well, if this isn’t nice, i don’t know what is

My short story collection This House of Wounds has been nominated for a British Fantasy Award. So that’s nice! The other nominated authors are Maura McHugh, Laura Mauro, Paul Tremblay and Aliette de Bodard, so obviously I’m not expecting to actually win!

Having said that, I was surprised and delighted to take home the British Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction for my story White Rabbit a couple of years ago, so who knows, I might get lucky again. That story’s in This House of Wounds, along with another story called Her Bones the Trees which was also nominated for the Best Short Fiction award last year. So it’s a lovely honour and I hope it will spark some interest in the book. Apparently my collection is now available at The Last Bookstore in LA and I’m very much hoping that Charlie Kaufman will wander in and buy a copy. I assume he lives in LA. If not, this plan is a bust. His films have been a huge influence on my writing. I love how he turns reality inside out, and I think my writing tries to do some similar things. I’d maybe even go so far as to say that if you liked his latest movie, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, you might also enjoy my stories. But I digress. (Buy my books!)

I was very pleased to see Julie Travis’ fantastic Tomorrow, When We Were Young nominated for the Best Short Fiction award this year. It’s a book I absolutely loved and which filled me with wonder, and was one of my standout reads of last year. Congrats to all the nominees in all the categories. I’m only sad we won’t all be having a drink together at the award ceremony!

In other good news, my copy of Aliya Whiteley’s latest novel Greensmith arrived this morning and it looks amazing. I’m a massive, MASSIVE fan of her books. The cover blurb from Irenosen Okojie calls it “a brilliant, mind-altering, intergalactic delight.” Eek.

Je suis Samuel

This is distressing, heartbreaking, and terrifying news. Samuel Paty was killed for doing what good teachers do: sharing knowledge, modeling critical thought. By all accounts, Samuel was a beloved teacher who encouraged debate and diversity of ideas.

I understand that Samuel had complaints from a parent of a child who wasn’t even in his class, that there was some kind of social media campaign against him, that it all escalated to the point that he changed his route home from school, fearing that he may be attacked. And then he was attacked, brutally attacked, and beheaded.

Horror, and revulsion. It is overwhelmingly evil. Samuel’s students are 13 years old – this is a trauma that will carry through generations.

We have to learn from this. Schools, colleges and universities have to do more to protect the safety of teachers. Why didn’t Samuel Paty’s school take his concerns seriously? Why did they allow a campaign against him to go unchecked and instead put him under investigation? It is horrifying to see how quickly this escalated from a classroom tension to an act of terrorism. It is terrifying to see how little it takes to go from a normal teaching day to some kind of hell.

We must be able – and society must enable us – to speak, write, teach, counsel and converse without fear of violence. If not, then a leader can’t lead, an artist can’t make art, and a teacher can’t teach.

Don’t be cynical in the face of this tragedy. We have to end this stupid war.

Je suis Samuel. Je suis prof.

a dreadful person says…

God knows I’m no paragon of virtue. I’ve been wrong and done wrong plenty of times. I’m not even that nice, generally speaking, personality-wise. People who like me tend to be those people deemed to be unsavoury, beyond-the-pale types, or those who have a certain reckless joy de vivre (erm… I think these people might actually be dogs). So I’m not standing on a pedestal (or a horse) when I say, I’m pretty sure some things are just wrong. Aren’t they?

Like, I think if you try to defend the practice of threatening to rape a woman to death for saying something some people didn’t like even though they have no idea what she said and are making up outright lies in order to justify rape and death threats and kill-your-children threats and put-your-abuser-on-the-front-page-of-a-national-newspaper threats, then there is probably something a bit wonky about your moral compass. Can compasses be recalibrated? Because that’s what I’d recommend.

But then, I suppose, I could be wrong about that. Maybe it’s okay to send a deluge, a plague, a tsunami of rape-to-death threats, kill-your-family threats, hope-you-get-cancer threats to people you don’t like? I doubt this point of view would ever have occurred to me, were it not for the fact that it is the point of view espoused by so many people I happen to know. To be fair, most of these people exist mainly on twitter, which as we know, is the place where independent thought goes to die, usually in the throes of some histrionic demonstration of pure, mad outrage. Desperate for those likes and retweets. Pure desperate.

I watched The Social Dilemma the other evening and thought, jesus god, this explains so much. I’d already ditched my social media months ago (one day I’ll get through a whole blog post without congratulating myself for this) so I was able to enjoy this horror story whilst clutching to the thin comfort of my own smugness. But thin comfort it was, indeed. It will take a lot more than a few of us deleting our social media to derail the crazy train. Social media is a giant mind control experiment, and there are a lot of minds being controlled. How else to explain people defending and justifying rape-death-cancer threats? How else to explain the furious urge to cancel and silence all dissent, even that which is simply the expression of basic moral principle?

The idea that other people aren’t subject to the mind-control that you’ve succumbed to must be utterly enraging. And the deeper you sink into the giant mind, the more likes you get, the more retweets, the more addicted you become, the more this jealous bewildered fury consumes you and the more you lash out in rage at all you cannot control. Dear god, you are being eaten alive!

on attempting to reason with a fly

I find that of all the flying insects that sometimes fly into my flat, flies are the least amenable to any form of reason. Wasps are also often intractable, especially when angered. But flies are just stupid.

Now a bee, on the other hand, a bee will listen to reason. A bee will buzz in, lost and confused, but when I show them that the open window is just there, and invite them to leave through it, off they go. Indeed, there have been times when I have been too busy to gesture to a bee, and have simply explained that there’s a open window in the other room through which they may exit. Bees are smart and they want to understand.

Flies, it seems, are impervious to all forms of reason and evidence. Flies fly in (or arise, unbidden, from their hideous secret places) and it doesn’t matter how much you point to the WIDE OPEN WINDOW in front of them, or how much you wave and create drafts and patiently explain and give instructions – flies just keep buzzing around and around and around, gradually inviting their own destruction at the hands of an increasingly annoyed woman who has only been trying to help.

This is not, of course, a metaphor for anything. What in the world could resemble a stupid buzzing insect flying around in a trap of its own making, when nothing is standing between it and its passage into a clear bright day? What could remind one of such stupidity, such refusal to acknowledge what is blindingly obvious, such mindless, idiotic devotion to a completely mistaken course of action? What, indeed.

50,000 bumholes

A wise person once said that opinions are like bumholes, in that everyone has one. This has always struck me as the perfect expression of distaste towards the unsavory practice of having opinions. I would, however, counter it by saying opinions are not at all like bumholes, in that no one has 50,000 bumholes.

I myself am in possession of several thousand opinions, few of which have the slightest merit or basis in anything other than sheer whimsy. Indeed, I have been known to opine at length on subjects in which I have literally no expertise, knowledge, or even interest. I consider this to be a terrible character flaw, albeit one which I share with most of the population at large. Hardly anything is less pleasant than listening to other people’s untutored, unfounded and ignorant opinions. But to be the expounder of such opinions is delightful. It’s so much fun to just talk, to say whatever inane nonsense passes through your brain, without a care for truth or honour. It’s especially fun to get worked up into an outrageous steaming froth about the sputterings of some random twitter egg or facebook not-friend.

(As I am one of the elite and enlightened few who has eschewed social media, I no longer suffer from the constant urge to express myself online. I now reserve this disagreeable activity for close friends and captive audiences at bus stops and in the post office queue.)

Another way in which opinions are not really like bumholes is that hardly anyone identifies with their bumhole in any meaningful way. Most people probably couldn’t even pick theirs out in a line up, unless it was an especially fancy one. Yet many people do very rigidly identify with their opinions and consider themselves to be the sort of person who thinks this, that, and the other. The thinking of this, that, and the other indicates to the world that they are the right kind of person and that they are very good. Such individuals tend to have clusters of opinions that go together and often these clusters merge with other clusters to form one giant opinion which is taken so seriously and treated with so much gravity that it takes on cosmic mass and becomes a giant bumhole of groupthink. This enormous bumhole hoovers up all the messy freeform thought that swirls around it, and pulls it down into its dark mysterious depths, never to be seen again. Now the person-with-important-and-correct-opinions finds themselves in thrall to a giant bumhole, a position which requires some careful manouevring if they are to escape unsullied. Many individuals, however, seem to take comfort in the giant bumhole, which is warm and crowded with others just like them, and they find shared purpose in patrolling its rim, defending its integrity from critical observers, and fighting off anyone who attempts to help them get free.

A third way in which opinions are unlike bumholes – and yes I am now fully committed to this analogy, although I admit I do have some regrets – is that while a bumhole is a sturdy thing that with luck and care will last you a lifetime, opinions tend to be fickIe and flimsy and floaty. There is nothing really basic or fundamental about opinions. They come and go, briefly providing the illusion that you know what you’re on about, before disappearing in a puff of logic, evidence, growing up, or having a change of heart. Opinions drift about like brightly coloured balloons, looking joyful and attractive until they float into a tree and explode. Weeks later you find their withered fragments shamefully littering the grass. They are, put simply, not to be trusted.

Maybe, then, we should detach from our opinions. Maybe we should all be less concerned with what people think, and a lot more interested in how they think. The ability to use logic, reason, deduction, evaluation and analysis is more profoundly valuable to society than knowing the right things to say to appease the great giant bumhole in the cloud – or even to rail against it. There is no reason to aspire to having good or correct opinions, any more than one would waste time wishing for extra bumholes. Far better to aspire to knowledge, insight and wisdom, the lubricating unguents which soothe the inflamed haemorrhoids of cancel culture, thought-control, and always-being-right, and which should, therefore, be applied liberally.

To torture the analogy to its painful conclusion, I propose that opinions, like bumholes, should be a private and somewhat embarrassing concern, of no interest to anyone outside your most intimate circle. Forget about your opinions. Cultivate ways of thinking, learning, and knowing; aspire to wisdom and insight. Develop your core values, decide what is of fundamental importance – I humbly submit that you will find deep cares for truth, justice, freedom and equality, cares which seem to be baked into most human hearts. Identify with these, and let your opinions go like so many farts, dissipating into warm air.

just monster things

Have been off social media for a week or so and it’s clear to me I made a great decision. I feel very free. I also have a lot of thoughts and ideas about what social media is doing to writing and writers, but I’ll save them for another day.

Just a quick heads up for anyone who enjoys podcasts, ghost stories, or being read to: this fantastic podcast by Tony Walker is one you won’t want to miss. He recently did an episode on Little Heart, from my collection This House of Wounds, and it was such a wonderful experience. Tony’s reading brought so much insight into the story and we had a great discussion afterwards about what it all could mean.

It inspired me to write some story notes about my novella Honeybones, which weirdly enough tie in with a lot of my thoughts about social media. I suppose it’s not that weird, given that Honeybones is a story about mind control and violence and not living in reality but inhabiting a simulated world which is designed to disempower you and alienate you from your material existence… Anyway, it’s interesting to think about, and if anyone wants to have me on their podcast or blog or publication to talk about this stuff, that would be great.

CYMERA 2020 took place online a couple of weeks ago and was a fantastic experience. I really enjoyed all the panels I saw and appreciated how much work went into making them run so smoothly. My own panel was on ‘writing the weird’ with Laura Mauro and Kit Power, and was a really fun and interesting chat. But my highlight of the weekend was Penny Jones, Tracy Fahey and Katie Hale discussing ‘The Female Monster’ – they covered so much in the discussion but it felt like they could have gone on for hours, and I would have been there for it! All the panels from CYMERA are on youtube and worth checking out.

That’s all for now! Hope you are all staying well and safe <3

the real world

mouthpieces

Twitter has gone insane. It is sad to see.

It was better once upon a time, back in the day, in the time before the Great Doubling. When I joined twitter ten or so years ago it was nowhere near this angry, culty or scary, although I’m reminded that around this time Jaron Lanier was already trying to warn us about the way it would go. I didn’t feel like a gadget, though. Twitter was a place for chats and light entertainment. I discovered artists. I made friends. But those were the halcyon days. Over the past few years I’ve had more and more bad twitter experiences, have been the prey of manipulative people, have fallen out with people for apparently no reason, been subjected to abuse, and so on. I admit I myself have contributed to twitter’s decline, fallen into some of its traps, got outraged and angry, retweeted some terrible article that turned out to be a hoax, tweeted in all caps and no caps, all the big sins.

But lately, twitter’s decline has felt precipitous. While we were all stuck at home, locked down in various degrees of mentally deranging isolation, twitter took a quantum leap into mind-boggling incoherence and grotesque rage. I expect you noticed, especially when it became so intense and clamorous that it managed to blow the lid off its bubble and landed on the front page of The Sun newspaper, where its puny, slop-brained avatar bragged about slapping a woman hard across the face. Twitter’s hero.

There is something deeply disorienting, brain-mangling even, about how twitter turns established ideas and moral principles absolutely inside out, such that burning books and witches is sport now pursued by so-called writers and liberals. The morally inverted world of twitter is one where violence is routinely tolerated, but critical thinking is not. It creates cognitive dissonance, always telling us two contradictory things and demanding we believe both simultaneously. It gives contradictory instructions which we must follow to the letter. And in turn it surveills us extensively. It tests us constantly for compliance. Every word we say, and every sentence we write, will be scrutinised with an eagle eye for the least generous and most twisted interpretation possible. If you are deemed to have meant something bad (even though you did not say anything bad) you are held to account for that badness. Indeed, if you are deemed to have even read something bad, this alone can be used as proof of your badness, as if to read a text is an unforgiveable collusion with its content. And if, having been accused and convicted in the same swift finger point, you are insufficiently grovelsome, penitent and ashamed in your apologies, the next step is the cancellation, your expulsion from the group. Whatever the real world implications of this (and they can be many and varied) there is also a deeper, existential fear at play. You are to be turned out of your tribe, away from the light and warmth of the metaphorical fire, and this, according to that ancient primal worm at the back of your skull, means death.

So it is that twitter begins to take control of our minds. We are told we must not follow bad people and we must not read things that do not come from approved sources. Not even, for example, an essay by the world’s most famous, successful and beloved children’s writer on a topic of widespread interest. If you cannot resist the temptation to read it, you must be vigilant against its corrosive influence, and warn others that it is a disgusting hateful screed, even if you can’t personally detect any of the hateful parts, because it is well known that the author has pure hate in her heart and is secretly communicating, through ingenious coded phrases, her hidden murderous intent. On the other hand, her hatred is also said to be so blatant that only those afflicted by some character defect, or over-excess of personal privilege, can fail to see it.

This lose/lose situation is practically designed to create anxiety and confusion. And these are, I’d argue, excellent psychological conditions in which to cultivate a society of vulnerable, fearful, self-censoring dopamine-addicts, alienated from themselves, extremely emotionally pliable, and so mentally overtaken by the newly rigid strictures of normal expression that they can no longer hear their own creative voice or the call of their soul.

Mind control, as we know from the study of cults, and from the grassroots movement exposing narcissism and sociopathy, will eventually drive people not only to exterminate their own creative instincts, but to seek constant reassurance and validation that their thinking never deviates from the correct path. On twitter this may take the form of emotional extortion and lists of demands, especially where the person’s sole form of ‘political activism’ is tweeting. These people are also at risk of denouncing their friends, neighbours, coworkers, teachers, and even family members in return for ‘likes’ and also, of course, to distract attention from their own crimes and shortcomings. In other words, pointing and shouting at someone else might simply be the best tactic they’ve got to stay safe — although honestly, this early in the game, it seems a tad over-zealous. As I recently tweeted, a lot of people are screaming “Don’t do it to me! Do it to her!” and we haven’t even got to the bit with the rats yet.

And yes, George Orwell’s 1984 is indeed bandied around twitter like some kind of ancient prophetic scroll we all got handed at the start of this shitty LARP. Thought crime is a real thing now, absolutely meaningless nonsense parades as academic theory, two plus two equals something I don’t even want to say because it might add up to something else tomorrow. News is falsified, history rewritten and lies repeated. And of course, there’s the hate. Twitter is the two-minute hate, scrolling forwards and backwards for all eternity.

But as frighteningly prescient as Orwell undoubtedly was, the writer who most deeply understood and foretold the horror of our present political world must be Philip K Dick. With his uncontrollable dimension hopping, his cosmic yet invasively intimate systems of surveillance, his unending opening of the doors of perception, his embodied madness and waking hallucinations, Philip K Dick somehow seemed to know that one of our biggest and most intractable problems would be with reality itself. He foresaw that meaning would break down, that reality would fragment, and that we would be stranded, alienated from our own inner truths, powerless against the chaotic incoherence of a mind we cannot fathom.

Slowly but surely this artificial mind appears to assimilate all other minds, degrade thought to the texture of a slogan, and turn all voices into its mouthpieces; unconscious mouthpieces to utter and amplify its insanity. Yes, PKD would have recognised twitter for exactly what it is – a monstrous mind-controlling entity that seeks dictatorial power over reality itself.

It’s surely undeniable that we are subjects of a giant, global mind-control experiment. We find it so pathetically hard to give up those teeny tiny hits of dopamine it sometimes provides. But we have no idea what effects it is ultimately having on us as individuals, families, communities and societies – although so far the signs are NOT GOOD. Only one thing is clear: the time to get off the crazy train is now. Free your mind while you still have the chance.

there is other magic

Thinking about this new book, HONEYBONES. It’s a book that has driven me in strange ways. By which I mean, it’s a book that has insisted on itself. No compromises.

The story had been haunting me for a long time, a decade or more. I’d attempted it a few times, but it never seemed to work out. For quite a while I called it ‘The House of Mirrors’. It was about something – fairytales, crows, a house – but I couldn’t really make sense of it. I spent a lot of time dreaming about the book. I wrote in mirror-writing, inside out.

I can’t remember now quite how I came up with the idea of ‘dreeming’ and Dreemy Peeple. I know it started with the dolls, the creepy dolls Anna finds in the bedrooms of her stepdad’s house. It was the brand name, stamped into their plastic casing. Then, somehow, the dreem took on a life of its own. I worked it out in various short stories that ended up in my collection, THIS HOUSE OF WOUNDS. (There’s an oblique reference to THOW in HONEYBONES – a million dinosaurs to anyone who spots it!) And finally, it started to bring forth this story.

Other things which didn’t seem quite to fit anywhere at first, like an exercise in ventriloquism from the cully king (himself a character from a much earlier story, CROW VOODOO), and then all these songs and bits of plays and other books – they all swirled about this girl, this house, this dreem. I cut 20,000 words. I cut another 20,000. When I had something that looked passingly like a story, I called it done. And – a stroke of luck – Andy Cox at TTA Press snapped it up.

That was lucky for lots of reasons. One big reason was that Andy, used to working with temperamental artists [insert eyeroll emoji here] wasn’t terribly bothered when I took the story back a few times and made some reasonably significant changes. He didn’t even mind too much (or at least he didn’t let it show) when I took it back again and re-wrote it SUBSTANTIALLY. Like changing the whole thing from third to first person, re-writing major plot points, taking out a couple of characters and, oh yes, completely changing the ending.

I couldn’t help it; I was seized by an instinct about how the book should be and I couldn’t sleep until I executed it. That last re-write took me a few days of writing, practically non-stop, sitting at my kitchen table drinking a whole lot of black coffee and not thinking, not thinking at all. When I was done, I knew I was finished for real this time and – for all its faults – HONEYBONES was as close to the story as I was going to get.

Another thing I have to be grateful to Andy for. The manuscript I sent him was a mess of different fonts, colours, amateur attempts at typographical effects. The cully king has to speak with this voice, you see; and the writing needs to fade away here; and this part should look like an old book; and and and. It was a lot. So many editors would have just said no to it all. Who do you think you are, House of Leaves? But Andy got it. He understood that it mattered for the book to look a certain way, feel a certain way, use text to tell the story. So he found a way to make it work.

I am as proud of this book as of anything I’ve written, possibly prouder, even though I maybe have no right to be. It wasn’t easy to write, except for when it was. But it pushed me. It made me experiment – sometimes from inspiration, sometimes from desperation. At other times as a ‘fuck you’ to the people and things that held me back. So forgive me if I bang on about it and spam you with links for where you can buy it (here! Buy it here!) And please don’t hesitate to ask if you need a review copy or an interview or anything else.

honeybones pre-orders

HONEYBONES is currently at press and now available to order here. If you want to buy Malcolm Devlin’s ENGINES BENEATH US at the same time (and you absolutely should!) then it’s an even better deal.

If you’re a book person looking to review HONEYBONES or interview me about it, please get in touch. I’m ready to talk!

honeybones

Here is the cover for my little book HONEYBONES, coming soon from TTA Press as part of their novella series, which will also see the brilliant Malcolm Devlin‘s ENGINES BENEATH US coming out at the same time. So please buy both books if you can!

Malcolm’s weird brother, the award-winning artist Vince Haig, did the cover illustration. I am so honoured to have had Vince illustrating several of my stories over the years. He somehow managed to tell the whole story in this picture – not an easy feat! It’s a beautiful illustration and I feel very lucky.

HONEYBONES is definitely in the realm of horror. It’s actually one of those twisted fairytales I like to claim I don’t write. It’s Bluebeard, Snow White, and The Twelve Dancing Princesses gone very, very wrong. It also features Dreemy Peeple (indeed this is where the Dreemy Peeps began) and a lot of mirrors and feathers and that sort of thing. A brief descriptive blurb says:

A troubled girl, a haunted book, a house of illusions and enchanted mirrors. Anna Carrow just wants to make things right between her and her mum, to please her stepdad, and keep out of the way of school bullies. But her efforts only seem to lead her further and further from reality, deeper and deeper into paranoia and delusion, until she finds herself tangled inside a twisted fairytale, face to face with the sinister Cully King. Now Anna has to decide which version of reality to believe in. But how can you know who to trust, when your mind is playing tricks on you?

If that sounds like the kind of thing you like, watch this space! HONEYBONES will probably be a bit like that. It’ll be available to buy very soon and I can’t wait to see what people make of it. Thanks to all for your support!