Waiting For Buses

‘Oneironauts’ by Pamela Tait & Douglas Thompson, published by Zagava

What with the train disruption in Scotland (now resolved) I’ve been waiting at bus stops more often recently. There’s some old saying, isn’t there, about waiting for a bus for hours and then suddenly two or three of them come along at once? I’m sure it’s a metaphor. To writers every flaming thing is a metaphor, it’s our defining psychological ailment. Anyway, it’s nearly midsummer, things are hotting up, and this past week no less than four literary things all happened in a row.

Firstly, ‘Oneironauts’, my Creative Scotland funded collaboration with Black Isle artist Pamela Tait became available for pre-order from Dusseldorf publisher Zagava in three different editions, and what editions they are! Including an affordable paperback. Pamela’s drawings in this book are quite remarkable and the project was great fun so we hope other people enjoy it soon. Written during the scary early days of the Covid-19 lockdown, it’s basically about the last man left alive on earth, who may not in fact even be alive anymore, and his attempts to communicate with a mysterious presence on the internet.

‘Ornithologiae’ from Egaeus Press, and ‘The Dissolving Man’ from Nightjar Press

Secondly, Egaeus Press’ bird-themed anthology ‘Ornithologiae‘ edited by Mark Beech went on sale, and looking through my copies I must say that it is one of the most exquisite hardback books I have ever held in my hands, lavishly illustrated with quirky little etchings of human-bird hybrids. Which queasy and surreal topic is pretty much what my story ‘Doctor Cuckoo’ is about. I’m looking forward to reading the avian contributions of my fellow writers whose company I am honoured to share.

‘Ornithologiae’ from Egaeus Press

Then Nightjar Press suddenly came along with ‘The Dissolving Man’, my short story about a police detective’s obsessive lifelong hunt for a fugitive who may ultimately be nobody, everybody, or his own projected yearning to escape. It also fuses the current Scottish political impasse with the universal and the personal in a way that may astound and offend the unsuspecting reader in equal measure, here’s hoping. Nightjar Press is a unique project, the brainchild of Nick Royle, which publishes short stories as beautiful standalone chapbooks that make the reader consider each text as a work of art. There is never a duff Nightjar, and once again I am blown away to be in the company here of some incredible writers and heroes.

Then later in the week, last and most certainly not least, Elsewhen Press announced the publication of my new novel ‘Stray Pilot’ in e-book from 1st July and paperback from 1st August. This is an idea I’ve had in the back of my head for many years and finally got around to writing. It’s loosely based on the Thomas Mantel incident with the action transferred to a fictional small town on the north-east coast of Scotland. A pilot missing for 80 years returns to earth with a message from the aliens who abducted him. A metaphor for human interaction with the divine, the book’s take on our climate emergency is constructive rather than despairing, and life-affirming in its view of ordinary people, as opposed to the clowns who too often rule over them. https://elsewhen.press/index.php/catalogue/title/stray-pilot/

Finally I saw that my poetry collection ‘Eternity’s Windfall’ published by Dreich Books has been reviewed very favourably by Sam Smith in The Journal. It’s always nice to know that someone out there gets it, whatever it is from one moment to another.

Review by Sam Smith of ‘Eternity’s Windfall’
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History

April already, can you believe it? In February my poetry collection ‘Eternity’s Windfall’ was published at last. Copies are available in resplendent abundance from Dreich Books. The book comprises of 21 of my very best poems from the last 7 years, in so far as anyone can make any reliable judgement on such arbitrary matters. Their predominant theme is probably the search for a secular spirituality in a contemporary world of empty materialism.

Also just out today, is my novella ‘Vouchsafe, Incarnadine’ published by Mount Abraxas/Ex Occidente Press of Bucharest in Romania (exoccidente@gmail.com). It takes its title from a phrase within the following poem by Rilke:

AUTUMN DAY

Lord, it is time. The summer was so great.

Impose upon the sundials now your shadows

and round the meadows let the winds rotate.

Command the last fruits to incarnadine;

vouchsafe, to urge them on into completeness,

yet two more south-like days; and that last sweetness,

inveigle it into the heavy vine.

He’ll not build now, who has no house awaiting.

Who’s now alone, for long will so remain:

sit late, read, write long letters, and again

return to restlessly perambulating

the avenues of parks when leaves downrain.

—Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by J.B. Leishman)

‘Vouchsafe, Incarnadine’ explores the nature of trust, betrayal and identity in relationships, paralleled with the shifting mysteries of particle physics and politics amid the new world order. The cover and frontispiece images are by Eugene Berman (1899 – 1972).

Meanwhile in current affairs I see that there remains nothing new under the sun in the world, with the old mistakes and the archetypes coming back like bad pennies. Democracy may be imperfect, because people are imperfect, but it remains the only precious and fragile hope the human race has of lasting survival, because all unopposed power sooner or later turns leaders into terrifying tyrants. Quite by chance I opened my copy of Herodotus at random the other day and found this salutary passage:

“… Athens went from strength to strength, and proved, if proof were needed, how noble a thing freedom is, not in one respect only, but in all; for while they were oppressed under despotic government, they had no better success in war than any of their neighbours, yet, once the yoke was flung off, they proved the finest fighters in the world. This clearly shows that, so long as they were held down by authority, they deliberately shirked their duty in the field, as slaves shirk working for their masters; but when freedom was won, then every man amongst them longed to distinguish himself…”

-Herodotus, The Histories, Book Five, 430BC, translated by Aubrey De Selincourt.

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Twenty Twenty Two

Well, here comes next year. Among the titles of mine which should be released in 2022 are: ‘Stray Pilot’ (novel, Elsewhen),’Eternity’s Windfall’ (poetry, Dreich Books), ‘The Dissolving Man’ (short story, Nightjar), ‘Oneironauts’ (novella with Pamela Tait, Zagava), ‘Emilianna’ (novella, Eibonvale Press), ‘Vouchsafe, Incarnadine’ (novella, Mount Abraxas Press) and ‘Lost Eden’ (a quartet of novellas with Margaret Elphinstone, Mandy Haggith, and D.P.Watt, Zagava ).

Photo courtesy of : https://www.drummondcastlegardens.co.uk/

2021 was another good year for remote collaborations, perhaps as a reaction to the intermittently ongoing Covid situation. I had a strange dream in January about four brothers renovating a house and ornamental garden that seemed symbolic in some way of the garden of Eden. Gradually the idea grew into a 4-author collaboration of novel length, to be called ‘Lost Eden’. It’s no accident that two of the authors are female and two male, since the brief became what the concept of Eden meant to each of us, especially in the year of COP26 in Glasgow, when the Eden of our earth has seemed more threatened than ever by mankind’s reckless environmental damage. It was a great honour to work alongside three writers of such stature and whose work I have admired for some time. Margaret Elphinstone’s The Sea Road and Voyageurs, are two of the finest historical novels of the early 21st century, while Mandy Haggith‘s The Walrus Mutterer trilogy brilliantly brings to life the period of Scottish pre-history when the brochs were being built. D.P.Watt, or Dan as I know him, is a writer who moves in similar circles to myself, whose short stories have been much acclaimed among fans of the uncanny in the British tradition of Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood. Lost Eden will be published by Zagava, and I am proud to say that the book concept inspired new writing of spectacular quality from my fellow authors.

Tam Tarrow’s Jounrey, from //hybriddreich.co.uk/

As December arrived, my collaboration with fellow Glasgow poet and artist Eileen Farrelly, ‘Tam Tarrow’s Journey’ was published, and can be purchased from Dreich books for a very reasonable six quid . Within its fifty pages of surrealist intrigue: a mysterious outsider falls to earth in Glasgow and interacts with a series of archetypal local characters based on the twenty-two cards of the Major Arcana (Tarot). The pictures and text evolved together and dance oddly around each other, one never quite illustrating the other, but hinting at wider possibilities. Eileen’s lino cuts have something haunting and ancient about them; like plates from half-remembered childhood books, teetering pleasingly on the threshold between the naive and the sinister. 

And on that note, may we all commence upon a new year with what Friedrich Nietzsche described as “the seriousness of a child at play”.

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A Productive Summer

Nightscript #7, edited by CM Mueller

Although I scarcely ever make more than a handful of beans out of it, 2021 has in fact been a productive and successful year on the writing front. It could even be that I am entering a new phase. The good-news items are almost too many to enumerate, so I shall save some for a subsequent post or two before midwinter. The most significant news of all is that I completed a new 70,000 word novel called ‘Stray Pilot’ begun in August on the Isle of Skye, which was accepted for publication this week by Elsewhen Press based in Dartford. ‘Stray Pilot’ is based loosely on the Thomas Mantell incident (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mantell_UFO_incident), with the action transferred to a rural coastal town in Scotland. Although packed with reference and relevance to pressing contemporary issues such as climate change, technological change and xenophobia, it is also designed to be a timeless allegory on human nature and its relationship to the concept of the divine. Although I will call this my 16th published book, it is probably only my 6th true novel, previous books such as Ultrameta, The Suicide Machine and Barking Circus all being what I call ‘Fractal’ or ‘Quantum’ novels in which separate parallel stories sit alongside each other and play off each other’s riffs. Previous true novels among my output, I would class as Apoidea, Mechagnosis, The Brahan Seer, and The Rhymer. Also unusual in this book, is the fact that no part of it has been published in any magazines or anthologies, such has been the speed of its production and the homogeneity of its structure. The process of writing a book remains completely different for me, for each one I write. But the key to this one was dialogue: everything flowed for me out of imagining what real people would say to each other about the scenario unfolding. It also incorporates a good deal of Scots vernacular dialect, the power of language itself to shape character, being one of my ongoing fascinations.

As you can see ‘Nightscript, Volume 7‘ is out now, featuring, along with the work of many fine writers, my short story “When Sleep At Last”. The title is a quotation from the poem ‘Easter 1916’ by W B Yeats (https://poets.org/poem/easter-1916) , and the story is a very dark moral allegory about a murderous border guard in an unnamed country. There has been so much racism and xenophobia in the world of late, and this is my statement and warning on the matter. The character names are Slavic, but that’s just a red herring. The subject is all of us, the now and the near future.

‘Ravine’, published by Mount Abraxas / Ex Occidente

During an earlier sojourn in a different part of the north of Scotland: in the Kyle of Tongue on the spectacular north coast around midsummer, I wrote ‘Ravine’, a kind of fusion between a short story and a long poem, which I subtitled as “An Ecological Parable In Twelve Parts And Thirty Six Parastanzas”. This one was enthusiastically accepted for publication by Mount Abraxas Press of Bucharest, Romania. As you can see they have made a spectacularly beautiful job of it as a 32-page booklet on coloured paper, with striking accompanying drawings by the Greek artist Heo Tsop. ‘Ravine’ is a stream-of-consciousness tale of what it might be like to die and come back as a raven and truly see and understand the enigma of life from outside the bounds of flesh and bone. The seasoned writer and reviewer D F Lewis has described ‘Ravine’ as a “tour de force”, and you can read his always interesting thoughts here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/mount-abraxas/

In other news, my short story ‘Our Father The Sea’ was selected to appear in Salt Publishing‘s prestigious ‘Best British Short Stories 2021’ edited by Nicholas Royle, which will be available to buy in November, and a nice one for the Christmas stockings. This is the kind of accolade and endorsement that every writer scarcely dares to hope for, and has a done a great deal to lift my spirits and spur me on to future projects. ‘Our Father The Sea’ is taken from my recent fractal novel ‘The Suicide Machine’, published by Zagava. Nick Royle will also be publishing my short story ‘The Dissolving Man’ soon under his Nightjar Press imprint.

‘Oneironauts’ artwork by Pamela Tait

As I write, the artist Pamela Tait, (who I am yet to meet in person), is putting the finishing touches to her final drawing for our Creative-Scotland-funded collaborative novella ‘Oneironauts’. Oh boy, this is going to be one amazing book from Zagava of Dusseldorf. We are also open to the idea of staging it as a travelling exhibition, so if there’s any eager gallery owners out there, then please get in touch. 

Watch this space next month for news of a poetry collection of mine due out soon from Red Squirrel Press, and a short story about the artist Edward Hopper, due to appear in online magazine Sein Und Werden.

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Beautiful Books

The Drowned Labyrinth from Raphus Press

Arrived at last this week from São Paulo, Brazil, via Switzerland (due to Covid restrictions): three hardback copies of my surrealist novella ‘The Drowned Labyrinth’ published by Raphus Press. I’m pleased to report that Alcebiades Diniz of Raphus has made an absolute work of art of this thing. I wrote it at the start of the pandemic after dreaming the opening first few paragraphs, and perhaps it will stand as a record of the fear and dislocation we all felt in those early days.

“I was somewhere in a country whose scenery and climate resembled Italy. I found I stood by an old rotten window frame on the first floor of a dilapidated villa. I saw someone I vaguely felt I knew down on the patio. I decided to go to meet them by turning around, leaving the room and going down the staircase of the grand hallway, a cool space of faded plaster frescoes. Villa Oblivia… the murals gave me to understand the house was called. When I got out onto the patio I found that my friend had disappeared. I called out her name, although I would be unable later to remember what that name might have been…”

Available to buy here: https://www.ziesings.com/…/dougla…/the-drowned-labyrinthAnd more info from the publisher here: http://raphuspress.weebly.com/the-drowned-labyrinth.html

Left & Right respectively: from Mount Abraxas & Zagava books
Black Fox harmonica booklet from Mount Abraxas

More beautiful limited-edition books from publishers of obscure genius. On the left various ‘harmonica booklets’ from Mount Abraxas Press of Bucharest, Romania, including my own ‘Black Fox’, and on the right a selection of beautiful hand-sewn booklets on handmade cotton rag pages with deckled edges from Zagava of Dusseldorf, Germany, and an astonishing illustrated novel called ‘The Feathered Bough’ by Stephen J Clark; which is packed with intensely brilliant drawings by Clark himself, a true ‘gesamtkunstwerk’ fusion of word and image: https://www.zagava.de/shop/the-feathered-bough?edition=19…All of these are fascinating. From top left the harmonica booklets shown are by Benjamn Tweddell, DP Watt and Sebastian Montesi, and the green one below those is by Rhys Hughes.

Poetry chapbooks published by Hybrid Dreich Ltd

And last but not least, returning to Scotland, it’s worth a ‘shout out’ to our very own Jack Caradoc of Dreich books (Hybrid Dreich Ltd) who during these mad pandemic days has surely become one of the word’s most prolific publishers of contemporary poetry. Although I have poems in all of the above chapbook anthologies, they are in fact, amazingly, only a fraction of Dreich’s vast output recently. Scotland doesn’t do knighthoods, but if it did then Jack Caradoc should be getting a golden Irn Bru bottle or something to honour his services to poetry and creative encouragement and well-being.

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Minerva’s Oven

PASTEL WITH FLYING SNAKE AND VOLCANO.” It’s a fairly anemic title, isn’t it? It’s the makeshift title I had to invent for a pastel drawing by my late brother Ally, which my nephew Feargas and I discovered to our surprise hidden in the back of a forgotten portfolio as we were clearing out his studio a year or so after his death. Although the pastel layers are characteristically thick and tempestuous, I recall that the paper is unusually thin and had been slightly damaged or folded at its edges, something that the framer I hired fortunately managed to successfully iron out. We exhibited the pastel at Ally’s posthumous retrospective exhibition at the Lillie Art Gallery in Milngavie in 2019, and since then it has hung on the wall next to the staircase that I habitually climb to my attic each time I ascend to write stories, poems, or articles such as this.

This morning I felt a compulsion to lift the picture off the wall and lay it down on the floor where I could give it a long and closer look while I gave thought to its meaning. I suspect that passing by it each day I have somehow taken it for granted without ever giving it due attention. It is something of an enigma and may never fully give up its definitive secrets. But Ally would have quite liked that, of course. Why did he leave it in that old portfolio? Could he simply have forgotten about it, perhaps while drunk? Or were elements of its subject matter too off-beat to please his usual buyers?

It was Ally’s normal custom, more often than not, to choose an evocative title for a picture, to get people thinking, but occasionally when all else failed he would simply revert to a straightforward description of the picture’s content. Sometimes the more evocative titles were things I suggested to him from literature, but with him no longer alive I felt that this time that would be over-stepping the mark with this mysterious picture. Also, I don’t think such naming would have been possible. The picture’s meaning seems too diffuse, too strangely ambivalent, for any definitive poetic label.

As far as I know, it’s the only picture he ever created that features a volcano, albeit a rather abstracted one. One from which puffs of smoke are shown emerging, as from the chimney of a steam engine. The volcano has a large keyhole shape, one of Ally’s trademark symbols, usually representing a gateway to some hidden spiritual dimension, carved into its centre, near the base. The walking figure to the front-side of the volcano appears to be almost of a size to be able to potentially climb through that keyhole, and his striding posture, walking away from us, back turned, gives every indication that he may even attempt this unwise course of action, or at least peer inside. This volcano seems more like a kiln therefore, a huge chimney-topped oven, such as those that used to line the banks of the river Clyde in its industrial heyday and can still be seem in some very old historic paintings. This volcano seems like some kind of ancient oven of the natural world, and phrased like that it is hard not to take it as a symbol of death, though also perhaps death and rebirth.

Why a volcano? The picture is dated 1996, and as far as I can see from records on the internet, that was not an unusually active year for volcano eruptions on Earth. There was however a very significant eruption at Gjálp in Iceland in October of that year, Iceland being about as near to Scotland as any volcanic eruption is ever likely to get. Ally always followed the television news closely and was particularly sensitive to visual images and primal natural forces. Taken together with the presence of two very stark white leafless trees in the picture, I think there is reasonable grounds to conclude that Ally created the picture in late autumn and was influenced by the images of the Gjálp eruption. It’s too long ago for me to remember if we ever discussed that at the time, and I certainly never saw this drawing until years later after his death.

But those leafless trees mean a whole lot more of course. 1996 as a year in Ally’s CV was halfway between two of his sojourns in France in 1992 and 1999 in Paris and Avignon respectively. After his initial flush of success with his agent Norbert Binotti, he would have been despairing at the possibility of his chance at fame slowly slipping away, and at the prospect of getting older without having found love or fulfilment in his personal life.

The other major symbol in the picture, taking up as much and indeed slightly more space than the volcano, is the distorted image of a house counterbalancing it, to the right hand side of the composition. But this is no comforting symbol of home. It has a single door, black as if shadowed like the entrance to a tomb, and a single square window high up like the aperture of a monk’s cell. The double-meaning is that the pitched-roof of the house also operates as the head of an arrow, pointing to heaven. So our striding figure in the foreground, with whom we are presumed to identify and sympathise, apparently faces a choice, between approaching the smoking oven of the volcano or retreating to the prison-like safety of the family home with its perceived moral strictures. Out of economic necessity, Ally still lived with his parents, a fact that always irked his self-esteem, a fact he would seek solace and escape from on long restless walks across town and country, and in gradually increasing bouts of drinking and frequenting bars and night clubs.

It’s not a happy picture. The wonderfully brooding horizon line confirms this, brilliantly tipped at a ten degree angle like the camera lens of a Hitchcock film when something particularly untoward is going down. Reality and sanity, he is signalling to us, are under threat. But there’s still more, other symbols, he’s crammed into the picture. We have a large blood-red sun centre-stage, pawed at by one of the branches of the white blasted trees, as if pleading with the lord of life for reprieve and redemption. But there’s also, almost hidden to its left, another more curious orb, black like some weird moon, or a portent of imminent eclipse. Lastly we have perhaps the picture’s most startling ingredient: a green snake sailing across the top of the sky. What to make of that? Ally was immersed in the art and words of William Blake, and this snake brings to mind those strange and ominous words from Blake’s poem ‘The Sick Rose’ as follows: O Rose thou art sick/ The invisible worm, /That flies in the night / In the howling storm: /Has found out thy bed / Of crimson joy: /And his dark secret love / Does thy life destroy.

Well, when we put all of that together, and look again at the picture, personally I feel perhaps its jarring ingredients begin to gel and coalesce in our heads into a coherent message. Maybe this mental work needs done by the viewer, precisely because the artist’s mind was in an explosive state of disarray as the pastel was created. The elements are spinning around violently, threatening to fire off in various separate directions at once, as the artist’s sense of self and hope reach the brink of giving way. As ever, the image depicts Ally himself, although he invites us to inhabit his path with him. The figure faces a choice between the strictures of home and the forge of art and nature, some terrifying and exciting oven where an artist can be consumed  and potentially destroyed by his own passions. There seems little doubt which way he is going to go. Indeed, the choice has already been made in the feet and the mind of that stubborn little figure.

It seems significant that Ally fuses the passion of his art with Nature in the symbol of the volcano. He hold the gods, all of creation, responsible for the raging fire inside him. He is the volcano, and he will erupt. He will break the sky, break the day itself, enter the oven and thereby escape and be remade into some new day and life. The picture presents Art as a fusion of Death and Life, an expression of Gaia itself, wrecking every human vessel it uses, a sacrifice to which he announces himself now brave or bitter enough to assent to.

If I had come up with a poetic title back in 2019, and been so arrogant as to give it to this picture posthumously without my late brother’s consent, I see now that title might have been something like ‘The Forge Of Minerva’ or ‘Under The Volcano’. Having now written the foregoing analysis, I come to the conclusion that it could very well be an even finer picture than I had thought until now, and that maybe even Ally himself was too close to it to fully perceive its true value as an honest testament of human pain. At any rate, the picture was found and saved. It lives and will go on living beyond us it is to be hoped, until its next eruption.

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The Dead Land Dreams Again

The above is a draft of the cover proposed for the forthcoming German translation of my novella ‘Dreams Of A Dead Country*’ to be published late next year by Nighttrain (*the English language version was first published by Salo Press but its first edition is currently sold out). This cover image is an oil painting that my late brother Ally Thompson created for an exhibition in Avignon about 20 years ago. So he and I are still collaborating, somehow, even though we no longer inhabit the same dimension. There is also talk of my short story ‘Black Fox’ first published in Romania, being translated into Portuguese by Raphus Press.

Meanwhile, my collaboration with Black Isle artist Pamela Tait, our apocalyptic Covid novella ‘Oneironauts’ (kindly funded by Creative Scotland), is about 66% complete. Here is a taster extract from one of the 21 stunning images Pamela is creating for this:

I also have some other fruitful collaborations to tell of soon, but will save those for a subsequent post this summer.

Strange to read my previous post from back on the first day of this year and see how much has changed in the last six months. The Covid death toll now stands as 128,000. That’s 58,000 more than it did in January, despite the successful formulation of several vaccines across the globe. The celebrated idiot Matt Hancock finally resigned yesterday from his role as Health Secretary, but not apparently for the paltry sin of presiding over the unnecessary deaths of more people than a Hiroshima or Nagasaki, but for something more serious to do with what’s in his trousers. How on earth are the Conservative Government still getting away with their continuous mishandling of the pandemic? Not content with the highest death rates in the world and leaving frontline medical staff to use bin bags for protective clothing, they have also treated us to opening up too soon, repeated failures to re-impose lockdowns on time, and to continuing failures to secure our airports thus becoming an incubator for the Delta variant.

Like many UK citizens of my age, I have now had two successive jabs so should hopefully in a matter of days have achieved a degree of immunity. And yet… various friends with backgrounds in environmental health advise me that a re-imposition of restrictions towards the end of this summer is almost inevitable. As with global warming, Covid has starkly revealed the impotence of capitalist western economies in the face of major threats, as opposed to command-economies such as China, which for all their other flaws, are able to act rapidly and effectively to protect the majority of their ordinary citizens from their own prodigious capacity for self-harming stupidity. Every day now the trains get a little busier, and more young fools sit on them with their face masks off. While the Scotrail staff doing nothing to correct them, because… well, because Scotrail staff, a bit like Glasgow City Council staff, are not actually living so much as running through an absurdist dress-rehearsal for life directed by Franz Kafka, driven on by the longstanding stage-direction to remain ever unhelpful, ever uncaring, authority without responsibility, always ready to obstruct sanity and common-sense wherever they threaten to break out. Wait. I’ve made them sound like Dadaists or Surrealists. But they’re never that good.

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Twenty Twenty One

Barking Circus-Drowned Labyrinth

I write in the bright new light of a new year. The year in which I would imagine Scotland will either become an independent nation, or astound the world again with its own peculiar brand of self-loathing obsequious gutlessness. It’s hard to speak of the old year, 2020, without resort to overwhelming sadness and even anger at the deaths of more than 70,000 UK citizens, perhaps 80% of which might still be alive were it not for the Westminster government’s failure to impose lockdown soon enough nor heed the recommendations of its own Exercise Cygnus conducted only 4 years earlier in order to prepare for just such an eventuality. Many films and books, my own included, predicted a pandemic event, but nobody anticipated the sheer scale of governmental incompetence that would accompany it, nor the shockingly large number of Covid-skeptics telling us it was all a hoax and that wearing masks would solve nothing. If only those were the ones who perished from it, but the laws of Nature seldom conform to human ideas of justice. Many good, heroic people with their whole lives ahead of them, died through no fault of their own in the calamity that enveloped our planet in 2020.

And yet, writers tried to make something out of it, find some meaning and hope in it, as we are inclined to do, and felt obliged to do in order to try to maintain our health and sanity through all the months of isolation. I wrote a 15,000 word novella called ‘The Drowned Labyrinth’ that was picked up by Brazilian publisher Raphus Press, from whom it is now available in English (and soon in Portuguese), here

Also I began another novella, to be called ‘Oneironauts’ which the Black Isle-based artist Pamela Tait (whose work graced the cover of my novel ‘The Suicide Machine‘) secured a substantial sum of funding from Creative Scotland from, for her and I to bring it to completion as a book to be published by Zagava of Dusseldorf, and also potentially as a touring exhibition, presuming society returns to normal in time.

My most recent novel, one I began writing 25 years ago, ‘Barking Circus’ finally became available in paperback in November, having already been out in limited edition hardback for a year. Andrew Hook reviewed it very favourably in Issue 77 of Black Static Magazine, stating that this book and its predecessor The Suicide Machine “use language in ways over and beyond forcing a plot. This is storytelling at its invigorating, demanding best.”

Among other things I published online this year, were a story called ‘Resurrection’ about a Roman centurion being brought back to life over at the John Byrne Awards website, and ‘Blue Bottle’ in the Winter 2020 issue of Sein Und Werden. That magazine is also where to find a recent review by N A Jackson of my novel ‘The Suicide Machine’.

As well as ‘Oneironauts’ there is a good deal else should happen in 2021 (besides us all hopefully escaping from Covid-19 via vaccination), such as my short story ‘The Dissolving Man’ being published by the prestigious Nightjar Press, several poems appearing in differing chapbooks from Dreich Magazine, who will also, later in the year, be publishing a third one of my 2020-penned novellas, this one called ‘Tam Tarrow’s Journey’, a collaboration with Glasgow poet and printmaker Elly Farrelly.

The cover images above, for Barking Circus and The Drowned Labyrinth, from Zagava and Raphus respectively, both feature artwork by my late brother Ally Thompson.  So let’s begin 2021 by paying due respect to the fallen, with those haunting words of Andrew Eldritch in his finest hour in that old Sisters Of Mercy song from 35 years ago: “Let’s drink to the dead lying under the water, and the cost of their blood on the driven snow…”

 

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Acer Palmatum

Beautiful wreckage

the leaves crimson fallen

a carpet around the branches

reaching up in ballet silhouette

against the chill blue sky

in November light softening

settling into golden haze 

of quiet afternoon the last

single leaf waits poised

contemplating swansong pirouette

slow motion dervish dive bomb

glowing red gorged on light

breath held to join its audience

the symphony of colour below 

before night falls the incredible

moment promised: this glorious

death that sings in eternity.

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The Unimaginable Zero Summer

Writing has not always been easy amid this strange year’s many strangenesses, as I think many authors will agree. Maybe we can now see that we needed our customary everyday distractions more than we thought… maybe they were in fact, our secret inspiration. In terms of a round-up of things achieved, it was good to have The Poets Republic magazine publish my poem ‘How To Survive A Scottish Winter‘  which although written pre-Covid has perhaps now assumed a further layer of poignancy. Dreich Magazine also published in their Coronavirus-themed chapbook four poems I wrote under Lockdown, one of which you can read here. Also, to make light of the whole onerous subject, this cheeky little poem was published at the ‘Coronaverses’ website.

Also written under Lockdown, and bearing its chill shadows, was an entire novella called ‘The Drowned Labyrinth’ which will be published this autumn in English and Portuguese by Raphus Press of Brazil. You can read the first few thousand words here at the Sein Und Werden magazine website. Sein Und Werden have also just published a somewhat scurrilous short piece called ‘Making Plans For Nigel‘ which might get me into trouble if the Nigel in question ever reads it. Written well before Covid, and completely unrelated to it, is my prose piece ‘The Wild Hunt’ which is out now in ‘The Neo-Decadent Cookbook‘ published by Eibonvale Press and edited by Justin Isis and Brendan Connell, which is a kind of tongue-in-cheek manifesto a bit like those produced by movements like The Futurists in the early twentieth century. Always quick off the mark, It has already been reviewed here by the great weirdmonger himself D F Lewis.

I make it a rule of mine never to mind being claimed by one literary genre or movement or another. I’ve met a lot of great writers and readers over the years through my openness to differing views or styles. But just as I have never been a member of any political party, or follower of any religion, despite my respect for all of them and their adherents, I hope to go on, if I go on at all, defying categorisation. A society of one.

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