Category Archives: Words Worth

RAPE! (2)



I was going to see my boy.  My man’s name is Sherman.  We call him Tic Toc because that’s how he is with the’s only a matter of time, see?  Only a matter of time before he gets in they sweet panties.
My man was up in the joint sipping pumpkin lattes.  Girls like that.  Shows your sensitive side.  Neither me or Sherman liked pumpkin lattes, but you do what you gotta do, know what I’m sayin’?
I came in through the side door.  “Whassup?”
“My man.  Tic Toc.  What are you up to?”
“Just chillin’.”
“Drinking your pumpkin latte.”  I smile.
Tic Toc lifts his cup.
I sit on the couch across from him.  Start scopin’ out the hunnies.  Couple of potentials over by the front door.  I turn around.  Sly hunny at the counter, ordering her drink.  Short skirt.  Some bumpage on the legs but that can be fixed with any number of skin creams.  Sometimes you have to fix a bitch up before you fuck her.
“So listen.”  That was Sherman talking.  Didn’t he see I was checking out the hunnies?
“Shut up,” I say.  Then I whisper, “Shut your fucking mouth.”
That bitch at the bar was looking around.  Here she she
I turn around to Sherman.  “You know what I want to do to that bitch?”
“Check out the fly hunny at the bar.”  I point my finger.
Sherman’s eyes brighten.
“You like her?”
“Well here’s what I’m gonna do to her.  First I’m gonna eat that bitch out.  Get her real horny.”
“Where are you gonna do this?”
“In the bathroom.  Shut up.  So I’m gonna get her in the stall back there.  Lock the door.  Get that bitch all up on the toilet with her legs spread and eat that bitch out—”
“Why do you like eatin’ bitches out so much?”
“I eat a bitch out..because it gets the bitch horny.  That way they don’t mind when you stick your dick in them.  Especially when you stick it in their ass.”
“Why you want to stick it in they ass?”
“I don’t.  I do it for my health.  Have you ever ass fucked a girl, Sherman?”
Sherman is silent.  Then he says, “No.”
“Well.  First of all use a condom.  And never ass fuck a bitch when she has diarrhea.”
“How does you know if she has diarrhea?”
“Tic Toc.  Sherman.  Do you want to hear my story?  You only ass fuck a bitch when she doesn’t have diarrhea and you know she doesn’t have diarrhea because you clock what the bitch eats.”
“How do you clock what the bitch eats?”
“What do you think I be doin’ in the cafeteria?  Why do you think we be sittin’ close to where the fly hunnies sit?  Do you see the notebook I be carryin’ around with me?  What do you think is in that?  My chemistry homework?  No.  That’s records, my man.  Of everything a bitch eats.  Stay away from bitches who eat citrus, or bitches who smoke, as that can cause diarrhea.  You want a bitch who eats yogurt with every meal.  Stay away from vegans—their farts stink.  Have you ever smelled a vegan’s farts?”
“Well try it sometime.”
“She’s leaving.”
I look over at that bad-skin bitch who was at the counter.  She’s going out the side door.
“I didn’t want her anyway.”
“What was you gonna do to her?”
“After I ate that bitch’s pussy out?”  I say this real loud, by accident, and some hunnies behind Sherman look over.  “What are you lookin’ at?”
They turn back around.
“Mind your own fucking business,” I say.  “So after I ate that bitch’s pussy out,” I say extra loud, “I was gonna thump her in the mouth with my fat cock.  Slap that bitch till she has marks on her face.  Get that bitch’s face real red then cum in her mouth.  Then make her spit my cum in the toilet between her legs and then THROW that bitch out of the bathroom.  Nasty bitch.  Shouldn’t be drinkin’ pumpkin lattes in the first place.”
The girls behind Sherman are starting to look our way again.
“Any bitch who drinks pumpkin spice lattes is asking to get fucked in the mouth.  Have you ever met a bitch who drank pumpkin spice lattes who didn’t deserve to get fucked in the mouth?”
I wait for Sherman’s answer.
“Sherman.  Take a look behind you and tell me whether you think these freshman bitches up in this piece deserve to get fucked in the mouth.”
Sherman turns around.
One of the girls behind him looks directly at me.  The rest keep their heads down.
“What are you lookin’ at?”  I stand up.
She keeps looking at me, this sweet-looking face with lipstick.  She looks like a bitch that probably keeps a ferret as a pet.  English major, something in the humanities.  Probably a virgin.
“Do you let your ferret lick your ass?” I say.
“Do you let that pet ferret of yours lick your asshole?”
“I don’t have a pet ferret.”
“‘Cause you look like a bitch with a ferret.”
She turns away from me.  I can only see her boobies from the side now.  She and her friends are talking low.  One of her friends is packing up her books.
“No,” the girl says.  “We’re staying.”
She puts a hand on her friend’s book, flattening it on the table.  Then she looks at me.  She gives me a look of such disgust my dick starts to get hard.
I sit down.  Sherman and I shake our heads.
“Bitches,” he says.
I laugh.
We lean in together, heads above the table between us.
Sherman says, “I’m gettin’ into some trouble up at Bruno’s later on, you wanna come.”
I smile.  “What kind of trouble you getting into?”
“Well,” Sherman says, “Macro knows this bitch from his polisci class that wants to fuck him, so I’m going up there to be his wingman.”
“If she already wants to fuck him, why does he need a wingman?”
“She doesn’t know she wants to fuck him.”
“He’s taking it won’t be awkward.  So he’s not like alone going to a bar.”
“I see.”
“You could come along and be my wingman.”
“Is this bitch hot?”
“I’ve never seen her.”
“Well is they hot bitches at Bruno’s?”
At this point that little defiant bitch at the next table looks over at me and doesn’t break eye contact.  Do you believe that shit?  I wish I had my gun.  Pop that bitch dead and go on with my conversation.
She says, “Would you mind keeping it down?”
I breathe out, trying to calm myself.  I say, “What’s your name?”
“I ain’t tellin’ you my name.”
“Well..whatever your name is..why don’t you mind your own FUCKING BUSINESS?”
At this point she gets up and goes to the manager.  I see her pointing over at me and Sherman’s table and her sweet forehead looking all concerned.
“That bitch just ratted us out,” Sherman says.
“No shit.”
Then the manager comes over.  I give him a real sweet look, like the look of an angel.
“I’m gonna have to ask you to keep it down.”
“Uh, officer,” I say, “I swear I didn’t see the sign.”
“Still, this is a study bar, so I need you to respect the environment.”
“Oh, I didn’t realize this was a study bar.”
He just stands there.
“Are people required to study, I mean is that like an imperative?”
“We like to keep a study atmosphere.”
“So you don’t mind if I sit here and not study, minding my own business with my man here, drinking pumpkin spiced lattes?”
“Actually, you’re not drinking anything, and since you haven’t ordered I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
“I’ll get something.  Oh, I’ll get something.  I’ll get something, I was just talking with my man here.”
“Well you’re talking too loud.”
“Duly noted, my brotha.  We will not speak loud in The Establishment.  Now let’s go up there and take care of that pumpkin latte problem.”
He looks at me like he doesn’t like my particular flavor of the language, but he goes, and I follow.  I get my pumpkin spiced latte and I get henceforth back to my seat.
The girl has her head in her books.  She’s pretending to study.  She’s thinking about me.  I’m the kind of guy a girl has trouble getting out of her head.  Because she knows I’m bad.  And she knows I’ll be bad for her.  But she can feel me, in her panties, from the moment she meets me.  I make her wet, I make her want to fuck.  When a girl meets me she’ll be rushing for fresh panties five times a day.
“Ok,” I say.
“Ok what?”
“I’ll go with you tonight.  To Bruno’s.”
“Don’t be draggin’ me to no sausage bar.”
“There’s girls, don’t worry.”
“Do you guarantee it?”
Sherman sips his latte.
“I want a guarantee.  In blood, preferably.  I want you to guarantee that there will be pussy coming out the walls of this bar you’re taking me to.  Don’t make me walk your ass home.  I want to be fishing out tampons of bleeding bitches and sucking on those motherfuckers with my teeth.”
Sherman looks at me.
“I’m serious.  I want some studious freshman pussy with red lipstick begging to give it up.”  I’m looking at the freshman girl.  “There better be bitches so tight I can’t even get my little finger up in that motherfucker.”
The freshman girl turns around.  She’s burning into me with these hateful eyes.  “You’re revolting,” she says.
And that’s when I fell in love.


(from RAPE! by Matthew TEMPLE)


literary menu: Alexandra Troxell

red lentil soup by ehrlichkochen

There Is No Memory…

of killing a crayfish between two rocks on the banks of Fishing Creek. Later, our mother would find me examining it, “how could you do that to a living thing.” I never was a violent child, as you know, just curious about small and intricate things. It was the first time I understood what it meant to die and to live.

You must know what it’s like to be that crayfish, so close to death at the hands of someone or something unable to grasp your meaning. I watch you sleep, eyes twitch beneath purple eyelids, darkened from the contents of your young and spoiled life. I imagine you dream of worlds too frightening to wake up to.

Perhaps it is the world I have created for you—a kingdom of rainbow trout, rope swings and cigarettes.

For a moment, I almost squeeze your arm to ensure you are awake.

salad with radishes and lemon & cream dressing, by ehrlichkochen


The streets of LaRambla pulse with the inception of June—

vendors selling red and pink roses wilting in any presence but our own

prostitutes crouching between marble pillars

Tonight I am new again

for this, I thank you

There is no memory that completes me now—

the stiffness of sea salt and midnight paella

your white cotton shirt I once unbuttoned

the game we played through the hallowing streets

catch me if you can

the plaza where protesters slept off their lazy violence

your fingers in my mouth

I wonder how many women you have lingered with and if you keep postcards to remember

I watched the vines of your tattoo grow from your shoulder and into my chest

where a cornucopia rests and is replenished

there was no dream before you

now I rest my feet in a bed of pins


(Alexandtra Troxell, in Shaking Thoughts)

home-made vanilla ice-cream served with fresh fruit, by ehrlichkochen


If you have a recipe you would like to share – and a picture of the meal once you’ve prepared it – why not submit it to be featured in my literature café? Tell me a little bit about yourself whilst you’re at it. Contact me in the comments box below or at joanbarbarasimon@yahoo, in the latter case with the reference: literature café.

A question of degree

wu-dissertation-figure-8From the most beautiful scene-setting in academic writing I have ever read:

The bus threaded through layers of terraced lands. The field was so lush and green that the colour seemed to have condensed into liquid drops striving to press a permanent imprint on my body. Outside in the scorching sun, newly planted rice was growing long and strong. with occasional gusts of wind, the tall, thin sprouts were blown towards the roadside, as if gracious hosts craning their necks in anxious anticipation of guests. From time to time, an unwieldy eighteen-wheel truck would honk by in anxious haste, loaded with sands and gravels, churning up dust storms to blur my vision of the summer field. It was early July of 2009. The construction of two national highways was in full force that meandered through the villages of Qiandongan towards the coastline. Patches of exposed earth were visible at a distance: they used to be farmlands and were now expropriated for the road construction. As the bus wound up and down the mountain road, it was interlaced with passing clusters of wooden abodes, brick houses and thatched huts; bent figures dotted the summer field and blended into a distance of green.


(from Disenchantment and Participatory Limit: Schooling at a Crossroads in Rural Ethnic China, PhD dissertation, Jinting Wu, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2012. This award-winning thesis is now published and available for purchase.)







RAPE! (1)

Pussy be rampant.  They be so much pussy at this school they has to haul in dicks from out of town just to fuck it all.  The female-to-male ratio be something like three to one.  On weekends, guys be drivin’ in from Youngstown, Abilene, as far away as Dexter.
Girls want dick.  They is drooling for it.  Eighteen-year-old hunnies with nothing better to do than spread and get a hot spike in they cooch.
School is just a pretense.  No one care about classes or grades.  In class we get our dicks sucked while the prof is doin’ his thing.  I once came in this girl Jenny’s hair while she sucked me off in Intro to Philosophy 101.
The main way to get pussy be in the club.  Get a bitch drunk, go to her place, fuck her.  She wake up in the morning like what the hell happened to me, her cooch aching like she had a rolling pin up there.  She ask her girlfriends, and they be like, “You remember that one guy?  You took him home.”  Then you fuck her friends.
Bitches love dick.  They is no question about it.  Some bitches pretend they ain’t into all that—but they is.  Trust me, they is.
I met this one bitch, she likes to have two dicks inside her at once.  She told me this when I was fucking her.  So me and my buddy James fucked her.  Two dicks in her pussy at the same time!  That girl had a big cooch.
Sometimes I like to bring a gun with me to a girl’s house and stick that in her when she’s passed out.  With the bullets in it and everything.  I like to think about what would happen if I pulled the trigger, that bullet would go up through her pussy and through her cervix and up through her baby-making pouch and then through her lungs and out her head.  I want to cum like that, through a bitch’s head.
I like to cum in a bitch’s mouth when she asleep.  Get her nice and stoned and then get on top of that bitch like I’m ridin’ a zebra.  Then stick my dick in her mouth and rub it against her gums.  I like when a bitch has good dental work.  You can get off just by rubbing on her cheeks.  A bitch’s tongue rolls back when she’s passed out.  But the inside of a bitch’s cheeks is soft as hell.  You can cum there.
When a bitch is passed out, you have to hold her down a bit because she’s not completely passed out.  Somewhere, below the twelve Jägermeisters, that bitch is still awake.  She got certain reflexes intact.  She can still kick your nuts when you’re on top of her.  So you grab her neck and choke that bitch a little.  Her eyes will go gray.  Then you know you got her ready for some prime, prime fucking.
Bitches love fucking.  Some act like they don’t, but those are the ones that need it the most.  Quiet ones.  The friend of the friend with the librarian glasses.  She’s fantasizing about me giving it to her, from the first moment she sees me.  You know she is.  She goes home and jerks off that little cunt thinkin’ about my cock sliding into her and ticklin’ her inside parts.  The cute librarian ones need it the most.
I once met this girl who didn’t want me.  She acted like she didn’t.  I got her drunk and fucked her with my gun in her mouth.
But mostly they easy going.  They want you to come over.  That’s one rule.  Never bring a bitch to your place.  Always go to hers.  You don’t want that bitch tracking you down.  Plus that’s part of the thing: you want to cum on her sheets, let her pussy juice make a wet spot in her bed.  It helps me get off when I’m in the girl’s bed.
I usually like to steal a girl’s panties.  I keep ‘em in a jar, squished down real tight, as a reminder of all the places I’ve been.  I keep ‘em on my desk, as an example to less fortunate males.  Males who don’t get pussy.  Males who are into “relationships.”
Some males think that females are out of they reach.  They do they pathetic little to reach them.  They text.  They call.  They play out the little games they mother taught ‘em and hope that will get ‘em laid.
There are only two ways to get laid: get her drunk or have her like you.  The first is foolproof whereas the second is hit or miss.  If you wait around for a girl to like you, you could be waitin’ a long time.  When you get a bitch drunk, results are immediate.
You go out with your boys, looking sharp in a nice shirt or something.  Hair slicked back, plenty of product.  (Bitches like product.)  You select a nice club preferably on State Street.  Then you sit back and wait.  The bitches will be on you like peanut butter on jelly.  When they dance, you might be tempted to go to them.  But don’t.  Bitches like when you stay put.  You watch them dance.  You check out the way they move.  You think: is this the kind of bitch who is likely to have a live pussy?  Is she likely to be too stuck up?  Too resistant to force?  Does she have mace?  Watch the warning signs.  A bitch who thinks too much is likely to have friends who think too much.  You want an academic bitch, no doubt—where’s the fun in fucking a dotard?  You want a bitch in high-level classes but who likes to drink like your uncle.  A bitch who likes to party too much for her own good.  A bad bitch.  A bitch who likes to get in trouble.
The best is a submissive bitch.  Who sucks your dick as soon as you in the dorm room, kneelin’ on the floor and shit.  Fuck, I love when a bitch sucks my balls.  Because you know they don’t want to do that shit.  But the fact that they’ll do it anyway, with all that hair in they mouth..well..some bitches are truly desperate for cock, what can I say?
I tells you about a girl named Mary.  Mary be’s a freshman, she has they librarian glasses and everything.  True scholar.  I mean seriously, she was like a Rhodes Scholar or something.  Biology major.  About 5’2”.  Big-ass titties.  Mary comes up to me in the dorm.  Asks me if I’ll lick her pussy.  I said, Mary, you know I’m not going to lick your pussy.  She says Why not.  I say, Because, I can smell your nasty pussy from here and I don’t lick stinky pussy.  She says she’ll wash it, and come back, and will I lick her pussy.  So I said, Ok, you wash it, and I’ll meet you in your room in half an hour.  So half an hour passes.  I peruse some porn I have on my computer to try and get in the mood—nothing special, just some video of a woman getting fucked by a horse.  Then I go up to Mary’s room.  Knock on the door.  She answers in some sort of nineteenth-century neglige, like we’re going to make love or something.  I said Mary this isn’t that kind of party.  Then I pull out my gun.  I put it in her face and I say, “Get down on your knees and suck my cock.”  She says, “Is this a joke?”  And I say, “No, do you wanna get shot in the head?”  So she sucks my cock.  I get hard.  Then I say, “Mary, get on your stomach on the floor, I’m gonna fuck your ass.  Have you ever been fucked in the ass before?”  She says no.  I say, “Well, you’re gonna like this.  Just like opening presents on Christmas morning.  Don’t scream too loud or I’ll shoot you in the fucking head, understood?”  That’s my story about Mary.
Mary I fucked in the ass.  But I’m almost exclusively a pussy man.  Ass fucking is more of a novelty to me, something to do when you don’t even respect a girl enough to fuck her cunt.  I like a pussy that’s nice and clean, no hair, though I’ll fuck a hairy pussy—in a pinch.  I prefer big pussy lips, no roast beef, nice and tight and plenty of moisture on the inside but no drips.  Keep that shit to yourself, you don’t need to be flowing all out on the sheets and shit.
I like to spank a pussy with a fly swatter, to fatten it up before I fuck it.  Get that pussy red with some hard spanks.  Then spit on my hand, stick my fingers inside it, then come in with the dick, spreadin’ those lips with my dickhead, then sweet, sweet fucking.
You might disagree with my style of fucking.  For instance, you might prefer the girl to be awake.  But I prefer ‘em passed out, high on Jägermeister, with their legs spread and my gun in their mouth, finger on the trigger so that I could accidentally shoot them through the skull in a moment of passion.  I like to hold back a little, stop a few times right before I cum so the cum builds up and shoots up into they cervix like a bullet, just like a bullet from a gun.
Fucking is good.  I know a lot about fucking.  You could say I’m sort of a specialist.  When it comes to smacking a pussy with a fly swatter, those are just some of the tricks I can teach you.  I know a lot of tricks, and someday maybe I can tell you about those, but to tell you the truth my favorite trick is getting a girl to fuck me when she really don’t want to.

(from RAPE! by Matthew Temple)


The Crocodile Princess (II)


Can you hear that sad sigh? I’ve just finished Ian Gregson’s The Crocodile Princess and I feel it has so much more to give. One excerpt on my blog is not enough. The book’s definitely got its place on one of the  Got To Read Again shelves in my study.  I say shelf but it’s actually a bookcase each time and I have five main categories:

  • a Got To Read Again shelf
  • a To Read shelf (I bought over 30 books one afternoon at a local book fair last year and am still working my way through those tho the Lord knows, my To Read shelf wasn’t empty before that)
  • a Was Good, You Can Pass It On to Someone Else shelf
  • an Academic shelf (books relating to my PhD)
  • a For The Flea Market shelf

And then there’s a whole pile of homeless books wandering around and ending up in the most unlikely places. Librarians across the globe will be rolling their eyes. What do I care.

Here’s another taste of The Crocodile Princess for you.


Ian Gregson THE CROCODILE PRINCESS book cover


Keith thanked the pedaleur but said that he had urgent business to attend to at the moment, but the pedaleur said that he would return later in the day and take him to visit some girls, and all of them would be congenial and lovely, and there would be a choice – there would be some Cambodian ladies, but also some Vietnamese, some Chinese and some French (…)

Keith was suddenly shocked by the thought that such a visit might actually be wise – because sex was an activity he needed to learn and this, when no emotion was involved, might in fact be the wisest place to learn it. He was unnerved by the idea that the wisest course could possibly be so thoroughly the opposite of conventional wisdom. But a woman would certainly expect a man to be confident and competent and he couldn’t be either in a field of action he had never entered. (…)

Keith was made aware of the long silence between them when the pedaleur said that he also knew boys who could be of service to him. When they arrived outside Peter’s apartment, the pedaleur looked Keith solicitously in the eye and said that he, too, could be of service, and Keith registered the man’s gold-capped teeth, and his dark skin, the skin of a rural Cambodian, and his powerful arms and shoulders. With that sudden intensity which Keith had noticed before in Cambodians, the pedaleur said that he and Keith could go to a place he knew where, for half an hour, they could be heureux, and then he would pedal Keith tranquilly along the river, so that he could be quiet and peaceful. And this would cost only one American dollar. Keith remembered it was Sunday morning, and thought how different this was from the church-going Sundays of his Lancastrian upbringing.


(once inside Peter’s apartment, he is surprised to find a married woman there, Edith. Surely those two weren’t… were they??? This is me, Joan, paraphrasing the section I’ve omitted. Keith takes in the compromising scene, then…)


Several desperate words which hated women, which he had heard used mechanically, obsessively, during his national service, and which he had found himself using then, during that time, crowded into his head and shouted.




  • Ian, would you say that every writer is willingly or unwillingly also a politician?

All literature is inevitably political in its implications, but some forms are more explicitly political than others. In lyric poetry the politics is only implicit; the short story also has a tendency to occupy a personal rather than a political space. The novel is the most political of literary forms and the greatest novels (by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Dickens, Toni Morrison etc) evoke a whole society.


  • some believe that it is impossible to teach creative writing. What’s your stance on this?

I taught creative writing for a long time so I’d have to declare an interest there. It’s certainly possible to teach writing techniques connected eg to narrative voice. I’d also hope that, as you teach such things, you instill a love of literature in general.


  • how do you feel about commissioned writing?

Nice work if you can get it, though these days I wouldn’t want (much) of it.


  • what was the hardest aspect of writing The Crocodile Princess?

Inventing comedy ideas that were appropriate,and good enough, for Peter Cook to speak.


  • to which extent does the final book correspond to the original you had in mind before you started writing?

I had a broad outline in mind which the novel does fulfill, but it developed a lot on the way and that’s one of the most gratifying aspects of writing.


  • where would you place yourself along the continuum of novelist-types: meticulously planned before I sit down to write — start writing then go with the flow?

I’m somewhere in the middle of that – I have a general idea and quite a number of specific ideas about plot and character and individual scenes, and images,etc, but the great joy is moving along through those and finding it expand and acquire its shape.


  • literary criticism: science or art? and why?

It’s a combination of the two. I do think that novelists and poets should be aware of Derrida, Foucault, Lacan etc because that’s among the most important thinking of our time.


  • why Cambodia: what is unique to this setting regarding the requirements of your novel?

It’s fascinating, beautiful place which got caught up in some major political events.


  • Crocodile Princess. two versions of the story; the  Cambodian (princess swallowed up by a crocodile) and the Dagenham version. The theme of secrets/masks, origins, double/parallel identities, public/private faces (Yuri, Dudley, Joe smoking opium to retreat from his mundane life, Edith). Unreliable surfaces, déjà vu, illusions/magic. Dialogical identity. There is a lot antagonism/tension caused by these clashing identities and their individual objectives within the plot; also:pieces of information like poker chips, owned and coveted and passed around by means of your mischievous literary style. No one seems truly happy; all trapped in their own identity crisis. dreams, illusions, nightmares…  is the title of the book symbolic merely of the ‘paranoiac petty-mindedness’ of the diplomatic community,  or of the human condition in general, in your view? To which extent is the novel a mask YOU wear to play beak-a-boo with the reader?

Well these are the bits and pieces we all work with as novelists aren’t they? And the most important thing is that they are ambivalent and polyphonic so that they can say a wide range of things at once and so go some way to evoking the beautiful mess that we live in.


  • in the novel, we hear more than once about the inadequacy of rationalism to do justice to the intricacies of human thought or to bring about some form of inner (dare I use the word: spiritual?) peace. What is your personal take on this issue? how satisfactorily are you able to function and connect to other minds in/of Western culture? Have we been led astray? How does rationalism affect you as a writer AND critic?

I don’t regard rationalism as separable from other kinds of cognition: it’s a label we give artificially to a form of thought that is thoroughly intertwined with other forms and works alongside them to help us understand our experience.


  • humour: Do your students ever get the chance to laugh in your classes?

I’d really want them to laugh but I’m not funny enough to make them laugh as often as I’d like.


  • What’s on your bucket list that you haven’t done yet? Do you have plans to do it yourself or will one of your characters see to it for you?

Really that’s my current project, where I’m combining different literary forms, – poems, short stories, flash fiction, and an essay in a sequence focused on a single subject (in this case about advertising).


The Crocodile Princess. The description on the back cover fits so I won’t try to outdo it, I’ll simply repeat it:

Fast-paced, witty, full of intrigue, misdirection and set in the heart of Phnom Penh in an extraordinary moment of history, The Crocodile Princess is a gripping read from the highly accomplished author of Not Tonight Neil.







The Crocodile Princess

Ian Gregson THE CROCODILE PRINCESS book cover


I got a present the other day; a signed copy of The Crocodile Princess by Ian Gregson; novelist, poet, critic and Oxford Professor of Poetry nominee. I had only ever met Ian once in person before. That was five years ago, when he gave me his personal copy of As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner and told me to consider writing my next novel in the first person. I did more than consider it, I took up the challenge, one which, for years, was marked more by cursing than by anything I would care to call satisfactory progress. Now the novel is finished. Thank goodness. Now I can get back to reading for pleasure.

A pleasure I wish to share with you. Below is the opening of Ch2 of The Crocodile Princess. I love it for so many reasons. I’m sure you will find your own.




‘No no you’re not going to catch me,’ shouted Joe Keane, the American ambassador in Cambodia. He stared in the face of Norodom Sihanouk looming on a billboard above him, Sihanouk dressed all in white and with a shaved head, saintly Buddhist, his serenity a rebuke to Keane’s desperate, breathless driving forward of his cyclopousse, his bicycle rickshaw, his pedalling ever more frantic because the finishing line was a huge jacaranda tree only forty yards past the billboard, and Peter Cook was gaining on him, now only fifteen yards behind, and calling to him, taunting him with his growing nearness, about how he would imminently overtake, about the superiority of Cook’s own cyclo, about how Joe’s contraption was wonky, about how Joe himself – worst of all, this, as Joe was gasping more and more for breath –   was an old man, was past it… and Joe was dizzy now, standing up on his pedals, then sitting down again, and the cyclo was so unwieldy, and four times heavier than a normal bicycle, and he could feel his head sicken, where dazzling white enormous Sihanouk in the silver of the nearly-full moon was swimming in his eyes above him – or no, too bright for that, because in fact lit from below by a carefully placed lamp, so now, as he approached, Joe could see lizards running all over the god/king… lizards (and he thought this ludicrously, even painfully, given what he needed to concentrate upon) attracted by the insects on Sihanouk that were, in turn, attracted by the lamplight… and then he thought about that thought and knew he was observing his thought self-consciously still because of the opium he had smoked earlier, at Madame Chhum’s, the opium whose pungent taste even now lingered between his teeth and inside his tongue, somehow both sweet and bitter, the opium that made his thoughts wrap themselves around each other, twist inside each other and open passageways that led past tens of doorways which might open at any moment and lead down other passageways… and it was being too deeply inside that thought that led him not to notice he was veering to the right, not to notice so that now he had to wrestle the cyclo leftwards, still half-hoping to go forwards as well, still somehow to win because the tree was only twenty yards ahead, but it was no good, the front wheel was pointing left but the weight of everything behind it, the hooded seat and the wheels and Keane himself, was dragging it still to the right, so that his back right wheel was slipping more and more into a shallow ditch, and he made a final effort, standing on his pedals feeling that his breath was squeezed hard as though his lungs might burst, but no, it was no use, and he slipped further into the ditch and the whole ungainly contraption toppled onto its right side, and he saw Cook go flying past him to the jacaranda where he stopped and jumped out of his cyclo and danced about him with his arms in the air.


I’m not quite halfway through the book but already have loads of questions. Here are a few:


  1. Ian, do you have any personal experience of the diplomatic service? If not, what kind of research did you do in order to portray this particular social group so convincingly?

I’ve never worked as a diplomat, but I think it’s important that the novel tackles political questions and if you focus on a diplomatic community you’re involved in politics straight away. In particular, it’s important for British writers to explore the colonial experience, especially given the extent to which writers in colonized countries have focused on that history from their perspective. So I researched the lives of ambassadors and other Embassy staff, and read memoirs of diplomats, including ones that described that life in the time and place of The Crocodile Princess.


  1. How long did it take you to write the book and did you use any time management software to help you? (What do you think of such software in general?)

It took me three years – some days I only wrote about two hundred words, and I revised the first draft extensively. I’m not even aware, to be honest, of what time management software is!


  1. One of the things I adore when reading The Crocodile Princess is the way you weave in witty observations that make the characters immediately come alive in a line or two. I also have the impression that it is at times a very thin line indeed being drawn between humour and disdain. Why did you decide to give characters this edge and have you personally ever been at the receiving end of such treatment?

The focus on comedy arose from the element of alternative history, where I invented an alternative life for the comedian Peter Cook. I wanted this component to throw a defamiliarising angle on the politics. I love the idea of the novel as a polyphonic form that incorporates multiple voices and languages. So I conceived of the satirical comedy as a language which would be a source of imagery – as in the references to the domino effect, for example. The element of disdain in it might be connected to the class aspect, of Cook’s upper-middle class origins (his father worked for the Foreign Office in Nigeria). And that might also indicate that I wanted some distance from Cook, which was why I invented Waldo Vaughan as an angry left-wing Welsh nationalist comedian as an alternative which unfortunately never occurred.


  1. Another thing I admire: the philosophical remarks which lift the plot beyond the mere happenings within the diplomatic circle yet without rendering the book too high-brow or know-it-all. Are any of these opinions ones you share or were they attributed to your characters much in the way you would choose the colour of their hair or select for them the right spouse?

I agree with some of them and not others. One of the things I wanted to depict was a kind of ideological norm for 1962 – people being racist, sexist, homophobic, and snobbish – but above all casually, as part of a set of unquestioned assumptions. Hector Perch, the left wing journalist, is the character whose views I would most naturally share, but – partly for that reason – I wanted to show him being alarmingly wrong in his political diagnosis of Cambodia. One of the ready resources you can draw upon in a novel set in 1962 is the ironies that arise from having characters have perceptions which readers – from their knowledge of subsequent events – realise are shockingly wide of the mark.


  1. A critic whose name unfortunately escapes me said that a novel in verse is an abomination. You write novels as well as poetry. How useful do you find the distinction between poetry and prose in contemporary literature?

I wouldn’t want to write a verse novel because the form of poetry, to my mind, would be too awkward. But the idea of poetry being dialogic and novelized, as theorized by Bakhtin, is very important to me. And my own poems have always invented characters who speak the poems, and they have overlapping points of view where voices collide. And I like to think that in my fiction I call upon forms of imagery which I’ve learned from writing poems.


  1. Tell me more about the cover.

Adam Craig at Cinnamon designed it. He came up with several alternatives, but I thought that the understated reference to Angkor Wat was cool and laid-back in a way that appealed to me.


  1. What’s something the readers don’t know about one of the protagonists: something you had in mind when writing the book, but which didn’t make it into the final version?

It’s not so much a character thing. A pun on ‘backwater’ haunted me: that word is repeatedly applied to Phnom Penh. It’s important that the city was patronised in that way, because it means that outlandish stuff could happen there that wouldn’t have been tolerated in Paris or Moscow. But I also thought of the word as referring to the astonishing yearly event in the city, when its river reverses its flow. That image was connected for me to the central themes of the novel’s ‘alternative’ nature – its focus on systematic disorientation, of a deep-seated bewilderment which I hoped would express how little in control people are of what is underlyingly shaping their lives.


  1. What are you reading right now and why would you recommend it?

I’m reading Geoff Dyer’s But Beautiful, which is a novelised version of the lives of jazz musicians like Duke Ellington and Thelonius Monk. Based on facts but extending what is known through fictive speculation. I’d recommend it because it does what I most admire – it is beautifully, accessibly written so you feel compelled to keep reading, but it also asks fascinating, complex questions.


The same can be said of The Crocodile Princess. Definitely. Thanks, Ian, for sharing your views with me. Some people think the author doesn’t count and that we should approach the book as an autonomous work of art. I’m not one of them. Ian’s answers allow me to get so much more out of reading his novel. And I hope they make you interested in finding out more.

One Manner of Hunger

one manner of hunger cover picture

Today’s Words’ Worth comes from a writer I got to know on the internet last year, Bill Johnston:
‘I tend to be either intensely focused or entirely too laid back. My demeanor is actually nearly always quite cheerful. Something about a keyboard and a concept is always so grim. Deep, eloquent and grim for a humorous soul. I’m not sure what it is… Like water my words in type run to the lowest point without the effort required to raise them.’
 ‘No matter how many times I molt, I have layers beneath that will not shed.’
On the topic of American’s being prudish:
‘We love and hate our filthy shit. I find for every one prude there’s two more that want to hear more. It swings more both ways here than I’m guessing it does there, but once something filthy must be read there are church ladies with copies under their mattresses.’
Bill Johnston. William Thomas Johnston. Poet. Storyteller. Blogger. Friend. Proof that online encounters can grow into something beautiful. It’s a pleasure to know you, Bill!

The Familiar

Forget crows, panthers, alligators and sharks;
the dog is the poet’s true familiar. The hours
of inaction spent sprawled out on a rug; the eager
fetch and carry of almost anything you care to throw
them; the way they fool you into thinking

they understand every word you are saying;
how they like to be fed and watered regularly;
how they smell of the forest floor when they are damp.
And don’t forget the selective memory. All of the above,
and the fact that they are happiest when lying

in the corner of a room inspecting their private parts.

From: The Familiar, by Gordon Meade (Arrowhead Press 2011).