A few things to look & listen out for:
On the 24th November, Friday, also at the TLS, a reprint of the short story “The Crisis”, so if you’d like a taster before you buy YOU SHOULD COME WITH ME NOW, and you’d like to support stubbornly high quality literary journalism in a turbulent era, buy a copy. “The Crisis” is a story so full of rage that reading it to an audience in 2015 gave me a small heart attack. You can find a celebration of the consequences of this event in the collection, under the title “Yummie”. What more can you ask of an author in the line of duty?
Also out now, the Guardian Books Podcast, on which you can catch me talking to Richard Lea, who deftly structured his questions round some flash fiction readings.
Speaking of readings, if you aren’t able to attend an event (or if you’re afraid to in case I have another heart attack), you can get some idea of how they go, here, under the auspices of the Northern Fiction Alliance.
A couple of additional gigs are being organised, one in Liverpool, no details yet; and one in Sheffield in January, see here, which will be a conversation with Richard Jones covering everything from physics in Light to bite-size character-building adventures on rainy gritstone. The Sheffield extravaganza is at DINA, a venue which used to be known as The Stardust Bar: this is so Empty Space that I expect to find a deserted corniche, a string of disused beachfront operations, a wooden door banging in the wind, and three old men in white flat caps playing dice for what you & I might call the fate of the universe–
Meanwhile, Irene the mona stared out the portholes and marvelled at all the wonders of space, and you could hear her say:
“Don’t you know, Fat Antoyne, that three old men in white caps throw dice for the fate of the universe ?”
No, Fat Antoyne said, he had never heard that.
“Their names are Kokey Food, Mr Freedom and The Saint. Another thing: these three play not just for the universe’s fate, but the individual fates of every person in it.” They threw the dice, of which, she said, there were a different number according to the day they played on, and at every throw they would say something in a ritual way, such as “Heads over ends!” or “Trent douce” or “Down your side, baby!”, sometimes speaking singly and sometimes all together. One or all of them would clap their hands sarcastically, or blow on their fingers to indicate scorching. Or two of them would smirk at the third and say, “You fucked now, sonny,” which at least could be understood by a normal person.
“So you’ve seen these dice guys ?” Antoyne enquired.
“In dreams I have, Fat Antoyne, yes. And when I say that, you need to stop looking at me, in your precise way you’re about to laugh at me. Because a dream is a kind of truth too.” Antoyne laughed at that, and she pushed him off the bed. “They pay and they play, Fat Antoyne. And if they ever stop ? Why, their faces slacken and crumple. And those old men weep.”
Obviously there should be a place in every town–it’s dark, there’s a steep street, cobbles and shadows; then a corner; a flight of steps, perhaps two; then a single street lamp!–where people are drawn some nights of the year to hear this music played. It’s quite separate from its contemporary origins. You can forget them. You aren’t a child, you can perfectly well strip them away. When you stand there you will. Because it will be repurposing itself in front of you, or–more likely–revealing some purpose it had before there were people, or even the bandoneon, if you can imagine anything that distant. I’m not promising you this–I’m not promising anything–but that’s where it promises itself, and you would be a fool not to go there, however long it takes, & see.
passing the sump, 2017
Some ways of being dead are good, some are not so good, X claimed. But admitting you are dead is generally a good thing. When he first entered the sump he found a layer of dense blue “air” which lay at the midpoint between the ceiling and the floor. While this layer was generally twelve to eighteen inches thick, and in some places could be measured at twenty five inches, it once shrank to a millimetre or two, causing him to choke and panic. It looked & behaved more like a liquid than a gas. How was he to pass it? He began work immediately. For two nights in a row he didn’t sleep at all. For six nights in a row, he dreamed of the wrong thing. For a further fourteen nights in a row he dreamed that his lungs had turned inside out and expressed themselves through his mouth, after the use of a home-made SCUBA device–he had failed to pass the sump in all fourteen cases. For eight nights in a row he didn’t dream, although he woke with memories of something moving in darkness. On the next night he passed the sump, but not in a dream. No equipment was required. He was able to breathe normally.
It’s a little place in the south of England, with timber frame construction and thatch, so compact and self-satisfied it has a sense of being bigger inside than outside. This doesn’t last, of course; but it is a great special effect on a Saturday morning, and can be had in similar villages all the way down the river to the sea. A cat is sitting on a window sill staring at the roof across the road. There among the chimneys and satellite dishes two large black birds are perched, staring back over their shoulders with their heads and bodies at identical angles. These, the cat says, are the Crow twins, Ugly and Serendipida. Ugly is the sensitive one. His sister would never have a feather on his head harmed. As she says, “You’ve got to look after yourself in this life.” She remembers being less aggressive before they arrived here. They are thinking of moving back to Hull.
amazing space, 2016
The discovery of a defunct galactic culture the final activity of which seems to have been to construct a maze around a previous maze… The subsequent discovery of successions of maze-building cultures, whose energies have been directed into solving and then hiding or elaborately embedding the mazes of its precursors… Such embeddings aren’t neccessarily architecturally or even topologically congruent with the precursor maze–a maze can also penetrate or permeate the precursor. A maze like that is diffult to identify, let alone solve… Decoy mazes, often more complex than real ones, continue to be found. They contain no precursor maze, but have been built to soak up the efforts of later cultures, rendering them exhausted and passive, their energy directed away from the precursor’s artefact… The inability to solve a maze may actually be the inability to detect and solve a later maze… You may engage with a maze for a lifetime without recognising that your inability to solve it stems from the inability to solve a non-architectural maze which penetrates or permeates it… In the end, is it possible that all mazes might be hidden this way, by a single non-architectural interpenetrating over-maze applied from far in the future of all known mazes?
I don’t know what happened to the bear, january 2016
I dreamed I was running away from a bear down some institutional corridor. It was a big bear, like a grizzly, light brown, but not grungy or used-looking the way a real bear would be, with drool etc. The set-up was this: to begin with, the bear was outside in the car park, the other side of the main doors. But I knew it would get in. Before that happened I had to run up a short flight of stairs & close another set of doors behind me; then run down the corridor, closing doors at intervals behind me. Each time I opened & closed one set of doors, I knew that the bear had reached & opened the previous set. Then I had to run up another short flight of stairs & climb an old-fashioned indoor climbing wall. Just before the top, the wall flared radically & the holds got progressively hard to use. You were quite high up by then. This dream’s anxieties were based on repetition: every time I got near the top of the wall, I found myself back at the outer doors. I had to do that seven times. I had to run up the short stairs, open & slam the door; run down the corridor, opening & slamming all the doors; run up the stairs at the end; & climb the wall. To start with, it was fun. It was easy. The bear was slow & puzzled & not in any way used-looking. The wall was, to be honest, a piece of piss. But each repetition took it out of me physically, & the wall seemed harder as a result. Even so, I was ok on it. In fact each time I climbed it, I found a new, interesting solution to the overhang: until the seventh time. The seventh time I realised that I’d chosen a complex, nonreversible sequence of polished, sloping holds; that as the overhang pushed me out it was also inevitably pushing me off the holds; and that though I wasn’t sure this solution would work, my strength was running out. I was committed. I had to put most of my body weight on the final, oblique sloper & make a long, awkward reach for the top, which was in itself sloping. I don’t know what happened to the bear. By then the bear wasn’t the issue.
the pivot, january 2012
This character wakes up with a sense of happiness, all that remains of a dream the content of which she has already forgotten. The dream repeats itself. Soon it’s a nightly event. The dreamer’s delight on waking is increasingly intense. But every so often, even as that intensification occurs, she wakes up a little sad or depressed. The narration speculates: “Some kind of life, or story, was being lived out in the dreams.” Increasingly, the dreamer wonders what that story might be. Because she can’t remember, she begins to invent it; an act which proves unsatisfactory both to her and to the reader. Simultaneously, the dream reaches a pivot & tips over: moments of happiness decrease (though their intensity increases) & are replaced by depressions which become the norm. One day the dream ends. A morning of misery; a morning of joy: then nothing, ever again. The dream life has worked itself out without the dreamer–or the reader–ever knowing what it was.
self promotion, March 2013
In this new story I address the usual themes. People sit on sofas, staring ahead; while at the edges of the room things shift inconclusively from one state to another. They may be real, they may be not. Meanwhile, in another part of the small Midlands village, Ms Suihne the plump medium who runs the hat shop believes she is changing into a bird &, to the accompaniment of rough music, jumps off the roof. Another party is engaged in a relationship with three empty sacks arranged on a pole in his living room. At one point, things will turn sexual. All this might or might not be happening, or somebody might be telling it as a story to someone else, who is not listening. To sum up, the impossibility of knowing other people; or, really, anything. If you like the sound of it, click through to the usual outlets. Or you can catch me reading it from the hill on Barnes Common, most Wednesdays. There’s a review up at Wild Eyed Visionaries & obviously I’ll be tweeting.