Thursday, December 29, 2011


Personal Review of 2011 (with over-emphasis on writing activities)

Hello! It's me! How are you? Did you have a nice Christmas?

Well, it seems that it's that time again: when I look back on my personal highlights of the year. I'll try to keep this review a bit shorter than some previous annual reviews. No I won't.

By the way, this photo was taken at the beginning of October: we had an Indian Summer in Wales. This occurrence was definitely one of the highlights!

I got fit in 2011; fitter than I already was, I mean. I've always been a hiker and mountain walker. But now I think I've earned to right to call myself a cyclist and runner too. Nothing spectacular, but regular 50K bike rides and 5K runs became a normal part of my life.

It was a great year for my writing career, one of the best in my life so far. I had three new books published. Here they are: The Brothel Creeper, Sangria in the Sangraal and Link Arms With Toads!

I'm especially pleased with The Brothel Creeper. In fact I regard it as my strongest collection to date. All three volumes are still available for purchase, but reviews are thin on the ground, I'm sorry to say: I don't get reviewed much. I don't get profiled or interviewed much either. Nor do I get invited to do many readings. Ah well! But I have a loyal set of readers: and that's what really counts. And to them I say THANKS!

So much for new books... Two of my books from previous years went into second editions in 2012. The first edition of my satirical novel Mister Gum was badly designed, with an unreadable font; the second edition was much better. And after a wait of 16 years, my first collection Worming the Harpy returned with all the missing passages reinserted. That was satisfying, I can tell you!

In 2011 I wrote exactly 52 stories, averaging one a week (though they weren't written like that), totalling 175,000 words of fiction, making 2011 my third most productive year. I completed two novels: Captains Outrageous (though I might have to change the title, as it seems some other author has already used this title) and The Pilgrim's Regress (which I have a particular fondness for).

I sold The Truth Spinner and The Abnormalities of Stringent Strange to reputable publishers and with luck both will be issued in 2012.

It was also the year when I discovered the power of ebooks. 40K issued three of my ebooks (in English and Italian); and Gloomy Seahorse Press (a fancy name for myself) issued four more.

Righto! That's enough about me! What about other writers? I read 36 works of fiction (novels and collections of short stories) in 2011. Every year I discover at least one excellent author previously unknown to me. This year it was William Saroyan. I read My Name is Aram, a collection of linked stories, and was hugely impressed. This work is realistic and tells of poor Armenian immigrants in California but Saroyan's style is upbeat and colourful, never depressing; and although his treatment of even the most sombre themes is unashamedly sentimental, it isn't maudlin. His language is pared down and simple but his rhythms are delightful and infused with a warm humour. The writer he most closely resembles to my mind is Ray Bradbury, but without the fantastical element.

My other favourite books of 2011 were Zazie in the Metro by Raymond Queneau; A Country Doctor's Notebook by Mikhail Bulgakov; The Adventures of Mr Thake by Beachcomber and City by Clifford D. Simak... But my 'book of the year' was undoubtedly Triton by Samuel R. Delany. Because of the appendix on metalogic, Triton looks like a 'difficult' novel, but that's an illusion. It's a beautifully written, complex but totally accessible and engaging work. The main character, Bron Helstrom, is simultaneously likeable and infuriating, perceptive and unaware, an authentic personality on the page. The background events of his life in an 'ambiguous heteropotia' include a devastating war between the inner worlds and the outer satellites that is presented slightly obliquely and very convincingly. And the society in which Bron has chosen to make his home is constructed with brilliant imagination and attention to detail. It's a sort of utopia-of-choice, not quite the perfect society but hugely preferrable to our own. Delany is a thought-provoking writer but there is a lot of positive emotional energy in his work too.

I ought to say something about the appalling political condition that Britain seems to be in at the moment; but that really deserves a blog post all to itself.

So that's it until 2012... Have a great New Year! Bye from me!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


The Best Films I Saw in 2011

I'm not much of a film buff; I don't know why. I'm a book reader instead. I prefer the cinema inside my head to an outer screen. But I do watch films on a fairly regular basis: averaging one a week (which for some people is doubtless an absurdly frugal amount). Two of my friends have a private cinema at home, but although I appreciate the excellence of such a set-up I'm not sure I would ever want or need one of those myself. Anyway, the point of this blog post is to select the six best films I saw this year. Bear in mind that this isn't my list of the six best films that were released in 2011; I'm far too behind the times for that. No, it's a list merely of the six best films I saw in 2011, and some of them are a few years old already.

So now: in reverse order, they are as follows:

(6) Moon... I watched this in the private cinema mentioned above. A deeply disturbing and yet ultimately uplifting film about the manipulative ethics (or unethics) of a major corporation that supplies power to Earth's teeming billions by harvesting moon rocks and converting them into energy via fusion reactions. The character played by Sam Rockwell (who provides a masterclass in acting technique, carrying the entire film on his multiple sets of shoulders) learns the hard way that his employers don't value human life very much for its own sake; they care only that he does his job as a cog in the machine efficiently. And when his time is up they are happy to destroy him and replace him with... himself. Saying more than this would spoil the plot. It's an amazing story, expressed with conviction, delicacy and strong vision.

(5) The Way... A collaboration between Martin Sheen and his real life son Emilio Estevez, both of whom were seminal cinema figures for me in the 1980s. It was good to see them back and working together. This film is the story of a man who embarks on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage on a sudden whim (but not a superficial whim; it's actually a profound decision). In a sense he is completing the journey that his son dies attempting to do. To say that the pilgrimage is a catharsis would be a little too glib; it's both more and less than that. The end message isn't maudlin, there is no attempt to display a 'cure for grief'; rather the climax demonstrates simply that our reserves of strength to face the ongoing tribulations of life can be recharged.

(4) The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec... A Luc Besson film. A French travel writer at the beginning of the 20th Century embarks on an expedition to Egypt to resurrect the mummy of an ancient doctor who might be able to cure her sister (who fell on a hatpin while playing tennis). But while she is away from Paris, the egg of a pterodactyl hatches in a museum thanks to the telepathic experiments of an eccentric professor and only Adèle has the resources to deal with it... These two farfetched plots are interwoven in a thoroughly contrived but clever and engaging manner. Louise Bourgoin, who plays Adèle, is exceptional and surely one of the best-looking actresses in the world. This film is flawed in many ways, but it's original, inventive, unpredictable and different, and that counts for a lot.

(3) Tears for Sale... A Serbian fantasy film that is rich, lush, frantic, clever, sinister and bizarre. In post war Serbia there is a shortage of men; some villages are populated entirely by women. Two sisters, one feisty, the other demure, (played by Sonja Kolačarić and Katarina Radivojević) set off on a quest to find some men. The tone and style of this film often reminds me of the novels of Milorad Pavić, one of my favourite writers, in the sense that the magical realist elements are pushed to an extreme, so far in fact that the absurd and bizarre becomes the normal background and the ordinary life elements become the intrusion. The film looks wonderful and the main conceit works beautifully. Some tedious critics accused it of being self-indulgent. It's not, but even if it is, so what? It's great cinema.

(2) Rise of the Planet of the Apes... We went to see this at the earliest showing on a normal weekday and had the cinema entirely to ourselves. Vastly superior to the 2001 remake of the 1968 classic, the excellence of the acting, credibility of the plot, importance of the concept (and the skill with which it is developed) have evolved to the point where the story even surpasses Pierre Boulle's original satire. The message of this film is a crucial one at this stage in the history of the human race: we must be more compassionate to animals; if we don't start respecting every lifeform properly, our doom will not only be assured but utterly justified. The film is emotionally engaging, intellectually stimulating and philosophically valid. An astounding piece of work.

(1)The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus... The dirctor Terry Gilliam is one of my heroes. In my more deluded moments I sometimes daydream that he might adapt one of my own books to the big screen. Parnassus is his best film yet; and considering that this is the director who gave us Brazil, Time Bandits and Baron Munchausen, I don't say that lightly! Christopher Plummer as Doctor Parnassus is perfectly cast (has there ever been a harder working actor than Plummer?) and the ingenious tactic by which Gilliam sidesteps the real-life death of Heath Ledger (by using three other actors, Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell to fill in for him) enhances the theme of transformation and growth. Tom Waits is also perfect as the Devil, so bored with his own power that he prefers to lose in wagers with mortals. There is a huge amount of ideas bouncing around in this film, colliding with each other, merging, breaking apart. It's a masterpiece; one of the great visual experiences of my film-watching life.

Friday, December 16, 2011


The World Idiot

Courtesy of Gloomy Seahorse Press, I'm pleased to announce that my latest ebook is now available from Smashwords.

With a delightful cover by Kendal Obermeyer, The World Idiot and Other Absurdlings features 15 short-stories selected from the past two decades of my writing career, including the award-nominated 'Rediffusion'.

It costs $2.99 and can be purchased directly here.

The more observant amongst you may have noticed that I'm self-publishing a lot of ebooks lately. This is my fourth so far (and the last of this year). I plan to release one Gloomy Seahorse Press ebook every month for a year; so there will be 12 in total. My hope is to use any profits I receive from these ebooks to pay for an airfare out of Britain; the more ebooks I sell, the higher the profits, and hence the further I'll be able to travel! At the moment I've only earned enough to take me to France or Spain.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


I'm a Celery... Get Me Out of Here!

Alternative title for this photo: All God's Vegetables Beware!

I don't believe any further explanation is required at this time...

Wednesday, December 07, 2011


Worming the Electronic Harpy

Courtesy of Ray Russell, the guiding light of Tartarus Press, my very first book, Worming the Harpy, is now available as an ebook.

Suitable for the Kindle and other such gadgets, it can be purchased from a variety of places including the British Amazon; the American Amazon (which includes a 'Come Look Inside' feature because they are more advanced than we are); the German Amazon; the French Amazon; the Italian Amazon and the Spanish Amazon. About the only place it's not available is in the Brazilian Amazon, which is a forest, not a bookstore. However, just because it's available at all those different Amazons doesn't mean it's available in all those languages. Not yet anyway.

Now let's consider the matter of Ray Russell himself. What can we say about him? Well, for a start, Ray Russell is not only the guiding light of Tartarus Press. He is not only himself: a Ray Russell. He's also a Ray of Sunshine. In fact he's the Rey of Sunshine: the Sun-King himself! Here is pictorial evidence of my assertion! And yet, even as we fall to our knees, we should "...remember how much black there is in the sun." (Jean-Paul Sartre).

Ladies, Gentlemen and Sun-Worshippers! I give you: Worming the Electronic Harpy!

Thursday, December 01, 2011


My Twenty-First Book

A big parcel of books turned up at my house yesterday afternoon. It had come all the way from Romania. When I cut the parcel open (with a duelling dagger bought in Toledo seven years ago) I was overjoyed to find the box packed with copies of my latest book, Sangria in the Sangraal! All the books produced by Ex Occidente are exquisite, authentic collectors' items, and this one is no exception. In fact it's utterly gorgeous!

It seems a little uncouth for an author to praise certain of his books more than others; a good father regards all his children as special. But I can't resist declaring this volume to be extra special to me. I truly believe that it has magic about it, I can't quite define how or why. Anyway, I probably should leave such judgments to others. I'll just say that the fact it's now in print has helped make the cold wet Welsh winter a lot more bearable to me.

I ought to point out that this book was originally entitled Tucked Away in Aragon and it was inspired by a visit I made in 2007 to the little town of Albarracín. It features 10 linked stories and is a complete epic in miniature, covering 1000 years of Spanish history. Influences on this book include Potocki, Alarcón, Dunsany and (of course) Calvino. I would like to thank Dan Ghetu (who runs Ex Occidente) not only for the superb aesthetic values of the finished book but also for having the courage to issue something a little different to his usual productions.

Most of the authors published by Ex Occidente write books that are dark; books that are full of mysteries, subtleties of mood and atmosphere, and a love of the metaphysical and weird. But generally the subtleties and effects are dark. True, the darkness may be speckled with gleams like faint stars, but the backdrop is mostly dark. Sangria in the Sangraal isn't like that. It's mostly light and speckled with only a few negative stars, like black holes in heaven. There is comedy and acute absurdism and unashamed anthropomorphism. There are sentient clouds and anachronisms and postmodern ironies à la Barthelme.

Anyway, the book can be ordered directly from Ex Occidente here. or from Fantastic Literature Limited here. I think that copies will also be available soon from Realms of Fantasy Books and Ziesing Books.

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