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Presuming that human civilization is going to survive Coronavirus at some level, then I perhaps ought to post here what I’ve been up to in the world of writing. My 14th book, a “quantum novel” called ‘Barking Circus’, has now been published in hardback in Germany by Zagava. This is a fairly extraordinary publication, comprising as it does of 14 quality reproductions of my late brother Ally’s drawings. The text was begun around 25 years ago, so parts of it verge on encrypted autobiography, while others are purgative attempts to come to terms with my brother’s premature death in the only effective way I know how: by analogy and allegory into wild flights of surrealism and science fiction.

The theory of this is simple: that real life cannot simply be described and told just as it is, if we wish to hold people’s attention and extract useful meaning from it. Who, after all, should care about the pains and cares of my irrelevant little life? But none of our lives are irrelevant, and all human experience is united by the same longings and sadnesses. To find a way to shed light upon your own life is perhaps a way to help everyone else shed light on their own. The trick as we probably all know by now is that tired old adage of “showing, not telling”. The apparently disconnected fragments of stories in ‘Barking Circus’ can only be assembled in the mind of each reader themselves, and there it is that the higher meaning of not just the book, but life itself, will emerge, like the flickering image of the street outside in a camera obscura.

70277917_2472180986223146_6653435659023286272_oHere is the official burb:

In the early days of the 21st century, an ‘Unknown Executive’ is killed by a passing car near Park Circus, the architectural office quarter of Glasgow. From his briefcase spill a series of mysterious and outlandish story fragments which blow across surrounding districts over subsequent days, each found and read by a diverse range of local characters. A far future Britain overtaken by rising sea levels, a near-future Scotland in which a nuclear accident has displaced the lowland populations to new experimental settlements in the north, an America in which NASA has begun a mining colony on a distant planet to the detriment of its hapless alien inhabitants. Each of these narratives do little to help the police establish the dead man ‘s identity, but point instead to a higher reality, a series of metaphorical futures that throw light on the enduring enigmas of human life and love: the struggle for freedom against the forces of tyranny and decay, the adverse effects of social-exclusion at the personal and societal level, and the transformative power of art.

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Meanwhile, Zagava have also now released the paperback version of the previous book of mine that they published, ‘The Suicide Machine‘ with excellent cover art by Pamela Tait:Suicide Machine PB

‘The Suicide Machine’ was written after ‘Barking Circus’ (despite being published before it, complicated eh?) and dealt in similarly fragmented terms through disparate narrative threads with the death of my mother. As I’ve posted here before, it received a very favourable review by Andrew Hook in in Black Static Magazine No.68.

In other news, some poems of mine appeared recently in Seahorse Publications anthology ‘Glasgow: Historical City‘ edited by the wonderful Linda Jackson.

Forthcoming later this year if the world is still here, will be a poem of mine in a magazine called ‘The Poet’s Republic‘, and a novella called ‘Emilianna’ to be published in Eibonvale Press‘s chap book series. Until then, stay safe, then overthrow your governments in order to build a new world and way of life in harmony with nature.

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Quarantine

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ONEIRONAUTS

Cars and trains shall rust
windows cake with dust
while lawns will grow
and go unmowed
grass push through
the tarmac pavements
concrete foundations crack
crops go unharvested
in desolate fields
life blossom but no longer
under human hands
fruit rot on the bough
only birds shall pick
at their ripe and fallen flesh
as in time they will at mine
whose beard grows longer
each week in the attic
the heartbeat of humanity
halted the clock stopped
at three minutes to midnight
in the town square
I can only reach by telescope
while here in our little screens
we secretly persist as moss
in the fissures singing
to each other inhabiting
each other’s dreams
imagining ourselves
into life each morning
human network slung
across the earth
like a spiders web
as the tinned food
and hope runs down
breath itself expire
but the planet
go on dreaming itself
running on empty and
the bliss of a kiss
remembered.

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All I Have To Give

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At Christmas I used to turn home
fill a hold-all with gifts and catch
the long loving train under Glasgow
through tunnels of memory
out through hazy suburbs
back to the village that raised me
retrace the streets of childhood
a maze of hedges and rockeries
unlocking the puzzle of upbringing
to open again the creaking back door
of my parents house and catch up
with all the lives of my brothers
like a train terminus our tracks
interwove there over dinner
laughter news and reminisces
before finally sleeping on the floor
in front of the fire or anywhere
we could find space. But space
can’t find us now our constellation
of love is lost at last become
no place the old house sold
and changed beyond resemblance
for it was only bricks and mortar
after all and like the glitter
of frost and stars below as above
both fleeting and immortal.

Thus am I homeless and orphaned
now as are we all in the end
with my pockets empty
except for words. It is well past
midnight Christmas morning
all shops closed I have nothing
to give you my love except love
itself the key to step outside
of time if you can accept
this nothing for the everything
it is. A poem made of me
which can fit you snugly also
to keep you and every other
sad cold monkey warm
so far from home
forgive me if I neglect
the wrapping paper.

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What The Spaceman Said

Ally Thompson drawing green ink

I’ve noticed on Earth
nobody wins arguments
nobody loses them
yet opinions change
This is mysterious
I’ve noticed everybody
bickers with their neighbours
over where their trash cans sit
and yet long for world peace
This is also mysterious
I’ve noticed everybody
builds fences then laments
inequality and loneliness
This is mysterious
I’ve noticed how they can’t live
without films of murders and wars
but lock up real murderers
and say war is wrong but vote for more of it
and I’ve noticed how they lavish love
on animals, some of whom they eat
and some of whom they don’t
but treat their fellow humans
whom they don’t eat
and say they must never eat, terribly
and all of this is mysterious
I’ve noticed that they’ve noticed
that no alien life forms have
come visiting to say hello to them
This is not mysterious.

 

(Drawing by Ally Thompson 1955-2016)

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How To Survive A Scottish Winter

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Don’t fight the darkness, treasure it
avoid electric light, choose candles
wherever possible sit in the dark
and think about what cannot be seen
the past the future the truth, meaning
now is the time for the thousand yard
thousand year stare into the flames
of a fireplace flickering with the music
your ancestors understood as you did
as a child before all the distractions
of daylight blinded you. Stock up
for the winter with long walks
under the moon and hours spent
in cafés watching raindrops racing
down glass after glass raised with good
friends exchanging stories. Stock up
with vital fuel not just chopped logs
but also, though not to be confused
with it, for the fire of the soul:
many shelves of poetry. For when
it runs out never worry, a sustainable
resource, you’ll make your own.

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Renovation

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Caught up in the every-moment
fevered minutiae of minutes, seconds
swishing my paint-loaded brush
against the clock, worrying
the dust the money running low
sweat on the brow then suddenly:

All is stilled by the sound of church bells
from St.Andrews–in-the-Square
chiming the hour and connecting me
and us all in our beehive lives
to more ancient time
the slow swing of history’s pendulum
to perspective, loss and conflict
1745 when Prince Charles Edward Stuart
at the head of a Jacobite army
rested his horses in the square
and looked bitterly upon its steeple
under construction by disappointingly
disinterested Anglophile locals
and proposed, not feeling so Bonnie that day
to burn their city down.

Now other bells at the Tron nearby
ring once a year to honour the birthday
of Donald Cameron of Locheil
who prevailed upon his mercy and better sense
The town went on standing, the steeple complete
the bells struck while the Young Pretender
grew old and drunk and ugly in exile.

Last orders, time gentlemen, please
ghostly armies who’d rather build than kill
who’d rather wine than blood to spill
hold a stone for a wall before a sword
foreswear violence in favour of the word

Perhaps then bells can call us all to order
still speak in the power of their iron
for the forever anonymous, the modest,
the sound and silent men who forged them.

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Close To The Bone

Fox-black and white

Time after time
Our nocturnal fox
Returns his little bone
Like a child’s toy
All trace of marrow long-since
Gnawed from its centre
To our lawn, pathetic, cryptic
Next to the hole he’s dug
Useless, smaller than himself
As if to signal a nascent interest
In crazy golf

But perhaps he’s digging
For something deeper
Like us his goal lies buried
Not in space but time
The memory of his burrow
His siblings and his mother
Someone who cared for him
Beneath the roots of a tree
Long since felled
And fed him as we do now
Mysteriously intermittently

Can a fox feel as we do
Nostalgia, longing for days gone?
And whose loneliness is greater
Without or with
The words to tell?

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Still Life with new publications

Still Life

Oh look. Some new things. My novella “Dreams Of A Dead Country” is out now from Salò press (cover art by Becha), going for only five pounds a pop. The book’s title wasn’t intended to reference Brexit, but seems to be doing quite a nice job anyway right now of poignantly summing up the whole absurd situation in one neat sentence. In fact, this little book is a piece of dream writing, i.e. an attempt to capture exactly that strange and wonderful train of illogicality that dreams all-too-briefly envelop us in before we wake up and return to the boring old world of facts and physics.

The ultimate ‘dream book’ I have ever read is the novel “Hebdomeros” by Georgio de Chirico (that’s right, by a painter, not a writer) and I’ve probably spent my whole career trying to emulate it since I first read it over 30 years ago. It’s not as easy as you’d think, to write like dreams, maybe because keeping a reader engrossed depends on a certain amount of logic and trust, which dreams by definition lack. A kind of tightrope walk then. Why not pick up a copy and decide for yourself whether I’ve succeeded? Some of it is real dreams, some of it is lucid dreams, at times even written in a kind of trance state, when falling asleep or upon first waking. I don’t do this for a game, by the way. My theory is that dreams contain deeper and more useful metaphors than our waking minds can devise or understand. My theory is that this life we live must be understood, but can only be so through the distorting mirror of surrealism, which tears away the veils of over-familiarity which customarily blind our tired eyes to the real truth of the everyday world we live in. Therefore we come full circle. It may be no coincidence that the book’s title (and perhaps even its plot at a level so deep that even I can’t fathom it) references Brexit. That’s what the subconscious does of course, it accesses the past and the future and makes sense of them both and shows us things we didn’t even know we knew.

But enough of this unseemly claustrophobia of self-analysis. Also in my attic photo above is the excellent new anthology of fiction and poetry from Eibonvale Press called ‘Humanagerie’ (nice review here) edited by award-winning poet Sarah Doyle and seasoned Speculative fiction veteran Allen Ashley, in which I have a very nihilistic short story which seeks to reduce human romance to the level of the animalistic in order to find out what’s left over. Not a f**k of a lot, by the looks of how it turned out. Sorry about that. But truth is its own reward in the name of experimentation. The respected writer and reviewer D F Lewis seemed to hate it, but that’s alright, because he likes lots of other things I’ve done, not least of which my most recent fractal novel ‘The Suicide Machine’ from Zagava which he reviewed here. He also liked my book before that, ‘The Fallen West’ from Snuggly Books, which he reviewed here. See folks? Welcome the bad reviews too, it’s all just life.

On the subject of Zagava of Dusseldorf, Black Static Magazine has a good review by Slipstream guru Andrew Hook of ‘The Suicide Machine’ in the latest issue (no.68, here.), which you can see in the inset image below. My favourite lines from Andrew’s very kind analysis might be these: “By forcing the reader to imagine an overall story where in fact there might be none, Thompson authentically writes about memory and through it how we seek to be…  the strength of the book lies in ambiguity, in forcing the reader to think, so we can map our own personal experiences atop the structure and attempt to unravel not only Thompson’s (possible) intentions but also – like easter eggs in a computer game – our own.”

{Update. You can now read Andrew’s review in full on Goodreads here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/42959805-the-suicide-machine}

Also, contrary to previous rumours, my next long-awaited novel “Barking Circus” (about Glasgow, art, life, politics and the future) will be published in October this year, also by Zagava. We hope to launch it at Fantasycon in Glasgow. Or as I prefer to call it “Fantasycon Dalmuir”. Now if that’s not another one-sentence poem, plum-full of comic-poetic irony, then I don’t know a herring from a hacksaw 🙂

Suicide Machine_Black Static review

 

 

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Late Snow

Snow Crystal

Such unexpected snow this morning;
try to forget me like the snow forgets
forgets the sky forgets the sun
forgets how water used to run
forgets how green life once
pushed itself up and through.
Fall and form a blanket of forgetfulness
sleep, just let yourself go
all this whiteness is a page, fresh
not the absence of life at all
but its preparation for beginning
again and again this strange world
of life, of women and of men.

Such unexpected snow this morning;
so late and so short-lived
like a fleeting memory of how
snow used to be in childhood
but can never be again.
Snow, sleep, weep, forget
before the grey rain comes
sleep and forget as the snow forgets
itself and becomes only water
like ancient tears of the earth
which of itself can remember nothing
which is why it summons us perhaps
its wistful gift of hope and brief recall
such unexpected snow this morning
as if like it, we’re scarcely here at all.

 

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Ally Thompson Exhibition

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In the two years since the untimely death of my brother Ally Thompson, I have been preparing a retrospective exhibition of his work, which opens next month at the Lillie Art Gallery in Milngavie, Glasgow, G62 8BZ, from 12th January to 21st February. The show will involve over 70 paintings, drawings and collages, some for sale, alongside numerous archival sketches and an extensive slideshow of his life and work. The exhibition catalogue includes a remarkable essay by Ally’s friend and Glasgow School of Art contemporary Peter Howson. Ally achieved more recognition in his lifetime in France and America than he did in his native Scotland, and it is to be hoped that through media coverage and public interest that unjust state of affairs may begin, little by little, to be corrected.

Ally painted in a startlingly diverse range of styles, and his philosophically critical stance towards the empty materialism of our current society set him aside in a manner that led Peter Howson to remark “His work, masterfully executed, is uncompromising and stark in its beauty and he can be regarded as a visionary in the mould of William Blake”.

We will never of course, get over the loss of our brother, our mentor and creative inspiration. To have grown up with him and witnessed his art in process was a privilege beyond words. But as the saying goes, we need to be grateful that it happened rather than merely sad that it is over. Please come along and see for yourself, and help celebrate and enjoy the life and work of a truly remarkable artistic creator. Ally lived for art, now let’s help make his art live for him.

 

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