Friday, 28 December 2012

Some thoughts on freedom of speech and opinion

Last night, I was disappointed to see a senior journalist who is an old friend of my family railing on social media against the backlash towards sexist remarks offered up by various politicians and other individuals in the long, messy aftermath of the Delhi gang rape.

His updates bothered me deeply because they are a great example of why the terms in which middle-of-the-road liberals frame issues of free speech are simply not good enough.

He spent a great deal of time fulminating against the press and various activists for their attacks against influential people making flippant and incoherent remarks that betray a deep misogyny. The brunt of his argument is a common one: people with hateful opinions have the right to hold and express these opinions. It is only when they commit acts of violence that it becomes a public affair and one in which the law can intervene. Apparently, except in such a case, we all have to put up and shut up.

This is seemingly a realist, even-handed view but I think it falls apart as a vision for a just society.

First there's the free speech red herring. If bigots, sexists and cranks have the right to express themselves, their opposites have a similar freedom to respond. Free speech is either free dialogue or a license to let anyone express any nonsense that comes to their minds without being called out on their bullshit. If free speech is not a two-edged sword it becomes a club with which to beat down discussion. If you want to grant people the right to hate speech, then you have to grant others the right to respond to this hate speech with their own expressions of anger.

All speech is not equal. An atmosphere in which prominent leaders use victim-blaming rhetoric and even the police bandy about terms like 'date rape' and 'love rape' in a manner that suggests these are somehow mitigated forms of sexual assault, and do not have the wrongness of these remarks pointed out fully and freely is one in which woman-haters and potential rapists can easily feel potentially validated. Some opinions are simply not conducive to the kind of just, equitable society one assumes we all want to live in, and at the very least opposition to them has to be allowed as much freedom.

But I think opinions which militate against the rights and safety of people on the basis of their gender, religion or caste are not purely a private affair. People act on their opinions, overtly or covertly. My journalist friend, when asked by me, admitted that the majority of people in this country hold deep gender, community and class prejudices but believes that this is okay because the majority do not act on it.

Don't they?

Perhaps the only reason he and I have not had personal experience of the deep iniquities of Indian society is because we're both educated, middle-class, relatively fair-skinned upper-caste Hindu men. Women, religious minorities and 'lower' castes are discriminated against in deeply effective, systemic ways on a daily basis and the end result is a society which is built on staggering amounts of injustice. And yet we're expected to agree that people have the right to their opinions and only violent acts of repression come under the ambit of the law or of public debate.

This, in a word, is bullshit. 

Incidents like the rape of a minor, the killing of a Dalit man for wooing a 'high' caste woman or the killing of a Christian missionary are only the tip of the iceberg. In a way, they are the least efficient ways in which prejudice expresses itself because they so easily condemned in isolation from their more insidious and pervasive forms. We need to have a public discourse in which the roots of social injustice - the unjust 'opinions' of a vast number of people - are shown for what they are and argued against. Maybe if people who express sexist or bigoted remarks in public are met with a strong response often enough people will start seeing that these kinds of attitudes are not alright, are not simply one among a variety of stances they can take as long as they are not overtly, physically attacking or abusing anyone.

Finally, I think a problem with a lot of liberal viewpoints is that they try to sidestep deeper issues of right and wrong, limiting them merely to the enforcement of the law. Laws can only reflect our vision of the kind of society we want to live in. Unless there is free public debate on what that society can and cannot include, we will never introspect on the deeper roots of social injustice and try and find ways to fight against them as individuals and as a whole.

Freedom of speech is not an absolute good; it has to serve as the basis for real discussion or it is just the freedom to babble. And if a few biased, bigoted chauvinists are hurt in the process, you'll excuse me for not shedding a tear.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Stuff I've had published this year

 Dancer of the Dying in Nightmare Cities: Urban Cthulhu: http://www.amazon.com/Urban-Cthulhu-Henrik-Sandbeck-Harksen/dp/8799499444
A young man hears a strange tune one night. It haunts his dreams for a while, then he forgets it. But it isn't finished with him. 

 Apocalypso For One in Whispers Of A Dying Flame: http://www.aetherialpublishing.com/node/10
 The fabric of reality has come unhinged; one man attempts to seal himself away from it all.


The Ouroboros Apocrypha @ Lovecraft eZine: http://lovecraftzine.com/issues/2012-2/issue-13-april-2012/the-ourorboros-apocrypha-by-jayaprakash-
The narrator grapples with identity and triggers a radical transformation. 
Two obsessed researchers attempt to breach the barriers between the co-existent dimensions. 
A chapter of transformation.
 
Please read my stories, if you haven't already. Lovecraft eZine and Eschatology Journal are free to read, so you stand to lose nothing. Nightmare Cities, Whispers of a Dying Flame and Phantasmagorium also feature stories by a range of talented writers, some of whose work may appeal to you more than mine. So if you have the money to spare, consider picking up one or more of them, too.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Hold the eulogies.

"Hitler did very cruel and ugly things. But he was an artist, I love him (for that). He had the power to carry the whole nation, the mob with him. You have to think what magic he had. He was a miracle.... The killing of Jews was wrong. But the good part about Hitler was that he was an artist. He was a daredevil. He had good qualities and bad. I may also have good qualities and bad ones."
- Balasaheb Thackeray

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

To thaw and decay and

Death’s seasons are dreary
For the dying and for those who keep vigil
They make the pulse slow, erratic
Like a pinion twitching in tar
Death’s seasons are always with us
We only see them
When it’s too late
Like the wandering Gaul
Chancing on an old washerwoman
Scrubbing out his shroud
Like the woman who understands
Why the ashen ones
Are singing outside her window
Death’s seasons are welcome
A monsoon washing away
The faded remains of last year’s harvest
A summer melting away the long frost
Freeing the frozen survivals
To thaw and decay and be free.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Drowning Pool by Ross Macdonald

This is the second novel by Ross Macdonald I've read and I'm not really impressed. He can write - there are some great descriptions, some witty observations and quips, even a few similes that aspire to Chandlerian heights. But the plot is all over the place and I'm not sure the prose makes up for it as it does in Chandler's best novels. There's a lot of woman-hating dressed up as condescending chivalry and Macdonald's depiction of a pair of crypto-gays (he never comes right out and says that's what they are) is cliched and shallow, especially weighed against Archer recalling his father's friend's scent of 'clean masculine sweat' (what the fuck is clean sweat?) and other bits of manly-man romanticism like the final bout of fisticuffs with a local police chief. On the other hand, there are some stunning moments like Archer's escape from a hydrotherapy clinic lock-up and the masterfully conjured squalid atmosphere conjured in his examination of a murder suspect's boarding-house room. But the more I think of it, the more objections and niggles I find to pile up against the good points so I'm going to just say that I found it readable and reasonably diverting and leave it at that.

The Hungry Moon by Ramsey Campbell

The story gets off to a good start as we see a small British town fall under the spell of a charismatic preacher - and then under the more ancient spell of the creature that takes him over. Campbell weaves together cosmic horror, paganism and our fear of deep dark places to create a breathtaking underlying concept. The character sketches of the various small-town people involved in the story are sharp and vivid, and the claustrophobic sense of being trapped in a world where human bloodiness and eldritch evil are aiding and abetting each other is built up skilfully.

However, the resolution seems almost too fortuitous, with a pivotal character singing the moon-thing into submission. It seems out of place, even though this character has been built up as the heroine all along, because there's simply no previous allusion to this business of singing. It comes out of nowhere and feels like just any old device to make sure the story ends with the world safe, if not entirely sound. The nuclear paranoia angle also feels tacked-on and doesn't really go anywhere.

Still, a marvellously paced, insidiously creepy novel with a great weird concept at the heart of it.

Friday, 26 October 2012



My mind is magic it punctuates everything
With shimmering semicolons and glistening commas
My mind is alchemy it transforms everything
Person and tense, passive to active
My mind is sorcery it is an arcane spell
My mind’s a grimoire I’ve counted the words
And highlighted the mistakes
I’m sending this back to you
Sending this back to you
Back to you
For a total rewrite
I’m sending this back to you
Sprinkled with wizard dust and necromancer’s tears

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

And then there's this:

by H. P. Lovecraft

When, long ago, the gods created Earth
In Jove’s fair image Man was shaped at birth.
The beasts for lesser parts were next designed;
Yet were they too remote from humankind.
To fill the gap, and join the rest to Man,
Th’Olympian host conceiv’d a clever plan.
A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure,
Filled it with vice, and called the thing a Nigger.
Via Nnedi Okorafor's blog.
 

Monday, 1 October 2012

Another review of Urban Cthulhu: Nightmare Cities has some very flattering things to say about my story:

 Urban Cthulhu opens very strong with the fantastic tale “Dancer of the Dying” by Jayaprakash Satyamurthy. This is the other of the two best stories I’ve read all year. And what makes it even more exciting is that I’d never heard of this author before. He literally came out of nowhere (at least as far as I was concerned) and blew me away with a haunting story that is by turns frightening, melancholy, beautiful, and even somewhat enlightening. Satyamurthy struck a chord in me with this tale of ancient Gods and those who are compelled to their service. Engaging prose and that feeling in the back of my head that this story could very well be true made this one of the scariest in the whole book, not for the “jump” factor so prevalent in modern horror, but for the psychological and cosmic elements so dear to fans of Lovecraft’s (and his circle’s) particular brand of horror.
A previous review, by Julia Morgan identified two of my sources of inspiration most accurately:
 "Dancer of the Dying" by   Jayaprakash  Satyamurthy, is set in India and makes me long for more stories of the same kind. Jayprakash has a style that is reminiscent both of Ramsey Campbell and Peter Ackroyd. Add this to a haunting story, and you have magic. 
This Horror World review was also most gratifying:
 And as I expressed my joy at discovering great new things, let me tell you about Jayaprakash Satyamurthy. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by him before, but after reading his wonderful “Dancer of the Dying”, I will have to fix that. Editor Harksen chose to start this book off with this tale, and it was a wise decision. I love stories set in foreign (to me, at least) settings, but only if the author can pull off the unique feel. Mr. Satyamurthy does that wonderfully here and once again reaffirms that the global approach to this book was a very bright idea.
And here's the thing: 'Dancer Of The Dying' isn't even the best story in this collection. Far from it, in fact. Find out for yourself; buy a copy ! (It's also available on Flipkart). 

Friday, 28 September 2012

simpering for whitey

If you watch a lot of old Hollywood movies, the kind of things TCM shows, you'll notice that whenever a black character shows up there's suddenly a lot of teeth. Those old Hollywood chiefs sure made their occasional African-American employees grin and guffaw and speak in the most exaggerated accents to earn their pay.

I kind of get why those actors subjected themselves to it. They had chosen a profession and, well, those were the roles they were offered. While there has been a black cinema scene in the US longer than most people would imagine, the real money was usually in cliched walk-in parts in something like D.W. Griffiths' 'The Birth Of A Nation'.

And maybe that's why a lot of Indian writers and journalists, when they get the chance to write for a western audience, ham it up and exoticise themselves - they know or think that's what the western audience wants. In the process, they sure do come out with some Grade-A bullshit.

Look at this crap Booker-winner Aravind Adiga spewed after the terrible November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai:
One of the differences between India and other countries is that a lot of our civic space is contained within the five-star hotels.

They have a different function here for us, they are places where marriages happen, where people of all economic backgrounds go for a coffee. For the Taj Mahal to be attacked is somewhat like the town hall being attacked in some other place, it is really something that is quite extraordinary.

 The only real remark this deserves is WTF, but let me expand. I don't know what bizarre subculture Adiga exists within (actually he's a middle class Mangalorean boy who should know better) but this is pure hocus-pocus, creating a race of naive, joyous Indians who flock to the local 5-star hotel for coffee, no matter how poor they are. No sorry, Adiga, that's crap. Only a very select, elite slice of Indian society would be able to afford coffee in a 5-star, let alone be granted admission. We get that the attack on the Taj hotel was a terrible thing - but do you need to  paint a quaint, false picture of Indian life to make that point?

Or did you just think no one would ever call you on your bullshit?

Second case in point: this article by journalist Manu Joseph on Salman Rushdie. Attempting to quantify Rushdie's legacy, he launches into this remarkable observation about my hometown:

In Madras, now Chennai, where boys were preordained to become engineers and literature was considered the refuge of the handicapped or the effeminate, the news of a rock star "Indian" writer made literature suddenly look respectable.
 To begin with, he's oversimplifying: Madras boys can also become lawyers and doctors. Literature, like music and art is respected in a slightly condescending way; as a vocation it is Fine For Others but if your own son or daughter wants to become a writer, you remind him or her to Be Practical (and quite rightly; writers are paid peanuts). This attitude hasn't changed either, whether or not Rushdie is considered a rock star. Joseph has, like Adiga, mixed a few cliches and stereotypes together with total nonsense randomly pulled out of his ass to come out with an amusing, yet fake, slice of life for his western readers.

It's possible to be responsible and accurate, to use the opportunity you've been given to paint a more accurate picture of your country for a foreign audience. But time and again we choose to deck ourselves out in saffron and sandalwood paste and simper for whitey. That's the power of a stereotype; even the people it misrepresents start trying to live up to it.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

more on why Song Of Kali sucks

Wow. That whitesplaining piece of shit likes some of the same writers I do (not Gene Wolfe; I honestly don't give a fuck for Wolfe's woman-hating shit anymore). I feel dirty. Or is it just because of the shit rising outside my windows and my 'animalistic' ways?

There is a difference between noting that a country has huge, possibly insoluble problems and calling it a 'shithole'. There is a difference between taking exception to a condescending and borderline racist characterisation of my country and 'foaming' at the mouth.

There is a also a huge difference between a good book and The Song Of Dan Simmons' Xenophobia.

Not a single Indian character is depicted as having any dignity or essential worth in that novel. Everyone is slimy or shifty or insincere or somehow both pathetic and sinister. This is a common and sickening element in a lot of ignorant, hateful tales of white men abroad and there's really no excuse for it. It has nothing to do with whether our society has deep issues (it has; this is one of the very worst places in the world to be a woman, for instance); it's do with depicting a foreign race as caricatured negative stereotypes for effect and insulting a billion people in the process. It's about lazy, inept characterisation, if you don't care about the insulting bit.

It doesn't matter if this is just how the deeply unpleasant narrator sees us; Simmons at no point makes it seems that he's wrong in any way. In any case, Simmons isn't a writer on the level of Nabokov, who can inhabit a loathsome narrator's viewpoint while leaving us with enough clues to the unreliability of that narrator. He's just better than average from the perspective of the stylistically impoverished idioms he works in; not objectively much better than Koontz and definitely inferior to Barker.

And, cult or no cult (and I do know what a cult is; thanks for assuming that someone from a shithole must be ignorant) Kali herself is depicted as a vector of ultimate evil in Simmons' novel, as a 'bitch goddess'. It is the equivalent of writing a novel where a small cult brings on the Second Coming and Jesus rides back in glory slaying people left and right. Oh wait, isn't that The Bible?

My point is that Simmons egregiously fails to engage with a complex myth outside of his cultural framework and he's capable of better - look at his riffs on Homer and Shakespeare in Olympos. I said Simmons' depiction of Kali is a fucking travesty and I stand by it.

Fuck this book. And fuck its apologists. And to hell with smugly superior white people who travel the world, are horrified that not everyone enjoys the privileges that white folk thanks to their heritage of empire and appropriation and then proceed to think they have the right to dehumanise an entire people and express a seething disdain that seems to leave very little room for the compassion that would be a more fitting response to the countless human tragedies that surround us.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Song Of Kali by Dan Simmons

Does for India what Heart Of Darkness did for Africa; uses it as a setting for a tale of unease and terror that could have been set anywhere, really, except that using a third-world setting plays to the western gallery's delicate sensibilities.

This is a superbly structured and masterfully woven horror novel; it's also a fucking travesty of the real nature of Kali and her various manifestations. He's taken a unique female power-divinity, something with no parallel in any other living religion, and reduced her to a 'bitch goddess' of evil.

And I wish that westerners would do a little homework. Nobody spells their name Jayaprakesh. Jayaprakash, sure. Jaiprakash, even. Not Jayaprakesh. Thanks very much kindly. For all the play Simmons makes of Indians mangling English he certainly doesn't hesitate to mangle Indian names.

Simmons' unpleasant narrator hates Calcutta; there are long descriptions of the filth and squalor of the city. There isn't even a hint of compassion for the inhabitants to leaven it; every Indian character is either sinister, conniving, hypocritical or in some way less than human. The only Indian given any sort of a sympathetic portrayal is the narrator's wife, who of course is safely tethered to a white penis and vents her own hatred of India frequently.

And then there's the constant 'bitch goddess' portrayal of Kali. How many things are wrong with this, where do I even begin? From the misogyny of the recurring phrase 'bitch goddess' to the fundamental Indiana Jones-style misunderstanding of a complex and righteous goddess figure, there is just not one redeeming factor here. Kali serves as a stand-in for one of Lovecraft's pantheon of deities waiting to unleash cosmic terror on the world; Calcutta is Simmons' Red Hook and his xenophobia is monumental.

Like metal heads in India, horror fans here are surprisingly forgiving of racism in their favourite genre; this book is one of the favourite novels of many of my horror fan friends. It just shows how deeply we internalise the attitudes of the west; the truth is, this is a vile, hateful book. How xenophobic is Simmons? All the chapters have an epigram taken from an Indian writer except the one chapter that lets in a note of hope and therefore has to return to the light of western civilization with a quote from W.B. Yeats.Yeah. India's only good for being a vector for horror, some poetry and providing unpleasant western men with exotic trophy brides. Fuck this book.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

August Resolve


I will not let August destroy me
You can keep the reins
You can hold the aces
You can bury the hatchet with your black beast
I will not feast on these sorrows

I will not let August drag me down
You have a basement filled with tendrils
From which you suspend your captives
They twitch like antennae before a storm
I must inform you I will not be hoist among them

I will not let August wear me down
I will outpace the calendar
Page by page I will outface the season
You can pass the baton to September
I will remember, but I will not regress

Monday, 20 August 2012

Bacchanale
(To H. P. Lovecraft)

by Samuel Loveman

A flagon is filled for the vintage guest,
The grapes are crushed at the brim;

The young lord loosens his loric vest,
Violets bound on his brow and breast—
And the revel is all for him,
The revel is all for him.

There, where the orchards fire and smoulder,
Agavè dances around;
Arm to white arm and shoulder to shoulder,
Naked Pentheus leaps to enfold her—
But the Mænads make no sound,
The Mænads make no sound.

In Mysia, a low wind shakes and sighs,
An oarsman calls to his crew;
There is a cry the dead man cries,
Once, ere the darkness fills his eyes—
With a knife that his mother drew,
A knife that his mother drew.

(1936)

Sunday, 12 August 2012

lessons

Build nothing but a fire
write your name
only on sand or in water
bet only on time
on death and destruction
consider decay
a form of clemency
snatch your daily bread
from the jaws of the
unborn
and leave posterity
to the dead

Monday, 6 August 2012

even your face

after sometime you will see
that nothing is your own
the name soiled by too many voices
no longer something you can handle
with the certainty of ownership
the hours were always divided for you
by things outside your volition
parents. the solar system.
your choices were always made for you
now you are made to choose
carefully
and certainly
the lady or the tiger
you have no third choice
even your face is stained by time
by the atmosphere, by climate
weathered by smoke and oxygen
captured by gravity
dragged down until it finally peels
or is burned away
and then you are left with same face
as anyone
who
has died
?
you will no longer know

Monday, 16 July 2012

"Only a cynic can create horror -- for behind every masterpiece of the sort must reside a driving daemonic force that despises the human race and its illusions, and longs to pull them to pieces and mock them. " H.P. Lovecraft
(Of course, Lovecraft despised some members of the human race more than others.)

Friday, 6 July 2012

a book with a story to tell

Books have stories to tell beyond their contents. Format, design, the fact of publication: all these things add layers of stories.

Ownership is a story too.

Second hand books often contain traces of their past owners. Bookmarks, news clippings, notes, their name or nameplate, inscriptions, annotations. Yesterday, I picked this book up at a second-hand bookshop:

This book has this photograph stuck on the first inside page:

Sadly, the previous owner did not write his or her name in the book. I would love to know who these people are. Was one of them the owner of the book? Perhaps the person who took this picture owned the book? It's unusual to stick a photograph inside a book. did one of these people have a special connection to the book for the previous owner? Perhaps one of the adults in the picture is a poet? A teacher? I may never know. But I do know that, as with so many other second-hand books in my collection, this is one with a unique story tell, one which no other copy of this book can duplicate.


Saturday, 23 June 2012

'Time has no meaning, space and place have no meaning, on this journey. All spaces can be inhabited, all places visited. In a single day the mind can make a millpond of the oceans. Some people who have never crossed the land they were born on have travelled all over the world. The journey is not linear, it is always back and forth, denying the calendar, the wrinkles and lines of the body. The self is not contained in any moment or any place, but it is only in the intersection of moment and place that the self might, for a moment, be seen vanishing through a door, which disappears at once.' - Jeanette Winterson, 'Sexing The Cherry'

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

recent vinyl acquisitions

You can tell my musical tastes aren't very up-to-date, can't you?


Saturday, 9 June 2012

LE SALLE DE DEPART BY MELISSA TANDIWE MYAMBO

Melissa Tandiwe Myambo may well be the most skilled writer I have encountered yet while reading this year's Caine Prize shortlist. Her story has none of the subtle (but to some readers, fatal) imbalances as Rotimi Batunde's or Billy Kahora's, nor did it present the reader with a merely story-like object, as Stanley Kenani's tale did.

Myambo's story resonated with me on a personal level, as several of these stories have. It tells of a Senegalese woman named Fatima whose brother Ibou, the lucky one of the family, was sent to America to stay with an uncle, another lucky one who flew the coop. She made sacrifices to help make this happen; her own promising academic career being one of them. In return, she hopes he will take her son back to America with him and give him the same chance. Even a middle class Indian family like mine tends to be divided into the ones who have been able to gain a foothold in 'phoren' countries and those who stay behind, even in an India that is supposed to be turning into a true Asian tiger (doomed to extinction perhaps?).

But her brother, Ibou is not impressed by the idea. At first it seems like selfishness; he has a liberal new Egyptian girlfriend. They are living together. The boy will be a burden. He refuses to be a ticket out of poverty for another child like the one he once was. But then Myambo shows us the loneliness and alienation Ibou experienced growing up in an alien world, far away from his home. Ibou is trying to save Fatima's boy from this loneliness and displacement as much as he is trying to protect his own hard-won life on its own terms.

It's not a story that allows for easy judgements. And like all the stories on this list so far it has so many nuances; the contrast between 'backward' Senegal and comparatively modern Egypt being another. Most of all, it contains the most richly realised character I have encountered in these stories in the person of Fatima.

This story touches closest to the topics we are supposed to be weary of, coming from African writers: most of all, poverty. Yet it is one of the most haunting and powerful stories thus far. This is equally due to Myambo's skill as a writer - I definitely want to read more by her - and due to the fact that she doesn't simply tell us a tragic story but lets us see many sides to it. The desperate hope of the sister; the scheming calculation of the family balanced against the extremity that necessitates it; the dilemma of the brother who has both escaped and lost his homeland. A very good story, moving and memorable, I think. It is upsetting my ability to rank my favourites among these stories!

Other blogs about this story:

Method to the Madness
Black Balloon
Backslash Scott
bookshy
Loomnie
Ikhide
Ayodele Olofintuade
Practically Marzipan
City of Lions

Friday, 8 June 2012

when some became many



Do you know any more album covers like this? What's this effect called?

ETA: Not all of these treat the idea in the same way, but they all do the same basic thing.





Thursday, 7 June 2012

a bagatelle

They meet every ten years and pose for a fresh picture. They've been doing this for a hundred years now. Before that, stray sightings of paintings, murals, tapestries and bas-reliefs of the Pentad have been reported. But this is the only extant depiction. It is reported that they are due to gather again this very year. An old man who claims his grandfather took this photo speaks of the terrible transformations they underwent in order to compose themselves into these forms for the camera's eyes. No one who has seen their true forms has remained sane; the grandfather ended his days in Bedlam and a commercial photographer from the San Francisco bay area who claims to have snapped a similar shot, in updated costumes (one which he was not able to retain a copy of) has to be restrained for his own safety whenever he attempts to tell his psychiatrist the story of the five creatures who came into his studio one fateful evening. He does possess a scrap of ribbon with a brooch similar to that worn by the second woman from the right, but this is hardly conclusive evidence of anything.
You're allowed to do this on blogs, right?

I first read W.H. Pugmire's fiction in 2009. Lovecraft's fiction is another body of work that means a lot to me personally - obsessively re-reading HPL's stories helped me through my first serious brush with unemployment - and finding that there were writers who felt the same way and were adding to the legacy but not producing pastiche was a joy to me. Pugmire brings an aesthetic, decadent sensibility to his own version of the weird and eldritch, but he is also unmistakably working in the vein of Lovecraft. His was with poetic language and deeply strange magic is unique and he is only growing from strength to strength as a writer.

A year back I started writing a story entitled 'Vyvyan's Father' as an homage to Pugmire and especially his Sesqua Valley setting. This Monday I finally finished and, trembling with uncertainty, sent it to him to learn his opinion of it. I was thrilled to read this reply from him this morning on my facebook page and reproduce it here for posterity (you're allowed to do this on blogs, right?):

I have read your Sesqua tale -- & it is fantastic, one of the finest tales of ye valley by another's hand that I have ever perused. I found it brilliant that you never name the valley, but describe it so potently that anyone who is a follower of my own work will "know." As a story in and of itself, it's brilliant and entirely effective. It flows, and your prose is superb. I feel honour'd, my friend, and thank ye!
I'm glad I overcame my self-defeating fear that I could never write a worthy tale in the manner of a writer I admire and I'm glad I overcame a certain innate diffidence enough to send it to him. Producing literature may be a solitary act, and so is consuming it, yet stories are somehow the very fabric of society and I am glad I could reach out with a story to someone whose stories have given me such excellent company. 

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Some writers get under my skin so thoroughly that it startles me to realise that they are a part of everybody's world too, that other people read and love them and that they have their weak books too. It is only with the hindsight of decades sometimes that I can discern that they're part of my own DNA as a writer, reader and human being.

Ray Bradbury, Charles Baudelaire and Italo Calvino were the last great literary discoveries of my childhood; the books I first read by them were The Toynbee Convector, which struck me as a more magical, more lyrical version of what I'd been getting from my father's Stephen King novels, Le Fleurs Du Mal which I was too young to read and will still be returning to when too old and Invisible Cities, one of four or five books that may be my favourite of all time.

It sounds solipsistic to say so, but it still startles me to know that a writer who has been part of my life, my growing up and my becoming myself is part of everybody's world too; to know that they are real and can sometimes fall short and can sometimes excel my initial contact with them (The October Country, The Martian Chronicles) and that they can die.

Ray Bradbury was alive my whole life until today; he was a part of my DNA as a writer, reader and human being as he is to many others. I won't say he never let me down; but who hasn't? He's dead now, but still under my skin. May his books never burn.

if we were old men


If we were old men
We could spend rocking-chair afternoons
In a sediment of dust
Stroking immense beards of loam
The architecture of our bones defiled
By hideous skin
That never fit the shape of our dreams

The very old and the very young
Do not usually say much to each other
And everyone else is much too busy
So we could sit, gloaming in the shade
Quietly typing in our quiet old-man way
Horrible toes made monstrous with hornlike nails
Coiled talons of sciatica
Quietly, painfully typing
In our quiet old-man blogs

We could float in congealed dust and stale sunshine
Bog bodies in the anaesthetizing mud
Of soon to be forgotten
Pop-cultural references and punchlines
To jokes written to advertise obsolete products
We would be entirely free
To select the fibres we wished to drape ourselves in
And no one would notice when we slipped between the
Timbers of our rockers into
Peals of inexplicable laughter.