Monday, 30 June 2014

Let's Talk (Sing) About Sex - 12 Sex songs

It's what all pop music is about isn't it? Boys meet girl... girl loses boy... boy moons after girl... they do the bump 'n grind and boom shallack la boom! So plenty to sink our teeth into here, although Right Said Fred's "I'm Too sexy" is disqualified because it's about looking sexy rather than doing the do!

1) Gun Club - "Sexbeat"/ "Fire of Love"
"Sexbeat" in its driving rhythm absolutely expresses the urgency of teenage fumbling, while "Fire Of Love" is the most primal swamp blues of hot lust you are liable to hear.  Late lead singer Jeffrey Lee Pierce led a dissolute life but I always associate him with the excesses of drink and drugs rather than sex, despite his rough good looks. (In this concert footage he gives a typically chaotic performance). Meanwhile Patricia Morrison on bass remained the perennially cool Goth ice maiden. I encorage you to track down studio versions of both these songs for the full effect.

2) Au Pairs - "Come Again"
Au Pairs deliciously send up the etiquette of politically correct sex, with the supposed emphasis on simultaneous orgasm and forever asking your partner if 'you're doing it right'. Lacks the edge of some of their other songs like "Sex Without Stress" in which singer Lesley Wood's voice almost perennially seems like on the point of cracking with the emotion of it all.

3) Gang Of Four - "Love Like Anthrax"
Always ones to burst pop's fantasy bubble, Go4 tell it like it as with regards to love in what remains one of the most musically experimental songs to come out Britain. I want to write literary equivalents of what this song achieves in its structure.

4) The Stranglers - "School Mam"
This was probably one of the first overt songs about sex I was exposed to and um it probably scarred me for life! Don't think i had a teacher like this at my school.

5) The Tubes - "Don't Touch Me There"
Kings of camp deliver an priceless antidote to the Meatloaf world of "Bat Out Of Hell".

6) Sensational Alex Harvey Band - "Gang Bang"
I'm not a fan of twelve bar blues shuffle, it seems a bit flippant in this case to accompany the story of a gang bang, but I offer it as an example of its kind.

7) Tone Loc - "Wild Thing"
You can't do a chart about sex songs without including some hip hop or rap. I had to reject most of the contenders for fear of causing offence to 50% of the population, but at least Tone Loc takes the rise out of himself as much as anybody else in this song.

8) CSS - "Let's Make Love And Listen To Death From Above"
Great title, great song, great one-album band obssesed with all things sex.

9) The Vapors - "Turning Japanese"
Oh come on you didn't fall for the travelogue style video did you? Never trust a british band that spell American style without the 'u' after the 'o'. Turning Japanese referred to one's narrowing eyes at the point of climaxing at a self-administered hand-job. Sorry if I've now opened your eyes and spoilt the innocence of this song for you!

10) Dead Kennedys - "To Drunk to F-ck"
Okay so technically this isn't about love making at all, but hey we need a little reality and balance to pop's sickly sweet world right?

11) Marvin Gaye - "Sexual Healing"
In contrast to all those nasty cynical punks (Johnny Rotten described sex as 2 minutes of squelching noises remember), Marvin puts the 'S' back into 'sex'. Luscious...

12) Frankie Goes To Hollywood - "Relax"
The song that really stirred the pot for us all by getting banned for its explicitness (and gay sex at that) and still we all fell under its sway. A song that tore through the early days of the AIDS epidemic and our fears.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

"Murder" - A Flash Anthology

Publishing is so fast these days, it can make you dizzy. I received a tweet from Mary Papas, a friend in Greece who writes flash fiction and short stories, asking me to enter one of her periodic flash competitions she runs periodically on her blog. The theme was murder and the word limit was 350 hundred words. The best ones she would curate and release as a short anthology on kindle.

So I submitted a tale called "Obiter Dictum" and lo and behold about 5 weeks later, along with the other competition winners, it's published in the anthology and available for you to read. Without giving too much away, mine is a slice of Kafkaesque horror, where the menace is bureaucratic in nature rather than supernatural or from within a dangerous psyche.

I asked Mary what the motivation behind the project had been and this was her reply.

"I was always fascinated with horror stories and I  always wanted to create a horror anthology. Also, I  always believed that less is more, so I wanted the anthology to be about murder but in an ambiguous  way that keeps you think about what happened long after you finished reading it.  So in this anthology, murder is implied, suggested, done on impulse, out of habit, or carefully planned. Each tiny tale presents murder in a very different way."

"I wanted many authors to contribute to this anthology and I am grateful that besides me,  Deina Furth, Adam Ickes, Luke McOwen, Samantha Bacchus and of course you Marc participated, with your great stories."

So "Murder" a short anthology of horror tales is available from Amazon
and here

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Gieger Countering - Friday Flash

This is a sample story from my new flash collection "28 Far Cries"

With our mutual leaden marital cores, affection was stopped up by my blockish shields, while it merely passed through yours like gamma rays.

We are each charged with containing the neuroses and blind spots of our partner, it being rare that we both share the same agitators. But such were the reciprocal irritations that more and more were classified as neuroses and blind spots, until it reached the critical mass of every single word out of our mouth, or every single one of our actions being deemed as being beyond redemption. We were both balls of seething fissile material.

In respect of cleaving together in a fusion that makes us more powerful, we manage to effect a fission that only serves to cleave us apart and bleed away any supposedly enriched energies. We were both left depleted.

Each live radioactive substance will naturally decay and transform into another element, which if isotopic will in turn decay further, until finally a stable, inert element is rendered. My spouse and I have hit our inert basal states and yet I cannot say we went through the transmutations into other constitutions along the way. Spontaneous half-life decay takes eons to occur. We achieved a rapid acceleration of the process.

It has been pointed out to me that smashing the atom in order to release the pent up energy of rage is a particularly destructive practice. And yet it was one we were both content to pursue.

In order for a chain reaction to be unleashed, we both had to stockpile an impressive and intricate battery of sleights, grudges and other grievances. We conducted our own arms race to mutually assured destruction with barely a bat of an eyelid in the direction of the concept of deterrent.

One segment of the fission process could, I concede, be considered as successful. Parts of our material corpus divided and split off. Eczema, weight loss, hair loss, hearing loss, incontinence, ulcers, thrush, hives and a host of other dermatological rashes afflicted us. Although perhaps some of these could be viewed as a gaining rather than a reduction. In a quantitative rather than a qualitative way of course. 

Though we have long separated from one another in physical space, we remain contaminated with one another’s toxic waste, rendering us useless for future generative power. We are both decommissioned. 

Two half-lives do not make a whole. 

Monday, 23 June 2014

UK Citizens joining ISIS in Iraq and Syria

The TV News tracks down the mother of a Jihadi in Cardiff and broadcast her pained squeal for him to come back home from Syria. But he's not coming. He's not going to heed his mother's appeal, because he'd already cut the umbilical family tie by travelling to fight. And now that he's openly shown himself on a recruitment video, he's unlikely to come home when his face is known to the authorities who will watch him night and day expecting him to wage war and terror at home. I think he expects to die out there in Syria or Iraq. Else to participate in a Caliphate erected across Syria and part of Iraq which is the stated aim of ISIS. A pipe dream in all probability because of the forces of resistance that will come to range against any such prospect. But for now, kalashnikovs and pipe bombs tilt at just such a pipe dream.

So no, he's not coming home. The mother's anguish is because it is such a shock. People may ask why she didn't even have an inkling what he was up to. Mothers know about their children right? Well if the intelligence services of our country don't know, practised professionals, why should his mother be any more in the picture? The Jihadi training doesn't start in camps abroad. It begins by learning the techniques to disguise the conversion to the cause of militant Jihad while you still reside in Britain.  To carry off the act of living a normal life, including respecting one's parents, until the moment is ripe to decamp for foreign battlefields. Just like the 7/7 bombers who were described as "Clean Skins" by the authorities in Britain, that is those with no history of terrorist activity. They don't need a history if they are suicide bombers, they just need that one strike and out.

I wrote about the genesis of homegrown terrorists in my novel "Not In My Name". I wrote of the complexities of the political ideals behind the drive to recruitment. Of the twin-track approach of the spiritual and the military professionals. Of the alienation within the home countries that was the launch point for joining the militant Jihadi cause (similar alienation that leads folk to join cults). And how this cult in particular embraced and celebrated and welcomed death as the ultimate aspiration. When writing of those who went to resist Western forces in Afghanistan, Somalia, Chechnya, or the aftermath of post Saddam Iraq, I put it like this:

"This is not just defiance, a refusal to acquiesce. It’s more actively seeking the chance to mix it with someone. To prove their mettle and uphold their misguided notion of honour. The one emasculated by the unabated actions of the West. They’re after accosting the 'Crusaders', not necessarily withstanding them (that’s why recruitment of succeeding fighters to jump into the suicidally vacated breach, is so crucial for sustaining it as an ongoing campaign). Bottom line, what’s actually on offer, is an Oriental Grand Tour, whereby the disaffected sons of the rich can get to kill a GI in each of the Cities with a holy shrine. In truth, they have become a death cult. Venerating and worshipping carnage. Bringing in blood sacrifices as proof of election. Thus I say there is no ideological struggle at stake here."

The mother could not see the crisis of masculinity in her son that contributed to him enlisting to Jihad. A cultural nausea caused by an abhorrence of things in the British way of life that threaten masculinity, that lead to patrols in Whitechapel in London demanding all women cover up their flesh when walking in the area and that alcohol is not to be consumed either. But impromptu street patrols cannot cut it, especially when the authorities clamp down on them as illicit public behaviour. Again I quote from my book:

"They market death as a lifestyle. Conferring an off the peg posterity. Of soldier; freedom fighter; liberator; hero; martyr; patriot; bomber. When life circumstances have prevented the volunteer from being secure in the roles of lover, father, son, worker, provider, man of leisure. Such appeals strike at the very core of anxiety and neurosis. Become a sapper rather than merely sapped."

I wrote these things in a fictional narrative back in 2011 and yet three years later our society still seems shocked and disbelieving that boys from Cardiff and Aberdeen can abandon their studies and go fight in Iraq or Syria. (I wrote of boys and girls from Wakefield, through Madrid to Palestine and Iraq). Nobody seems to be asking the right questions, or suggesting the mechanisms behind such a mindset. But I managed to penetrate it to some extent, (without offering any easy answers), so maybe we all better just catch up and start dealing with the issues involved here.

Available on Amazon Kindle 

Sunday, 22 June 2014

28 Far cries - story prompts

In my latest collection of flash fiction "28 Far Cries", the stories were largely written over the course of 3 months earlier this year at the rate of one a week. This is a very different way of writing from say a novel, since you have to come up with a whole fresh idea from what you did a week before. But this is not as difficult as it sounds, since every day throws up potential story prompts, sometimes in most surprising ways. They can be just everyday observations, people, songs, books, or more specifically a phrase or word in a book. Sometimes a title can come to you first and then you have to find the story that the title conjures up.

So here are the prompts for each of the 28 stories in the collection.

“Road To Nowhere” - this started with the title after the Talking Heads’ song of the same name stuck in my head and just developed from there.

“The Idea Of A Man” - a coalescing of three images that had always stayed with me, a body from Pompeii, the convoys of Iraqi dead in the desert and a body preserved intact from a Scandinavian bog. 

“Ur, Um” -  I’d read those stories where someone wakes up one morning to find they are fluent in Chinese or Russian all of a sudden and wanted to think about what might happen if the original Ur-language came back from extinction and what it might provoke. I was really pleased when the title came along as it did albeit late in the process, a story about language and literacy captioned with almost complete illiteracy!

“Cop Aesthetic” - I can’t quite remember the full genesis of this, but I have always found vultures fascinating creatures and the notion of finding them meditative was one starting point, followed by the notion of the vulture taking care of corruption in the animal kingdom, with a detective doing the same among humanity.

“Staring At The Sun” - prompted by me developing floaters in one of my eyes.

“The New Editors” - this started life as being about the mutation of words on a computer screen under the effect of a virus, but the editor idea crept in and shifted the thrust of the whole story. I don’t think this about editors by the way!

“Nemesis” - I wanted to write an anti-superhero story while we were being bombarded with them in the movies with one lame new release after another. It turned into a realism tale that interrogated the genre of the superhero.

“Shape, Structure, Time” - after reading the work of Alain Robbe-Grillet, I wanted to try and write something along a similar idea. This is a story without characters, but represents a movement in time as traced across a human built structure. Robbe-Grillet is a genius at this. I aimed to make mine uniquely British however.

“Root And Branch” - when parents contemplate their failings, turned up to eleven!

“The Interplanetary Flaneur” - I wrote the bulk of this a long time ago when slogan T-shirts were all the rage. But it only fully coalesced when I hit on the notion of an observer from another world.

“Nocebo” - we all have issues with swallowing pills don’t we? Also reading about the high-ranking Nazis in Hitler’s bunker who took cyanide rather then be captured by the Red Army.

“Geiger Countering” - reading the short stories of Gary Lutz and the way he thrusts words together to make detonations inside the reader’s head, something incendiary just went off in my head and led to this tale.

“Happy Sour” - reading in the bath a book of stories by Brian Evenson and he used the simple phrase “Happy Hour” in a story and my brain went into association overdrive. What if happy hours weren’t actually happy? I had about seven sentences formed in my head by the time I climbed out of the bath and they were the skeleton of the story. Whole thing was completed in an hour.

“Fix Bayonets” - I saw a TV programme where singer Marianne Faithful was exploring her lineage and the programme covered how the Red Army had engaged on a series of mass rapes in Vienna as they went on to do throughout Germany. I knew about Germany, but had no idea about Vienna.

“Lupus” - another one of those hurling reality to do battle with a myth, in this case a real life disease against the myth of the werewolf.

“Percapita” - the videoing of Western hostages being beheaded naturally provokes utter revulsion, but I wanted to get beyond that since revulsion means a turning away from trying to understand the mechanisms at work. I wanted to think about the different cultural issues around the whole thing, including that of film-making, audience and the language of propaganda. About two months after I wrote this, Facebook showed beheading videos under the banner of debate. They soon pulled them under the public outcry.

“Still Ill Man” - I avoid central London as much as possible, but I had to go to Covent Garden where you are beset by jugglers, mime artists and human statues. There was one head to toe in silver paint and in that image was this story born. It was like a human being in a metal carapace and I imagined him imprisoned rather than encased. 

“The Quality Of Writing Is Strained” - I’ve always been interested in the physical act of writing, of forming alphabets and the play on the word “tablet” pulled it all together.


“Our Father” - an offshoot of a novella I was writing, so the two came in parallel. A slightly different take and tone in this story than the longer piece.

“Unsighted” - waiting to meet someone in central London who never showed up. I think I hung around uselessly for 90 minutes. Revenge is writing a story about it, though this went through so many drafts, the story ended up being at the expense of the person waiting, not the one who failed to show. 

“Skin Bar” - this was two separate ideas that became conjoined in one story. First was the angularity of a human body dancing against the unyielding metal pole and then there came all the stuff about skin once I realised that the surface of metal too was just another skin surface.

“Type-O Negative” - I’d just done a reading at a literary festival and was waiting around in an arts book shop in case anyone from the show was coming back and I was invaded with the words that mutate into other words in this story. I think something about the adrenaline high from being on stage prompted the space for this process. I had an hour long bus journey home and wrote the whole story during that trip.

“Off Colour” - riffing off expressions and phrases involving colours, such as “feeling blue” or “seeing red” and how unsatisfactory they were really. 

“Lord Of War” - I think I’d been reading about the all-conquering Mongols. It’s quite rare for me to write anything with faintly mythic undertones, but that’s how this story turned out.

“Night Terrors” - one of the few myths that does interest me is that of the incubus/succubus. But I wanted to write a story where the grim reality of human cruelty and persecution was far worse than any nightmarish monster.

“No Laughing Gas Matter” - I think what came first was the notion of drug addicts being immune from a chemical attack and only later did the notion of them saving the world come about.

“Human Viscosity” - I like writing about the physical properties of substances and in this case it was how various liquids moved. Liquids that form part of the human body and I wanted to portray a relationship through how these liquids acted, rather than directly referring to any characters.

“Quickie Divorce” - a parallelism of action and motive in two characters with a shared aim and a mutual contract. Told one word at a time. I like the pacing that enables.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Let Me Explain It To You Then Wayne

Wayne Rooney says sometimes he doesn't get what the UK Press are trying to say when they print stories about him. One is tempted to lay the fault with dear Wayne, pandering to the stereotype of him as not the sharpest tool in the box. but rather than score a cheap barb, I'll try and go on to explain it for you Wayne, speaking from the perspective of an England fan with no parochial club rivalry sharpening any axe, since my club are not in the Premiership and must be one of the few Championship sides not to have a single player at the World Cup.

The latest issue seems to be when the Press were invited into their 15 minute window to observe the England squad training, they spotted Rooney training with the so-called 'stiffs' that is those players unlikely to be in the starting IX for the next match and drew the conclusion that this meant Wayne too wasn't going to start. Rooney countered that he was putting in hard training with the stiffs (whereas the first team starters were doing less robust training to preserve their energies) at his own request.

Okay, first question, why does Rooney feel he needs extra training? Because he's not fit enough (stamina)? or maybe he's not sharp enough or maybe because he finds it harder to keep the weight off than others. If it's either point 1 or 2, then that suggests that Rooney knows he isn't up to scratch and that this can only put his place in doubt. Point 3 is more of a reflection of his whole career. This is the man remember, who one season Sir Alex Ferguson, no bad judge of a player's prowess, sent off on holiday to the sun for some winter training and thereby missing matches, because he was concerned about Rooney's fitness. Rooney has been photographed smoking and is also known to like a drink in his downtime and has come back to pre-season training overweight by his own admission.

Second, let me explain how the Press works Wayne. If as you say you requested extra training rather than having been banished to the stiffs because you will not be starting the next game as one newspaper claimed, then clearly the newspaper's story is not factually correct. But dear Wayne, they don't care. Why don't they care? Because they not only want it to be true, they are campaigning to have it thus. They are reporting in the guise of advocating. How much influence do they have over their readers and how much influence do their readers have over the England manager is not a question I can answer. But they're going to have a go at getting a groundswell of opinion going to influence selection decisions anyway.

Why have they turned on you? Because they feel you no longer justify your place in the team by right. The right afforded you by your reputation. Yeah they built you up when you burst on the football scene as a teenager at Everton and you were hailed as the next great hope. You were constantly talked of as becoming a world class player, up there with Messi and your old mate Cristiano Ronaldo. And you have not delivered, you have not made good on your talent. And whatever the Press are saying, we the supporter feel cheated. We feel you haven't looked after your body or your fitness as above. You haven't trained on. Whatever your achievements in club football and they certainly haven't been consistent season in season out like Messi and Ronaldo, you certainly have not delivered for England. We no longer trust your reputation as meriting a starting berth.

You have won lots of medals and trophies at the best club in England over the last ten years. But while they have been consistent, you have not. Some seasons you have contributed heavily to the success of the club, others you haven't. Apart from being sent away for mid-season training mentioned above, your then manager wondered if he should transfer you and cash in on any residual value your reputation still garnered. And on other occasions you had the temerity to march into his office and demand that he play you in a certain position, just as you are doing now with the England manager, or you have briefed against him as you and your agent machinate for a pay rise as again, with utter chutzpah you demanded the manager surround you with better quality players or you would be seeking employment elsewhere. Ronaldo is a bit like this at Real Madrid, but then he's scored 50 goals a season. I don't believe Messi makes such demands on his club and he's scored hatfuls of hat-tricks that you can only dream of these days.

And here's the rub you see. By raising this query with your treatment at the hands of the Press, you have made our world cup campaign all about you, instead of it being about the team, the country which the manager has clearly been trying to instil in order to get away from the bad practises of previous dire tournaments for England. When you burst on the international scene, you'd had barely a handful of games. Now Raheem Sterling is bursting on the scene, with a completely successful season under his belt, playing for a teaming challenging for the title, but we have learned our lesson from dubbing you world class. We love his progress, but no one is even whispering the term 'world class' in association with him. Same thing Ross Barkley. These players however we welcome into the England fold because we credit they are in the squad on merit. In a way we don't necessarily feel applies to you any longer. As with your club, your call to be played in a certain position implies the team should be built around you. The shape of the play has to be designed around your talents. But we fans feel these new guys are, or should be the guys around whose talents the team shape is designed. We feel they are in better form than you. We feel they are on the up while you are on the downslide and that they have already surpassed you. Sturridge is the best man for the job as the number 9. Sterling is the best man for the number 10. Where does that leave you? The manager decided it meant playing on the left. You have state that 'while happy' to play anywhere on the pitch, it is not really a position you favour. Despite making the goal against Italy, you were poor on the left. we were exposed time and again down your flank, which is not just your fault, but you must bear some culpability. You gave away the ball more than most and you missed a priceless and by anyone's standards a fairly straightforward chance to equalise for the country.

Sorry Wayne, but I hope the Press campaign to bring in someone else in your place is successful. You have disappointed us for too long now. Whole you are not unique in this failure to live up to expectation, you have fallen the most short because you had the furthest target to attain because of the promise your talent seemed to offer.

Guest Post - Virginia Moffatt

Today I've a very special guest post from a writer and twitter friend Virginia Moffatt to celebrate the publication of her debut collection of stories. The book is a fascinating pairing of stories that partner or respond to one another, all about the theme of love and relationships and pleasingly offers a very realistic and truthful view of love rather than overly-romanticising it.

I first met Virginia through the Friday Flash writing community via Twitter the history of how she came by it echoes very much with that of my own. We've become good friends discussing politics, protest, family and whether there artists (particularly comedians) are entitled to a right to cause offence, in addition to reading each other's work during the writing process. It was entirely down to Virginia that I'm also being published by Gumbo Press with a collection of flash stories, since she encouraged me to submit when I'd already decided I didn't have a chance of submitting successfully.

So I'm delighted to welcome Virginia to talk about how the book came about and to wish her all the best not only with publication, but also with her live reading at the Albion Beatnik in Oxford this Saturday for National Flash Fiction Day.

Thanks Marc for this opportunity to share some thoughts about the launch of my  collection, "Rapture and what comes after" (published by Gumbo Press). 

I became a flash fiction writer by chance.  In 2009, following advice from my twin sister, Julia Williams, a successful novelist, I set up my blog "A Room of My Own" as a way of promoting my work. I started posting in July, but I was still building my social media presence and finding it difficult to attract visitors. Then my husband, Chris, noticed a friend of his taking part in Friday Flash and suggested I give it a try. I had nothing to lose, so I posted my first story "Happy New Year" on New Year's Day, 2010. To my delight, I received loads of comments and was welcomed into the community with open arms. What started as an experiment soon became a fixture, and for six months I posted pretty much every week.  I soon built up a list of regular readers with fellow writers like Marc, whose stories helped shape my own, and a writing group with whom I felt at home. And although I don't write flash quite so often now, Friday Flash is still a huge part of my writing life. 

"Rapture and what comes after" is drawn from many of these Friday Flash posts. I began putting it together last year, when I realised that I had unintentionally created a number of paired stories, revealing the light and dark sides of love. There weren't enough for a collection, so I looked at pieces that I particularly liked and began writing partners for them.  The result is fifteen stories where the characters are relatively happy in their relationships and fifteen where they definitely aren't. Some stories feature the same characters ("Rapture/"What comes after", "Happy Birthday Darling" and "Telling the Family") . Some, use similar motifs such as an item of clothing, ("The Scarf/The Jumper") or the weather ("Let it Snow/Waiting for the Thaw"). And some are linked by a theme such as gender expectations ("A Woman's Work"/"A Man's Job") or the difficulty of coming to a decision ("No doubt about it/"Hesitation").  

Despite the dark tone of the second part, I believe in love. But, I also know it's not easy. I know that even the happiest and most devoted couples have their struggles. I know that often love doesn't work out the way people hoped, and, though that can be terrible, it's not always a bad thing. Stories should entertain, move, or amuse the reader. I hope this collection does all of those things, whilst providing a true reflection of what it means to live and love.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Cover Reveal - "28 Far Cries"

Really excited that my fourth collection of flash fiction is imminent. This is my first that will be in both print and kindle, through the auspices of Gumbo Press who are publishing it.

Stories of warlords, pole dancers, alien invasions, synesthesia, incubi, railway viaducts, graffiti artists, dying superheroes, living statues, cyanide pills, vultures, toxic relationships, the first language, beheadings...

Out next week hopefully!

Inglorious Failure - England lose to Italy

I enjoyed England's performance last night against Italy. Compared with the dross we've been served up under Capello and Ericsson in previous tournaments, this was refreshing. However any enthusiasm must be tempered by serious technical and tactical shortcomings, which still permeate the English game and for all our bright young things on the pitch last night, show no signs of changing any time soon.

1) Apart from the goal and the one chance when Baines played Rooney in but he missed at the near post, we never got behind the Italian defence. We had lots of shots from distance, most of which flashed wide. We didn't create all that much to threaten the Italians.

2) This is because there was a very limited creativity in midfield. There was very little quick passing, cutting through the Azzuri. Instead what we had was lots of individuals running with the ball. Sterling, Sturridge, Barkley and Wilshire. Sterling and Sturridge were clearly very good at it. Barkley makes too many wrong decisions when to do so. And Wilshire? I just don't see what he does that is different and certainly not better to any of these. Welbeck looked decent at short, quick passing, but he didn't seem willing to give and go, that is to surge forward to receive a return pass. I suspect because of his defensive responsibilities. Ricky Lambert is someone who knits the play up well with clever passing, while Lallana is the one midfielder who can do this too.

3) Steven Gerrard had one of his more ineffective games in a while. HE and Henderson couldn't seal up midfield, because the Italians didn't go through the middle, but always sought out the very productive right winger. But even with the ball, Gerrard's 'Quarterback" role where he hits 40 yard cross-field passes to feet was snuffed out by the Italians. A lesser team or one less well drilled tactically might suffer from Gerrard's pinpoint passes, but it was one-dimensional to the Italians.

4) Wayne Rooney... Wayne Rooney was out least effective attacking player of the 4 (Sturridge, Sterling and Welbeck). His one contribution was the goal which was excellent, but he gave the ball away 8 times, missed a golden chance (for which he turned like a battleship to get on to Baines's pass and made him hurry his shot) and could not sort out the left side defensively with Baines. I believe Wayne Rooney's time is probably up, with better alternatives in the squad. It will be interesting to see what Hodgson's selection against Uruguay is.

5) Hodgson's substitutes were baffling. Barkley for Welbeck I can sort of see, though unless Welbeck had run out of gas, I think he was doing a good job and would probably have taken off either Henderson Rooney at that juncture. But Wilshire as I have said is only more of the same as to what was on the pitch. You need a goal, then why not bring on Lambert whose brief international career has shown he can score off the bench. He also allows you to go to 4-4-2 and changing systems for the last 15 minutes would have asked questions of the Italians to adapt and react. I would have brought him and Lallana on together to have their understanding from playing for the same club out on the pitch. Lallana came on too late and didn't contribute, while all I remember Wilshire doing was give the ball away.

6) People point to our territorial domination of the last quarter of the match, but remember we failed to score against Honduras for 90 minutes and part of that time they only had 10 men on the pitch. Honduras are no Italy. After Italy retook the lead, I think they dropped back consciously and let us have the ball. Partly that was their tactical decision, but also I think they were looking to preserve their energy since they have all three of their games in those difficult conditions of the tropical north of Brazil. Was it significant that Italian players didn't go down with cramp during the match, but several England players did? What it did reveal was how much chasing England had to do in the first half where the Italians dominated possession and made us run around after them.

But there is hope going forward. Uruguay were appalling yesterday. If Suarez returns against England, and I find it significant that even in desperate straits at 2-1 down the manager didn't bring Suarez on to dig them out of their hole, I don't think he is going to be sufficiently fit to pose his usual full threat. I think we will beat Uruguay, thus knocking them out. Then that leaves a winner takes all match with Costa Rica. And as enjoyable as it was to see Costa Rica beat Uruguay, if England can't get the result against them then we deserve not to move round to the knock-out phase. We should be able to defend balls into the box that Uruguay couldn't cope with. And we know their danger man Joel Campbell and have to devise a way of snuffing out his threat.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Reading For Two - Friday Flash

She was once a prodigious reader. But now her eyes are almost permanently sealed. They say hearing is the last sense to go. I would have thought the more primal sense of smell would persist, but of course other than a wrinkling of the nostrils perhaps, there was no way for her to convey any response to a smell, either pleasant or acrid.

I had tried audio-books for her. But seeing as the Royal Shakespeare Company actors with the most mellifluous voices sent me off to sleep, this wasn’t something I felt conducive to her getting the full benefit of the words.

So I picked up the mantle. Even though not a reader myself, I sat down by the side of her bed and resolved to read to her. The first snag had been which book to pick. I didn’t dare buy a new one that I ventured she might not have read before, because I was afraid I’d choose wrong. I wasn’t familiar enough with literature to match her taste ranged across the bookshelves running above our bed. She would have to forgive me, I would read one she had doubtlessly finished cover to cover before. I had no idea if it had been a success first time round or not. Maybe she might glean something different in the telling on this reading.

The second conundrum was how much to read at any one sitting. I idly assumed I would read a nice round thirty minutes’ worth at a sitting. But on the first occasion that left me mid-chapter and so clearly didn’t make much sense. I flicked through the pages of the book to see if the chapters were of similar length, for then I could apportion a set number of them to each of our sessions. Then I realised the chapters were listed in the beginning of the book, complete with page numbers and reproached myself for my philistinism that meant I hadn’t even been aware of this. I returned to the shelves and sifted for a book with approximately equal length chapters. Not the most sophisticated method of choosing one’s reading matter. 

So I commenced reading the story. I concentrated very hard on the printed words. I didn’t want to  mispronounce any, or get the flow of the sentence all confounded in my desperation to get through the lengthy sentences. I gripped the book so tight, the pages shook as the blood drained from my fingers, making reading the damn words all the harder. I was certain that I was unlikely to be putting the right expressiveness int the words. Reading them as they were meant to be read. As she might have read them. Yet I was so wrapped up in my performance, I had no comprehension of how my efforts were being received. Was the faintest flicker of a smile playing across her lips? Had her breathing slowed a glimmer, or softened in volume by a notch? I couldn’t bring myself to raise my head from the pages in case I lost my place. I had no idea if this was even working. 

I steeled myself that i was reading for two now. So eventually I grew more confident and began to ease myself into the words themselves. I suddenly appreciated I was now also reading this story to myself. I began to follow the twists and turns of the characters and their relationships. But then I also took myself back out of their travails and tribulations as I checked on her for any response. Any indication that she was able to take in my voiced rendition of the book. Some days her sleep was restive, others she seemed utterly reposed. I surmised it bore no correlation with my reading to her whatsoever. No judgement of either me or the book. Or my choice of reading for her. 

What was I supposed to do? Such absented moments thinking about her meant I lost the thread of the story. Should I go back and re-read them? But what if she’d grasped them unadulterated in the first reading? I resolved to catch back up in my own time during the breaks between reading sessions. But then I got to considering what if her own diverse states meant she too wasn’t able to steadily absorb the narrative? But there was simply no way I could penetrate the true state of affairs there as she was unresponsive to verbal inquiry. 

There were days when i felt I was just reading into a void. When even I felt alienated from the sound of my droning voice. I prayed for just one reaction, one single confirmation that what I was doing made some sense. Served some purpose. I resented the author for putting both me and my wife through this ordeal, even though that was plainly preposterous. I held the book with one hand and her fingers with my other, which broke up my rhythm as at the end of each page I had to fumble with my chin to try and turn over the page without disturbing the stroke of my fingers kneading hers. I’d stopped listening to the story long previous to this stage. Still she listened on uncritically. 

And then we were approaching the end of the book. Mounting panic filled me. Could I face going through all this again? Which book would I choose? What if it turned out to be worse than this one? What if it turned out to be superior, what shadow would that cast over the paucity and ignorance of my original choice of this tome? She spared me these minor terrors by drawing her final breath after I enunciated the final full stop on the last page. I was still holding her hand in mine. 

Monday, 9 June 2014

National Flash Fiction Day

Saturday 21st June is the third annual National Flash Fiction Day. A day in which the shortest form of story is celebrated  and my third year of participation.

This year I have not one, not two, but three ways in which I'm participating.

Firstly I'm reading live in Bristol, my first time in that fine city. I'll be reading with a lot of other great UK flash writers and feel honoured to have been asked to participate.

Secondly my third collection of flash fiction "Long Stories Short" will be free to every reader who emails me for a kindle copy to be sent to them from June 20th to June 22nd at 23.00 hours BST. My email details are sewell (dot) d (at) googlemail (dot) com

And if that wasn't enough fine flash fiction for you, my fourth collection "28 Far Cries" will be published on National Flash Fiction Day, in both print and e-book formats. Twenty-eight tales about fading super heroes, alien invasions, living statues, fathering, suicide pills, bar brawls, the first human language, the Red Army, Vultures, Radioactive Love, Pole Dancers, Lycanthropy, Beheadings, Warlords, Incubuses...

Twitter hashtag for all the news on the day #NFFD

For now I'll hopefully whet your appetites with a couple of videos of my flash.

"Just Aphasia Going Through"

"Flash Fiction"

"7 Earworms"

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Stained Glass - Friday Flash

He stood in the centre of the church’s murk. The heavy wooden pews were empty, but he conceived the devotees kneeling there would be swathed in darkness. Only the votive candles gave any illumination. Kindling the memories of the dead in order to light the ways of the still living. And thereby keeping them plunged in gloom.

As he moved he saw he cast no shadow. No place for light and shade in this particular realm he mused. He studied the stained glass windows. The only stab of colour in a world of black or white truth. The reds and blues were heavy and thick. They absorbed all the brightness from outside and devoured it. Imagine that, windows that actually served to stop up the light. The lapis lazuli ultramarine was very pure, untainted. While the cochineal reds were smoky, full of tiny grains. The reds were mainly used for the clothes of supplicants and the headwear of women, covering up the sinful flesh. Blue was for the garb of the saints. It was crystal clear to his eye the message of the glass. Only the halos were yellow and less dense, admitting a tiny amount of light to make them glow. 

He looked up into the heart of the cupola. There the colour was in the murals, while clear glass allowed the light to stream down into the upper reaches of the church in ribbons. The dizzying heights where man could not scale and approach the face of god. They would have to content themselves with contemplating him from far below on their knees. Looking up into the divine light as insects. The architecture of power was so transparent. How could people have fallen for this? Did they really believe this to be the natural order of how matter was arranged? One step outside of the church’s heavy wooden portal would have delivered them into the blinding sunlight of summer. That should have informed them of the artificial manipulation of light and dark they had just exited.

“Let there be light” the holy writ had commanded. So he picked up a floor candelabra and swung it at the stained glass. The glass shattered with a dull tintinnabulation. Ha he thought, let these serve as a call to prayer. He continued striking at each window in turn. The light outside seemed almost tentative, as if it were unsure whether flooding in might be a trespass. This only enraged him more.

“What are you doing?” spluttered the priest who had been summoned by the bruit. The man turned to face him and struck him with the iron candelabra. The priest fell straight to the ground groaning. The man leaned down and picked up a shard of the broken glass and drove it into the priest’s neck. The holy man’s white collar began to stain red. The red against the blood was of a light hue. The man studied the glass in his hand. It was a red slither and he regarded how the man’s blood was the same shade as the dark cochineal and couldn’t be picked out against it. Just as he imagined it would be. He drove it back into the man’s jugular.

He examined his hand as it too was bleeding. He was about to bring the cut to his mouth, when he caught himself. Leaded windows and five hundred year of insect dye was probably not conducive to his future wellbeing. He smirked and moved to exit the church. As his last act of desecration, he blew out each of the votive candles. Extinction was the only indisputable truth. He turned back into the interior of the church and was delighted to see that the light had apologetically begun to flow through the broken windows and begin to lift the gloom.


With slides spotted with red under microscopic lenses and the DNA drawn from his blood on the glass shard recovered from the dead priest’s neck, forensic science were able to bring the man to book. This was the natural arrangement of matter. And god’s, or was it man’s, arrangement of justice.