed against the headboard, my left leg threaded under his right and over his left. My right leg bent at the knee, arching over his ankles. Hand propped on it, fingers buttressing a lit cigarette overhanging the sheet beyond my foot. I’ve no intention of bringing it to my lips. It measures out time for him, embers in place of grains of sand. The span of two such kindlings will determine whether he is reignited, or rolls over to sleep. I have found this chronometry unfailingly meters the male metabolism.

I glance over towards him, unable to determine whether the look in his eye expresses confusion as to why I am not putting it to my mouth, or suppressed concern as to the impulse of the hot ash. The modern day version of barefoot and blindfold. He tilts his torpid head as a prelude to inquiry, but I nimbly raise the index finger of my right hand and gently transect his lips. Uh-uh, if we no longer are able to retain the disarticulations of earlier, the reflexively unreflected babble, the sonorous squalls coitally quarried from our deepest seams of self, then better we are held together under silence’s shroud. It is paramount that we become alalial allies. It is the very heart of the matter. I shake my head for added emphasis and already I detect his purpose is lost in the undulations of my tresses against his exposed cheek.

Suffused in my ruminations, I was unaware that my murmuring Medusa’s locks had ceased their stroke. He was unconsciously rubbing his delicately flayed cheek and I ventured some sort of vocalisation would follow. Again I placed my finger across his lips and spiked their unsheathing. Tentatively he edged the tip of his tongue out against my tapered digit and hastily withdrew it again. He had tasted my resolve. Through the conduit of his lips, I felt his whole body flinch as he gathered himself up towards defiance of my circumvention of speech. I unfurled my middle finger and laid it with great deliberation next to her sister, across the crevice of his mouth. The muscles at the corners of his lips, measuredly retracted their charges into a crooked grin. My two fingers now like twin colonnades, bracing open his stupid wide aperture. I lent forward and mutely kissed the extended knuckles of my own fingers. That threw him somewhat. For as his startled lips were about to clamp down reflexively on them, I withdrew my fingers but maintained their sentinel trajectory. He was seemingly transfixed by the sight of two caryatids rigidly posted just beyond his orifice. He was beyond coherence right now. Veritably speechless. He jutted his chin forward and slithered out his tongue to reel my goading digits into his teeming maw. They waggled out of range. He extended further forward. My fingers spun away. He was shaping to cast again, when my left foot snakes across and presses him back down across his chest. He is about to protest verbally, when my twin fingers reassert their superintendence across his portals of locution. His body sags and crumples back to the mattress, though I can tell his mind has been wracked by a bolt of delicious tautness.

After a circumspect period, I detach both my leg and my fingers. He does not stir. I light my second cigarette and resume my vaulting of him. Leadenly, he rolls on to his side and scrabbles for something on the floor. He resurfaces with a burgundy towelling robe, (brought with him from home, since this is not the class of hotel which runs to provisioning them for guests, though the guests would be of the class happily to snaffle them), before reclining back towards the headboard. Half self-pinioned, awkwardly he shrugs himself into the robe. He gropes around his back for something, with clumsy, sightless digits. I surmise that he seeks the belt of the robe, but it is not there. He submits and his head slowly sinks back down the surface of the headboard. His long locks pincered by his crown, momentarily maintain their station like creeping ivy, before they descend to unseam his now less than immaculate coiffure. I fix him there, framed unflatteringly by the knobbly towelling. At the angle he lies, his glorious sixpack is almost completely submerged by the flesh collected under gravity. There is even the hint of a rucking of flabby skin just above his hips. Why on earth has he donned this garment and broken the spell ? I deflect my gaze and peer through the rising cigarette smoke as if for augury. I must have sensed something in the corner of my eye and snapped my focus back, to intercept him about to tumble words into the air. This time it’s my cigarette-cradling fingers that drape themselves over his mouth. His eyes start to water, from the proximity of the smoke, or from more internal fusillades I cannot be sure. I know the prosaic reason for the robe of course. The poor lamb’s cold. His lips are quivering. He manoeuvres them to siphon some superficial heat from my cigarette, his irises scuttling to their extreme margins scanning for any repercussion. Good boy, maybe we’re getting somewhere after all. I cant my face away so that my jagged smokey laughter does not exhale over him.

The sheen of sweat from our earlier endeavours, (which so sublimely varnished his sixpack all throughout) still sits atop his skin. But it has fulfilled its function and cooled him down, to the extent where his follicles currently stood to attention in an attempt to reinsulate him. They no longer glistened like the limbs of an insect dappled with pollen. Now such droplets threaten his tonicity. Indolent, mutinous beads with no sustained interdependence. They subvert him. He trusts to the robe to absorb and dismiss them. To tamp him back down and regather. My perspiration went west long ago. Evaporated, since my temperature’s still rising with the afterglow. I take pity on him and place my two unburdened fingers on his lips again. He is surprised, since he was not attempting to challenge me. But this time they do not crest the vertex, but bow in supplication at the lower ridge. They wait a while, before he hesitantly lifts the labium and gently skims the pads of my fingers. Emboldened, he grazes them with his gums, before eventually, he throws off his shackles and engulfs them. He laps at them with bulbous slurps and satisfied tiny suction pops. So I flick his teeth with one of them as scourge. He responds obediently and laps at them regularly, up and down in a spiral. First one, then his tongue nudges them apart so he can acquire the second. Like he’s chamoising minature mullions. Sure enough, he soon slots into a mechanical, albeit arrhythmic, insipid servicing. His thoughts off elsewhere, because he’s too blunted to assert what he wants. Wordlessly that is.

His problem, like so many of his kind, is he will not just live in the timeless moment. He’s all sweaty, He’s cold. He’s lying in a viscous, cloying pool (of his own making and one in which I am happy to cleave to me, to adhere me to the sheet. To anoint us together). And, he wants to prate about it. Ask asinine questions towards self-aggrandizement. Or to record and log proceedings. To minute them. To compare with the past and to carry forward amendments into the future. Where he has already projected himself. It was as if he was narrating the entire event. The circumstance. An episode. He is keen to march me back into the mundane and I am not at that double quick pace. He wants to return us to the formally structured relations, of speaker and listener. Addresser and addressee. Subject and object. Chatterer up and chatted up. The one inside and the one outside, of intent. He cannot wait for the sperm pellicle to mark out time by receding to a light, dried crust. There’s premature ejaculation and then there’s premature post-ejaculation. Cos intimacy ought not have departed with consummation. Our bodies had spoken, but they were still communing with one another in mute elation. Interwoven, flesh blended with flesh. Who knew or cared where you ended and I began ? So what of your slight edge on me in hirsuiteness, or my darker pigmentation ? It was all awash in the sensual maelstrom, the perceptual overload. Our fallible vessels, cause of so much anxiety in the workaday consciousness, had been temporarily uplifted, so we could quaff of mutual veneration and adoration. And we should seek to prolong those feelings for as long as possible. For eternity. To remain conjoined, even in stillness. Indeterminate and undifferentiated. Equals.

Until that is, you clad yourself in your burgundy fleece. Now our separateness is clear. Our demarcation evident against the hues of the sheet pointing up our contrast. A chasm between us, yawning in your case, yearning in mine. Me beached on dry land, you still shivering in the shallows. Conspicuously other. Another species almost. A reimposition of the way of things. You satisfied. Content. And me ? Trying to hold the moment. The feeling. But now solely dependent on my own creative resources. And yet far too aware of this reliance, so it slips from my grasp all the while. In closing the aperture of his reporting mouth, I have sealed the portal of our connection as if rolling a huge dolmen across the exposed fissure of his self. Occluded any and all light of disclosure from emanating from his hollow being. God damnit ! A role reversal yields the same futile outcome. My eyes hold all the unstinting power that Damon’s held, yet it prospers me in no wany, shape or form.

My cigarette had burned away to nothing. On the stroke of its expunction, he rolled over on to his side and curled into himself slightly. Somehow, his unsecured robe, his vinculum to life, had managed to adhere to him throughout his quarter revolution, his waning crescent, and still mantled his immodesty. I was now fully excised from his being, tossed into his moat of oblivion as the drawbridge of sleep was raised. I took a pinch of the robe between my fingers and lightly peeled it from his skin. I had a clear view of his ribs gently rising and falling with his quieted breath. The upswing seemed to take an eternity, as they manfully bore aloft their own weight against gravity. The downswing seemed to presage a relieving collapse, but each time caught itself from shuddering and instead coursed down in modulated repose. How does he sleep so easily ? I bent down to softly kiss them in salute. My lips left a glistening imprint upon them, which I watched undulate for a couple of cycles. Insufficient moisture to model a tidal effect with his zephyr breath. Then I leant over and smashed my balled fist into the centre of my mark and was rewarded with a satisfying crack. I took my reappropriated rib back from him...

To buy on Kindle 

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Why I Don't Read Biographies And Memoir

In a recent Booktube video of mine talking about the non-fiction I read, I mentioned that I wasn’t a fan of biographies and memoirs, which prompted some comments below the line. So I thought I’d expand my thoughts and reasoning to try and delve deeper why I’m just not drawn to reading these personal stories.

I guess if I was at all drawn to biographies, we might be talking three categories of people – Historical Figures/ Politicians: Artists/Authors/Musicians/Creatives; Sports stars/Athletes. I am completely uninterested in business moguls/entrepreneurs, even if as many assert, they are filled with self-help exhortations of how to succeed the way they did. I dislike self-help books even more than biography!

I studied history at university. It made me hostile to further study of the subject (I changed my degree for my final year, so heartily sick of the subject I had become). But one of the things about History as an academic subject, is that you are discouraged from considering the personality and character of its (supposed) main movers, because adjudging a great leader’s character make up is not as scientific as the documents and sources that allow historians to form their theses about historical events and movements. So what could a biography of Lenin or Garibaldi tell you that you could definitively feed into your knowledge and appreciation of the Russian Revolution or Italian unification and independence? Nothing according to how History is practiced today. In my review of Laurent Binet’s wonderful novel “HHhH”, I go into considerable detail about the limitations of Academic History and you can view that here if you’re interested. Oh and this is why I don’t read Historical non-fiction as well.

In some ways, sports stars and creatives suffer similarly to my mind. When I watch my team on a sports field, I am only interested in how they perform and the outcome of the match. I have no interest in what they get up to outside of the sports arena. If I did, I’d probably be spitting feathers as they likely demonstrate a less than devoted dedication to their profession – making adverts, starting fashion lines, working off their adrenaline highs post-match etc. All perfectly legitimate activities, just ones I’d rather not know about. The one thing I’m fixated on is their sporting prowess, but apart from having little desire to know its development and coaching from childhood, any such biographical exploration would fail to yield answers. Who knows where talent comes from? You are to some extent born with it, but yes, you have to work hard to develop it to its fruition, but I don’t find such studies terribly enlightening, much as I don’t find successful entrepreneurs breaking down their hard work routines on the road to success terribly involving either.

And it’s similar for artists and creatives. We just don’t know where creativity comes from. (I have a bullet point schemata see at the end, but it’s not presented as definitive). A biographer, or even a literary critic, can analyse the life of an author and not unreasonably point to significant events and relationships that influenced certain things in their writing. But to do so is reductive. In making such linkages, it seems to be saying that a particular literary work would not have been produced in that form without this incident happening or that particular relationship. Picasso’s various muses were directly transposed to his canvases (albeit through the distortion of Cubist representation), so without those particular women the canvasses would have looked very different. But that is only partially the case. Picasso had an artistic vision, one he kept developing throughout his career. He would have painted Cubist representations of people and women in particular, even without the individual muses he did take into his bed. For any artist, it’s the work transforming their personal material into something that speaks more universally than it would without such work being done on it that is key. So to read about the incidents and relationship of an artist may allow us to directly parse a specific work of theirs, but can it sum up the whole artist? Which incident applies to what stage of an artist’s career? Does it only inform the work made around the time of the incident, or does it continually feed into their whole artistic vision for their work? Who can definitively say, not the biographer that’s for sure.

I also feel it’s worth trying to preserve that mystery of where good art comes from. Creativity is an intangible, why try and dissect it and match it to specific events that are likely not to tell the whole story anyway. Like I say, most artists have a much more comprehensive artistic vision (or philosophy if you prefer) informing their work, into which specific events and relationships may be interwoven, but they never out-rank the vision as a whole. I don’t read the lives of authors to pick up a few tips on our craft. They have their process and I have mine, which I know to be somewhat idiosyncratic. Could I share some processes with tubercular Franz Kafka who never left continental Mitteleuropa in his life, or perhaps Stefan Schweig on the run from country to country trying to outwit the Nazis? I don’t credit so, though like Kafka’s novel “Amerika” about a country he’d never seen, my current novel is set in a country I have never visited. But that’s probably where the similarity ends.

Why I don’t read memoir is even more tightly focused than why I don’t read biography. I can at least accord the need for biographies of people who have died and no longer can expand their oeuvre in whatever field they specialized in. The biographer as archaeologist, putting back together the shards of the departed subject. But I can’t justify in my mind the significance of memoir. What percentage of memoirs are truly warts and all, whereby the memoirist reproduces in full ugliness their bad decisions, hateful behaviours and the like? There are plenty of biographies that are hagiographies, but the tendency is even greater in memoir when it is the subject themselves at the helm, with their finger poised over the self-censorship button. Maybe it isn’t even a conscious airbrushing, maybe they just don’t see anything negative about how they’ve conducted their lives; but then such deluded fools are never going to be people I want to read about anyway. I accord that trauma memoirs have a use, I just have no desire to read them. I grew up in a house that contained an addict. I know what addiction looks like. I have no compunction to read other versions either for comparison, or more especially, not for pleasure either.

Secondly, memoirs are barely non-fiction. The arrangement of a person’s life into a coherent narrative for a reader, is so far removed from how anyone lives their life. There is no narrative order to our lives, and though there may be constants and repetitions in our behavior, we are still living minute to minute, day to day, week to week, having to react and respond to events that arise, most of which won’t make the final cut for the memoir. The act of ordering a narrative is tantamount to creating a fiction. I’d just rather read that sort of thing in a novel.

So there you have, why I don’t read biographies and memoirs. Please feel free to comment and disabuse me of my prejudices,

Creativity may involve some or all of the following:
1    1)      An inherent curiosity about the world
2    2)      Not accepting things as they appear (rejection of the surface)
3    3)      A sense of outsiderness, or being apart from how others regard the world
4    4)      A fully knitted-together view of reality that differs from the consensus view (this will likely form the basis of your artistic vision). This view does not have to be coherent or fully stack up
5    5)      An ability to execute and deliver works of creativity based on the above