The dark art of apocalypse

9781908168412The cover for my 8th novel, ‘The Rhymer’ from Elsewhen Press, was made public this morning. And rather nice it is too, a “Palimpsest derived from photos of Leonardo’s work by Janaka Dharmasena/shutterstock.com. Original artwork by Alison Buck” The interior is art is also set to be quite tasty, as Nadith traverses areas of the map akin to his own deranged brain.
Meanwhile, the first review has appeared of “Caledonia Dreamin’”, the Eibonvale Press anthology of dark fiction of Scottish descent. Writing at the The Future Fire, Margrét Helgadóttir says of my story:

” Several of the stories herein are excellent apocalyptic stories, amongst them ‘Newayr’ by Douglas Thompson. Thompson writes a story about the meeting between the young girl Cathy who’s never left her village and officer Grayling. Grayling arrives to the village like an angel from the sky and wants Cathy to interview the eldest in the village about their memories from the night they were evacuated from The Glow long time ago. Slowly Cathy realizes that the world isn’t what she was raised to think, and that Grayling is no angel at all. Thompson weaves the readers into this dark world, where mankind play gods and think they can create worlds. I liked this piece.”

Of course, “The Glow” is what’s left of Glasgow and the “Hun E-B” referred to in the text is Huntertson B nuclear power station, which the story predicts will have malfunctioned sometime in the next ten years, leaving the west central belt of Scotland uninhabitable for centuries. Better pray I’m wrong.

Finally, D F Lewis has reviewed the Ex Occidente anthology “Transactions Of The Flesh” and describes my contribution “Towards Nature” as “a perfect gem of Decadent Literature”.

Here endeth today’s bragging. Amen.

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Poem for March

March is the month that birthed meclearing_the_field
the year’s start in ancient times
when war and farming resumed
the encyclopaedia tells us
without apparent irony as if
such happy pursuits have long been
humanity’s sport and always will be
conflict and building, a fair summation
of my lot upon this earth
intertwined: destruction and creation
love, its planting, and its dearth.
And Caesar’s reckoning too
those portentous ides, he mocked his seer
ignored the whispers in his burning ear
and paid the price, sunk beneath the tides
of time. There is no crime fate recognises
save blindness to the forces of the coming year.
Like he, I should consent to go as I have come
with flowers budding and birds singing
do not resist, amidst a feast for eye and ear
blood spilt and church bells ringing.

(the picture inset is ‘Clearing The Field’ by Murray Robertson)

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Squailthronks & Robobees

bfs-journal-10-coverVolume 10 of the British Fantasy Society Journal has just come out (with rather a good cover, see inset), featuring among other things in its pages a controversial short story of mine called “Narcissi” about a Parisian curio dealer who decides to order up an alien in a golden cage from NASA. As you do. Paradoxically, I don’t think a male editor would have dared to accept this story, so the journal’s fiction Sarah Newton has earned my respect. It’s a humorous tale I think, but it darkly parodies male vanity and explores the uncomfortable topic of rape which few men can understand from a female perspective… without a helping hand from a speculative author.

Also this week, Harvard University unveiled a rather lame image of a robot bee. Lame that is, compared to the robot bee designed a few years back by the Ecuadorian artist Mauricio Estrella, whose artwork formed the cover of my third novel “Apoidea“. Apparently, the Harvard image is just a quick photoshop job on an image of a real bee, hence the spindly yellow legs which don’t look robotic at all. Come on, Harvard, you can do better that this with Government money, surely? Give me and Mauricio a call. Or better still, order up a copy of “Apoidea” and read a salutary warning as to what you might be about to unwittingly unleash on the world…

Harvard + Mauricio

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Poem for February

Watercolour sunrise paints itselfthomson-northern-river
glimpsed through my curtains
waking from the torpor of
a dream of lost youth
some bitter message from
Morpheus, Hypnos, Nyx
the dream gods, about how
I have never fitted anywhere
nor cared for people much
the ever-optimistic birds chirping
out there, as if they can pull-off
this illegally early spring
without the grey wardens
of Presbyterian boredom
apprehending them under the terms
of the curtailment of fun and laughter act
good luck to them I say go little guys
the crows survey the street
like passing dive bombers
strafing us with their wry
laughs of ancient cynicism
building nests already
from all that wreckage of blasted branches
strewn by the January gales
everything is opportunity
a new Jerusalem in every Babel
only trust in it, Life whispers
part those curtains, embrace light
spread those dusty wings, take flight
take risks, let Winter’s chill lick clean
your wounds and heal and build
as all beginnings might.

(the picture inset is ‘Northern River’ by Tom Thomson)

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The Rhymer

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Well, here is a photo of the complete works of Douglas Thompson to date, as kept in a little shrine in his attic. Well, nearly. Actually, missing from this is some earlier stuff, like The Glasgow Herald Weekender, a copy of West Coast Magazine and three copies of Northwords. I ought to itemise what’s in the photo for the sake of archivists and completists, but I can’t be bothered today. There is a copy of Albedo One in there and a large format art book produced by The Glasgow School of Art, among many other notable obscurities. Does this look like a lot? Does my bum look big in this?

Anyway. Boasting time again. I’ve returned to this once-busy but now-becalmed-blog after an absence of nearly a month, to share the news that I have just signed the contract for my eighth novel ‘The Rhymer’ which will be published by Elsewhen Press (who published my fifth novel ‘Entanglement’ in 2012) as an e-book in May this year and as a paperback in August, to be launched at ‘Loncon 3′ (World SciFi Convention), 14th to 18th August.

‘The Rhymer’ is I believe my best and maddest book to date, being written in rhyming prose (rap, basically) and constituting “A satire on contemporary society, particularly the art world. An allegory for schizophrenia, split personality disorder and alcoholism. A comic-poetic meditation on the nature of life, death and morality.” But here is my full draft blurb for it:

A mysterious tramp wanders from town to town, taking a new name and identity from whoever he encounters first. Apparently amnesiac or even brain-damaged, Nadith Learmot nonetheless has other means to access the past and perhaps even the future: a dial upon his chest and wires down his sleeves which he can connect to the walls of old buildings from which he believes he can read their ghosts like imprints on tape. Haunting him constantly is the resemblance he apparently bears to his supposed brother, a successful artist called Zenir. Setting out to pursue Zenir and denounce or blackmail him out of spite, in his travels around the satellite towns and suburbs surrounding a city called Urbis, Nadith finds he is always two steps behind a figure as enigmatic and polyfaceted as himself. But through second hand snippets of news he increasingly learns of how his brother’s fortunes are waning, while his own, to his surprise, are on the rise. Along the way, he encounters unexpected clues to his own true identity and how he came to lose his memory and acquire his strange ‘contraption’. When Nadith finally catches up with Zenir, what will they make of each other?
Told entirely in the first person in a rhythmic stream of opaque language, Nadith’s story reads like Shakespeare on acid, leaving the reader to guess at what truth lies behind his madness. Is Nadith a mental patient or a conman? – or as he himself comes to believe, the reincarnation of the thirteenth century Scottish seer True Thomas The Rhymer, a man who never lied nor died but disappeared one day to return to the realm of the faeries who had first given him his clairvoyant gifts?

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Poem #52/52

Here is the last poem in my 52-poem sequence (one a week) for 2013, followed by some illumination and reflection:

STARSVanGogh-starry_night_edit

On clear winter nights my father
would take me walks around the town
and point out all the stars to me
naming them old friends which
had guided him across the world’s seas
pursuing Hitler’s U-boats
and brought him home to this:
the surrender of marriage
the defeat of children as he saw it.
He thought himself a failure somehow
measured against some vast never-quite-defined
scheme of greatness, to be a writer or an architect.

And here am I both now. The irony is not lost
on I who have no children. But there was he
with four, valuing none of them. Yet am I being fair?
There were the walks, the talks, the dreams.
I was a poor underage substitute no doubt
for the intellectual audience he craved
but all too soon became the only one he had
and then to my shame: even I stopped listening.
Left him to lonely meetings with himself
In urban coffee shops, writing me letters.

It’s like the stars I suppose, just as he explained it:
setting out to reach one, you’ll find it dead most likely
by the time you get there. We all miss
each other, and the point of everything.
And all we have is light, these mirages of memories
veils of doubt and gravity that tug at us with their love
as we slip beyond each other’s orbits.

But when I look up and see The Plough
I remember him, the way to find the North Star
and make my way home.

~
Van_Gogh_Starry_Night_Drawing

This poem was published in Ambit Magazine this year (Issue 213, July 2013). In April 2008 I flew to London to read for Ambit (in The Owl Bookshop)the day after my father died (that sounds terrible, but my father begged me not to cancel, knowing how much it meant to me). I found myself in the beer garden of the Chelsea Art Club the next evening, talking to Ambit’s editor Martin Bax about my dad and his experiences in the navy in World War Two. So it was somehow very symmetrical that this poem appeared in the last edition of Ambit before Martin retired this year. In a sense, we can have many fathers throughout our lifetimes: people who go out of their way to help us, to impart wisdom, who see something good within us that we struggle to see ourselves. Pay it forward, as they say. Help the young.

Throughout this year of blogging, I have tried to bring less well-known artists to people’s attention, but for this final post I feel we have no choice but to cite the incomparable “Starry Night” by Vincent Van Gogh. The less-known drawing of it, is pretty special too. Van Gogh personifies for me, and for many others, the ultimate in generosity in the artistic spirit. Humanity failed him in a sense, but rather than be bitter he gave us all this back… a testament that continues to break people’s hearts with its beauty to this day. He lost, and yet somehow he won. The answer of course, is that useless old word, worn down to nothing by our misuse and abuse: Love. Our only possible salvation.

There are only two films that ever been made that make me (forgive this sexist expression) “weep like a girl” from start to finish. One is the American Civil War epic Shenandoah, and the other is Lust For Life, Kirk Douglas’s portrayal of Van Gogh. I’m frequently amazed by how few people have ever seen this extraordinary film. It is devastating to watch, and also always strangely purgative.

So, I can’t believe it. We have come at last to my final poem of 2013, and so this experiment comes to an end. I don’t know what I’m going to post next year, if anything. As I said last week, looking back at my life has changed my life, irrevocably, and I’m not sure what comes next. But I do know that I know myself better now and have looked into a lot of dark recesses and feel all the better for it. Know Thyself, as the ancient Greeks said, and it’s sound advice, akin to Buddhism and the best of many other philosophies. Not because we should be self-obsessed, but because in order to minimise the harm we do to others, we must first try to heal ourselves inside. Let’s end on that great quote from Leonard Cohen: “One by one the guests arrive/ the guests are coming through/ the broken-hearted many/ the open-hearted few”. Or better still on two great old quotes from the far east, one imparted to me by the poet Joan Poulson and the other by the novelist Sue Reid Sexton:

“Keep a green branch in your heart and the singing bird will come.”

“Set the caged bird free and if it comes back to you it is yours.”

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Poem #51/52

Here is the 51st poem in my 52-poem sequence (one a week) for 2013, followed by some illumination and reflection:

AUTUMN

Autumn is my season, that long yellow lightroad1-reduced
suffusing moods with melancholy
the crinkled leaves imparting their essence
as through perforated cotton, imprinted
with the fragrance of smoke, fog, decaying fruit
the sense of the approaching darkness
and the chill that kisses as it bites
solstice fire glimmering in dark tired eyes
luring us on as if a year’s end
could really mean a new beginning.

Autumn is my season, always was and will be
even as an adolescent my friends and enemies alike
remarked upon it: Thompson, the old man
before his time, weighed down by worldly woes
he’d scarcely tasted then, but now of which
he has the very savour. Do me a favour
stop calling me a pessimist, you who should know better
yet misses the point, -who talks of reincarnation
and salvation, redemption, earthly and divine.

Sadness is just a season and my life only one
of many peeling off like pages of Earth’s book.
Death to me is Winter, Christmas, celebration
and Summer all the lives I’ve been before I’d say
and Spring the many, whispering, still on the way.

Autumn is my season, for the way it lacks
the denial of Summer and the amnesia of Spring
-is honest about what it knows is coming and chooses it
breaking into fanfares of copper trumpets, baroque
archaic, jazzy brass elegy of dry lament
and juicy squeal and whine. Death do your worst
let us taste of life until it fills us fit to burst
and consent to leave it if we have truly lived it first.

The leaves change colour, then sail and fly as they fall
exultant if they have an opinion at all, but do not cry
yellow not for cowardice but for gold’s first light
pressing blighted love’s sweet windfall into wine
shedding fruit, resplendent, fulsome, incarnadine
I pluck this season and make it mine.

~
leaves3-reduced

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Well, I can’t believe that we have reached the second-last poem of the year already, and therefore that this strange experiment is nearly over. During this time, I have looked back over my ordinary little life with the world looking over my shoulder and tried to make sense of it all, finally arriving at the present and the answer perhaps to the oddly elusive question of who Douglas Thompson actually is. I thought I knew when 2013 started, or I wouldn’t have had the confidence to reveal myself in this way. But even as I agreed with my publisher Dog Horn to undertake this exercise, I remember hearing a little voice whisper in my head to be careful, because in the process of looking at my life so intently I might inavertently change it forever. I nearly thought I’d got away with it, but now at last as the year closes I see that that voice was right and that maybe I should have heeded it. It’s all very much like that miraculous and mysterious experiment in particle physics known as “Schrödinger’s cat ”…. Whereby the outcome of the interaction of two electrons will change (by travelling back in time, no kidding!) depending on whether the experiment was observed by a human being or not. Nobody yet fully understands what this anomaly means, although I personally suspect it hints at the fundamental (rather than accidental) role that life plays in the grand progress of the universe itself. But I digress. 2013 is nearly dead, and in a sense the man that I was is dying too, and a new version will arrive with 2014. We all have to die, but we don’t have to do it while still alive. The answer to that, paradoxically, is to make yourself die all the time. By which I mean change, evolve constantly, never stagnate, remain eternally open to every new influence in your life. And that, I think, is what the poem above is really about. Life is change. Embrace it. Grow with it.

As last week, our accompanying artwork are photographs by Rona MacDonald.

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