I’m delighted to announce that my short story Tartan will be published in the next issue of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, which should appear either later this month or in July. I’d been invited to submit a story by co-editor Stephen Theaker but had no idea what he’d make of this particular one. I’ve referred to the tale before on this site, (in this post from October 2020) but it bears repeating: the story is based on the public (at least here in the UK) perception of murderer Ian Brady, who, along with his then partner Myra Hindley, have been held up for the last half century as the epitome of evil. The Moors Murderers, as they were dubbed, tortured and killed five children in the early to mid-1960s, and narrowly missed being hanged for their crimes, as the death penalty had just been abolished. The public felt cheated of what many felt to be the only suitable punishment to fit the pair’s crimes. The public’s resentment and anger only increased over the years – during which two of the bodies were found, others weren’t where Brady or Hindley claimed (which involved both visiting Saddleworth Moor, near Manchester, with the police). During her decades in prison Hindley claimed she’d been coerced into kidnapping the children and hadn’t killed any of them; she wanted parole and had some high-profile people on her side. Brady – who never wanted to be released – died in 2017 still refusing to reveal where one victim was buried, a last act of cruelty to the victim’s family. It was not unusual to hear people wishing the most appalling deaths on the couple; the case deeply affected the country and continues to do so. I wasn’t born until the late ’60s but my parents were very aware of the case at the time and their anger never really left them. The murders left their mark on British culture, too, most famously in Manchester band The Smiths’ Suffer Little Children (and they’re also referred to in Reel Around The Fountain) but also in the anarchist band Crass’ Mother Earth. The Smiths’ tracks are deeply mournful whereas Mother Earth is aimed at the lurid tabloid press’ (and some of the public’s) desire for violent revenge, claiming such feelings make a person as bad as Hindley. Much as I love the song, it seems a bit of a stretch to compare justifiable anger with the deliberate cruelty of Hindley and Brady, but it’s an important aspect of the enduring feelings about the case.
Tartan is one of my most symbolic stories. I rarely pick characters’ names out of thin air, but almost all the names in this story relates to the Hindley/Brady case (most notably the central character Chrome), as does the title. It’s also set in Weston-super-Mare, which has a lot of occult connections but is also a traditional British seaside town that’s become known somewhat as a ‘dumping ground’ for people suffering mental illness.
In time, when those who were around in the early 60s are no longer with us, the horror of the Moors Murders will fade somewhat into history and, possibly folklore. After all, there are more contemporary monsters to replace them – Peter Sutcliffe/The Yorkshire Ripper, Dennis Nilsen, Fred and Rose West, Harold Shipman. And, we can grimly assume, there will be others.
Work on my screenplay, Charcoal, continues, albeit at a slow pace. It’s a long haul and recent personal events have made it difficult to focus, (hence the vagueness of this post!) but any kind of progress at the moment is good. But I’ve begun work on an art project and switching between it and the screenplay is proving quite effective. The art project – Backwards Into The Backwoods – is planned to be in foldable poster format, very similar to the wraparound covers that the likes of Crass released with their singles and albums in the 1980s and I’m planning for it to look as much like a 7 inch single as possible, with a mixture of fiction extracts, photography and other graphics. It’s a pretty self-indulgent piece of work, and, if I go ahead and publish it there will only be a very limited amount available as I just don’t think it will be of interest to many people. This is the first time I’ve done this kind of project completely alone and it will be very different to Dykes Ink and the material put aside for any future issue. I’m unlikely to have funds to print it for some time, but I want to have the artwork completed reasonably soon. My limited technical/computer skills have slowed things down a little, but I’m learning as I go. That’s all I can say for now.
2022 has begun with a very optimistic project – writing my first film script. I’ve wanted to make a film for many years but it’s been too daunting to even start, so focusing purely on a script rather than the entire film-making process has made it more realistic. I’m aware that some writers are against adapting either short stories or novels for the small or big screen, and I appreciate that point of view as it can feel dismissive of writing as its own craft, as if it’s a writer’s ultimate goal. For me, as a lifelong film fan, it’s a natural thing to dream of doing – complete with Ray Harryhausen (impossible now, of course) taking care of the special effects! – but the written word has a magic of its own and should never be dismissed as a stepping stone to anywhere else. Therefore, despite the temptation to adapt an existing story, I’ve decided to write a story specifically for a script. It will make for slower progress but means I can think and write in a more cinematic way (although it could be argued that my stories are very visual anyway). The format and the terminology of a film script is very alien to me but I’m picking it up as I go along and am approaching it in a far more organised way than I do my fiction – writing backstories for my characters etc, rather than getting to know them en route as a short story progresses and doing much more planning. There’s only a certain distance I’ll go down that road, though, as I’ve no intention of adhering to a hugely rigid structure. The other major possible pitfall I’m very aware of is that many contemporary horror films are including a ‘folk-horror’ element, to the point where it’s becoming a lazy option, I think. I’m happy to admit that the term ‘folk-horror’ applies to a lot of my writing, but the script for Charcoal is deliberately focussed more on dark fantasy with a strong Surrealist and arthouse element. Dreams are such a big part of my life that they naturally weave themselves into my fiction, so a recent dream – where four owls flew into my home through an open window – will feature strongly. I’m not going to think too far ahead with this; the script, the story, is the thing. And the setting – an old Council housing block c1890, in a non-sensical location (a bleak moor) – is becoming more and more attractive given the insane political and social decay we’re experiencing.
I’m delighted to announce that Joelle Taylor has won the 2021 TS Eliot Poetry Prize for her collection C+nto & Othered Poems. I’ve known Joelle for a long time and have worked with her on several occasions, most recently at Swallow Your Pride in 2019 and it’s fantastic to see such talent recognised. As you will see from the clip above, the piece is very powerful and emotional but somehow there’s humour in there, too. You don’t have to be a lesbian to enjoy this! I want the whole world to see it.
Many of the people I knew in Hackney/London are making names for themselves after so many years of hard work, without compromise. I’m deeply proud of all of them.
Much, if not all, of my fiction addresses serious issues, mostly of the personal, rather than the political variety (overtly, anyway). Mental illness, grief, disconnection/isolation from other humans and our ultimate transformation at death are themes I’ve been exploring/experiencing for many years, but Yes, No, Goodbye – one of my current works in progress – is probably the most personal I’ve ever written and is based on events that occurred this summer. The story begins with the protagonist being woken in the night by a dreadful, bloodcurdling scream that appears to have a supernatural origin. This is something I experienced a few months ago, the most frightening incident of this kind since my childhood. This is a story that may well never be read by anyone, for reading it is not its main purpose. So why write about it here? Because another reason I would be reluctant to have it read is the question of how much responsibility a writer should take as to the effect a story has on others. Not as in the general population, as it’s impossible to make something – something worth reading – inoffensive to everyone. But the backstory behind Yes, No, Goodbye is a tragic recent event that people I know are still grieving over (as am I). At the very least it’s too soon, I think, to send this story out into the world as it may well hurt people who don’t deserve to be hurt. I don’t think there should be any hard and fast rules regarding this – censorship can be very dubious and while I’m all for discussing with an artist why they’ve written or created a particular thing, I’m also aware that even the vague possibility that someone, somewhere, may be offended by something has led to an stifling degree of caution in some quarters. This brings up the question of content warnings on books, much in the same manner as films. Personally, I would hope that the ‘blurb’ on a book’s cover would give enough of an idea as to the content so as to make specific references unnecessary. The reader should be credited with enough intelligence to decide whether a story or novel will involve a subject too distressing for them. I’ve been in this situation myself, with novels and film/tv that I found offensive or that reopened old wounds. And I stopped reading/watching it. Saying that, a story of mine that was very heavy – the subject matter being self-harm and suicide – was given the title Trigger, because it was just perfect, and I did want to give a hint of the contents. That was my choice and my decision. It appeared in a journal of Thomas Ligotti inspired fiction (Vasterian), so dark subject matter was appropriate, but I noticed the story was only briefly referred to in all the reviews the journal received. Not a criticism – I have no divine right to have my work reviewed – but likely a reflection of such uncomfortable subjects. However, the most important reaction came from a US war veteran, who got in touch to say he found the story ‘reassuring’. Perhaps he felt heard by it? It was certainly a very positive, touching message. Meanwhile, Yes, No, Goodbye is coming close to completion. And its purpose? Hopefully some healing of my own.
While DUV remains in hibernation, some of those associated with us have been very busy. Comic strip supremo Rachael House currently has an exhibition, Let The Right Ones In, at The Exchange gallery in Penzance. I became friends with Rachael in the London Queercore scene in the mid-1990s, so the exhibition is something I’m very excited about, especially as Rachael made an appearance at the opening. Seeing friends face to face in such a remote location as West Cornwall is a rare thing at any time, and the travel restrictions over the last eighteen months or so has made even this almost impossible, so being able to have a meal and a catch-up with Rachael and partner Jo, who I hadn’t seen for twenty years, was a big occasion. Rachael’s exhibition is running alongside Seen, an exhibition curated by young LGBTQ people. The exhibition holds a small library which includes a copy of Dykes Ink.
Rebel Dykes, the documentary about lesbian punk squatters in mid-1980s London, is finally showing around the country to great acclaim. It’s won several awards and a standing ovation at its Manchester screening. The film was shown in nearby Newlyn, at the beautiful Filmhouse, and it was worth the wait; as an important social document, but also as a hugely informative, fun and moving story about the thrill and danger of being out of the closet under a homophobic government. The screening here in West Cornwall, along with the exhibitions, are indications that things are beginning to change here – it wasn’t so long ago that the local BBC radio station had a broadcaster who made frequent homophobic remarks (and only stopped after I made a complaint about him to Ofcom).
I’ve never been as disciplined as perhaps I ought to have been in terms of documenting exactly when stories were written, and it would have been very helpful to have a database of characters’ names etc, but I’m usually so immersed in the writing that it doesn’t occur to me to do so at the right time. But today I’ve completed the first draft of another new story (Yes, No, Goodbye) and have paused for long enough to take a look at what I’ve worked on during the last year. It’s been a turbulent time; bereavement and ill health balanced by positive reconnections with elements of my past. What has really surprised me is how much writing I’ve done. Short stories completed in the last year: Into An Expanding Sun, A Visit From Someone Dear, Tartan, Eleven Eleven, And When It’s Twelve O’Clock, Yes, No, Goodbye (draft).
A Visit… was accepted for an anthology of fiction, Impossible Nostalgia, that was due to be published in February this year. As yet I have no information as to when, or if, this anthology will appear. I wrote the story especially for the anthology; it may never have been written otherwise, so I’m grateful for that. The other stories may never be submitted for publication, although I am open to doing so should the right publication appear. I’ve learned much from tuning in to whatever frequencies these tales were/are occurring on. Because all I really do is hold the pen to paper. Music, as ever, has helped facilitate this; in recent months I’ve been playing music by While Angels Watch and Flowers In The Dustbin. I have personal connections with both bands, going back to the mid 1980s and the punk squat scene in Hackney, east London, in fact I saw FitD play live more than a hundred times and WAW is the project of Michael De Victor, one time guitarist for FitD. Everything is connected.
Delighted to announce that Dreamland is now officially published and available from Black Shuck Books. I received my contributor copy today and it looks marvellous. I’m only familiar with the work of one of the other contributors – the amazing Priya Sharma – but that’s down to my being out of the loop. A collection of ‘other’ stories, with an emphasis on the Surreal, by female writers, was such an enticing prospect that I made a now rare submission. My story Sky Eyes centres around a squatted industrial building in South London, home to the Beast-Boy, a character who first appeared in This Is How A Star Dies (from Contagious Magick Of The Super Abundance: The Art And Life of Ian Johnstone) a couple of years ago. It’s becoming natural to me to have a link of some kind between stories – for example The Golden Sea Captain from Tomorrow, When I Was Young first made a fleeting appearance in Beautiful Silver Spacesuits. Some characters, places or ideas have a life of their own. As to what Sky Eyes is about – as far as I’m aware it concerns the battle against apathy and negativity. And a reminder that extraordinary things happen in the most ordinary places.
The Beast-Boy is an unapologetic, very sexual gay character, inspired by the brief Mikel Quiros gave me when he commissioned the story for Contagious Magick. I based him, unsurprisingly, on Ian Johnstone. Any fans of Johnstone’s work will of course be fully aware of Ian’s sexual orientation and his toying with gender, but Sky Eyes was not written with any thought of publication. I just had to bring the Beast-Boy and his world into being. I wonder how the story will be received. Times have changed and there are far more openly gay writers around. I haven’t read much fiction over the last few years but I would hope that this change is deeper than people wanting to be seen to be more open to stories with a very different worldview than their own. I have good reason to be cautious; when slipstream fiction came into being I came across some very homophobic attitudes in the UK scene and for some years I only submitted fiction to North American publications, which were far more open to difference, although I did send an excerpt of my first novel, The Gathering, to Onlywomen Press, based in the UK. They were extremely interested (the excerpt did include a character who was able to change their sex at will) and asked for a couple of chapters, then recoiled in horror because two of the central characters were a heterosexual couple! I was exasperated enough to write to Sarah Waters, a hugely successful author of historical fiction (and several tv adaptations of her novels) that very much included lesbian characters. I asked her whether she’d faced pressure to ‘straighten out’ her work or, indeed, to dispense with heterosexual characters completely. Her reply was extremely kind and supportive – she said she was surprised at how accepting everyone was of her gay characters and had never been under pressure to change and suggested I go for a ‘three pronged attack’ – to gay publications, straight publications and full on genre publications. It helped me believe in what I was doing. Some years later I was interviewed by Peter Tennant for TTA Press regarding my first collection (for Storylandia, Wapshott Press) and he asked whether my inclusion of ‘other’ characters was a matter of ticking boxes. A fair question for those who don’t know me, and it was a good chance to explain that I was just reflecting my lived experience and the communities I’d lived amongst. Of course, I can only speculate as to who reads my work in anthologies or magazine, but I’ve been aware of at least one story (Pieces, Urban Occult), set in the multicultural gay community in Stoke Newington, north London, that was consistently overlooked in all but one review. Homophobia? Racism? One can rarely find overt proof of such things – the obvious argument could be that the story just wasn’t up to much – but sometimes one’s instincts just know why a story doesn’t get any attention.
After what has so far been a grim year (the death of my publisher and friend Ginger Mayerson, the suicide of a dear friend and some huge health issues) I have some very good publishing news. Dreamland, an anthology of ‘Other’ stories, will be released into the wild on 26 August and includes my story Sky Eyes, a piece I’m very proud of. It’ll sit among some mighty stories by mighty female writers. I’ll let publisher Black Shuck Books and editor Sophie Essex describe the concept:
At heart, Dreamland is an elemental feminine landscape.
These twenty-one stories from female-identifying writers embody the disconnect between reality and the subconscious, the desire for meaning and the need for escape, the too-blue sky and the abyss.
These are voices that embrace the topography of the other: the weird, transgressive, uncanny and strange. Voices that displace, unsettle and unnerve, that are subtly subversive in their power.
I’m shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of Ginger Mayerson on March 26 of lung cancer. Ginger was a musician and a writer but it was as a publisher that I came to know her. She published various journals under the Wapshott Press umbrella and my story The Falling Man appeared in her literary journal Storylandia back in 2012. It was the start of a very fruitful working relationship; she believed in my writing to such an extent that she published another story of mine in a later issue of Storylandia then asked me to put together a collection for a single author issue of the journal, followed by a second collection which she published in book form and she’d recently asked me to put a further collection together as well as editing an anthology. I never met her face to face – we joked about how I should go to her hometown of Los Angeles for a book launch, basically an excuse to drink cocktails on the beach. We emailed a lot and discussed politics as well as writing and publishing.
I don’t know what the future holds for Wapshott Press, I hope it can continue in some form, but it’s too soon for any decisions to have been made. I’m too shocked to say any more right now; I considered her a friend and it’s difficult to take in that she’s gone. We had our ups and downs, but her support was absolute and I feel blessed for our paths having crossed. My thoughts are with her loved ones.