Thursday, October 29, 2009

Candle Dreaming

Now published in THE LAST BALCONT book (InkerMen Preas 2012)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

CERN ZOO - DFL Real-Time Review (part two)


See above for important context.

The Rude Man's Menagerie
This is an apocalyptic story deriving from the Chalk Giant thread weaving through this book as well as the Zoo one, where chalk drawings become a menagerie of creatures, comprising the female protagonist's touching (still conversational) relationship with her dead Dad and her righteous cause against the Rude Man drawing in the well-depicted landscape and the Rude Man's own tethered chalklings. One cannot do justice to the crop of joy and anguish intermingling so tellingly. It is a fictional rite of passage like none other, I suggest. One that will haunt you with chalk dreams. It does me.
Here, too, the Dead Speak again (as part of THEORY?): an added dimension I had not appreciated before. Or is this me hindsighting yet again?
(18 Oct 09 - three hours later).

Window To The Soul
"'Welcome to CERN ZOO. We buy your unwanted memories,'..."
Another fable that deals with the core of this book, I feel. Today, even more so than I originally thought, with explicit reference to the Higgs particle itself so central to THEORY. Hindsight and pathos, exquisitely conveyed, with Alzheimers perhaps on some future horizon cone-zeroing back in on us through time...
(18 Oct 09 - an hour later)

Salmon Widow
"...Sam: tall, boyish, sharp-of-nose and eyes full of tomorrow, she..."
This tour-de-force (literally!) -- well, it is tucked away in the Cern Zoo book and, like other stories here, deserves a wider readership. How can anyone go through life without, for example, reading 'Salmon Widow'? But it passes even under the radar of most of the reviews, too. Even (almost) under mine, other than to say: it is a swirling rich fishbone-marrow A.S. Byatt time-woven shoal of images and emotions and horrors and coincidences and 'Who Do You Think You Are?' with Kate Humble or David Mitchell or Marcel Beque or Prickle / Holly / Samantha... all conveying a real story-plot.
All I can really do is quote the actual writer of this story who has given me permission to quote here what he or she wrote to me when he or she heard about THEORY: "Salmon Widow's circular construction was not unmindful of Hadron. Similarly Marcel's snakebelt, that from some angles might be seen to eat itself. And remaining on the mournful: as you'll know, the Old English Cerne (hmm, from the Old French "dark circle") refers to a cairn or grave. Big Crunch theory suggests that we'll meet ourselves on the way back: the collision may or may not be pleasant."
This writer has also reviewed the whole CERN ZOO book (other than 'Salmon Widow') here:
"Perhaps her husband had joined her..."
(18 Oct 09 - another 3 hours later)

"...the clouds threatening a rain that had not yet come..."
A simply beautiful short tale of a girl collecting pink pebbles from a beach and the boy protagonist who met her. Ending with a dying fall that contains a poignant contentment at impossibility. It seems a shame to mould the meaning further than that. But did she really seek just one pebble, one particle of our existence? The story does not give the answer to that question because, I suppose, it does not ask it.
(18 Oct 09 - another 2 hours later)

The Shadow’s Departure
A dark vision of Distraction, derelict Glass Factories, enticing madness... this is the Shadow of the Future that is tied to us all. Whether we reach full liberation from it is a knot or ligottum that few can untie. It is just that (and this is my thought and perhaps not the story’s) if the future speaks to us we are truly the Dead who Speak back to it.
In honour of this story, I have concocted a short waking-dream from its Synchronised Shards of Random Truth & Fiction, i.e. distilled from the prose in its first half (I dare not distil anything from its second half!):-
the secret life of broken glass
a shadow haunted sector that even the cranks and the closet cranks of academia dare not analyze
I secretly hoped to meet that one-in-a-million madman who clasped some shocking inner truth
the stupid whir of a trillion pointless devices
(19 Oct 09)

Inspired by last entry above and by 'Salmon Widow': SHOALS (19 Oct 09 - an hour later)

Being Of Sound Mind
“...sending an attack of the vbvbvbv’s into a current opus.”
One of a number of stories in ‘Cern Zoo’ that I accepted and contracted without first knowing who wrote it – a writer who has since kindly given me much information on Time and Parallel Worlds and other philosophies that also perhaps underlie the Cern phenomenon. As does the story itself implicitly and explicitly.
An enthralling and touching and concept-provoking story of someone recently retired now taking fiction-writing more seriously, later facing a whispering then clamouring ‘political correctness’ after the sudden bubbly arrival of a mysterious ‘granddaughter’ manqué. This plot really blossoms even further in the (for me) new light of THEORY. I am so glad I spotted this memorable intarsia of ‘magic fiction’ before fully appreciating it as such.
(19 Oct 09 - another 2 hours later)

Dear Doctor
The girl on the cover suddenly has a pain in her stomach. Or on it. Incredibly, now, I find, in hindsight, this brief and (for me) hilarious joke letter to a doctor is the plainest example of the power of hindsight itself. This all seems to be in a synergy with THEORY that I, as editor, never foresaw.
(19 Oct 09 - another hour later)

Mellie’s Zoo
“'I wish you were real,' she whispered.”
I just ended re-reading this story with tears in my eyes. It’s that kind of experience, especially today, in context. A tale of Mellie, a Child as Mother of Man – faced with a ‘lost domain’ Zoo beyond the woods we know, of memorable inward atmosphere, in company with other children (one boy as their internal ‘pied piper’). ‘David Almond’-like sensibilities are punctuated with visions of a metal bird and shadow-creatures (both in tune with ‘The Shadow's Departure’) and a Salmon ...
And a caged version of her own stuffed purple hippo at home...and much more. Extrapolating wildly in an uncaged way, I feel this is the Zoo of ‘The Lion’s Den’ version of future self in logical progression as transmuted and rusticated by its return journey come back to haunt itself with pathos as well as bathos.
(19 Oct 09 - another 2 hours later)



Sunday, October 11, 2009


“A pirate as a person or a group involves an element of illegality or at least a bending of the rules, does it not?”

It sounded more like a statement than a question. And a long way short of a chat-up line, I guess. He stared at me at the dark bar on the edge of a nowhere where, lost, cold and hungry, I had just left my car in its car park of no obvious allotted spaces.

Women on their own in such places must be a rare event, I continued to guess. I had only come in here for directions, while deciding whether or not to partake of the establishment’s ‘hospitality’.

I looked sideways at the solitary barstool-occupant. A man wearing glasses that must have made the interior even darker, by the look of them.

“Excuse me?”

“A pirate can also mean people who are not eligible for things but take them nevertheless.”

I felt affronted. Could he mean me? Perhaps this was a club for carefully chosen members and I had parked my car outside ‘illegally’?

I was immediately inclined to leave without further conversation. This was part of the country to which I was unaccustomed. Visiting someone from University days I hadn’t seen for years. We’d just got reacquainted by some internet finding-old-friends site. Maybe old friends were not meant to rediscover each other – as in the old days, with very little means to do so. Such precarious reunions could cause all manner of ‘not-meant-to-be’ situations – and the world sent off into directions equally ‘not-meant-to-be’. These were not original thoughts of mine that I was thinking as I waited to decide about my next move in the dark bar. I had had these thoughts for some time when deciding to pursue, via the internet, certain lost friendships in the first place. But there was something ringing at the back of my mind about my current predicament in the dark bar being a ‘not-meant-to-be’ of some significant risk to my health and safety. A pirate destiny, as it were.

If words could be caught like infections – there I had just thought about the word that seemed to be preoccupying the man in dark glasses who had just used it – twice. As if he was toying with it. Worrying it, teasing it, trying it out on his lips. Obsessed with it.

A member of the bar staff – and I was pleased to see it was a female of some age – now suddenly arrived in my vicinity to take my order.

“Is that your car outside?”

She pointed at a shape I could hardly discern through the window.

“I guess it is,” I said.

“Well, can you move it? It’s private.”

So, I hadn’t been far wrong with my earlier presumptions. But the place had a sign outside indicating it was a public bar serving drink and food.

“Private?” I responded in questioning echo.

“Yes, private.”

“Private,” more forcefully echoed the man in dark glasses.

“Is this private, too?” I asked with a nod towards the bar, trying to take some initiative without antagonising anyone with a forceful reference to the public sign outside.

Thoughts raced through my head. Time seemed to stand still. Many things put on the internet with the wrong assumption of it being private were often available for viewing by many millions. Just see the hit counter if there is one to see at all. Just because these potential millions don’t make their presence known to you does not mean they aren’t there, watching, reading, toying, teasing, worrying at your words ... obsessing ... storing up a whole host of ‘not-meant-to-be’ scenarios. How often have you conducted what you think is a private conversation on a blog or a supposedly ill-frequented forum – only to discover it was far from private. It’s easy to imagine seclusion even when millions are watching you.

Suddenly, the bar woman pointed at a word engraved on the mirror – the backs of the shorts and optics reflected dimly in it.

The word was, of course, “Private”. Except the letters seemed slightly mixed up and one letter had teasingly been rubbed off as if in a game. It was then I saw the woman was wearing a black patch over one eye, fixed in place by a single elastic band around her scarfed head. Stepping nearer, the man took off his dark glasses, then opened his chest...

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Two Old Gents Have Flights Of Fancy

“The address is dot dot dot,” said George.

“No, it isn't, it's dash dash dash.,” replied Albert.

The two old gents sat on the bench outside Blackwoods Supermarket, gazing across the fields at the spire of a distant church. They knew there was a town over there quite different and separate from the town in which they always sat whiling away the hot Summer’s day.

Passers-by somehow proved that town’s other existence. They were not consistently the same passers-by so they must live at least somewhere else. They’d always be the same passers-by if they lived in the same town as the two old gents.

The times were ones when people didn’t travel far from their own home town – either because of a lack of money or due to rudimentary transport systems that worked irregularly. Different towns then were different countries now.

The two old gents were speculating beyond the realms of their usual gossip. Gossip became a bit tedious after many years. So they used to make things up. About imaginary places. Imaginary towns. Imaginary people. Waking dreams tossed between them as the day shone on.

Sometimes the imaginary people took off like semi-real existences upon flights of fancy. Often they became so very real to the two old gents, the existences fleshed out and became the new passers-by miming the people just conjured up by the two old gents as passing by.

Then the two old gents returned to gossip of the trivial and mundane. Then they perked up again with fresh flights of fancy. Except their vocabulary was not a match for their fancies. They interspersed their talk with 'dot dot dot' and 'dash dash dash' as a sort of personal morse code to fill any gaps. But, meanwhile, they were able to visualise the things that underpinned the dots and dashes, but whether telepathy worked or whether they visualised quite differently not even their telepathy could tell them.

“The address is dot dot dot," said George, visualising the road before he visualised the house. The road was indeed “Dot Dash Dot Avenue” and the house-name “Dash Dot Dash Villa” – and out from it came a figure made completely of dots and dashes that needed joining up into shapes as in a children’s dot-to-dot puzzle. He gradually made out a woman’s bits and bobs from amid the emerging squiggles.

Suddenly, he visualised his own eyes welling with tears.

“You know, I love her,” he said.

“Why don’t you go there, then?” asked Albert.

“I’m not sure of the address.”

“Sad, that.”

“Yes, sad, that.”

“But do you know her name?”

“Dot. Her name is Dot.”

“Short for something?”

“Ah, yes.”

“Ah, I know her. You’re welcome to her. A flighty piece.”

Silence, punctuated by dry sobbing.

Written today and first published here

Monday, October 05, 2009

Different Skins - by Gary McMahon

I’m starting another of my real-time reviews. This time it is of ‘Different Skins’ by Gary McMahon (Screaming Dreams 2009). [My previous reviews are linked from here: ]

This review will be done slowly, savouringly, in real time, so please do not look back here more than once every few days for additions.

Part One - My London Ghost

"There are hundreds of streets out there in the Shitty City..."
As stirred in me by an incident told here, I think Horror Fiction is looking through the fish-eye into the corridor outside your bedsit? Do you open the door when you have first glimpsed what you have glimpsed...? For one moment, I though it was a real fisheye and a real me looking through it.
The initial setting casts an under-grounded, inward-swarming, dead-leaning London as a receptacle for the Personal and the Recurrent. Our first-person singular protagonist addresses us direct and we cannot help but participate in our act of reading something that flows more like listening.
A shame the very first sentence contains, to my eyes, a blatant hilarious misprint. Or maybe it isn't a misprint. I may hit on its signficance later. Or it may just prove that the inadvertently ridiculous is subservient to the deliberately compulsive, especially when the protagonist's own dreaming of the unreal him forces you to dream of the real him. (4 Oct 09)

Part Two - Body Badges
"'The tattoo's forever...'"
The self-dramatised monologue continues, beautifully, darkly threaded with its soul-mate (dialogue) and its parameter (vision). London is not only an eschatological receptacle hinted by the previous part, but a vessel of paranoia, reconciliation-of-evil and irony. Not only eschatology but a faecal scatology. Amazing stuff.
"The choice is simple: we either reach out to connect or let the moment pass..."
The skin-tattoos are a particularly effective metaphor, i.e. of permanence, the ultimate non-nemonymous late-label, contrasting with the pale transients and the Traveller tattoo (upon our protagonist himself) as signs of impermanence that is strangely more permanent than permanence itself. And now not only the underground, but the under-underground of weirdly named stations. And a new form of sex and cross-addressing.
"'It is all diversion therapy, of course: a way of pussyfooting around what you already know...'" (5 Oct 09)

Part Three - The Big Black
This completes 'Even The Dead Die'. I have many thoughts going through my head, as stirred by this final part. Some I can't nail. It's as if the escapist Death Games of childhood are now provided by this book for us in adulthood. But none of those games took account of 'The Big Black' and Kerouac.
There are some rather disturbing images in this part (with the power of a McMahon in overdrive), images, that if you are not a seasoned Horror reader, will probably scar - or tattoo or 'God's signature' - you or your skin for life. Even if you are seasoned, I don't give a very comforting prognosis for your peace of mind...
At times, I was perturbed by the almost automatic, too easy unrolling of seemingly outlandish plot-data via dialogue in this final part. But if that was a fault, it is a minor one. The earlier irony now often touches on satire.
Strangely, one of the most frightening moments, for me, was the female protagonist ringing someone called Pin on her mobile.
And, if I may touch on a frivolous point, I fear for the long-term safety of Mr Tweety in view of what appeared in that first sentence of Part One!
I still reserve my judgement on the whole book's gestalt, as I prepare to enter its second half, as entitled 'In The Skin'. (6 Oct 09)
One - All Alone Together
"...the love I have for my family causes me an exquisite agony."
McMahon, I feel, is the master of what I call 'the Horror Prose', both literary and slick, whereby all senses are subject to synaesthesia but personal aspirations fall short of those senses. A synaesthesia that artfully hints of Horror tropes within it ... plus a disconnection, a detachment that is paradoxically sensual. Here McMahon even excels himself, telling of a family man, his business trip to New York away from his family who have just moved into a new house, his temptations, inbuilt goodness, urges, self-deceptions, aching soul. This promises much...
An interested party publicly asked me yesterday about this review - "But do you like it?" Yes, I like this book, am enjoying it very much so far, but 'like' and 'enjoy' are difficult words in this context. As if they, too, are detached.
"...we reach out to each other but rarely ever touch, missing the connection by inches, miles, light years..." (7 Oct 09)

Two - We Are It
Upon returning to it, this story itself becomes its own changeling. Honestly wrenching stuff, and, for me, as a father long ago of small children, horrifically empathisable. The connection breach between him and his famly has widened so much it needs bridging with things that try to climb from the story to your very own personal story-within ... in parallel with that thing in the garden craning towards pawing the protagonist's own window. I shall not say more for fear of easing things too much for you by preparing you for coping with it. I don't think I'm being too melodramatic when I say I now need simply to prepare myself - with "the ghost of a smile to tickle my lips" - for proceeding onward to what must await. A changeling of a changeling, a notch or ratchet up? Or down? (7 Oct 09 - three hours later)

Another two hours later -- I shall deal with the final two parts together, as the reading-rush (much like the sugar rush in eating) has become all-consuming and the fourth part is relatively tiny:
Three - The Patter of Tiny Feet
Four - Thin as Skin
Firstly, may I get this particular exorcism off my chest: "...the twisted corpse of a house cat, a neighbour's pet. The skin has been peeled carefully from the cat's skull, and the strange marking I rubbed off the door frame is stencilled onto the sticky red bone..."
Strangely, however, having quoted it, that tangential moment seems to parallel the whole rite-of-passage in the final two parts. I will not describe further the outcome of the plot. There is no safe bridge between it and us. I think at least part of me - as a reading-soul - slipped between. "There is little distinction". No distinguishing the edges.
Indeed, I don't think I have experienced such a self-rending tour-de-force as a book's finale in empathy with any protagonist during my long history of reading fiction. You can only experience it for yourself.
Like it? Enjoy it? Forget it, big man!
I shall not read the author's story notes at the end of the book. I hate author story notes. The text is all. If the text needed more, then the text would have been given more. Indeed, I did glimpse that McMahon himself has headed these notes: "Oh, no, it's the Story Notes!"
I will return to the beginning of the book, however, and soon read Tim Lebbon's Introduction, to see what further food for thought this luminary may give.
The whole book as a gestalt? There is one. John Donne's HOLY SONNET TEN and John Donne himself. (7 Oct 09 - another two hours later)