On encircling hills the army first amasses
snowflake-cold, hard-hearted dressed in white
spyglass ice twinkling the city in their sights
poised to descend with north winds
shrieking orders putting citizens to flight
shutting down their roads, barricading
them in under hat and coats.
A winter dusk’s beauty in the city
the window-squares light up:
blue curtain twilight falls
teasing glimpses of a million lives
If God exists how could he bear it?
-Each soul a portal through which
an endless rope of memory runs
promising escape to sky and hope
but into which stardust falls and buries
under blankets of forgetfulness
squandered gifts of priceless souls.
To know even one or two of such
individuals intimately: instantly is
to fall in love and start to die
from the agony of knowledge of it
the impossibility of reaching out
and saving beauty, sadness
for the constellations of eternity
enough to do me in. Come, Winter
chill these veins, slow this heart
which having drunk its full
too much now wearies, says:
Freeze me so that I may wake
as someone else in time or vanish
under your obliterating trudge.
Well folks, the wait is over! My eighth book (and my third this year) is now available from Dog Horn. And it’s rather good value at under a tenner for 274 pages of solid Sci Fi. One novella and nine short stories. What’s not to love? Here’s the blurb again:
Two centuries from now, humans’ unchecked environmental pollution will have provoked a new ice age. Amid the ruins of the city of Volwys, a bio-dome is under construction to protect a privileged elite, while the peasants outside live in mediaeval squalor, facing gradual extinction as the planet cools. Only one man alive remembers our world, having been kept alive by genetic manipulation by the mysterious ‘cherubs’. The cherubs are frequent visitors at the court of the ruler: The Wolf King, who is guarded by bird-headed soldiers. Rrio is plagued by nightmares and visions as he attempts to uphold his odious regime by interrogation and torture. As his consciousness disintegrates, he comes to realise that the rebel leader each of his victims speaks of holds a fascination that may unlock the enigma of his own soul. This edition also includes nine acclaimed science fiction short stories published over the last ten years in magazines and anthologies:
Twenty Twenty: a down-and-out rises to unexpected prominence in an Edinburgh struck by power blackout.
Theonae: a female messiah mesmerises Britain in a near-future rocked by civil war.
Dogbot™: an iconic Jihadi terrorist is stalked by an American robotic dog in the foothills of Afghanistan.
Narcissi: a vain Parisian curio-dealer abuses a pet alien purchased in a golden cage from NASA, until the tables are turned on him.
Postcards From The Future: ten 1000-word messages are received at the world’s first time travelling facility.
Multiplicity: the crew of a spaceship encountering the edge of a black hole are duplicated and altered in ways that throw surprising light on the human condition.
Black Sun: a man is wracked by remorse for a lost lover on a planet literally falling apart under the gravitational influence of a black hole.
Quasar Rise: an epileptic woman confronts her own frailty on a planet passing into the disruptive influence of a quasar.
Gravity Wave: an experiment at CERN goes massively wrong, irrevocably altering Europe through a series of bizarre effects which reveal hidden aspects of human nature and give rise to a new evolutionary ascendancy.
If anyone wants to review the book for a magazine or blog then please get in touch. Within reason there are free copies available for such noble purposes!
Return, return the endless
car wash where the brushes turn
lashes rain upon this screen
whips wind through portals of my brain
autumn winter wipe me clean
as grey clouds queue to shed their load
I turn my head from midst the ritual
punctuations of this humdrum life
to catch high up some glimpse of blue
where wisps of cloud run wild
in antique light of burnished gold
my heart leaps at what memory retains
of our brief dreams of sweet escape
our reckless flight through streets
rendered bright with coloured hopes
as carnival flags defy the grey
a thousand times I wash this soul
my wringing hands to mime dismay
but cannot shift the stain
of you on me, of me on you.
(the image inset is my digital painting ‘November Rain’ inspired by the architectural skyline of Glasgow’s Buchanan Street)
THE BLACKSMITH’S DREAM
My great grandfather was a blacksmith
they worked in threes around the anvil
taking turns to swing their hammers down
but something made him hesitate
and in that fatal instant his whole life hung
in purgatory along with his descendants
their very existence
The hammer struck the back of his head
and he never woke again
paralysed for three years until death
catching fragments of voices perhaps
his family at the bedside
descending into destitution
without a welfare state.
His wife died in a workhouse
after God knows what desperate resorts
the children survived
all except the one conceived after his death
who contracted tuberculosis
and was nursed by my grandfather
the girl’s sire must have been
some other man who ‘comforted’
my great grandmother
though not enough to save her.
Usual drill. I had a strange idea for another ‘digital painting’ (my apologies to real painters out there, these things are more like designs, and I don’t know where they’re coming from), did it, then wrote a poem inspired by it. It’s a kind of collage of the roof forms and atmospheres of the Dovehill area of Glasgow where I’ve been spending time recently.
THE KEYS OF NIGHT
Turn, turn the keys of night
unlock the ancient machinery
the untended vennels of the heart
rusted hinges screeching
indignant as nocturnal cats
open the doors as peeling bells
raise up the cowering dead
to look above: see there
the towering tollbooth’s debts
unleashed as white ledgers
fleeing like mad pigeons
pages flapping from barred windows
distant drunken singing
muted music spilling
from the infinitesimally-open
doors of pubs, focussed beams
of photons in single-file
doing the conger eel
a thrashing snake of many heads
opening mouths and closing eyes
reaching out as aching fingers
to where dappled streetlight
plays on rain-wet pavements
and October leaves
fall as pages of sheet music
turned over by a thousand
ghostly white gloved hands
connected to no one
who will disappear in the morning
disown the world invisibly
having changed the scenery
ready for one more play
in which all the clowns fall down for us
every comic stands up and dies
and nobody laughs about it.
A review of my historical novel The Brahan Seer has appeared today in the The Sunday Herald. The statistics of persistence speak for themselves: 25 years of published writing, eight novels and more than fifty short stories, to finally get one paragraph in a national newspaper.
Lesley McDowell writes:
“This poetic yet often visceral and brutal novelistic account of the mythic 17th-century Scots seer, Coinneach Odhar, begins in violence and ends somewhere else, in a mixture of regret and reconciliation. But it also explores the relationship between an unusual individual and his world, which he repeatedly disrupts, in touching and often illuminating ways.”
My sincere thanks to Lesley. But one of my favourite sayings is “the terrible thing about good luck is how it looks so much like something we’ve earned”, and the time has come perhaps to turn that logic on myself. Would this book have been reviewed had I not had the good luck to briefly make the acquaintance of the reviewer Lesley McDowell herself, and shame-facedly mention that I had a novel out in need of review? And how many brilliant books are out there in Scotland right now, unrecognised and unread because the writer does not have good luck or the backing of a major publisher who has arbitrarily decided upon their saleability and resolved to shove the book down everyone’s throats through buying up publicity channels? Let us all pause and spare a thought for the living tomb of the unknown writer. My other books are just as good… never believe in the myth of a meritocracy until it has arrived. I’ll keep you posted.