Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Achieving Parity?

Every time I enter the house of Stuart and Monica I start drawing on pieces of paper. Why? I don't know. I enjoy the act of drawing, and I want to cover walls as well as pieces of paper with organic abstract designs and tropical scenes -- jungles, toucans, volcanoes -- but I suffer from one major disadvantage in this regard -- I can't draw.

This reminds me that a music critic once rated the ability of King Crimson's violinist David Cross as follows: "...for a violinist he has only one flaw -- he can't play!" (Possible proof of this assertion can be found here...!)

Writing news... I have nearly finished The Postmodern Mariner -- another few days should do the trick -- and I have also placed stories with two of Steve Upham's forthcoming anthologies. One of these stories is called 'Cracking Nuts With Jan Hammer' and is about prog rock. In Wales. And Hell. It features (yet again) Huw as a minor character -- I must start leaving him alone, really. But the actual narrator is Anthony Lewis from Satori, who I've used as a cartoonist more than once. The other story is called 'Degrees of Separation' and was already due to appear in the Greek customised edition of my New Universal History, so I'm glad it will see print in English as well...

Which reminds me: the contract from my Greek publishers arrived via my agent yesterday, so I need to sign and return it. My agent also managed to sell my story 'The Gala of Implausible Songs' (cartoons by Anthony) to PS Publishing for £125. I have been lately pondering this sum... £125 for one short story, taken as some sort of yardstick (which is isn't), would mean I've earned 125 x 405 = £50,625 from fiction since I sold my first story... Half the annual salary of a standard engineer -- but over a period of fifteen years! In other words I am earning 1/32 of what I could be, or should be, had I been more organised when younger. Ah well!

The 'Best of Leviathan' anthology I mentioned in an earlier post is now going to be called MAPPING THE BEAST and is due out later this year. It will feature my story 'Gatling Gums' and has a great cover, the sort of cover I want for my Postmodern Mariner... For that one, I'm thinking about taking a photo of the Porthcawl seafront and adding a sea serpent or a kraken...

I have been asked to write an article about Arthur Machen by the Friends of Arthur Machen society. My suggestion that I could write a polemical piece contrasting Dylan Thomas with Machen, showing that Machen was superior on every level, was accepted with glee. I now have another outlet to vent my annoyance at Thomas! This annoyance is large but not all-consuming. Many writers I respect love Thomas -- Michael Bishop, Roger Zelazny, etc. But not me. That's my right.

I went to the Monkey on Tuesday with my ex-girlfriend Catherine during salsa night. I think I might restart classes there, as it still looks lots of fun. I had forgotten. I may also be starting an ICDL course at the university to increase my chances of finding work. Stuart and Monica's cockatiels are regarding me in a suspicious manner. I wonder what they are thinking. I believe they are trying to achieve parity. Rotten puns on 'parrots' aren't good.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Dreams, Flames and Drummers

There's a fellow by the name of Steve Upham who has started up a new small press venture called Screaming Dreams. I first learned of the existence of Mr Upham via Bob Lock, whose first novel The Flames of Herakleitos is scheduled to be published later this year. Mr Lock's novel is about spontaneous human combustion, a phenomenon that scared the cotton socks off me when I was younger (cotton being readily inflammable)...

Steve Upham has a lot of original projects in the pipeline, including a much needed anthology of modern Welsh Fantasy. This is something that particularly interests me -- there are only three countries in the whole of Europe that don't already have an anthology of modern fantasy and Wales is one of them (the other two are the Vatican City and San Marino)... I intend to assist Mr Upham in the realisation of this project as much as possible, and I look forward to seeing how the end result is regarded by the Welsh literary establishment. I suspect they will be nonplussed. As Jones from Dad's Army might have said, "They don't like it, Upham!"

Steve Upham has also expressed an interest in publishing one of my own books, my latest project in fact, The Postmodern Mariner. I have been working like some kind of demented steampunk engine on this work and progress has been rapid and delightful. In fact it is nearly done... The format has changed somewhat and it now consists of three parts rather than two. The contents listing is as follows:


Part One:
Castor Jenkins, the Münchhausen of Porthcawl
(1) Castor on Troubled Waters
(2) Canis Raver
(3) The Plucked Plant
(4) When Wales Played Asgård
(5) Interstellar Domestic
(6) The Cream-Jest of Unset Custard
(7) The Day the Town of Porthcawl was Accidentally Twinned with the Capital of the Cheese and Biscuits Empire

Part Two:
Catherine Piper at the Fates of Ooze
(8) The Lip Service

Part Three:
The Postmodern Mariner in Person
(9) Rommel Cobra’s Swimming Carnival

As can be seen, this book contains the longest title I've ever used for a story. My previous personal record was held by 'The Old House Under the Snow Where Nobody Goes Except You and Me Tonight' followed by 'The Man Who Mistook His Wife's Hat for the Mad Hatter's Wife' and 'Oh, Whistle While You Work, and I'll Come to You, My Dwarf ' and then 'The Taming of the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shrew' and 'Sailing to the Island of Tools on the Ship of Fools'... I like implausibly long titles, but I try to use them sparingly. Conversely, my shortest titles are 'Lucy', 'Loop' and 'Envy'.

I need to decide who to dedicate this book to. I tend to dedicate new books to girlfriends who then leave me before the book is published. Bad juju! Maybe I'll dedicate it to friends instead -- Huw and Manuela for instance. Huw has a cameo role in it, as he often does in my books, poor fellow!

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Jack Vance

My next blog entry will undoubtedly be about myself, as usual... but why not have a short break from the egotism and talk about something else? Keep it in the realms of literature, of course, no need to go off at too sharp an angle. Remain businesslike. Say nothing about how I went for a long run today, felt better for it, went to the pub with Huw, saw a band, met a lovely girl called Sinead, drank beer, walked home...

Jack Vance is one of my favourite authors, and has been since I was 17 or 18, when I first read The Eyes of the Overworld, perhaps the most perfect fantasy novel ever written. Even then I was aware that Vance's irony was perhaps too pure, too perfect, so I shunned his books for many years, and during the whole of my 20s and most of my 30s I read not a word of him. Two years ago I started afresh. What a glorious homecoming! Big Planet marked my return, then I re-read the whole of the 'Dying Earth' sequence, followed by Showboat World, the 'Durdane Trilogy', and the 'Planet of Adventure' series...

Waiting in boxes, I still have Night Lamp and the three 'Alastor' novels to go, and after those I will endeavour to obtain the five 'Demon Princes' books, the three 'Lyonesse' novels and a selection of recommended stand-alones, Emphyrio, The Blue World and The Dragon Masters among them. Then I'll probably collect and read the remainder of his 60+ books, but at a less frenetic pace... Vance has became one of those flavours like vanilla that I just can't seem to get enough of... And that's from a man who hates sentences that end with the word 'of'. Like that one. And the one before.

What I like so much about Vance is the momentum of his writing, his colourful style, his witty but formal dialogues, his understanding and advocacy of the best old values, his wry angle on politics, his genuine interest in ethnography and sociology, his obsession with music, his gallants and rogues, his circular plots, picaresque narratives, his skill with neologisms and metaphors, his sense of the absurd, extravagant and mystical.

I guess if I rubbed a bottle and a literary genie came out and said, "you can have the entire output of any author," I'd choose a complete set of Vance. Indeed I would! The work of the genie would be considerably eased by the fact that the complete works of Vance have recently been issued in an integral edition. This looks so good. I want it. But I'll probably never have it. Ah well.

Monday, January 15, 2007


The Postmodern Mariner

It is a Postmodern Mariner
and he stoppeth one of three.
'Do you feel lucky, albatross?
Well, do ya, punk?'

I have a strong feeling that the book I recently started writing is going to be entitled The Postmodern Mariner. It will be a short collection of linked stories in two parts, the first part narrated by Castor Jenkins, an outrageous liar in the style of Baron Münchhausen, and the second part narrated by the Postmodern Mariner himself. The town where I grew up (Porthcawl) will loom large in the background of this book, but the action will mainly be set in places distant in both time and space, including within the circumference of a gigantic cup of tea.

The Postmodern Mariner is a character I created around the time of my 40th birthday, primarily for use in a novelette that I failed to sell to an anthology of pirate stories. He's an investigative blogger and so I had to set up a fake blog for the purposes of veracity. Worrying about veracity when writing absurd stories set in gigantic cups of tea is a bit odd, but it's what I do.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Why I Dislike Dylan Thomas

I am a writer and I live in Wales. I am thus daily compelled to deal with the spectre of Dylan Thomas, who looms over Swansea like the grimy shadow of a half-empty beer glass on a mouldy wall. I remember having to read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog at school. I found the book boring but inoffensive, nothing to love but nothing to get into a rage about. As for his poetry, I can only repeat that I'm not a great lover of poetry by anyone and his work does absolutely nothing for me.

Fine, I don't like Dylan Thomas. That's just an expression of my personal taste. But this simple statement -- "I don't like Dylan Thomas" -- often elicits an agreement along the lines of: "Yes, his language was too wordy, too flowery, not gritty enough!"

The reason I dislike Dylan Thomas has nothing to do with his use of language! My dislike of Dylan Thomas is not another way of saying that I prefer sparse, unadorned, trivial, simplistic sentences that heavily convey the messages of social realism. I don't want the spectre of Thomas to be replaced by the zombie of Tresize. The reason I dislike Thomas is because of his lack of IDEAS.

By 'ideas' I don't mean any kind of idea, for instance the idea that Mae Rose-Cottage likes to rouge her nipples with lipstick: I mean high level ideas, conceptual breakthroughs, the creation of new paradigms, paradoxes, the pushing of the cerebral envelope. When I read Dylan Thomas I come away with the feeling I've learned nothing. When I read Stanislaw Lem or Italo Calvino or Milorad Pavic I come away with the feeling that I know a little more about epistemology, ontology, teleology, semantics, syncretism, ergodics, etc, etc.

I'm aware that education isn't the primary function of literature, certainly not of fiction or poetry. But it's a side effect, a bonus, call it what you will, that I absolutely demand from my favoured authors. Maybe I have this attitude because my background is in engineering: I never studied the Arts in any formal sense. I don't begrudge the existence of the flowery lyricists, nor even the monomorphic realists, but I remain bewildered by the dearth of authentic ideas writers in the Welsh cultural landscape. Apart from myself, there seem to be none at all.

Friday, January 05, 2007


Real and Imaginary Wheels

Every piece of fiction I write is connected to every other piece: at least that's the idea. I am slowly creating various story cycles, lots of them, that I like to call 'wheels', and all these wheels are interconnected with other wheels, like the gears of a machine. But what sort of machine?

Although I have just completed my 400th story, I'm not yet ready for a rest... Maybe when I reach 500 I'll take a nice break. Having said that, I may need to slow down later this year as I'll busy with a project involving other kinds of wheels. Bicycle wheels. Yes, in the summer I plan to embark on an unfeasible bicycle journey. Well not quite 'unfeasible', just long. Long for me, I mean. Lisbon to Barcelona in fact...

Last year I finished writing three books. I intend to do the same this year, although I'll be happy if just two come together. My main priority is to complete my big novel, The Clown of the New Eternities. Another novel, Wuthering Depths, is also high on my agenda. Additionally I have started a new sequence of linked stories featuring a sort of Welsh Münchhausen called Castor Jenkins. I don't have an overall title for that book yet.

There's a good chance that my story 'Mortar Baby' (originally published in Leviathan #2) is going to be reprinted in the giant BEST OF LEVIATHAN anthology. Even better: there's also a chance that the anthology will be named after my story. The Leviathan anthologies gave me my first significant break in the USA, and thus I have a special fondness for them, quite aside from the fact they are the finest anthologies of fantastical fiction to see print in the past decade.

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