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Monthly Archives: November 2009

like a fist when you open your hand

The best short story ever written comes in the middle of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.

It’s a brief digression from the plot, chapter 7, I think, and is called The Flitcraft Parable.

Google it.

It’s beautiful.

mixed veg

Maybe the last blog but one was a bit heavy. Fact is, I’m not a violent person, and all I have trouble with is speaking my mind; it’s no biggie.

But looking back at my stories, where the subject is mentioned at all, I find that most of my characters come from dysfunctional families, and a lot have missing fathers. A lot of them are trying to create new families from the wreckage of old.

And Charles Bukowski, referring to his own abusive upbringing, said ‘my father taught me to write’.

I dunno. But maybe, just maybe, I’m trying to create something new for myself with my writing. Or maybe I’m trying to reclaim my space.

Anyway, enough mulling things over. I’m busy cooking, while watching a 60’s movie – Matt Helm, a sort of prototype Austin Powers, and just as tongue in cheek – and my soup is starting to boil over the top of the pan.

My current favourite books…

In no particular order, and for no special reason:

The Hobbit

Blood Meridian

Pride & Prejudice


Tortilla Flat

The Mayor of Casterbridge


Tender is the Night

The Accidental Tourist

…but the list changes from week to week.

fiction is truth

My dad was extremely violent, and oppressively overbearing. And though, at heart I’m quite a placid person, I learned early how to assault someone in a fairly effective manner. It was expected of me. Winning fights is all about surprise, speed and overwhelming force. And commitment.

In my teens, I’d lie in bed at night running through the various permutations of assault and/or defence. I’d spend hours working things through in my mind until I’d rehearsed, and mentally countered, all possible outcomes.

Everybody who’d ever hurt me was a target. And I managed to get through most of them, eventually.

But I never learned to argue or discuss things or talk them through. I couldn’t negotiate. In our house that wasn’t something you did. I have a sister, and she argued with my dad constantly, and he would beat her up, quite viciously at times. So the message to me was clear; don’t get into a debate with this guy, because you will suffer. The worst I had to put up with was ridicule, and scorn.

My sister though, god bless her, she put up a fight; she never learned to curb her tongue. She told me once she’d rather get a beating than not have her say.

And she did. Get a beating, that is.
And now she’s nuts.

Not insane. She just behaves peculiarly.

Since those days, I’ve found it difficult to express my thoughts openly and, short of inflicting violence, found it even more difficult to sustain a course of action against the will of others, even when I know I’m right. I have no wish to impose myself on someone else, and I have no ability to do so.

My thoughts, when expressed, are heavily couched in irony and sarcasm and opacity, on the off-chance that if someone disagrees, I can discard whatever I’ve just said, like I didn’t really mean it.

It limits your options, when all you know is how to shut up, or batter someone unconscious. It hinders your emotional development. I got about as far as insincerity, and that was it. I’m not a liar, it’s just that saying what I really think, to anyone, including myself, is difficult.

When I met my girl, Ruthie, she told me that if I got into any more fights, she’d leave me. So I stopped fighting. To be honest, it was a great relief to me, not merely because over time I’ve lost a number of teeth (thankfully not any of my front ones) and had a number of bones broken, and done some frightful damage to other people, but mainly because I’m a coward and I hate violence.

But even though I’m now a sort of pacifist-in-the-rough, and feel quite pleased with my progress on that account, I’ve still not discovered how to speak my mind. Not really. It’s a skill that eludes me.

But I’m working on it.
I need to.

For how can I write fiction if I am unable to speak the truth?

whatever you get is what you want it to be

Been lurching between dismay and exhilaration today; paying the rent gets in the way of everything I love and everything I want to do, and sometimes it overwhelms me and puts me on a total downer.

But chatting with friends and people who love me makes it ok. And tonight I went for a run too, which was great.

I stopped running a couple of years ago because I kept getting injuries, and started walking instead. But tonight I pulled on my old adidas runners and just went for it. Ran fast, down to the beach, along the promenade and back. Just a couple of miles, and it felt great.

And back here in my kitchen, drinking tea, chatting with pals (but needing a shower quite badly), I’m listening to Calvin Harris, whose music is extremely uplifting and whose lyric I borrowed for the title of this post.


After establishing himself in the backwoods of the Pyrenees, chopping wood and digging a well, Lishman’s got his act together and is back: http://barcelonadiary-lishman.blogspot.com/

More importantly, so is Kitler.


I don’t do politics very well, being mainly focused on the minutiae of relationships, but Lishman looks at the bigger picture, and he manages to draw out strange and often threatening patterns from the very fabric of the world we inhabit.

Love it.

(Can’t believe the spellchecker didn’t throw minutiae back at me).


I found a quiet little Costa at the back of this WH Smiths, ordered an Earl Grey and a packet of white wafer biscuits and sat down on one of the comfy seats next to the wall at the back, by the fire exit, to watch people. As is my compulsion, in between people-scoping, I was writing lists of jobs to be done, in a spiral notebook.

The tea was nice.

But then I saw this guy sitting by a mini table over near the counter. He was plugged into his netbook, headphones on, typing furiously and my first thought was, aah, porn. Then I thought, chatroom, maybe? Or Grand Theft Auto?

Then I thought it could be a million things. He might be running a huge company from the comfort of a Costa easy chair. He might be writing a thesis on the leisure habits of the English cafe-classes, or settling his accounts with the taxman; he might be watching a pirated copy of Black Dynamite (but I said no to that particular idea, ‘cos he wasn’t laughing out loud).

And he was listening, not talking, so I thought, yup, gamer.

I looked him over, for more clues, and while he didn’t have a big fat head or anything, he did get wider, the further down his body you looked. Sort of like this: average head, pudgy neck, flaccid chest, hefty waist, bovine thighs and legs. Huge feet.

He was triangle-shaped.

World of Warcraft, I thought. Definitely.

On principle, I dislike gaming. It’s ersatz. I’m pretty suspicious of all of this virtual nonsense. I think, do it properly. Say, if you want to do kung fu, don’t play some stupid fight game; take classes, punish yourself physically, get tough, and maybe get a job as a nightclub doorman – you’ll get loads of violence and it’ll be real. Or if, say, you want to fly a biplane; go join a club, get your pilot’s licence – don’t sit in your bedroom with a plastic joystick and a screen. Or if you want sex, then find a partner, someone you like, who’s nice and who likes you too, and make love with them. But please don’t just join some alt.binaries fucking newsgroup, where you swap images of fifteen year old Russian schoolgirls, or fat grandmothers or whatever it is that takes your fancy. ‘Cos here’s the really interesting bit – none of that’s real. And you’re sitting there, and you are real.

Then again, I thought, ten minutes later, as I walked back through the bestsellers shelves of Smiths, where does that leave blogging, or websites full of short stories, like mine?

I scanned the rows of shelves, filled with ghost-written books credited to female celebrities, and ghost-written adventure stories credited to former action-heroes; then there were the formulaic super-soft porn novels aimed of ladies of advancing years, and shelves full of this year’s DVD by some right-on comedian.

And I thought, there’s absolutely nothing here for me.

But it’s not just Smiths; about a year ago I went into a branch of Waterstones and asked where the short-story section was and the guy pointed it out to me.
‘Over there. But we haven’t got many,’ he admitted.
He was right.
There was one book. And I bought it.

It struck me that if you want to read new fiction, you almost have to go online. And before you accuse me of trying to advertise on behalf of the James Ross society, or some secretive Knight’s Templar’s guild of short story writers, think about it. Where else you going to go? The library?


They don’t sell Earl Grey. Or white wafer biscuits.


I awoke hungover, with Starlight licking my eyelids.

It sounds a bit weird, but it isn’t, it’s really quite nice; she normally tries to wake me by lightly nibbling at my big toe, but if that doesn’t work, if I’ve been totally hammered the night before, I get the rough edge of her tongue on my eyelids, accompanied by gentle purring.

I’d dragged the quilt right over me and it was mostly hanging off the end like a badly pitched tent. All I had was a half a triangle covering me.

I was naked.

And my feet were cold.

I’d forgotten to close the curtains and I could see the grim, grey morning reflected in the rain-smeared windows. I could still smell her scent, buried in the depths of the pillow she’d lain on; I could almost feel the silk of her skin, smooth and buttery like she’d just had an oiled and scented bath.

But she was gone.
Long gone.

And just how many times can you push someone away before they stop coming back?

I dragged the quilt back over me, the better to hide my shame.


My pal Jim is an ardent anarcho-catholic, and a vegan to boot, and he strongly disapproves of Bonfire Night which is, as he sees it, the celebration of the torture and murder of a catholic revolutionary, and the oppression of catholics in general.

On the other hand, I see it is a fairly benign celebration of freedom from religious intolerance and the rule of theocrats.

I’ve never been a fan of zealots, especially those who adhere to the desert religions, and so for me, every firework, every bonfire, every child holding a sparkler, confirms that the priests are not in charge.

But I can see a revival in intolerance coming. The hippies, having done their hippy fucking damage, are going to retire, and that leaves the field open for the fundamentalists.

It’s going to get interesting.


Most of the longer pieces on my website are works-in-process. After I realised that the gods needs a total rewrite I went back and looked at the other stuff on my website, and this is what I found:

Grendel reads quite well, as far as it goes – chatty, fun and fairly linear – and I’m going to try and complete it next year.

Murton Passport is going to get a make-over too; I’ve discovered a plot hidden in there that I think I can tease out. But I’m not doing it for a while.

And the short stories can wait.

Thing is, I need an editor, but I don’t have one. I can’t ask any friends to do it, not even friends who are writers, like E, or Lishman, because they’re too close to me to do it properly; they care too much and they’d pull their punches. Also, this stuff is what I do for pleasure, so I don’t know if I’d want someone pulling it to pieces; I’d prefer to just slug away on my own.

And when I’ve written commercial pieces there’s always been an editor, a copy-editor, or whoever, saying Yes! No! or Change this bit! Don’t use ‘and’ so much!

But all I have is hindsight. So, a year or two after I’ve written something I might realise that it needs rewriting at least one more time.

Which sucks.