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


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
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.