Tuesday, August 31, 2010


This Author Wants You!

I have finished one of the five projects mentioned in my last blog entry. The Truth Spinner is done at last and will be on its way to my agent later this week. The final part, 'The Thousand and One Pints', puts paid to Castor Jenkins: he now has eighteen linked exploits. I believe that this book is one of my best, but who am I to make that judgement? I ought to say nothing more along those lines. Nonetheless I am deeply satisfied.

So now I can devote myself to The Coandă Effect. I was amazed that so few people worked out the clue of the box of chocolates and the Toledo blade. 'Cut' in Spanish = Corto. And 'Maltesers' with the last two letters obliterated? Yes, I am writing a CORTO MALTESE adventure! There will be magic, science, mystery and mayhem, as the enigmatic "sailor without a ship" plumbs the delirious depths of a fiendish plot to convert the souls of the dead into pure energy!

Corto Maltese is less well-known in the English-speaking world than he ought to be. I was a typical latecomer to the character. Back in 2004 my Lebanese friend and translator into Portuguese, Safaa Dib, compared me to Corto: I had to seek him out to learn the true meaning of this far-fetched compliment! In fact he reminds me more of some other great fictional characters: Oswald Bastable in Moorcock's Nomad of Time trilogy, for instance, or Maqroll el Gaviero, eponymous hero of Alvaro Mutis' novella sequence, The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll. I highly recommend both those works too!

Already I know much of what will happen in my tale. It will be set in Romania in the year 1913; Jack London and Franz Kafka may put in brief appearances. But... I am lacking a villain! Do you want to be the main villain of The Coandă Effect? Have you ever thought of yourself as a dastardly rogue living in a time when magic and adventure were more commonplace than now? If so, email me and I'll drop your name into a hat. Already twelve people have offered themselves as candidates. At the end of this week I'll let destiny decide and select a name at random. That's what destiny is for, isn't it? Kismet!

Monday, August 23, 2010


Five Books at the Same Time

Yes, I seem to have got myself into a position where I'm working on five books simultaneously! How did that happen? Dashed if I know! It just did. The main danger presented by this situation is imagination overload, a circumstance where I feel so overwhelmed by parallel and overlapping streams of possibilities that I become incapable of choosing any of them, leading to a sessile condition where I resemble a piece of sculpture in terms of my ability to move at all, physically, mentally or morally. "Reflexes of a statue!" was one of my favourite rebukes when I was younger; delivered for best effect to someone who had just failed to catch something or move out of the way in time. Here we see a statue of a lion failing to catch my drift.

Clearly I must be overproducing. Personally I don't believe I am, but there's no other logical explanation for it. Occasionally people "in the know" have told me to slow down, ease off, slacken my pace, in order not to flood the small corner of the market where I dwell; but I don't know how to do that. And anyway I can only write while I'm alive and no human lifespan is very long on the cosmic scale. I write a lot now, true, but I didn't write a single word before I was born, and approximately 13.75 billion years passed between the creation of the universe and my birth. That's a lot of years without writing anything! In a similar manner, I won't write a single word after my death; and between my death and the end of the universe there will be trillions more years...

So why shouldn't I churn out stories and books in the brief time while I exist? I need to do this for health reasons anyway, to keep pace with the ideas that keep effervescing out of my brain lobes. I never need to struggle for story ideas: on the contrary, they keep coming at an accelerated rate! If I don't express them in time my entire mind will effervesce to the point of total bubbulation. That's a word I invented just now, so don't look it up...

What are these five books I'm writing? Let's examine them one by one.

(a) The Brothel Creeper... A selection of my more serious dark tales from the past 20 years, all themed around 'sexual or spiritual tension'. No wordplay, no lightheartedness, no nonsense. Just pure existential crises of souls, minds and bodies. I have only one more story to write for it before this book is wrapped up, but the missing piece is going to be a major.

(b) The Truth Spinner... The complete stories of Castor Jenkins. An insatiable reviewer by the name of Stephen Theaker reviewed The Postmodern Mariner and said something to the effect that Castor, who has the first third of that book to himself, ought to have an entire volume of his exploits; I recently decided to take his advice to heart. So I have been writing new Castor Jenkins tales: there will be eighteen in total and I have only two more to write.

(c) The Young Dictator... A novel I began writing a few months ago: about a young girl who takes over the universe with the aid of her gran. There will be six chapters and I have only written the first one; but the other five have been worked out sufficiently well for me to know exactly where the novel goes and how it ends.

(d) Tucked Away in Aragon... The Albarracín tales. As soon as I arrived in the remote town of Albarracín back in September 2007, I knew I would probably write a series of stories about the place. This is going to be a short book of ten linked tales covering the past thousand years of Albarracín's history. So far I have written four of those tales.

And now for the new addition:

(e) The Coandă Effect... A novella of 22,222 words (I picked that number at random because I like the look of it) that is going to be an exploit set in Romania, partly dealing with the real Coandă effect (and thus with the pioneering aviator Henri Coandă) and partly with a spiritual version of the same effect. The hero of this work is a fictional adventurer already famous thanks to a series of fine comic books. I won't state his name; you'll have to guess. But I am willing to give you a visual clue; and in fact that clue is in the photograph below...

Have you worked it out yet? The blade in the picture was bought in Toledo but not long afterwards I took it with me to Córdoba. That's another clue... Anyway... I have absolutely no intention of taking on any new projects until at least three of the above five are done and dusted. Bubbulation is an unpleasant experience! This means that works in progress such as The Pilgrim's Regress, Ditto & Likewise, The Clown of the New Eternities and various novellas I have been planning ('Bedsteads Across Iberia', 'The Once and Future Peasant', '500 Eyes') are going to have to wait until next year. I have given myself a directive that I must write a minimum of 1000 words every day for the next two months at least. Spare a thought for me; I am coping with effervescence!

Monday, August 16, 2010


Vibrant Art

Here's a painting by Adele Whittle. I bought it a few days ago: I had an overriding urge to obtain it for myself, so I did. I rarely buy art, or anything at all. I suppose I am a collector by nature, but certainly not by circumstance. I have neither the money nor the space to accumulate objects in large quantities, be they books, ornaments or artworks. Yet sometimes one needs to act against circumstances and treat oneself. Why not?

Although I can't paint or draw with anything remotely resembling aptitude, I do enjoy good art; but I ought to say a few words about my particular taste. When it comes to literature I am enthralled by technical virtuosity, the complex experiments with form of the OuLiPo writers for instance; but my appreciation in this respect doesn't translate into the sphere of the visual arts. Excessive detail and intricacy in paintings tend to leave me cold: it's true that I adore Escher, but it's his ideas rather than his perfect draughtsmanship that moves me. What I truly like in a painting is colour, energy and luminance -- in a single word, VIBRANCY!

So what instantly riveted my attention about this painting is the way it almost seethes with force and colour under particular lighting conditions. It almost feels alive. Photographs don't do it justice: within the purity and simplicity of the design and the cyclic symmetry of the colour schema there is an astounding play of light reflections. If I wanted to sound pretentious I might say that this quality is entirely in phase with my own aesthetic frequency!

Apparently this style of painting is called impasto and is achieved by thickly laying on the paint with a knife. I guess there's a point when the paint can be layered so densely that the work becomes almost a sculpture rather than an orthodox painting. I have just learned that the root noun of the word "impasto" is pasta. I wonder if it would be possible to create a painting with spaghetti? Certainly a Jackson Pollock abstract would be achievable simply by flinging a dish of spaghetti at a canvas (though I have heard it said that Pollock's work is significantly fractal and not as random as it seems).

Anyway... More of Adele's art can be viewed here. She has paintings in various exhibitions and galleries and cafes around Swansea, and jewellery and objets d'art (including paintings on driftwood and on shells) in selected shops.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Monsters of the Victorian Age #5

Entangled Monsters

The difficulty of disentangling certain monsters after they had embraced each other led to the passing of a law in 1868 that treated knotted conglomerations of imaginary beings as single units for the purposes of moral and scientific research. Monsters can be sticky and massively elongated, making entanglements almost inevitable and natural; and yet the general public tended to regard monster knots as examples of tragedy. On the lighter side, an Italian chef was inspired to create a new dish called "spaghetti" by the sight of an especially intricate knot of monsters off the coast of Margate. Some people dispute this and claim that the first spaghetto was created in the 12th century, but such arguments are now all in the pasta. It is not entirely unknown for Lecturing Monsters to be included in the set of Entangled Monsters.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010


Pandora's Bluff & The Irresponsibiliad

I have finally decided on a title for the 1000 story cycle I have been working on for the past twenty years. PANDORA'S BLUFF. I like the allusion to Classical mythology, to the box full of troubles and the tiny but indomitable figure of 'Hope' at the very bottom. But in my scheme it is reversed -- lots of little 'hopes' and one Big Trouble. It's a pleasing title, cynical without being bitter, and it should help me feel that all the stories I have ever written really are part of just one work, however bloated or asymmetric it might eventually turn out to be. So then: I'm now confidently able to declare that I am 54.1% of the way through Pandora's Bluff...

I have also decided on an overarching title for the series of historical novels I plan to begin writing when I turn 50 -- if I live that long, of course! That title is THE IRRESPONSIBILIAD. I say a 'series of historical novels' but in fact the idea is to write just one vast novel -- the longest novel ever written. I first conceived the notion of doing this when I was 16. I envisaged a family saga starting in the year 5000 BC and following a single line of descent through 270 generations to the present day. Really it's just a grandiose excuse to explore every ancient civilisation that has ever fascinated me: the representative of each generation will travel geographically as well as through time, just like our real ancestors did, taking part in some of the key moments of history. Naturally, without having the grounding of the same characters throughout the work there needs to be something else to act as a structural glue, to ensure that The Irresponsibiliad truly can be defined as a proper novel rather than a sequence of separate incidents. I believe I have found the perfect backbone for the immense arc of this project: genetic workshyness. Each new descendant will attempt to live a life of minimal toil within their particular milieu, with varying degrees of success from none at all to plenty. This single chronic quirk should lead the cast of the book into conflict with society and authority: into revolution, evolution and maybe even transcendence.

That all remains to be seen... The project is almost certainly beyond my abilities anyway. The amount of research necessary even for its commencement is prodigious. So far I know only that the first volume will be called The Sky Saw and will be set in Ancient Sumer. I have long been intrigued by the Sumerians, the inventors of writing, the wheel, beer and boardgames; and the benefactors to mankind of the oldest book of fiction, The Epic of Gilgamesh. It was The Hamlyn Children's History of the World, one of the favourite volumes of my boyhood, that first revealed the existence of the Sumerians to me. Recently I spotted a copy in a charity shop and bought it for reasons of nostalgia...

I don't know if The Irresponsibiliad will be contained within Pandora's Bluff or not; I always assumed it would, but now I'm not so sure. I can imagine writing 1000 linked stories but I can't imagine finishing the longest novel ever written. No matter: it is always better to be magniloquent than modest in one's schemes! And yet I tend to keep my biggest projects locked inside my head. This one has been mostly locked up for 27 years and it feels good to set it free at last!

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