Thursday 31 March 2011

Signs Of Chaos

My band Bevar Sea's next show. If you're in Bangalore this weekend, drop by.

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Djinn & Miskatonic

It was the proudest day of my life
When my old father showed me the letter
With the Massachusetts postmark
He said ‘Son you’re in!’
We danced around like two idiots
What else was I to do?
My whole my life my father wanted
Me to study in Miskatonic U!

Djinn and Miskatonic! Journey supersonic!
On black leathery wings, my heart sings!
Djinn and shoggoth! Can auld acquaintance be forgot?
When I get my library card I’ll learn about all those eldritch things!

I’m not like the other wizards
Unprepared idiots dying in herds
I’ve got my own magical security
A bottle djinn from old Araby
I broke the seal of Solomon
And now I command Norman
Djinn-in-waiting, faithful slave
To protect me from an early grave

Djinn and Miskatonic! Visions chthonic!
Dreaded enemy, can you beat Norman and me?
Djinn versus Mi-Go, what a way for him to go,
Now I’m taking odds against the Elder Gods

When things started to unravel, I thought I’d take a break and travel
Fell in with a girl called Cassilda, but she was too much drama
She left me in the lurch, With a dead baby in a church
I tried to re-animate the corpse, but I was arrested by the cops
Sitting there in a prison cell I rubbed that magic lamp like hell
Finally the genie re-appeared, Worse for wear as I had feared
But he broke me out of stir, then left me in a shoggoth fur
By the banks of that ancient river, strong drink poisoning my liver

Djinn & Miskatonic, vodka supersonic
You can’t outsmart the old ones, It just can’t be done
Whiskey and regret, now I try to forget
What the Mi-go sings, and the sound of leathery wings…

Sunday 27 March 2011

there is a need here, but is it the need to tell a story?

Comments from an aspiring writers' forum:

'I am creating my own species...'

'I have created my own world but at present I only explore a small portion of it...'

'I don't have children but I feel like my characters are my children...'

'I love escaping to my world and my characters and I hope my readers will too...'

Friday 25 March 2011

'Memento Mori' by Samuel Menashe

this skull instructs
me now to probe
the socket bone
around my eyes
to test the nose
bone underlies
to hold my breath
to make no bones
about the dead

Thursday 24 March 2011


I've never been altogether satisfied with the few novels by Ramsey Campbell that I've read. He tends to be subtle to the point of reticence, a quality which can work within the concentrated span of a short story, and often does, but which seems to lead to horror novels that shield themselves from the consequences of their own central conceits. I'm not a gore-hound, but I do like a build-up of weird atmosphere and if possible a truly bizarre irruption of the numinous into a horror story. That's probably why I like writers like Thomas Ligotti, Laird Barron and W.H. Pugmire, all of whom are masters of atmosphere, weirdness and outré imagery in their own diverse ways.

Campbell is sort of the flagbearer of modern British horror; he is also a devotee of Lovecraft, even a member of the extended Lovecraft Circle through his early correspondence with August Derleth, who published a 15-year-old Campbell's first essays at horror, written in a thoroughly Lovecraftian mode. As such, Campbell can be seen as heir to the two most significant strands of Anglophone horror - the tale of cosmic terror as epitomised by H.P. Lovecraft's work and the more inward-looking, supernaturalist horror of vintage practitioners from the British Isles, such as Algernon Blackwood or Arthur Machen.

And the novel at hand has elements of both; there is an early encounter with a spiritualist who provides important clues, and there are run-ins with the world of occult societies later on. But Campbell also draws on the cosmic forces Lovecraft invokes, as well as the many tutelary entities and nameless cults that gravitate to them. He does this in a manner that is profoundly more assured than his earlier Mythos fiction - he does not attempt to use any of the paraphernalia of Yog-Sothothery or tie his terrors in with Lovecraft's. But there is a broadening of scale towards the end of the novel that definitely owes something to the Lovecraftian vision.

Campbell relates his cults and forces to the currents of his times, however, tying them in with the murder cults of drugged-up hippies, referring directly to the Manson family and to the extended new-age cults of the modern western world. So far, so good.

Campbell also takes the time to build a foreground narrative that is grounded in well-rounded, realistic characters. He also has a knack for describing cityscapes and passing scenery with original, sharp and memorable metaphors; one wishes that he was just as inventive and captivating when it came to describing the the weird stuff, the business we're here for. Not that he is bad at all sustaining and ever so slowly building an atmosphere of understated foreboding, but part of the problem we have here is what I've noted in works by SF and fantasy writers who seem to want to normalise toward some sort of mix of either airport thriller style or lit-fic. It's probably laudable to bring in the ice-pick similes of the Booker set and the character focus of the patented page-turner if this helps raise the specific generic values of the novel, and it does to an extent. But in the process, something of the impact of the horrific core of this novel is deferred and even diluted, although not as badly as in the previous novels I've read by Campbell. But everytime he captures a vista glimpsed down a city street or out of a moving tale with a limpid phrase, I can't help but wish that he had expended a little more stylistic fireworks on the strange entities, cultists and rituals that we occasionally catch up with in between all the well-framed character development. Fortunately, the development of the foreground story always drives the plot forwards, so we do get to the horrific bits eventually. And we do get a good conclusion - some truly terrifying and cosmic intimations, a resolution that is redemptive and upsetting at the same time and an ending that wraps up without explaining more than is needed (this is a key factor in horror, where any amount of imagery is fine, but too much explanation can kill the magic).

With all the reservations I've expressed, I found this novel gripping precisely because Campbell made me care about the characters; but I was left with perhaps less of a feeling of having been brought face to face with a vision of true strangeness and threat than I would have wished. I would have been glad to learn a little more about the demented philosophy of the nameless, to spend a little more time in their founder's company, to have a little more of a glimpse of the darker power that the cult served, but Campbell only gives us access to just as much as is needed to keep the foreground narrative on track. Still, what there is, is effective and disturbing, so all in all mark this one up as a definite win for Campbell.

I do have one strong objection though; at one point, Campbell shows us a female character stripping down to her underwear; sure enough, she is marked for destruction. In a certain kind of storytelling, a woman's nakedness is always a precursor to her extinction. This is such a cliche of the worst kind of schlock that I'm a little taken aback Campbell didn't even realise what he was doing here.

I'd also like to highlight how well Campbell uses an urban setting to serve as a locus of horror, with the crowds, noise and pockets of urban blight found in a big city all contributing to create a nurturing environment for evil. 

In 1999, a Spanish film entitled Los Sin Nombre was made as a partial adaptation of this novel; I'll be reviewing that in my next update.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Bevar Sea @ Trendslaughter 2011

Second show. Seemed to go well.

That's me in the baby-blue The Beatles t-shirt.

Our setlist:

The Smiler
God's Wounds
Into The Void (Black Sabbath cover)
Mono Gnome
Green Machine (Kyuss Cover)
Universal Sleeper

We played for about an hour. The other bands were a young thrash act called Culminant, Gorified, the goregrind band, veteran doom-deathers Dying Embrace and Orator, a death/thrash band from Bangladesh.

Friday 18 March 2011

Sing, oh muse, and the days when she does. When words typed across across a glowing screen start becoming people, places, events, when whispers in my head start start to sing and characters emerge from the mist with faces and histories and voices. When the heat is white and casts light across pages that line themselves up to be written. These days are a part of the reason why.

Thursday 17 March 2011

Horror is the darkness that shines through the cracks.  It is a sacred form of awe. It lives in the lizard that lives within all of us.
- Laird Barron

Wednesday 16 March 2011

This is probably not as big a deal as it felt like when I first heard of it, but this story got a mention here. I'm not sure how many horror stories were published last year, but, in short, this means mine was somewhere in the top 600 or so, although not really in the top 100 or 50 or 10. 
Here's something that caught my eye in an interview with horror writer John Langan:

 4. As an academic, what are your thoughts on teaching writing, and learning how to write:  do you believe it's something that is taught, something that is just there, or something else?

I guess I’d have to say, “Yes.”  There’s no denying that some people have that facility with language and storytelling that we stuff under the name talent.  At the same time, no matter that raw ability, there’s always more that can be done to refine it, not to mention, to develop the discipline required to sit down at the page every day until the story or poem is done.

A lot of this, I’m absolutely certain, has to do with how much and how well you’ve read.  We learn through imitation, and if you have that nascent ability with language and storytelling (which I suspect is far more widespread than we might think), then you want to allow yourself the maximum number of examples to learn from.  I know that writing workshops are very popular and certainly, they can be useful, but I’d suggest that it may be as, if not more, useful for a beginning writer to engage in a program of intensive reading, take a year or two and just soak yourself in the written word.
 This is a part of what I was trying to articulate in a recent rambling, inchoate mass of words that was posted on this blog. A lot of what seems to have gone wrong with the IWE stuff (there, I've used the dreaded acronym of doom - happy, Sridala?) is not the anxiety of influence but the narrowness of it.  A  little talent, less immersion in what the great and not-so-great writers of the past and present have done, predictably under-cooked results.

A commenter noted that I used the term 'kitsch' in various versions all over my earlier wordsplurge. And it's an important part of my point too. The less you delve into the medium you want to be a part of , the less of a yardstick you have. Jeffrey Archer only seems great until you read John Buchan. The Harry Potter books only seem dazzlingly different and original until you've tried Earthsea, Books Of Magic and the odd Jane Yolen novel. That terrible Year Of The Tiger book I reviewed last year only seems like literature until you've read some Atwood or Nabokov. Kitsch has its place (I am told) but until you also have an understanding of genuine artistry and find a permanent place for it in our aspirations and affections, no amount of ironic or faux-naive posing will change the fact that you have no taste.

Thursday 10 March 2011

I failed

I bought 5 books; two novels by Andrei Makine, a short story collection by Joyce Carol Oates, a collection of Arthur Conan Doyle's letters and The Old English Baron by Clara Reeve.

It's still a reduction from previous months. But not good enough.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

my funeral

My paternal grandfather passed away early this Sunday. He was 95. My mother's second husband died last month in a road accident. He was 62, I think (I can be quite bad with specific numbers).

My maternal grandfather passed away in 2008 after being in poor health for several years. In 2009, I lost my paternal grandmother. I remember that these two deaths had a deep impact on me, although in the first case it took time for that impact to show. Several months later, listening to something as over-exposed as The Byrds' cover of 'Turn Turn Turn' I surprised myself by bursting into tears at the words 'A time to be born/ a time to die/A time to plant, a time to reap/A time to kill, a time to heal/A time to laugh, a time to weep'. Qohelet certainly understood the weight of mortality. I was able to attend my grandmother's funeral, and I realised what a cathartic and healing experience a funeral is, for the living.

My step-father did not have a funeral. He wanted his organs to be donated to people who needed them and what was left to be given to a medical college, partly inspired by this case. My mother is also an advocate of organ donorship. 

As for myself, I have to admit that I like the symbolism of a funeral ceremony. It doesn't matter so much about the body - although, I'm not as altruistic as some, I think I'd just like it to be quietly incinerated in an electric crematorium without much of a fuss - but little as it would mean to me at that point, I'd like some sort of secular funeral service to be held. There should be music - if people don't think they can sit through Mahler's 9th I should prepare in advance a song list that will include pieces that I like and find relevant. I'd like some poetry to be read out - maybe some of my own if there's anything suitable by then - some prose excerpts from Montaigne, Sartre, Lovecraft, doubt specific passages will suggest themselves to me over the years from other authors as well. A short address by three or four friends and relatives. And then a toast to the dead followed by a feast, for the living. It seems like a good way to wind things up.