Saturday, June 30, 2012


This Hermetic Legislature

The Ex Occidente homage to the great Bruno Schulz is now out. It has been available for a couple of weeks but I only managed to pick up my copy yesterday. I cycled through the rain (the weather has been bonkers lately) to the mail depot where it was waiting for me. When I got home I tore open the packet -- in fact I cut it open with a duelling dagger I bought in Toledo eight years ago -- and found inside what is certainly the best-looking of Dan Ghetu's tribute anthologies so far!

Bruno Schulz was a fascinating character and a hugely influential writer. My first exposure to his vision was through this bizarre animated film of The Street of Crocodiles made by the Brothers Quay. I have always loved stop-motion animation and the films of such originals as Jan Švankmajer, Walerian Borowczyk and Bruce Bickford have always filled me with strange feelings in a way that live action films rarely do: a combination of wistfulness, terror and ecstasy. The Brothers Quay were among the very best of such animation artists. Anyway, their adaption of the Schulz book led me to seek out the work of the genius himself.

Schulz published very little during his life. The Street of Crocodiles and Sanatorium under the Sign of the Hourglass are his two most famous works; but before his death he had been working for seven years on a novel called The Messiah, unfortunately lost. Apparently it was about the disruption that occurs when the messiah unexpectedly and perhaps mistakenly chooses a small village in the Ukraine in which to make his appearance. My own story in this Ex Occidente anthology, 'The Messiah of the Mannequins', is partly based on this mysterious work. I also tried to incorporate as many 'Schulzian' themes and stylistic elements as possible.

It's hard to describe Schulz's style but I think that Angela Carter made a good attempt by calling it 'Mercantile Gothic' (this was actually in a review of Milorad Pavić's Dictionary of the Khazars, a novel that contains a sequence that is a pastiche of Schulz). The sense of passing time is exquisitely rendered, the mood is crepuscular rather than dark, the logic of events is febrile and not objective. Anway, the tribute anthology is entitled This Hermetic Legislature and more details can be found at the relevant Ex Occidente webpage. Contributors include: George Berguno, Stephen J. Clark, Karim Ghahwagi, Joel Lane, Mark Valentine, Oliver Smith, Charles Schneider, John Howard, Adam S. Cantwell, Colin Insole and the always excellent Michael Cisco, among others.

Monday, June 25, 2012


The Most Successful Welsh Writers

Ten years or so ago, when the 21st Century was still as young as a kitten, I was fairly confident of being three things, namely (a) one of the most successful, (b) one of the fittest, and (c) one of the handsomest writers in Wales. The truth is that competition wasn’t very stiff, so this isn’t as arrogant as it sounds. Welsh writers tend to be low in achievement, unhealthy in body and grotesque of visage. They also tend to be crap. Official Welsh ‘literature’ is probably the worst in Europe. But that’s a different gong to be bashed with a different mallet at a different time.

The simple fact of the matter is that back then, in the heady days of the early noughties, I was doing much better for myself than most of my fellow countrymen. This is because my fellow countrymen weren’t doing very well. I was being published in beautifully bound hardbacks, was starting to get my work translated into many languages, was being championed by the likes of Moorcock, Ballard and Aldiss. There was a buzz around my work and the buzz was growing louder. I was blowing other Welsh writers off the stage, even if they didn’t realise it at the time.

I’m still mostly doing that, of course, but this blog post isn’t supposed to be about me, because in terms of the three qualities listed above, others have since overtaken me. Well, maybe I’m still the handsomest (Dylan Thomas looked like something the Caitlin dragged in) but by no stretch of the imagination am I the fittest or most successful. Not now. Let’s talk about success first and let’s have a good laugh at my expense in this particular area. Hubris. Ah yes, hubris.

The high point of my hubris came in the year 2000 when I got into an email exchange with Tim Lebbon. “One day, if we keep working hard, I think we stand a good chance of making it,” he wrote to me, ambitious but without a trace of smugness. How did I respond? “Personally I think I’ve already made it.” You can almost hear the backs of my knuckles shining the lapels of my jacket, can’t you? In the years that followed, Tim rapidly overtook me; he sprinted away around the bend of success, lapped me, lapped me again, and again, and ran out of the crumbling Welsh stadium and into the International big time. And I was left with my baton between my legs.

This extended metaphor of a footrace is appropriate, so please bear with me. Not only has Tim left me standing in a cloud of his dust in terms of writing success (he’s a bestseller; I’m a salt cellar) but also in terms of physical fitness he’s way ahead of me. I’ve always fancied myself as something of an outdoors type. I climb mountains. I can hike fifty kilometres in a day. As a rugged individual I’m not bad. But Tim has turned into a genuine hero. He’s a triathlete, a marathon runner, a scaler of the three highest peaks in Britain in one 24 hour period! I can’t do any of that. And he has transformed himself into a prime physical specimen in a period of little more than one year.

That is remarkable and requires the sort of self-discipline and ambition that most Welsh writers will never have. It’s the same self-discipline that enables Tim to be immensely prolific but not formulaic. He is always striving to be a better writer, to improve his technique. He’s a shining example of what ought to be possible for a Welsh writer but isn’t, either because we don’t really believe in ourselves or because we are being deliberately held back by the narrow aspirations of the Welsh literary ‘establishment’.

And this is something I simply don’t understand. Writers like Tim Lebbon and David Langford and the utterly brilliant Alastair Reynolds are bona fide Welsh success stories. But they are still ignored by the Welsh establishment. I can understand why the establishment ignores me: it’s probably because I’m a troublemaker (I’m not really; I’m just interested in unpalatable truths). But a writer like Tim should be a boon to them, a touchstone, someone to be proud of. And yet he isn’t. And the same is even truer for Alastair Reynolds.

I doubt that Tim cares much about this. His eyes are on bigger things than acknowledgement by the Welsh 'literati'. And yet, it seems a shame to me that the Welsh still seem to neglect or despise success. It’s a good way of keeping our country small and insignificant. Whether the prime movers of the Welsh literary establishment like Tim's work is irrelevant: they should still be interested in his success. They should be interested in mine too, frankly. And why the hell hasn’t Alsadair Reynolds been awarded a golden leek mounted on a platinum plinth or something for his services to Wales?

No, for some reason the Welsh establishment wants to ignore the real ambassadors of Welsh literary culture. The truly successful Welsh writers are unknown to them. In the same ungrateful and short-sighted way they have always deliberately downplayed Arthur Machen, a figure of international standing, in favour of social realist idiots like Lewis Jones (who?). And yes, I know that Parthian Books have recently started republishing Machen's books, but it’s too little, too late. Machen shouldn’t have been an afterthought; he should have been in the very top rank of authors to head Parthian’s ‘Library of Wales’ series.

Wales likes its writers to be small, provincial, thick. If Nigel Jenkins (who?) farts in the bath until the water turns the colour of Brains SA, that’s a worthwhile endeavour in the eyes of the Welsh literary establishment! If Robert Minhinnick (who?) stutters his way through a bland poem in a bland tent in a bland festival to a bland audience of four bland people, that’s literary news! If Rachel Trezise (who?) slips on valley vomit and drops her bottle of cheap cider, that’s a cultural event! No, it’s not.

I'm not praising Tim Lebbon because I like him. On the contrary, I am jealous of his success and would like to pitchfork him to death in a sack. But that's not the point. The point is that he is successful and contriving to overlook him won't change that. He is very successful and now he's very fit too, fitter than Hemingway ever was, and if a mean bastard like myself can acknowledge this, then so should the Welsh literary establishment, bless their little cholesterol socks. Praise where praise is due -- and only there, please!

Monday, June 18, 2012


On The Top of the World

Phew! I've done it. Finished The Young Dictator at last!

Now it's just a case of finding a publisher. I have a few leads that I intend to chase up. This is the first YA (Young Adult) novel I have ever attempted and I must say that it was hard work because I had to change the way I work. Complex plotting and difficult wordplay was out; I wanted this book to be accessible to young readers. In many ways, I'm not the right person to attempt to write a YA novel. I don't know the market well enough. But I do think I can contribute something new to the genre.

The first chapter of The Young Dictator has already been published as a story in the Spring issue of the BFS Journal. That chapter sees 12 year old Jenny Khan standing as an independent candidate for her home town of Carrington, winning a by-election and going to Westminster to take her seat. But there's a hung Parliament and she holds the balance of power. Under the malign influence of her Gran, Jenny quickly rises to overthrow democracy and become the dictator of Britain.

Subsequent chapters detail our heroine's adventures in outer space and we follow her through a black hole into Hell, where she competes with the Devil; and also later in cyberspace, after a cartel of rival dictators decide that she's getting too big for her boots; and then back to Earth for more japes with wooden robots, goblins, four-armed skargills, giant cats, brass men and all the other unusual dangers that I typically decided she needed to face...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Come to Dadaoism

I'm delighted (and relieved) to announce that the novel I'm working on, The Young Dictator, is nearly finished. I've almost completed the sixth and final chapter. It feels to me as if this project has been dragging on forever, but in fact it has taken two years. It was thanks to the editor Mike Ashley that I was prodded into embarking on this book back in 2010. Anyway, more news after it's done and dusted, which hopefully will be very soon. Of course, writing a novel is only the first part of the process; the really tricky task is trying to get the thing accepted and published and read...

I'll also have news soon about The Abnormalities of Stringent Strange, which should be out later this year. The publisher has agreed to hold an auction in which bidders can appear in the big gladiatorial scene in the middle of the story and in return for pledging a sum (all money raised this way is going to charity) they may choose their weapon and the manner of their deaths. The mechanics of this are being worked out right now. Originally the idea was that the highest bidder would automatically get to win their fight, but it turns out that many people actually prefer to lose.

The Chômu Press Dadaoism anthology was released recently. I wrote a sort-of review of this volume on one of my other blogs before I had finished reading it. The main conclusion of that review (that the hilarious and hugely inventive Justin Isis story was the pick of the crop) still stands; but since then I have enjoyed many of the other pieces that I hadn't yet sampled... Katherine Khorey, Colin Insole (always very good), Brendan Connell (always brilliant), Nina Allen, Daniel Mills, Joe Simpson Walker, John Cairns, Nick Jackson, Kristine Ong Muslim (one of my favourite flash fiction writers), D.F. Lewis (a modern maestro), Paul Jessup and the extraordinary Ralph Doege (I'll be keeping my eye on him) all produce tremendous efforts. Chômu Press are one of the best independent publishers around at the moment; and Dadaoism is an excellent showcase of what they are capable of.

Oh yes, and one of my own stories is included in this book. Called 'Fighting Back', it's only four pages long and I wrote it in 2005 (it's not unusual for my work to wait seven years to see print) and it's a time travel story with a cunning conceit that I believe has never been used before.

Friday, June 08, 2012


The Grin is Grinning at You!!

Have you ever watched a ram in the sea? Have you ever witnessed a ewe in a pond? Pretty damn impressive, aren't they? But they are nothing compared to the dark woolliness of a lamb in a lake, swimming like a champion in pursuit of a canoe. Well, Lamblake Heinz is the ultimate souped-up lamb in a lake! And he's back!

Yes, the definitive Lamblake Heinz collection is now available as an ebook from Smashwords! Short stories! Novelettes and novellas! Articles and poetry and novel extracts! It's all here. And it only costs $1.99, which is about £1 in British money. Imagine that!

This ebook includes a Foreword by the great James Sherbert, an Interview between Lamblake and M. John Horrorson and two Afterwords by me (I can't refer to myself in the third person because that would make me a twonky). And if that hasn't convinced you to fork out, then let me announce that all profits from this collection will go to charity, to Animal Aid. So you will be doing a good deed by buying it!

If you think you can give this book a review, then get in touch as I'm in a position to give you a free copy. The point of this project it to have some scary fun and also to raise £100 for charity. That's my goal. With your help it can be done!

The relevant link for this awesome book can be found here. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!

Thanks in advance! And also in reverse!

Thursday, June 07, 2012


Ray Bradbury (1920-2012)

I'm just quietly shedding a tear at the loss of one of the greatest writers of the past 100 years. He was very old, so it's not such a shock really; but what a literary genius! If I hadn't discovered the short-stories of Ray Bradbury when I was young I wouldn't be a writer now.

Monday, June 04, 2012


Lamblake is Coming!

Yes! Oh yes! He's coming soon!

The Grin of the Doll Who Ate his Mother's Face in the Dark and Other Dreadful Tales now has enough material to make it a viable collection. Lots of formatting work to do before it gets released but that shouldn't take too long. Any additional material that anyone 'finds' can go into the separate Amazon edition.

Feel free to join the Lamblake Heinz group on Facebook if gentle mockery of horror writing doesn't bother you... Members will get the ebook for free when it is released... But if gentle mockery of horror writing does bother you, then put your mind at rest. It's not gentle really...

Today is the last day to read the title story of this collection for FREE... It's coming down tomorrow... Get your peepers in quick! To read it, click on this link.

There has been plenty of excitement about this collection. "Is it awesome?" I have been asked. Oh yes! It's like a meteorite made of cheese! That's how awesome it is! And that's a flipping promise!

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