the kind of thing you can expect
The river was up. Away from the towpath lights there was sufficient moon to cast a shadow. He headed for one of the more overgrown barges that lay in a line in the mud a few hundred yards downstream from the Brent confluence. It was larger than the others and perhaps his favourite, although he had only seen it by day, when the word “Anabasis” could be made out stencilled on its bow in rusty white letters.
Access was over a concrete wall, between two lopped willow truncheons and down a new-looking aluminium ladder, then by a narrow plank fifteen feet above the rising water. Once aboard, you were greeted by a close, thickly-vegetated terrain littered with crushed and whitened beer cans, ragged plastic bags, underwear discarded as an offering; the whole smelling of herb robert and–more mysteriously–cheap pesto. All of this was familiar enough. But paths Shaw knew well in the afternoon seemed less amenable after dark: and he was soon lost among the disordered deck furniture, nests of wire and piles of sodden slats, the old curved hatch covers presenting as entries to an underworld. Thickets of elder and hazel, the latter black with last year’s catkins, hung over the water. The structure shifted and creaked as the tide lifted it. Everything seemed larger than he had expected it to be. After a few minutes the sense of a void to his left convinced him the river lay in that direction. He arrived instead at the huge blunt landward side of the bow where the foredeck, rotted by decades of leaching soil acids, had buckled gently into the empty hull to produce a saucer-shaped clearing.
It was nothing much–a few square metres of cropped-looking turf with a springy but rotten feel underfoot. The edges were littered, but not the middle. Moonlight bleached everything, lending more of a sense of space than you would expect; it glittered prismatically off something Shaw took at first for broken glass, but which proved to be a precise row of little Victorian medicine bottles embedded at angles in the turf as if it had grown up securely around them. Each chipped neck had been plugged with a swatch of stained tissue. They were hexagonal, square-shouldered. In their day, they had represented pain relief, life relief, relief from life’s fevers and revelations; their utility now was unclear, though clearly not ornamental. The milky fluid so carefully stopped up inside them resembled semen, though it was on second thoughts insufficiently thick. Moonlight lent it a greenish cast.
As Shaw stooped to examine this arrangement, someone burst out of the undergrowth beside him. The flimsy decking bounced and shook. He had a strong sense of being overwhelmed by events before he had even become aware of them. Something cold and muscular gripped his upper arm. He was enveloped by a smell he didn’t recognise. He was lifted half off his feet and shoved out of the way. There came a moment of confusion as he tried to keep his balance; some further contact, which spun him around; then a naked figure, very pale, not as large as he had expected, parted the vegetation and ran off bent double between the stems. “Hey!” he called, but it had already vanished.
–from The Sunken Land Begins To Rise Again, available June 25th, from all your trusted outlets.
I refuse to read these out-of-context excerpts! I’m waiting on the real thing.
Absolutely can’t wait. So excited.
Ordered from Hive. Greatly looking forward to it.
Olivia Laing’s Guardian review today talks about you setting parts in the Gorge. I’ve been fleshing out a book about my families and their history around Dawley, Woodside, Madeley, and Ironbridge. Both of them sit in the county in very different states of comfort.
Dad’s side left the semi-respectability in Wolverhampton in the late 60s for the cheap n’ cheerful function of Telford New Town, bringing the butchers shop with them, and oblivious to the half-dead villas along Hodge Bower which could have made them a mint once Prince Charles had an ice cream on the Bridge.
Mother’s side are Jackfield and the ‘Dale born and bred, and watched it all slip out of reach only to be reborn as industrial theme park. Double-glazing replacing all the broken windows. I saw both sides as a boy on Woodside. I now see the lazy joins between the two realms, regardless of the TDC seeing cash idols in captains of industry.
Hi Rich. Obviously, you won’t find anything like your own authoritative background–just an unapologetically Gothicised vision of the Gorge. But I hope you enjoy it anyway. All best.
Is there a way to preorder the physical edition from Amazon? I don’t see the option on the American site at least.
Hi farrenjecky: I don’t believe the US rights have been sorted yet & as I understand it that has an effect on Amazon territories. You probably have to order from bookshop that imports UK books into the US. I’ll let people know as soon as a US edition is sorted.
Cheers! I’ll look into import. My local place seems to be pretty good about this sort of thing so I’ll check it out.
You can order a copy from TheBookDepository.com and have it shipped for free. Or you can order from Amazon.UK and pay an exorbitant shipping fee.
Half way through and really enjoying it but some parts seem familiar. Especially with Tim, Shaw and Annie. Was some of this in a previous short story or am I having dejavu?
Glad you’re enjoying it, Eric.
You should certainly recognise stuff, either from notebook or draft snippets on the blog over the last few years; or from the testbed short version “The Fourth Domain”. I often testbed the structures of these kinds of realistically-set novels in shortform. Some of the blogged snippets are just notes & tryouts–thinking out loud. Others make it into the final draft.
I’ve noticed that while some blog readers have an appetite for insider glimpses of this process, they aren’t so keen when something ends up as part of a published book: so I may take the notebook aspect of the blog back into private ownership for the next novel. People who’re genuinely interested in the process of composition can pay to be privy to it, maybe; while people who prefer to read the book without foreknowledge can do without.
I won’t stop publishing the shortform testbed versions as independent stories. Versioning’s a vital part of how I do what I do. If people don’t like that, they can always read someone else.