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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Latest

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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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