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"where foxes go, I too will roam"

I did a bit of art therapy with fade_2_black at the Ikon Gallery Friday. There were three sculpture exhibitions on. Probably our favourite were the rooms set aside for the Lithuanian artist Zilvinas Kempinas. A loop of videotape, kept afloat by fans, somewhere between Mobius strip and and skipping rope; magnetised ball bearings moving in a black disc of oil (it reminded me of organisms growing in a Petri dish, but seen in negative); a room full of moons (or rough-painted plaster lit behind black screens). Sara Barker's exhibition was good too, sheets of painted glass and aluminium and torqued steel rods: I waved my hands about but couldn't get any theremin whoops out of them. I bought a copy of Rosie Garland's Victorian circus novel The Palace of Curiosities and a couple of postcards from the shop.

Yesterday I met up for lunch and beer with John H in Solihull. We stopped off in Oxfam Books before the pub and I remembered they had an old colour pamphlet on Coventry Cathedral I thought would interest him. We talked about airship crashes, Jocelyn Brooke, Laurel and Hardy, urban trees, amongst other things. It turns out John can do a mean Scooby-Doo impression! I wandered back to my parents. There was a package from Mark Valentine waiting for me. He'd very kindly offered to photocopy three of Joel's early stories. What I wasn't expecting was was the copy of The Foggy, Foggy Dew he'd put in. It's Joel's first chapbook, I think: a deceptively simple ghost story about dust and pianos and chessboards and a possible message from the other side. I might devote an entry to it some day. It was a cold evening (to me, anyway; we've reached that time of year when my hands turn violet indoors. Armwarmers from now on). I curled up in bed and read till the small hours, alternating between Kiernan (To Charles Fort..) and Bradbury (The Small Assassin). There was an owl keeping me company through the night.


Going postal

So, I had a small misadventure yesterday waiting for M's parcels. I got a buzz from the flatblock intercom; the parcelman was waiting downstairs.Now, the intercom and the button for letting people in are unreliable, so I told him I'd physically let him in. Took me half a minute to find keys and trot downstairs; no sign of the guy. At all. There were two people waiting outside the block, as if they were waiting to get into a particlular flat. One told me the delivery guy had left the parcel with someone in the block. But not who or where. I went back up a minute, annoyed; then I thought why didn't she tell me which number? That's fishy. Went back out. This time she'd been joined by a few guys I half-recognised hanging around the block, scraggy-looking guys. This stocky little dog bounded over me. It didn't want to take a chunk out of my leg, at least. I called over So what flat did you say the package was in? She mumbled a name and number. I think I knew then I was being had, that they had the parcel. But it was one versus several. I made to go back in when one of the men said Here y'are mate, I opened it up. I didn't know it was yours. He hands back two boxes of mobile recharger cables (one of them open) and a book on airships. I doubt very much he would have got anything for them. I couldn't say anything. I just went back in. But I heard the guy say something about I want my twenty quid back. I needed to leave the flat a couple of hours later to go to writers' group, but I felt rattled at the point. Had to keep looking over the balcony to make sure they'd gone. On the way out I asked in at the local cornershop if this sort of thing had happened before. Turns out these people are chancers who live on the estate; petty crooks. They wouldn't be violent - I wasn't threatened in any way, but I found the situation intimidating - but they'd nick a charity collection box or a shopping bag if you turned your back. As the cornershop guy said, opportunists. I did laugh it off a bit later, but it unsettled me some. If the delivery man could have been arsed to wait thirty seconds, this wouldn't have happened. I don't know if he got one of that lot to sign for it, or simply handed it over. There's no place in the block to leave packages. Some days I find it difficult to leave the estate, even when I know a walk would do me good - times like that I make myself go out to get tobacco or teabags. The cornershop's the edge of the world. Incidents like this don't help much. I don't even feel like leaving the flat now, never mind the estate. Blegh.
I went back to my parents' yesterday and didn't do much more than read a huge chunk of Brian Catling's The Vorrh, which is extraordinary, a kind of Heart of Darkness for the twenty-first century, I got a text from fade_2_black later than I should, but wandered out to meet her for the last hour at The Boat. The moon was bright enough to light the road, somewhat better than the streetlights: there are too many blind curves and wells of shadow on the way to Catney, and not nearly enough pavement. I slept a lot, dreamt that someone had done a botched TV series of Furze, made him look like a wizened creature by Brian Froud and stuck him in a country-house party waiting for something supernatural to happen. (It didn't.) This morning I saw a jay dart across the field behind my house, clay-pink chest and pied tail. I don't know how rare they are: they stick to tree cover if they can.

I spent this past week in the West Country with cybermule. The grapevine in her back garden has done well; we spent a lot of time eating home-made grape chutney. Spread it on on walnut bread: heaven! Friday we drove up into the Black Mountains. If you're ever in Abergavenny, check out Broadleaf Books - they're low on fiction but great on natural history, art and British history. H came away with a long essay by John Fowles on trees (I didn't dare try and get it for myself; there would have been a fight I couldn't win) and a Folio Society edition of Ruskin's Stones of Venice. I found a biography of Arthur Machen. Later we drove up into the hills. Dusk was closing in. There were sheep heads bobbing in the bracken. At the top we found a little wood, full of the witchiest, windwarped sessile oaks, straight out of The White People. Twilight was far gone there. H listened to the oaks using the breeze to gossip. No acorns on the ground - the sheep had taken them all. They were slow to get off the road when we drove back (the sheep, not the oaks). Sunday we met up with some of H's friends at the Lammastide pub, somewhere in the depths of Gloucestershire. There's a disused phone-box just up from there, colonised by ivy: whole swags of it had gotten through the windows. There was a sign inside announcing the box's imminent removal. That made me sad. I was sadder when I left H to get on the coach. It was a gold-green afternoonwhen we parted. Concrete seems to have crept into the light since then.

I'm practising what seems to be my own autumn ritual of recent years and reading Bradbury. Currently I'm on a raddled sixties paperback copy of The October Country (the subject line comes from the story The Emissary). Picked up a copy of CRK's To Charles Fort With Love for a fiver, so that comes next. Trying to put up a little wall of books between me and the lengthening nights....

Liminality #9!

Originally posted by shadesong at post

(“Sonata”, by Caitlyn Kurelich)

Liminality: A Magazine of Speculative Poetry
Issue 9
Autumn 2016

Edited by Shira Lipkin and Mattie Joiner

“The Ritual” – Alex Harper
“An Angel Considers His Fallen Brother” – Lyrik Courtney
“Conditional Statements” – Margaret Wack
“Exvocation” – Elliott Freeman
“For Lonnie” – Holly Walrath
“The Pacific is Wine Pink” – Gillian Daniels
“The Wait” – Emma Crockford
“How I Lost the Sky” – Toby MacNutt
“To the Waters” – Megan Arkenberg
“Giant-Killer, 1915” – Ross Holmes
“Fusion Dream” – Laurinda Lind
“After the Forest Fire” – Evelyn Deshane
“Mother Tornado” – Melissa Frederick


The thunder over the city this afternoon sounded almost gastric. At five it seemed as dark as it would be by eight: I'd put the living room lights on a good while before.

My dad had to go into hospital last week: I only found out the day after. It turned out to be a bad angina attack. He's on new meds. The ones he already takes thin his blood but leave him easy to bruise. We went round to see him Sunday afternoon and his hands were aubergine-purple. His pawky sense of humour remains intact. That's good. I can get used to my own ageing; my parents' frailty, not so much.
There was post waiting for me: my contributors' copies of the Uncertainties 1 and 2 anthology (see my Facebook for a photo of a happy author wielding their books); the new re-release of Tarkovsky's Stalker; and a second-hand copy of Francis Brett Young's West Midlands ghost story Cold Harbour. M and I walked down to Catney via the canal (bamboo or similar is taking over the towpath; there were mallards sleeping on a ramshackle jetty) then back to have a late lunch at the pub up the road from my folks' house. I went to meet fade_2_black for drinks later and it was good up until the point where our table was requisitioned by a bunch of jerks and our pints "vanished". Then: hipsters made me miss my bus. I suppose that's an album title

Yesterday I sold a poem to the new erotic/speculative poetry zine Twisted Moon. It's called A Consort For Panthalassa and if it's not quite tentacle porn it's certainly sea-kink. (I wrote it well over a year ago and then had no clue where to send it til now.) Today I did a light bit of revising to the library/Nairns story, which is now called To Utter Dust. I've an idea where to send it but have to wait until the start of October.

It's good to be back.

My short story "The Drowned Carnival" has been accepted by Not One Of Us. Hopefully it'll appear in October's issue (in which case that'll be three stories of mine appearing in three consecutive months - a first!) or in the spring issue next year. It's maybe a whimsical horror story, the tale of a man's love-hate relationship with a mask he finds floating in a canal, and what he sees through it. The story's three or four years old but I'm still fond of it: the basic idea went through many many permutations before I settled on this one.

In other news the Uncertainties 2 anthology isn't out for another week or so, but has already got its first review ! My own tale "Imago" has some nice things said about it: This is a powerful story, with more going on beneath it than is directly shown. That makes me happy (I may've danced around singing fuck yeah but that's another story!). Working on another tale called Before Dust Settles then onto something non-fiction.

"The dark, peopled water"

I'm not long back from a week in the West Country with cybermule (H)! She met me off the coach and we took her son to Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. Predictably we didn't get much past the geology and biology sections. I looked at a stuffed yellowhammer and remembered the little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese call I used to hear in the fields around my parents' house; I haven't heard that in thirty years. Tarkovsky's Stalker was showing at the Watershed but we didn't have time to watch it. We've been dating half a year and H gave me a book on Paul Nash's paintings as an anniversary present.

We got to the sea three times in the week in Somerset and South Wales. From the beach at Clevedon I brought back what a tiny crumb of ceramic - the craquelure looks like the lines of a street map - and two fangs of seaglass in amber and "Bristol blue". On the Sunday we went to Barry Island via the limestone quarry at Rhoose Point. Around the water there are the coils of ammonites, some as big as wheels. We didn't find the adders the quarry sign promised, but there was a flock of swifts or martins dancing over the lake, burnet and cinnabar moths sunning on scabious flowers. Go to the end of the quarry and there's a rubbled beach; if you take the upland path around the quarry then a steep staircase down (the berries of cuckoo-pint lie at you feet like abandoned gems), look to your left and there's a "secret" beach, easier to walk than the one in plain sight. A buckled red bicycle lay among the stones; someone had left a fallen trunk to sit on. Coming back from the quarry we met a guy from the local Swan Rescue Centre, cradling a grey cygnet, its cartilage exposed by abandoned fishing lines: people can be thoughtless arseholes. I hope the bird heals up.

We got to Barry a while before dusk. Not many people on the beach or in the funfair a few streets back: a Ferris wheel turned bright but desultory against the darkening sky. I sat on limpet-spangled rocks and smoked and watched H swim; later I went out to paddle. I needed wet sand between my toes; I opened my arms to the twilight and the grey tide and went a bit fey for a few minutes. Like an anti-Canute, I guess? Whatever. It's good to feel small in the face of the sea. I need that magic. I always think I can walk out a few more yards; but I'm never so bewitched I forget that I can't swim.

Our last full day together, we rambled through Bristol. There was meant to be a punk exhibition on the Arnolfini but it seemed to be in between events, and the staff were a bit precious; so we ended up cooing over architects' models at the Architecture Centre - the model of Gatehead's Millenium Bridge looked like an Aeolian harp. We went for the inevitable second-hand book-hunt: Oxfam Books had a few nice things (bird folklore and a proof copy on a Norfolk fisherman turned painter) but was grossly overpriced. We ended up in Bloom & Curll on Colston Street. The shop's charm lies as much in its proprietor Jason as in its stock: he's like the friendly version of Bernard Black. He asked me if I minded him smoking and we ended sharing cigarettes and rose wine. H came in from where she'd been reading Iain Sinclair on a neighbouring doorstep. Jason had set up a chess problem with a sign saying he'd pay any customer a tenner if they could solve it; H won. (It was pretty much the money that we'd spent in the shop - the haul included a book on Green Men, one on Celtic fairy tales, Walden's Thoreau, a Colette omnibus, and Sean O' Brien's The Drowned Book. I wish I'd discovered his poems earlier! - he writes water well.The subject line comes from him.) They played a quick game then we baled to drink our ill-gotten gains (books to chess to wheat beer - there's some alchemy there, perhaps) in a metal pub called The Gryphon.

I've tried and failed to finish Stapledon's Star Maker this last week. I took the coach back to Brum grazing the pages of The Pale Brown Thing by Fritz Leiber: the early novella version of Our Lady of Darkness, now available in a tasty new edition from Swan River Press (John H was good enough to give me a spare copy).

It feels strange to be back in a city where most people don't talk with burred voices.

Oh - I meant to post about this last week! I finally received the 2014 Dwarf Star Award plaque that I won for my poem And Deeper Than Did Ever Plummet Sound. Truth be told I kept forgetting I was due the thing. Have a blurry picture of that for your pains:


"Everything ahead cannot be seen"

I've sat on this one a little longer, but I can now announce my second story sale of the summer! My weird tale "Imago" will appear in  the Swan River Press anthology Uncertainties: Volume II, coming out in August: here are more details.
"Imago" itself is a pretty old story of mine, dating back to about '99 or 2000 (it's had a good polishing since then. I can't say for sure. I can remember what sparked it: seeing Bauhaus live in the mid-90s. It was during the song Hollow Hills, I think; anyway the set during the song included twenty light bulbs lowered from the ceiling. Peter Murphy moved among them, touching bulbs: it looked like a ritual. That got distorted a bit and ended up in a ruined house rather than a Manchester rock club.

M and I found a swallowtailed moth on the path running out of the estate Friday afternoon: ghost-gold with reddish stripes, an easy two-inch wingspan. He gently nudged it off the path with his finger so people wouldn't trample it. I saw JH that night: we talked about Jocelyn Brooke's dystopian novella The Image of a Drawn Sword, the current state of politics (I'm taking comfort from as much satire as I can get now), publishing (as I'm aching to try and get a collection of my stuff off the ground); probably a score of other things that I can't recall right now. Last night, a long-overdue date with cybermule: we traded stones from beaches (Seasalter to Chesil Beach); I gave her a copy of W. G. Hoskins' The Making of the English Landscape.

I'm reading Vernon Watkins' New Selected Poems and Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach Trilogy. Poems doesn't have the whole of Watkins' Ballad of the Mari Lwyd, which is a crying shame. But he's great with stones and shells and birdlife, also Time:

Time built your room three-walled
Where Fear, a nurseling, crawled
But at the fourth wall I
Bring the starred sky
And the scented world.

It's in the mid-twenties out there. I daren't lean on the balcony wall in case I make a barbecue of my forearms.
My story "The Men Cast By Shadows" has been accepted by The Alchemy Press for their tribute anthology to Joel Lane, Something Remains. It's a collection of stories - collaborations - based on unfinished fragments and notes left by Joel at the time of his death. It's a very important book to me, and this is the second (and I would say final) collaboration between he and I. The first was a canal-set ghost story, Ashes In The Water. It got two reprints - not something I'm used to. I'm still immensely proud of it. "Men Cast By..." is a story of love and art gone wrong, perhaps more bitter and funereal than I've written before. It took longer to find a title than to write, and it was only after I submitted it that I realised the title was probably shaped by that of Broadcast's first studio album, The Noise Made By People. For a full ToC and more information, go here.

"I have seen him buying vegetables"

The local carrion crows have been dropping bones on the balcony again. I'm guessing these come from takeaway chicken. Unless they've picked a vegetarian as their carrion god. It's not unusual to look up from my cigarette and find a crow watching me. I always try and greet them. Last week I saw three of them perched on the neighbouring block dividing a slice of toast between them.

M and I went down to Kent last weekend for the christening of his nephew, who is I think less than a year old? Anyway he (the nephew, not M) seems sweet enough for a tiny human - I'm not great with them at that age - all sepia hair and eyes that are greenish-blue but look hazel in certain lights. I gurned at and nosebooped him and he seemed to enjoy that. Lots of people over from Germany and America and various parts of the UK for it. I got a bit overwhelmed by that at times but mostly survived (I'm not great in crowds; they can give me panic attacks at the worst). Friday we travelled down to the coast via Faversham and a village called Seasalter. I was there long enough to smoke seated on a breakwater, gather some shells and a knuckle of black beach-flint. I threw some pebbles into the waves: a warm grey-green. There's an old-style K6 phone box there by the village shop. I don't know why someone had painted it black over the usual scarlet. Maybe I'll write an explanation one day. We ended up in Whitstable, where Peter Cushing lived; the local Wetherspoons is named for him. It's got a lovely Art Deco facade; I didn't have time to explore the interior. But I bought books. A couple of Christies, an omnibus of Vance's Dying Earth novels, Jeff VanderMeer's Acceptance (I'll have to reread the first two Southern Reach novels; no hardship), novels by Olaf Stapledon and Fred Hoyle. We got home at midnight this morning. The days down South were humid and the cool rainladen Midlands breeze felt like a welcome.



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