Friday 27 December 2013

There is a different way to look at 2013. I recently posted a positive summing-up on Facebook, but here's how things also went:

After 5 years at failing miserably at freelancing I gave in and took the first corporate job offer that came my way.

After spending a year with a manuscript in contention with a big-league publisher I threw a hissy fit and went with a micropress who will reach about 50 people instead.

After 2 years of struggling to get my band somewhere, I finally pulled the plug just when things were starting to go well.

After trying very hard to make a difference to the lives of a displaced urban community I was overwhelmed by the responsibility and drifted out of the relief effort.

After being estranged from me since I was 16, my father died and we never had a chance to reconnect.

Really the only things that I can take any pleasure in are the fact that I'm still married, still happy that I'm married, and that I am playing some small part in a trust dedicated to animal welfare. Everything else is pretty much shit-flavoured mulligatawny soup served in an empty glass. But that's alright. It's only life. 

Wednesday 18 December 2013

My top reads of 2013

Books I read in 2013, not necessarily books published in 2013. In no specific order.

Sycorax and other fables by Suniti Namjoshi: Not all of the fables work equally well; some are a bit too transparent. But when Namjoshi's wit, whimsy and thought-provoking themes all come together, which they do more often than not, the result is a series of new fables and poems that play with ideas, words and meaning while re-jigging familiar tales.

Crandolin by Anna Tambour: A wry, weird and witty fantasy tale which reads like a heady mix of Bulgakov, Gogol and who knows what else. All I ask of a good fantasy novel is that it be completely original and really well written. Crandolin is both.

Ambrosia For Afters by Kalpana Swaminathan: An excellently poised coming of age novel with the most wonderfully-named heroine ever and interspersed with powerful, slightly demented fairy tales.

The Invisibles by Grant Morrison: This is some seriously mind-blowing stuff. Morrison mixes psychedelia, occultism, cyberpunk, conspiracy theories and more to create a heady cocktail of secret societies, shifting realities and anarchy. I don't know why I waited so long to read this.

Gingerbread Girl by Paul Tobin: Elegantly drawn, engagingly written, this graphic novel uses an interesting technique of jumping between narrators with results that are both meaningful and whimsical. The central tale of a disturbed young woman is leavened by the elaborate metaphor the girl - and Tobin - weave around her dissociation.

Korgi by Christian Slade: Just a totally adorable, good-natured little fantasy comic series. Great art, incredibly loveable central characters and

Wilson by Daniel Clowes: I thought slice-of-life graphic novels were not my thing. This brilliantly bleak (but also grimly funny) story of a man who is incapable of relating to any other human being in an effective way changed my mind. The varied illustration styles helped too.

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf: Another graphic novel, this one is by a real-life high school classmate of the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. It's chilling and absolutely unputtdownable. Without soft-pedalling Dahmer's crimes, Derf examines how society and the school system failed him and failed to recognise that he was going off the rails.

Mythago Wood by Richard Holdstock: You know why most fantasy fiction sucks? Because it's about plotty plotty plot and wordbuilding and all that unwieldy stuff. This book is about stories, magic, imagination, desire, love, fear, hate, more magic, more stories. About the deep places that all these things come from. The good stuff, not the dull action thriller/soap opera gestures the genre wastes so much woodpulp on.

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge: This, on the other hand, is full of plot and worldbuilding, but here's the thing: the plot is chaotic and twisty, more a rollercoaster ride, with all the euphoria and nausea that implies, than a dreary trudge through a maze and the worldbuilding is equal party whimsical and mind-boggling. The fantasy world is examined, the social order is ripped apart and upturned and a great time is had by all, especially the reader.

The Red Tree by Caitlyn R. Kiernan: We're back in no plot land, and a what fine place it is. Fine, but deadly. A portrait of a woman who is feeling her age and who may be coming to the end of many things - the limits of her talent and productivity, the last of her chances at love - and coming face to face with mysteries that will absorb her in more ways than one. The weird tale is so hard to deploy across the length of a novel - but Kiernan does it to perfection.

The Young Merlin Trilogy by Jane Yolen: Yolen distills the magic and mystery of the mage of mages into a vivid yet economically tale of a young boy learning about the world and himself. The setting feels grittily real, but has room for wild magic and wonder too.

A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki: This is a luminous, generous-spirited book which encompasses so many themes and stories without ever being too big for its britches. Someone called it half a great novel but I think neither half works as well with the other. It is also a novel which supports my contention that any truly contemporary literary novel must also partake of the qualities of speculative fiction.

Honourable mentions: Some Kind Of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce, By Light Alone by Adam Roberts, Anya's Ghost by Vera Brogosol, Constable & Toop by Gareth P. Jones, Freddie & Me by Mike Dawson, Why Does The World Exist by Jim Holt, Owly by Andy Runton, The Autumn Myth by Joel Lane, I See The Promised Land by Arthur Flowers and Manu Chitrakar.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

“If you are asking me what the individual can do right now, in a political sense, I'd have to say he can't do all that much. Speaking for myself, I am more concerned with the transformation of the individual, which to me is much more important than the so-called political revolution.”
                                                                             -- William Burroughs

Sunday 15 December 2013

the death hyphen

it's only a fullstop for the deceased
for the rest of us, it's a comma
a pause in the prosaic flow
of our own lives
or a right-bracket closing a clause
or a semi-colon, signalling that a phrase
is over
or some new punctuation mark
which i would like to propose
three lines radiating from left to right
the uppermost angled upwards
the central line horizontal
the lowermost angled downwards
i call this the death-hyphen
and it indicates that all the words
and paragraphs and chapters
that follow now
carry an added inflection
or are hollowed out just a little bit
because someone or something has died

Friday 6 December 2013

The rituals had their own tempo
Shifting from a lope to a stroll
The rituals had their own rhythms
A longline of sound and gesture
Of flame and milk and water and seed and leaf and
The rituals were lulling stupefying mesmeric
But they only made me numb
Only left me tired

And the only emotion I had was about him:
He was not so old
How sad for him
Sad for him
Not me

No ritual I suppose could enlarge that

Sunday 1 December 2013

my father died on the 29th of November. He'd been ill for a while, but we only found out about it when he went into his final decline. His wife's nephew decided that she had kept his condition from his family for long enough and called my uncle in Madras. My sister, my uncle and my wife and I rushed to the hospital, but he was already too far gone to recover or recognise anyone. He died the next day at 7:15. It had been 3 years since I last saw my father or spoke to him. He was 63.

He was never much of a friend, or much of a father to me. At least he didn't abuse me or throw me out. When he remarried, his second wife made him cut me and my sister completely out of  his life. My sister tried to stay in touch. I didn't.

He still turned up for my wedding. He actually caught up with me a little before it happened. Asked Yasmine if she was sure of her decision, gave us a DVD of Casablanca. He'd been a journalist all his life but he was talking about getting qualified as a lawyer and writing books in his retirement. He'd started sketching again. But he never did write that book.

The funeral ceremony was horrible. Horrible. Poor old man, couldn't they just leave his tired old carcass alone? He still had a thick head of hair. Still looked at least ten years younger than he was. Strange to think he died so young anyway. His father lived to be 96.

He read a lot. The last few books by his bedside were novels by James Patterson and Louis L'Amour, books on colonial history and mountain climbing. Stephen King was one of his favourite writers and he used to read a lot of George Simenon's books.

Such a long ceremony. So many rites and verses when all I wanted to say was goodbye old man. I'll miss you. Sleep now.