___WORDS FROM ME_____________________________________

up and out of here

So I have a short story in the collection KITCHEN SINK GOTHIC, edited by David A Riley and Linden Riley, published by Parallel Universe Publications. It's a piece called “Up and Out of Here”and is, I suspect, one of the lighter tales in the anthology. I was pleased that when he accepted the piece David commented on the humour in the tale. You'd be surprised how often I start a story thinking Oh yeah, this will be funny... and by the time the piece is in print people are telling me That's really disturbing, Mark, or Don't you think that's a bit dark?  Still, I think in this one the humour comes through without anyone having to get their crucifixes out and fend me off with garlic. I'm not promising belly-laughs, but I hope you might smile. Or at least twitch your lips upwards.

If that's not enough to make you think about reading the book, you might reconsider when I tell you the anthology also includes stories by Stephen Bacon, Gary Fry (who is still trying to kid us he looks like that author photo from ten years back and more), Kate Farrell, Andrew Darlington, David A Sutton, and plenty of others. T'aint just me you're getting when you hand over your cash.

My tale starts like this,

Dylan Mulch learned about flying the hard way. In one sense it was a lot like sex, in that it was something you didn’t do in public. Or if you did, then you better be damn sure everyone else was doing it too. Because if you were performing out there in the open all by yourself, you could be sure as sixes people were going to get freaked by it.

and if you would like to carry on reading, you can purchase a paperback copy or an ebook in the UK from Amazon by clicking here and in the USA by clicking here. 

Go on, I dare you.

prof fox

Somewhat appropriately, given the UK Tory government's attempts to effectively repeal the ban on hunting foxes with dogs - hashtag bloodsports, folks - I have a new story out . . . and it concerns foxes. Sort of. It's a piece called "Prof Fox" and it is available to read in the Australian anthology Roar 6, edited by Mary E Lowd, and published by Bad Dog Books. 

Here're the opening paragraphs, kindly reproduced with Mary's permission.

“The fox went out on a chilly night,
he prayed for the moon to give him light.”

Trad. folk song.

When people saw the “Prof” on Danny Foxx’s business card, they nearly always leaped to an assumption he did nothing to discourage and thought it was an abbreviation of “Professor”.
Clothes made the man, and his tweed suit played to people’s assumptions, reinforcing what they thought they already knew. As they fastened on the inscribed “Prof” Danny would study their expressions. They’d be thinking: here stood some horrible bore they needed to extract themselves from – and quickly, before he indulged himself in the finer points of one of his inscrutable Big Thought papers. Some way to spend a party that would be, they’d worry.

“Prof” – short for “Professor.” Well, what else could it be?

If you want to continue reading this one, you can order a copy here.

Here's the cover.


hawksmoor by peter ackroyd

Guide to “Thoughts on HAWSKMOOR.”

1.)  The Thoughts must be read in linear fashion, though what linear, in this sense, entails is subject to the individual Reader’s interpretation. The review may or may not touch on the points raised in “The Rules of Thoughts on HAWKSMOOR”. Objectivity is of a Third Person stance. Objectivity is from a First Person stance.

2.)  The flow of Time moves both ways. Time is not a Measure extending in but one direction; rather it is a Loop. Echoes move both ways around the Circle of the Loop. They may be Cacophonous, they may be whispers.

3.)  William Golding’s THE SPIRE can be Referenced.

4.)  The oldest Character can be seen in accumulation of stones and mortar for Flesh, passages and highways for Veins. Thoughts are expressions of movement, of building. Height may be seen as a form of higher Thinking; depth may be seen as pollution, corruption. Fever is a fire. Experience of Fever can bring about Change, can allow filth already about the body to prosper and invade new hollows of the city, to spread and exert influence. Reflection is an Echo that runs around the Loop, forever in Flux.

5.)  Dissection of bodies may bring Revelation or provide more questions. Dissection of bodies may be an allegory of the search for Truth in an object Deceased and therefore out of the standing of Time; an object no longer travelling in Loop. Dissection of a body can be seen as Enlightenment triumphing over Barbarism. Blood is shed.

6.)  At no Time will the Thoughts sink into archaic English and forms of address which may be seen as outrĂ© and wearying in the short-term, but which may also, over the course of a narrative so long as a novel, be acceptable for the reader. Said archaic language will not willfully be subject to Slippages, reductions in paragraph length and Accommodations to dialogue attribution more appropriate to a form of address 250 years after the supposed time of said Writing being set on paper and subject to the Telling in the novel.

7.)  The Protagonists will be talked about in Mystical Terms. His appearance, as solver of Mysteries, will be ineffable, a reflection on the body-city. His concern will be Time. There shall be Echoes. No one stands Alone. Patterns Repeat. The Antagonist will be forthright, be about his Stool, rank with Bodily Miscretions. (And words may be made up.)

8.)  Linearity is not assured.

9.)  The Resolution of Mystery is not assured.

10.)  The flow of Time will move both ways.

“Thoughts on HAWKSMOOR”

It’s no coincidence that the eponymous protagonist of HAWKSMOOR makes his first appearance midway through this novel, and then is seen as an insubstantial figure, a reflection on the backdrop of London. London is Ackroyd’s great obsession. Here is a novel playing with the concept of time, and with it literary technique and the linear notion of story as well. Characterization and engagement with such is not the novel’s concern, reducing some to ciphers and walking plot devices. What seems set in stone is not quite what we imagine it to be. Human beings are glistening tears of sweat on the stone and brick body-city that is London, without the necessary imagination required to step outside the confines of their narrow limits of perception and therefore understand the longer term point of view someone or something as old as a city might hold on matters of time and change.

Peter Ackroyd’s near delirium-inducing passages are dense – sometimes to the point of losing their meaning to this reader – and they shift from their focus too often, as well as flitting between character perspectives. Too often at the start of one chapter, the Point of View Character is not the person with whom we think we are initially investing our emotions for the length of the narration. This may be an intentional device the author is employing, but can strain the trust between reader and writer, especially when the characters that the reader invests so much time in coming to know are gone never to be seen again in the book.

There are triumphs, though. The at first trying archaic language, with its intentional misspellings of familiar words, eventually gains a momentum if the reader persists, and as the book continues it begins shaping its structure toward the more modern form of storytelling employed to convey the setting circa 250 years on from the original narrative. In reflection of this – and reflections are essential to glean anything close to an understanding of this work – the modern passages dull to a more archaic telling. Dialogue is (intentionally?) stilted, and sounds very unlike speech anyone would recognize as such outside of an Agatha Christie novel.

Foundations and their importance are explored in forms of intertextuality if we consider the book itself as a form of the story being shaped, the writing of which is akin to the building of a church. In William Golding’s THE SPIRE, a priest’s ambitions are too grand for the foundation upon which he attempts to build them; Golding knew, as does Ackroyd, that a shudder from the top of a spire trembles through the heights to the depths of a building, and that it is not always obvious from which direction the reverberations first start moving.

Time is important, and the time this book was written in must be considered. It wasn’t the only piece of work from this period – the mid nineteen-eighties – that explored the establishment of older, often benign pagan rituals being smuggled into new temples. The allegory/metaphor isn’t hard to spot in a time when wealth was the new religion in Thatcherite Britain, and stories were appearing where older Gods – meaning society and goodness of character, the rejection of greed – were secretly hidden in edifices of power. (Harking back, A CHRISTMAS CAROL isn’t much different.)

But for all its cleverness and ambition, does HAWKSMOOR succeed? For this reader only in part. While there’s much to be admired – Ackroyd’s portrayal as London as a character, and his deep and rich knowledge of the past – as a friend of mine told me when I mentioned I was reading it: “It’s a flat book, cold and distant.” I agree; there are no characters in this book that snag you emotionally. You are expected to engage with a conceit almost, rather than any personality. Certainly the role of women in the book is a small one, bordering on the misogynisticly slim.

HAWKSMOOR is the result of someone being clever rather than engaging: a read for reading’s sake, not to be returned to too quickly. It’s trying stuff and you know the ending is going to be ambiguous to the point of a fade out long before you arrive there, and I’ve read far too many endings like that to be happy with them unless the writing’s exceptional. And it wasn’t here.

You could ask, What’s it all about, Alfie? But it wouldn’t matter; the author never knew.

Disclaimer to “Thoughts on Hawksmoor”.

Opinions expressed by the Reader are seen from his/her experience of the book in question. Objectively they are subject to external Influences, private Passions and interests, and may diverge significantly from other people’s views.

editing making see

For anyone who is interested, my short story "Making See" (which appears in the Eibonvale Press anthology Sensorama) had a different route into print from most of my short stories, in that the editor Allen Ashley asked me to do a bit of a rewrite and beef some things up, particularly the ending.

This is different, you ask?


Normally I have found that a tale is accepted or bounced as it stands. Editors and publishers often don't have the time to take stories - and ever increasingly these days books - that require a rewrite or a lot of editing and work.

I'm not being critical. It's the way the business has gone. There's only so much time in the day, only so many dollars in a wallet, and a lot of pressure to Get Things Done.

Most of my published stuff, barring some small changes here and there, is seen in the finished publication in the same shape as it was originally submitted. So it was different to get the message from Allen saying he liked the piece but he thought it might be better and possibly worthy of inclusion in the book if I did "this" and maybe "that" too . . .

Now, there are two ways of reacting to such a request.

One is to throw everything out of the window and call the editor in question lots of names and pin his or her likeness to a dartboard and spend the evening throwing spears at it, while decrying the general ignorance of the world at large for not recognising your genius and raising your to your rightful status -- which is of course, slightly above Dickens, but possibly just a tiny, tiny -- ever so tiny -- bit beneath Shakespeare, and deny them their request, letting them know just what you think of them and in no uncertain terms -- unless, of course, they may pass you a pay cheque at some point in the future, in which case you just fume until your cheeks burn red and pretend never to have recieved the email or letter from them. (You'd be surprised how many writers take this approach. No, really. You would be very surprised how many.)

The second, and far wiser course of action, is to scratch your chin, tilt your head to one side receptively, and look at the story through the eyes of the editor who has read your work and seen something there that you yourself have missed. The smart thing to do, even if you're unsure about the editor's wisdom in making his or her suggestions, it to get to work and see what happens if you follow the advice. Because you're not better than Dickens and never will be. Hell, you'll be lucky if you're better than anyone else in the publication in which your work will appear. The editor is on your side and it is important to remember that. He or she doesn't want to put something in their book or magazine or journal or whatever that they think is substandard, or which they know could be better if only the writer would just do this or do that . . .

I looked at what Allen had suggested and put pen to paper (or in this case finger to keyboard). And what do you know? What I was left with at the end of the work was a tale that was ten times better than it had been before. Even my girlfriend, who hadn't thought much of the piece when I'd first subbed it, liked the rewritten version. So already I was ahead. If Allen didn't like the rewritten piece and didn't take it, at least I would have something that was in a better shape to be subbed elsewhere. So there was another plus. As luck would have it, Allen did like the piece, and was generous enough to include it in the anthology. I'm very pleased to be in print there.

So thanks to Allen for being a hands-on editor and getting those hands dirty; the truth is that for all his work I'm the one who gets to look better for it. With anyone who reads the piece (whether they like it or not) and with my girlfriend, too. Can't get a better deal than that.

So no dartboards here. No spears. The editor is your friend. And it's a  foolish writer who doesn't at least look at what has been suggested to him . . . or her.

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