Thursday, December 07, 2017
Literary Review 2017
My literary review of the year is generally only concerned with my personal favourites of all the books I have read this year and doesn't have anything to do with my own writing. This is the way it should be. I can announce, however, that 2017 has turned out to be my most productive fiction writing year ever. Every year for the past two decades I have attempted to write a minimum of 100,000 words of fiction annually. Some years I have failed to do this, but generally I have met my target and exceeded it by a certain wordage. The first time I broke the 200,000 word mark, I was astonished. The following year I produced 240,000 words and that was a record I never expected to beat. That was in 2010.
Ironically, I decided to make last year the final year in which I worried about meeting my self-imposed target of one hundred thousand words. I just planned to write instead without counting and let the final total take care of itself. But for some reason, this year has been especially fruitful, maybe because I took the pressure off myself, I don't know. I have just reached a total wordage of 241,000 words of fiction, and this doesn't take into account that 2017 was the year I also decided to launch myself into writing non-fiction seriously. However, I certainly don't intend to keep up this pace next year. There is no need. I am only 120 stories short of finishing my grand cycle of 1000 stories, and slowing the pace seems the right thing to do at this stage.
I am also thinking about detaching my novels from the cycle and having them as a separate set of works, and concentrating more on them in the future. I have several novels that are in various stages of completion, plus I have ideas for others, and I don't want the arbitrary task of writing short stories to obstruct their realization. None of this is going to be of much interest to most of you out there, but keeping the numbers in mind helps me to determine where I am and how far there is left to go. And although I am prolific in comparison with many writers, I am not at all prolific compared with others. It's all relative! I ought to make a list of projects I intend to work on in the near future and then post the list on my blog. I will probably try to do this quite soon.
Now then! The best books I read in 2017 were as follows:
On Leave - Daniel Anselme
The Fugitive - Pramoedya Ananta Toer
One of the best short story collections I have ever read. This was also my introduction to the work of Jean Rhys and I will now certainly seek out her other books. There is a lot of variety here and the stories span a wide range of time, but they can be placed into four broad categories. (1) Stories set in the bohemian Paris of the interwar age, (2) Stories set in London before and during the Blitz, (3) Stories set in the West Indies, (4) Stories set in the countryside (of England or other European countries). The stories set in Paris and London tend to be equally about impoverished narrators trying to survive in their environments, but those in Paris are far less bleak than those in London. The London stories really demonstrate the appallingly claustrophobic social prejudices prevalent at the time and they do this as devastatingly as the stories of Somerset Maugham. In the Parisian stories, on the other hand, there is always something uplifting happening even when there is little hope in general... The West Indies stories are my favorites and the tropics are so deeply ingrained in the heart of this writer that they seem to be in the background even in the stories that aren't set there. There is always a yearning, a craving, for the light and brightness and intensity of the Caribbean, despite the fact that paradise isn't always paradise under the surface and Jean Rhys makes the reader acutely aware of this fact. As for the stories set in the countryside, these include a remarkable story which is a semi-autobiographical account of a stay in a remote cottage with three other guests, including the composer Peter Warlock; and a magnificent story of escape to Prague in a motor car just after WWI in the company of a husband who is a crook. Jean Rhys tends to be better at longer lengths. These two pieces are picaresque, somewhat rambling in structure, rendered in a prose style that is unusual, highly rhythmic and simultaneously melancholic and invigorating, not at all like the standard writers in English of her time.
Fever - J.M.G. Le Clézio
A General Theory of Oblivion - José Eduardo Agualusa
One of the best novels I have encountered for ages. Magnificent in every way and exactly the kind of book that reminds me of how magical literature can be. So much of my favourite contemporary writing seems to be coming out of Africa. This is definitely in the top 10 of novels I have read in the past ten years. It is probably even in the top three... The tangled life-streams of the various characters interact beautifully and surprisingly with each other; the backdrop to the story is colourful, menacing and absolutely charged with history. José Eduardo Agualusa is clearly an extremely accomplished author indeed. I am awestruck and I certainly intend seeking out more of this writer's work.
The Journal of a Disappointed Man - W.N.P. Barbellion
Friday, November 24, 2017
Yule Do Nicely
We are on more certain ground when it is explained that the following fictions have been assembled in their present form in order to celebrate the festive season. They include work from the span of the past quarter century. The first twenty-four tales form a weird advent calendar from December 1st to 24th. Then it is Christmas Day and time for the stocking and the twenty-eight little strange tales inside it. Merry Xmas!
This book is available as paperback and as an ebook from Amazon and elsewhere. It is priced very low. £2.99 for the print edition and 99p for the ebook. This is as it should be at this time of year...
I have added the title to the blog where I keep track of all my published books to date, where there is also information about the contents of each volume. This blog is called Aardvark Caesar and goes right back to my first published book, Worming the Harpy, more than twenty years ago.
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
This book began, in fact, without any thought of writing the full-length work it has become. I merely wanted to write a few very short fictions ('palm of the hand stories' as Kawabata termed them) and so I wrote a short text inspired by a friend of mine who lives in Indonesia. This was followed by other short texts for other female friends. Soon I was ranging the world in my imagination and before long I was inventing characters as well as basing them on real people. I am delighted with the finished project, which the mighty Des Lewis is already subjecting to one of his real-time reviews. World Muses pleases me very much.
The book was accepted by Ex Occidente Press in Romania and they have produced a deluxe limited edition hardback that is one of the most beautifully produced volumes I have ever seen. There are only just over 100 copies available. Among the fictions there are some experimental texts that utilize unusual typographical layouts. These have been rendered perfectly in the hardback and for this I am very grateful to the publisher. It is surprising how often publishers seem incapable of handling experimental layouts properly. Ex Occidente are careful and considerate, among the finest publishers of luxury books currently working.
To make it available to a larger audience I have arranged for the production of a paperback version that is priced at very low cost. The ebook version is also extremely cheap. This is the way it should be. No paperback or ebook edition of a work can ever compare with a carefully designed and exquisitely manufactured hardback, of course, but not all of us have the funds to collect such tomes.
Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Salty Kiss Island
this article to explain why I believe it's my best collection so far.
It is a collection of my fantastical love stories, 22 tales in total that were written over a period of 15 years. Two of the stories are novellas and one is a novelette, so the total wordage of the collection is just over 100,000 words.
The style of these stories is mostly what one might term 'magic realist' and I am happy with this definition, despite the vagueness of the term and the fact that not all the stories in the book are quite that way. They were inspired by real feelings and people, moods, circumstances, dreams and daydreams, music from tropical lands, writers such as Amado, Couto, Vian and Calvino (always Calvino) and a curious yearning for a different kind of life, and generally speaking they highlight my urge to break free from the narrative restrictions of the conventionally told anglophone story, whether it be mainstream or genre.
I feel that with this book I have reached a milestone on the admittedly lonely path of my writing career. I am not especially successful financially. It has been a struggle. But this book exists. I feel that something important has been validated...
The book is available at amazon and other online stores, and the magnificent Des Lewis has already begun one of his real time reviews of the stories within.
Thursday, July 13, 2017
Cloud Farming in Wales
My novel is a fantastical comedy set in Wales, and it is also a tribute to the writer Richard Brautigan whose Trout Fishing in America enthused me and taught me an approach to fiction that struck me as -- if not exactly new -- then differently accentuated, and it is an approach that appealed enormously to me. I wanted to write a book similar to his. Cloud Farming is my Trout Fishing. That's the idea anyway! The blurb I prepared for the novel runs as follows:
“In Wales it never stops raining. Or almost never. When it does stop raining from the sky, it rains from hearts instead. Indoors as well as outdoors, the people huddle in the endless drenchings, and over time they have evolved into aquatic creatures who only look and behave like men and women but aren’t really. There is a clue in the name of the country. Wales is a nation with no spot of dry land within its borders. Wales is an Atlantis that never stayed under but is just as wet. Crammed with mythical beings and happenings, Cloud Farming in Wales palpitates, germinates and extrapolates, but never evaporates, and the sodden heroes that wade and slosh through the mighty puddles of its pages are generally in search of a canoe."
The excellent Des Lewis has already completed one of his 'real time' reviews of this novel and it can be found by clicking on this link. I am extremely delighted with the way the book has turned out!
Saturday, April 29, 2017
Hardback Limited Edition
My new novel Cloud Farming in Wales is coming out soon. As well as the paperback there will be a limited hardback edition, limited in fact to only 60 copies, and this will be available to be ordered separately within the next few weeks.
In the meantime, both the paperback and limited edition hardback can be pre-ordered as part of a Snuggly Books bundle. There are two bundle offers, because all the books available as bundles come in the two different editions. More information will be posted here in the coming weeks...
Friday, March 24, 2017
Transition to Non-Fiction
I have lots of writing news, including information about a forthcoming novel and two story collections, but instead I am going to briefly talk about non-fiction writing.
The year 2017 is my Year Zero for non-fiction. Although I have written plenty of non-fiction in the past I never took it very seriously. I tended to do it as a chore rather than a pleasure. But now I am going over all my former pieces, adjusting them, rewriting them, getting them into much better shape. And I have also started writing new articles. This time I am putting as much effort into non-fiction as I do with my fiction. I intend one day to transition fully to a non-fiction writer.
Today I finished writing a article called, 'On Strawberries'. This article will hopefully be the opening piece in my first non-fiction book, which with luck will be called Logic and the Monsters. Although the article is ostensibly about strawberries it is also about higher dimensional geometries, Tantric yoga, warrior ethics, goblin markets, Malaysian girls and many other things. My scheme is to make unexpected connections between a very wide range of disciplines. There are lots of footnotes too. In some of my future articles, the footnotes will have end-notes that will also have footnotes*. * because that's the kind of man I am.
This is the list of subjects I am planning to write articles on (or already have). It's not a comprehensive list but good enough for the present purpose. It gives an idea of what my first non-fiction book might contain:
• Strawberries, the finest fruit
• The First Science Fiction Novel
• How every writer is their own favourite author
• Brexit: some thoughts on Europe
• Mazes, their symbolic meaning
• A most underrated writer, the work of Barrington Bayley
• When satire goes too far
• Parallel Universes, how even their non-existence will prove their existence
• Occam’s Razor, a new logical twist
• Alain Resnais, his films
• Why immortality accelerates time, an idea
• Life after death, a new way of looking at this question
• Kizomba, the most sensual dance
• Paradoxes, why they are so intriguing
• The Empathy Problem, some thoughts on empathy
• Mountaineering, a pure pursuit
• Coconuts, the floating food
• Jacques Tati, his films
• Penguin Café Orchestra, an appreciation
• Perpetual Motion, the joy of mechanical absurdity
• Logic and the monsters, an imaginary film script
• The hazards of being a pedestrian
• The perils of checking out women
• Three things I write about and three I don’t
• The Ultimate Existential Horror
• A logic flaw in the horror genre
• Walking through Portugal
• Predatory males, why they give real predators a bad name
• Italo Calvino, an appreciation
• Not in my name, usurpation through accidental nomenclature
• Unusual titles for stories
• The Workshop of Potential Literatures
• Desperate Straights, a logico-whimsical argument
• Some thoughts about Richard Dawkins
• The art and designs of Rodchenko
• Rules for an imaginary literary society
• The Poetry of William McGonagall
• The problem of evil, a possible solution
• Géza Csáth, his life and work
• Pierre Louys, his life, perversion and work
• Maurice Richardson, his neglected classic
• Romanticynicism, an outline for a new literary movement
• Magic Realism, what it might be
• What scares me, a personal list
• Metafiction, married a fiction, had lots of microfictions
• Stories never to be written
• John Sladek, an appreciation
• Creative writing classes, a few doubts about them
• Uranus, a planet neglected in science fiction
• Pretension, and what it really is
• Why songs are often illogical
• First band without the definite article in their name
• Rinky Dink Panther, Time Traveller
Saturday, February 04, 2017
The Seashell Contract
My 40th book has just been published. The Seashell Contract is a collection of 22 stories, all previously unpublished and written in the past two years. All proceeds from this book will go to The Mariposa Trust, a charity that supports families who have lost babies. The book is available from Amazon in both print and ebook editions. It is also available directly from Createspace, the printers, and if you take this option, a larger percentage of the cost price of the book will go to the charity.
Let's take a provisional look at the figures. If you buy the paperback edition, which is priced at $9.99, the royalties that come to me are as follows: $3.33 in the US; £2.93 in the UK; €2.68 in the EU. If you buy the ebook edition, which is priced at $3, the royalties due to me are $2.10. All royalties will be passed to the charity the day I receive them. This means that if you buy the paperback, the charity will get more money in total; but if you buy the ebook, a higher percentage of your money will go to the charity. One third of the paperback price goes to the charity, but two-thirds of the ebook price.
Buying this book, you are supporting the charity. However, you may prefer to make a direct donation to them. It could be that you simply don't really care for my work. It could be that you don't like the idea of either 66% or 33% of your money going to a printer and distributor rather than the charity. It could be that you don't approve of charity projects that are 'exhibitionist' and it can't be denied that releasing a book that promotes the writer as well as supports a charity is certainly an act of grandstanding.
What can be done about this? Nothing much. Writers will always write books and promote them, and they will take the money for themselves and keep it. In this case, I am not keeping any money at all, but certainly it is in my interest too that the book sells. It is not pure altruism. It is an act of striving that happens to be allied to altruism. Striving and altruism must work together.
I hope that this project will be mutually beneficially to both the charity and myself. At the same time, let's be clear. I am not an especially successful writer in commercial terms. The amount of money that this book will earn for the charity isn't going to be a large sum (unless something happens and I become more popular). I will, however, keep the paperwork accurate, donate the money to charity each time my royalties are paid, and I will make sure all the documentation of transactions is available for official scrutiny. I will have to write off against tax the profits from this book, however small those profits are. So it's in my interest to be very careful with the entire process.
The photo displayed on this blog entry is one taken by an excellent fellow and chronicler of SF and fantasy fiction, Michael Hutchins. It has given me an idea. Anyone who buys the book and posts a photo of it on social media or websites, or sends it privately to me, will be automatically entered into a competition to win a free copy of either my last book (Sangria in the Sangraal) or my next one (Cloud Farming in Wales), whichever is preferred...
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Story Collection for Charity
2017 has got off to a great start in terms of writing. I have been very productive already and I have lots of news to announce; but I am going to take things one step at a time, and talk about projects one by one. This seems the clearest and best way to proceed...
Therefore I am first going to deal with a book of my stories that will soon be published that has been created in aid of charity. The charity in question is The Mariposa Trust and it supports mothers and families who have lost babies. I chose this charity because my friend Katy Kear has done work for them; I wanted to help her efforts and this was one way I could. All proceeds from the sale of my book will go to the charity.
The book is called THE SEASHELL CONTRACT and will contain 22 stories. These stories are previously unpublished and all have been written in the past two years. I decided not to include any reprints in the collection, so anyone who reads the book won't encounter material they may have already read in magazines or anthologies. I am hoping this will encourage my readers to buy it. The stories are varied in theme, tone and scope. They are mostly speculative fiction pieces, some comedic, others less so, mainly fantastical and quirky.
The book will be available both as a paperback and in ebook form. It is being published under my own small Gloomy Seahorse imprint. This way I have more control and can ensure that all profits go directly to the charity. It also enables me to typeset it carefully and design the interior. More details will follow; and with luck the book should be out in the next few weeks.
In the meantime I leave you with an image from the photo shoot that took place in order to create a cover for the book. My endless gratitude to Vanessa Ndovela who kindly agreed to appear in the photos; and also to Lidia Ciotola who snapped the images.
Saturday, December 31, 2016
New Year's Eve
The year 2016 is coming to an end. It wasn't a bad year for me by any means, not as good as 2015 was (one of the best years of my life) but certainly nothing to complain about. On a geopolitical scale the year will probably go down in history as being pivotal, a time when vast changes were set in motion. It is really not easy to predict the future. My efforts in that direction fail nearly every time, and so do those of most others. I regard Brexit as a disaster but its full ramifications can't be known for a long time yet. Let's wait and see.
This year I had a new collection of short fiction published, a book beautifully produced by the wonderful Egaeus Press called Brutal Pantomimes that I am especially pleased with. It contains a story 'The Jam of Hypnos' and a novella 'The Impossible Inferno' that are among the two best things I have ever written (in my own view at least!). The book sold well.
My 1996 novella Elusive Plato was also republished, by Bizarro Pulp Press, but this did much less well. In fact it sold very few copies, even though reader demand had prompted the reprint in the first place. The publishing world is a baffling place at times!
Finally my sequence of linked historical fantasies Sangria in the Sangraal was published in an expanded and updated edition by Eibonvale Press and this was launched just a few weeks ago. The story behind this book is almost as convoluted as the story inside it. The initial idea for the collection came with the visit I made, purely by chance, to the little town of Albarracín back in September 2007. It has taken more than nine years to get from that visit to the final version of the story cycle.
As for writing new material... I completed two short novels in 2016 (or perhaps they can more accurately be termed novellas). The Honeymoon Gorillas is a 'weird Western' that I plan to submit to a publisher sometime in 2017 (I have a specific one in mind). Cloud Farming in Wales is a very unorthodox fantasia that was partly inspired by Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America and it has already found a publisher and has a provisional publication date of June 2017.
Every year I set myself the target of writing 100,000 words of new fiction as a minimum threshold. Last year I failed to meet my target. This year I easily exceeded it. Next year I plan to be less strict with myself about this figure. This doesn't mean I am going to slacken on my projects, simply that I won't be stressing about targets for wordage.
Projects for 2017 include a collection of short fiction called The Seashell Contract with all proceeds going to charity, and a book of ghost stories called The Ghost Comedians. I will also be attempting to write a novella for TOR. It's also high time I finally finished the novel I have been working on since 1994, The Clown of the New Eternities. But I say that every year... Let's see!
HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all!
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
End of Year Review 2016
This end of year review is concerned solely with books. For some reason 2016 turned out to be the year in which I read more fiction books than in any other year of my entire life. I also read a lot of non-fiction books, but I won't deal with those here. I have read a total of 63 fiction books so far and I will probably increase this total by two or three more titles before the year is finished. However, I feel ready to make a choice about my favourites.
My opinions on fiction have remained fairly stable over the course of my reading life. I have become much more open to non-European literature, however. I really don't understand why this didn't happen sooner. I have loved Latin American literature for a long time, of course, but it's only in the past decade that I have really begin to explore the literature of Africa and Asia in any depth. Anyway, here are my top fiction books of 2016...
* Dream Story -- Arthur Schnitzler
An almost perfect short novel. Having seen the Kubrick film that was based on this book (and thinking it good but hugely flawed) I foolishly assumed the book would also be flawed. But it isn't. It is a remarkable work in which the lines between dream and reality are blurred in a very affecting way, both occupying spaces of high clarity and reflecting the other, so it is never entirely certain what is real and what isn't. However this doesn't (as it might have done) lessen the impact of the powerful, sensual and grotesque events that occur. Schnitzler refuses to take the easy way or to allow his main protagonist, Fridolin, to use the "dream" excuse to escape the seriousness of what has resulted from his actions of one night. The prose of the story is powerful and sombre, yet charged with a rich atmosphere.
* If on a Winter's Night a Traveller -- Italo Calvino
Calvino has at least two other books among my all-time favourites, The Complete Cosmicomics and Our Ancestors. And Marcovaldo may even be a third. He is certainly my favourite fiction writer. There are almost too many things I want to say about If on a Winter's Night a Traveller. The odd aspect is that I have met a few people who dislike it intensely, and the main reason they dislike it is always based on a misunderstanding. They believe it is merely a showcase for Calvino to display how clever he is; that it's a book dedicated solely to the act of showing-off. But in fact this is absolutely not the case. In fact the process of the book involves Calvino's ego dissolving away and the authorial voice being taken over by a host of other (imaginary but brilliantly realised) authors. It may seem like an egocentric book on the surface but underneath it is profoundly involved with the real world, with the outer as well as the inner. It is about life, experience, ideas, style, culture, differences, similarities, and the connections between them. And it tries to capture a very elusive mood, a series of very elusive moods in fact, that concern the art of literature and the act of reading: the fact that when we start reading a novel the potentialities are almost endless and the novel has immense (if not infinite) possibilities in terms of development and evolution. But as we read onward, those potentialities diminish, the possibilities became less, as the novel actually congeals into what it is, namely a book that is being read. Calvino's masterwork, on the other hand, is a cycle of connected beginnings in which the potentials are never lost, and these beginnings together form a coherent work of progress through time, with a conclusion that satisfies the demands of literary convention and yet is highly original. And the whole of this amazing construction is held together within a metafictional frame that tells its own delightful and remarkable quest story.
* A River Called Time -- Mia Couto
Mia Couto writes in a unique style that is very powerful. In fact I find his prose style one of the finest of any writer I have read. It has affinities to magic realism but contrives to be original too. I also see in it some similarities with the mannerisms of Milorad Pavić, in the sense that the metaphorical aspects of the worlds they both create are so spectacularly unusual and yet feel precisely right, as if they are pinning down some aspects of existence that had remained elusive before, and doing so with language that only seems willfully odd until we have acclimatized to it. It is difficult to explain precisely what I mean. Inexplicable events take place in Couto's work: they are embodiment in the external world of internal feelings, even when those feelings are not really understood by the characters experiencing them. And yet it is not feelings alone that drive forward the plot or justify the magic. Couto's novels, mystical and mysterious, are also adventure stories in which Africa is a wounded soul attempting to heal itself, as well as the extraordinary stage for the protagonists to move on, dancing between dangers and ecstasies.
* Heart's Wings and Other Stories -- Gabriel Josipovici
Josipovici is one of my favourite short-story writers and this volume is a selection of his work over the majority of his career. His style is crisp, lucid and luminous, always slightly strange, cool, aloof, and yet capable of cutting deeply into the emotions of the reader. He reminds me of some of the avant garde 'New Worlds' writers of the late 60s and early 70s who attempted experimental prose that connected with the head and the heart simultaneously. But they mostly failed, and Josipovici mostly succeeds. 'Second Person Looking Out' is a maze tale in which the labyrinth is a relentless shift-of-perspective in the grounds and interior of a weird house. 'Mobius the Stripper' is a dark comedy and a magnificent exercise in topography. 'The Bird Cage' is an elegiac prose poem. 'Christmas' is a brilliant kitchen-sink twister. 'Exile' is a story of poignant irony about self-imprisonment. 'Steps' (perhaps my favourite) demonstrates the artistry with which the author can switch between past, present and future, turning a bizarre encounter with a stranger into something that is poised between daydream/nightmare and reality. 'Love Across the Borders' is a powerful and chilling revenge tale... There is a strong flavour of Borges as well as Kafka in many of these stories, and in the others, and all are highly accomplished. This is a wonderful book.
* The Star Diaries -- Stanislaw Lem
Stanislaw Lem is a writer I especially admire. This book is one of his best. In fact it is one of the best science-fiction books I have ever read. A collection of the improbable voyages of the space explorer Ijon Tichy, it is delightful, funny, thought provoking, original, clever, charming and absurd (in a good way). This is the kind of science-fiction I most enjoy -- similar to Italo Calvino's Cosmicomics -- picaresque, playful, highly imaginative and not limited by those pointless concerns for veracity that 'hard' SF always insists on. In many ways The Star Diaries is more akin to Gulliver's Travels than to traditional science-fiction; but it is the endlessly inventive ideas that really make Lem stand out. He was a genius.
* The Nightwatchman's Occurrence Book -- V.S. Naipaul
It is only this year (2016) that I have really started to read his books in earnest, but V.S. Naipaul has already become one of my favourite writers. I read Miguel Street, his first book, in the spring, and followed it with his second, The Mystic Masseur; then I knew I would have to seek out his third, and so on... So I bought the third, The Suffrage of Elvira, but it seemed sensible to buy it as part of this omnibus and thus secure two extra books in one volume... I am glad that I did. The Suffrage of Elvira is one of Naipaul's 'early' books. Set in Trinidad it is full of comical characters who move in a setting in which many different races mix and interact. It seems almost one of a piece with his two earlier books. There is considerable charm here, but it is far from being merely 'charming' or 'colourful'. There is also darkness, sadness and frustration amid the tropical props and island scenery. This style of writing was one Naipaul was to abandon shortly afterwards, moving on to a much more precise and profound voice and manner of approaching his material. The second part of this omnibus features Mr Stone and the Knights Companion, an oddity that Naipaul wrote while he was travelling through India, although it is set entirely in England and was Naipaul's attempt to write a wholly 'English' novel. It works very well. It is a social satire along the lines of some of H.G. Wells' novels (The History of Mr Polly for instance) and the writing is sublime, subdued, muted but deeply thoughtful too, quite different from the prose style of the early Trinidad novels, but equally impressive and affecting in an entirely different way. The third part of the omnibus contains a story collection, A Flag on the Island. To my delight, this collection featured stories that are in the style of Miguel Street (in fact, one of them, 'The Enemy' was originally intended for that book but left out), and also stories in which the more mature and richer manner prevails. It is the title story of this collection, the brilliant novella 'A Flag on the Island' that actually proved to be an important transition piece for Naipaul, leading him to experiment with, and develop, a new voice that became entirely his.
* Trout Fishing in America -- Richard Brautigan (Picador)
* The Fall -- Albert Camus (Penguin)
In my 20s I read Camus and thought he was an extraordinary writer, fully the equal of his mighty reputation. So why didn't I read him again during the entirety of my 30s and 40s until now? It is a mystery that I can't explain. I picked up The Fall on a whim and devoured it. An astounding short novel that has the fundamental question of how to live in this world as its theme. Camus is a philosophical writer with a precise use of language. His prose has unstoppable momentum and a reader can't help but hurry from the first page to the last in a delirium of receptive inspiration.
* A Malgudi Omnibus -- R.K. Narayan (Vintage)
Sunday, December 04, 2016
I am delighted with the way the book has turned out and the treatment given to it by the publisher of this updated and expanded second edition. David Rix of Eibonvale Press is an exceptional book designer. His covers are unique, striking and aesthetically pleasing. One of the best covers he has ever designed (in my view) is for Allen Ashley's The Planet Suite. Almost as great is his cover for Andrew Hook's Human Maps.
Both of these writers attended the event in London last Friday night where Sangria was launched. Allen I have met several times before; this was the first time I had met Andrew, but I am trying to turn him into a Brautigan fan and it seems to be working. It was also great to meet my friend Valeria Vitale at the event, a person who seems to share at least some of my literary tastes (it is surprisingly difficult to find such people).
I am really awkward at these informal literary events where there are no readings, no panels and no question and answer sessions, just people milling around and chatting. I always find it difficult when people ask me, "Are you a writer?" The substantial part of my character that is modest and polite wants to answer, "In the shade of giants like Tolstoy, Proust, Kafka, Cervantes, I haven't earned the right to call myself a writer, so by any realistic yardstick I am not." And at the same time, the part of my character that is imperious and hubristic wants to answer, "Aren't you aware of my genius?!" The conflict between these two equal but opposite forces usually has me shrugging my shoulders and mumbling shyly, "Oh, sort of!"
Sangria in the Sangraal is available from various places, including directly from the publisher, but people seem to prefer ordering from Amazon. Therefore I can link to it at Amazon UK here and also Amazon US here. The book is available as a hardback and also as a paperback, and there will be a Kindle edition in the new year (if not sooner).
Saturday, November 26, 2016
Sangria Book Launch
The overdue book launch for my sequence of linked fantasy stories set in old Spain, Sangria in the Sangraal, is now scheduled to take place next Friday. The details for the launch are: December 2nd at the Counting House pub, 50 Cornhill, EC3V 3PD, London, United Kingdom (see map to pinpoint location).
Anyone who happens to be in London at the time should consider coming along. The launch is actually a multiple launch, as two other authors, Allen Ashley and Andrew Hook, will also be launching their own books at the same time, The Planet Suite and Human Maps.
Eibonvale Books and Exaggerated Press will be present; and the event will be a sort of 'social evening' for anyone who likes fantasy fiction. In fact, it is one of a series of open nights held by the British Fantasy Society. You don't have to be a member to come along. I am not a member, for example. I am looking forward to finally having the hardback edition of my updated and expanded book in my hands!
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
I finished writing my 'weird Western' The Honeymoon Gorillas and I am delighted with it. I have a publisher who has expressed some interest in seeing it, but I have to wait until next year before submitting it. That's the publishing world for you. Things tend to move slowly, at least more slowly than authors would like, certainly slower than this author would like...
The projects I am currently working on include a new book for Bizarro Pulp Press that is a collection of novelettes and stories about ghost comedians. It is going to be called, appropriately enough, The Ghost Comedians. With luck it will be finished this year and I will submit it then. One of the novelettes is a story I first started writing when I was 15 years old. That uncompleted version was lost ages ago, but I always fondly remembered aspects of it, and I am re-using them in this new version, hopefully in a much improved form.
Another project is something I have only started writing very recently. It has taken more years than it should but I think I might have found an approach to writing that is more suited to what I do well and avoids me having to attempt what I don't do well. It's not really a style but a different way of handling my material; namely a method of linking fairly abstract routines into a whole without having to worry so much about narrative drive, characterization, plot and other conventionalities. I have started a new work utilizing this approach which is called Cloud Farming in Wales. Let's see how it progresses...
This technique is one that I am borrowing from Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America, which I read recently for the first time. I only started reading Brautigan this year, although he was recommended to me years ago. Of his twelve prose works I have already read seven and plan to read the others as soon as possible. His later books such as The Hawkline Monster and Sombrero Fallout show a neater structure than his earlier; and yet it is his first two 'novels' that seem to contain the greatest potential and originality; they are fluid, disjointed, often abstract, yet deeply rich.
I no longer collect books. I read them and then give them away. I have a pristine copy of his first published novel (the second to be written) A Confederate General from Big Sur. Anyone who lives in the UK and wants it for free, just email me at email@example.com and I will mail it to you. First come, first served.
Sunday, October 16, 2016
Half a Century
Many things have happened to me this year but I simply felt less of a need to talk about them in public. I ought to say, however, that I am now 50 years old. My half-century birthday arrived! This means that twenty of me would constitute a millennium. Forty of me would be two millennia. A normal bus easily holds forty people; such a bus full of copies of me would be full of enough years to stretch back to the glory days of the Roman Empire.
I continue to find this surprising, I don't know why. But age, of course, is not really about how many times planet Earth has orbited the sun. That is only an astronomical measurement; and organic creatures age biologically. I am an organic creature. My age depends on health rather than time. Keeping myself fit is a priority.
I have updated The Platinum Donkey blog, where a selection of my stories can be read online for free. There are now 44 stories on that blog; and one day I intend for there to be exactly one hundred.
Anyway, I guess I will try to make more of an effort to update this blog. My latest book was published recently and I should have copies soon, fingers crossed. I will talk about that when I have the copies in my hands, in these half-century-old hands of mine...
Thursday, June 30, 2016
I wanted to Remain but...
But this blog is supposed to be about writing only. Writing and reading. I have become, in the past few weeks, a big fan of Richard Brautigan. Even at my age, I am still discovering writers new to me who enthrall and inspire.
A Facebook friend of mine asked me to put together a reading list of 'essential' books to read and I have been musing about doing so ever since. It will be a big job and I fear I will leave some important names out by accident, but I may well attempt this. Apart from Brautigan, other authors I have been enjoying this year and who I would add to such a list include V.S. Naipaul and R.K. Narayan.
I have been adding stories to The Platinum Donkey blog, where they can be read online for free. The latest addition is 'The Furious Walnuts' which I wrote 21 years ago and which is about the breakup of the UK.
My main writing project at the moment is a weird Western called "The Honeymoon Gorillas".
I am currently in the process of pitching two new books to publishers for future years. Let's see what happens. My next published book will hopefully be the updated and expanded Sangria in the Sangraal collection of linked short stories.
Sunday, June 19, 2016
Anthology Launch in London
Fae Visions of the Mediterranean is an anthology of stories and poems themed around the Mediterranean Sea.
So if you happen to be in the area, come along! Various contributors will be doing readings; and I plan to read a brand new (i.e. unpublished) story with a Mediterranean theme, as this seems a nicer idea that just reading the same piece that appears in the book itself.
The venue is The Plough in Bloomsbury (27 Museum St, London WC1A 1LH) and the event begins at 6pm.
Friday, June 03, 2016
Elusive Plato Returns
Twenty years ago I wrote a short novel called Elusive Plato in which I attempted to be vastly more ambitious, thematically, stylistically and metaphysically, than I had been in any of my previous work. It was my effort to move up a level and I believe I was successful. It still seems like a quantum jump.
The novel was published together with a novelette in a single volume by the long-dead Tanjen Ltd a couple of years after it was completed. Tanjen were a small press notable for publishing early work by two writers who would go on to become major successes with the big publishing houses -- Tim Lebbon and Neal Asher -- but they didn't last long before they folded. That's often the way with small presses.
Elusive Plato received excellent reviews. The late great critic and literary pundit E.F. Bleiler was especially effusive with his praise in his Encyclopedia of Supernatural Writers. He claimed it was my best work. And so it surely was. I worked hard to put original invention into it and yet at the same time to connect with some deep and mysterious, undoubtedly atavistic, parts of the human psyche.
A picaresque, like much of my fiction, the novel resembles a grotesque chess problem in which the pieces are taboos and each move leads to a situation of changed landscapes and circumstances that require further moves towards the inevitable checkmate. The mating of the king is more than symbolic. It is a geometrically precise nightmare.
I am delighted to announced that two decades after it was first conceived and executed, Elusive Plato has been republished by Bizarro Pulp Press. I feel that the Bizarro scene is a perfect home for this book. I offer my thanks to Vincenzo Bilof, my editor. The cover is by the brilliant designer Matthew Revert. The book is available from Amazon UK and Amazon US and other outlets.
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Fae Visions: Interview with Tostoini
The Future Fire, a literary resource that has long been one of my favourite places on the web for reviews, have put together a fascinating anthology called Fae Visions of the Mediterranean, a collection of stories and poems themed around the Mediterranean Sea. It's a great core theme for fiction and verse and I am delighted to be a part of this project. As part of the promotion for the book, a series of interviews has been conducted with various contributors to the book. I was fortunate enough to interview the artist responsible for the excellent cover.
Tostoini is someone I knew nothing about before I conducted the interview. In some ways this is a hindrance to creating an interview and in other ways it might be an advantage. Anyway, with little more ado, here are the questions and answers. Take it away Tostoini!
Tell me a little about how important art is to your life?
It is very important to me, both as a producer that as an “end user” of art. I’m an avid consumer of good stories in every form and shape. This may sound like a trite stereotype, but I wanted to be an illustrator even when I didn’t know that’s how we call this job. For a number of years I wasn’t able to find time and energy to spare for my interest in art, and this made me bitter and angry. I was lucky enough to be able to make a complete change and now art is a big part of my daily life and work. We can say that it’s in the best interest of society if I make a living with my illustrations: I’m a more likable member of the human society this way!
Are there any artists who have directly inspired you? For this work in particular or in general?
Generally speaking, I have a couple of artist that had a big influence on me, Hayao Miyazaki and Edward Gorey just to name a few. I’m a big fan of Tom Gauld, Kate Beaton and Gemma Correll. Speaking of this specific cover, when I started working I wanted to capture the feel of Fae Visions, the idea of a Mediterranean art that’s not just classical art, all marble and Corinthian pillars. There’s a common culture, a lot of influences back and forth the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. I did a bit of research on motifs from the art and crafts, like the abstract pattern of Moroccan mosaics and the figures on the ancient black and red Greek vases. We also wanted to convey the mystery of the sea, the fact that despite years of explorations we still know very little on it, and that even a small sea like the Mediterranean Sea can be as huge and hostile as the ocean, as we are tragically aware in this days.
Why images rather than words or music?
I think that’s simply because I have fun drawing. And I love all the drawing paraphernalia, I can hoard all kind of papers and colours and pens and brushes and still try to persuade myself I need every single one of them for work. Also, I can’t carry a tune to save my life, so music is out of the question.
You say that you were bitter and angry. If you were shipwrecked on an island and could only take along one flavour and one emotion, what would they be?
This is a very bizarre island. I’ll take with me umami and surprise, so I could still be able to season my food and enjoy the experience.
What does the Mediterranean mean to you, if anything?
It is home. As simple as that. I was born and raised near a port city in Sardinia. I take that sea for granted for most of my life. Then I moved away and I discovered homesickness. Now as soon as the sun start to shine in the spring I start to have a longing for the sea and I start drawing starfishes, whales, manatees, fishes, seaweeds...
What is your favourite element in the periodic table?
I have a soft spot for element 117, currently referred to as “Ununseptium”, because that’s the one that maybe is going to be labelled as Octarine. (Please International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, humour us).
Coffee or wine?
What, I’m stranded on that bizarre island again? What’s the problem with the islanders, why the urge to give up some food every time? I will keep them both, thank you.
I am sometimes incompetent. What things are you sometimes?
Absent-minded. And clumsy. Sometime both absent-minded and clumsy in the same moment. Yes, I can see the pattern.
Are there any projects you are currently working on that you would like to talk about?
I’m currently working on “Bestiarium”, a kids’ app for Art Stories, an Italian digital publisher that develop educational apps for children on art, history and heritage. It’s going to be an app on animals in ancient art and history, we are currently in the research stage and it’s so much fun. There are a lot of amazing mythological creatures around the world, so many stories and ideas. At the moment we are working on Maya civilization, Ancient Egypt and Roman Empire, to name a few. It’s going to be to be released in the fall, so I will start drawing and sketching in a few days.
You have to become a mythical creature for the remainder of your life. Which one would you choose?
I’d love to be Gamera. Or Morla from the Neverending Stories (or the Great A’Tuin, just to quote Terry Pratchett again). I thing I could be an amazing giant turtle, I have the personality for the role.
Saturday, May 21, 2016
My 800th Story
800 stories. I feel pleased with myself. Of course this doesn't paint the whole picture. I wrote many stories from a young age that were subsequently lost, so the real total is much higher than 800, but I have decided not to count the lost ones. Therefore my earliest surviving story dates from 1989 and I consider that to be story #1. A complete list can be found here.
Story number #800 is part of a new sequence of tales that will hopefully morph into a novella or even a novel. It's a weird Western and the overall title of the sequence (or novella or novel) will be The Honeymoon Gorillas. I have stated elsewhere that it's the first weird Western I have ever attempted but then I realised this isn't quite true. My novella 'The Gargantuan Legion', which forms the second section of my novel Captains Stupendous, is a Weird Western of sorts.
I have been interviewed several times in the past few months by various literary resources and websites. Why so many interviews should cluster at roughly the same time is partly a consequence of my recent book Brutal Pantomimes, which has received positive attention, and partly because I have had work accepted by numerous anthologies. Apart from the review with Weird Fiction Review, mentioned in my previous blog post, some of the other interviews are listed below:
The Future Fire
Back to the grindstone now... But a coffee break first, I think! :-)
Sunday, April 24, 2016
So Much For...
So much for turning my blog into a once-monthly update of the things I have been doing! It's near the end of April already and I have neglected it again. So what have I been up to? I have got back into exercise after an extended winter hibernation, which is good, but I guess that the point of this blog, if it actually has one, is to talk about my writing projects.
I was interviewed by Weird Fiction Review back in March. It's always a pleasure to work with this particular website. I have now been interviewed many times in many different places, and I'm aware that my answers to the standard questions are not evolving over time. They are pretty much the same as they have been for the past two decades. My favourite writers haven't really changed, my tastes and aspirations remain almost identical. What does this mean? That I should deliberately attempt to be 'different' in any subsequent interviews? But that would be false.
The Platinum Donkey blogsite that features stories of mine from the entire span of my career now has 31 stories on it. I eventually plan for there to be exactly one hundred stories on the site to be read for free. I changed the name of the site from The Platinum Ass (a nod to Apuleius) because people were expecting it to be something different from what it actually is. :-)
My next two books due to be published are Elusive Plato, a short novel I wrote twenty years ago, which is being reissued by Bizarro Pulp Press soon; and the updated, expanded and corrected Sangria in the Sangraal, which will hopefully appear courtesy of Eibonvale Press later in the year. I will blog more about these when appropriate.
In the meantime I leave you with a short poem, the only poem I wrote last year. I hardly ever write poems, but I will probably write one or two this year too.
Saturday, February 20, 2016
Handwritten Manuscripts Offer
As mentioned in my blog post below, certain copies of Brutal Pantomimes come with a handwritten story, poem, sketch, drawing or other piece of work.
These items are allocated randomly. There are 71 of them, so it is far from guaranteed that anyone who orders a copy of the book now will receive one; but that's the nature of such offers, I guess.
The manuscripts include my first published story, 'An Ideal Vocation', written in 1991, and even one story written before that, a story I lost for 20 years, rediscovering it in a box in a cellar of a friend's house, as well as some of my most recent work and lots of stuff in between.
I have prepared a short text to explain the provenance of each piece to the readers who get one. There is also the manuscript of 'Corsets on the Outside', a story that actually appears for the first time in my new book.
BRUTAL PANTOMIMES can be ordered from Egaeus Press.
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
My new book has just been published. It's a beautiful looking hardback from the wonderful Egaeus Press, a collection that consists of seven short stories, two novelettes and one novella. The novella is 'The Impossible Inferno' which was my 500th tale, one that I strove hard to make especially notable. I am extremely pleased with this volume. It just feels right. The publisher's blurb declares:
"Brutal Pantomimes contains ten tales of absurd exoticism, weird adventure and wild fantasy from the shockingly prolific and highly acclaimed Rhys Hughes. Most of the stories, novellettes and novella included have not previously been published and some are regarded by their author to be amongst his best works. Enjoy pirate shenanigans, a globe of the Earth that is a voodoo doll, the dubious gifts of a Greek god, impossible angles, improbable sciences, impractical philosophies, a rare tropical yeti in a submarine and so much more."
I am delighted that the amazing author Michael Cisco wrote an introduction for my book.
Following the example of what happened when my Tallest Stories was published three years ago, I have collected together handwritten manuscripts of stories and poems, drawings, sketches and other material, as well as some ultra-rare chapbooks, to be given randomly to people who order my book. These special items total 71 in number and I prepared a document describing the provenance of them all. This document can be accessed by clicking on this link.
BRUTAL PANTOMIMES can be ordered directly from the publisher here.
I thank you for listening!
Thursday, December 31, 2015
Back to the Blog
This is the longest pause I've ever had in updating my blog. I haven't written a new entry since September. I felt that people were losing interest in blogs. Social media (Facebook etc) seemed to be taking over most of the functions of the old fashioned blog. Nonetheless it occurs to me that it will be nice to keep updating my blog anyway, less often perhaps; once a month maybe. Each entry can then be a review of the month as a whole.
2015 has been a very interesting year. An excellent year, in fact. It started off with a bang and many great things happened as it progressed. I started with a trip to Serbia, Macedonia and Greece. In Skopje I met the most excellent Brankica Bozinovska, who created the covers for two of my books, Flash in the Pantheon and Thirty Tributes to Calvino, as well as several ebooks. I have known Brankica for many years but this was the first time we had an opportunity to spend time together. She was kind enough to drive me right across Macedonia and over the Greek border one cold but bright day and that was a fine adventure.
As for book publications, I had three books released. Orpheus on the Underground (Tartarus Press), the aforementioned Thirty Tributes to Calvino (Gloomy Seahorse Press); and a collection of absurdist tales called Mirrors in the Deluge (Elsewhen Press) that I am extremely proud of, but which failed commercially. I urge anyone who likes my writing and who hasn't yet obtained this book to do so, both to support the excellent publisher and also to reaffirm my belief that absurdism isn't dead yet... Many of my out-of-print or difficult-to-obtain books also became ebooks this year; I especially recommend The Lunar Tickle.
It was a fine reading year too. According to Goodreads (where I list all the books I have read in a year) I read 42 books. Of these, the best were:
The White Hotel -- D.M. ThomasAs can be seen, the joint 'winners' were the Platonov and the Saint-Exupéry. If pushed, I would say the former was more monumental and catastrophic in terms of philosophical, political and historical significance; but the latter was more to my particular taste and more purely enjoyable.
Farewell Waltz -- Milan Kundera
Night Flight -- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Elephant -- Sławomir Mrożek
Tortilla Flat -- John Steinbeck
Short Stories 1921-1946 -- Bertolt Brecht
Voices Made Night -- Mia Couto
The Invention of Morel -- Adolfo Bioy Casares
The Foundation Pit -- Andrey Platonov.
I wrote a total of 29 stories this year. My rate of production dropped sharply. Back in 2010 I managed to write 240,000 words of fiction in one year; in 2015 I only managed 70,000. But I am permitted to slow down at this stage. I have reached number #782 in my stated aim of writing exactly 1000 stories. It all seems to fit in with the plan. And I sold several new books to publishers for next year and the years after.
I am going to be writing more non-fiction from the beginning of 2016 and afterwards. I always knew that one day I would start writing essays and articles properly, I just wasn't sure when this would happen. Of course I have written lots of non-fiction in the past but I never took it very seriously. That's going to change. One day, when I have finished my grand cycle of stories I will probably transmute entirely into a non-fiction writer. Anyway, the first project of this new phase will be a critical essay on Andrey Platonov's 1931 novel The Foundation Pit (see above).
Health and fitness: I ran my first 10K without stopping, something I have wanted to do for many years. I got into weights seriously. Dancing and drumming also helped, being good exercise in their own right. I continued to play the drums every Sunday night in a Latin music club, and the styles of certain dances, such as kuduro, became more energetic than previously.
I met some amazing people as a result of all these activities. I had lots of walking trips in West Wales too; but I only managed to go climbing once, and that needs to change next year.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Salsa Birthday Party
It was my birthday recently. At salsa I was given the customary 'celebrant in the centre' treatment, which entailed dancing with as many ladies as possible, one after the other. These photos are a small selection. I still played the drums, of course, and I do believe I am getting better.
I am exactly the same age as my friend Tseng Lan Hui but she is 50 years old and I am 49 years old. I think this confused people at salsa who gave me a birthday card that said HAPPY 50TH BIRTHDAY.
I was, however, delighted by the gesture. The reason why Lan is a year older than me even though we are exactly the same age is because for Chinese people the custom is to count the time in the womb, which means they are one year old after a couple of months.
Lan is a couple of months older than me. This means she is exactly a year older than me despite the fact we were born in the same year and are both Fire Horses! In other words we are exactly the same and completely different at the same time!
There have been long nights on the beach watching the lunar eclipse (my first total lunar eclipse from start to finish) and stunning sunsets and 'conventional' but still beautiful moonrises. The moon last night was a tomato in the sky, then it was an orange, then a grapefruit, then a metaphor, then it was like a simile, then like some other comparison, then finally it was like itself, the moon.
Life is good. My writing has perhaps suffered in terms of output; but I am really pleased with what I am producing, and I have signed contracts for four new books. One of these I have just delivered, a collection of strange stories that may (or may not) be entitled Brutal Pantomimes when it comes out (if it does come out) next year.
I have also been working on adjusting the contents of my forthcoming collection of tribute stories to authors I admire, The Senile Pagodas. I thought the project was finished, but I have recently completed a tribute to Nathaniel Hawthorne (a 'Tanglewood Tale') and I am working on one to Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. I hope that both new stories will find their way into the finished volume.
Akutagawa is a writer who has had a big influence on me during my working life. And now I have discovered a Chinese equivalent: Xu Lun. Perhaps I will end up writing a tribute story to him too and adding it to this collection. I am beginning to feel sorry for my publisher!
Once again I want to plug the longest single author short-story collection ever...
I know I have plugged this many times already but it's equivalent to a dozen ordinary collections, so I feel I am allowed to do so. It is The Million Word Storybook, available in two editions. The so-called female edition can be obtained from Amazon here.
At some point I want to discuss religion. Perhaps Faith would be a better word. But not today.
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