Saturday, December 28, 2013


A Cat Called Tufty

A photo of the cat Tufty with the illustrated book of cat stories and poems that features Tufty on the front cover... The artist I had lined up for the cover was too busy to produce any work so I just used a photo I had already taken of my favourite cat; and when the book was published I showed it to the real cat. I think he was impressed but I can't be sure.

More Than a Feline is available from Lulu (the printing company, not the female singer) by clicking on this link and the book is currently, er... the 11,922nd most popular book on the sales rank there!

Monday, December 23, 2013


Literary Review of 2013

Last year (2012) was my best writing year ever; and this year was my best reading year ever. I discovered more great authors unknown to me this year than in the previous five years combined. Admittedly, some of those authors have been sitting on my shelves (or tucked away in boxes) for a long time, decades in a few cases. But the point is that I finally got round to reading them and they generally exceeded my expectations.

I read some books that weren't so great, of course, but let's not concentrate on those. Every time I finish a fiction book I tend to add it to my Goodreads page with a brief comment; feel free to add me as a friend on that site, if you like. My page can be found here.

First novel I read in 2013 was The Miscreant by Jean Cocteau and it was excellent. A great way to start a reading year! I love Cocteau's epigrammatic prose style. It's heady and addictive and enthralling. This novel (his first, dating from 1921) is a masterpiece. The actual story is fairly slight, merely an account of a love affair that goes wrong among a couple of denizens (he more sensitive and less pragmatic than she) of a semi-Bohemian corner of Paris in the early years of the 20th Century; but the way the tale is told is truly exquisite. 

Even better was The File on H by Ismail Kadare, who is one of the authors that has been sitting unread on my shelves for too long. What a genius! I enjoyed this novel so much that I also read Kadare's Agamemnon's Daughter, a collection of shorter work. The File on H is a funny, ironic, absurdist, erotic, and just extremely well written novel. Agamemnon's Daughter contains a long novella, a shorter novella and a short story, and all three pieces are absolutely amazing. I was especially impressed with the middle piece, 'The Blinding Order', which is certainly one of the best novellas I have ever read. It's harrowing and awful but also sublime and a true revelation. Kadare is a genius.

Alan Garner was my next long overdue discovery. I borrowed The Stone Book Quartet from the library without any high expectations. I was just feeling in the mood for something non-fantastical, something more pastoral than my usual fare. Turns out I made an excellent choice! Garner's writing is superb: uncluttered but magical, and the characters come alive on the page almost instantly. Somehow Garner has tuned in to some 'universal consciousness'. The incidents he describes seem common to all of us but also unique to the particular characters. I felt an acute mixture of nostalgia, sadness and glee as I read these four linked novellas. I now have The Owl Service and Red Shift waiting for me.

A collection of stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa also impressed me very much. Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories is a retrospective of his entire life’s work (he died when he was only thirty five) and divided into four sections. The first section is devoted to his early stories, including the monumental ‘Hell Screen’, a dark and fiery classic, a disturbing horror story with a particular Japanese slant that is non-supernatural and supernatural at the same time. The second section features three historical stories, ‘Dr Ogata Ryosai: Memorandum’, ‘O-Gin’ and ‘Loyalty’. The third section contains three gems of tragicomedy, the brilliantly odd ‘The Story of a Head that Fell Off’, the offbeat romance ‘Green Onions’ and the absurdist comedy ‘Horse Legs’, which is possibly my favourite story in the entire collection, a lighter-hearted version of Kafka with a relentless logic of its own. The fourth section reveals Akutagawa in an entirely different light, as a tormented personality and depressive paranoid personality, struggling to keep a grip on his sanity. ‘Daidoji Shinsuke: The Early Years’, ‘The Life of a Stupid Man’ and ‘Spinning Gears’ chronicle a tormented psychology and a life in despair.

Jose Saramago was my next discovery. Why did I put off reading him for so long? He was an amazing writer. I read The Elephant's Journey and then Cain. Both are superb.The first is a novel based on the true story of an elephant that walked from Lisbon to Vienna in 1551. The writing flows with grace, elegance and irresistible momentum. It was very refreshing for me to read a novel almost entirely devoid of evil incidents. None of the main players, including the Archduke of Austria, are malign and the elephant himself is a magnificent character. Wise, witty and charming. The second is a Candide-like satire, as flippant and profound as anything by Voltaire, that follows the wanderings of Cain after he was cursed by God for murdering his brother Abel. It's an angry, political and deeply philosophical novel in many ways; and yet none of the driving intellectual energy behind its creation interferes with the simple but ingenious emotional delights of the story. Cain is a very sympathetic character. His adventures are in turns bitter, erotic, illuminating, melancholy and triumphant. The ending is surprising and astounding.

Bruce Chatwin was an author I discovered back in 2008 (I loved The Viceroy of Ouidah). I finally got round to reading another of his books this year, The Songlines. It's a marvellous book, a novel that is also non-fiction, the story of Chatwin's travels to Australia and his gradual understanding of a particular aspects of Aboriginal culture (not that the Aborigines were ever just 'one' people, as is made clear in the book itself) concerning the way the indigenous people regard the land. The 'songlines' of the title are similar to mnemonics in that they enable a traveller to navigate across vast tracts of open country, but they are much more than that: mythic, cultural, ancestral, part of the actual identity of the person who uses them. But fascinating as they are, this is only one aspect of this totally immersing book; and Chatwin's extracts from the journals he kept over many years create a plausible and enthralling 'alternative' hypothesis regarding our earliest hominid ancestors.

The Scorpion God by William Golding staggered me with the sheer quality of the story-telling. I have had several William Golding books sitting on my shelves unread for years. He's an author I always intended to get round to one day but somehow never did -- until 2013. And what can I say? I'm an instant convert! I now intend to read as many of his books as I can. The Scorpion God consists of three novellas. They aren't linked by characters, plot or even mood; but they do seem to be related in some deeper way. The first is set in Ancient Egypt, the second in an unspecified African region, the third in Imperial Rome. All are brilliant. All crackle with astounding prose, remarkable imagery and a feeling of momentous changes taking place at every point on the page. The density of action is incredible, even when that action is only the shifting of philosophical viewpoints. Three pages of this book feel like thirty pages by another author. Golding was clearly a talent of enormous significance and I am very glad I've finally got round to delving into his works!

Yet another author who has been on my 'to read' list for years is Milan Kundera. I chose Laughable Loves, a collection of short stories, to begin with and I can say that I found it excellent and engrossing and extremely well-written. Although I enjoyed these stories enormously, if I was a woman I would probably have been annoyed by the sexual politics of the writing. All the stories are fundamentally based on the objectification of females. Although I disapprove rationally of such an outlook, I like Kundera's honesty in this regard. He's utterly sincere about the cynicism of his own psychology, which, if we are going to be completely candid, is also the base psychology of most males... It's difficult to pick a favourite among these stories but the first and last, 'Nobody Will Laugh' and 'Eduard and God', are both superb.

Last year I rediscovered Kurt Vonnegut and this year I continued to make up for lost time by reading no fewer than five of his books: A Man Without a Country, While Mortals Sleep, Armageddon in Retrospect, Jailbird and Breakfast of Champions. The last one on this list was the best; in fact it might be my favourite Vonnegut book of all. It isn't crammed with ideas the same way that Cat's Cradle or The Sirens of Titan are. In fact, not much actually happens in the novel. But there's something about it that makes up for that, a poignancy, a dark and wistful charm, a mischievous cosmic resignation -- I am not quite sure what exactly -- that fully compensates for the diminished quantity of ideas and plot turns.

And yet despite all this excellence, there was another author waiting for me who I regard as my greatest discovery of the year. Andrei Platonov. I picked up Soul and Other Stories at random when I was in the library and I am glad I did! I liked it so much that I instantly ordered Happy Moscow and The Foundation Pit too. Platonov fills me with the same enthusiasm I used to have when I was young and literature was an unexplored world for me; an enthusiasm that gradually faded over the decades but now is back. I can't recommend the short novel 'Soul' highly enough.

Friday, December 20, 2013


My Twenty-Seventh Book

My 27th book is also my fifth and last book of 2013. I am putting out too many books too quickly at the moment: they are interfering with each other in terms of sales. I remember the sage advice of Jeff VanderMeer many years ago: "One book a year, maximum!"  But I tend to ignore advice in most areas of my life. Ah well!

More Than a Feline is my first self-published book. I don't intend to make a habit of self-publishing (just two or three books in total) and I don't expect this collection to do well; it's more a gift to myself than anything else. I did enjoy having complete control over the contents, layout and design though! Such total control might not actually be a good idea in general, but hey, it's a collection of stories and poems about cats. Like cats themselves, it's not really going to go far...

I designed the cover myself. It's a photo I took of Tufty, a cat I regularly look after. The book is dedicated to Koshka, the cat I once 'owned'. The collection is illustrated and eight artists contributed a drawing. Not knowing anything about printing and image resolution, I didn't expect the illustrations to come out especially well, but to my delight they are very clear. I am very happy with the look of the book. More information, including how to buy it, can be found on the relevant link here.


Thursday, December 12, 2013


More Than a Feline

I don't intend to make a habit of self-publishing, but I have just dipped a toe into those murky waters; and so my next book will be a self-published one, a collection of cat themed stories and poems called More Than a Feline. I am a confessed cat lover and decided to put together all (or most) of the cat stories and poems I have written over the past 20 years into a single document. Then I asked various artists to submit drawings of cats and eight of them obliged.

Lunar Love Cats by Adele Whittle
So the book will be an illustrated collection of feline fiction and verse. I had a great artist lined up to do the cover but he was so busy with other commitments (and I am by nature such an impatient person) that I finally decided to do the cover myself. I took a photo of a cat I know called Tufty and used that for the cover! I uploaded the book to Lulu yesterday and it can be found here.

I wanted this book to be inexpensive, so I set a low price for it of only £4.99. But I have also arranged for a 20% discount, so for the next month it will be only £3.99. It should be on Amazon soon. I don't expect this book to sell well, but I enjoyed writing the stories and poems and that's the main thing that counts. Cats are great!

The illustration above is a painting on a pebble that is one of the pictures included in the book. It was done by the artist Adele Whittle and other examples of her work (paintings and jewellery) can be viewed and purchased by clicking on this link.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013


Online Bishopping

Nebula Award Winner Michael Bishop

Michael Bishop has recently said nice things about my most recent story collection and I am hugely delighted that such an eminent and wonderful author likes my work. Moments like this make the hard work worthwhile... Mr Bishop is one of the finest writers of modern fantasy and SF. His work has a depth and richness and emotional punch that very few of his contemporaries can aspire to.

The Just Not So Stories is my lowest priced collection still available and can be purchased by visiting the relevant webpage here.

Several years ago, Michael Bishop wrote the introduction for my novella The Crystal Cosmos (which is also available as an ebook together with several of my other SF stories) and he was generous enough to ensure that his introduction was also a piece of fiction,a short story which we agreed would be my hypothetical 612th story... That was long before I had reached the number #612 in my scheme of writing exactly 1000 stories.

When I did eventually reach that number I decided to return the favour (as best I could) by writing a tribute story to Michael Bishop called 'Transmigrating the Bishop', which as well as being available to read online will be one of the stories in my forthcoming book of tribute stories to authors I admire, The Senile Pagodas, due out next year from Centipede Press... Anyway, on the chess board of modern literature I dearly want to be a Knight, but compared with Mr Bishop I am probably only a Pawn.

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