They start between six and six thirty in the evening. They’re usually distant. If they have a motive, it’s internal and psychic: like the sounds of someone with a head wound, they are not rational except in relation to themselves. At times they seem to move closer, the way sounds do on a wind, especially in the night. For a moment, the listener is able to distinguish more than one voice, perhaps even differentiate male from female. There are qualities of both plaintiveness and aggression, but words are hard to make out. They reach a peak by ten in the evening. By midnight they have moved away for good, and the centre of the little town is dark and quiet.
Category Archives: lost & found
It’s so nice to hear from you. It feels as if we haven’t talked for ages. You write, “All along the Thames, boats are on their way to being islands, islands on their way to being boats.” Then something you overheard on the bank near Kew, a woman calling to her little girl: “’Don’t run!’ Then: ‘Daphne! No more running! You’re going to hurt yourself.’” And you add, “There’ll be no more running in Daphne’s life, in case she hurts herself. She’s three.” When I re-read that paragraph of your mail, I experience a weird deja vu, as if you told me this–or at least something similar to this–described some encounter of the same sort–a long time ago. Of course, you couldn’t have, but it’s strange, and the whole content of the scene is strange too, I don’t know why. It would easily fit into the kind of story I am writing now.
“Every generation has its intellectual obsession: a new kind of politics, a new kind of science, a new kind of war. My generation was obsessed with Autotelia, a new kind of country. We watched with a tense amazement the grainy video of its capital city, the greyish streets so similar to our own. When the first Autotelians began to arrive on our side of things…etc.” His mother’s tea party for the Autotelians is a farce. After it, when he goes to their house, he sees the men in overcoats smashing the flower pot in the hearth, then a “yawning white face” in the hall. He leaves hurriedly. Work up to the tea party through his mother’s descriptions of the Autotelians; some events of little significance in the square; and his interest in the girl. Later, in Autotelia itself, he is taken to a place where a man who might have been his vanished friend Ashman once “stayed for some time”. The room sordid. Some accident–a small fire perhaps–on the carpet near the tallboy; a faint smell of excrement. “‘There was a lot of crying out,’ the landlord said: ‘Always a lot of crying out.’ And he managed to convey with shrugs, nods and grins that we both knew what that might mean. ‘In the morning he was gone.’ While we talked, I could hear someone pacing about in the room above.”
I woke up a few months ago in a shower of unpaid bills. I’d forgotten to top up my current account. All I felt was a kind of cheerful disappointment with myself. I walked around for a bit thinking mildly, “You’d better get a grip.” Then I began to see the terror of it: a lifetime’s anxieties exchanged for a state of warm dissociation interrupted by brief moments of politicised rage. Later I went to see Haneke’s Amour at the Gate in Notting Hill. The Gate is a smallish cinema, maybe a hundred seats. Eighty of them were occupied by couples over sixty, all acting as if they had arrived recently from an Anita Brookner novel. That was a lot more disturbing than the film. It’s a wonderful film, but I didn’t feel I belonged in that demographic, or that I’d gone to see it because it was in some way addressed to that demographic. To watch it for those reasons would seem to me to rigidify the meaning of the film and limit its scope.
“Sometimes I feel as if I went a step too far, walked too far ahead of myself. I think in the end that’s how it feels to get older. You look around, you feel exposed, as if it would be better to give the rest of your life time to catch up. But it doesn’t. You’ve outstripped it, somehow. Not by reinventing yourself, which is the usual source of this feeling, or by outgrowing yourself, or shedding any kind of skin: but simply by outdistancing the greater part of yourself. It’s not too late, you imagine: that part of you could still catch up. But it never will. You’ll always be waiting, hanging back, having a rest, giving it a chance, but it will only lose ground further. Older people have a ruthlessness because of this, not so much a lack of compassion as a very clear idea of what they want.”
“That whole year, and to a lesser extent the year after, bodies were washed up all along that part of the coast, some whole, some in pieces … In the south of Autotelia, especially, it was a bad year for bodies; but the body of the vanished brother didn’t show up among them. Passive and silent, full of some incommunicable anger, the sister attempted suicide, spent time in institutions; then, her work suddenly becoming popular, left the country for a new life on our side of things.” When Cave meets Julia, he finds himself sucked into her strange alienated history of loss and sacrifice. “Cave & Julia” is a love story set between our world and Autotelia. Available from the Kindle Store today, 99p; or free to borrow from the Kindle Library. You can still find “In Autotelia”, the first Autotelia story, in Arc #1, here.
Just to round up what’s available, electronically and otherwise: you can buy Light, Nova Swing and Empty Space; The Centauri Device, cursed be its name, with its very fine paper-sculpture cover image; and Viriconium in the old paperback Fantasy Masterworks edition. The new edition of Climbers (coming in May) is ready for pre-order, both as paper and as ebook, with a fabulous new Sam Green cover and a very special introduction I’m not allowed to tell you about yet, although you probably already found out for yourself. The books you won’t find, except as pre-enjoyed or remaindered, are The Course of the Heart, Signs of Life and Things That Never Happen.
Since these three, along with Climbers and my new short stories, rather sum up the point of writing for me, I hope we can do something about that soon.
“Cave & Julia” being very much a product of the Ambiente Hotel, back-bar regulars will add value by tracing its beginnings in these entries over the last year or two. I’ve set up a “Cave & Julia” page: leave your criticisms, gasps of almost sexual delight & sighs of sarcastic disbelief etc there, where comments aren’t time-limited, rather than here, where they close after a few days.
Or, of course, leave a review at Amazon.
I like it when people drift off from one life to another. Or live double lives, but the second life isn’t much different from the first. And it’s not recorded, so no one writes about it until years later, when someone unrelated discovers a box of Polaroids at a flea market or some files of emails on a hard drive. These would be ordinary people, who felt the continuity of their lives, but whose acts could only be seen as a discontinuity in the lives of others. I’d like it to be clear that the pathos of this (and I mean that honestly) might best be seen from outside the lives themselves, or from a later point in time; but that the testimony of those left behind is as “correct” an emotional perspective as that of the person who moved on. I’d like to read a book comprised of hundreds of stories like that, not too much above anecdotal length, which would document the cultural web and styles of a generation. A book like that wouldn’t take sides; it would be kind, unjudgemental, and imply another scale at which this behaviour could be viewed.
Buggy tracks in snow. Spindrift blowing off the roofs. Silhouette of a labrador dog hauling the silhouette of a woman across Grove Road; detail from a Lowry of the West London suburbs. Meanwhile the van from Bathrooms At Source–a constant visitor to this pleasant street–ploughs its way responsibly towards the river, first-responder to the morning’s soft catastrophe. Everything is so hushed as he makes his way down! In Barnes, bathroom commerce, second only in religion to kitchen commerce, must go on. He’s closely followed by Bespoke Carpentry. Meanwhile, over in “Burma”, no crates of preserved Spitfires have come to light. Buried Spitfires! The very words are like a knell, awakening the British retroconscious to a deep sense of itself. The earth with which they turn out not to be compacted is the authentic dark chocolate of myth. We dream that Spitfires lie buried in exotic ground, the exact way they are embedded in our diffusing memories of empire. Meanwhile, perhaps the Spitfires dream themselves, in some half-world of suspended purpose, the trope of sci fi war machines made obsolete by time, waking too late. It’s the final reinscription. Ballard would have loved it.
Brutalise all plans & conceptions. Lose patience with last 10 years of ideas, now seen as prison. Bolt wrong components to wrong components! Sustained acts of Frankenstein & self-piracy! Address current emotional issues not 5 year old ones! New observations/notes; new philosophical/political insight; new structural problems/solutions. New imagery. Sense of adventure. Sense of risk in the material. Explore & affront your hopes for yourself. Glee at breaking own definitions & taboos. Carnage in the files. Parameters missing at the outset may be the things that writing will show you. In the end you have to get frightened enough to push down the pillars of your own establishment.